1/2 mile swim, 12.2 mile bike, 4.8 mile run
6500' elevation, Lory State Park, Fort Collins area
Don't mean to sound overdramatic, I just can't resist a Clash lyric when it runs through my head.
It's a cloudy, foggy start to the morning and an interesting early morning drive up to Fort Collins through the foggy soup. I arrive at 6:09, 10 minutes earlier than last year and yet I end up with an even worse parking spot about 1/4 mile from transition. The race is sold out and already it's busy and crowded, a theme for the race this year. The sun is supposed to come out by 7:00 a.m. but transition looks like this at 7:00 a.m-ish.
I'm not overly concerned but with the water so cold (supposedly 64 degrees but there are pockets of warmer and colder) it would be nice for the sun to be shining to take the edge off. The water at Horsetooth is the highest it's been in maybe ten years.
I did manage 2 open water swims in the Boulder Rez before the race and the first swim was also cold, 65 degrees but also with pockets of cold, so I've had a small opportunity to acclimate to the cold water and get used to open water swimming again. The first Rez swim took me about 7-8 minutes to get used to the cold and get rid of any worried feelings but after that I did a solid 1200 yards and had no problem at all on the second swim though the water wasn't cold at all (68 degrees and sun shining). I'm concerned about the cold but not letting myself get worked up about it. Nothing I can do about it and the swim is short. It's impossible not to remember the panic attack I had at this race many years ago but I push it to the back of my mind and remind myself of all the successful, fun swims I've had here.
I pull up my pants leg to put on my sunscreen and am greeted by this sight.
There will be blood.
A freshly bleeding wound before the race starts and I don't even know how I got it. Again, not much I can do. Wash it off a bit with some water and try not to think about the possible bugs I might pick up in Horsetooth is about all I can do.
Swim - 880 yards
I get in the freezing water to warm up and acclimate as soon as the first wave goes off. Thankfully the sun is finally starting to break through the clouds and the fog is burning off. I dive under water and as soon as my face hits the freezing cold I decide 'screw this noise, I'm out of here, this is twelve ways to crazy, what ever possessed me?' But after a minute or so I calm down and get a little used to it. I set off swimming and I'm totally calm. Freakishly calm. Don't know why but I'll take it. I swim about 5-6 minutes or so and get out. It's another 15 minutes until my wave starts and if I stay in that long I'll start shivering. So I run up and down a short hill, soaking up the sun as it starts to warm up. I get in again with 8 minutes to go, do another 4-5 minutes of warm-up, trying to kick hard and go fast to get my heart rate up. Still freakishly calm.
And then we're off. And as per usual the crowd goes flying away from me. And as per usual I work my way up, passing the people who are now freaking out and backstroking/breast stroking. Swim training has been going well as as I swim I work on some the stroke technique things I've been working on. The turn-around buoy seems farther this year and it almost certainly is due to the high water. For once the course is probably close to the advertised distance.
After I turn the buoy I get boxed in by a guy kind of flailing in front of me and someone to my side. The guy in front is hard to pass because he's zig-zagging in an unpredictable fashion and because if I pass on his left I risk running into oncoming traffic from the other direction. So I hang out for a while enjoying the draft but soon realize this is much too slow a pace and I squeeze in front of the guy on my right. I don't realize how much they're holding me back until I break free of them and quickly pull away. I need to do more open water races this summer to learn some better tactics, get a better idea of my race pace, learn how to pass, etc.
The rest of the swim is uneventful except for a kayaker who comes over and yells at some of us to move away from the buoys to avoid oncoming traffic. But nobody seems to be in sight and I'm not far from the finish so I don't understand what it's about. I move a little but not too much, don't want to be too far off course for no reason. My pace feels slow-ish but the cold water seems to be restricting my movement a bit. I finish in 17:47/2:01 per 100 yards, slow for me but I'm mostly relieved I made it through feeling calm and confident. It's not a spectacular swim but a good start to my season especially given the cold and lack of open water practice.
I'm hoping for a big improvement in my bike this year partly due to training and partly due to my new bike with bigger wheels and disk brakes. Especially the disk brakes. My time last year was 1:12 and I'm hoping to break an hour but not sure if that's realistic given how early in the season it is. I decide to ride as hard as I can and hope for some improvement.
The course is so crowded this year and as soon as I hit the single track I'm swept up in the crowd of fast people going out on their second lap. On the one hand it's kind of exciting trying to keep up with them and I know I'm going faster on the downhill than I normally would. On the other hand I'm still not as fast and lots of people have to pass me. I pass a couple of people from my age group right away and that makes me feel good. My age group is huge this year, 17-18 people or so are registered which is crazy for the 50-54 age group in Xterra. Maybe even unprecedented for almost any Xterra race.
The first lap goes by quickly and when I reach the start of the second loop my speed is 11.1 mph, a full 1 mph faster than last year and I'm thrilled with that though can't quite do the math on a possible finishing time. However after a bit I can feel myself slowing down. Now I'm caught up behind people from later waves starting their first lap and they're not as confident so it's harder to pass them. I don't want to freak out the newbies so I get held up a bit. Most people are pretty good with the passing issue in this race but it seems like there's always one hot head. This year it's a guy from a faster wave who comes up behind just before one of the few kind of, sort of technical places. There are some tight s-curves then a switchback and this guy's being impatient and I don't want him on my tail through this section so I actually stop and pull off the trail to let him since there are no good places coming up. Technically we don't have to do this, it's up to the person behind to wait until there's a good spot, but I can tell this guy is a jerk. As he goes to pass me he doesn't slow down enough or something and he falls off his bike even though he has the whole trail to himself. He gets up all angry and at this point a crowd of 5-6 riders comes up behind him. He gets back on in front of them all (and of course I now have to wait even longer for the train of people to pass). He then proceeds to go over his handlebars at the switchback. More loud angry words. Stupid thing is he was so close to the bike finish. A little patience would have gone a long way here.
