So, some time last month a friend of mine asked me to join her in the “Tri for Old Glory” in San Marcos, Texas. I glanced at my July calendar which didn’t look to bad and agreed to do the Olympic Distance race (1500m swim/24 mile bike/10k run). It wasn’t until late June that I realized that this race was one week after the Buffalo Springs half iron triathlon. Well, this should be interesting.
My husband and I went to a wedding in South Austin the evening before (props and congratulations to Cary and Kalynn!). Afterwards, we had to drive about an hour home, and I still had to pack the truck for the race. I never could find my running shoes, so I grabbed my old throw down pair from last season. It was only going to be 6 miles. I hurriedly packed the truck with anything I thought I might need, but still didn’t get to bed until late. A few hours later, I got up (at 4:15am), got dressed and headed out leaving plenty of time to get to San Marcos and pick up my packet.
I was making pretty good time right up until I hit the hardly-penetrable fog. Once I go off the highway it was even worse. We’re talking less than 20 feet visibility. I crept out to the race sight with about 30 minutes to spare and still had to get my packet, get body-marked, set up transition and use the bathroom. As I was standing in the very long packet pick-up/registration line, the race director announces 15 minutes until transition closes. Eek! You can’t get body marked until you have your race packet (so you know what your race number is),and you can’t get into to transition until you’re body marked. I had 15 minutes to do everything.
I finally got my packet and marked, and scored a pretty good rack spot (right next to a buddy of mine, Christalynn). I set everything up, made sure my areo-bottle was full of Gatorade for bike nutrition and connected to my handlebars. I had an extra bottle of water to refill for the second loop of the ride. I threw a gel in my bike box, just in case, and put another in my race belt for the run. Everything looked good in transition.
Then I look at the bathroom line. Eek! There is no way I’m getting through that line before the race start. I opt to be one with nature between to mounds of dirt back behind a trailer near the woods (hey, guys do it all the time). Feeling feel enormously relieved — that I am not still standing in the huge bathroom line, I head in the direction that I think the lake is located (due to the fog I could not actually see the lake). Just then the race director announces that the race will be delayed while the sheriff makes sure that the roads are safe for cyclists in the fog.
I walk over to the swim start after being redirected, as I was originally not heading towards the lake. I look across the water and can spot just one bright yellow buoy, that’s pretty much all I could see in the fog. The only reason I can see it is because it is about 25 feet away from me. I look down what should be a buoy line and see… nothing. Nothing. The fog was so thick you couldn’t see anything else on the lake. How will we know when we get to the last buoy? There was a water-skiing ramp in the middle of the lake so my strategy was to keep the ramps (I had mistakenly assumed there was more than one, there wasn’t) to my left and the land to my right I should be ok. We were told that there was a giant bright green buoy at the turn around, so I assumed there would be other colored buoys (maybe red, yellow, or orange) in between. I would just make my u-turn at the green buoy.
Not a true artistic rendition of race morning since you an actually see a tree
The race director announces another delay as the sheriff continues to check the course. Then he says that if the bike course is not safe we will still swim (I found this bizarre and unsafe, but hey, I wasn’t gonna say “no”) and run, and we would just turn the race into a splash and dash with no bike.
But the bike is the only thing I am good at! I freaking hate the splash and dash.
After an hour delay in the race start (the fog really was ridiculous) the Sprint distance race is ok’ed “as is”, but the Olympic is changed to a two loop of the sprint bike course instead of the original one loop Oly course, so that they can concentrate their officers, everything else is the same. OK. This is good. The bike course would be about 22 miles.
This race had a time trial start, meaning there was not the big washing machine of arms and legs fighting for a good position. Each racer would enter the water one at a time with about 3 seconds between. However, people were supposed to self-seed by swim speed. The really fast folks know their pace, some of us in the middle know our pace (others are wildly optimistic), but all the beginners are completely clueless. Luckily they were all fighting for the end of the line. Somehow I ended up pretty close to the beginning. As a person who generally has no idea where I am going, having few folks in front of me in an unfamiliar lake that I can’t even see does not bode well.
I set out and was doing great as I passed the ski ramp, but once I passed the ramp and looked up, again there was nothing but gray fog. Were my goggles fogged up? How would I even know? I swam on a bit longer then looked up again. I could see the outline of a house far ahead. Was that at the end of the course? No, it wasn’t. A helpful volunteer in a kayak redirected me as I was swimming perpendicular to the course. I could finally see the orange buoy that marked the shorter sprint distance turn around, this was good. It meant I was on course. But after I passed that, I looked up again, and … nothing. Ok, new strategy: swim a bit, look up, if I saw anything that looked like it belonged on land, redirect myself until I am swimming towards nothing (and hope I have not accidentally turned myself around). It eventually became apparent that there were no other buoys on the course. If it had been a clear day, the giant bright orange buoy would have been visible from the start line and that giant bright green buoy would have been visible from the orange buoy, but this race day we really could have used buoys every 50 feet.
