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Monthly Archives: July 2014

This was a different kind of race for me: an open water swim not followed by a bike or run, as well as a swimming competition where I swam a single race that involved a wetsuit and a lake.

This was the first year for the Big Swell Swim, held in beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park. It was brought up during the end of my Masters Swim season in May, and everyone in the group was enthusiastic about getting together for a swim race/reunion in summer.

There were four divisions you could enter:
-1.2 mile non-wetsuit
-1.2 mile wetsuit
-2.4 mile non-wetsuit
-2.4 mile wetsuit

I was competing in the 1.2 mile wetsuit category. The pre-race announcer said that the largest category by far was 2.4 mile wetsuit, and you have to imagine this was mostly folks training for IM WI. Well, I guess you don’t have to imagine anything, but that’s what I imagined.

I’ve never swum 1.2 miles without stopping. Although our Masters practices always included at least 2 miles (usually more) in the pool, that was done in intervals and sets, and the idea of just going for 1.2 miles with no hang out time at the wall was intimidating to me. Also, although I’m getting much better in the open water, I still have some open water panic from time to time. Things can sometimes feel really out of control or just so bottomless in the middle of a lake. Nothing to grab onto anywhere close, and other swimmers bumping into you or swimming over you.

All that being said, I went into this “race” with a goal to just swim a steady pace and finish it. I wasn’t interested in competing with other racers.

I’ve been really struggling with lake allergies this summer. I’ve been allergic to lake algae since I was a teenager, but since this is the first summer that I’ve taken an open water class, this is also the first summer that I’ve purposefully stuck my face in a pile of allergens at least once a week. I asked my doctor if I could double my dose of allergy medicine on days I swim, and she vetoed that idea real quick (apparently I’m already on the maximum dose). The swimming leads to days, sometimes almost a full week of terrible congestion, sneezing, stuffy nose, sinus headaches, and so on. I’ve taken to sleeping sitting upright the night after a swim so that I can breathe.

Obviously, this is stupid. So, I’ve been experimenting with wearing earplugs and a nose clip during practices, and the difference has been phenomenal. I think the nose clip helps more than the earplugs, but I’m sticking with both, because being able to swim in the morning and then not literally go through two boxes of Kleenex that day (yep – two a day) is worth 75 minutes of mild discomfort in the water.

That tangent completed, back to the day of the race. There was a warm up swim, which I participated in. Making sure that I always do the warm up swim has been one of my goals all season. In this particular warm up swim, I waded into the coldish water, tried to acclimate for a moment. I stood chest deep, put in my earplugs, pulled my swim cap over them, and opened my nose clip with a feeling of satisfaction that I wouldn’t be sleeping sitting up that night. And my nose clip broke.

I use the Speedo Liquid Comfort nose clip (because that name is hilarious) and as you can see in the link, it has two loops that go over the bridge of the nose. Only one of those loops was broken, so I thought I’d try to use it anyway, figuring some protection was better than none. As soon as I put my face in the water, though, I felt all the allergens going right into my sinuses. After swimming for about 50 meters, an earplug fell out and is now living somewhere in the lake. Sorry, nature.

Oh well, I still had a race to do, right? They started the 2.4 mile non-wetsuit swimmers first, followed by the 2.4 mile wetsuit swimmers about 10 minutes later. All of us 1.2 milers (wetsuit and non-) started together, about 15 minutes later. As I said above, I wasn’t intending to race this race, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to start the longest continuous swim I’ve done bashing into other people, so when the horn went off, I hung back and let the others go off without me. After waiting about 20 seconds, I joined in.

There was still a lot of contact during the first 150 meters or so, and something about the people, the cold water, and the waves (which were created by the people around me kicking and swimming, not by the lake/wind) formed that old familiar feeling in my chest of tightness and water panic, and since my half-broken nose clip didn’t seem to be doing anything anyway, I pulled it off mid-stroke and clipped it onto my thumb. It wasn’t there by the end of the race, so another apology to nature is in order.

The feeling of taking a full breath and using my nose was helpful, and I was able to calm myself down while I was swimming and keep going. On my way to the first buoy, I passed quite a few people, but for the entire first two lengths of the rectangle, I kept feeling like I was way on the outside of the course. Part of this was due to weird currents, as I definitely felt myself getting pushed around a little bit. But honestly, I don’t even know if I was off-course or not. Usually when I see large groups of people taking what looks like a tighter line, I would assume I am, but every single time I sighted, I was right in line with the buoy. So… I don’t know. I don’t know where they were going, and I don’t know if I was giving myself a wide, swooping line.

I saw a few opportunities to draft early on, but I made a decision to just try to swim this one. Since there was no bike or run afterwards, it felt weird and more cheaty than usual to draft in the swim. Plus, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could swim 1.2 miles non-stop in a lake without outside assistance.

