Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hickory Grove Race Report

I know, I know, it’s about time! I know you have ALL been stalking my blog, on the edge of your seats, waiting for this post. Well wait no longer, my friends. And get comfy…you’re gonna be here for awhile.

Hickory Grove was race #7 in my 2008 season. Granted, I started my season in February, and include road races in that total, so while that seems like a big number it’s really not. It’s actually only triathlon #4. Anyway, Hickory Grove is a sprint distance (500yd/15.5 mi/3.1mi), and the bike/run courses are interesting, to say the least. The swim is an out-and-back swim (buoys on the right), with a monster grassy hill leading to the transition area. The bike is a 3 loop course starting off with a big downhill and a 90 degree turn at the bottom, a set of hills/plateaus up the backside, a flat/rolling hill section; turn around on a hill then a flat/rolling hill return to the start. The run consists of about 75% grass trail running, with a couple of very short, yet very steep, inclines covered with fresh, loose mulch. The part of the run NOT on grass is on the same hill/plateau section of the bike course so we could experience that fun for a fourth time. But because Greyt and I had done some training up on the course in preparation for the race, I knew exactly what to expect and how I wanted to attack the course. I like knowing exactly what I will see on the course, no surprises. It gives me loads of confidence going into the race, so I was ready to go.

The morning started off fine, got up, ate my cinnamon toast waffles, picked up Greyt and headed to the race. Once we got there, we unloaded our bikes and our gear and headed to transition to set up. We weren’t allowed in transition yet because we hadn’t been body marked so we parked our stuff outside the fence and headed over to body marking. Greyt had picked up her packet the night before so she only had to get her timing chip and get marked. I, on the other hand, had to stand in line to pick up my packet. In my head I could hear the clock ticking down to race time. I was getting nervous because I didn’t even have my bike racked yet. Finally I get my packet, my chip and wonderful magic marker tattoos, and head back to the transition area to get set up. I get into transition and there aren’t a lot of ideal rack spots left, so I found an area that had a somewhat decent shortcut through the racks to the bike exit, threw down my bag, racked my bike and high-tailed it to the porta potties. I had to go. Like NOW. Of course the line was ridiculously long. And who chooses to only rent 3 porta potties for a race with 400 entrants??? @#$%^&*!!! I’m standing in line, starting to feel REALLY nervous that I haven’t set up my transition yet and time was just ticking away. And I still had a warm-up to do! YIKES! After finally making it through the line, I rushed back to transition just as I heard the announcer saying they would be closing transition in 15 minutes. CRAP! I am ALWAYS set up way early and usually just walking around, warming up, chatting with people before the race. Not this time! The warm-up was now officially out of the question (sorry, Jen!) but I knew I HAD to get in the water and swim for at least 5 minutes before the start. That was non-negotiable. So I quickly arranged my transition area, struggled into my wetsuit and headed down to the water with Greyt.

THE SWIM – The water was officially 77 degrees, so wetsuit legal (obviously if I put the darn thing on in transition). A lot of people chose not to wear one, but I decided the extra time in transition would be worth the additional speed and confidence I’d have in the water. Down at the swim start, Greyt and I head right into the water. It felt really warm given the air temperature was pretty cool. I slid into the water and swam out to the second buoy and back. I felt GREAT. I know that I need that little reassurance before the race that when I put my face in the water, I would be ok. I’ve raced before without doing this (Hy-Vee) and paid dearly for it. Lesson learned. I floated in the water a bit looking out at the swim course so I could find a good landmark to sight, since the buoys were on my right and I breathe only to my left. Luckily there was a gigantic Morton building on the other shore that just happened to be right in line with the last buoy. SCORE!

I got out of the water and stood on the beach with Greyt and some other people from our TRI club, waiting for the race to start. They sent the waves off 6 minutes apart to help relieve some of the congestion on the bike course. We were in the 4th wave, so we waited for what seemed like forever. As we were waiting, I just kept feeling like my legs were getting really tight, and I was mentally chewing myself out for not getting my warm-up in. I was starting to get worried that this might be a sign that I wouldn’t have a good race. Then I remembered a blog I read about writing the ending to a workout (or race in this case) that hasn’t even started. Why was I already making excuses for why I wouldn’t have a good race? I needed an attitude adjustment, and fast.

