Since July of last year, I had not participated in a single cycling-only race. I hadn't even been on a team ride with my racing team, Big D Cycling. That's almost a year. Time trials (TT, or ITT) have always been my favorite cycling event, so with the approaching Jesse Blancarte 10k Time Trial, I decided to make my return. With the Spring of the Half-Marathon behind me, it was time to gear up for cycling season.
May 25th, 2014: Jesse Blancarte 10k Time Trial, New Century Air Center, Gardner, Kansas
Category 4 Race: 5.83mi @ 14:36 (23.9mph) (PR); 5th place of 9 (11 pts KBAR/KBAT)
Mercx Category: 5.83mi @ 15:03 (23.2mph); 8th place of 20
The Kansas Best All-Around Rider (KBAR) and Kansas Best All-Around Team (KBAT) standings are the state-specific version of USA Cycling's (USAC) national rankings. Through the Kansas Cycling Association (KCA), a state-wide race calendar is required, listing all of the races in the state that are sanctioned by the USAC governing body. Of that list of races, specific races are chosen (the majority of sanctioned races, really) whereby you earn points based on how one finishes the chosen races. Points are awarded out to 15 places, with 1st place earning 18 points, 2nd place earning 15 points, 3rd earning 13 points, and one point separating each place out to 15th.
For KBAR, points are tallied for each race, and cumulative standings are tracked. It's no different for KBAT, only points are cumulative across all riders on a team. Only Category 4 and higher and Master's Category (50+) racers are eligible for points (in other words, Category 5 racers are not eligible). In the weeks approaching the Jesse Blancarte Time Trials, our team was near the bottom of the six registered teams for KBAT, and I wasn't even on the standings for KBAR (beyond being a Category 5 racer, I hadn't raced all season). At the urging of fellow teammates, we had to give a good showing for Blancarte to be in the running for best team. I also wanted to grab some KBAR points as well. So, the week before race day, I applied for and was granted an upgrade to Category 4. Now I was point-eligible.
I was officially switched from the Category 5 racers to Category 4 prior to race day. I had also registered for the "Mercx Category," a non-point-earning category in which no time-trial-specific equipment was allowed: no time trial bikes, no TT helmets, no TT handlebars, no TT jerseys. I figured it would be a great way to get some more competitive TT experience in, extra training miles in the legs, and time with the team.
Race day came, and the weather was gorgeous: 78 degrees at race time, mostly sunny, winds out of the south at around 12mph (which would make the trek in a bit rough). The course was a simple out-and-back route heading north from US-56 Highway on New Century Parkway past the New Century Air Center, with the turnaround at 151st street and back. The finish line would be in the west lane of New Century, right underneath the US-56 bridge. Though often termed a 10k TT, it actually runs a little under 1km short at 5.83mi. Elevation change is minimal, at only 141 total climbing feet (although claimed numbers range from 84 to 178 -- either way relatively flat with no real climbs on course). Parking and registration was located at the New Century Fieldhouse.
It was good to be back with the team after such a long hiatus. Though Tour of Lawrence will likely never see my face again, I missed criteriums and road racing. Perhaps a larger-scale comeback is needed?
First-rider would be set off at 9am. I suited up in a full time trial jersey, tacked on my number, put on my shoes (with aero covers) and readied the bike for a long and slow warmup. This would give opportunity to ride the course as well, a course I was familiar with, but hadn't ridden in well over a year (so, basically, a pothole check). The course was as I'd remembered: flat, straight, minimal elevation change. I had some issues with shifting, having recently removed and cleaned my rear cassette (must have thrown off the alignment a little bit), but a few quick adjustments during my warmup, and things felt smooth once again. I was also wearing new tires for the event -- something you should NEVER do -- so I tried to get as many miles to break them in before setting off to the start line. They felt fast and smooth. Though heading back south was a bit tougher than I'd expected given the southerly winds, this should be a pretty fast day.
To let the Master's set off first, I arrived at staging at about 9:15am, more than ready to go. I eventually got staged at about 9:45. As the rider ahead of me set off, and I staged at the start, steward holding my rear wheel to keep me vertical, waiting for the final countdown, I started to grin ear to ear: I'd missed this. 5-4-3-2-1-
The run north was fast, hitting sustained speeds above 30mph. Normally you'd take in to account the tailwinds helping you out, and tame yourself from pushing too hard, but this was not even 6 miles. I had to give everything I had the entire time. Before I knew it, the turnaround approached. I reached it in only 6:30 time. Keeping in mind the new-ish tires (and there fore relatively slick tread), I gave myself ample time to slow before the turnaround (and also, I had a history of braking late at TT turnarounds and locking up my rear wheel). This time, no lockup. At the apex, I mashed out of the saddle, and immediately got hit in the face with a stiff breeze. I hunched over further, still out of the saddle, but didn't feel much progress, so I sat back down, arms in the aerobars, getting as "small" as possible to the wind. My speed still suffered, as would be expected by the wind.
