Thursday, June 14, 2007

Blind leading the Blind

Doing the set-up series races here in S. Carolina is great… they’re close to home. You can go race, come home, unpack, do laundry, recover, and be ready for work the next day. However, being close enough to sleep at home also has a downfall… you’re too close to justify shelling out extra $$ for a hotel room the night before. (don’t we spend enough as it is… Amen!) Therefore, you’re left waking up at 4:45 to eat, drive there (sometimes 2 hours), check in, warm up, set up transition, etc… Yesterday morning, waking up before 5 felt even more difficult than normal.

[Now that I think about it, even when I traveled to races with my Mom… we were getting up at 4:45. We could be 1.2 miles away from the race site, but Sally felt some STRANGE reason to be the 1st athlete there. No joke – she wanted to be the numero uno bike set up on her assigned rack. After setting up our transition areas, doing a quick warm up… we’d still have about 2 hours before the race started. This is when Sally became the official “transition area greeter” (much like the greeters you encounter during visits to your local Wal-Mart Superstore). While I tried to catch additional zzzzz’s by laying down on my towel in TA, Sally was making new friends. She’d stroll around the pro rack (getting her pic made with Andy Potts – go Sal), visit the port-o-potty, stop by and chit-chat with friends, consult with her coach for the umpteenth time, visit the port-o-potty, spray her goggles with anti-fog, introduce herself to anyone racked within 10 yards of her bike, port-o-potty… I think you catch my drift. Suffice it to say: Sally usually leaves a race with 2 new friends, a picture taken with some hotshot Pro, phone numbers for special tri-gear vendors, and an Award!]

Rewind to Saturday -- I was over at Peter’s house. Noel (my roomie) came over to get us psyched for the race (note: Noel placed 5th at the Sunrise Run that morning. 8K in 31.55:43... ye-haw girl!). The three of us enjoyed the nice, HOT afternoon. Peter cooked a great pasta dinner. We sat on the porch, ate dinner, and watched ‘American Wedding’ (from the American Pie trilogy) on the laptop. As the movie wrapped up, I realized how dark it was outside. Suddenly… it hit me. I had done NOTHING to prepare for the race. Neither had Peter. It was 9:45 pm.

Here is a list of events that took us ‘til 11:45 pm:
- clean up the dinner mess
- Peter had to finish putting his new bike together and make adjustments (that’s right, he was racing on a bike that until Saturday afternoon was in about a billion pieces)
- Both bikes needed to be race ready… drink system, race wheels, etc…
- At 10:30 pm we were riding up and down his street (pitch black out, me in crocs, Peter in flip flops) testing out the shifting. I do not recommend this.
- Great, of course my bike was having problems… back to Peter the mechanic.
- So, what do you do once the bikes are put together and in working order? Duh, you take them apart and pack them into a car.
- Well, then you have to pack your transition bag. It still cracks me up to have a pro (who has raced in over 30 IM races) ask me what he needs. Hello, haven’t you done this once or twice?!
- Guys, you can make fun of me for having a check list (which I print out and go through before every race)… but, when you’re packing at 11pm the night before a race, it’s much easier to cross off the items and toss into your bag!
- Next is preparing what you’ll need at 5 am. It’s best to have it out and ready… I’ve found I’m not at my most alert at that hour.
- I set up my bottles like little solders – coffee travel mug, water bottle, race drink bottle, extra Gatorade for the ride.
- Then, in total exhaustion, I fell asleep

After my 4.5 hour nap… I was up again, getting the bags, wheels, bottles, maps, snacks, and sleepy people into the car. Off we went to Greenwood.

I knew we were headed in the right direction as we joined the tri-geek parade toward the State Park. Then, as we turned into the park, it hit me. Must go to the bathroom NOW my stomach screamed. I stopped talking and focused on my breathing. We’ll be there soon, I told myself. Ah, funneling the triathletes into that park soon felt like sitting on I285 in Atlanta at 4pm on a Friday. We were going slow, too slow.

There were state troopers waving cars on through to the parking area… they would not let us stop, I could not get out. As we passed the port-o-potty station, I looked longingly. We continued with the flow of cars to the back of the park. It felt like we were a mile away from those beautiful, blue towers of relief.

Everyone else was getting out of their cars, stretching, slowly unpacking their gear, putting wheels on bikes, etc… I on the other hand, had a different plan. “Peter, I’ve got to go NOW.”

Without batting an eyelash, he told me to grab my ID & USAT card and put on my running shoes. “Here’s our warm-up.” And we ran, sprinted to the line… the line of people waiting to occupy the highly anticipated location. While waiting in line, I went through a few phases. Elation – finally being at a bathroom. Tears – because my stomach was on the verge of explosion. Dancing – because if I stopped moving, I would have died. Finally, it was my turn. And we’ll skip the next part.

We got in line to check in and get our numbers. Then, we did warm-up run #2 back to the car. Wow, run #2 felt so much better… hum? Bikes unloaded, race wheels on, drinks ready, backpacks on… we road to transition.

