On Saturday I competed in my first triathlon of 2011, and my first event in exactly one year, the last having been the Boise half-Ironman in 2010. It’s amazing how a year can go by. After the Boise 70.3, I was planning on doing the full Ironman in Florida, but time commitments, an inconvenient oil-spill, and 10 other things got in the way. I also spent most of the time from November to February sick with low-level colds and some painful stomach issues. So my year got off to a rocky start, having been out of training for several months. On the plus side, my wife and I started a new nutritional lifestyle in January, and I lost about 25 lbs, so that made things a bit easier once I did get started. Another plus this year has been training using the book Run Less, Run Faster, which I could tell was having a major impact on my training and I knew it would translate into a better race once I did one.
Once I was ready to start training, I mapped out the year, and decided to focus on speed this year, rather than endurance. I chose three sprint-distance triathlons, the Park City triathlon being the first, and the other two being Stansbury and Scofield.
One downer about the Park City triathlon is that it has a split-transition, meaning you don’t end up where you start. The swim is held in the Jordanelle reservoir (don’t let that fool you into thinking this is the “Jordanelle Triathlon”, it’s not), you then bike to Park City, and you run from there and end up there. This means that before the race you get a shuttle down to Jordanelle, and after the race they ferry the gear you left at Jordanelle to the finish line. My family was planning on camping out and then watching me, but given the split transition and two kids ages 1 and 3 we decided I would just go by myself, sleep in the back of our mini-van, and race without spectators. This being the first race I’ve done without family there to watch me, I have to say I was surprised how much it all felt like a waste. I really missed having my family there, and afterward as I saw kids playing around I thought “Man, my kids would be loving this right now.” I’ve decided I’ll probably never do a split-transition race ever again, as much as I did enjoy this race overall. Now here’s how it all went down…
Due to the split transition I had to rack my bike on Friday, the night before the race, so I headed up there Friday afternoon with my mini-van packed with triathlon gear, sleeping mats, and a sleeping bag. The first transition area (T1) by Jordanelle had assigned areas for bikes, so getting there early wasn’t a huge priority like it would be if there were open racking, and you wanted to get a good spot. I dropped my bike off, making sure the tires were full and all the nuts and bolts were tightened. I didn’t leave any other gear there, because although they had overnight security, it’s just too easy for a helmet, pump, or other gear to “wander” off. Especially pumps, since people tend to borrow those and then forget where they were borrowed from. I also realized while there that I had forgotten to bring a towel to wipe my feet on in between the swim and getting on my bike. I don’t think it’s the first time.
I then headed to check-in in Park City. I drove the bike route as I went, which was nicely marked with orange traffic cones every 50 meters or so. The first thing I noticed was that coming straight out of the Jordanelle park area you get on the highway and ride a mile or so up a fairly steep hill. At least I would be getting warmed up right out of the gate. As I drove, I remember thinking “Gee, this seems kind of long for a sprint-distance triathlon” but I’ve also noticed how sometimes, counter-intuitively, the distance seems greater when driven than when biked.
Arriving in Park City, I checked in on the second-floor of the hotel, got my body-marking done (I always seem to wear clothing that makes this inconvenient), got my t-shirt and goodie bag, and then got back in the car to check out the area. I saw a Bed, Bath, and Beyond and decided to go in and buy a towel. I then found T2 tucked in the middle of a townhome and retail complex. There were several parking spots around, which I decided would make a good place to camp out for the night. I could then wake up and walk right over to T2 to set up my shoes and everything for the run, and then walk a few more feet to get on the shuttle to the race. Also, there were porta-potties right there, so if I woke up during the night and really had to go, I wouldn’t have to take the vagrancy to the new level of relieving myself in the nearby parking garage. I parked and started setting up bed in the back of the min-van with some inflatable camping/hiking sleeping pads.
As it got dark, I realized I had parked under a lamppost, and I’d be better off moving to a darker part of the parking lot. I did so, trying to avoid the gaze of anyone in the area, which was semi-private as it was behind a business which I would later find out was a bowling alley, but which was occupied alternatively by employees on smoking breaks and a policeman. I saw a policeman come around once or twice, and ducked down in my car. He looked like he was merely doing the rounds, and I didn’t think there was much chance he could see me laying on the floor of my van, but I already felt like a vagrant and didn’t want to give him any excuse to give the mini-van a closer look.
Around 9:30 I got to sleep on what was a soft enough but not wide enough camping pad. It was warm, so I wasn’t covered by the sleeping bag, although I was wearing clothes so I wasn’t immodest or anything, luckily. At 10:30 pm I was awakened by a loud crack and a yell of “Police!”
“What the heck is going on?” I thought.
Then I saw a policeman standing outside the van, shining a big mag-lite in, which he then used to bang on the window again and then again shouted “Police!” Oh boy.
I opened the side door of the van while kneeling on top of my sleeping bag, feeling every bit the vagrant now. The policeman shone his flashlight in my face and asked “What are you doing here?!”
“I’m here for the triathlon tomorrow” I responded, “Is that ok?”
