So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Georgia On My (Tri Suit) Back...

For the small number of people who really want to know how the coach fared on his training day in Augusta, GA this last weekend, here we go. I'll provide a brief commentary on the host city, the courses, my performance, some possible root causes/lessons learned and what I might try in order to not have a repeat on a grander (and I dare say, a more painful...) scale in five weeks.

Augusta - Venue
Augusta is definitely Old South, with dry town-style blue laws & that roll up the sidewalk, put out the cat at five o'clock feeling. If you're looking for a race venue in which to party during the days immediately before/afterward, this is definitely not the race to choose. However, if you can handle walking down a tree-lined main drag on a Saturday morning to a bakery for coffee, danish (there are only two Starbucks' in town; one's in the Marriott) & a quiet read of the local newspaper/USA Today, this is your kind of place. Even Monday morning traffic didn't come down Broad Street en masse until about nine o'clock, while we had breakfast at a breakfast joint which did open during the week. Yes, there are dining, drinking & clubbing establishments which open later, but don't expect a boatload of early morning joints nearby.

We stayed at the Ramada Inn, about six blocks from the headquarters hotel, three blocks from the swim start, & approximately 1.2 miles from the transition area. What it lacked in facility quality & neighborhood location - the freight train line, which awakened us at least four times nightly, reminded Suzanne & me of our first place - it made up by proximity to the run course just plain good-hearted attitude of the staff working there.

The courses were, in the opinion of this race guy, fairly good. I truly enjoyed the point-to-point swim in the Savannah River, as well as the rolling, often-tree-lined bike course in the vicinity of Jackson & Aiken, SC. The run course was, however, a mixed bag. If I had been the course designer, I probably would not have run the course over the train line four times each ten-kilometer loop. Yes, I'm being a whiny-butt, because I know what happens every time I try to run over a very uneven piece of pavement when I've been moving for the previous four hours. Can you say calf or leg cramps?

Swim - 1.2 miles - 35:00
Swimming in the 72-degree waters of the Savannah River was nice, even though the water was quite murky, with seagrass, sticks & the like. After the first couple of hundred yards I was forced to either do the side stroke or the breast stroke. If your shoulders aren't used to swimming, even a two-millimeter wetsuit (great for flotation when compared to no wetsuit) can pose difficulties. A couple of panicky moments here & there when I caught a little too much water, as well as the drat! I knew I should have used the tinted goggles moment when the sun finally burst through...all I could tell was I was going in the right direction - downstream - but seeing specific signs was another story altogether.

(Talk about a fun swim venue - you probably could have walked on the levee for the majority of the swim & watched your athlete do their thing.)

T1 - Unlike most other 70.3 events according to what I've been told, this event had wetsuit strippers at the transition area. Nice. The downside was the strippers were in the grass; by the time my wave (23rd of 25) arrived in T1 the nice grass had turned more into nice grass and mud. So, I ended up with a nice coating of Georgia grass/mud/dirt on the back side of my bright yellow tri-top. I know. Waah, waah, waah... I didn't know there was junk all over my back until the bike course, when some 40-44 woman I passed told me.

Contrary to my first triathlon efforts, my time in T1 was fairly short, probably about three minutes at the most. However, I did the same thing I've done in every other event. I broke my right little toe during my first triathlon trying to get into my cycling's happened every time since then. When I told my wife later she freaked out. Hey, it's only a little toe. I have nine others.

Bicycle - 56 miles - 3:10
The first 20 kilometers of the bike leg went by quickly; I was probably at 30 km/hour (20 mph) average for it. The first climb on the course did not come until about the 18-mile mark, when I heard the first signs I did not want to hear; grinding noises from my chainring area as I started to pull my way up the hill. That's a certain sign I've got a chain issue, caused by a dry chain...not enough to rain the night before while in transition. Stupid! Should have taken my bottle of chain lube to transition & that extra half-hour of TLC; probably would have saved me a good ten minutes of ride. By the end of the bike leg I was limited to probably four gear combinations which did not make a lot of noise. The last 15 kilometers were the price paid for my folly, as I dropped my chain off the small chainring not once, but twice...the second time on the last incline leading back into Augusta.

