Monday, May 14, 2012

RACE REPORT: 2012 Canby Gator Grinder Triathlon


Here's a list of things that are inadvisable to do before a race:
1) Cut a hole in your trisuit while cutting out the hangtags
2) Come down with a lung infection 
3) Take medication (to combat said lung infection) that makes one sun sensitive
4) Lie awake at 2am coughing (courtesy of said lung infection) the night before the race.

But hey, anyone that knows me knows I'm always up for a challenge, so I decided to do all four!

In truth, of course, being sick really sucks. As I carefully made my way downstairs to my kitchen at 2am to make myself a cup of throat-soothing herbal tea to combat the coughing fit, I wondered for a fleeting moment if it wouldn't be wise for me to consider a DNS (Did Not Start). That thought quickly left my mind, however. Why? Because this event is more that just a local sprint tri. Each year, my staff and I make a big party out of it. TeamEstrogen.com pays their entry fees and all staff participants have free run of the warehouse to pick a trisuit of their choice for the event. After the race, we have a huge tailgate party with friends and family. It's a big teambuilding day for my staff and I. So, for all those reasons and more, there was no way I could seriously consider a DNS. 

So, after my tea, I went back to bed, knowing that 5am would come earlier than I'd like. Fortunately, the tea did it's throat-soothing trick and I slept well. After my standard pre-race fare of coffee, water oatmeal and banana, Jeff & I were underway at 6am for the 45 minute drive to Canby.

At 7am, we met up with the rest of the staff and our photographer for photos. Everyone was in good spirits, despite the typical pre-race jitters. After photos, we all trooped off to the swim center to cheer for staff member Edna, who was in the first heat.

Canby is such a beginner friendly event. It consists of a 500 yard swim (10 heats, 4 people to a lane, seeded by each athlete's self-estimated 500 yard swim time), a hilly-ish 12 mile bike ride, and a pancake-flat 5K run. The pool swim is really the key to bringing newbies out for the race. So many people are afraid of the open water, but at Canby, beginners can stop at the wall and breathe with every lap if necessary.

Heat 1 consisted of the slowest swimmers, with swim times gradually decreasing all the way to Heat 10, where the 6 minute folks strut their stuff. Over the years, with much pool work, I've managed to work myself into later and later heats. This year I was in Heat 7, Lane 3 beginning at 9:30am. Jeff has made huge progress in the pool in the past 2 years, so he too was in Heat 7, Lane 5.

After watching Edna swim, I went off to set up my transition area. I scored a primo end-of-rack spot with plenty of space to set up my bike and run gear. That done, I ate a banana (8am) and went off to watch a few more heats. 

At 9am, I laced up my run shoes and headed off for a 10 minute warm up jog. It had been 7 days since I had done ANYTHING (not one iota of activity since the previous Saturday when the congestion settled into my chest!). Jogging along, I tried to assess my physical state. My lungs felt OK. Not great, and I suspected I would have trouble on the 5K. My legs felt OK too. Again, not great, as a week's worth of inactivity had allowed my left IT band to tighten up, despite diligent work on my trusty foam roller. But all in all, I felt well enough that I figured I could at least finish the race and enjoy the day with my staff.

At 9:15, I returned my run shoes to their place in transition, grabbed my swim cap and goggles, and headed to the pool. On deck, we waited while Heat 6 finished up. One very slow swimmer (who clearly belonged in an earlier heat) meant that we weren't allowed into the pool until 9:27. With just 3 minutes until the start of our heat, we all swam half a lap, turned around, adjusted our goggles, and waited for the whistle. 

With 4 people to a lane, the start is staggered. Each person is assigned a position (1 to 4) and the whistle goes off at 5 second intervals. Your final finishing time takes these staggered starts into account, so you must start in your assigned position. I was position 3 in the lane, so at 9:30:10, off I went!

I have never enjoyed swimming. I have a primal fear of drowning, such that sometimes simply sitting at my desk in my office just thinking about swimming makes my throat feel tight. So above and beyond the physical techniques of learning to swim, I've had to do a lot of “head game” work to force myself to remain calm while swimming. Perhaps because I went into the day with such low expectations, I found myself swimming with a strange sense of calm, something I rarely experience. I concentrated on breathing evenly, elongating my body, proper arm position, etc. Oddly, I felt my right foot cramp slightly after pushing off the wall a few times, something that never happens to me, but fortunately it didn't turn into a charlie horse. I had my feet tapped twice (the sign that the person behind wants to pass at the wall) and then late in the swim tapped the feet ahead of me so that I could pass. Beyond that, we were a good lane of compatible swimmers, without anyone who was really too slow or too fast for our lane's pace estimate of 9:45/500yds. 

I hit the wall at 9min 34seconds, a result with which I was thrilled (a new PR!)! I haven't swum a sub-10 minute 500 all season, so I was stoked. Time to the T1 mat was 9:43.

T1 went very well. We exited the swim center and I easily found my bike at the end of the Heat 7 rack. Off with the goggles, on with the helmet, glasses, socks (yes, I wear socks) and shoes. Across the rack I spied Jeff, also gearing up, and I congratulated him on his swim time. I grabbed my bike and headed to the exit, immediately behind Jeff. Total T1 time was 1:12 (also a PR!).

