I have a new-found respect for the grit of Triple T athletes. Even though the venue is beautiful, the three day triathlon festival in Portsmouth, Ohio is nothing short of bestiality.
Here's the pecking order of toughness as I see it:
Putting red hot coals in your underwear > American Triple T Triathlon> All Ironman events (except for St. George allegedly) > Lil Smokie 1/2 Ironman (one day of the Triple T)> All other 1/2 Ironmans > Scrabble with my wife > Marathons in alligator pits
Friday evening starts with a super-sprint "prologue" race (250 m swim, 5 mi bike, 1 mi run). Saturday morning is an olympic distance tri (1500 m swim, 24.8 mi bike, 6.55 mi). Saturday afternoon is another olympic tri but the normal order changed (bike, swim, run). Then Sunday, is a 1/2 Ironman (1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run). If you just do Sunday's race, you don't get the Triple T jersey or bragging rights.
Due to my ankle injury in March I felt under-trained to participate in the whole Triple T, as I had been training for since October, but I decided on Thursday that my ankle was finally tough enough to be put to the test of Sunday's 1/2. The added perk-- camping with friends! Also, on Saturday (the day before the race) Studio S (my wife's studio) had a 3 hour fundraiser ride which got to be my *asterisk. That is, if I raced well, I'm a mega-badass, but if I raced poorly, I could always blame it on fundraising do-good-ism. So that certainly helped to take the competitive pressure off and just use the weekend as a fun training opportunity.
THE WEEK BEFORE
Taper time baby! The week leading up to the race, I got some weird sinus infection or allergy-thing (too many 12 hour days spent in drywall dust) and decided to not do any workouts that week except for a couple of lite swims. I ate 99.999% raw fruits and veggies the whole week except for a late night hummus binge. By Friday, I felt like a god! I was so excited for the athletes already racing, that I barely slept. Saturday morning I got to ride in the Studio S's "Ride for a Rack" 3 hour fundraiser ride, which was a ton of fun. I tried to take it easy and just allow it to be a way to level the playing field with all the Triple T athletes already working way harder than me. So by Saturday afternoon, I felt more like about 1.7 million bucks.
I had no idea how my ankle would perform coming off such a long and intense ride, so my strategy was just to go slightly harder on the swim and bike portions than I normally would and be content if I couldn't finish the run portion actually running, let alone fast. I wanted to keep my heart rate between 80 and 85% on the bike, knowing full well that I have a bad habit of sprinting my skinny ass up hills trying to maintain speed rather than cruising up hills while maintaining a consistent power
/HR output. At Ironman Lou', I witnessed first-hand the effects (and idiocy) of letting my heart rate spike too early in the day. Every HR spike takes a toothy bite out of your legs come the run. Plus, it is a HUGE morale booster running past those same fools who passed me on the bike.
HOW I DIDN'T DIE TWICE
Dinner the night before ~20 bananas + 1 smores (guilty pleasure) and prepping date-o-rade
|Pater stetching with his compression socks and Amy and Spike's leg just chillin by the campfire after they've already completed 3 races each that weekend.
Bedtime-- 10pm but I slept with one eye open due to strange Appalachian Deliverance
vibe from the camp ground.
Wakeup 4:30am to start drinking water (force the morning poop) and start drinking breakfast in order to digest in time for 7:20 swim start.
Breakfast-- 20 oz of water + 20 oranges (juiced - pulp intact)
Pooped again before we left the campsite. (This sounds like TMI, but it's essential
Rode bike from campsite to transition area with all the triathlete campers.
Believe it or not, one more poop. Back to 2 million bucks.
Calm. Dew. Tranquil. Dark. Cool. Erie. Nervous. Jittery. So excited!
The swim was not a mass start, which is to my liking, being released two-by-two and not in a cluster-ckuf. I estimated I'd go a 34 minute swim. Between the 61F water temps, race day nerves, and my tight wetsuit, my heart was pounding out of its chest-- I went way too hard too soon-- HR spike! I had been working so hard on my swim technique for so long and yet, the murky water and nerves blinded me and I lost all sense of orientation and composure. I was practically flailing, finishing lap one of two in 15 minutes flat and then ran about 50' along the beach to begin lap two stunned and stupid. What are you doing!? Calm down, Chris,
I said to myself. So for lap two, my usual mantra kicked in, Nice and sleazy. Nice and sleazy. In... And out. In... And out.