For each of the minuscule ascents back south, my speed took another tiny hit. I made sure to take as much advantage as I could on the "descents," and just bide my time on the "climbs." By 4 miles, my leg muscles felt soaked in battery acid. 1 mile to go, and the finish line started to appear. 500m banner to the right, and I opened up a sprint out of the saddle, remembering quickly that the headwind negated any speed gains with the added exposed surface area. I sat back down and mashed through the finish line. 14:36! Even for only being 5.83, that was still fast -- just under 24mph average, and a personal best for the distance (at least, in competition). Although, again for only being 5.83mi, I was toasted. 14:36 would be enough to take 5th place on the day, halfway down on my only 9-rider field. But still good for a solid 11 points for me and my team.
I changed out of my time trial skin suit in to normal road racing skivvys, removing my shoe covers, and took off my TT bars, transforming my bike in to the road racing machine it was built to be. It may not be the prettiest time-trialing rig, but it was a gorgeous road bike. I would grab a slow warmup before the Mercx Category race over an hour later after my Category 4 finish. I snapped a quick picture during warmup of the bike, open fields in the background, and set off for staging once more.
My Mercx Category run was nearly identical to my time trial run, save for an added 27 seconds to my finishing time. I felt just as strong going in, and just as toasted coming out, which goes to show how much difference aero equipment makes -- particularly those TT bars.
Overall on the day, I had fun, cavorted with teammates, and earned some KBAR and KBAT points -- a complete success. Immediately after, I would sign up for the Kansas Time Trial Championships only two weeks away, in Walnut, Kansas, AND for the Tour of KC New Longview Criterium three weeks away in Lee's Summit, Missouri. Both would score extra points, x2 and x1.5, respectively. I was back.
JESSE BLANCARTE TIME TRIAL METRICS (CAT. 4 RACE)
With my new-found love for the half-marathon, I, along with my brother, decided to beef up the challenge by tackling KC Running Company's Heartland 39.3 Series, a series of three half-marathons around the area spread over just five weeks. None of these half's I'd participated in before, but I had some limited exposure with the 5k's, including Running with the Cows in Bucyrus, Kansas, and the always-popular Rock the Parkway, which happened to be my very first 5k road race.
April 12th, 2014: Rock the Parkway Half-Marathon, Kansas City, Missouri
13.22mi @ 1:52:18 (8:29/mi); 85th place of 202 in age-group, 741st of 4933 overall.
Race number one of the three-race Heartland 39.3 was the Rock the Parkway Half, by far the most-attended HM under the Kansas City Marathon. Surprisingly, Rock the Parkway, despite being so well-attended, was only in its fifth running for 2014. Total registration was capped at 6,000, to which it reached in record time.
In 2013, race expo and packet pickup was at the Overland Park Convention Center. To ease parking and access (and I'm sure exhibit hall fees), the expo was moved to the Overland Park International Trade Center. The parking was easy (although I parked on the west side of the building, and the exhibit hall was on the exhibit hall was on the east side of the building, with no walk-through route) and floor layout this year was easy-flowing and wide-open, a few of my biggest negative criticisms from last year's (and 2012's) race. I grabbed my 39.3 commemorative technical t-shirt, my rock the parkway bib and packet and t-shirt, a few complimentary GU's, and readied for race day.
The 5k interation of this Rock the Parkway route has always been noted for its straight-up-straight down profile, a personality that extends and holds true for the first and last three miles of this 13.1 jaunt. The first significant climb comes within the first quarter-mile, and really starts to uptick at about .7mi, lasting all the way to the 5k turnaround (1.32mi @ 1.6%). Climb #1 is immediately followed by the #2/3 punch, again with a progressive grade from 1.72 to 3mi (combined) at an average 2.5% slope. Mini climbs hit the middle of the course, with several short-yet-painful efforts at 5.8, 6.3 and 7.74mi. A deeper, more significant hill splits the course in two at Loose Park include a 7mi bender with a slope as high as 7.5% in some spots. Additional undulations at the 'top' of the course make recovery from the hills at Loose Park quite the task. A final bump at close to the 10mi mark shreds what legs are left (#5, 1k @ 4.1%), making even the final descent to the finish seem pithy. I would have to save a significant spot of energy for the final climb and descent towards the finish to out-pip those that ran their energy off in Loose Park (if I weren't the one devoid of energy).f
Race morning came and my legs felt reasonably well-rested (cherry juice, man!). Strong nervousness hit me given the high standard placed upon myself from Dallas, but was able to tame it. I parked on the opposite side of the Burns & McDonnell headquarters from the start line in the designated car parks a full 90-minutes-plus from start time, well ahead of other arrivals. Remember 2013, the closer to start, the stickier the parking. I walked down Summit Street to the start line.
Staying true to its namesake, Rock the Parkway runs north from the Burns & McDonnell headquarters -- our title sponsor -- on Ward Parkway towards Loose Park, before diverting off towards the Country Club District neighborhoods on 57th and Bellevue. I had started out expecting to match-or-better my Dallas PR. So for the trek up Ward, I did just that: matched and bettered my PR, a true 'rookie'(-ish) mistake. Given the uphill profile, little did I realize how much I was shredding my legs. South on Bellevue offers a touch of respite with it's slow downhill before heading back north on Pennsylvania toward Loose Park. Pennsylvania in to Loose park included a nasty short and steep climb, which is where the fatigue started to really hit. The circuit around loose park offers some tough short hills as well, and heading west away from Loose and back on to Ward Parkway -- just after mile marker 8 -- I was toasted.
