Monday, July 23, 2012

Sweet simplicity

Now that the triathlon is over I'm taking some time to focus on running, and I've noticed the biggest difference between the two disciplines.

Triathlon is very complex.  Each sport has it's own skills to master, and there is the constant challenge of training for three things at once.  It also has a ridiculous amount of gear; bikes, pedals, goggles, trisuits, wetsuits, swimsuits, et cetera.

Running, on the other hand, is simple.  With only one sport to train for planning the upcoming week becomes a breeze.  And even though there are many different kinds of workouts, there is a much smoother continuity between them: lift weights to build strength, run to focus that power, and stretch to keep the muscles loose. When it comes to gear I only need to wear three things; shoes, shorts, watch.

After the frantic pace of the last couple of months it is a relief to feel like things are slowing down, becoming clearer, more focused.  Triathlon was a great challenge and one that I will return to in the future, but it isn't where my heart is.  Running is my true passion.  I find myself daydreaming about it's smooth, rocking cadence while I'm waiting in line at the grocery store, or imagining myself tearing around the track in anticipation for the afternoon's speed work while I'm walking home from school.

When I first signed up for the triathlon I did so as a stepping stone into regular running.  I'm happy to say that my training worked; I'm out there almost every day, and my back has been pain free for months.  I feel like I've returned home.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Big Race: T-Minus 0 Days


The first thing to do was breakfast.  Denny's was the only restaurant open at 4 AM so we went there, and I got down as much Pancakes, milk, sausage, and orange juice as I could given the unforgivably early hour and my nerves.  I was expecting to see a bunch of other athletes there getting fueled up, but the only other people around were two mangy teenagers sitting at the counter.  What the other athletes ate before such a huge race I'll never know.

Next was a shower, shave, and a last minute run to get energy gels (the one piece of gear I forgot, but something that I would sorely need.)  On the drive to the lake I got out my iPhone and listened to the one thing I knew would get pumped: the opening speech from the movie "Patton":

"When you reach your hand into a pile of goo that moments

 before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do."

The Swim:

Three races started before mine so I had a half hour to get on my wetsuit:

The lake wasn't very cold so I almost ditched the suit, but it looked so cool that I couldn't bring myself to leave it behind.  Eventually I waded out into the water and get ready for my start:

The swim was 750 meters, one lap around Ken's Lake.  About 8 minutes in I started to go into oxygen debt, which was what I was afraid off.  Swimming has always been the hardest part of triathlon for me, and ten days of bronchitis just before the race had robbed me of a lot of lung capacity.

But I tried not to panic and flipped around to do the backstroke until I could catch my breath.  It slowed me down a lot which was frustrating given how much freestyle I had done to prepare for this, but given the situation it was the best that I could do.  Also the water was really choppy in the middle of the lake because of this wind that was whipping out of the mountains, so that definitely made it harder to breathe because waves kept crashing over my face right as I would turn my head.  After a few minutes I was feeling better and rolled over back into the freestyle and was able to finish the swim strong.

As soon as I got out of the water I started to dismantle my wetsuit and head into the transition area.

The Bike:

T1 took longer than I thought.  There were so many things to remember: shoes, watch, helmet, back pack, water, gels, timing chip.  I really didn't want to get all the way into the mountains to realize I left something crucial behind.

Once I actually got going the bike course starts with a monstrous 1-mile stretch of dirt road that climbs straight up into the La Sal mountains.  I had done a lot of hill work in my training, but I spent most of this section in the lowest gear just trying not to red line.

Because the next section of the race is so remote I have very few pictures (which is a tragedy because the scenery was spectacular.)  But I think this shot sums up the experience pretty thoroughly:

Yes, we had to wade through a river.  I had seen pics of this part so I knew that I hadn't gone off the trail.  The next quarter mile was mostly flat but it went through this thick, deep sand.  The problem with trying to ride your bike through this was that if you slow down too much your tires just get stuck and you can't pedal.  I had to constantly jump off, pull my tires out of the soft, red sand and get back on.