The swim for this race is unique. Swim start / race finish are located on the other side of a small peninsula that jets out into the lake. (see the picture). As I was setting up my bike and unpacking shoes… I took a glace at the lake. Slight chop was evident, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Once everything was in order, I grabbed my goggles and cap, and hiked it to the start.
Oh boy, here’s where the fun begins (NO, the fun didn’t start during my port-O-potty sprint) Like I said, the swim start was not next to transition. So, getting a good look at the swim course, 10 minutes before the gun was to go off, was rather alarming. As the race director advised, “you swim to the sun… once you get there, hang a left.” Seriously, I could not see the 1st yellow turn buoy. On top of that, the wind was picking up, and the waves were growing. Well, it was a 4 wave start (men 39 and under, men 40 and over, all women, and novice)… 4 minutes apart. Since we had a wave to follow, I figured sighting wouldn’t be a problem – just follow the guys ahead. Oops, wrong.

The 1st wave left… 4 minutes later, the 2nd wave was off. I jumped in the water and kept looking for the 1st turn buoy. Still, I was just looking straight into the sun. Trying to get a good position in the mass group of women… can’t find the buoy yet. And, then the gun went off. Oh well, swim to the sun!

I fought hard to stay with the leading women, for about 50 meters ;)… but, because of the sun and serious chop… I had no idea where I was. While sighting, I could see the wave of men that left ahead of us. Just sight those guys, I told myself. *I should have realized the people I was relying upon to be my guide dogs… were swimmers at the tail end of the 40+ age group. Seriously, Ashley… if you can’t see the buoy, what makes you think these guys can?!

Soon, I felt alone in the water. I had passed the 2 first red sight buoys (you can go on either side of these, but must go around the outside of the yellow turn buoys)… so I thought I was on course. I was passing men from the 2nd wave, but something felt wrong… what was going on?

The next time I lifted my head to sight, I saw an orange buoy straight ahead. WHAT? Am I seeing things, is the sun playing tricks with my tinted goggles?! Nope, I had followed those old-farts (ha, sorry to you masters) off course. That whole pack was cutting the corner. I looked to the right… and there was the yellow buoy, 45 degrees to my right. (see my route in purple below)

[after the race, this situation was a major point of discussion. It seems as though about 80% of the 2nd wave did cut the corner… they too were sighting the group ahead of them, who had already made the 1st turn. So, many guys from the 2nd wave caught up to the 1st wave. Honestly, it was a rough swim… I can see where many people made wrong moves in the water]

I actually yelled to myself under water. I punched my fists into the chop and realigned my angle. Then, headed to the yellow buoy to make a legal turn. After finally making it to the 1st turn, I tried to increase my speed. The waves were hitting my right side, luckily I only breathe left. I actually enjoyed the rough waters. It was a challenge, a different kind of swimming… and, I assumed I was really far back in the women’s field. Thankfully, the race director had announced that the orange buoys are for sighting only (you can pass on either side)… ‘cuz many of them had moved off course. I set my sights on the next yellow.

After turn #2, I felt fingers hitting my feet. Hum, who’s there… it lasted for awhile… then Miss Katie Malone moved up next to me! AH! We must have both gone off course. Ha ha – the blind leading the blind. Now, it felt like our workouts at her lake. She was taking it in fast, and I tried to stay with her.

She and I were out of the water and into transition together. As I looked at the elite bike rack, my pony wasn’t the only one there! Phew. Interesting swim for sure.

The bike course was fun. Since we had started in wave 3… there were lots of guys already out there. (in the other 3 races I’ve done this year, the elite wave started 1st… often leaving me to ride alone). As it was a USAT AG Nationals qualifier, there were many refs out there. And, girls… you know how guys can ride if they feel threatened by a woman! I hate the pass game – and one man in particular was giving me problems.

Kimberly (a great cyclist) passed me within the first 15 miles… but, I passed a few women as well. Staying hydrated was what I focused on. It was a fast course – I stood up on a few hills, but it was mostly rolling.

Again, Katie (who has become my “race buddy”… and I do mean race buddy, it feels like we plan dates to meet up in transition together!) and I were off our bikes together… putting on our running shoes and leaving TA.

I was running about 20 yards behind her. Soon, I moved up next to her… but, my body did not like the pace. I think it was at mile 2 I saw Peter following the lead motorcycle. He waved his hand in my direction, and told me that the other girls were just ahead. Good for them, I thought.

Around mile 3 Katie kicked it in… and I fell back. However, considering the hot weather, we both ran strong. A relay girl passed me (thank God for that R on her leg… I had no idea where she’d come from).

The last mile was great. I thought I was in 4th place, and I was happy with that (considering the swim!). My bike had felt good… and although I hadn’t been able to keep up with Katie on the run… I know she’s a strong runner.

I sprinted up the final hill – that’s right, the steepest part of the course is the final 50 yards straight uphill! As I crossed the finish line, I heard the announcer say 4th female. Good race, solid, no problems… but not GREAT. A fun day overall.

Turns out that Peter had won, by just under 4 minutes! He even had the fastest bike split of the day, on his new Baby Fab! Looking over the results was really interesting. The swim times are all over the place (looks like some people were able to stay on course). I’m really happy with my ride… and I was right about Katie’s run (#1 female time of the day). I ended up with the 3rd fastest run (7 seconds over 2nd).

1 comment:

Sally said...

Isn't it true.... every time you race you learn something new. Great racing Ashley.... for the potty and finish line! love mom.