September 22, 2019

Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon, part two

After crossing the finish line I wandered over to Ann to say hello and briefly debrief on the race. I hung out for a few minutes until Angie crossed the finish line and then made my exit so she could have the finish to herself. Smile on my face, I wandered through the crowd making my way back to my station to get rid of some things and grab my phone for some pictures.

After gathering my breath and letting the day sink in, I found my way over to where the volunteers were dishing out baked potatoes. It didn't sound all that tempting, but I knew I needed to eat. I only ended up finishing about half of it before tossing it out. My stomach is always a bit messed up after any long event. Even though I never seem to take in enough calories while on the road, I never feel much like eating when I finish.

I found some open grass among the crowd and listened as the event organizers went through the awards and raffles. There were actually three events/distances on the day, a Sprint, Super Sprint and Olympic triathlon. They also broke up the age groups in five year increments so the award ceremonies went on for a long time. Every so often they would raffle off some prizes to keep people around and interested.

Many people had left by this point, so when they called out a bib number and no one responded, they would toss that number aside and draw another. They mentioned that even if you won one of the smaller things, your name would still go back into the hat for the grand prize. Part way through Ann sent me a text and then waved me over to join her and a couple of her athletes/trainees. We swapped stories about how the day went, enjoying the day again in the retelling.

As they made their way through the various events and age categories, I kept looking at the clock. I had left the house sometime around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and it was already going to be eight plus hours that Izzy would be cooped up in her crate. I kept debating ducking out, but I was enjoying the sorta-after-party, and hey you never know.

When they finally got to the Olympic distance, and then to my age group I was surprised to find that I had finished fifth. At that point I didn't know how many were actually in my age group, but I was hoping it was at least six. I later found out it was twelve, so not too shabby for my second tri and first time at the distance.

To speed things up a bit, they announced both the men and women in each age group and had them go up to the stage together to get their prize. Angie had placed third in her age group, and the way they had the stage set up we were standing side by side to get our pint glasses. Weird coincidence.

I made my way back up the hill to Ann and her group and shared my amazement that I had placed. It was not a couple of minutes later than one of Ann's friend's name was called. as she placed in her age division as well. Smiles all around. 

Once the awards were finished it was time for the grand drawing. They added back the previous winners, but left all the non-responses sitting on the grass where they had been tossed aside. To add a bit of suspense, the announcer called out the winning bib number one digit at a time. When he started with a 2, I knew I was out. He called out 2, 1, 5...  No response. The person who had won had already left, so that number floated down to the grassy dead pile. 

They dug into the hat again and slowly read off the next number - 3 (me)...9 (also me!)...4 (holy shit, that's me!!). I tossed up my phone in surprise and leapt up raising my hands in the air to make sure they saw me before drawing another number. I jogged down to the front as people clapped and probably started gathering up their things. I showed them my bib to verify I had not misheard, and they waved me up on to the make-shift stage. There waiting for me was Brad from the local bike shop. Also waiting for me was a very nice Cannondale road bike. 

While they were snapping some photos, Brad and I chatted. I noted that the bike was a size too large for me, but obviously this was sort of a placeholder. After chatting for a bit longer, he asked something along the lines of "do you even need a bike?" I guess he has given away a bike at several previous events, and sometimes the winner already has several bikes. Not this guy. 

I mentioned that I already had a road bike that although it wasn't as nice as this one, I didn't feel that it was exactly holding me back. I mentioned that I was just getting into triathlons, but I was hoping to get a triathlon specific bike at some point. He said he couldn't provide a tri bike at the price point of this one, but I could apply the credit to get me partway there. 


I hadn't planned on getting a tri bike until at least next year, and even then I would be likely shopping for a used bike. But damn, sometimes you get lucky. 

It was a doubly, triply successful day. I drove home still a bit worried about Izzy, but it turns out she was just fine. When I let her out she just sat down on the lawn and stared out at the lake, very zen-like and apparently not needing to pee. Glad I stayed for the drawing. 

Next, bike shopping. This tri thing is starting to get serious. 

September 17, 2019

Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon, part one

Immediately after the Seafair sprint triathlon, I signed up to do the Olympic distance four weeks later. The Olympic distance is roughly twice the distance of the sprint with a 1.5k swim, 40k bike ride and 10k run (roughly .9 mile swim, 25 mile bike and a 6.2 mile run). Though I did pretty well at Seafair, I wasn't overly confident I could double the distance in less than a month.

