Most of this text is taken from the write-up I did for TriHive Magazine, although I’ve included more detail here, since I didn’t want to make the TriHive version too personal.
I won’t say it went off without a hitch. There were a few things that went wrong, and some things that could have been better, but I’ve never been to a triathlon where there wasn’t room for improvement. Given that this is the first year for Gold Medal Racing under new ownership, I’d say the Lake Powell Triathlon went pretty well, and I look forward to a better race in the future.
The first thing anyone notices about the event is that it’s not anywhere close to where most of us live. In my case, the drive from Draper, Utah was slightly over six hours. For those in the St. George area it’s a bit more palatable two hours. But for those who want to get in one more event before the end of the season, this is it, and somehow that makes the drive seem like a minor issue.
And it’s not as thought it’s an unpleasant drive. From northern Utah the drive takes you through Panguitch and Kanab and a few small towns in between with beautiful rock formations, mountains, rivers, farms, and at this time of year many of the leaves on the trees are bright yellow and at about 5 p.m. are lit up wonderfully by the setting sun.
My wife, 20-month old daughter, and I arrived at the Stateline Marina, where the event would be held the next day, just before the sun went down. The weather was cool, but not cold, and the skies were entirely clear. I had already done this race the first year in 2007, so I didn’t feel a need to drive the course but I wanted to see the new location for the transition area made necessary by the larger number of participants. I was glad to see that the run from the swim to the transition area would be 100 yards or so on cement and asphalt this year, rather than a half mile on sand and rocks.
As we were walking down the boat ramp there was a large group of very fit youngsters walking up. They all had Air Force outfits on, many were carrying wetsuits, and it appeared they had all just finished a swim. I looked at the cut bodies with 4% body fat and thought “I hope these guys are just here for some sort of training that has nothing to do with the triathlon.”
We left the event site and drove a few miles farther into Page, Arizona. The Italian joint we had eaten at two years ago had been turned into a completely different restaurant, so we tried out another place instead, which turned out to be acceptable but nothing special, which is probably why the name of it escapes me. I wasn’t terribly hungry anyway, having had a large lunch, so I wasn’t too concerned about what I ate as long as it didn’t make me sick.
We stayed at the Rodeway Inn, which was the cheapest motel we could find when we had made our reservations a month earlier. There was a large contingent of bikers (of the Harley Davidson type) in front, but they appeared to be German tourists and didn’t give us any trouble, lucky for them.
I like to be early enough to be able to rack my bike anywhere I want, so we woke up while it was completely dark, packed up, and got to the transition area just as the staff was getting set up. I racked my bike and was the second person in body marking. Of course the other side of being early is that then you end up waiting around with nothing to do. At least that’s what generally happens, but I struck up a conversation with a fellow named Chris who racked his bike next to mine and we had a good chat for a while.
As opposed to the night before, it was not merely cool but a bit chilly, so instead of posting race updates to Facebook I kept my numb fingers in my pockets and walked around trying to keep warm.
As for those Air Force guys I had seen the evening before, they were all there. A bunch of 19-20 year-olds from the Air Force Academy who were in a triathlon club there. I’m glad our young men and women who are serving in the armed forces are so fit and trim, but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe it would be even more of a service to our country if they didn’t make us old geezers who pay taxes feel so fat and out of shape.
I remember the water being colder the first year I participated, but maybe that’s just because I wore a sleeveless wetsuit that years, vs. a full wetsuit this year. Either way, there were a few people who opted to swim without wetsuits, and I don’t think they were too uncomfortable. There was no shock of cold to the water as I’ve experienced before.
I was in the first wave of Olympic racers, and although I was expecting to have a few minutes in the water to warm up, I suddenly heard the race director shouting through the megaphone that we would be starting the race in one minute. It was all I could do to make my way towards the front of the pack in time for the start.
This was the first time I had ever started a swim at the front of the group. The first two triathlons I was in I held back and didn’t even start swimming until everyone was out of my way. On the third, it was a wave start so my group was quite small, and we were all lined up shoulder to shoulder for the most part, so there wasn’t much of a front. On the fourth the swim was canceled, and so this was the first time I was ever in a large group, with a lot of guys behind me, and me in front acting like I was going to be in front the whole way.