Eventually, I could see the bright green buoy and made my turn around, but since the course was an out and back and not a big rectangle, I spent the rest of the swim trying to figure out what side of the lake I was supposed to be on.
While I often forget to turn my Garmin GPS on at a race, today I totally forgot to put it on my wrist (it was in the truck), so unfortunately I cannot share the actual route I swam. I really wish I could. I’m sure it would have looked something like this:
I finished the swim in 32:04. [sigh of relief at being out of the water]
I ran back to transition and quickly donned my cycling gear, grabbed my bike and was off. A friend of mine tried to explain to me where the tricky hills were – unseen hills right after a turn or hills ending in a hard right – so I could be in the right gear, so I kinda had a vague idea that there were a few turns I needed to watch out for.
At about 1 mile into the bike there was a hard right at the bottom of a hill that immediately turned into an uphill. Oh, and there was a truck coming in the opposite direction on the narrow road. I called out “CAR UP!” and was able to quickly downshift and get over, but as I did my ($20) aero-bottle with all my Gatorade bike nutrition fell of the handle bars bounced off my front wheel and into a ditch. The the gal on my right ended up falling into the same ditch when she couldn’t adjust her gears or speed quickly enough (which had nothing to do with my flying aero-bottle. Did not. No, it didn’t.). She did not appear hurt (and they did have a volunteer at the turn for the second loop).
Now I would have only a bottle of water and a gel to get me through the ride before the run. The best thing about the handlebar mounted aero-bottle is that if I forget to drink eventually getting stabbed in the eye with a straw will remind me. I am horrible about remembering to grab the normal water bottle from under my seat.
See how that pointy straw could put your eye out if you were leaning over your handlebars? That’s what I need!
After cresting that hill, we turned onto a nice smooth road for a very short stint, then we were on a chip-sealed road so full potholes I thought I might be in Baghdad (or Pflugerville). I think they included this road so that when we got on the chip-sealed road without a million potholes we wouldn’t complain so much about the chip-seal (for those of you not from the great state of Texas, chip sealing is road “repairing” process by which tar is sprayed on the road then sh1t ton of gravel is dumped on the tar. Traffic is supposed to push the gravel into the tar and give you a smooth road surface. Apparently the extra gravel is never cleaned up because the amount of gravel a 1/4″ of tar can absorb is limitless. It works just about as good as it sound like it would work and as you can imagine, cyclists just love it).
Before I knew it, I was starting my second loop. I ate my gel and drank some water. As I said, this time there was a volunteer warning us about that first hill and watching for traffic. As I took the turn, I could see my bottle in the ditch (I am totally coming back for that after the race!). Because the Olympic race started first and I am pretty strong on the bike, there weren’t many folks in front of me on the first loop, but all the sprinters and beginners were on the road for my second loop, so I had a lot more company. Maybe this is why the second loop went by much faster than the first.
Bike 1:02:10 at 21.2 mph.
I got into my running shoes as fast as I could, considering I had to tie my shoelaces [sigh]. My current running shoes have elastic laces so I don’t have to take the extra 10 seconds to tie them. Things like tying your shoelaces is a HUGE inconvenience for triathletes! (I am not a princess!)
Luckily, while I was out of the bike all of the fog cleared up, an the clouds parted, so I would be able to enjoy that good full Texas sun on the 6.2 mile run, which was entirely on blacktop. Can someone please plant a tree!
The run was flat and fast and there was a bit of a breeze, which really felt good. There were a bunch of folks on the run course but you couldn’t tell who was doing the sprint (one loop) or the Olympic (2 loop). I ran up on a woman with a 46 on her calf. “Sprint or Oly?” I asked. “Sprint” she said. “Ok, then you have a good race!”
I ran up next to another woman and we chatted a bit about the glaring sun and the cooling breeze. She asked me which race I was doing and I said the Olympic. She said, “ok, then, this is our warm up loop!” Ok, I’ll see you on the next loop, and I ran ahead.
As we approached the finish line area, a volunteer directed me to turn right. Since I knew there were two loops on the course, I figured we would run through the finish area twice, until the gal I had just been talking to started yelling “Wrong way! Wrong way!” I stop and looked at the volunteer. The gal said, “You’re doing two, right? Come this way!” The volunteer apologized saying that he thought I was finishing my second loop (and apparently mistaking me for Meb Keflezighi). I am so taking credit for that 10 second deviation!
The second run loop was pretty lonely as most of the sprinter were finished, but knowing what was up ahead made it go by quickly and as I like to say, “I can do anything for 30 minutes.” (then I hope it takes less than 30 minutes).
I finished the run in a very respectable 49:13 at a 7:56 min/mile pace.
And yeah, after I finished I got back on my bike and rode out to the “hill turn,” found my aero-bottle, shook all of the ants off of it, secured it to my bike, and rode back to the finish line and was back in time for the Olympic awards ceremony.
My overall time was 2:25:52. Good enough for Overall Female Masters Champion (that’d be best of ladies over 40 years old).
Got a Pilsner Glass etched with “Overall Female Masters Champion” and the race logo on the other side