“Just catching some z’s?”
“Ok, I won’t bother you any more then.”
And off he went. “Well, thanks for waking me up for that,” I thought. Between the adrenalin flow and the noise of bowling pins being knocked over, it took me a good half hour to get to sleep again. That night I dreamt I woke up 20 years later, still in the mini-van in the parking lot, but with a long beard and nobody knew who I was. Ok, I didn’t really dream that, that’s just a little embellishment at no extra charge.
Sometime between going to sleep and 3 am, it turned from warm to cold. I woke up shivering, and realized the cheap sleeping bag I had wasn’t going to be enough to keep me warm all night. I spent the next few hours waking up every 30 minutes or so to try and get more comfortable on the narrow pad, while not allowing the sleeping bag to open and what little heat there was out. When 5:30 am came, I was ready to be done with sleeping in the van, but only because I wanted to go back home and get in my nice, soft, warm bed, and not because I was ready to jump in a 50-degree lake.
I turned on the car to get the heater going and ate some fruit leather and drank some water. I packed everything up, and when 6:00 came around and they opened T2 I went and put my run gear in a strategic spot (also assigned, at least by section if not specific place). I then went back to my car to stay warm, then went to get dress in a porta-potty, then back to the car to warm up some more, and then decided it would probably be a good idea to go wait for the shuttle. Turns out I should have stayed in the car longer, because I just missed the first shuttle, and spent the next 20 minutes shivering in the cold. Other people started putting their wetsuits on at this point, which I should have done, but I was worried the shuttle would come while I was in the middle of it. So I froze.
The shuttle came, and we had an uneventful ride to T1. Upon arriving, someone on a megaphone called out that the sprint race would start in 20 minutes. I rushed to get my gear ready, including putting on my wetsuit and sunscreen…not in that order. I made it down to the water and worked towards the front and center of the group. They gave us a quick orientation on where to swim (there had been no pre-race orientation), and suddenly the air-horn went off and we went off as well. It was cold, but not shockingly cold. But given that I was still a bit lethargic from the night’s sleep, I felt completely unprepared for the swim. I wish I would have taken the time to jog around and open up my lungs, or get some swimming in before to get warmed up. Surprisingly, I swam the 750 meters in 13:33, which is a decent time for me. I say surprising because I felt completely out of it as I swam, and after running up the boat ramp and getting to my bike, I was so dizzy I fell against the bike rack and had trouble standing up.
In fact, I just looked and the fastest male in the entire event only finished the swim in 12:34, so not even a full minute ahead of me. Dang, now I feel even better. In fact, if I were just a little more on top of my game I’m sure I could have gotten there with the first place guy. Well, maybe next time.
Once in my bike shoes and holding on to my bike, I regained my balance and ran out of transition, mounted the bike, and was off. I made my way out of the park, and on to the highway with the long hill. It wasn’t as bad in real life as it had seemed when driving it. It took a while, but I felt fine. In retrospect, I would have put more effort into that hill and I probably could have shaved a minute or two off my bike time. But my endurance training has got it stuck in my head that you don’t push things hard early in the race and I am going to have to unlearn that a bit for these sprint events.
Everything went fine on the bike until I got to a spot where we turn left off a frontage road, go over the highway, and then on to the frontage road on the other side. The left turn comes after a high-speed area, and I didn’t realize how little turning room I would have. As I turned, I was keeping my eye on the pavement to make sure I wouldn’t hit any gravel patches. All of a sudden, I saw the edge of the pavement coming closer and closer, and realized I couldn’t turn sharply enough to avoid going off the road. Off the road I went, into a bunch of gravel, and I thought “Oh man, I’m going down.” Somehow, I didn’t go down, which is as miraculous to me now as it was then, but I did lose all my speed while still in high gear, and as I tried to shift and get some traction on the gravel, my chain slipped off. I stopped, unclipped, and lost a good minute getting my chain back on.
Once the chain was back on, I was fine, and made my way along the road and into town. Both of my transition times were satisfactory for me (they had wetsuit strippers at the end of the swim which helped a lot), and after T2 I was quickly out on my run. The run was mostly on an asphalt running trail, which is what I train on around my house, so I felt at home. The trail was mostly flat, with only some slight uphill portions on the way out, which meant some slight downhill on the way back. I felt good and tried to maintain a faster than normal pace on the way out, and then started pushing it on the way back, especially the last mile or so as I passed 2-3 people. The last third of a mile I started pushing myself harder, but not hard enough–some guy passed me right at the finish line and beat me by two seconds, pushing me down to 17th overall among the males.
bib number: 275
overall place: 21 out of 102
division place (age group): 7 out of 14
gender place: 17 out of 62
By comparison, here are the times from the guy who won:
Interesting, I must have beat him out of transition, which means he must have had some sort of problem in there. But he certainly made up for it later.
Final thoughts? Fun, but it would have been more fun with my family there. The next one is in a month, but I’ve got a vacation in the middle, so we’ll see if I end up any faster by then.