The entire route north on Ward came with a tailwind, which normally would be welcomed, if it weren't for the humid conditions on race morning (an oddity given the chilly history of the race). Though the majority of the race back south on Ward was in to the cooling wind and mostly downhill, my pace took a massive nosedive. Eventually, at just after the 10-mile marker, and up the last real climb of the route, I had to walk -- something I'm not really used to doing at this distance. I felt defeated, and my PR pace ran off without me. From 8 miles on, I'd ran an 8:50, 8:41, 9:36, 9:06 before finishing the 13th mile at 8:45. I'd even felt I pushed the 13th mile hard, only to still come up way short of an 8:30 average pace. I crossed at 1:52:18, an 8:29 pace.
I walked a bit after finishing to keep from what I knew would be incredibly painful cramping if I'd sat. Just despite, my legs screamed at me. I had to sit. 5 minutes of pain and a touch of nausea, and I could finally appreciate the finish. Not a PR, but still well below 2 hours. At first, I'd wondered what I got myself in to with registering for the 39.3, but I was already ready for Garmin, a short two weeks away.
ROCK THE PARKWAY HALF-MARATHON RUN METRICS
April 26th, 2014: Garmin Half-Marathon, Garmin Headquarters, Olathe, Kansas
13.18mi @ 1:49:00 (8:16); 37th of 113 in age division, 310th of 2199 overall.
Only in the Land of Oz.
Race number two was the Garmin Half-Marathon, also a relatively new race offering that has quickly exploded to superstar status. As the name would imply, it is put on by Garmin themselves, and starts and finishes from the Garmin World Headquarters in Olathe, Kansas. I had registered for the 5k iteration of the course for 2013, though did not start for whatever reason (I had missed a lot of early-season races for a variety of reasons last year). This year the 5k was a 6k (just short of 4 miles), although I was running the "Wickedly Fast Half-Marathon."
Though I'd already picked up my information for the 39.3 at Rock the Parkway's expo, my race-specific bib still required pick-up the day before (there were both Thursday and Friday offerings, as well as the morning-of). The packet pick-up, smaller than Rock the Parkway's, was held on the second floor exhibit hall of Olathe's Hilton Garden Inn. I learned that later that night, Meb Keflezighi would be speaking at the pre-race pasta dinner, fresh off his Boston Marathon win. I decided not to attend. And I now regret that. Regardless, packet pick-up was quick and easy -- in-and-out in about 10 minutes total, barring a quick convo with an old friend I hadn't seen since high school.
I knew very little about the course coming in, though organizers claim it was far from hilly, thus giving it its "Wickedly Fast" moniker. Undulations ran the first two-thirds of the course, with mini-climbs at 2.7, 3.9 and 4.4 miles. There would be three significant climbs, each one longer than the last: the first the steepest and quickest (1/3mi @ 4.1%), the middle the higher "category climb" (.7mi @ 2.6%), and the final long and shallow (1mi @ 1.6%). The final third would be a slow uphill, including climb #3 smack-dab in the middle, though the fall from the climb hopefully would provide some extra legs to be strong over the final 2 miles. Overall the course would provide a mix of elevation changes of all types, which -- despite it being the least-climbing of the three of the 39.3 -- might prove to tax nearly every muscle fiber type in my legs. To me, it only seemed to me that the course was truly "flat" according to seasoned half-marathoners. I would have to take advantage of early descents to utilize as many muscle groups as possible, leaving gas in the tank for the final uphill third.
Race morning was chilly, though the sun was helping just a touch. There was just enough breeze to encourage me to bring along arm sleeves. There would also be the possibility of rain in the forecast, although it sounded as if it'd stay off until a few hours past finish time. I felt a little better-prepared for this course compared to Rock the Parkway, although still planned to at least tame my pace on the outset a little bit, as during the first HM I rocked a 7:30 out of the gate. I also was feeling great with my new running buddy, Garmin's brand-new Fenix 2 GPS watch. A statistics nerd, I would gladly be tracking my metrics throughout the race, including the standard heart rate (HR) and pace, as well as cadence (cad; or number of steps -- or in runner-speak, turnover -- per minute), ground contact time (GCT; or the amount of time your foot stays on the ground with each step), and vertical oscillation (vo; the amount of upward bound taken with each step). Combined, I should get a fairly accurate view of my running efficiency.
I was regretting not doing the pasta dinner the night before. Maybe in shaking Meb's hand, I could have absorbed some of his godlike ability. Standing down towards the start, Meb was nowhere to be found -- off on his international winner's tour, I'm sure. No Meb mojo...I'm on my own for this one.
