Sunday, April 10, 2016

Race Recap: The Belews Lake Tri- er- Duathlon

On Friday morning I was in a bit of a panic. The aero wheels I had borrowed for the race were great, but my running / cycling / swim buddy had left out a key component: The cassette (the gears on the rear wheel). I could use the cassette from my wheel but I didn't have the tool to do that. My buddy suggested taking it to the local bike shop. But the more I thought about it, the more I wasn't sure I wanted to use the wheels. The forecast for Saturday's Belews Lake International Triathlon was for temperatures in the low 40s, with winds of 18 miles per hour, gusting to over 30. Aero wheels make a bike more unstable in any conditions, and gusting winds make the task of handling bike even more challenging, because they give it a bigger profile in the crosswinds. I decided to stick with my tried-and-true wheels. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

Fast forward to Saturday morning. As I left my house, the thermometer read 37 degrees. I didn't notice much wind, but it wasn't really forecast to pick up until 9 or 10 am -- right when I'd be getting on my bike in the race. Sure enough, when I arrived at Belews Lake 90 minutes later, the wind had already picked up. I wore my down jacket to the race check-in. At the body-marking station, racers stripped off several layers and left their clothes in heaps to get their numbers and divisions marked — only to cover them back up to avoid freezing!

I walked my bike down to the lake and looked down at the swim course. The wind was howling across the course, and there were whitecaps in the water where we were scheduled to be swimming in an hour! Here's a photo of the course:

If you look carefully, you can see the orange buoys we were supposed to swim around
As the morning progressed, the wind just got stronger, and after I laid out my gear in the transition area, I headed to the warm up tent. About 30 minutes before the race start, a guy popped into the tent and said "swim's cancelled." Most folks let out a sigh of relief. I went outside to see what the problem was and saw that the whitecaps and gotten even larger, and one of the course-marker buoys had blown at least 100 yards out of position. And the wind was only forecast to get stronger. Probably the right call!

Waiting for an open-water swim in a down jacket....

So now we would be running a duathlon - a 5k run, 27-mile ride, and another 5k run. I decided to wear my cycling shirt, arm-warmers, and bike gloves for the run. Then my first transition would be easy -- just throw on my helmet and bike shoes and go. But as I prepared to start the run, I noticed that I had forgotten the toe-covers on my bike shoes. Nothing I could do about that -- I guessed I'd just have cold feet during the ride. Next I tried to start my heart rate monitor -- no luck with that either. No problem, I could run and ride by feel.

I headed up to the start line, where the race had already begun. As they had planned to do with the swim, runners were being released gradually to minimize congestion in the transition area. I ended up lining up near the back. No worries, I thought, It'll be fun passing people on the run and ride.

Sure enough, as soon as I started I was passing people with regularity. The 5k course was a hilly out-and-back:

Holy mother of mountains!
The total elevation gain for the course was 213 feet. Compare that to the "hilly" Tightwad 5k course I ran in January -- 141 vertical feet. I did that race at an average 7:07 pace and was dying by the end. This time around, a similar pace felt comfortable. I guess the three months of training since then have paid off! I ended up measuring the course at 3.23 miles, with a 7:06 pace, officially a time of 22:53, feeling like I had plenty left for the ride. As I passed by the finish, Ryan, the official announcer (and a running buddy of mine), said he figured I'd passed over half the field during the run. I'm not sure about that but it definitely gave me a boost.

