A Tri the Mountains Race Report
This race caught my eye last year. Blue Ridge is about an hour or so away from my home. Here in Atlanta, that' makes it “local”. Unfortunately, I had other priorities last year, including fundage, and I let this one slip away from me. This year, I had the option of doing last week’s race with Dee Dee, or this one, and I chose this one. I thought it would be cool to sherpa Dee Dee then do the race I wanted to do.
I slept in my own bed and got up at 4 AM in the morning, about twenty minutes before the alarm normally goes off on Dee Dee’s work day. I gave Dee Dee a kiss and went downstairs. All of my things were laid out on the kitchen table. I had a modest breakfast: cereal and yogurt. This would come back to haunt me later. The coffee machine had gone off on schedule. Nothing left to do but load up the car, make coffee, and get the hell outta Dodge.
Taking back roads, I soon found myself on I-575 heading north into the mountains. Just north of Canton, GA, I-575 ends and Highway 5 begins. The only significance to this is that you can have stop lights on a highway, not so much on an interstate. Still, I factored that into my time and only caught two lights on the way to Blue Ridge. I pulled in behind a small convoy of vehicles heading to the race. I was looking for a specific road to turn right on when I saw a sign that said “Race->”. The convoy made an abrupt right turn. This was not the road I was looking for, but the signs showed us the way. I arrived at the race site just before 6 AM, giving me an hour to pick up my packet and get setup in transition.
Whilst setting up my bike in transition, the announcement came over the radio that the race could not start until all cars were moved from the road leading into and out of transition. I had parked my car off the road in front of a building. Being unsure as to whether or not my car needed to be moved, I decided to just go ahead and go back and move it. There weren’t many cars arriving at this point, and I ended up being one of the last cars to pull into the marina. At least I was a lot closer to transition.
The sun came up over the lake, and it was beautiful. On cue, the Purple Martins too flight and dipped and weaved over the calm waters. About twenty minutes before race start, I went for a warm up swim. The mountain lake was warm, and a lot clearer than the water I’m used to closer to home. I swam out to the first buoy, then turned around and accelerated back. I felt that old fear of open water swimming in my gut. My mind was waffling back and forth about how hard I wanted to take this swim. I had one of three plans. Plan A: casual. Plan B: casual to the back side then balls out. Plan C: balls out. I thought about a recent blog post a friend wrote, and I decided to just go with how I felt and have fun.
If you feel it, let it happen…
The waves began to gather on the boat ramp. I found myself standing about half way up while they sang the national anthem and gave out last minute instructions. The race was delayed a few minutes for some reason. My wave was supposed to go off at 7:03, but the race didn’t start until 7:10 AM. There was one blind para-triathlete that went off first. We all clapped when the horn sounded and he got under way. The RD wanted him to have a five minute head start, which was fine with all us. As the first wave got into the water, I began to move down the ramp and to the left. I wanted to start to the outside and up front. From the way the buoys were sitting, it was a direct line to the first buoy from the far left, and more like a box then a triangle.
The first wave went off and I exited the boat ramp at the side and onto the rocks. They hurt my feet, so when I slipped, I let myself fall into the water, careful to not let my butt hit the bottom. I then crab crawled out to deeper water where I could stand. The RD counted down the start to our wave. At thirty seconds, I hit start on my Timex. At 3 seconds, I pressed start on my Garmin 310XT, situated snuggly in my swim cap. The horn sounded, and we were off.
From the far left of the line, I had a good view of my wave as we surged from the start. I quickly lost the two or three fellas around me and found open water. I feel a dull ache in my arms, and I regret not warming up more, but nothing to be done about that now.
Again, I’m surprised to see the number of people in front of me out of the gate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in triathlon, that’s to pace myself well on the swim. The closer I got to the first turn buoy, the closer I got to the leaders in my wave. I had to dodge a few blue caps from the previous wave, but pretty much clean water up to the first turn. I felt turbulence in front of me, and I tried to find feet, but to no avail.
By now, I’m into my grove and swimming fast. I’m trying hard not to swing too far on the outside of the second turn buoy, but I managed about 8 yards or so. The swim back to the boat ramp is uneventful. I start to tire. Desperately, I channel that feeling I have in the pool of a 1:25-ish pace, and I try to emulate that stroke. Reach, pull, breath, repeat.. I swim past the waders until my hand touches the concrete boat ramp. My legs feel wobbly as I run up the boat ramp and across the timing map, noticing the 11:14 time on my Garmin.
Swim: 11:14, 8th out of the water in my wave, 2nd in Age Group, 1:37 per 100 yards.
I knew better than to allow my ego to get the best of me. That would be a poor time for a 600 yard swim, but I was confident it was not a 600 yard swim. Besides, there was racing to be done! I changed into my bike gear. The longest part of this transition was getting my HR strap on. Other than post-mortem analysis, I’m questioning the worth of doing this during a race.
