Sunday, November 30, 2008

One More Time!

For a week or so after this year's Silverman, I figured I was finished with long course triathlons. I can't do anything at this distance other than just finish the race. Forget about a "fast" time, finishing on the podium, or even trying to catch someone ahead of me in the race. Throw in the six-hour rides and two-hour runs for training, and I was having a hard time seeing how I was having any fun.

Then I watched the "trailer" for the Silverman video.

So once more, I'm heading out to Henderson. Who needs to go fast! This race is so much fun, I'll have a great time just being there.

Time to start training!


Saturday, November 15, 2008


Last Sunday, Nov 9th, 2008, I finished the Silverman triathlon. I didn't "race" the Silverman. I'm not strong enough to race that course. No one signs up for the Silverman thinking, "Gee, that's an easy race. I'll go do it so that I can pencil in another long course triathlon on my resume." People do the Silverman partly because it is a tough race, partly because it is so well run, partly because of the spectacular setting, and mostly because it is a lot of fun! If you go to the Silverman web page, there is an excellent race report under the link titled "SURVIVING THE RACE". It has a lot of information about the course, and some really good pictures showing what it would look like on a sunny day.

Last Sunday was not a sunny day. There are several threads on the Slowtwitch forums discussing the race last Sunday. If you go there and do a search for "Silverman", you can see what other folks have to say. (Sorry, I can't get the "insert link" to work, but you can copy and paste the following link. Check out "2nd Crack at Silverman". Same guy wrote up his experience this year, with more photos of this year's cloudy weather.)

I arrived in Henderson on Friday for packet pickup and the pre-race dinner. The weather was beautiful. Saturday I hit the pancake breakfast then went out to Lake Mead to drop off my bike. While I was there, I went for a short run. Again, beautiful weather. The weather forecast for Sunday was calling for slightly cooler temperatures and party cloudy skies with a 30% chance of rain. Sounded good for a long course race. I went to the pre-race meeting and there were a few comments about the weather, but still, it didn't sound too bad. I went back to my room, finished grading some chemistry lab reports, and was asleep by ten o'clock.

Sunday morning, up at 3:30, on the shuttle bus at 4:00, arrived at the race start early, stretched out on the carpet in the changing tent, and just relaxed. Once it started to get light outside, I took a peek at the weather. "Hey, this doesn't look too bad! Not too cold, a few clouds (so we won't have to deal with the sun on the last leg of the swim), and almost no wind. Heck, this is going to be great! I was happy that I'd decided to go with my sleeveless wetsuit since the water was almost 70 degrees. It looked like I wouldn't need any "cold weather gear" for the bike either, so I took my gloves, arm warmers, and turtle neck shirt out of my swim-to-bike bag and put them in my dry clothes bag so they wouldn't get wet. The gun went off for the swim right on time at 6:30 and we were off!

The first part of the swim was a piece of cake. The water in Lake Mead is so much cleaner than what we have here in Eastern NM/West TX. You can actually see the other swimmers around you, so I was able to draft off a couple of other swimmers. There was a little chop, but less than what you get at Buffalo Springs most years. I was thinking, "Gosh, I'll probably have a really fast swim time. Maybe I can actually try to "race" today."

And then the cold front arrived.

All that I knew from my position in the water was that suddenly we were swimming through some really big waves. I found out later that a 40 mph gust of wind hit the beach and blew a bunch of stuff over. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees. In the water, we were swimming into three foot waves and blowing spray kicked up by the 20 mph headwind with gusts to 40 mph. I couldn't see the next buoy, so I just started swimming in the general direction of the boat ramp. Eventually another swimmer came up beside me. It looked like she knew where she was going, so I started drafting off her. (And because it was a woman and not a man, I knew she'd stop and ask for directions if we got lost!) Eventually, we got close enough to the boat ramp to see and hear the people standing there, so I knew that I was going to make it. The last half-mile of the swim took 30 minutes. I didn't think I was working that hard, it's just that I was going so slowly. The funny thing was once my feet hit the sandy beach, my legs were absolutely rubber. I couldn't stand up for about 20 seconds. I had never had this happen before, and it was more funny than alarming.

Fellow Outlaw Paul was in the changing tent. We congratulated each other on surviving the swim. At this point, I was really questioning my decision to get rid of my cold weather gear. Was a sleeveless Outlaw jersey and trishorts going to be enough? But I figured I'd warm up once I got going on the bike. As soon as you leave T-1, you have a pretty good one-mile climb from the boat ramp to the main highway. Paul and I rode together for a while, and I did start to feel comfortably warm. I said goodbye to Paul and settled in for what I figured to be a seven-hour ride.

