Disclaimer: This race was such a disaster that I was not even going to share my experience for my awful performance, but a good night’s sleep as a donning of my big girl panties convinced me to suck it up.
My husband and I go to Dillon, Colorado the first or second weekend in September every year. This year, after making travel arrangements I discovered that there was a 70.3 triathlon in that very town on that same weekend (I think a friend may have clued me in to this). At $100 for a 70.3, I signed up not at all sure I would even participate. At between 9,100 and 10,291 feet elevation it is billed as the Highest Triathlon in the world (also cannabis is legal in Colorado, so ya know, “highest”). The 106° West Tri tag line is “It won’t be pretty but it will be beautiful.”
Also, apparently, there is about 1/3 less oxygen available in this altitude range*:
But I usually ride and run when I am in Colorado, so this would only necessitate the additional packing of my wetsuit (and thermal cap, and booties). Apparently, this race is also wetsuit legal- on race day the water temperature was measured at 61 degrees. Good times! Meh, I did the Devil’s Backbone Tri in March in Texas and they said the water was 60 degrees and it didn’t feel that cold (but oh, they lied! that water was much much warmer than 60 degrees, as I was to discover).
I posted a few updates on Facebook, then got a PM from my age group arch-nemesis, Erin Truslow: “I’m in Dillon!”
Stalker! Actually, Erin was not racing, but was sherpaing for another Austin athlete. Since I had done numerous 1/2 Iron distance triathlons I did not think I needed any support, but thank God for Erin! I will be eternally grateful for her support.
I decided to take my road bike instead of my tri-bike since the road bike had better climbing gears. Also, I decided not to grab my clip-on aerobars for no good reason at all. A(nother) decision I would soon regret. Got into town on Thursday, took a 40 mile ride on Friday to acclimate myself to the altitude (that 14.3 mph average should have been a red flag but for some reason my Garmin watch would not download my stats to my phone, so I didn’t know). Then I picked up my packet, dropped off my bike, and listened to the “race talk” before heading to the condo for dinner and a good night’s sleep.
The strangest thing about this race was the start time. The race did not start until 9:15 am, but my swim wave did not go off until 9:45am. My condo was 3 blocks away from the starting line, so I could sleep in until 8:30 and still set up my transition before it closed at 9:05am. Of course, I woke up at 5:30am anyway. And it was 37 degrees! I had a cup of tea and some oatmeal, then went out to the race area in jeans and a sweatshirt, set my stuff up, then went back to the condo to nap for a few hours. So weird.
At 9:00 I headed back sown to the race start. The sun warmed things up nicely, but it was still in the 40’s. I put on my wetsuit, booties, earplugs and thermal cap, then hooked up with Erin and Mark at the swim start. The water didn’t look that cold…
When it was time to get in the water for the deep water (swimming) start – HOLY SH!T that water is cold! M***** F*****! It think the altitude raises the freezing temperature of water, because crap, that water was so cold I should have been able to walk on it. Relax, relax, relax…It was too cold to even pee.
I counted to 3, then grabbed the neckline of the wetsuit and pulled it out to fill the suit with cold water. As crazy as that sounds, that is how a wetsuit works. It does not keep you dry, it keeps a layer of body temperature water between you and the lake. We were in the water for about a minute before the starting gun went off, then we all started to swim.
Ha-ha-ha, I lie.
Then a bunch of folks started to swim, I on the other hand, took two strokes and stopped treading water and gasping for air. I quickly realized that the chill of the water and the lack of air in the air rendered me unable to take to swim stokes without taking a breath. Normally, I swim: breath (to the side), stroke right, stroke left, breath, stroke right, stroke left. But here I was – breath, stroke right, stop gasp, gasp! stroke left with my head sticking out of the water.
