Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Destination Tennessee!

A Fall Creek Falls Olympic Race Report

Bear with me, my friends... I had such a great time at this race. I'm liable to spew forth a rather lenghthy detailed race report :-D

When I signed up for this race some months ago, Dee Dee's employment situation was in flux. She had a job, but she hated it. I didn't know if she was going to be able to make the trip with me or not. One thing led to another. Dee Dee quit that job and found a temporary position, even as she explores other, more promising, challenges. The net result... She could make the trip to Tennessee with me for the race.

Fall Creek Falls is located about an hour or so north of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the middle of no wheres, and this is a good thing. It's beautiful. I got up early Saturday morning for my open water swim. I met the Concourse Tri Club at Red Top Mountain and swam for about thirty five minutes. The turn out was good, and it was really nice having the opportunity to swim with other triathletes. I hustled home and picked up Dee Dee before heading over to watch Jimmy's scrimmage at the high school. He is playing football (and soccer) for the second time in his life. They have him starting as a running back and outside line backer. My son! {pumps chest} Dee Dee and I enjoyed watching Jimmy's intra squad scrimmage. He had over 100 combined yards for the day. Not to shabby for a second timer.

We drove back to the house and packed up the car for our trip north. I had had Aerowyn tuned up prior to the trip. I was basically taking the clothes on my back, while Dee Dee had a small bag. By 1:30 PM, we were on the road. The trip up was enjoyable. Once we passed through Chattanooga, we were on the bike route for the Oly distance tri they have there each year. I enjoyed showing Dee Dee all the big hills on this bike course. Once north of Chattanooga, we split off onto Hwy 111 and traveled last thirty miles or so to Fall Creek Falls State Park. With the help of our GPS, we had no problems locating the race site. Since we arrived about an hour early, we wandered down to the docks to look at the swim site.

Evidently, they don't allow people to swim in this lake. The first thing Dee Dee says is, "What's that smell?" LOL... I had no idea, and since I can't smell anything anyways, I wasn't worried about it. It looked like a typical lake, rather pretty. The buoys were already out, and it didn't look all that difficult. You could see the entire swim course from the docks. I was just curious to see how far it was from the docks back to transition. I knew it was going to affect my time, and I wanted to know so I "knew" what to expect time wise. The odometer on my car said it was about 0.25 miles, which meant about and extra 3-4 minutes in transition for me.

Back at transition, Dee Dee and I checked with registration and was able to get my race packet early. That was very nice of them and very cool. It allowed us to head up to the falls to see the sights. Fall Creek Fall was spectacular. It reminded me so much of the waterfalls that we saw in Hawaii.

Dee Dee didn't think it was such a good idea, but I wanted to hike down to the bottom of the falls. I told her that we could do "just this one", and as long as we took it easy, I would be fine. The hike down was quite the challenge. Sure footing was a necessity! At times, we just weren't sure which way was best, but we managed. The view from the bottom of the falls was spectacular too! We asked a nice young couple there to take our picture.

It looks like we are standing in the falls, but they are actually over 100 yards away. I climbed down to the pool to soak my legs. The water was cold, not as cold as Hawaii, but refreshing none the less. The footing in the pool was treacherous, and I had to use all my skillz to keep myself from falling and going under.

Physically, the return climb was more challenging, although it was easier to find our way up then it was down. Even though I took my time, I was definitely feeling it in my quads by the time we reached the landing. Dee Dee and I took off in the car on the rest of the circuit. We went to the top of a ravine where buzzards supposedly fly by, and we saw another fall, although we didn't try to climd down to the base of that one. By the end of the day, I was getting hungry and tired. I thought it best to knock it off and get back to the hotel.

Originally, I had intended to come to the hotel first, then got to packet pick up in the morning. With Dee Dee along, it got reversed. We mixed a little sight seeing with our race prep. We plugged the coordinates of the hotel into the GPS and took off for Dayton, TN. Several times, the GPS tried to send us down dirt roads and roads that had a dead end. After getting frustrated, I went back the way we came and turned a 35 mile trip into a 51 mile trip. At least I didn't get lost. We made it to the hotel by 8:15 PM or so, got checked in, then went in search of food. The only Italian place in town, besides a Pizza Hut, was a Mexican-Italian place down the road. We passed it on the way by, but mananged to track it down.

