Sunday, June 17, 2007

Buffalo Creek Off Road Triathlon-Short Course

500 yard swim, 10 mile off road bike, 2.5 mile trail run

It's been 2 3/4 years since I've done a triathlon so it was difficult to set a of a goal. My best guess of a finishing time was somewhere around 2:05, if I finished under 2 hours I'd be thrilled. Also not finishing last in my age group (40-45) would be nice though looking at how fit the other women looked I thought there was a good possibility I'd be finishing toward the bottom. Maybe I should shoot for not last overall. I really have no idea of where I'm at and the last 5 days in Chicago with no biking and one 20 minute half assed swim was not boosting my confidence.

I decided to spend the night at home and get up at 4 am rather than try to camp on my own at the race site. I was lying in bed the night before wearing fleece PJ pants, a long sleeved shirt, a sweat shirt and socks while snuggling under 2 comforters and flannel sheets that were also being warmed up by Lola and Jonny and I was thinking I was just about comfortable so how was I ever going to be o.k. camping outside on my own. This was a good decision since I blinked wide awake at 3:55 am on my own and had no problem getting up and at 'em for some freakish inexplicable reason. As it turned out I could have slept in another 1/2-1 hour or so and still had plenty of time. I got there at 6:20 and had to wait 15-20 minutes for them to even open the gate to let us in. I almost hit a border collie in the middle of the highway on the drive down. I had to screech to a stop and barely missed it. There was a second bc on the side of the road and I thought about picking them up but there was nowhere safe to pull over on the steep winding mountain highway. I drove around a turn and there was a house so I figured the dogs belonged there and that there wasn't much I could do. I certainly couldn't keep the dogs in the car for the next 6 hours and even if I knew where there was a shelter in the rural mountains it would not have been open at 6 am on a Saturday. I also avoided hitting an elk crossing the highway, apparently noone taught him to look left/right/left before crossing.

I got a nice spot in the transition area though it was set up in such a way that there was no advantage to any particular location. Why does that only happen when I'm early to a race? I set up all my stuff, globbed on the sunscreen, ate an energy bar, globbed on more sunscreen, ate some peanut butter sandwich, drank a bunch of water, went to the porta potties a million times, yakked with a woman racked near me (who went on to win not only my age group but first place overall of the women with a smoking fast time) and still had 2 hours until my wave started. I never get to races that early, I'm much happier having enough time to set up then maybe 45 minutes until the gun goes off but it was such a beautiful area and the sun was beating down even at 7:30 so I was happy enough to hang out for a while.

The swim was shortened from 880 yards to 500 due to the cold water temperature. However the water was supposedly 58 degrees and when I stuck my toes in I thought it was cold but not too bad so I was a bit disappointed about the shortened swim. Off road tris attract people who are strong on the bike because you need specific skills to ride trails which means there are often lots of people who's swim skills aren't the best and since my best event right now is the swim and my other 2 suck big time it was to my disadvantage to have the swim shortened. Or so I thought.

