Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Best in the West: Half Ironman Recap (Guest Post by Abe)

Walking out of the hotel, we saw another racer wheeling his bike out to his car, presumably having stored it in his room overnight. Seeing this, I shared with Margaret how nice it was being able to store our two bikes in the back of my Honda Insight. Sure, I had to take the front wheel off of mine, and it was a little snug in the back, but it seemed the preferable alternative to affixing a bike carrier to the back of the car and worrying about bike theft...

After the 30 minute drive to the park, we pull the bikes out of the car, and I remount my front wheel. But for some reason, the front brake was too tight to reattach. And I still had to mount my aero-bar. Hmm...well, the aero-bar is the bigger job, so I set to work on that. It didn't take much time at last year's race to mount, though I did end up using strips of folded newspaper for shims, and it ended up sliding a bit towards the end of the bike ride. Just need to make it a bit tighter this year, I guess. Well, for an as yet unknown reason, the bolts are not threading straight, and it takes 10 minutes for Margaret to convince me to see if anybody in the transition area would be able to help.

So I go. And I find a bike maintenance tent. Sweet. Dude fixes my brake in seconds, and sets to work on the aero-bar. I tell him about not having pieces of rubber (he's the one who reminded me they were called shims) to secure the aero-bar. Shouldn't need 'em, he says. Well, after working for a while, he finds that the aero-bar is not actually the right size for the handlebar, and that at least one of the threaded holes is stripped. Probably wouldn't make for the safest 56-mile ride. So, with 20 minutes to get in the water, I decide to scrap the aero-bar plan. I still had to set up my transition station, use the bathroom (plus waiting in line for port-a-johns - no TP in the park's bathrooms), put on run shorts, bike shorts, and the wet suit on top of that. Maybe not a huge deal for the seasoned pro...actually, I wasn't really too freaked yet, but I knew if I was going to make it, it was going to be pretty close.

The wife helped quite a bit, by taking the aero-bar and hardware back to the car, and I ended up making it into the water with enough time to warm up a bit. Good thing they started late.

Like many other runners who only train for the occasional open-water swim in the pool, I hate swimming in crowds. Maybe this loathing is more widespread among triathletes than I assume. Regardless, my approach to the swim is to get and stay quite far away from the pack - in this case I started in the back, and was probably a good 70 feet wide right of the sensible route once I had managed to uncomfortably pass a few people. Somehow I ended up with a swim time of better than the median.

And my transitions sucked.

The bike started really fun. I didn't have aero-bars, so I knew I'd be passed by many with aero-bars, and lots of people who had better bikes than me. Still, it was nice to ride without the weight of the tool kit, phone holder, and headlight (and aero-bars). I had just replaced my front tire the day before, so I was banking on not getting a flat. In all honesty, if I ever got a flat during a race, I don't see myself trying to fix it. Dropping out, or waiting for the maintenance team that I heard was to be out there just seemed much more appealing. I entered this thing to finish in a decent time and have some amount of fun. Trying to fix a flat in a race doesn't seem like something that would significantly help my time, and it doesn't seem like any fun. After the halfway turn-around, I did pass a guy who was allegedly fixing his 2nd flat of the race. What a bummer. But also, what a bad ass. Much more so than me, anyway.

Speaking of bad asses, around the first quarter of the bike leg, my left cheek was feeling strained. This got to be so bad that I wondered whether I'd have trouble finishing the leg, and whether I'd be able to run on it for any significant amount of time afterwards (somewhat important). It also made dropping my grip and leaning forward for the downhills too uncomfortable to do. Luckily I was still able to stand and go up hills fine.

But I also needed to pee (getting off the bike and stretching for a bit would be nice too), and I didn't know where the next station for that would be. The first one, 14 miles in, happened to be at the bottom of a hill, so I didn't want to stop and lose momentum. So I kept going. Mile after mile, I kept thinking there'd be an aid station soon, because I was nearing the 28 mile turn-around, which I knew came at the BOTTOM of a sizable hill. So when I turned the corner at the TOP of a sizable hill, and didn't see any official aid station, I was rather relieved to see a porta outside of the Lacomb grocery store. I took the 50 meter detour from the course to use it. Please don't tell anyone - I'm not sure that was USAT legal.

I passed the actual aid station maybe 1000 ft further along the road. Still at the top of the hill, but previously out of sight.

And I made it down the big hill, across a nice bridge paved with wood, and around the turn around cone, and back around the nice bridge paved with wood (the most smooth and pleasant surface to bike across), and I started the trek back up the big hill. At some point during that downhill, a lady had passed me, saying something to the effect of "this sure won't be fun to go back up." She certainly wasn't the first lady to pass me, but this lady and I would pass each other somewhere between 5-10 times throughout the rest of the race. My left cheek had more or less started behaving itself again after the turn around, and I still felt pretty good going up the hills, which is where I'd typically pass the lady, saying "don't worry, you'll pass me back." And then when aero-bars were useful on the flats or downs, she would pass me back, "hello again." After one turn, she commented on a gust of wind. I grouched about the recently bumpy road. We got on swimmingly.

Marginally returning to the beginning of the course, the roads flattened somewhat, and I fell behind, thinking "perhaps I'll catch her again at the dam hill (since you asked, the hill leading to the dam, which encloses the lake in which we had started). But I didn't. There was a really fun down where I got to run a stop sign at 40+ mph, but then mostly flat roads following the Santiam River. Two more ladies chicked me, I made it to the top of the dam, and held off one more guy behind me to close the bike. But then he must have passed me, because

my transitions sucked.

Having finished my water on the bike, but not much of the two gel flasks (filled with honey, molasses, salt), I gulped most of one, and a lot of remaining water at my station. I wasn't feeling up to trying unknown gels at the run aid stations. Deciding to leave my bike shorts on, I set off. Actually, first a quick bathroom break (which racer 58 complimented as a good idea (?)). Then I was off.

The run consisted of two loops around a 3-legged sea star (basically 3 out-and-backs), which made for lots of monotony-preventing passing. As I always do, I passed a fair number of people over the course of the run, basically trying not to walk except at aid stations (alternating water and dragonade, with the occasional salt capsule). Thankfully, I was inspired, amused, and reminded of my goal by many signs, including a famous actor saying "ain't got no time for [Christopher] Walken." Love it.

I did finally pass my biker tag-teamer for the last time. But as I returned to the center of the sea star for the last time, I was passed by the owner of the fastest half-marathon of the weekend, who was kicking some serious ass, without any legs, in his adaptive three-wheeled arm-pedaling contraption. I'm sorry I don't know what this is actually called, but I recognize that it was amazing (even if it did secure me as 4th place out of 4 in our age division).

And so, after two more rolling hills, one last cheerful aid station, and much ado about nothing, I kicked into the finish of my first and (methinks) last Half Ironman. I missed my goal for the run but safely met my goals for the swim and bike (!), which put me under my total goal time, despite sucky transitions. I wouldn't be devastated if some supernatural being decided to compel me to train better and do it again (I know, where do/would these supernatural beings get off?) But as I explained to my tag-teamer at one of our passings, even though it was a great event (amenities, attitude, and action), I find myself classifying a race of this length as insane. She corrected my "insane" into "awesome." But I'm not quite certain where to place fine lines between potentially inclusive descriptives. Then again, who can say? Maybe fictional abstract lines will prove themselves to be a migratory species. Maybe the supernatural can make it so.

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