In the weeks in between races I began to feel a bit better swimming in open water. I started swimming at Lake Sammamish State Park where the swim area is wide enough to get some long laps just swimming along the ropes. My new friend Ann who has done many triathlons, including now 10 Ironmans, joined me one Saturday. She has been a bit of a Godsend, with endless encouragement and advice. The day she joined me we swam roughly the Olympic distance and then hopped on our bikes to ride around the lake we just swam in. I almost always train alone, so having a friend along for the ride was a treat.

A week before the race I went on my (nearly) annual backpacking trip. We have done it each year since I moved back, but couldn't get our schedules to line up last year. I was really looking forward to the trip, but of course it meant one less week to train. It was a great trip, escaping to the woods to disconnect and reconnect, and of course there was a bit of exercise along the way. Unfortunately, I also came home with a strained calf, so that was not the best thing leading into the race.

It was another early morning on race day to get to the start. Parking was available near the start, but they suggested it would fill up by 6:15. I arrived around 6:00 and there was already a long backup to get in, so I moved onto one of the offsite parking areas at the local fire station. I walked my bike to the start, slowly warming up sleepy muscles.

Along with avoiding last minute stress, getting to the start line early allows you to have a better pick of where you get to set up your station. I picked a good spot and wandered around a bit to check out the area. I met Kathleen who had run the volunteer spot at Ramrod a few weeks earlier. She was volunteering here as well and helped me get checked in. She would later help feed us by manning the food station at the finish. Volunteers really do make these events possible.

Another familiar face was Angie. I had found out a few days earlier that she was participating in the same race. We ran into each other as I was wading into the lake for the start and exchanged an awkward wave.

Speaking of waves, unlike Seafair where there were multiple start waves broken up by age and gender, the Lake Meridian Tri only had two waves per event, one for the men and one for the women. It was a much more crowded start, so as soon as the gun went off there was lots of bumping into each other and jostling for space.

Watching Ironman events on TV, and hearing all the stories of people thrashing against each other at the swim start, I had always had this trepidation about the swim. Many describe it as being in a washing machine as soon as the gun goes off. This wasn't anything like that, but where at Seafair the swimmers spread out eventually, there always seemed to be several people around me throughout the race.

I did a bit better job of sighting the buoys we were to swim around, so didn't add too much distance to the swim this time. I also didn't have any panicky feelings, though I did fall in and out of rhythm on a regular basis while pulling up to avoid running (swimming) into other people. The women started only three minutes after the men, so it didn't take too long for the speedier ladies to catch up to me. As I exited the water, I thought that I saw Angie just in front of me, but it turns out it is easy to mistake people hidden behind wetsuits and swim caps. I did a speed walk to the transition area and swapped out gear and headed out for the bike.

My stomach was again feeling pretty poor for the first bit of the ride, so it was difficult to get any fluids much less any food down. I tried to spin up to speed slowly and wait for my body to come back online. The first several miles were a bit of passing and being passed until we all sort of settled into our paces.

The bike course is basically a set of three out and backs so once you made the first right turn there were faster bikers already coming back from the first leg. Again at Seafair there were so many start waves that there were going to be people well ahead of you regardless of your speed, but here it was clear that the people headed the other way were just on another level of fitness and talent. I did not find this discouraging, and just enjoyed having something to look at while pedaling.

Having felt like I pushed it a little too hard on the bike at Seafair, I tried to ease off a bit to save something for the run. Even so, my average speed was similar to last time, so pacing is something I still need to work on.

About sixteen miles into the ride I stood up out of the seat to take a break and stretch my back and legs. A few seconds after returning to pedaling, my right calf seized, knotting with a painful cramp. I actually cried out in pain and veered over to the shoulder of the road. My right foot is the one I always clip out of the pedal first, and with it locked up in a cramp I almost didn't get it out in time. The revenge of backpacking.

Once safely stopped, I hung my head over the handlebars and tried to will the muscle to relax. After a minute or two it did, so I started to slowly pedal again, pressing on without pressing too hard. If I am not going to learn to pace myself, my body is going to painfully intervene until I do.