As I watched the first wave of swimmers go off, I started thinking that I just need to take the race one step at a time and stay focused on MY race. Not who is in front of me, or where I’ll finish. Just run my race. So I started thinking about my swim. I was going to have a good swim. I was going to stay calm and focus on a nice long stroke and just swim. It didn’t matter what my time was, I had made the choice to race without a watch so I could focus on just racing hard and having fun. Time didn’t matter. My goal for the swim was to make it through the entire 500 yards without a single panic attack and without having to flip over on my back to catch my breath. If I could do that, it would be a great swim. It would be the best swim I have had to date. So that was my goal.

The announcer called out 3 minutes till our wave. Then one minute. Then 10 seconds. Then we were running into the water. For some reason the two girls in front of me were not getting going very quickly as I had assumed they would. I knew one of them and she’s always one of the overall winners of the race, so I thought getting behind her would be ok. But she just seemed to take her time getting into the water. I finally spotted some open water to the left of them, so I did a little sideways dive and finally took off. Our wave was fairly small, only about 25 women, so there wasn’t a ton of congestion. Of course there was the initial thrashing, kicking and splashing, but I was able to work through it fairly quickly. And I got through it without experiencing a significant amount of anxiety. I found a smooth stroke early on, and was able to slide over closer to the buoys pretty easily. I was sighting the buoys well, didn’t even need to use the Morton building as my landmark like I had thought I would. I felt really good, very under control. And for the first time EVER, I felt someone tapping my toes. Someone was actually drafting ME! I don’t know who it was, but I felt her early on in the race, and around the turn around, then I must have dropped her a bit because I didn’t feel another tap the rest of the way in. I remember thinking about 2/3 of the way through the swim, “This is a GREAT swim, you are having a GREAT swim”. I was beyond happy. I was going to get through this swim without panicking, and without flipping onto my back. My race was won right then and there.

Out of the water and up the massive hill to transition. Thank you Laura, Sarah, Steve and Sherry for cheering me into transition!

THE BIKE – I came out of transition with a few other women, but quickly lost them within the first couple of minutes. It really pays to know the course. I was able to get out and down that hill FAST, make the 90 degree turn in aero and attack the hills without losing momentum. I passed quite a few people struggling up the hills. I love that. Not that they are struggling, but that I am strong enough to pass people on the hills. I still have some work to do, I know I could get my speed up some more on the hills, but I like that I’m still able to attack the hills and not lose a ton of time. Or energy.

The first lap of the bike course wasn’t terribly congested as there were still some people swimming and some who started their first lap after I did. Greyt says she saw me after the turnaround on the first lap, but I didn’t see her. The second lap was much more congested. A lot more people out on the road and a lot of people not following race etiquette. I passed at least five people on the right because they were riding way out to the left even when they weren’t passing someone. Then there were those people who just took forever to pass other riders so I either had to slow to wait for them to pass and get back over OR I had to swing way out to the left to get around both them and the person they were passing. It made for a very interesting ride, to say the least. I saw several of the Big Wheels slam on their brakes because someone didn’t get over when they should have. You never get in the way of a Big Wheel. Bad, bad idea. I did actually see Greyt on this lap, after the turnaround. It was nice to hear her cheering as we passed. I gave her a little “Hey, Girl!” and kept pushing on.

The third lap of the bike was more like the first, with a lot of the early waves already out on the run course. Coming up the hills on the back I passed the lead runners as they were about a mile into their run. Those guys are fast. Finished up the third lap, came into transition smoothly, and headed out on the run.

THE RUN – Off on the run, I started out a little slow. I was breathing pretty hard and could already feel the now familiar tightening of the cramp in my abdomen. I was NOT about to let that thing get out of control this time. I kept my pace fairly easy at the start, taking some deep breaths to help with the cramp. Right away on the run you have to go up this pretty steep incline covered with loose woodchips. I understand they were trying to even out the terrain so no one twisted an ankle or anything, but I swear those woodchips felt like marbles. When I came up to the second, longer incline with more woodchips, I made the decision to run off to the right side of the path in the grass. Turned out to be a much better option. I started settling into the run when I heard some footsteps behind me. This chick came up from behind me and just blew by. I resisted the urge to try to hang on to her. She was booking.