Ok, this is not going to work. I tried to breast stroke with my head out of the water, which made some progress, but very slowly. Ok, I would try back-stroking. Have you ever seen me backstroke? No, you have not. Know how I know? because I NEVER backstroke, ever. I was able to make progress back stroking, but I had no idea where I was going. Seriously, I was going to be DQ’d on the swim because at this rate I would never make the cut off time (1:10). My only comfort was that I was not dead last (but why is that kayak following me?) and the folks behind me were not giving up. In truth, several of the folks behind me were actually lapping me on their second lap of the course.
I determined that I need to keep my heart rate way down in order to breathe, stroke right, stroke left without hyperventilating. Finally, about 750 meters in to the race, I was able to actually swim, albeit very slowly, and I started making real forward progress.
Moment of truth. As I rounded the last buoy of my first lap I had to make a decision: Quit, or go again.
F*ck it. Let’s see if I can make the swim cut off.
Surprisingly, if you are actually swimming, even really slowly, you can make pretty good time. Holy crap, I’m gonna finish this swim! I crawled out of the lake and into the arms of, like, 6 volunteers who were trying to get me out of my wetsuit while calling for medical – so you know I looked good! Once I was freed from the wetsuit, I refused medical assistance and headed into transition to get my head together and get out on my bike.
So, I would love to tell you what the times were of my first and second swim lap, but I was swimming so slowly and poorly that my Garmin registered only 40 meters of my entire swim:
My official swim race results indicated that I completed the swim in 55:14. so, better than I thought.
I ran into T1 and grabbed a bath towel to dry off. I could not stop shaking and I needed to be dry, so I finally just sat down. I dried off as best I could, put on my wool socks and cycling shoes, windbreaker and cycling gloves and headed out of transition praying that a hill would be the first thing I would encounter on the bike since I always warm up on a hill.
T1- 11:00 (Shut up. At least I stayed out of the med tent!)
I hopped on my bike heading out to the main street, when I hit a slight bump. My brand new $45 frame pump flew off. Hell, no, I ain’t leaving that (and let’s be honest, I was not winning this race anyhow)! I turned around (at this point there were very few late swimmers coming out onto the bike course) and a spectator handed the pump to me. But I was still so cold that I could not get my hands to stop shaking to reattach it to the bike frame which lead to frustration which lead to a further inability to make my hands work. Luckily, here comes Erin, who must have been watching from transition. She took the pump, gave me a very warm and welcome hug, and sent me on my way.
By this time it was probably close to 60 degrees with full sun, so the bike was not nearly as cold as the swim. Once I got my legs under me I ate a gel and drank some Gatorade (remember this, because it does not happen very often). Another situation that occurs when you start a race at almost 10:00am and take another hour in the water, is that the wind kicks up in the afternoon, so there was a nice tailwind on the way out, but a stiff headwind on the way back in (and me, with no aerobars).
I was out there almost entirely by myself (and not because I was in the lead). While I did pass a few people, this was not at all the way my bike segment usually goes in a race. I felt strong but I was not passing many people at all. The first 6ish miles were fairly flat, but the next 10 miles were uphill:
My uphill sections were slow, then my downhill segments were faster but not even that fast. And when I turned around at Montezuma it became readily apparent how far behind I was. I passed several athletes who were already 1/2 way through there second bike loop.
At mile 30ish I took my second gel. I was trying to drink as much as I could, but without an aerobottle on my handlebars to drink from without using my hands, it was hard to grab a bottle and drink with one hand when I as only moving at 10 mph uphill or flying downhill into a stiff headwind.
I can say that at the turn around for the second bike loop I was not even tempted to quit, so there is that. Starting up Montezuma Road the second time I grabbed my third gel. At this point the cyclists I was passing were walking their bikes, so at least I was still in the saddle.
I flew back down the hill, then had only 6 miles until I could start the run, but the last 6 miles were straight into the wind. Good times. I was really regretting not grabbing those aerobars for these last miles.
Bike Time: 3:58:28 at 13.9 mph (wow, really!? eek.)