We set off promptly at 7am, the 6k'ers at 7:30. From Garmin HQ, we set north on Ridgeview Road, then west on Loula and north on Northgate through downtown Olathe. I hit 7:20 pace in spots, and forced myself to slow as we hit downtown. I found the 1:45 pace group -- about 8:00/mi average pace -- and decided to stick with them, surging ahead softly with I had the ability. The first sizable mini-climb took place on Northgate (and it sprinkled a little bit, as well), with the largest of the "major ascents" (the real nasty short-but-steep one) as we turned east on Harold Street, about 4.5 miles in. I pushed hard up the climb, making sure to closely monitor my stats as I did so. I kept my cadence high (around 170) and worked off of perceived effort, rather than pace. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
Just like Rock the Parkway, difficulty started to come around the 6-mile mark. I started to lag behind the 1:45 pace group, and approaching a mini climb at 6.5, would start losing sight of them. A welcomed ascent began at 7.5 miles as we started to head south on Arapahoe from 127th/Harold, but I knew the climb to the finish was looming -- all as soon as the route climbed on to the Indian Creek Trial. 8.5 miles marked the minimum elevation for the course, and as we jumped on to Indian Creek, it started to sprinkle again, this time with lightning and thunder accompanying. 9 miles hit, and the sprinkles turned to a light rain. The thunder continued, still a suitable distance. Then 10 miles, and the rumbles turned to crashes of lightning and heavy raindrops. At some points, the rain hurt -- until realizing it was the hail scattered throughout that provided the random pings. At 11 miles, it was a deluge. My shirt weighed me down, my shoes were saturated sponges -- I was lifting an extra pound of water weight, all being carried on the outside of my body. 12 miles to go, I turned from loving running the rain to despising it. I wanted to get out of there. I was pissed at the Weather Channel: "Chance of showers, mainly after 1pm. New rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch possible." My ass.
I tapped my frustration out on the pavement. Mile 11 would pace an 8:59. By mile 12, I was running 8:20. By 13, 8:15. I finished my final 0.18-mile in 8:05 pace, finishing 1:49:00 on the dot (8:16). Still a bit behind Dallas, but now was neither the time for celebration, nor disappointment. I wanted out of the drenching rain. I got to my car, parked an additional half-mile away, and got changed as quickly as possible.
Clothes dry, windows steamed, I could finally sigh relief. ...That was sorta fun.
GARMIN HALF-MARATHON METRICS
(cad = cadence; GCT = ground contact time; vo = vertical oscillation; SL = stride length)
May 10th, 2014: Running with the Cows Half-Marathon, Bucyrus, Kansas
13.21mi @ 1:49:15 (8:17); 32nd of 79 in age division, 230th of 1679 overall.
The final half. I went in with mixed feelings about my level of preparedness. Rock the Parkway went horribly. Garmin went better than expected. Nothing matched how I did at Dallas. Several half-marathons over just a couple of months' time starts to wear on you. But all despite, I was looking forward to 39.3's final offering.
I've always been (and by 'always,' I mean since last year) an enormous fan of Running with the Cows. In '13, I did the 5k route and had a blast. Everything, from the bus transport to the start/finish line, to the community rally, and the massive sustenance offering post-race, was all the best any race could offer. And the route itself, simple though it may be, was relaxing. Wide open fields, fresh air, zero traffic.
The final packet pick-up took place, as same as last year, at the 24Hr Fitness in Overland Park, Kansas. There were two time offerings, the Thursday or the Friday before race day. You also had day-of packet pick-up option if necessary. Like Garmin, the packet pick-up was in what looked like a small exhibit hall or meeting room. This time though, there were no exhibits. Also like Garmin, 10 minutes and I had all I needed for race day -- quick and easy.
Running with the Cows requires a touch earlier of a wake-up time due to the travel. Bucyrus is a small township about 25 minutes south of Overland Park, or about 40 minutes south of where I live in Olathe, Kansas. It sits right off of US-69 Highway out in "the middle of nowhere, Kansas," it seems, although a frequent visitor or neighboring Louisburg, it didn't seem too far out.
However, admittedly, the race route, start/finish line and parking all lay among wide open fields along side country roads, so parking is extremely limited. Two options are given for where to park: one north of the race route along 199th Street and US-69 Highway, and one south of the race route along 247th Street and US-69 Highway (huge homemade signs with cows adorn the side of the highway to point you towards these options). To ameliorate any potential parking issues, race organizers in 2013 had a large number of parking tenants and police officers guide you to side-of-the-road parking. These parking areas -- be it south or north of the race -- were organized by color. School busses were dispatched from the start/finish line to pick up runners within these parking zones. At the race's completion, just find the bus with your zone color and you're gravy; about 5-10 minutes bus time each way. VERY well-organized, and although leaves room for much confusion, is incredibly well-attended by volunteers. In fact, last year, I found the bus ride to the start line to be almost euphoric, windows open to the fresh air, sun rising over the open plains. Gorgeous.
This year, the same strategy was implemented. Unfortunately, I must say, I left early enough to where I got parking access on the school grounds where the start/finish line was, a mere 60 second walk away. This was convenient if I wanted to hit my car real quick before race time (which I ended up having to, because I'd left my HRM sensor in my race bag), or if I didn't want to utilize bag-drop. Although I did quite miss the relaxing bus ride to-and-fro.