Anyway, I can feel my quads losing power on the second lap but I still keep going hard as I can. I finish the bike in 1:11:03, a bit over a minute faster than last year. Not the huge improvement I was hoping for but still faster than last year and it is early in the season so I'll take it. And the bike was still pretty fun despite the congestion.
I'm hoping for the biggest improvement here. I've been working with a coach, diligently following the program and pushing myself with my running. Not a lot of volume but lots of intervals. Lots and lots of intervals. Short but sweet. Well, maybe sweet isn't the word. But I've been working on it and I'm hoping to at least break 1 hour this year (last year I missed breaking and hour by 33 seconds). But it's early season and I didn't have a very long taper for this race so it's hard to say.
I start out on the run feeling good, like I'm moving pretty well. It's a gradual uphill for about 1/3-1/2 a mile or so then it's a steep climb up the side of a steep hill for another 1 3/4 miles or so. I'm doing o.k. at the start of the steep part but after a few minutes I feel like I'm not going as fast as last year. Even the run course is crowded this year and I have lots of people wanting to pass and each time someone passes it breaks my rhythm and focus a bit more. I passed 3 people in my age group on the bike and 2 people quickly pass me back in the first mile or two of the run. Which would be fine if I felt like I was running as fast as last year but somehow I feel slower. My brain tells my feet to turn over faster but my quads are tired now and they don't want to oblige. It's a long slog to the top.
And when I finally get to the downhill I can't quite get my legs moving as fast as last year. I've got a bit of a cramp which is never helpful but somehow I can't get the downhill to work for me this year. And in fact the all downhill mile is a whopping 1:48 min. slower than last year (oddly the all uphill climb is 47 seconds faster, the only mile that's faster despite feeling slower). My legs are feeling pretty beat for the last 2 miles despite the mostly downhill course. I make it to the end of the singletrack with about 1/3 of a mile to go until the finish and a woman from my age group passes me. And the worst part is that she doesn't even look like she's going fast. But she's going faster than me and try as I might I can't catch her back up. She ends up beating me by 31 seconds. But at least I have someone to chase to the finish even if she is too far ahead to catch and I pick up the pace with whatever last little bit of strength my legs can muster. I finish the run in 1:06:44, well off what I was hoping for.
Final time is 2:39:20, over 7 minutes slower than last year. Not what I was hoping for or expecting but it is so early in the season and I didn't have a nice long taper since this isn't an 'A' race. Hard to compare times to a race that's normally held in August. Next race is in 3 weeks in Golden, a little sprint road tri that I'm doing for fun and to keep me going with racing since I have no Xterras in June.
Some interesting stats - there were 327 people in the race this year and only 206 last year which explains all the extra crowding on the course. There were 59 women last year and 116 this year, almost double the amount. There were 5 women in the 50-54 age group last year and 15 this year. The woman who won my age group (50-54) came in 10th overall of the women, 5 of whom were pros so she was 5th overall of the age group women. The top 3 age group women were all in the 40-44 age group. There were only 11 seconds separating the top 3 women in the 45-49 age group.
Aside from the cold water, race conditions were about as perfect as they get. Sunny but not hot, maybe high 60's for the run with a little breeze to keep things cool. Bike trails were tacky, easily the best I've ever seen them on race day. The race was crowded but people were mostly good about it. My coach was there to cheer me and some of her other clients on. It was fun to have somebody there. And I met a couple few other women from my age group which was fun. The big take home lessons? I need more run training, I need more of a taper after a hard training block if I want to do really well, it's not fair to compare times from a race run in May to a race run in August.
For more pictures from the race course that I took on my pre-ride last year, click here.
Swim: 880 yards, water temp. 64 degrees but felt colder in places, 17:47 swimming (2:01/100 yards)/1:22 dash up the beach for official time 18:30 (last year 15:01 mins. swimming, 1:22 dash up from beach for official time of 16:23-swim was short)
T1: 1:59 (last year, 1:54) Didn't wear gloves this year but did have swim socks to deal with.
Mountain Bike: 12.2 miles, 1:11:03/10.3 mph (last year 12.6 miles by my cyclometer, 1:12:14 hrs./10.1 mph)
T2: 1:02 (last year, 1:02) How freaky is that?
Trail Run: 4.8 miles, 1:06:44/13:54 min./mile (last year, 1:00:32 hrs./12:07 min./miles)
Mile 1: 14:07 (all uphill) (11:40 last year)
Mile 2: 15:13 (all uphill) (16:00 last year)
Mile 3: 13:11 (mix of uphill, flat and downhill) (12:26 last year)
Mile 4: 12:48 (all downhill) (10:02 last year)
Mile 4.8: 11:25 (mostly downhill, some slight uphill and flat-ish) (10:22 last year)
Total: 2:39:20 (last year, 2:32:02)
254/327 Overall (last year, 148/206 Overall)
78/116 Women (last year, 30/59 Women)
10/15 Age Group (last year, 5/7 Age Group)
Swim: 10/15 (last year, 2/7 Age Group, 116/206 Overall)
T1: 5/15 (last year, 3/7 Age Group)
Bike: 8/15 (last year, 5/7 Age Group, 141/206 Overall)
T2: 2/15 (last year, 1/7 Age Group)
Run: 13/15 (last year, 4/7 Age Group, 152/206 Overall)
(Placements include DNF's)