I was in the last of 3 waves which is good because it means less people in the water but still it was a large wave. There was a 40 minute gap between the time allowed for swim warm ups and the start of my wave so I figured there was no point in warming up and I didn't want to go hypothermic in the cold water before the race even started so I didn't bother. I stood around for ages baking in the hot sun like a sausage in my thick black wetsuit waiting for my wave to start then finally I was on my way, my first race in years-yeeha. It only took 20 seconds or so for the panic to set in. As soon as I hit the cold water my heart rate went shooting up and I couldn't catch my breath. I remembered too late how the cold water makes me hyperventilate at the start and I know from the wretched ice baths I used to take that it takes about 3 minutes for my breathing to return to normal. Yes, I've timed it. Yes, I am a geek. So I figured no problem, I'll just do backstroke until I can breathe again, I've done this before and it works no problem. Except this time it wasn't working. Every time I flipped back over to swim normally I'd make it just 3-4 strokes then feel like I couldn't catch my breath again. Finally I swam over to one of the rescue kyaks and hung on for a moment until I felt like I'd finally calmed down and caught my breath. I told the guy in the boat, 'Don't worry, I'm o.k., I don't need help, I'm just panicking, I'll be fine.' I'm surprised he didn't forcibly pull me out right there. After a few moments I went on my way but again, 3-4 strokes and I was on my back again. I swam to the next kyak, rested a bit then same thing again and I was on my back. It was the worst experience I've ever had in a race and I have panicked during the swim before. Luckily it was just my body panicking and not my brain because I kept it together and made it back to shore. As soon as I saw solid ground I stopped swimming and started running even though I was a way off shore and it would take me longer, I didn't care, I was so happy to be on solid ground. I took my wetsuit halfway off then the ground dropped away again so I had to swim with my head up until finally I hit the beach. My watch said 12:18 and I couldn't believe it, it easily felt like 20 minutes. A swim like that should have taken me around 10 minutes so I was pretty disappointed. I took 15 seconds or so to take the rest of my wetsuit off while still in the water since I think it's so much easier. I don't know why more people don't do this, I ended up having the second fastest combined swim and T1 transition time in my age group despite the crappy swim.

During the swim I thought I'd abandon the race once I got back to shore. The swim had gone so badly and I'd used so much extra energy doing backstroke that I figured there was little point in carrying on with the 2 weaker events. But once I hit transition I'd completely forgotten about any notions of quitting and jumped on my bike raring to go. The bike started off with a short but steep uphill then a super steep downhill on a badly rutted dirt road. I figured I was way at the back of the race at this point and the few people that were back there came blazing past me on the downhill. I ended up picking my way down behind a 54 year old woman who was being very careful. Still, she went down right in front of me which freaked me out a little. I stopped to make sure she was o.k. and she claimed she was and told me to go on. I had to pick my own line the rest of the way but managed with no problem albeit a bit slowly. After the 3 mile downhill we turn onto a flattish trail that follows along Buffalo Creek for a mile or so then we pick up the Gashouse Gulch trail which is a couple of miles of beautiful smooth but steep singletrack. The race director didn't want people passing on the singletrack while riding but we could tell the person ahead that we wanted to pass whenever there was space and they could put a foot down to let others by when there was a good place. I was worried that I'd be the one holding lots of people up but as it turned out I ended up passing quite a few people on the uphill. Some fell over right in front of me on the trail, others couldn't make it up the steep switchbacks and had to stop to walk. I knew I could ride the whole thing but had to walk at least one switchback because I got caught behind a line of people walking. The hardest part was having to start back up again when I got caught behind someone who had to stop. They'd let me by but it's hard to get up momentum on a hill from a dead stop. It was fun though and I did much better than I thought I would. After the singletrack there was a short descent on a dirt road then the hellish 3 mile steep climb back up the badly rutted road that I had been worrying about for the past few weeks. In the end it wasn't so bad though, I passed some people and felt o.k. by the time I got to the top. I was careful not to race people and push too hard on that hill because I still had the run to go and didn't know what to expect. I switched places back & forth many times with a 40 year old guy and I beat him to the top of the hill but he passed me on the downhill on the way back to transition. He turned off at a place that didn't look right and sure enough I saw a volunteer further up the road motioning me straight ahead. Thankfully I didn't follow because it was the wrong way but he was too far down the trail for me to yell to him.