The start/finish line sits in the front lot of Wea Elementary School just east of Bucyrus, Kansas, among dirt roads and farms pock-marked across the open plains. The school itself was open for bag drop, late packet pick-up and general hang-outery, but no restrooms beyond the port-o-johns outside (can't blame them for that). Given the slightly-cooler-than-room-temperature weather outdoors, many opted to wait inside. Post-race, the school's cafeteria would open up to finishers and spectators, community members offering any number of post-race munchies.
Start time was at 7am, or 7:30 for the 5k'ers. The route literally only had a few corners to it: Heading out of the Wea front lot, we'd head north on Metcalf, east on 215th, north on Nall, east on 207th, and north on Mission to the turn-around at 191st Street. The way in was the reverse of the way out. Like you would expect with country-road running, the overall elevation differential pointed towards a relatively flat course, but regular undulation kept the route anywhere but. Similar to Rock the Parkway, the only real significant hill showed up on the 5k course, which was the out-and-back version of the first 1.55mi of the course.
I made it a point to set out slower than 7:45 pace at least, despite my usual practice of starting strong and "banking time" (which you should NEVER DO during distance racing). I still wanted that Dallas PR time. I ran the first two miles, including the only noticeable climb, at 7:47 and 7:55 -- right where I wanted to be. Beyond that, I just tried to hold pace and enjoy the views. Through 15k (9 miles) I was performing exactly how I wanted: running every other lap just faster than target, and every other lap just slower than target: I tap-danced around 8:00 at 7:58, then 8:03, then back to 7:50 and so on. I even was giving the 1:40 overall pace group a run for their money. Then, around the 10-mile marker, only 3 miles left, my energy bonked. I had been fueling consistently throughout the run (despite suffering a touch of stomach-sloshiness), but apparently not well-enough. My legs felt surprisingly good, my body was telling me to stop. My 10th mile I posted an 8:45. Checking my overall pace, I still had a shot at PR if I could run the final 5k similar to Dallas. The 1:40 pace group passed me, followed quickly by the 1:45, all within a span of minutes. The 11-mile marker showed in the distance -- it seemed like that mile was longer than usual. I check the watch: lap time = 9:21. Horrific. My target pace was now a near impossibility, barring a sudden sub-7-minute-mile average over the final two miles. I kicked the best I could, but my body only gave so much. My final two miles I posted similar pace: 8:58 and 8:45. I had completely spent myself. I crossed the line in 1:49:15, only 15 seconds overall slower than Garmin, and one second slower on the mile at 8:17.
I crossed, grabbed the medal, grabbed water, grabbed the 39.3 medal, and about passed out. My body was unhappy with me, and fought relentlessly to topple me to the floor. I'd never felt so spent after a run that I was actually light-headed. Normally it was just the legs yelling at me, and my body tired yet accomplished. This time was different. Supposedly my brother hit the wall the same at 3 miles to go, but at least he could eat something post-race. I grabbed what little I could stomach, including a few sips of soda to calm my gut as well as pull my blood sugar up.
It took a solid 20 minutes before I felt anything besides ill-at-ease. Now I could start to think back on the accomplishment: 3 half-marathons in 5 weeks, and all well under 2 hours completion time. For someone that ran his first half 7 months ago, that was no small feat. Zero regret came to me throughout the entirety of this month and a half, despite the obstacles and questioning of my own motivations for attempting such a crazy thing. The long hours and hundreds of miles logged on treadmills or in freezing temperatures...the joint pain, muscle soreness and utter exhaustion -- all of it leading to a 39.3 experience that ended just as quickly as it began.
Would I do it again? Yes. Will I? ...Probably not.
RUNNING WITH THE COWS HALF-MARATHON METRICS
In January, I'd invested (with the help of family, as a holiday gift) in a gym membership for the first time. Having an apartment with a fitness center is great, but scoring the one treadmill (that is half-broken, mind you) we have is rare, and I refuse to resort to elliptical training. Besides, I had a new sport to conquer: swimming.
I had planned on swimming the summer before, but got limited exposure. I'd be lying if I said my first true swimming experience of 2013 didn't de-motivate me as well -- I couldn't finish a full lap in a 20m pool without having to stop and gasp for air. Going in on a membership would force me in to the water. I had to figure this swimming thing out, especially if I'd ever planned on tacking triathlons on to my resume.
The first weeks in the water were rough. Similar to the summer previous, I could only do a freestyle lap or two at a time before needing rest. In order to gain arm strength and overall swim fitness, I quickly moved to breast stroke, which I could complete 10 laps (500m) by the third week in the water. In the meantime, I researched methods to improve swimming fitness, particularly focusing on my kick (which, at first, involved tossing kicks out the window completely).
It worked. By the end of January, I was able to successfully complete 10 laps, this time freestyle. I immediately signed up for a "tester" triathlon, the LifeTime Indoor Triathlon, set for March 30th at my Lenexa gym location. I was able to expand my endurance distance to 1000m by race day, a distance I never even thought possible within the first year swimming. I was also able to consistently "time trial" 500m at well under 2:00/100m, exactly what I needed to actually be competitive for my very first foray in to triathlons. I also registered for the CGSC Triathlon in Fort Leavenworth, another sprint triathlon, set for April. LifeTime Indoor Triathlon would be the perfect warmup.
