Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Is Bustin' Out

I've been a school teacher for the past 13 years. Don't go into "teaching" just so that you can have your summers "off". In the first place, there is always something that you need to do during the summer to get ready for the next year. Even more, if you're miserable for 10 months of the year, the two-month summer break won't make up for that. However, it is pretty neat to be able to spend as much time as I do on training and racing during June and July. Just for fun, I did some kind of "training" or racing every day this month. I had never done that before. Admittedly, some of my "training" was just an easy swim or an easy spin on the bike while I was tapering for/recovering from a race. However, I got in more than 500 miles on the bike, more than 100 miles of running, and about 15 miles of swimming. Not enough to turn pro, but a lot of miles for me. And I still did three races this month.

The first race was the Milkman in Dexter, NM, which I've already blogged about. Two weeks later I headed up to Amarillo for the first ever "Chick-Fil-A Triathlon". The folks putting this race together did a pretty nice job for their first try at putting on a race, especially since they pulled everything together in less than six weeks. And then the rains came! It's been pretty dry in West Texas/Eastern New Mexico for the past eight months. But it started to rain the night before the race. I drove through pouring rain between Clovis and Amarillo on the way to the race. It wasn't raining when I arrived in Amarillo, but as soon as I got to packet pick-up, it started raining again. By the time the race was supposed to start, the streets were flooded. I was getting ready to drive home, figuring that the race would be cancelled.

When I was flying airplanes in the USAF, it was fairly easy to accomplish the "mission" when everything (the airplanes, the weather, your wingmen) were working or going according to "the plan". You earned your money by being able to deal with busted airplanes, crappy weather, and/or a wingman who was screwing up. On this day in Amarillo, the Chick-Fil-A race director managed to pull a rabbit out of his hat and put together a "swim/run duathlon". Everyone dropped their running shoes off in the transition area and then lined up at the pool for a time-trial swim start. There were a lot of "first-timers" in the race, but the race director got 120 racers organized quickly in spite of the continuing rain.

It was a 400 meter "snake swim" in an outdoor pool. Everyone was seeded based on their predicted time, and as always there were some folks who must have put down "5 minutes" who ended up breast stroking after the first 25 meters. Still, the swim seemed to go well. I managed to hit my predicted time of 7:57 right on the dot. I splashed over to the transition area, pulled my shoes from the the puddle of water that they were floating in, struggled to pull on the wet shoes over my wet feet, and headed out on the run.

The run started on a grassy field that went around some tennis courts. I was one of the first runners there, and it was already soaked and starting to get muddy. I made it through there, feeling sorry for the folks who would be coming behind me. After that, I really started flying. The course might have been a tad short, but I finished the "5K" run in 21:04, easily my fastest 5K run in the past year. Chick-Fil-A provided everyone with a free lunch, and the marble trophies handed out at the awards ceremony were some of the best in the SWCS. I ended up first in my age group, loaded all of my wet gear in my car, and headed home just as the rain started to let up.

Then it was time for the BSLT 70.3 (formerly known as the Buffalo Springs Half-Ironman). This was the 20th year that Mike and Marti Greer have been putting on this race. It's a world class event with slots for Kona and Clearwater, and I'm lucky to have it here in my backyard. Along with the 70.3, they put on a sprint tri. Clovis is still far from being a hotbed of triathlon activity, but we had six folks and two relays entered in the 70.3 along with 10 more people in the sprint. A lot of them came by our house (along with fellow Outlaws Brian and Misty) on Saturday for a pre-race cookout. We headed off to Lubbock later on Saturday for packet pick-up, dinner at Orlando's, and then five hours of sleep at Motel 6.

Race morning arrived with completely overcast skies and lightning on the horizon. I've done this race seven times as part of a relay or by myself. It's known for being hot (one year it went over 100 degrees F), and normally it is. However, last year it rained for almost the entire time and it was cold. That was actually my most miserable time at this race. I was hoping we weren't going to be in for a repeat of that weather. Thankfully, it never got cold, the lightning stayed away, and it didn't start raining until most of us were coming back on the bike and then it was in the "passing showers" mode of rain.

There was a fairly long wait for the porta potties this year. Part of the problem was the number of porta potties. A bigger problem seemed to be the amount of time that some people were spending "on the pot". I don't know if they're reading the Sunday NY Times or what, but for goodness sake, if you don't have to "go", get off of the pot. Otherwise, take care of business, wipe with both hands, and get the heck out of there!

The swim goes off in waves. There are pluses and minuses associated with this. On the minus side, if you are going for the "overall" win, you don't know where you stand in relation to someone who was in a different wave. Some of the "fast swimmers" in the later waves complain about having to "swim through" slower swimmers in previous waves. The biggest complaint is the people in the last few waves feel they're stuck out on the course in warmer weather than the people who were in the first waves. I much prefer the wave start, though.