By the first buoy, I was definitely into a rhythm, sighting every 10 strokes, and watching the green water for anything interesting. A fish? Nada. A piece of seaweed? Occasionally. When I breathed to the right, I saw beautiful rocky cliffs, trees, and nature. I sang a song in my head, I sighted, I swam, and I kept passing people in green and pink caps (2.4 milers), but didn’t seem to be passing anyone in orange caps (1.2).

After the turn around the final buoy, I sort of ran into a guy wearing a green cap and no wetsuit, and no matter where I went or how I tried to get out of his way, every single stroke we were side by side, and he bashed me and I bashed him. A giant lake, and we have to be swimming in exactly the same place. It was a rather annoying way to finish the race.

The finish was a run out the very rocky bottom of the lake and across a timing mat. I felt a little out of it, but not too bad, and I have to say that the first thought I had was, “I could do that again.” As in, right then, I could have swum another lap. If you put aside the whole 112 mile bike and marathon run, that suddenly means that the Ironman doesn’t sound too out of reach.

My total time: 38:54, good for 12th place overall in the 1.2 mile wetsuit category, and 4th in my age group.

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Dateline: Verona, WI, June 28, 2014: Not my greatest race.

I’m not going to lie – a lot went wrong in this race. But I’m also not going to pretend it was a complete disaster (lies upon lies!), because although much did not go as planned, overall I’m still relatively happy with my performance. The entire race reminded me of a conversation I had with my swim coach last winter, where I was complaining during a practice that “if I could only be at 100%, I’d be doing so well.” His response? “When are you ever at 100% during a race?”

Case in point: 36 hours before the start of the Verona Triterium Triathlon, I had a fever of 101, was shivering and shaking, and spending some quality time kneeling over a toilet. My flu or food poisoning or roto virus or whatever came on quickly, hung out with me for a day, and then vanished, leaving me feeling sort of hollow and shaky, but I improved enough on Friday that I felt it wasn’t an irresponsible decision to race on Saturday.

Pre-Race:

I stopped by the complimentary Trek tent before the race to get my tires pumped up. This led to unexpected problems. I couldn’t get the pump to lock into my front tire, and was quickly deflating it, so I asked the guy to help me. He couldn’t get it to lock either, and started making weird noises about my valve. I was feeling strange myself, having a Cannondale in the Trek tent, but that was entirely within my own head. He explained that my tire was messed up (the technical term) enough that the valve couldn’t… you know, it was early, I had only one cup of coffee, and I clearly don’t know enough about bike maintenance. Long story short, I needed a new tire, and they gave me one for free, which was basically the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a long time.

I have to say, this really irks me. Not that the Trek guy was awesome and saved my butt. But rather, when I had my new wheels put on, I asked the Budget Bike guys to sell me new tires. They said, “Why not just use the ones you have?” Well, because they’re old and look like they have dry rot? I didn’t have enough confidence in my meager knowledge to insist on new ones, and I let them put the old ones back on my amazeballs new wheels. Fast forward to the race and the Trek guy has to bail me out with a new tire.

Obviously, I need to get a new tire for the back wheel, too, and I’d like to go to the Trek shop to give them the business, but is it rude to take a Cannondale to a Trek store?

The Swim: 

This was one of my best swims to date. Verona is a relatively large race (about 500 total participants by my fast math), but despite my wave being all sprint-distance women 39 and younger, my wave wasn’t too unmanageable. This was my first in-water start, so we headed in when they gave us the go-ahead and treaded water in an approximation of a line between an orange buoy and the shore. I found myself very close to the buoy, which wasn’t necessarily on purpose but worked out okay. This was a 1/3 of a mile swim, which is a little longer than I’m used to in races (all of mine so far have been 1/4 mile).

We were swimming directly into the rising sun for the first length, so in the few moments I had before the horn went off, I squinted to find a distinctive tree pattern I could sight to. I found a rectangular divot between two trees, and just moments after I got my goggles back on, the horn was off. I started swimming with not too much contact, and started swimming towards my divot. I noticed that most of the women in my group were far to my right (towards the shore) and seemed to be taking a wide arc, but I felt confident enough in my divot to stick to it.

I was on my own most of the sunny length, but as soon as we turned around the buoy, I found some feet to jump on to and drafted the rest of the race. I stayed with the same girl until the very last buoy, and she was a great draft. After sighting enough to feel confident that she was going in a straight line, I relaxed and took advantage of the easy, fast swimming. At the last buoy, we were both passed by a girl without a wetsuit, and I jumped off the one I’d been drafting on to take the faster ride. I drafted right up until the almost end when a man from a previous wave suddenly swam horizontally across us. No idea where he was going, but at that point my hand was touching the ground and I stood up out of the water, flinging seaweed from my shoulders.

Thanks to Focal Flame for the free race photos!

Thanks to Focal Flame for the free race photos!

I found out later I had won my age group in the swim with a time of 8:43 for a 1/3 of a mile. That girl behind my shoulder in the photo sprinted past me into transition. I don’t have more to say about that, just that it took me aback how fast she was running.