Wouldn't you know, we were in luck. It was karaoke night. I don't know if you've ever heard country folk sing karaoke, but let me tell you. It was interesting. Good news was, the food was actually pretty good. We snacked on chips and salsa, then for desert, we had calzones. It hit the spot. We went back to the hotel room and watched TV for about an hour before lights out.

As usual, I slept OK. Not great. Just OK. With the hours difference, I was able to sleep in until 5:45 AM. We packed up in a hurry and got on the road. We were taking Hwy 30 back to the park. This was a bit different than the original route. Going through the mountains and the valleys on a little two lane road was quite an experience. Of course, there was no traffic at the butt crack of dawn on a Sunday, so no worries there. The GPS only led us astray once, but that's what I get for not buying a subscription to the maps.

We got to the park just after 6 AM local time. We scored a primo parking spot, and I got setup and body marked in short order. I spent the rest of the time chatting with Dee Dee and walking back and forth to check on my transition spot. Nobody messed with my stuff. LOL... While the race director made the pre-race briefing, I put on sun screen. Yes, I am getting smart in my old age. After the announcements were over, we made our way down to the dock for the swim start. The first wave of young bucks got into the water. The second wave gathered by the dock, and my wave behind them. The RD made a few more brief announcements, then the horn sounded and the race got under way.

As the second wave got into the water, I made my way to the front of our group. I wanted to get a cushy spot hanging onto the dock at the front. The horn sounded again, and I jumped non-chalantly into the water and made my way to the dock. One guy beat me there, and I saw another guy struggling to get to there as well. I made room in front of me so he could hang on. When the RD announced one minute to our start time, the middle guy moved to the front of the line. That put me in second. The alarm sounded for the third time, and we were off.

I followed the lead guy out around the dock and made my way to the right for some instant open water. I quickly found myself all alone and settled into my rythm. I'm cruising along thinking, wow! I love to swim :-) Then, I start to get short of breath, and I can feel the effects of being sick. I'm struggling to stay outside but not drift too far to the right. When I breath on my right side only during races, I tend to drift to the right. By the time I reached the first turn buoy, I'm cussing, sh!*, I got to swim 1500 meters.

What was needed here was a "big boy" talk. I knew swimming 1500 meters was no problem for me, even if I did swim 2000 meters the day before. My arms weren't really tired at all. I just needed a quick talking to in order to get back on track. Don't be fooled though. This was the furthest open water swim I had ever done without a wet suit and/or a swimsafe belt.

Once I made the first turn, I tried harder to swim to the inside and stay on track with the buoys. I always have slow swim times when I let myself stray too far outside. Of course, the problem with being on the inside is more traffic. I started to pass through the meat of the wave in front of me. Passing people and dodging breast strokers takes more energy, and I do not like it. Buttttt... It's a necessary evil.

The waves started to hit me in the face as I turned down the back stretch. Several times, I swallowed a mouth full of lake water, to keep myself hydrated of course. This caused the gunky stuff in my nose to kick off my gag reflex, and I had to pause. Once I cleared the mess, it was heads down and more swimming. About half way down the back stretch, I got chicked. I love being chicked, because they are fine athletes. I tried to latch onto her feet to no avail. Evidently, I still suck at drafting.

I made the left hand turn back to the dock, and I'm working hard. About half way, I pick up a swimmer on my left side. He is matching me stroke for stroke. I ignore him and keep my pace steady. After a couple of minutes of this, he falls off, and I am once again alone. I peek my head out of the water and see that the doc is getting closer. Within twenty yards of the dock, I find the muddy bottom and come to my feet. I thrash my way to the carpet and climb the boat ramp. Off to the left, I see Dee Dee working her magic with the camera.

Up ahead and to the right is the shoe drop off. I put my shoes underneath a tree and went right to them. I slipped them onto my feet without any clumsiness and began the slow, up hill jog back to transition. I alternated walking and jogging until I caught me breath, then broke into a steady jog. I ran into transition and made a right at the garbage can, just like Dee Dee said and found my bike. I slipped no my watch and HRM, my race belt and helmet. I slid my tri shoes on and walked out of transition on the grass. I didn't hear the beep of the timing mat when I went across. I thought maybe it was broken and we would not be getting any transition times. I was wrong. At the street, I mounted Aerowyn, pressed start on my watch, and started peddling.

The bike route made a left out of transition, followed quickly by short right, then another quick right onto the main road. The nice thing about this section is that it was downhill. It made for an easy recovery after the swim. I looked down at my watch. My heart rate was up near 160. I settled into a slow easy spin and waited for it to come down.