Although I really thought I was prepared, as seems to always happen at the beginning of every swim portion, I thought I was going to die. I was getting pounded by everyone around me and I couldn’t catch my breath. It was all I could do to keep moving and hope that nobody piled right on top of me. Somehow my confidence in my swimming abilities seemed to have no connection to the reality I was experiencing as I swallowed a mouthful of water accidentally, tried to keep water out of my lungs, and struggled to stay on top of things. It appeared I was completely out of my league. In fact, it appeared I didn’t really know how to swim.
I struggled to the first buoy, and then all of a sudden as I turned that first corner it was as though someone opened my lungs and I could breathe. I was able to get into a rhythm that felt more like a normal training swim in a pool, and then I was fine the rest of the way. I found one of those thin Air Force guys and swam alongside him for a while, and then eventually passed him. I have to admit that made me feel pretty good. It felt pretty good later on when I found out I had beat another AF guy by five minutes on the swim. C’mon, I gotta be able to take some pride in something, somewhere. If I can’t look as good as those guys, at least I can take some consolation in being faster than they were on the swim portion of the event.
This was also the first event where I was trying to breathe on both sides. Normally, when I’m training, I breathe once every three strokes, which means I breathe bilaterally. But this never worked for me in events, so I always ended up breathing on one side, but struggling against it the whole time and trying to breathe on both sides. This time, I had gotten the tip from Heath Thurston that I shouldn’t be trying to breathe on both sides, so I didn’t fight it, and man, what a difference that made. I swam a lot faster than in training, despite that bad first part, and despite the fact I went way off course a few times and had to correct.
Before I knew it, I had gone around the loop twice and was on the home stretch. At this point there was a bit of confusion because I wasn’t sure whether we were supposed to exit onto the sandy beach where we had started, or to the right of the boat dock where the cement ramp was that we would run up to the transition area. But everyone seemed to be getting out on the beach, so I went that way as well.
In retrospect, I think I should have made sure to get a good warm-up in before the race started. It was obvious to me that it was just a matter of time for me to be able to swim right, and if I had swam 100-200 meters before the event started, I think I could have started off strong.
I stomped out of my wetsuit, put on my old shoes which I had left at the bottom of the boat ramp so that I didn’t have to run all the way up in bare feet or flip flops, and started the run up. I quickly realized if I ran all the way up the steep grade I’d probably pass out before I got on my bike, so I settled for a quick walk.
After a slight issue getting a strap on my right shoe all the way on so that it wasn’t hitting my bike as it went around, I was able to put some real speed into the bike. The course starts out mostly flat with some slight uphill portions that wind through the state park where most of the event is held. After a few miles on the slightly bumpy park road (it’s not bad but it would be a dream if they would resurface that road), we exited the south entrance to the park, turned right for 100 feet, and then turned right again onto the highway, which is where The Hill begins.
“The Hill” is not that bad. It can’t be much more than a quarter mile, if that, and it’s nothing compared to the hills around the Salt Lake valley. Still, if you haven’t been training on hills and are used to flat then I can see how it could be a bit of a workout.
After that first hill it was mostly flat again with some slight uphill portions until we came to the north entrance of the park where we left the highway. At this point the course is mostly downhill where you can really pick up some speed other than for the two or three sharp turns and one set of speed bumps.
We looped around past the transition area where the last Sprint distance racers were just coming out on their bikes for their first and only loop on the bike course while we were starting our second loop.
I had held back on the first loop because I couldn’t remember well enough what it was like from my first year. But realizing it was quite a bit shorter than I thought it would be, I picked up the pace on the second loop, cutting my time the second time around by a few minutes.
Everything is clear in hindsight, and I’m just glad it was a double loop so that I knew I could push it harder the second time around. If I had it to do over again, I would have pushed it harder the first and second times and I think I could have cut 5-6 minutes or more off my bike time.
Having gotten some tips on transitions from David Warden’s Tri-Talk.com podcast (check out episode #48), my transitions in this race went a lot better than in previous events, although I did have a little struggle getting my Zoot shoes on, which I’ve only run in four or five times and should have practiced getting into a few more times just to get used to them.
One of the aspects of this course that I really enjoy is that coming off the bike and into the run it’s all downhill, so that your legs are feeling pretty good as you start out on the run and you don’t have that “brick” feeling of lifting legs made out of lead. I started the run feeling great, but with my 205 lb. frame and lack of running history I knew the run was where I would really feel it.