And then it started to rain. And sleet. And the wind kept blowing, and gusting. It's one thing to stay warm without adequate clothing if it's cold. It's impossible when you're wet and you're dealing with wind. I was really getting cold. The bike course at Silverman has (so I've read) 11,000 feet of climbing. But you get to go downhill quite a bit too. Not that this makes up for the time lost climbing, but at least it's something. However, given the slick roads and gusting crosswinds, it was all most of us could do to go downhill at 10-15 mph without going off into the ditch. Some riders did go off the road, and apparently one rider crashed hard enough that he had to be medevaced off the course. I started thinking about how much time I had until the bike cutoff, and pretty much gave up on having any kind of fast time.

After an hour or so, the worst of the storm front had passed. It was still cold, it would occasionally rain, and it was mostly cloudy. However, I was no longer shivering uncontrollably and I could think about things other than how cold I was. I was grabbing a gel at each of the aid stations, but one time I couldn't get it open because my hands were so cold. About 10 miles before the bike turn around, Andy Cope (from Mesa, AZ) caught up to me. He had been in the water for two hours, and he was happy to be out on the bike. We saw Paul and then George Ferland (from Artesia, NM) heading back in on the bike. They had almost a 20-mile lead on us. Andy took off, but the thought of getting to the turn around picked up my spirits. The turn around comes at 51 miles, and then at 60 miles you hit the longest climb of the day. Three miles long and about 1000 feet of climbing, it takes a lot out of you. After that, it was 30 miles of more climbing and headwinds before you hit the "Three Sisters". These are three short but steep (18%) hills on a bike path. Everyone at Silverman talks about them, most people with some degree of trepidation. I'm not a very strong climber, but these hills don't bother me too much. Sure, they're steep, and the fact that you've already done a pretty tough 93-mile ride makes them even tougher, but I can climb them slowly out of the saddle in a 39x25 gear without blowing up. Some folks do walk up them, though. After I'd made it up the last "Sister", I looked over my shoulder to see how much I'd climbed. I saw a really neat rainbow (we still had occasional rain showers) and I thought that maybe this was a sign that the rest of the day would go well. Not so fast. I settled back onto my saddle and started pedalling and then suddenly I started to cramp in my left quad. I started to favor the left quad and my right hammy started to cramp. Whoa, OK, ease up on the right side, and then my left glute started to cramp. Back and forth, back and forth, for the next couple minutes I was just fighting off cramps. Guess the Three Sisters had gotten a piece of me after all. Once the cramping went away, I figured I could pretty much coast into T-2, but then I started to get some tendinitis in my right knee. Wow, I've still got to run 26.2 miles. This could get ugly.

In the changing tent I commiserated with another competitor. We were both in "survival mode" by then, but just finishing this race is not so bad. I headed out on the run, knowing from doing the Half Silverman that the first mile is downhill and that I wouldn't be able to keep the same pace for the rest of the run. Still, it gives you hope that you'll have a good run when you go through the first mile in eight minutes. Then you hit a two-mile climb, and reality sets in. I wasn't worried about finishing before the cutoff at midnight, but I knew I was going to be slow. The run course doubles back on itself on a few legs and you run two laps, so you get to see a lot of people. I saw Paul, George, and Andy a couple of times. Paul and George were having pretty good races, and Andy was having a good run. Me? I was sampling whatever they had to eat and drink at each of the aid stations. Every now and then I'd feel the tendinitis and I knew even if I felt like running faster I couldn't. By the time I started the second lap it was dark. And then it really got cold. I wasn't moving fast enough to stay warm. A lot of folks were "running" with Mylar "space blankets" draped over their shoulders. I thought that looked pretty silly, but at the 18-mile point I asked for a blanket. It helped, especially on the lonely and dark leg down to the turn-around at the 20-mile point. By the time I made it to the 23-mile point I'd warmed up enough that I figured I could finish without the blanket. (I also didn't want to look too stupid running with a blanket through the Green Valley Ranch Station outdoor shopping district with a space blanket. Of course, I looked pretty stupid running in a sleeveless jersey and shorts anyway.) I crossed the line in 15:30:09. Slow, but I was a "Silverman Finisher".

This is a way cool race and I can't recommend it highly enough. The race director really has his stuff together. There are tons of volunteers, and they do an outstanding job. The schwag bag is the best you'll ever get. Dave Scott and Chris McCormack have been there the past two years signing autographs, telling funny stories, and racing the Half Silverman (although Dave didn't race this year). The course, from the swim in Lake Mead to the spectacular bike to the hilly run is challenging but lots of fun. You won't set a PR here (except for folks like Paul and George who did this as their first ever long course triathlon), but you'll enjoy it more than any other race you do.