After the short down hill, the rolling hills began. The further I got out on the course, the more and more it seemed to be going up hill. I didn't mind. I felt strong, and I was, quite frankly, looking forward to the downhill on the way back. Once my heart rate settled, I tried to keep it in the 150 to 156 range. This roughly corresponds to the top of Zone 3/bottom of Zone 4. So, zone 3 or on the down hills and straight aways, and Zone 4 climbing the hills. It worked like a charm.

It was roughly nine miles down Hwy 284 to the water tower. We made a right there, and it was mostly downhill for the next three miles to the turn around. It was here that I was chased by a furry wiener dog. I almost busted a gut laughing. He gave up after twenty feet or so. Evidently, the second place triathlete was not so lucky. He was doing 25+ mph coming down a hill when a dog ran out in front of him. The poor guy was upended from his bike, ripped his tri outfit to shreds, and left him with some serious road rash on his shoulder and down his back. He was going to be OK. The dog was killed, as was the bike. This was totally not cool!!

On this stretch of road, I saw the first place triathlete pass me going in the other direction. I made the turn around and took my first gel. My hydration and nutrtion was very sloppy this race. I only drank one 20 oz bottle of electrolyte water and one gel on the bike. I should have easily doubled this amount. On the way back, the downhills never really materialized. There were long stretches of downhill where I really managed to pick up some steam, but almost always, there was another up hill to tackle. I played leap frog with some guy riding a blue Cannondale. I would pass him on the down hills and straight aways. He would pass me on the up hills. Funny though, he didn't look like he was working as hard as I was.

The sign to the park indicated that the ride was almost over. There was a nice down hill stretch then back up the hill to transition. I saw Dee Dee there again, doing her thang... After the left and the second quick left, I managed to get out of my shoes before reaching the dismount line. I crossed the timing mat and ran my bike into transition. T2 was definitely a lot faster then T1. No quarter mile jog of which to speak :-) I was in and out of there in a little over a minute.

Right outside the transition area, I darted into a port-a-potty. I wasn't sure if my tummy was acting up or not. I decided not to take a chance. Fortunately for me, I was fine. I was in and out of there in a jiffy.

The run exit out of transition was downhill to a left hand turn, then downhill to the dam. Dee Dee was waiting for me at the left hand turn, and I blew her a kiss to thank her for being there.

The run across the dam was entirely in the sun light. This was just about the only spot on the entire run that was totally exposed. After crossing the dam, we made a right hand turn onto a bike trail that took us through the woods. The first part of this section was down hill, then the rolling parts began. The short up hills really sapped my strength, and I felt it. I walked the up hills a lot more than I wanted to. It made me realize just how much I need to work on my mental strength.

I took Gatorade and/or water at every aid station. They had five(!!) aid stations on the course, and it was awesome. At the three mile mark, I took my gel on the run. I was delighted to see a long downhill section here, and I picked up my pace. At the bottom of the hill, we made a left hand turn behind the hotel and onto a trail along the lake. The cool wind blowing off the lake here was just awesome. I lurved it. I was pretty much running by myself now, but I could see a few people up ahead in the distance. I started to chase them down.

The first guy, I passed near the four mile aid station. The second guy, I passed near the five mile marker. I took some personal satisfaction in this. Not only was he ten years younger than I was, but he was the guy I had played leap frog with on the bike! hahahaha!

This particular trail ended at the base of the dam. I ran up onto the dam and made the right hand turn back towards transition. I knew that once I crossed the dam, it was uphill back to the finish line. Half way across, I met up with a tri-chica going in the other direction. I clapped for her, gave her a high five, and told her she looked great. That won me a smile.

The up hill proved challenging, and I felt a cramp coming on in my right thigh and right hamstring. I kept hoping and praying and fighting to keep them at bay. I reached the shade at the top of the hill and made the right hand turn towards the finish line. My right quad chose this moment to start seizing up, and I grimaced. I had to keep my leg partially straight as I ran back to the transition area. I wondered what the spectators thought of me. At last, I made the final right hand turn. I was a bit out of it though. I was running down the wrong set of cones, back into the transition area. I smiled and hopped into the correct lane. I was able to pick up the pace, but opted not to sprint as I usually do. My leg held together, and I was entirely pleased to see 2:57:?? on the clock. I crossed the finish line with a smile. I forgot to raise my arms in victory, but I was happy.

