A few weeks ago, I was browsing the Georgia Forum at Beginner's Triathlete, when I came across a reference to this triathlon. I hadn't really given it much thought since the last time I had raced it, almost three years ago. After checking my schedule, it became quickly apparent that this race fit perfectly into my plans. Well... It didn't exactly fit my current training profile, but from a timing stand point, it was perfect. The race fell on the last day of a recovery week. I really really wanted to do another 70.3, but scheduling and the monetary situation just wasn't working out. Cohutta Springs is $45.00. That beats the heck out of most races, and a 12:30 PM starting time is just the icing on the cake!!
In the spirit of not taking this race too seriously, I drank copious amounts of beer during the later half of the week. Oh yeeeauzzz... I was playing Russian roulette with my GI system. I decided to go ahead and get out of bed at 6:30 AM on Sunday to bake a quiche for breakfast and get my stuff ready to go. I had laid it all out on the table the previous night. I love packing for a sprint. Other than shoes, helmets, and race clothes, you just don't need much :-)
We left for Crandall, GA at 9:00 AM. It was rather nippy outside, with a strong wind blowing. I was pretty sure the high for the day was going to be around 70. The cold weather surprised me a bit, as did the GPS when it reported 85 miles to my destination. Dee Dee and I took our time driving up. We made one stop and still arrived at the race site two hours before the start. The conference center is located at the end of a little country road. We missed it on our first pass, despite my having been there before.
Cohutta Springs is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Based on the number of cars in the field, more than a few people had arrived early for the race. Dee Dee and I found a parking spot and unpacked the car. I decided to rack my bike before getting my race packet. There were quite a few end spots available, and I wanted to snag one. Packet pick up was quick and painless. Then, it was back to transition to setup for the race.
I finished setting up my space around 11:30 AM. I sat down on my towel in front of my bike and watched the rest of the athletes. There was a good mix of seasoned triathletes and new racers. Three young kids had racked their bikes next to me. Dee Dee and I listened in on their conversation while we waited. One of them had never done a triathlon, and he had actually signed up for the race on Wednesday. He and his friend had borrowed a skiing wet suit, one with cut off arms and legs, while their third friend had a full length wet suit of some kind. It definitely was not a tri wet suit. Their parents and grand parents were hovering over them like protective hens, making sure they had water, and their bikes were set up properly. It was quite the show.
Dee Dee and I wandered down to the swim start to check out the lake. The water was actually warmer than the air. The buoys weren't in a straight line this year. That wasn't a problem for me. It's funny how half a mile doesn't look like its that far anymore :-)
The pre-race meeting went off at 11:45 AM. Fortunately, I could hear the announcements just fine from my spot in transition AND from the port-o-potty. I had been grazing pretty much all day. For breakfast, I had quiche. I ate some donuts on the way up, and at 12:15 PM, I ate an energy bar. Due to my race weight, I had no issues slipping into my Neosport sprint wet suit. I was spot on with my nutrition for this race. I never once felt hungry or weighed down.
Dee Dee and I walked down the swim start again. A young man, all of 12-14 years of age, was wearing a blue wet suit with more wrinkles than water logged hands. I felt for sure he was going to drown in that thing. He was not the only one. Every conceivable kind of wet suit made its presence felt this day. I honestly didn't laugh. I was more worried than tickled.
When they announced the first wave, I gave Dee Dee a kiss and got into line. I was in the second wave of men in the 40-49 years of age. There weren't that many people in the first wave, maybe twenty or so. I was hoping my wave would be the same size, but I'm thinking there was quite a few more. I had opted not to warm up at all for this race. It was just too cold to get in a pre-swim, and I figured I would warm my legs up while swimming anyways. As the first wave got underway, they called my wave down to the water.
check out the "assortment" of wet suits :-)
Feeling the need to get acclimated immediately, I dunked myself under the water. Once my body had settled in a little bit, I stuck my face into the water. One of the nice things about Cohutta Springs is that the water is almost always a nice seventy degrees. The race director announced a minute, and then what seemed like two minutes later, he announced thirty seconds. We all got a kick out of that. Still, soon enough, the horn sounded, and our wave hit the water.