T1: 1:30, which is fairly good for me.
The bike course started out with a long climb out of the marina, where we made a right turn out onto the highway proper. The RD said that this road had been closed, and they opened it up strictly for this race. Rather than ramble on about the elevation, I’ll just show you:
There wasn’t anything flat about this course. After the first climb, I was enjoying the downhill, only to realize there was more to come, and even worse after that. Some of the hills I was able to use my momentum to power through, and on others, I slowed to a crawl. That last particular long climb there in the middle was just brutal. I felt like I gave way way too much of myself during the first 8 miles or so. I tried a little harder on the way back to be more consistent with my power.
Somewhere around the 28 minute part (of the ride), the lead woman passed me. I tried to hang with her for a bit, as a matter of fact, I blew past her like she was standing still on that long downhill, but she passed me again soon enough, and this time for good. I think I was passed by four ladies in total by the time I reached the end of the ride. I did 2 of the miles at 27 mph, and 2 more at 25 mph. Overall, I did 8 of the miles at 20 mph or over. I glanced at my HRM every now and then, and I was squarely stuck at the top of Zone 4, and sometimes, I peaked out in Zone 5. The digits tell me I spent 97% of my ride in Zones 4 and 5, and I’m satisfied with that!
Bike: 55:10, , 9th in AG, 19.3 mph average
T2 was fairly uneventful. I managed to transition in slightly over a minute. I would have been a little faster if I hadn’t had to stop and reaffix my race number to my bike. I didn’t want any hassles retrieving my bike after the race!
That same hill we had to climb to reach the bike route was waiting for us as we started out the run. The run course for Tri the Mountains is point to point. It starts at the marina and ends in downtown Blue Ridge.
One of the things I like about running off the bike is that my heart rate is already high. Climbing that hill taxed my lungs and certainly my strength, but I was already used to going hard. My run started out just fine. Once you reach the crest of the hill, you have almost a mile of the sweetest down hill.
I tried to open it up here to make up some time, and I was not disappointed when my first mile came in at 8:27. Right at about the half way point, the long up hill climb began. The longer I climbed, the more I began to feel it in my legs and hips. My hips were hurting! I began to feel terribly hungry. As I made that long climb up that second hill, I had to stop and walk a couple of times. It was getting hot. I saw my pace slipping, and I began to let “I don’t care” rule my run. Once I got to the small down hill, I though, “Yea! The worse is over!” LOL… only to find the rest of the race was up hill to the finish.
Literally, about three to four tenths of a mile away, I could see the finish line. It was a straight shot into downtown Blue Ridge. I so wanted to walk again, but I so wanted this race to be over. I talked myself into picking up the pace, an for the last tenth of a mile, I sprinted to the finish at 7:44 pace. I crossed the finish line pretty much spent. I bent over to catch my breath.
Would you like some water, a race volunteer asked?
Yes, please, I responded.
A sweet child’s voice said, “Sir, I need to take your race chip.” I stood still as the little fingers removed the strap from my ankle. Another child shoved a water bottle from the local bike store in my hands, and I wandered off to the food table from some fruit.
A blue grass band was playing under the gazebo. I sat for a while and enjoyed listening to them. Eventually, I got bored and wandered over to the bus stop. Dee Dee had to work that Sunday, and I really didn’t know anybody at the race. The bus made the short ride back to the marina in short order. I changed out of my wet gear into some street clothes, packed my bags and left. As I pulled out of the marina, the last bike rider, followed by a race vehicle, was making her way into transition.
On the way out, I stopped at McD’s for a healthy breakfast and at the Mercier Orchards. I was hoping to score some of those sweet apples, but alas, the apples haven’t fallen from the tree yet, and they mostly had peaches. At least I tried! I don’t think Dee Dee would have let me come home without trying.
Total: 1:37:21, 8th AG
Now, my triathlon season is over. I’ve had the chance to ponder the race and all the digits. One of my friends had said that she hoped I ended my season on a high note. While I am not on a “high”, I am satisfied. According to my super accurate Garmin data, the swim ended up being closer to 700 yards than 600, and who wouldn’t be happy with 2nd out of the water? I was rather impressed with my wave. My bike ride was pretty good. I would have liked to have a more even effort, but that just comes with more experience (and maybe a power meter!).
If I’m disappointed in anything about this race, it was the run. In reviewing my digits, I barely kept my effort in zone 4, and that’s just not acceptable in a sprint. I keep having these reoccurring themes over and over again, where I feel like I am just undertrained on the run. One of these days, I’m going to figure this part out.
Also, I didn’t exactly train for the race course, and I never ever scout out the race course before hand. So, there’s still work to be done there, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be back next year to take another crack at this one, and try once again to reach my super-sekret goal.
In the mean time… marathon training starts today! :-)