Straight away, the swim at Buffalo Springs starts in a small cove. It would be impossible to put 1000 swimmers into the water at the same time. Each wave has about 150-200 swimmers. This keeps the punching and kicking to a minimum, and I think it does a better job of allowing/requiring swimmers to swim at their own pace as opposed to everyone ending up in the same huge blob of humanity. There is a lot of complaining about drafting on the bike at M-dot races. My experience at IMAZ (with 2000 people doing a swim mass start) is that about 1000 people exit the water withing 20 minutes of each other. Combine this with a flat bike course, and what would you expect? IMFL and some of the other M-dot races must be as bad or worse. As far as getting stuck in hot weather because you were in one of the last waves, I don't see this. I've been in the next to last wave every year until this year. There is only a 30 minute difference between the first and last "age group" wave. The last wave goes off at 7:05 AM. For a "6-hour 70.3", you finish at about 12:30 PM if you are in the 1st wave, and 1:00 PM if you are in the last wave. It's not as if the temperature suddenly goes from 70 degrees F at 12:00 up to 90 degrees F at 12:30. Sure, it's no fun to run in hot weather, but the 30 minute (or less) difference is not a huge factor.

I was pretty happy while I was doing my swim. The first leg of the swim at this race (and at the Buffman and Squeaky race which is in the same location) is straight towards the east. Normally, I can never see the buoys, so I just follow the other swimmers in my wave. This year, with the overcast sky, I could see every buoy, especially the huge yellow buoys that marked the turn points on the swim course. There was very little kicking and punching going on, and I felt very relaxed. When I exited the water, I figured out why the swim felt so easy. Forty-four minutes! OK, in previous years when I was doing the swim in about 35 minutes, I figured the course was a little short of 1.2 miles. But I was way slow this year. It's like running a mile in 6 minutes vs. walking it in 30 minutes. One hurts, the other is easy. I sure didn't hurt myself on this year's swim! (BTW, there is a "BSLT thread" on slowtwitch.com where they were discussing the length of this year's swim. One guy has some algorithm based on the pro's swim times, whether they were wearing wetsuits, etc. He figures this year's course was about 100 meters long. Not a big deal for a 1.2-mile open water swim, and everyone swims the same course anyway.)

After the slow swim, I had a lot left in the tank for the bike and run. I felt good coming out of T-1 and climbing the two hills that you have on the first mile of the bike. I dipped my head to get a drink from my aero bottle and I discovered I'd forgotten to get my plastic straw out of the bottle (where I'd placed it when I left home so that I wouldn't lose it). I had to stop to fish it out so that I could push it into its hole. While I was doing this, Scott, one of my good competitors from my age group in the SWCS, passed me and asked if I needed any help. Well, maybe a new checklist for my transition area check. Anyway, this took less than a minute, and I was back on the road. The wind was out of the north at 10-15 mph. A lot of people were talking about the wind after the race, but after riding in Clovis for the past 16 years, this was no big deal. Heading south towards Yellow House Canyon, I came up behind a 21-year old guy on a bike drinking from a water bottle. Instead of putting the bottle back onto his bike, he did his best "Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France" imitation and tossed it into the field beside the road. We had just passed the 1st aid station a mile or two earlier. I rode up to him and told him (in my school teacher voice), "Throw your bottles away at the aid stations, not into some farmers field!" He came back with (in a whipped puppy voice), "But it wasn't empty then." Good grief.

I never could catch Scott on the bike. I've been riding really well this year, so I was surprised to see at each of the three turn-arounds that Scott was maintaining a two minute lead. Dang! Other than that, I was riding well for this course. In addition to the hills coming out of the transition area, there are four other pretty good climbs and one more long, slow climb. I'm always trying to save something for the run, too, so I never go very fast there. It started to rain during the last 15 miles of the bike, which was nice as far as keeping me cool, but the road was fairly slick, especially on a couple of the corners. In the end, I had a PR for the bike there at 2:54.

I stopped in the most foul porta potty I've ever been in coming out of T-2, but having taken care of business, I was off on the run. The first three miles are flat, but then you hit a hill. Almost immediately, you go down a hill, then back up another one. The run on the "Energy Lab #2" road out to the turn-around is a relief because it's flat. I really felt good on the run. I knew Scott was a couple of minutes ahead of me coming out of T-2, but by the turn around I'd cut the lead to less than a minute. With about four miles to go, I finally caught up to him. I told him how well he did on the bike, he told me how well I was going on the run, and then I kept on going. At about two miles to go I passed another guy in my age group. He told me, "There are three other guys in front of us." Well, I thought it would be great to finish in fourth place, but I knew what the finish times for my age group had been in previous years. I was secretly hoping for a "top 10" finish. I ended up with a run PR (1:48) and a race PR (5:31:56) in spite of my swim PW. Sure enough, I finished 9th in my age group. For that, I was really happy.