From the bottom, second swim up on the left with the "Be Strong" armband
Everybody took off like a bat out of hell, except for me. I was actually surprised to be behind so many people. Rather than panicking and going hypoxic, I kept my pace and latched onto some feet.
I'd like to do this the entire swim, I thought to myself and smiled.
Unfortunately, all good things must end. Like two minutes later, as a matter of fact :-) My draftee was tiring and I kept hitting his feet. I know I don't like this, so I shifted to the side, into open water, and passed him. If I had followed the buoys, I would have bowed in towards the center of the lake before angling back out to the turn buoy. Since I opted to start on the far right, it was a straight line down the side of the lake for me. I found myself drifting too close to shore a few times, and I managed to straighten out and get back on track.
I remember rounding the first turn buoy just thrilled to have finished half the swim so quickly. In 2007, I felt like it had taken forever. The top of the box was rather short, and I got mixed up with some of the other swimmers. One of them managed to heel me in the goggles. Fortunately for me, it was a glancing blow and no harm was done.
At this point, I'm following the buoy line fairly closely. I have a couple of swimmers on my right, and I feel another one coming up on my left. The line angles slightly away from the swim exit. As we pass the final buoy, I'm swimming side by side with a guy in my age group, wearing a full wet suit. We bump and match each other stroke for stroke. Finally, I tire of the battle. About fifty yards from the swim exit, I surge and put a body length or two on him. When my fingers brush the ground, I stand up, and find myself at the bottom of the boat ramp.
The boat ramp was two concrete slabs a little bigger than the width of a tire. I stumble over the uneven ground until my legs finally cooperate. I made my way up the boat ramp and across the timing mat, third in my age group. Transition is a hundred yards away. I managed a slow jog. When I got to my bike, I stripped off my wet suit, cap, and goggles. I tried to put on my long sleeve shirt, but my wet body wasn't cooperating. I knew I was going to regret this. I tossed my long sleeve shirt on top of my bag. After putting on my helmet, heart rate monitor, race belt, and shoes, I trotted to the front of transition, mounted my bike, and took off down the road.
Out of the conference center, the road is slightly downhill for the first mile or so. I'm cruising along at 23 mph, and my heart rate is out of control. The cool air is cold, but not unbearably so. From this point, its about a half mile up slightly up hill, until we make a right around a curve where we run into a steep sharp hill. This leads to more downhill for a short distance, and then a left turn out onto the main road. I loved this bike course. It's a straight out from here, on a gently rolling course. There were some hills, not too challenging, just enough to stress your muscles.
I finally got my heart rate under control. I tried to keep it in a high zone 3, but more often than not, I found it in the middle of zone 4. Despite my best efforts, I was getting passed quite a bit on the bike. My thighs, while mostly recovered, were not quite 100%, and I was determined to do my best but not hurt myself in the process.
At the turn around point, I was feeling pretty stressed. I wanted to do well, but I really wanted to have a good run. I felt like the return route was going to be kinder. What I didn't count on was the head wind. On much of the return trip, I was flying, and the wind in my face was roaring. From about miles 11-14, I was playing tag with a couple of guys, and the number one female. They would pass me on the uphills, then I would surge past them on the downhills. After we did this three times, I made a conscious decision to let them go. Playing this game with them was not in my plans for the day.
Climbing the reverse side of the steep hill at mile 2 threatened to do me in. The hill, the head wind, the training, it all took a toll on my legs. I felt like I was crawling when I finally crested the hill. I managed to enjoy the short downhill back to the conference center before the final mini-climb into transition. Dee Dee was waiting for me half way down the drive way, and I managed to give her a smile.
Dee Dee gave me a cheer and told me that she would be waiting for me when I came back on the run. That's one of the things about this triathlon. The run course and bike course are merged for the first 1.5 miles or so. Fortunately, its in a quiet area and very safe. I hopped off the bike at the dismount line and woggled over to my spot. I jammed the back of my seat onto the rack, and the ISM Adamo race saddle caught on the specially designed catch. I took off my shoes, removed my helmet, put on my shoes. At the last minute, I tossed my sun glasses into my helmet and took off for the run exit. Why am I always surprised when I have a speedy transition? It seemed like never had a moment to catch my breath! Off the bike and onto the run, I went.