Lap two felt ridiculously
easy...and yet, when I got out of the water, my watch said :29, which means my split was negative! I went way easier but swam slightly faster...or perhaps just not serpentine. It felt cool to have the technique actually work.
|The swim course at Triple T/ Lil Smoke consists of two rectangular laps. Water was cold but didn't leave the toes feeling numb.
Getting out of the water and running to the bike corral, I felt like what a newborn Giraffe must feel like when it falls wet out of its mother's vagina from all the way from giraffe-vagina height. And then it's mama is like, "stand up immediately little newborn giraffe baby-- that Lion and Hyena want to chase you down and EAT YOU." It's tough, painful, soggy, confusing, and just a rude way to treat the body.
I quickly put on my heart rate strap and cycling shoes and helmet and was out of transition in under two minutes, which wasn't lighting speed, but I just wanted to make sure that everything was in order nutritionally, which it appeared it was... PSYCHE! Why the heck didn't I realize there would be ZERO water stations available on the bike course?! And why the heck wasn't my HR monitor registering a heart rate other than 42 bpm? Am I just that good of a swimmer that I can race a mile at resting heart rate? No way! Sounds like I'll be writing the president of Nike asking for his resignation. I'll also be writing the president of Emotiv Energy (me) and asking him to do better course recon.
I mentally divided the two-lap bike route into fourths. I named them Mountain One, Mountain Two, Mountain Three, and Mountain Four. The first fourth (Mountain One) was devoted to just finding my rhythm "nice and sleazy" and getting calories in my tank. I had this genius idea (help from LFRV-ers) to make a super date-o-rade minus the fiber. I soaked 40 dates (~1600 calories) in coconut juice and water over night and then I used Susie's panty hose to strain the high octane liquid out of the fiber-y sludge. I had to do it at the campsite the night before in the light of my door's safety light. I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to strain enough liquid out for even one water bottle and that it would be pretty diluted. Then I'd be forced to rely entirely on the race directors' nutrition plan-- green bananas (starchy useless poison), nasty ghettorade, Oreo's, oranges and pretzels. But luckily, I squeezed those panty hose like a mad man and had just enough of what was really quite syrupy. I wish I knew how many calories was in it, though. As awesome a fuel source as it was, I really should have done more rehearsing with it. It only lasted me one lap of the two lap course--I'm guessing ~600 calories.
I had warnings from friends about how technical (and scary) the course was, in particular, steep descents with sharp gravelly turns. On the first one of these hairpins, I took the turn too fast and in fact didn't turn at all, but just road straight on to a gravel road off the coarse. I was so scared for my life and for fear of getting a flat. Some explicatives were heard but no damage done and only a few seconds lost. I had no odomoter on my bike and the course wasn't marked, so I had to estimate my distance based on time. By the time I finished my first major descent I felt like I had found my perceived exertion groove and knew I was about half way done with the first half. On to Mountain Two.
What can I say except there was a lot of saddle time and beautiful scenery that I wasn't able to fully take in. The course was also filled with kamakazi butterflies, which parted before me like the Red Sea for Pharaoh-- as in, they didn't get out of my way too well. I finished lap one of two in 1:33. There was an aid station, thank God, except they didn't have water bottles. WTF! And I couldn't unhook the water bottle mounted to the front of my handle bars so I had to take their cups and fill that bottle little by little with the liquid that looked like water but ended up being some kind of nasty ghettorade crap. My body took and enjoyed the calories, but it continued to ask me for WATER!
On my second go at the hairpin turn, you would have thought I had learned my lesson from the first accident, but I actually avoided the gravel road, only to land in the bushes. Again, no crash-- just a big scare with a minor detour and a loss of a couple of seconds.
3/4 in the course, my lower back was killing me and my ankle started acting up. I decided to climb all of my hills out of the saddle just to change the position and stretch my legs. I had no idea what to expect as the miles acculumated, but I was passed by a three or four people who I knew I wouldn't see again that day and I was passed by another three or four who I knew I would catch on the run. I probably broke a course rule, but I took my first pee of the day, while seated on the bike like a Tour de France-er. Maybe one day I will learn to pee my pants like the real badasses.
On the final quarter of the course, my ankle was getting awfully chattery and things didn't feel normal, even for it. All of a sudden, on the last monster ascent, I could see that my cleat had broken off from my pedal's spindle!! I was hanging on by a small metallic thread.
Luckily, I was able to take the hill at a slow and steady pace, keeping my HR low and my body off the pavement. Then, the final descent didn't involve much pedaling at all--yeeHAW! On the final descent into T2, I finished off my celery juice (two hearts of celery juiced for electrolytes). My body wanted water, but celery juice was all I had. I ended up finishing the second loop of the course in about 1:33 again, so my pacing, despite flying without my HR gauges was pretty consistent although I suspect I spiked too much on the ascents.