March 30th, 2014: LifeTime Indoor Tri Sprint Triathlon, Lenexa, Kansas
Swim: 550m @ 10:00 (1:49/100m; 1:40/100y)
Bike: 10.88mi @ 30:00 (21.8mph)
Run: 2.71mi @ 20:00 (7:23/mi)
1st place of 19 in category, 2nd of 39 overall
The LifeTime Indoor Tri series is the perfect introduction to anyone -- like me -- interested in starting in on triathlons, or even simply putting yourself up against a new challenge. The format was easy (or rather, "easy"): swim for 10 minutes, get a 10-minute first transition to change, bike for 30 minutes, get a 5-minute transition 2, and run for 20 minutes. In total, an hour's worth of work, and an hour and fifteen minutes from start-to-finish. Points would be given based on leg placing (for example, the first-place swimmer in a field of 39 would get 39 points, the second-place would get 38, and so on).
My heat's start time would be 7:40am. I arrived at the gym, membership card in-hand (although, you do not need a membership in order to sign up, they will require you to fill out a temporary membership form before entering the gym). The fact that arriving just felt like another day at the gym likely help me put me at ease. On the way to the locker room, I dropped by Activity Services to pick up my packet, which consisted of a LifeTime Indoor Tri latex swim cap, bib number and pins, and a few brochures, all wrapped up in a LifeTime Indoor Tri drawstring bag. We were allowed to use the locker rooms per usual, so I set up a locker like I would a transition area: shoes out, freshly talc'd, and ready to go; heart rate strap hanging over the dowel rod with sensor attached; shirt and shorts set out with bib number attached. I put on my lycra swim cap, my goggles, and my latex swim cap over all and headed to the indoor pool.
The swim format would be 10 minutes in the pool, swimming as many lengths (not laps) as possible. Lengths were counted by half-length, which means a total count of something like 18.5 was possible (which would essentially be 9.25 laps). Stewards stood at each end of each lane to assure the walls were touched to count a full length. Two stewards were set up at the "12.5 meter line" (25m pool per length; 50m per lap) to count anyone that had successfully swam (or is it swum?) a half-length by time-up.
I stepped in to the water with a little over 5 minutes before my wave start. The pool didn't seem as chilly as usual, though that was in all likeliness the adrenaline. I did a half-length's each worth of breast stroke and freestyle before the stewards signaled for us to get ready. 5-4-3-2-1- and we were off.
Having my first-ever competition swim in the pool I'd been practicing in was a godsend. I made sure to focus on my breathing, well-knowing adrenaline would be high, and thus my breathing may come off balance from time to time. I didn't want to be caught by surprise when I'd run out of breath prematurely. Focusing on the center stripe helped. By 8 laps (16 lengths; 400m), I was cooked. I kept checking my watch for the nearing time-up (which you should NEVER do, if you are faced with this swim format), and noted I had about 2 minutes plus remaining. I had to at least grab 500m (10 laps; 20 lengths). I hit the wall completing 500m with 20 seconds to spare. I quickly sprinted towards the other end, and with 2 seconds left, stopped knowing I'd never reach half-length. 525m (21 lengths) total. Not bad. And apparently first on the day thus far. I caught my breath, waiting the short time until time-up, and then slowly swum (or is it swam?) back towards the end lane. I felt accomplished already (the swim leg is always the most-challenging for the non-swimming beginners), but my 10 minute transition started now, and I knew it'd come and go quick. No time to revel.
I grabbed a 20-second rinse in the showers to avoid choking my bike neighbor of chlorine smell, though I doubted they'd have so much the courtesy. I changed, quickly, in to my clothes, including the newly-acquired Zoot Ultra Race 4.0 triathlon-specific running shoes. I'd covered the interior in talcum powder -- I'd be going sock-less today. A speed-walk to the second floor of the gym, I was a solid 4 minutes ahead of timing. Enough to set up my stationary bike for saddle height and handlebar reach.
The bike was collecting as much distance over 30 minutes as possible. This was to be my strength, technically, although with training for early-season half-marathons (the 39.3 series started next week), my time-trialing prowess had weakened considerably. 5-4-3-2-1- and again we were off -- this time in-place, furiously spinning away. Luckily being an indoor tri, I put some tunes on my iPhone to block out the ambiance. There'd be no sunshine and wide open plains to enjoy today.
I held over a 22mph average speed over 10k, when my legs started to ache. I also realized that my cycling neighbors weren't so crazy for wearing bike shorts as I had initially thought: on the stationary trainers we were using (different than those I had used in training before), the saddles were incredibly uncomfortable. I needed padding, and didn't have it. Only 10 minutes to go, so I chose 21.5mph and kept at it through until 3 minutes to go. I pumped it back up to 23mph, and made sure to taper down prior to the finish, rather than sprinting just before, to save what little leg I had left for the run. 3-2-1- and we were in T2. 10.88 miles completed, a 21.8mph average. Also, not bad, but not what I was hoping.
