Monday, July 20, 2009

What Was in That Racine Water?

Something's in the water in Racine. Not only does that pocket of Lake Michigan water produce swim-like-the-fish times and fluctuating water temperatures, but it's almost like the triathletes pass through that water and onto some fast rides, runs and personal bests during the day. That's all I can say to start off my rendition of a race report from the Spirit of Racine, a half Ironman-distance triathlon I haphazardly added to my calendar a few weeks ago (seems to be a common theme with me and events this summer).

Not to rip off a post Liz already shared at Time Out Chicago (check out out by clicking here) with her race experiences, but I wanted to use her organization to share my own story.

The short version:
5:12:58

The medium version:
I almost didn't have information to post at all because when I returned from Racine and checked out the results posted online, I didn't have a finish time nor a swim time listed with my name. Fast forward 24 hours and the results site was updated, complete with penalties, swim times and final standings. And I finally knew how I stacked up instead of relying on my watch's time, which I probably started early and knew I stopped late to avoid a finish line photo of me staring at my wrist rather than pumping my fists in jubilation. The time, 5:12:58, and a new personal best for my record books.

The morning started with a 4:45 a.m. alarm I nearly ignored, two bananas spread with peanut butter, some nibbles on a bagel from the hotel's continental breakfast and Trader Joe's electrolyte-enhanced water. After final touches in transition and a walk down the beach that could almost look like a death march of triathletes, the gun went off at 7:12 a.m. for the 1.2-mile swim (which I think was short) in 64-degree water that had warmed from the 59 degrees announced at packet pick-up, followed by a 56-mile bike ride on the roads west and north of downtown Racine, and a 13.1-mile run on a two-loop course along the shoreline past houses and the Racine Zoo. And for once I could force myself to eat and hydrate on the bike and run: cleaning up all of the Hammer Nutrition Perpeteum and nearly all of the Gatorade in my Aerodrink bottle, cups of water and Heed during the run, two banana halves and two super-salty pretzels.

The long version:
I honest-to-goodness didn't think I was prepared for this race. I signed up on a whim in June when it sounded oddly appealing to race a half IM followed by another half IM two weeks later--after the Ironman challenge last September I guess my mind was telling me to devise some challenge for this summer too? But after running Grandma's Marathon followed by a painful week of hiking in Yellowstone and the Tetons and a weekend where I should have been riding my bike but never touched it, I was feeling less than prepared. And even in returning to Chicago to get back into the swing of things, I felt like I was failing daily thanks to our lackluster summer that has more cloudy, cold days than warm ones and I was missing my precious time swimming in Lake Michigan. Yet at the same time I was seeking revenge in Racine, specifically on the bike course where I flatted last year and although I continued on after struggling to change my tire, my whole game was thrown off and I had a less-than-stellar finish.

So while I wasn't thinking I was prepared, I figured I could at least still participate in the race, treat it as a training day for the 70.3 in two weeks and practice all the things I struggle with at each race--running up the sand, pulling off my wetsuit (quit getting stuck around my ankles), getting on and off the bike quickly, nutrition, etc. Good thinking, but if only everything was in 100 percent working order. Last Saturday, I meet Liz for a training ride and notice a small slit in my tire. It holds out for our ride but when I take the wheel to get fixed, I learn that my bike needs an overhaul--new chain, new cables and some loving that it didn't look like I was giving it. The swim looks like it's headed south too with a lousy open water swim that left me sloshing around Lake Michigan and times that seem far slower than past years. Then the run is a disaster when the foot pains fail to go away and only intensify. In a last-ditch effort to heal myself and get back on track I go for a massage which helps but also confirms I have plantar fasciitis in my foot and a shin splint in my leg. Great...how am I going to run now?

With all that being said, I pack up my gear and drive to Wisconsin anyway. I really start to have second thoughts when I check in and learn that the water temperature is 59 degrees. Brrr! Fine so it was colder last year measuring in at 56 degrees, possibly less, but I swore to myself I wouldn't want to endure those chilly temperatures again, or not without a long-sleeve wetsuit and some booties. I have neither, opting not to stop at the tri store on the way out of the city to buy booties and never reserving a warmer wetsuit. But I go and rack my bike anyway, bump into Liz as she's racking hers, and then go to Milwaukee to enjoy a relaxing dinner before race morning comes.

Once you've done these early morning races, they either become easier to deal with the early mornings because you've gone through the drill and know what to grab and/or do, or if you're just not in the mood, they're just a drag. I was definitely dragging Sunday morning. Ignored my alarm clock, took forever to get dressed and eat breakfast, and was even slower setting up my transition area--even forgetting temporarily how to put my water bottle onto my aerobars. And forgetting to take my timing chip off my bike until I already left transition--at least I had two minutes to spare to grab it and go.

