Friday, 1 October 2010

Bustinskin Middle Distance Weymouth, UK 26/09/2010

Hats off to race director Mark Steen and his fabulous crew. They put on a great race. This was my first attempt at a middle distance triathlon, returning to the sport after five years of idleness.  I had a great time and gave it my best shot. Life lesson from this race? I can try and fail and not feel like I failed.

After completing the 1.9km swim, I finished more than half the 90 km bike course before climbing in the van. The hills were more than I could do this time, and I threw in the towel after cycling 55 km. The long climbs were so tough for me that I walked some of them. The screaming down hills were unnerving. I reached a maximum speed of 55 km/hr several times.

What did me in finally however was the road traffic -too many speeding cars and caravans-plus a healthy fear of the very steep descent that awaited me near the end of the ride - 17 percent downhill, ending in a curve to the left. I stopped racing when I had had enough. (My friend Judy quipped, She who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.)

Before riding on a course like this again, I will have better bike handling skills and hill training. Navigating the course was made more difficult by the traffic traveling on the left side of the road. Sometimes I had to come to a complete stop at intersections because I just couldn't predict from which direction the cars would be coming.

The good news is that I did the whole 1.9 km swim and enjoyed it. I was not last out of the water. There were five behind me. I was really cold all day, even with the coat I borrowed. The wind chill factor put the air temperature at freezing (32 degrees F).

Clothes, equipment, nutrition all were good. I was nauseous on the end of the bike ride. But I feel really proud of my effort, particularly because I DID NOT vomit. Other competitors' race reports proclaim the course as amongst the most difficult ever. blah blah blah. They vomited. In the water, on the bike and on the run too.

I feel a mixture of pride and disappointment. However, reading other race reports, this course is considered among the most difficult in the world, and I give myself high marks for the willingness to take it on. The views of the Isle of Portland were memorable, and I did my very best on a tough course under tough conditions.

At the bed & breakfast I met a couple other competitors, which was simply great. Of the three of us, only one finished the whole course. I met a lot of other nice people during the day. There was another woman my age who climbed in the truck with me. She was very nice. And I followed the progress of a third woman who completed the bike course, but missed the time cut off for starting the run by three minutes. And a woman collapsed and lost consciousness on the run. She did not eat during the race and apparently ended up hypoglycemic.

My family also had a great time. The race was located at the Olympic Sailing Center in Weymouth. They rented a boat on Sunday while I was racing. And afterwards we visited a real pirate cemetery.  On the way home, we stopped at Stonehenge. The ferry from Holland to Harwick was great - and the chunnel a very interesting & efficient way to travel home. I particularly liked having a celebratory meal in Calais - French beef stew with chocolate crepes for dessert!  In all, a great weekend and a tough race to finish the season.

Thanks for reading this far. The long, maudlin version is below. 

Start where you are: I am a beginner, with a little experience in both triathlons and running. No experience in bike racing. The Weymouth course is reputed to be more difficult than most. The other folks I talked with were surprised that I had chosen this race for my first try at a middle distance race and shook their heads.  I am of two minds about this – having no prior experience, I had no way to evaluate whether it was a “reasonable” first choice.  Maybe this ignorance is what allows me to try something really big and difficult: fearlessness in its purest form.  If I don’t try something because I think I can’t finish it, then perhaps I’ve missed the point entirely.  

I count the race as a success because I got to the starting line healthy and fit, did my best, and raced injury-free.   On the other hand, it hardly needs saying that one of my goals was to finish. On reflection, my training plan served me well. I trained as much as I could absorb.  I've gathered my thoughts on what I learned. I'll post those next. But first, the gory details. 
The Swim. The race started before dawn.  The strong NW wind brought the temperature down to freezing.   It takes a leap of faith to enter the water in the dark and swim away from the safety of shore.   On the way out, the water “bounced” in the head wind.  The cold water made it difficult to breathe at first. Like many others, I stopped and sat up in the water to catch my breath.  When I stopped choking, I continued swimming and looked ahead for someone to draft behind.   This gave me a chance to collect my thoughts and find my stroke.   I saw someone ahead who had the worst swim form I’ve ever seen. That gave me confidence too, thinking to myself, “If he can do it, so can I.”   Unfortunately, he was too slow for me to continue drafting. I kept bumping his feet. And he wasn’t particularly good at sighting the turn buoy and was going off course.  So I passed him and swam by myself.   
Often I felt a little nervous because the kayaks often were quite distant from me and checking on other swimmers. I saw quite a few in distress.  But I just put my head down and kept going. Bilateral breathing was quite useful since on the way out, the chop made right-sided breathing impossible. At one point, I inhaled a wave and had a pretty good choking fit. But that passed and I kept swimming.

I followed Mark’s advice to count to four repeatedly. And I used my experience from the North Sea, which was rougher and colder, to just keep on going.  I was glad I trained in conditions similar to the race, that is, open water swims in the North Sea. This experience helped me quite a lot - I knew what to expect.  The water was very clear and after the sun rose, I could see the bottom. I took the time to enjoy the colours in the sky and to be present in the experience.  