I finished the bike without further incident and headed back into transition. I changed shoes, grabbed the belt that holds my race bib and headed out over the grassy hill to find the run course. Again it felt like I was shuffling, but I did feel better starting out than at Seafair. I had a bit over six miles to go, so I was happy to slowly ramp up.

The run course was mostly on a paved park path with some small ups and downs in terrain. There was one longer downhill near the start, and I told myself that I would walk it on the way back in. There was a guy dressed in a Tyrannosaurus costume running up and down the hill cheering people on. It is such a wonderful thing to have people dedicate their mornings, dressed up in a silly costume, just to encourage complete strangers. Getting to experience these random bright spots of humanity are one of the many reasons I do these events.

The run course was a completely out and back course, so you ran about three miles in one direction, turned around, and ran the three miles back on the same path. Not the best set up for variety of scenery, but again you were running past other people on your way out and in. There were smiles, some vacant stares, but lots of nod and waves of acknowledgement and encouragement. When I was headed back I saw Angie coming the other way, and we gave each other a much less awkward greeting and some atta boys/atta girls.

When I reached that hill, I walked just as I planned. The Tyrannosaurus guy was still there and cheered me on to get running again, but I smiled and told him this was my promise to myself. It was less than a mile to the finish, so I tried to pick up the pace a bit when I was back running again. I don't know if I went any faster, but the increased swing of my arms made me feel like I was digging in.

Around the grassy hill the finish line appeared. My neighbor had talked about possibly coming down to see me at the finish, and asked me what time I thought I might run. Having only just done the one tri and never this distance, it was a bit of a wild ass guess, but I thought somewhere between three hours and three hours twenty. When the finish line came in sight, I saw the clock and one more smile crossed my face. I finished in 2:52:49.

I am really happy with how the day went. The swim was a much better experience than last time, other than the calf cramp the bike went well over a more hilly course, and I didn't blow up on the run, running a pace I would be happy with without all the swimming and biking preceding it. All in all a great day.

But it would get better... Details in the next post

September 8, 2019

Seafair Sprint Triathlon

Swim, run, bike. I had done the last two pieces for years, but the first one was a relative unknown.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I did a bit of swimming in 2009 but it had been a solid decade since I had been in a pool. I found my way back for some swimming during tax season and then again in June/July once I had put my marker down on an event. The swim stroke is a bit like the golf swing - many tiny things to consider, and you don't really get good at it until you can stop thinking about all those little things.

I signed up for the July 21st Seafair Triathlon which is one of the few triathlons in the Seattle area. It takes place at Seward Park where I had done several runs, and the bike route was along Lake Washington where I had ridden many times. It was nice to have a familiar setting for this new adventure. Packet pickup was the day before the race, and they marked up my arms and legs with my race number and age.

I suppose that doing this the day before saves some time on race day, but some of the black Sharpie ended up rubbing off on my bedsheets.

It was an early night since my alarm would be going off at 4:40 the next morning. When I turned out the lights, the sun was still up, and a beam came through an opening in the curtains. It focused as a spotlight on this photo of Sierra and me, so I took that as a good sign.

I arrived at the start line early, like I always like to do. I like to avoid the last minute stress of running around, and I also like to take in the energy of the start line. This gave me some extra time to re-rack my bike after I figured out I was in the wrong spot, and to hit the restroom several times (those wetsuits really squeeze the bladder). I ended up with extra time as the start was delayed 20 minutes, and I was also in one of the later starting waves due to my "seniority" of age.

It was finally time to start.

My group of 50 year old guys waded into the lake and waited for the horn. I set myself up in the back right to avoid the mayhem of the start. Figuring I would be one of the slower swimmers, I just wanted to stay out of the way.

The swim ended up being a bit of a struggle. I did a terrible job of sighting, so added some extra distance to the planned half mile swim. I also panicked a bit, ended up out of breath and had to do some slow strokes just to gather myself. It felt like I was out there forever, but it ended up only being a bit under seventeen minutes.

The last third of the swim I found a bit of a rhythm and started thinking about all the steps to take in transition. Once I reached the shore I walked/jogged my way to my bike. I managed to get my wetsuit off without too much trouble, then socks, shoes, helmet, bike and I was off to the next leg. I felt nauseous from the swim, but I was moving forward.