I hit the first aid station, took a little bit of water, then came out onto the road section of the course. I was starting to feel pretty good, was picking up my pace, and still controlling my breathing pretty well. I passed a couple of women then came up on a 15 year old boy who looked like he was struggling a little bit. When I got beside him I said something like “You doing alright?” and he responded he was doing ok and that this was his first triathlon. I congratulated him on his first race and told him he was doing a great job and that he was almost done. We probably had about 1.5 miles to go. He picked up his pace a bit and stayed with me. For a bit, all I could hear was his footsteps and mine. Then I could hear another set of footsteps. Like RIGHT behind us. I took a little glance to my left and saw that the third set of footsteps came from woman in a DSM TRI kit. Ok, now it was on. This chick was NOT going to pass us. Enough of this “I’m running my own race” crap I was feeding myself earlier on. Game on.

We rounded the corner and started up the hill to the last turn into a grassy field. I knew if I was going to have a chance to pull away from her, it would have to be on the hill. So I dug down and pushed the pace up the hill. The boy stayed with me. This kid was a champ. (He's in the red in the picture. I'm to his right in the white jersey kinda in the background) I could tell he was going to hang with me till the end. At the top of the hill we took a left into the field so I took the chance to glance back down the hill to see how far back she dropped. It looked like she had dropped back about 10 seconds or so, but not enough for me to relax. The boy and I kept our pace through the grass and onto the gravel road. When we hit the gravel road, I heard footsteps behind me again. I glanced over my shoulder again and saw that it wasn’t the DSM Tri chick, instead it was some dude. Actually there were two of them behind us. I have NO idea where they came from, but there they were. So now there are four of us running together and no sign of the chick. We ran as a little pack for awhile, until we hit the pavement going back towards the finish line. The kid got a second wind and took off, then the two guys picked up their pace as well. I hung with them a bit, and then started to fall back. I saw another girl ahead of me, so I set my sights on her. I passed her just before we turned toward the finish line. I took one more look behind me just to make sure that DSM Tri chick wasn’t sneaking up on me with some crazy last second sprint to the finish. She was nowhere to be found. Wahoo! I pushed it through the finish line where the kid was waiting for me. He reached out to give me a high five then all of a sudden he hugged me and said thanks for helping him on the run. It was sweet. Even his mom came up to me and thanked me for helping him out. That was cool.

POST-RACE - After I finished, I had no clue what my time was or where I could possibly stand in my age group, and I didn’t care. I was happy with my race. I walked back down the stretch to where my cheering squad was hanging out so I could watch Greyt come in. It was only then that I heard my first time of the day. 9 minutes. That was my approximate swim split. Sarah had been wearing a watch so she and Laura kept an eye on the time when I started and came out of the swim. When they told me it was 9 minutes, I was shocked. I had no idea. I mean, I knew I had a great swim, but I had no clue it was that fast. As I was standing there still bewildered by my swim time, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was that DSM Tri chick! She stuck out her hand introduced herself, then said she tried so hard to stay with me during the race but she couldn’t. She said I had a heck of a second half of the run. I thought that was pretty cool of her to seek me out like that.

Greyt came in shortly thereafter, looking strong through the finish. She had a great first race back. She killed the bike, which was her big goal for this race. I was really proud of her and how well she did for her first race back from her summer hiatus. We stood around for a bit chatting then decided to head over and check out the results. My final time was 1:23:16. The preliminary results had me 4/26 in my AG. I knew one girl would be in the overall, she always is. So, it was looking like I would probably get 3rd. Then as we were waiting around for the awards ceremony this other TRI Racer told us that some woman got DQ’d because she only did 2 laps of the bike course. Just so happens this woman was also in my age group, so that put me up to 2nd in my AG. Suh-weet!

All in all it was an absolutely FABULOUS day. We had awesome weather, I had a kick-ass swim, a strong bike, a good run, and walked away with a 2nd place AG finish. Oh AND I won a Spinerval DVD in the drawing! Greyt had an awesome race, PRing the bike by something like 6 minutes! Incredible! And to top it all off…we stuffed ourselves silly at Piggy Park (I mean Hickory Park!)!!!