Once again the terrain morphed, this time into the famous Moab slick rock.  This was hard and smooth, gently rounded by the wind, with steep jumps and boulders all over the trail.  This was something that I just wasn't able to train for, because there is no terrain like this in northern Utah where I live.  But I felt like I gradually figured out how to ride it by trial and error.  First, I had to constantly look ahead and plan the easiest route on the trail.  Second, I tried my best to keep my momentum going because once you slowed to a stop it was impossible to pedal up the really steep sections.  And third I had to learn when to stay on the bike and climb and when to jump off and carry it.  When a four-foot sheer wall stood a head of me, it was clear I wasn't biking over that.  Watching the other riders helped a lot, because I could try to follow them and mimic the ones that clearly had  more experience.

An hour into the race I was starting to feel wicked tired so I pulled out a Cliff Shot and that made me feel a hundred-percent better.  That sugar and caffeine felt like lightning jolting through my veins.

After a while the field thinned out quite a bit and I stopped seeing medics, photographers, and even other riders.  This is when the whole thing stopped feeling like a race and started feeling like an adventure.  I actually forgot that there was anyone else in the entire world and felt that I was pushing into this strange and ferocious wilderness all by myself.  The whole world was silent, and the only sounds were my own tires scraping against the rock and the steady pulse of my lungs sucking air in and pushing air out.  It was still early in the day and the course went mostly east, so with the ascent and the heat and the red rocks and the blazing light it felt like I was riding my bike straight into the sun.

My trance was broken when I hit the turn-around and saw a lone volunteer standing next to a fold-out table with Gatorade and water.  After such untamed terrain this reminder of civilization was a little jarring.  When I stopped for a drink I checked my watch and saw that I had been on the bike leg for an hour and fifteen minutes.  It took me 75 minutes to go 4.2 miles!  In my defense I had climbed almost a thousand feet, which meant the bike course averaged an 8 percent grade.

The ride back was a cinch because it was almost all down-hill.  I just rode the brakes and tried to go as fast as possible without losing control.  I think the thing I'm most proud of is that I didn't crash once.  This part of the course was a blast because I could just fly down the mountain and catch my breath to get ready for the run.  I made it all the way back to the lake in less than 15 minutes.

The Run:

T2 was easy because I just had to hang up my bike and ditch the helmet, but when I started to run I realized just how tired I was.  It was a strange feeling, beginning to run when I was already so exhausted.  At this point I had been out there for two hours and I could really feel it.  It wasn't that my legs were terribly sore, my whole body just felt drained, weak.

The run course was moderately difficult with soft sand and lots of short, steep climbs.  At a couple of points I actually had to use my hands to help me scramble up some embankments.  But I was passing people, which felt great.  I passed 10 or 15 people in that 5k, and I didn't get passed by anyone who was in my race.  I actually felt strong, my form was good and I was gradually speeding up.

The last mile of the run pulled out of the mountains and looped around the lake where we started.  It was great because you could see the rest of the runners and the crowds lined up at the finish line, so it gave you a lot of motivation to push hard right to the end.  They even had a loud-speaker blasting classic rock songs and an announcer cheering people on.  The best part was this person apparently had a list of all of the contestants and their race numbers, because as I was approaching the finish line I heard the peppy female voice announce, "Coming in now is number 290, Colin Mann from Provo, UT!"  I felt like I total rock star.

I want to thank my parents for coming all the way out to the ends of the earth to see me race, and Xterra for putting on such a rad event.  The swim took me 20:30, the bike 1:29:42, the run 34:02, and my total time with the transitions was 2:31:11.  My swim was pretty poor, but I held my own on the bike and and did pretty well on the run which was basically what I expected given my strengths and weaknesses.  Comparing myself to the other athletes, I got 7th out of 8th in my age division, but being a man in your late twenties is the most competitive age group so I wasn't expecting to be real competitive here.  Basically I got beaten by everyone who had experience and were in it to really race, and I beat everyone who was just in it to finish.

In retrospect this was basically the hardest triathlon I could have possibly done, so picking this as my first foray into multisport probably wasn't the best idea.  But I knew this race was going to be tough and that was one of the reasons that I specifically picked it.  In the end I don't think I had any major regrets, and I'm really proud at having done something so epic.