As I rode I began to feel better. I rode briskly, trying to press a bit without using up all my energy since there was still a run waiting. I began to pass other riders, but one of the bonuses of those Sharpie markings on our legs was being able to know who I was passing. I saw very few of my age group out on the ride, and was mostly passing people from the earlier waves. The route along the lake is a beautiful one and soon we were at the turnaround point. I continued to press, feeling a bit better as the miles ticked by. Soon I was back in transition, ready to swap my wheels for running shoes.

After racking my bike and switching out shoes, I made my way out of transition for the second time. My legs were feeling pretty spent and jelly-like. It felt more like shuffling than running, but even so I was starting to pass a couple of people. I just tried to keep moving forward, easing up to that line of what I had left in the tank and trying not to go over.

The route around Seward Park is only about two and a half miles, so in order to do a proper 5k we had to head inland and uphill. Parts of it were steep enough that I had to walk, but I wasn't going much slower than the people trying to run it. Power walking for the win.

Then it was downhill and onto the flats again. When I saw the finish line I didn't have anything in me to sprint, but I finished relatively strong. And that finish line felt really sweet.

When I was in the middle of the swim, mildly panicking and veering off course, I had serious doubts about the Olympic Triathlon I had planned a month later, much less anything longer. But after crossing that finish line, I knew I was hooked.

September 3, 2019

My long road to triathlon

I have wanted to (run?) a triathlon for a very long time, at least as far back as 2006. I actually did do a sprint triathlon that year, but had not done one since.

I really enjoyed that first experience, even though I messed up on the swim and had a flat tire on the bike. Sometimes when we fail the first time, it inspires us to try, try again. That was certainly the experience with my first bike event (which I did not finish) and with my first marathon attempt (which I also did not finish). Yet for some reason the triathlon dream/plan lay mostly dormant.

I did plan on attempting another tri in 2009. By that point I had been biking and running for a few years, so I started going to the pool to train since this would be my weakest link. But 2009 would be the year of unraveling, so it did not happen.

No real excuse for the intervening ten years, though.

Still, the dream was there in the background. I have the 2006 and 2007 Ironman Championships on DVD and I regularly watch them whenever I needed inspiration for an upcoming event. Over the years I have run nineteen marathons, twelve half marathons and ridden in several biking events that surpassed one or two hundred miles, but for some reason the triathlon remained a back of my mind/someday sort of thing.

A couple of things finally pushed it from "someday" to the desire to make it finally happen.

The first was when I went down to St George Utah to run the marathon with Sean, Marci, Jonathan and BG in October of 2016. That event and long weekend was a wonderful reunion of great, long-running friends. Sean had found this great place to rent when he had run the event a few years earlier, so as a part of the weekend we all got to hang out on the patio for several nights to catch up on all things great and small since we now lived a couple of states away from each other.

Some months previously Sean shared that he and BG had participated in their first sprint triathlon. They both had a great time and could see themselves doing it again. There on the patio in St. George, Sean let me know that they had both signed up for the Oceanside Half-Ironman Triathlon the following April. I was both rather blown away that Sean was taking on this distance, and bummed when I logged on to find that it was sold out.

We chatted excitedly about the Half-Ironman on their horizon. I can't even remember if this was before or after we ran the marathon that weekend, but the enthusiasm for this future endeavor almost grabbed attention away from the present challenge/accomplishment. I've had this goal percolating in the background for at least a decade, and here I had someone I had run many (many) miles with set to take on the challenge. It made it more real, somehow more realistic. If Sean could do it, maybe Sean could do it.

The second thing that finally pushed "someday" to "this year" was when I was dating Angie. She had done several Half-Ironman and full Ironman events. When we were still in the excited, planning stage of things, she let me know that she was going to do the Half-Ironman in Coeur d'Alene in June of this year. I had tax season and the marathon in Big Sur in April, but I believed I could half-ass my way into training to at least complete the thing. That was the final spark I needed.

Although Angie, and by extension Coeur d'Alene, did not work out, the seed long planted was set to bloom. 2019 would be the year. After the marathon in April, I had no other major running/biking events on the calendar. It wasn't really now or never, but damn it, just shut up and make it happen.

More to follow..