I was fully planning on DNFing at the run if I was too sore to continue because I didn't want to get injured for the rest of the summer but I felt fine so I racked my bike, threw on my running shoes and cruised on my way. The run started on a terrible uphill and I quickly had to resort to walking/hiking. The trail went up and up then finally leveled a bit for some rolling uppy downy stuff, very fun. For the first time in ages the running felt effortless and I had a great time romping through the woods. The trail went out to a waterfall but there were steep steps down at that part of the trail and I was concentrating so hard on not falling that I didn't even notice it. I almost took a wrong turn onto the Xterra course as a volunteer giving out water was blocking the sign for the short course trail but as I headed the wrong way someone noticed and called me back. I had been trading places back and forth again with the 40 year old guy that had gone the wrong way on the bike but I lost him somewhere in the woods and was running on my own for most of the time. The 54 year old woman who had fallen in front of me passed me with about 8 minutes left in the run but I wasn't up for chasing her. I didn't know how far until the finish until suddenly I turned a corner and there it was. I knew there was someone a few seconds behind me because of the spectators cheering and I had a bit left in my legs for a sprint. He came up right behind at the finish and we crossed the timing mat together or maybe he was half a step ahead.
I was tired at the end and oh so happy to finish. I had no idea how I'd done placement wise but I saw at least one woman from my age group come in behind me so I knew I wasn't dead last. The post race food was kind of crappy but I managed to force down a couple of cookies and some chips. They had BBQed hamburgers and no veggie burgers so I was out of luck but to be honest I wasn't very hungry anyway.

Final Stats:

500 yard swim: 12:48 (actual swim time was around 12:18, extra 30 secs. was wetsuit removal
and running up the beach to transition)

T1: 1:42 (fastest in my age group)

10 mile trail bike: 1:13:43 (my speedometer measured over 11 miles but could be calibrated
T2: 1:11

2.5 mile trail run: 27:00

Total: 1 hour, 56 minutes, 20 seconds

Placement: 4th out of 9 in my age group

I was shocked that I'd placed so highly in my age group but apparently other people had a rough day in the water and I was so quick with my transitions that I was 2nd when I left for the bike though I had no idea at the time. I was very happy to finish under 2 hours as well so overall it was a great race. I was 7 mins., 16 seconds off of third place and 9 minutes, 4 seconds ahead of 5th place so as it turned out the crappy swim didn't really matter other than the horrible experience. On a good day a swim like that should take me 10 minutes so I really only lost 2:18 and I didn't have an extra 5 mins. in my legs for the bike/run anyway.

I'd definitely go back next year, the bike course is really good for me with lots of climbing but the race director was trying to get the Forest Service to increase his permit to 500 and if that happens I doubt I'll go. I'm not sure how many were there but too many more people on the course, esp. the bike, would spoil it for me. Otherwise though a great, fun race esp. for the climbers. Oh and next time I'll warm up for the swim even if it means just wading in the water for a few minutes (doh).


  1. Cool, congrats on the showing and thanks for some insights into a sport about which I know nothing. Interesting about the transitions. It reminds me of agility (Ok, everything does). Tika can't beat younger or sprintier dogs in a flat-out run, but in Gamblers when I don't mess up, it's not only the overall strategy but how well we manage transitions among obstacles (no wide turns, familiar kinds of handling tricks, etc.) that can put us up at the top more than we're ever likely to see in, say, just Jumpers. I always quote the thing about age and treachery beating youth and exhuberence, or however that goes. :-)


  2. Oh WOW! Congratulations on a great race. I love the play by play, thank you for sharing the details.

    When do you race again?


  3. Man, that was a long time coming. Congratulations and stay healthy, Elayne.

  4. There are lots of similarities between triathlon and agility, esp. in the basic training theory (build a foundation/base and gradually add on whether it's mileage or more complicated handling moves). Also choosing a line for mountain biking and agility is very similar. In fact I had an agility teacher who's a biker explain setting lines to me in terms of mountain biking.

    The only other race I've signed up for is in Sept. and it's not off road and I'm not even sure I got in or if it's filled yet. I'm looking for another off road tri because I'm hooked on them now but there aren't that many to choose from. There's one near Boulder in August but it's the same weekend as a DOCNA trial and I'm also not sure how hard the bike is. I'm still waiting to hear from the race director but my husband knows the area and thinks the trails are too hard for me.

    eb, are you still coming to Boulder in July? Do you have my email or phone number? You can PM me over at Taper Madness if you want and we can try to get the gang together. I haven't seen the guys since Thanksgiving and Judy since last summer, it would be fun to have a get together.

  5. Congratulations, Elayne. You finished - and alive, as well.

    58 degree water ? Maybe I'll stick to the pool-based triathlons for a while longer yet ...