My transition went smoothly (1:25), and soon I was on the bike. My plan for the ride had been to pace myself using heart rate zones: Zone 4 for the climbs and Zone 3 for everything else. But that plan had to be tossed because I didn't have an HRM. My hope had been to go at least 20 mph on average, or 21 if I was really feeling good. But that plan hadn't accounted for the winds. By the time I was on the bike, the forecast proved to be quite accurate: 18-mph winds gusting to 30+. The one consolation was that the wind was mostly from the side. The course layout, a double loop, turned out to be very forgiving for this wind:

The wind was from the northwest, but the ride was mostly north/south, so for the most part it was just a crosswind. It was tending to a tailwind on the southbound part of the route, which was mostly uphill, and much of the dead-on headwinds we got on the northbound portion of the course were on downhill segments. As on the run, I passed lots of riders on the bike leg, and I'm pretty sure no one passed me, so I had a good ride. I also was experimenting with Tailwind for my nutrition on this tri. I've never carried anything but water to drink during a race but I've tried it at aid stations during ultras, and unlike Gatorade, it goes down quite well. My mixture had 3 scoops, or 300 calories' worth of nutrition, and I made sure to drink regularly. I'd almost finished it by the time I got to the aid station around Mile 15, so I decided to grab some water. I may have been going a bit too fast, because as I grabbed the water, it squirted out of the top like a geyser. Fortunately, I managed to hang on and dumped it into the bottle with the rest of my Tailwind.

There were a couple points on the back side where the wind really whipped across the course. I had to lean in and oversteer dramatically to counter the wind. I'm not sure if I would have been able to maintain control if I'd been using aero wheels! That said, many riders did finish the course using aero wheels, and one brave biker even had a disk on the rear wheel, so maybe I'm just being chicken. Either way, I don't think they would have given a huge advantage except for the few miles on the course when we really were riding straight into the wind.

In the end, I finished the ride, which I measured at 27.2 miles, at a 19.7-mph pace, officially 1:23:03. That was a little slower than my goal, but given the conditions, I'm pretty happy with the ride.

I didn't feel especially cold during the ride (and I LOVED the new arm-warmers), but as I rode into the finish I could tell that my feet were quite numb. I hopped off the bike and hobbled into the transition zone. I found I just couldn't get my legs to move as fast as I wanted. I sat down and took the time to double-knot my shoes and take one last swig of Tailwind from the extra bottle I had in the transition area. Then I climbed back on my feed and stumbled out for the run. My T2 time was 2:13, slower than ideal, but not terrible.

Starting out on the run, I really struggled to get my legs moving. I simply could not feel my feet, and while I trusted that they would do what I wanted them to do, my legs were cold enough that they were not responding like they normally do. Add to that the fact we were running up an 8 percent grade, and it felt like I was crawling up the hill. The guy ahead of me actually started walking less than 100 yards from the transition zone, so clearly I wasn't the only one struggling with this!

After the hill leveled off a bit, I did manage to gradually pick up the pace, but nothing like what I had done during the first run. I made it over the top of the hill and started heading back down, but still I struggled to make my legs move like I wanted them to. I still had no feeling in my feet! I've experienced numbness in my feet after a ride before, but never to this degree. It was very frustrating. Somehow I managed an 8:01 first mile.

For the next two miles, I gradually warmed up a bit, sliding off my arm warmers and breaking a sweat on my forehead. But the feeling never returned to my feet. I did gradually increase the pace, with a 7:37 Mile 2 and a 7:26 Mile 3, but I never hit the pace I had attained for the first run, and I felt like, if not for my cold muscles, I could have run faster. Overall my time for Run 2 was 24:38.

My total time for the duathlon was 2:13:56. This turned out to be fourth in my age group by less than two minutes. Argh! But it was my best age-group result in a triathlon to date, so I'll take it!

It was frigid in the finish area so I didn't hang around for long. I put sweats on over my race gear, put my down jacket back on, and packed everything up quickly to get back to the car. It was only then that I realized that I hadn't taken a post-race photo, so I snapped a quick shot in the car:

Still looking pretty cold!
So not the ideal setting for a duathlon (or triathlon), but I'm pretty happy with how I performed under the conditions. I'd like to try another one before my main race in June, and I'd also like to sign up for a nice, flat road 5k to see how I do in that. We'll see if I manage to do either of those things! Next up is a 10-mile trail race at Leatherwood. Details on yesterday's race are below:

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