My conversational companion Chris, whom I had met that morning, caught up with me (he was in the second wave of Olympic racers) and we started chatting again. The course which had seemed relatively flat while on the bike turned out to be more of an uphill climb when running. Not too steep, but a 1% grade is all it takes on the run to make it challenging. Whereas on the bike course I had been passed by other racers slowly, here I was being passed quickly by all sorts of thin, fit people who seemed to glide by while my thick legs pounded heavily into the asphalt.
At this point I was thankful for my Garmin, which helped me keep on pace, and for Chris, whose conversation made the time pass faster. The run started out feeling slow, but it wasn’t long before we reached the turnaround and started back, which happily meant that it was almost all downhill.
I was aiming to maintain a 9:00 per mile pace, but was at 9:17 at the halfway point. Chris and I picked up our pace to about 8:30 on the way back, but walking through those aid stations really adds the seconds back on that you just worked hard to take off. By the time we reached the Sprint turnaround point, which let us know that we were 75% of the way to the finish, we were down to about 9:07. We picked it up some more and held a pace that was under 8:00 for most of the rest of the way, which meant our pleasant conversation came to a halt, since neither of us had the breathing capacity for speaking anymore.
Chris and I crossed the finish line together, and for the first time in all my triathlons, including a half-Ironman, I felt like I was about to pass out and wake up in a med-tent. I had never pushed my run that hard. In retrospect, I probably should have eaten the Gu that I ended up carrying the entire way but which I hadn’t opened for fear of getting a side-ache. I was very exhausted, so much so that I didn’t feel too well for at least 20 minutes after I finished. I think I was more worn out than I was after my half-Ironman, and I think that’s primarily due to not taking in enough nutrition during the bike, and none during the run.
Fat Boy, one of the sponsors, had come through once again with a cooler full of ice cream sandwiches, which were like heaven. There was a table full of Myoplex, and I was exhausted enough that even that tasted good. But mostly I stuck to downing as much water, Heed, and orange slices as I could.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Let’s start with the bad and ugly. It wasn’t until the event was all over that I found out about some other glitches. I had noticed on the bike ride that the aid stations were giving out Heed and water, which I hadn’t taken since it would have required slowing down, plus I was carrying more than enough drink with me. But apparently there was a miscommunication and the aid stations weren’t supposed to hand anything out to bikers, and this resulted in at least one of the aid stations running out of drink for the later runners (there had been plenty of liquids left while I was running). While this didn’t effect me, I see how this could have been a major problem for some of the slower runners who probably needed the liquids the most.
There were also the problems of people having taken all the raffle prizes, some of the medals having disappeared under mysterious circumstances, people walking off with boxes of Myoplex before all the racers had come in and had a chance to get even one, and some general disorganization that manifested itself here and there.
But I think the good things far outweigh any of the negatives, which could easily be overcome with some relatively minor changes.
The weather both years I’ve participated has been perfect. People often think of Lake Powell as a hot place, but at this time of year it’s in the 60s and 70s during the time of the race and only starts getting up towards 80 degrees after the race is over. There was also a nice breeze to keep you cool and dry, but not so much of a breeze to constitute actual wind resistance.
The scenery is beautiful. You’d be hard pressed to find another event with a backdrop like that of the huge cliffs and rocks rising out of the waters of Lake Powell.
Other than the portion of the bike course that runs on the highway, the course is virtually devoid of auto traffic.
One little known secret—there is an area just a 30-second drive from the transition area that has private showers you can use for $2 in quarters. My wife wishes we had known about that the first year.
I felt like it was a great event, the minor issues notwithstanding. I’m sure it will be a bit more polished and even better next year. I’d be there, but seeing as how I’ll be in the final stages of training for my Ironman in early November, I don’ t think I’ll be doing any events in October.
|Place:||74 out of 141|
|Place:||68 out of 108|
|Inter M 30 – 34 Place:||6 out of 10|
|Name||Interval Time||Total Time||Pace||Overall Place||Overall Back||Gender Place||Gender Back||Division Place||Division Back|
You know, just when I start thinking “Yeah, I’m really losing weight and getting fit” then I see some photos of myself and think “Man, I’ve got a ways to go.”