This time the cramps hit me hard. I walked about ten yards before I doubled over in pain. Dee Dee was right there with a bottle of water and a cold towel. I wrapped the cold tower around my thigh. In a few minutes, I felt well enough to begin the process of walking it off. I found my way to the hoses and managed to clean myself. The water was so cold but oh so refreshing. It was nice to wash the sweat, grime, and lake water off of my body.

My legs recovered quickly. Dee Dee and I got into line for the post race food. They had a nice cook out for the athletes and spectators. I ate a hot dog, potato salad, a banana, some grapes, and a pickle. Let's not forget the pickle. We sat in the shade together, enjoying the experience of not having to rush off and leave. After an hour or so, we packed the car and began the short trip back to Atlanta.

On the way home, I had Dee Dee text coach and tell her that this was my best Olympic race ever. When she asked me what my time was, I responded.

Does it matter?

Of course, I care about my time, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn't really matter. It was my best Olympic race ever, and I loved every minute of it. My official times were as follows:

Swim: 25:45 (1:43/100M)
T1: 5:15
Bike: 1:16:47 (18.52 mph avg)
T2: 1:23
Run: 1:02:43 (about 10 min pace)

Total: 2:51:50

This was a hair's breadth from an Olympic PR for me, on a much tougher course. Without the long run into T1, I know I would have PRed easy. That thought alone is enough.

Now, it's time to focus. Augusta 70.3 is on the horizon.



Lauren said...

Awesome job, Wes! You're going to rock Disgusta

Kim said...

CONGRATULATIONS WES!! awesome job!! you really dominated this race!

Molly said...

Awesome job and it looks like a beautiful course!!! Time to buckle down and get ready for the big one! Now that I'm just (probably) coming to spectate instead of race, I'll have to get some good pictures of you along the way :)

Sarah said...

Woohoo! So excited for you, nice job Wes! And yay for Sherpa Dee Dee!!

Michelle said...

Very impressive job my friend! I am really happy for you that you made it happen. That is really what it's all about. I am extremely proud of you Wes!!!


Jess said...

Glad you had such an awesome Oly!

Richard said...

Great race report! See you in 36 days!

LBTEPA said...

WELL DONE WES! and what a fun weekend for you and Dee Dee too when you've been working so hard :) It looks beautiful there

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

You look and sound happy. That alone makes it a good race.

And when you have a good race, time doesn't matter so much.

Having said that. You rocked it!

Missy said...

Duuuude, that rocks, been waiting to read this! That course is NO freakin joke either. What great splits you had. Of course you should be thrilled about that. Congrats, way to go!

Darrell said...

There is no doubt you love this sport. What a fun day and a fun read. Good job, Wes.

Carolina John said...

Cool bro! Great race report. sounds like a tough course, i've never raced in Tha 'Noog but i hear it's a blast. I'm getting the bug for another oly now.

70.3 will be here before you know it!

Smithposts said...

Congrats Wes, great race!! You make it sound easy...and it is not. Nice read on the race report!

Karen said...


Congrats Wes.... I can't believe you "liked" an Oly race though... my memories of those is just PAIN PAIN PAIN... great times you posted and you enjoyed it... you rock!

teacherwoman said...

Congrats, Wes! What a great race report! :)

Runner Leana said...

Wes, congratulations on a STELLAR race!! So great that Dee Dee was able to come with you as it obviously made the experience a thousand times better for you. Nicely done. If you find out how to improve mental toughness can you let me know? I need to work on that too, definitely before Ironman next year!

Yikes, such a sad story about the triathlete and the dog. :(

Michelle said...

Finally had a chance to read this - glad you had such a great race!!!!!

Run for Chocolate said...

Nice Job, Wes! You are a machine!

Joe said...

Love your write ups, Wes. Great commentary!!

And a nice race, indeed...way to go!

Kevin said...

Great Job

Lily on the Road said...

Great report Wes, I got so caught up in all the fab photo's on FB I am now catching up with your report.

Hope the cyclist will be okay and I'm so sorry to hear about the poor dog.

Sounds like you're more than ready for the Half Iron....

jkrunning said...

You're right...does it matter? Sounds like a great race.

Asher said...

Congrats on an awesome race. I read your blog a lot just to get motivation to triathlon and blog. If I skip a few days, I will just come read some of your race reports and I am ready to hit the training again.

Stef said...

Great report Wes! So glad you had such a great time at this race.

The terrain and scenery look gorgeous!!!

I had forgotten you were doing Augusta! Kick it!!!