Ah, the swim. The early morning announcement that the water temperature was now registering at 64 degrees sent cheers through the crowd, including me. But still that long march down the beach to the start always gets me. It's like you're being shipped to the point of no return, knowing that by the time you get to the start, the clock to start the day's event is too close for comfort. And this time as I walked out there I kept asking myself, "Why am I doing this?" and telling my husband that I really didn't want to be there. Those comments showed in the swim too. I can usually get off to a good start but I felt like I was sleeping while out there, just sort of moving along but not really making any headway and finding myself on the heels of others before swimming alone. But it did go by really quickly and I was surprised when I neared the last buoy and just had to swim in--and had to stand instead of swim thanks to a shallow swim course.

One done and now onto the bike. I took my time in transition--after being spoiled last September having my wetsuit peeled off my body, I've had trouble pulling it off on my own without some grabbing and yanking and tugging around the ankles. Same scenario on Sunday where I pryed it off but wasted precious moments and energy--at least I didn't get to my bike and find my sunglasses halfway down the racks and my helmet upside down in the aisle, which is what I faced last year. Then it was down the middle aisle, out the exit and into the mounting area to pedal uphill and hit the course. I changed my gears the night before to account for the hill but they weren't easy enough and that climb was still a bit painful, but then I hit my groove and kept riding. Aside from the periodic pavement bumps I was feeling good--my bike computer was a different story, first telling me I was traveling 31 mph, then hitting a bump and not registering anything. Guess that would mean I'd have to push the bike since I'd never know how fast or how far I was going. But that was the least of my worries. A common complaint from the triathletes at Racine was the drafting and blocking on the bike--it'd either be hard to get around someone, there'd be a stream of cyclists that would hold you up, or packs would fly by. Not fun, but at least I didn't hear fizzing coming from my bike tire or watch a chain drop off. Once I hit mile 40, I pushed the pace back to Racine, knowing I'd need as much bike cushioning I could get since I didn't think I could run. And that was a good feeling, creeping up on others who passed me at the start or out of transition and then soaring by. That whoo hoo made up for the earlier feeling when Zipp wheels and aerohelmets passed me up and I didn't stand a chance at holding my own against them. But at least I was feeling strong instead of tiring myself out from my death grip on the handlebars, failing to go aero and putting on the brakes downhill (yep, I get scared going fast thanks to previous crashes). And I'm building, losing time, between five-mile increments, starting to think that the mileage was off as I got faster.

The familiar start hill comes into view and we're all putting on the brakes so we don't crash into the crowd at the bike dismount area. Then I'm running into transition to get my run on. As I'm throwing on my running shoes and grabbing my gear, feeling like I'm taking longer than usual (luckily that was not the case when I saw my T2 time), I notice none of the other bikes are back from my rack. Talk about good encouragement on the bike. And feeling good as the run gets underway with my legs in seemingly working order, passing a couple people out of the exit. "No mechanical issues this time," I shout when I run past my husband, recalling my flat issues from last year. But I spoke too soon because it was my legs that would be giving me the problems this time. I held my own but not at the speed I wanted with the bottom of my left foot hurting thanks to plantar fasciitis that was only massaged out on Thursday, a sore right leg that had been giving me problems since hiking and shoes that felt more like boards than pillows. But I trudged through, ignoring the pain but watching the speedracers heading the opposite direction on the two-loop course and cheering for those I knew. It's not fun out there though when all those people you gained on during the bike fly right by on the run and under normal circumstances you could at least try to keep up...or you wonder when those behind are finally going to catch and pass you. But no complaints as I didn't get blisters which usually plague my feet and the food at some of the rest stops were happy sights--I've never eaten so many bananas or pretzels during a half marathon but they were so good. And the last three miles were more of a relief than a struggle, knowing that you're almost at the finish line and can trudge it out for that much longer.

And seeing that finish line in sight, looking at my watch and seeing I'm finishing far faster than the previous year, and hear the crowd cheering, those last few steps feel pretty good. I even cross the finish line with my arms outstretched, instead of my typical goof-ball move of stopping my watch before celebrating the accomplishment. But it does feel good to stop running. The only problem now is having to gear up the body, adrenaline and energy to do it all again in a few weeks. Guess that's event season, but not something I'd trade for a second. But I do wish I had seen Liz cross the finish line...as I cheered for her on the run I said I'd see her at the finish line but somehow managed to miss the feat. Maybe another one next year? Posted by Kate

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