Out of transition, I grabbed a cup of water and drank it while running. As I headed down the slight hill towards Dee Dee, I took an inventory of my body. The sun had come out. I was no longer cold. My thighs were a little sore, but my running legs felt strong. Without looking at my Garmin, I picked out a strong pace and got moving. Dee Dee was right where I left here, and she snapped this picture of me on the way out.
Actually, she snapped quite a few pictures. My favorite was the one of me getting ready to let loose a loogy. I decided not to burden you guys with that one :-) I took advantage of the slight downhill for the first mile or so to get my running legs back underneath me. I was amazed at how good they felt.
About a quarter mile from the first aide station, the uphill starts. For the next half mile, its not too bad. Still, its net uphill all the way. I vowed not to let that affect my pace. About the 1.25 mile mark, I passed my first runner. Give me a booyah! This was one of the chicas that I was playing tag with out on the bike. It was sweet passing her strong. About two hundred hards from the turn around, its downhill all the way. They setup another aid station there. The young people who volunteered for this event were awesome. I took in more fluids on the run, turned around, and made my way back up the hill. I heard foot steps behind me. I was about to get passed by a nineteen year old, one of only two people to pass me for the day. We talked for a minute, and I joked that this last hill was going to kill me. The good news was that once we were over the hill, it was pretty much downhill all the way back to the conference center.
I crested the hill feeling pretty winded. Having slowed down a little, I picked back up my pace and waited for my body to catch back up with the easier effort. Once it did, I felt like I was moving along pretty quickly. I wasn't paying any attention to my Garmin, other than to note that I was squarely in the middle of zone 4 for most of the run, and it didn't bother me one bit. Back down the hill, past the aide station at mile one. I had not stopped to walk yet, and once again, I took in liquids on the run. I think I ended up wearing more than I drank, but it was only water, and I really didn't care.
A left turn at the entrance to the conference center, and I'm working hard up the slight incline to the finish. There are people actually cheering here, and I hate that my face is grimaced, but I am working hard to hold my pace. As I enter the final stretch, I hear the announcer.
Here comes another finisher! Let's give him a big cheer!
I break into a sprint and give the last fifty yards or so everything I have. At the finish line, I raise my hands in triumph, and... I forget to look at the clock :-)
Dee Dee picked me up pretty quickly, and we snuck around the side to peek at the clock. It read 1:52:xx. I knew that my wave started three minutes late. I was pretty sure I had had a much better race than my last effort, three years ago.
Together, Dee Dee and went to grab some food and drink, and we watched the race results roll in. When it became apparent that I wasn't going to podium, we packed up our stuff and got back on the road. It was nice to finally get a race in where I felt like I didn't have to hurry home to some event or another.
In the aftermath of this triathlon, I am on cloud nine. It's not so much that I blew my last time away. Three years ago, I did this race for fun, and I had scaled back on my training a lot. Rather, it has been seldom this year that I have strung together three back to back solid efforts. It is even rarer for me to find my run. This day, I found my run. Here are the digits and my reaction to each:
2007 swim: 16:35
2010 swim: 13:27
I was pretty confident that my swim time would be better. I could have gone harder, but I wanted a more relaxed pace. It was great that the digits validated my effort.
2007 T1: 3:39
2010 T1: 2:47
Not too worried about T1. I was definitely more relaxed last time. This year, I thought I took a lot longer than I did. Shows I was getting frustrated for nothing.
2007 Bike: 57:15
2010 Bike: 57:47
I had every intention of just "hanging on" for the bike. I am ecstatic that my effort was so close to 2007.
2007 T2: 2:21
2010 T2: 1:10
Not worried much about the big gain here. More ecstatic with the actual digits for 2010. I rarely have a transition that fast!
2007 Run: 41:15
2010 Run: 32:15
and these are the digits of which I am most proud. I walked not one step this run.
2007 Total: 2:01:02
2010 Total: 1:47:23
Finishing 8th in my age group? Icing on the cake. I'm going to savor this triathlon for a long time. If everything goes as planned, I will be riding this wave into Ironman Arizona.