I clipped in and headed off down the road, with Jeff up ahead less than 100 feet. For the first half mile, I held that distance between us, then accelerated and passed him. The first 4.5 miles of the bike course are very flat, allowing me to settle in to my aerobars, get my adrenaline-charged heartrate and breathing under control, and take an inventory of my physical state. I noted that my heartrate was higher than ideal, and tried to bring it down a little before the hills started at mile 4.5. The next 6.5 miles roll up and down continually with fast descents and a couple of leg burning climbs. The race photographer, of course, positions himself right at the top of the steepest climb, all the better to get dramatic shots, I suppose. 

Overall, the bike went alright. I didn't have much “spring” in my legs on the climbs and my left IT band also started to talk to me briefly on the last climb, but then it shut up (and I wouldn't feel it the rest of the day, thankfully). My HR was definitely higher than I would have liked. Clearly, the chest cold was taking its toll. The last mile of the bike course is flat, which gave me a few minutes to settle down my HR again and to visualize the move into T2.

I rolled into T2 with an elapsed bike time of 37:59 (which I didn't know at that moment, but is actually a PR for me on this course.) I racked my bike, ditched my bike shoes, and as I'm putting on my run shoes, who should roll into T2 but Jeff! He later told me he had me in his sights for much of the ride but didn't try to reel me in. I snapped on my race-number belt, put on a run cap, and headed out of T2 with an elapsed time of 1:19 (surprise, another PR!) while Jeff was still mucking with his shoes.

The first part of the run is across a grassy field, which I always find awkward as I'm still trying to get my run legs under me. After we round the school building adjacent to transition, we emerge onto the pavement. The run is an out-n-back, with 2 loops of a lollypop at the far end. I managed the first mile in 9:34 but as I started to round the first loop, I knew my goose was cooked. Actually, “cooked” is a good metaphor for what started to happen to me. Temps were in the upper 70s (not especially hot, really) with bright sunshine and I started to bake; I began to feel lightheaded, like I wasn't getting enough air, and felt vaguely nauseous. It was right around this moment when my doctor's voice floated though my head.... “Doxycyclene will make you sun sensitive...”. Reading up on it after the fact (ie. today), here's what the National Institute of Health has to say about doxycycline: “Doxycycline is used to treat bacterial infections, including pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections ….plan to avoid unnecessary or prolonged exposure to sunlight and to wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Doxycycline may make your skin sensitive to sunlight. ….Doxycycline may cause side effects. ...Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately: ….difficulty breathing or swallowing ... ...redness of the skin (sunburn) ...upset stomach.”

Of course, at the moment, all I could think of was how I needed to hold it all together for just another mile or so. As I rounded loop one and loop two, I could see Jeff gaining on me. Finally, I left the loops and headed back the last mile towards the finish. Rather than concentrate on my decidedly queasy stomach, I reminded myself that I had gotten past far worse last summer on PBP and that I could get past this too. I put one foot in front of the other and kept moving. Along that last mile, I spotted co-worked Katie and friend Lynne on their way out on the run course, and we high-fived as we passed one another. With just a few tenths of a mile to go, my friend Lee, who had already finished the race, appeared at my side and began to run with me. I told him I was struggling and he encouraged me to keep going. He looked back and said Jeff was ~5-6 seconds behind me. I know Jeff well enough to know that there was no way he would be that close to me and not give 120% to pass me. Sure enough, those looong legs of his took him right past me with just a minute or two left to go. With Lee's encouragement, I did my best to keep up, picking up my pace as best I could. 

See, I also knew something that I was pretty sure Jeff had forgotten. Remember that bit way back at the beginning of this report about lane position on the swim? Well, Jeff was position 1, while I was position 3. So, when he passed me, he thought he was beating me. What I knew, however, was that I had 10 seconds on him and that as long as I could keep the gap at the finish line to under 10 seconds, I would still beat him! Lee knew this as well. 

The final effort on this course is half a lap around a grade school track. As soon as Jeff crossed the line, Lee started a 10 second countdown. I gave it everything I could and crossed the line in 1:20:59. Jeff wasn't wearing a watch, so he had no idea what his time was. I knew we'd need to wait for results to be posted to see which of us would be triumphant.

A volunteer took my timing chip while I stood trying to catch my breath. I found the water station and drank several glasses, then found my friends at the finish line. As we stood around comparing war stories, my stomach settled down. We all cheered as Katie crossed the line (she won the race AND set a new course record!) and Lynne followed shortly thereafter. Lots of sweaty hugs were exchanged and our staff photographer captured all the important moments.

Jeff and I set up the tailgate party and BBQs while everyone else headed to the showers. As we all sat down to enjoy our hard-earned burgers, the organizers handed out the awards.

For the 3rd year in a row, I managed a 2nd place in my age group (40-44). I'd had illusions of grandeur this year, hoping to win it, but the chest cold knocked that all to the wayside. I was simply happy to have not collapsed on the course. :-) Despite my slowest run in the past 4 years (30:43), I still managed to beat last year's overall time on this course by 40 seconds. Not half bad for a girl with a lung infection.  :-) The coulda shoulda woulda of what might have been had I been healthy will have to wait until 2013.

Major props go out to the TE staff and friends, all of whom had AMAZING results on the course this year. Jeff beat last year's time by 13 minutes (and beat me by FOUR SECONDS!). Edna beat last year's time by almost 20 minutes! Lynne dropped her time by 3 or 4 minutes. Katie knocked 3 minutes off her time and set a new women's course record in the process. Linda dropped her time by 3-4 minutes and won her age group. Theresa completed her first ever tri and beat her first-timer brother by nearly 10 minutes! Over the years, we've sucked in many friends and family members into doing this event with us and without exception, ribbon or not, everyone had a great time.

2013, here we come!

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