20 minutes was all we got on our run, completed on a bank of treadmills set up behind the bank of stationary bikes we'd just come off of. A few quick stretches, and I set up the treadmill to walk a bit, which was allowed, granted that I stopped and reset my treadmill prior to the start. If it wasn't ready before start, I'd have to wait until it was, and lose out on collecting miles. Familiar with the treadmill, I was able to reset it quickly. And 5-4-3-2-1- and the run was off. My quads were fairly thrashed, and my butt still hurt from the bike, making running a bit uncomfortable. I chose a pace and stuck with it, with momentary surges here and here when I felt comfortable.
Then, just short of 2 miles clocked, a side stitch. Athletes will endure any pain and discomfort, such as finishing a criterium with a broken rib, to completing a run despite bleeding blisters. But toss in a side stitch? I grabbed a quick 30-second walk, knowing my 20 minutes was approaching. Almost recovered, I set off again, slowly at first, ramping up as my body would allow. I had been practicing intervals on the treadmill recently, including fast finishes, collecting as much pace as possible before the finish of a run. So, with 2 minutes remaining, I pushed the treadmill out to 9.0mph, 9.2, 9.4... 3-2-1- ...and done. 2.71 miles. A 7:23. I could've easily had grabbed 7:15 if it weren't for the side stitch. Either way, completed. Finished. Accomplished.
In my heat, I would have collected the most distance over all three legs, so it was a matter of just waiting (at home) for the remaining heats to finish, and the scoring to be completed. Again, the individual with the most distance would be given the same number of points as individuals finishing. Seven long days, and results were up: 2nd place out of 39 overall. An additional two days later, and I realized they'd broken down results in to "age-group" and "masters" divisions. My division place: 1st. This must mean I can be competitive, but I had some work to do.
Bring on CGSC
May 3rd, 2014: CGSC Triathlon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Swim: 200m @ 3:44 (1:52/100m)
Bike: 12.61mi @ 39:27 (19.0mph)
Run: 2.70mi @ 19:14 (7:02/mi)
Overall: 1:05:17; 3rd place of 17 in-category, 8th of 112 overall
In all reality, I didn't quite consider LifeTime Indoor Tri to be my first real triathlon, so much as a tune-up training session in company of others, but it was rather nice to come out of it with podium placing (albeit sans any prize). The preparation would hopefully pay off for the CGSC Triathlon in Fort Leavenworth, a "super-sprint" triathlon consisting of a 200m indoor pool swim (four laps, or 8 lengths), a 20k-ish bike, and about 4k run (2.70mi, measured). As I've noted before, the idea of lake swimming in Kansas doesn't appeal to me, so starting off in a pool would be right up my alley (or lane, as it were).
Registration was done through the Leavenworth Triathlon Club's website, a fantastic resource for area triathlons, including larger regional triathlons such as the Hy-Vee Triathlon/5150 Championships in Des Moines, Iowa (which, again, is on my calendar this year for the relay division). Two weeks prior to race day, the Leavenworth Triathlon Club posted a you-tube video on the race's web page with a full route preview, as recorded by what looked like a Garmin VIRB (nicely done, guys). Admittedly, given the nasty climbs included on the route, as well as rough pothole roads, I viewed the video perhaps a solid dozen or so times.
Packet pick-up took place in Fort Leavenworth, though given the distance and my schedule, I opted for day-of pick-up, something I'd never done before, and I hate doing due to any number of possible errors. Luckily, I had zero issues with day-of packet pick-up. Race organizers had everything running like a well-oiled machine.
Of note, if you ever have the opportunity to do any race on a US military base, do it. It's a great opportunity to experience an area that many don't get to experience. Organizers urged participants to arrive extra early, as all visitor cars had to be searched before arriving on base. I arrived an hour and a half before start time, which only put me in the car search line behind one other. By the time my car search was finished (which, if you have your drivers license ready, only takes about 7 or so minutes), there were already 5 cars behind me. Good timing. From there, we continued on to the base and grabbed early parking. Again, packet pick-up was quick, so within ten minutes of parking, i was pinning my bib number on and readying my transition spot. I had a lot of wait time as a result of my early arrival, but in my experience, it is much better than the alternative.
Morning-of was a touch on the chilly side, so I got in to my tri suit and sat by the indoor pool where it was nice and warm. As individuals arrived, many started practicing in the he lanes, but I chose to relax and attempt to calm my nerves, which, in hindsight, was probably a poor choice (swimming would've calmed my nerves, for sure). 15 minutes prior to start, we were called to the gymnasium next door for a quick mandatory athlete's meeting. Inside the gym we would line up in our respective heats, and march, heat-by-heat back to the pool area.
Athletes were sent off every 60 seconds, giving the next participant just enough time to jump in to the pool to get used to the water and find a breathing pattern. I was about 6th back in my 3rd heat of 10 each, so about 25 swimmers set off before me. Spectators glanced through the glass from outside of the pool area, which made for more room around the pool for athletes, but made spectating near impossible for all but six onlookers. Swimmer 25 (or so) set off, and I jumped in the pool, and quickly realized a small bit of important info that would've been revealed earlier had I done a warmup swim: There was a VERY deep end. Normally expecting a bottom below my feet, I sank down 3 feet below the surface, and tried to reach the top again quickly. I popped my head out in just enough time to hear 10-9-8... Damn.