T1:

Just fine (sort of – see below). Transition was a long way from the swim exit and the timing mat was close to the lake, so my transition time mostly looks long from running. Maybe I should have sprinted like the other girl. 2:02

The Bike:

So, here’s the thing. I’ve been practicing the thing where I leave my shoes clipped in and affix them with rubber bands so that they don’t bang onto the ground, and then I run barefoot out of transition and get on my bike, with my feet on top of my shoes, and then I put my shoes on while I’m riding. It’s pretty great. And it’s gone really well in practices; even when I mess up, I can still keep going. I did it at Capitol View and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

The funny thing about that is, every single time I did that in practice and at Capitol View, I was on the left hand side of my bike.

This race? I got on from the right.

So, picture how I have my pedals set up and locked into place with rubber bands. The right pedal is in front, and the left pedal is behind. Normally, I am standing on the left side of my bike, so I put my right foot on the pedal first, which is in front (Mom, I know this is hard with all the left and right, but you are doing great). This means that when my foot pushes down on the pedal and breaks the rubber band, momentum is going forward and the left pedal goes up.

So this time, when I put my left foot on the pedal first, it was in back, and my foot pushed it down, broke the rubber bands, and it spun the crank backwards, going nowhere.

I, not coincidentally, also went nowhere. I stood over my bike, trying to figure out how to get my feet in the shoes that were clipped into the pedals. The very same shoes that were banging on the ground, not letting my bike go forward. I tried to put my foot inside the left shoe and pedal, but of course the right shoe flipped around again and hit the ground, but this time, it unclipped from the pedal and went flying out ten feet behind me. I took my foot out of the left shoe again, went back to get it, put it on my right foot, went back to the bike, put my foot inside the (clipped in) left shoe, and finally got on my bike. In the meantime, what felt like 25 people passed me coming out of transition in their totally normal shoes on their totally normal bikes, and it felt like there were a crowd of silent spectators staring at me.

I think I would have to say this was hands down my most embarrassing in-race moment to date. It felt like it took 5 minutes, but it was probably about 1:30 total.

Anyway, after all of that, I still had to ride my bike, right? This bike course was beautiful. There were horses, gorgeous country roads, no traffic to speak of, and a lot of up and down hills. The hills didn’t bother me as much as I had feared, and I took great joy in riding as fast as I possibly could on every downhill to build up speed for the inevitable uphill that would follow.

My favorite moment on the bike came on a steep climb when I was passing a guy. I said, “On your left,” like you do to let people know you’re there. I was going about 11 mph and was near the top, so I was pretty out of breath, and my “on your left” came out more like a sad clown gasp. He looked over at me passing him and just started laughing, and that cracked me up, so the two of us were biking side by side laughing our butts off trying to slowly climb this hill.

Overall: 38:35, an average of 17.x mph on a very hilly 11 mile bike. On the whole, the bike felt great and felt like it went by very quickly. Other than those 15 minutes I spent putting on my shoes.

T2: uneventful – 1:13 (large-ish transition area).

The run:

There was a water station just immediately outside of transition. I should have taken this as a warning. The run had what is described on the race website as “A short and quite steep hill – a real attention getter.” I would say that’s accurate. I actually had a great time for the first mile of the run. My legs didn’t feel too heavy and I felt like I was running a much better pace than I had been at Capitol View. I’ve been trying to do some speed work to keep getting back to where I used to be pre-knee injury, and I was feeling alright starting out.

Right around the 1 mile mark, though, there was a long uphill followed by a short steep downhill, followed by a turnaround, which meant a short steep uphill followed by a long downhill (are you still with me?). I don’t know why, but I was so expecting water at the turnaround, and it was kind of a disappointment that there wasn’t any.

Worse than that, when I started the long downhill on the way back, my body sort of rehashed the flu or whatever I’d had two days before. It was hot outside, but I was suddenly freezing cold. I started shaking and shivering, and it felt just like the fever shakes I’d had before. That was when I knew this race was over for me, and it was just a matter of making it to the finish line in one piece. So I ran and ran and ran, passed mile 1 and 2 and then finally found another aid station for some water, and ran and ran for what seemed like forever and finally made it to the end. There was an ice chest full of water and Coke, and I grabbed two handfuls of ice and put one down the front of my suit and one down the back, and that seemed to do the trick to regulate whatever was happening with my body temperature. Although I was freezing cold, ice seemed to be the answer.

The run: 29:45. A little bit faster than Capitol View. I’m still working on my run, hoping to at least get back to the 25:00 or 24:00s I was running last summer before I hurt my knee.

Overall, my time was 1:20:15, and considering all the things that weren’t so great about my performance here (*cough* bike shoes *cough* flu *cough), I’m pretty happy with this. I finished 6th in my age group overall.

I have to say, I thought this was a really wonderful race, and I’d love to try it again another year when I’m feeling closer to that elusive 100%.