When we looked at the course profile, the first reaction was one of shock & worry; there were some serious elevation changes on the course, a couple of hundred feet in difference, in three separate locations. Fortunately, the scale of the course profile was skewed in favor of showing all of the elevation...only three of the climbs were tougher than three percent in grade...and only one was tough enough to make me get up out of my saddle for the climb. Looked at my heart rate on the climbs &found I was expending no worse than 77 percent of maximum heart rate, which means I was probably at the high end of aerobic threshhold.

It was on the bike where the first signs of wheels falling off were noticeable, just after the 40 kilometer marker at the second of two U-turns on the course. I almost overcooked the first one about ten kilometers earlier, but managed to pull it back in. The second U-turn was snug enough to slow me down good. Pushing the pace to get back up to speed (into a steadily-increasing headwind) caused a beauty of a calf cramp, one of those cramps that you cannot pedal through & can barely unclip out to let it rest for about ten one-legged pedal strokes.

(Another one of those rides where I wish I had a basket to pick up all of the stuff which was discarded on the course. Danny Turner said he saw a wad of money on the road...dude, you didn't stop!?)

T2 - much shorter than the lead-in from the swim, thank goodness. Yes, I had to walk the bike through the entire transition area, but since there was low grass, smooth gravel & carpeting it was fairly quick & painless. Took the time to kill off the 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade Endurance Formula I picked up at the third bottle exchange - part of the 60 ounces of fluid taken on the bike course to supplement the 60 ounces (40 of Accelerade/Hammer Gel/water mixture, 20 of straight water) I carried on board - and hit the head.

So the answer, Mimi, is: No. No peeing on the bike. I waited until T2.

Run - 13.1 miles - 2:22
Regardless of whatever plans you make, the run leg of a triathlon is uncomfortable. It all depends on how you define uncomfortable. Compared to my previous half-iron experience, this was not so much a kick in the groin as a slap very, very close to it. The first & second miles were just plain awful, but I knew that was going to happen. That's why (most) people do transition runs, or bricks. The warmth of the run course in downtown Augusta made it almost necessary to play it cautious; I already planned to walk through the aid stations which were located about every two kilometers on the course in order to take enough fluids to forestall cramping. Things seemed to work well until mile four, then the wheels fell off. They did not fall off like my previous half, where I walked for a solid hour; they fell off closely enough to the wagon I could pick them up & replace them. And replace them, I did. Every other block for the next three miles; I tried to go further than a block, or as far as I could until the cramp would start, then I'd take a minute or a block & walk.

(How many stoopid people do you know who take a cell phone on the run at a triathlon?)

Every run course, every race course, has a point on it where the crowds are sparse or nonexistent, the view is dismal, & your body begins to debate very loudly with your mind. My point was somewhere between the sixth & seventh mile, on Reynolds Avenue, heading back toward the Augusta Rowing Club. The bad news was I developed a major cramp in my left hamstring, the kind that makes you literally pitch off to one side, hopefully into something soft & comfortable. The good news was that it stopped me dead still rather than pitching me off into the bushes along the roadway. The real good news was that a fellow participant gave me the one Hammer Endurolyte capsule she had left...which perhaps made the difference between walking/jogging the next 6 miles & just walking the next 6 miles.

And this happened at a point where at least three of the aid stations on the course were beginning to run out of cups, cold drink & sponges. I had to forego aid on the southern side of Broad Street because there were no cups whatsoever. (If you're in a later wave of a large triathlon event, consider yourself warned.)

Finish - 6:20:22
Compared to the last half-iron triathlon, I finished two minutes faster...on a less-challenging swim but a more-challenging bike. If I said I was not hoping for a quicker time, you could call me a liar. But I'm pleased with how things turned out (especially the way I feel days later - sleeping without waking up to cramps from the nether regions are a plus).

Lessons Learned/Training Foci:
Swim - more full suit-swims & resistance training - strengthen the arms for longer wetsuit swims and decrease fatigue. Able to make 1.2 in hour, so no need to panic on longer swim, just do one stroke at a time and stay focused.

Bike - check function (air/lubrication/gears/brakes) both during check-in & pre-race in transition. 90-minute bottles worked wonderfully; set-up either one 6-hour bottle or two 3-hour bottles for IM. Use aero bottle for water. A couple of 3-hour-to-4-hour road or trainer rides should work well to get comfortable in saddle.

Run - carry electrolytes of some sort in fuel belt; don't trust race course to have enough good stuff. Use HEED/Perpetuem and/or Endurolytes. Long, easy-paced (8:00min/mile) runs/ short transition runs over next weeks.

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