3-2-1- and again, off I went. I found my rhythm quick, and swam the first 75m without issue. At the turn on to the 4th length, I came up on the swimmer in front of me and tapped to pass. It was obvious he didn't feel me, with his feet kicking wildly (seriously...this guy did not know how to kick). I tried to pass on the right just before reaching the wall at 100m -- brushed on the left cheek. I paused at the wall and waited for his push-off, and then set out for another pass, this time on his left. He was swerving all over the lane, to the point where it damn near seemed intentional. I found the line, pushed through the massive turbulence of his kick, and *WHACK* -- square in the jaw. As his heel hit my face, I was mid-breath. I took on board a giant mouthful of water, half down my throat, the other down my windpipe. I stopped mid-lane, choking and sputtering. I noticed the next swimmer approaching, so continued on, though the second I went submarine, I started choking even more. Lungs under water, I was hyperventilating. I hit the wall at 125m, grabbed hold, and let the next swimmer pass. I tried a breast stroke for the next length -- no luck. Any time my head ducked under, I choked. I had to resort to backstroke until I caught my breath (and emptied my goggles). 150m, passed by another. 175m, passed by another. My breath was back, and took to the final 25m back in freestyle. I made it to 200m, and exited the pool.
I checked my watch as I ran out from the pool area and in to the chill of the morning air: 3:40. If I back-stroked the final 75m, I must have been flying through the first 100. Though my overall was still saved, and I was entering the bike with climbs on the route -- my specialty -- I felt ashamed. All that practice, all that work, thwarted by an ignorant other.
Reaching my bike, first item on the top of my carefully-piled transition materials was a towel, followed by arm sleeves. Stepping on to a bike soaking-wet in 51-degree weather would assuredly send me in to a chill, so I dried off my arms and attempted to put on my arm sleeves. No luck. Fine -- screw the arm sleeves. Helmet -- check. Shoes -- check. Bike -- check. Out of T1, pissed off, I jammed on the pedals, taking all my frustration out on the road, and those that lay ahead on it.
The bike route, along with the rest of the race, took place on the grounds of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Nestled against the Missouri River, the route included multiple elevation changes. Two climbs in particular made the course an accomplishment all on it's own, each around one mile in length, and tipping the scales at over 11% slope in some spots. The first climb was located on the way out of the main base, up Sheridan Hill towards the base's shooting range. At the base, two bikes had already been suffering chain drops. Still tapping out my frustrations, I continued on, even cadence and pure determination. Before heading all the way up Sheridan, the route dives back down toward the center of Fort Leavenworth and around to the eastern side of the base back on Sheridan to the turnaround at the southeastern-most entrance. This stretch of road, though undulating in spots, felt smooth and fast (much of the route is over pothole-laden roads). I passed 1, then 2, then another 1 and 2, all on the way south. By my count, before reaching the second climb towards the north side of the base on Sheridan, I would've climbed all the way up to 15th or so.
Heading back north on Sheridan, the elevation picks up, this time to about 6% average grades over 1.3 miles in length. I passed bike after bike on the way up, finding one in the distance that seemed to be stamping out a similar pace. I kept my sights on his rear wheel, about 1/8 mile in the distance, and matched his pace, stroke-for-stroke. Up the second climb, my lungs were searing, and my quads were screaming, but I was committed to holding pace. Approaching the top, the rider in the distance started to gain ground, eventually losing him from sight as we dove back down towards the center of base and towards T2. I navigated the twisting roads as carefully as possible, taking full advantage of the flats, almost to the point of full-throttle, despite my full awareness that I had another 2.7 miles of running to do. 39:27 going in to T2...19mph average. Not bad for a climb-heavy course.
I entered T2, supposedly in 7th. As I ran towards my transition area, I saw two bikes on the ground, and other athletes' equipment all around. Apparently, the biker before me rushed his transition, slamming his bike on the bike rail, collapsing it. I couldn't hang my bike up. I had to hold my bike while I transitioned out of my bike shoes, out of my helmet, and in to my running shoes. Not even knowing if the bar had been secured by then, I was ready to exit T2. I hung my bike up anyways, and sprinted out.
My quads were trashed. Burning up the climbs during the bike segment sapped my power. I faltered during the slight uphill portion of the first half of the run. One athlete passed me. I wouldn't let it happen again. I dug deep, approaching another athlete ahead. He would be my target. As I approached, inch-by-inch, the finish line started to appear off in the close-distance. I was running out of time to pass back in to 7th, and energy as well. 7th place picked up the pace, and I couldn't match. I cranked out my best over the last quarter mile, just missing out on 7th by 13 seconds. Finished. 19:14 on the run, a 7:02/mi average pace. Overall time: 1:05:17, finishing in 8th overall. In my age group, I'd finish 3rd.
The 7th place finisher? Face-kicker. Bummer.
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