This is a great race, and it's so cool that it's less than a two-hour drive from my house. Mike and Marti really know what they are doing, the course is a true test of individual ability (if you want to draft on the bike and/or you can't run on hills, this isn't the race for you), and they get great volunteers every year (especially the ones who stuck it out in the rain the past two years). I'll never earn a Kona slot here, but it's still fun to race against some really fast folks.

Next up, the Bottomless Tri in Rosewell, NM.

And four months until Silverman!


Friday, June 12, 2009

First to Worst

During the past month, I've done three triathlons. None of them show up in magazines advertising a rock band every mile, or visions of the NYC skyline, or Hollywood "stars" doing the same race, or a chance to have Mickey Mouse cheer me on as I run through the Magic Kingdom, much less the coveted "Ironman" label. However, they're the kind of races I've come to prefer. I don't need/want 2000 plus people climbing over each other during a swim mass start and packs of cyclists drafting each other on the bike course. Encouragement from any spectators who happen to be there is nice but not necessary, and garage rock bands are just silly. If I go to a "destination", I'd better be taking my wife and daughter with me, and I'd better not be spending my "family time" doing a triathlon. And all of these races were within a two-hour drive from my house.

First up was the Ransom Canyon Tri just outside Lubbock, TX. This was my first ever triathlon back in 2002. That year, they only had 62 people show up. They didn't get 100 people there until 2007, and this year they still only had 110 individual participants. But it's a real quality race. An open water swim, a really steep hill straight out of T-1, another canyon to traverse out and back on the bike, and a nice 5K run along the shore of the lake. I had a pretty slow swim, a PR on the bike, and an average run, but still managed to win my age group.

Next, the Buffman and Squeaky Tri, next door to the Ransom Canyon Tri. I have done this race every year of its existence (including the first year, 2004, when it was called the M&M Tri). I really like this race. In 2004, they only had 83 participants, but now they get around 120 each year. (They also put on a sprint tri on the same day at the same place, so it there are about 200 people there.) It's an Olympic distance race at the same location as the Buffalo Springs Half Ironman (now known as the BSLT 70.3). The swim is pretty much the same at both races. The Buff and Squeak bike also has a hill straight out of transition. You pretty much ride the first third of the BSLT 70.3 bike course, which includes the same canyon as the Ransom Canyon Tri. The run is an out and back around the lake to the three mile point of the BSLT 70.3 run. This time, I had a fast swim, another PR on the bike, and an "almost PR" on the run. Overall, it was a PR for this race and I won my group again.

Last week, it was the Milkman Sprint Tri in Dexter, NM. I'm pretty sure no one ever says, "Let's spend our next vacation in Dexter, NM." (Although Roswell, which is only about 15 miles north, gets a fair amount of tourist trade for their alien museum.) However, the race director and everyone in Dexter who supports this race are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. I have done this race every year since 2002. At one time, they used to get 300 or so people there. Since 2002, they have been closer to 180 participants, with only 147 individuals showing up in 2007. However, this year, they were up to 236 individuals (along with 25 relay teams). Best of all, most of the increase was in the "younger" age groups. It's another open water swim (in a large duck pond (named Lake Van by some optimist)) but they do wave starts with 20-30 people per wave. This is a good thing, because the bike course is pretty flat. The wave starts keep everyone spread out so that drafting does not seem to be a huge problem (although "Iron Mike" Baker, the USAT official, did assess some penalties). The run is pretty neat. You start out on the blacktop road that goes around the pond, run through a fish hatchery, divert off onto a tractor path through some scrub land, return to the road, then you finish by running across a grass field through a finishing chute. I had a mediocre swim, another PR on the bike (must be the Raisin Bran?), then an average run. Not my fastest time there, and 60-year-old Ted Freedman caught and passed me at the half-way point on the run, but I was still fast enough to win my group.

And that brings me to "First to Worst". In addition to being the fastest person in my group, I was also the slowest. For the first time ever, I was the only person in my age group in a race. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing for the local Tri scene. Like I said, they had a lot of people at this year's Milkman Tri, especially in the age groups between the ages of 20-49. I was reading yesterday how Harley Davidson is having a hard time. Something like only 15% of the people who buy a Harley are younger than 35, and they're running out of new buyers. It's a good thing to get some "young blood" into the local Tri scene. These guys and gals are really fast and they sure make the races more fun and exciting.

Next up, the Chick-fil-a Tri in Amarillo, TX. The overall winners (male and female) both receive a year's worth of free Chick-fil-a food. I can always hope!