As slow and difficult as the ride was, I actually felt pretty good. I mean, even on a bad day there are always worst places you can be then on the bike, like…
I took my shoes off on the bike since I knew the run into transition was long and down hill and I didn’t want to do that in cycling shoes. I hopped off the bike in my socks and ran to my rack, racked the bike, grabbed my running shoes, race belt, water bottle, and hey, where the hell is my visor? Apparently my visor blew away from my transition area. Dammit!
T2 – 2:42 (not so bad. Probably my best performance of the day!)
I ran out of transition, up the hill to the run course and …
Yep, and asthma attack. I have very mild exercise induced asthma that only ever occurs occasionally and then only when I am going hard, then stop. So if it’s gonna happen, it usually happens on the bike to run transition. The 30% reduction in available oxygen likely exacerbated the matter.
A spectator asked if I needed help and I waved her off, but apparently someone alerted the medical folks. So I have three medics trying to take me to the med tent. Nooooo! Once I was able to talk I told them that I would be fine, I just needed to walk it off. They let me go but told me to wave down a medic if I needed one on the course.
Once I finally caught my breath, I started to jog again and almost immediately started wheezing. Dammit! I found that I could jog downhill, but the minute the terrain flattened out or inclined I would be gasping for air.
Nonsequitor: So the Olympics were on last month and one morning, I was waiting in line in a coffee shop and they had some weird Olympic race on the TV. These folks were all noodley in the hips and shoulders, but not quite running It was race walking. Example: Race walking
So I started power walking. I wogged up to a guy who was also walking and asked him how he was doing. We laughed about how awful the swim was (probably delirium at this point) and he told me that his girlfriend finished her first swim loop, got out of the water and changed her race to the 1/4 Iron Distance. “You could do that!?!” Probably better that I didn’t know at the time.
I tried to keep up my noodley fast walk, then would jog whenever I saw a down hill. Wow, I was really going to be out here for a while.
Also, fast walking is really different from running. I started to chafe under both arms (luckily there was a bike medic with some Vaseline close by… Hey, are you following me?) and my feet just ached. Really ached.
I was so far back that as I was finishing up my last mile of the first run loop several spectators were yelling “Home stretch!” Nope. I sadly shook my head. I still have another loop.
I took another gel, and by “another” I mean another for the race, my first on the run (this is not good).
At this point the aid stations are running out of water and cups (a usual inaugural race problem). I had my hand held water bottle so I was doing ok. By now the sun was going down (well it wasn’t that late, but there were a lot of mountains to block the sun) and the wind was pretty stout, but comfortably cooling. Those of us still out on the course were all encouragement to each other, which was nice.
I got to the final turn around and though out of water they had Coke. Mmm, Coca-Cola – one of those things I never drink, except late in a race. Normally, gross, but now, so yummy!
I checked my watch to see if I could break 3 hours on the “run” and, nope. It didn’t look like it was going to happen unless I could average 10 minute miles on the last two miles. I started to jog again but within 1/4 mile I was wheezing.
Yep, nope. Keep wogging.
Finally, I came into the last little turn around that led to the finish line.
Run time : 3:05:49
Total Race Time: 8:13:15
Ok, that was awful! Pretty much everything about it sucked. What the hell was I thinking? And why didn’t I eat more both before an during the race? I never felt like I was going to bonk (and didn’t even realize how crappy my nutrition was until afterward), but four gels and a bottle and a 1/2 of Gatorade over 8 hours?!? No bueno! I have never come so close to missing every single race segment cut off, and I have never felt so bad during every race segment (except T2!) or come so close to quitting. And I wasn’t even sick! If that were my first tri, it would definitely be my last tri.
So now, no matter what happens at the Kerrville Tri at the end of this month, it will not suck as badly as that sucked!
Big, big KUDOs to the other competitors and Ginormous thanks to Erin Truslow who was such a great voice of encouragement every time I saw here. Also congrats to the Race Director – while my race sucked that was not their fault. The race was really well put together and the water thing will most definitely be corrected next year.