On the way back, the waves cut across the course at an angle, making it possible to surf so long as you corrected for the drift right.   When I cleared the turn buoy, one of the kayak guys told me how much time had passed and how many swimmers were behind me.  He commented that my strokes were really looking pretty good - that gave me a boost.

“Out and back” made the distance seem shorter than the straight line along the coast that I swam in practice.  I finished within the one hour time limit and ahead of five others (out of about 85 swimmers).

The bike:  When I drove the course on Saturday, I saw that it was probably beyond my current abilities.  Apart from the distance, which I had never ridden in training, the hills were quite intense. I had the thought that there was no way I would be able to do the course within the five-hour time limit. Leading up to the race, I was confident (perhaps over-confident) that I could do the course. When I saw it though,  I felt like bolting. I said nothing about my doubts. When we talked after the race, my husband told me that he shared my view. He didn’t say anything before hand to avoid discouraging me. 
view from top of Isle of Portland
Anyway, I bravely mounted my steed and rode to do battle.  The first hill shot my heart rate through the roof, into the red zone, but I recovered and kept on. 

I am really proud of my effort and how far I got, particularly the next day when we drove around, covering parts of the course again - I couldn’t believe I had ridden it.  Photos of other people’s races can only be as tedious as looking at photos of other people’s grandchildren. But in case you’re curious, here.  Of course, the pictures can’t do justice to the elevation changes. But the look on the faces of the athletes says it all.
Bike Route Hill Profile
The race marshals played leap-frog with me. They had motorbikes and would wait for me to pass, check in with me, and then zoom ahead another five kilometers or so and wait. They were great, offering words of encouragement, big smiles and Thumbs Up!  

There was a cold headwind from the North throughout the race. I was very cold. My feet were numb.  My nose ran continuously, and my eyes watered from the wind.  As the day progressed, I felt fairly nauseous. On one downhill section, I nearly vomited.  I think it was from fear. I never went so fast on my bike before this day.    I drank and ate at the rate I had planned. I was so cold I never felt thirsty.  I think I’m happy with the nutrition - I used Hammer products from a German distributor.  I practiced some long rides with the endurance formula. I’m not sure I really like it.  But I think nearly any product would have upset my stomach on race day.  

Done. I left the course when I had had enough, about 20 minutes before the guys trailing me in the wagon were going to tell me time was up (at 13:00).  I debated with myself for a long time and used every trick I could think of to get up the hills and to handle the downhill sections with strength and courage. I counted fence posts, imagined the scooters pulling me uphill, thought of cyclists denied the opportunity to race because they had been killed training, thought of the suffering of young girls around the world. I yelled with each push. I thought about the fact that there’s always more even when the body’s telling the mind to stop. I reminded myself I wanted to finish, that I could do it, and then, I just didn’t want to be in the race anymore. And I stopped behind the truck when they pulled over to pick up another sign.

What wore me down finally was the amount and speed of the traffic on the course. With a large number of campers passing me, I was afraid I was going to get clipped, particularly because I was riding alone. I was also worried about my ability to handle the 17 percent descent that still lay ahead of me. The hill ended in a fairly sharp turn, making it even more difficult. I had practiced nothing like it.  

And I was simply tired of the hills - one more very long climb remained. Also, the cars traveling on the left side of the road in the UK increased the degree of difficulty for me. I didn’t have the instinctive confidence that I needed in order to cross intersections and make turns safely. It was hard to tell in a split second in which direction danger lay. So when I felt unsafe, I lost the will to continue.
The truck drove the remaining 30 km as they picked up the race signs and tailed the other stragglers.  Looking at the last hill I felt like I had made the right decision.  The medic made me a hot drink with black currant juice. The driver is training for the Ironman in Canada next August. We traded stories. I felt good.

The truck then picked up another woman my age. She was in great spirits and invited me to run together when we got back to the transition zone.  I was up for it, albeit reluctantly, since I had already adjusted my mind-set to being “Done.”  However, when we got caught in a traffic snarl, she hopped out of the truck to walk back.  When the traffic cleared, we passed her.  By the time we met up at the transition zone, we had both found our waiting families and our enthusiasm for heading out on a difficult run had cooled.
I turned in my chip and collected my stuff. I felt proud of the swim and disappointed with the ride, even though I gave it my best effort.  When the announcement came that the time limit had expired, my younger son said my stuff in the transition zone looked a little lonely with my shoes lined up waiting for me to return.  I had a hard time sitting in the cafeteria, watching all the finishers eating lunch. They  were sporting new hooded sweatshirts with the word Finisher across the chest in big orange letters.   (My appetite didn't return for several hours.)

Here is a link to what the bike looked like on my Garmin. The Zero Cadence marks the point where I climbed in the van. My watch kept running as we drove the remainder of the course.

The next installment will be lessons learned.  

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