By the time I cruised into T2, I was stoked to run, not only for the change in muscle groups but to see how the ol' ankle would hold up. When I got off the bike my right cleat unclipped from the pedal, but my left pedal was stuck to my cleats so I ran through transition with an awkward chunk of metal to limp on. It was more weird than it was slow. Definitely a mental hurdle more than anything else. Slipped on the laceless shoes and visor and headed out to the trail in just over a minute. Nice transition!
My legs felt awesome coming out of T2! Finally water is available coming out of the transition chute! Could it get any better? I knew that if I was going to keep this up that I should take in some calories and...what the heck, grab some of the provided race gels and two salt tablets. I started passing dudes immediately, including three cyclists who passed me. Again, I mentally divided the run into fourths. It was a two-lap-out-and-back trail run that was uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back. The goal was to take it easy the first three miles. But I felt superhuman.
When I hit mile 5, all of a sudden it was like a volcano exploded in my stomach. All I could think of was that scene from Spaceballs where the alien erupts from the guys belly at the diner. I barfed 4 times. Barfolomew! It looked and tasted like an entire water bottle filled with celery juice and cinnamon flavored Hammer gels. Nasty!
After that, my body begged to go into the fetal position. My nausea felt relieved, but my stomach was in knots. I tried to run again. No go. I decided I'd walk the uphills and run the down hills. No go. I ended up walking the next 1.5 miles to the half-way point and then scarfed 10 orange slices and downed several cups of water. I walked the next 1.5 miles uphill. Then, I grabbed a coke (my first in many years) from the aid station and lo and behold, I found a new set of wheels. I was able to push ever so slowly up the hills and then dive-bomb down the hills. I know that's a big no-no for injury prevention's sake, but I had it in my head that I would finish in under 6 hours.
The final 2 miles was down hill and about half pavement, which meant a hard, yet predictable surface-- predictable being the operable word for my poor lil ankle. I'd have to run a ~8 minute miles if I was to meet my goal time of 5:45. If I went too hard, though, I'd be reduced to 15-minute miles (walking) and I wouldn't make my secondary goal of 6:00. I clenched my teeth and bore down as hard as I could flat-footed since my right toes were balling up into a nasty cramp. I may have been foaming at the mouth, so hopefully the pictures never get wiki-leaked.
I came out of the woods and could hear the music blasting at the finish line. The street was lined with spectators and my prize was in sight. One last push was all I could muster... and yet still I got chicked in the final 100 meters by none other than Amanda L, famous for chicking dudes. Respect!
5:44:32 was the official time. Good enough for first in my age group.
= 30:38 Swim + 1:51 T1 + 3:07:53 Bike+ 1:15 T2 + 2:02:53 Run
11th overall among the 1/2 Ironman-only racers. There were 50+ Triple T-ers who went faster than me, even after racing Friday and twice on Saturday. WOW! So, That gives me a really good idea of where the competition is at this stage in their training.
The coolest part is at the end when the athletes finish, they all jump into the icy water of the creek nearby. What therapy! We all waited for our friends so we could swap stories and high-five each other's amazing accomplishments.
ALTERNATE UNIVERSE-- LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
If I can play Monday morning quarterback for a second, I'd love to play a couple of what-if scenarios to gauge how much better the race could have gone if I would have done a few things differently. If I hadn't had such a devastating race day nutrition plan, I suspect that I could have ran through mile 5 without the blow-up. Instead of ~4-5 miles walked at 15 min/mile pace, those could have been 7-8 min/mile pace miles. Hypothetical time shaved ~ 30 minutes. Additionally, there is some other low hanging fruit for improvement on the next race, such as:
1) I would have loved to have drank water on the bike (~40 oz/hour).
2) I would have loved to have had a functional HR monitor on the bike and run (to keep me from spiking the uphills)
3) I would have loved to have taken in more date-o-rade and coconut water before running (so I wouldn't have to resort to nutrional x-factors).
4) I would have loved to have run on a safer course for my ankle so I could have opened it up a bit more down hill.
...Or, I would have loved to have biked my brains out had I known I'd be reduced to walking my run later regardless.
So, it could have been better but as always, it could have been worse. The whole day was just AWESOME. It wasn't quite the existential burning-bush experience of Ironman Lou', but it was a soul-searcher, as always. I was glad to have gone there. Can't wait till next year to do the whole Triple T.