Ray's Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2006

2004 April 17: World's Toughest Half

My first "official" athletic event of 2004!

Although I had signed up for this event many months earlier, I somehow
let myself get pretty out of shape beforehand.  It was only in the
last two weeks before the race that I realized just how slow I was and
how much my workouts were taking out of me.  Too bad!

After mixing up some Cytomax with
Trader Joe's protein powder to
quaff during the bike and run portions of the triathlon, I drove up to
Auburn on Friday afternoon, intending to go to the pre-race seminar
presented by Gordo Bryn and Scott Molina
Unfortunately, I got going too late and chose highways unwisely
(despite carefully heeding traffic reports on the radio).  After
registering and dropping off my bike-to-run transition bag (this race
has two distinct transition areas), I reached the Canonview Community
Center just in time to hear everyone applauding the now-finished
speakers.  So I went to relieve myself in the bathroom, where I
heard my fellow urinators talking about how great the seminar was and
how great Gordo & Scott's advice was.  I stuck around for the
pasta dinner and chatted a bit with another participant.

Then I headed over to my hotel
I went out to the hot tub, which I was expecting would be chock full of
triathletes, and enjoyed a half hour of solitude when it turned out
that my expectations were completely off base.  Back to my room to
make sure everything was in order for tomorrow, and then to bed.

When I woke up, I was bummed (but not shocked) to learn that it had
rained overnight.  I caught a little drizzle as I loaded my car,
and I fervently hoped that the weather would improve for the rest of
the day.

The swim for this triathlon was in Lake Clementine, and participants
were instructed to park two miles from the lake and then bike down a
steep road with their gear.  I did this, and in doing so, I
realized that conditions were quite
cold.  By the time I reached the transition area, my fingers were
frozen (I was wearing typical cycling half-gloves).  I thawed out
somewhat, had my race number written on myself (I was lucky #123!), and
ranged around to prepare myself.  I learned that the lake
temperature was 56°, which struck me as rather unpleasant-- all the
more so because I had forgotten to bring my swim goggles, and so I was
going to be swimming with a naked face.

In biking down to the transition, a small amount of my Cytomax mixture
slopped out of my aerobottle, and my cyclocomputer (a Cat Eye Astrale) crapped out
immediately.  For most of my bike leg, it refused to give me any
information whatsoever.  It also craps out when I put it on my
in my living room, bike for just a few minutes, and drop a little sweat
it.  (In fairness, I will mention that my cyclocomputer crapped
out during the 2003 Wildflower Triathlon,
too.  (This was a different computer on a different bike.) 
But that computer gave a much better showing than this one did-- it got
really soaked before it gave up the ghost.)

OK, enough foreplay.  Let's skip ahead to the race.  I
entered the water with the rest of my cohort and experienced a fair bit
of thermal shock as I did so.  After just a few minutes, I felt
pretty good, though, and my limbs and my face were all reasonably
comfortable.  Thank God for my trusty Xterra wetsuit
and De Soto squid lid!

As usual, for a good chunk of the swim, my arms and shoulders felt a
bit tired from having to move against the unaccustomed resistance
provided by the wetsuit.  Probably I should do some of my training
swimming in the wetsuit.  Actually, probably I should just do more
swimming in general-- I only managed to go swimming three times since
mid-January (all three times were in the past two weeks).  In any
case, by the end of the swim, I was more or less in my [somewhat slow]
groove, and I was eager to get on my bike.

(The graphic below contains the altitude and heart rate information I
got from my Polar
heart rate monitor
.  It contains only the information from the
bike and run legs of the triathlon.)

Graph of heart rate & altitude

As is evident from the graphic, the ride starts out with a relatively
uninterrupted climb of 2400' or so.  There was an amusing road
sign en route-- it said something like "Loads of rubbage shall be
covered".  You may not find it amusing, but I found its Biblical
tone to be very funny.  Perhaps I'm easily amused.  My own
personal climb
actually was interrupted--
you can see that about 1:13 into the bike ride, I stopped moving
for 21 minutes.  I got a flat [front] tire, pulled off, changed my
inner tube, pulled a little chunk of glass out of my tire and patched
the inside of it, and then discovered that my little CO2
was completely unwilling to do anything for me.  So I
sat around cursing the manufacturer as people went by me on their
bikes.  This event had some roving mechanics who were patrolling
the bike course, and I figured it was only a matter of time before one
of them showed up.  A few racers asked me if I needed help, but I
waved them on, since I didn't want them to sacrifice their times for me
(if this event had been a "ride" instead of a "race", you can bet that
I wouldn't have behaved that way!).  Finally, a nice fellow named
Matt ignored my "well, I need a pump, but I'm just going to wait for a
mechanic, so carry on" shtick and lent me his pump. 
Whoo-hoo!  I was back on my way.

(Now is an appropriate time to mention that actually my CO2
inflator widget was working perfectly;
it was my brain that failed
to function.  I forgot how to use the inflator, and as a result, I
naturally couldn't use it correctly.  Today, in my garage, I tried
it out again (this time I followed the instructions!), and it was incredible-- it inflated my inner
tube in about three seconds.  Well, I'm not going to have that
problem again!  (At least, not with that particular inflator widget.))

There were only a few hundred feet of climbing left to get to the top
of things, and they went by pretty quickly.  I grabbed some liquid
sustenance at the mile 16 rest stop; ignored a solitary port-a-potty
(despite a somewhat distended bladder); started seeing riders coming
back the other way (which naturally made me wonder exactly how far
ahead of me they were!) and proceeded down, down, down.  How far
"down, down, down"?  10 miles until the turnaround, and then I
started back up the grade, carrying my now full bladder with me.

At some point (looks like it was around 2:21 into the bike leg), I
realized that there was no
chance I'd make it to that port-a-potty before I needed it, so I pulled
over to the side of the road to take a much-needed leak.  I
thought I had gotten a decent distance between myself and my followers
before doing this, but apparently not.  The first person to pass
me was a woman who grinned and said something to the effect of "I guess
you're feeling pretty comfortable!"  After finishing up, I got
back on my bike and resumed climbing (much more happily than before).

I'm in a hurry to get to the end of the bike ride, so I'll speed it up
a notch here (I'll also omit all further references to pit stops and
related fun).  Let's see: more biking; lots of great downhills;
kept trading places with a big dude (I would pass him on all the
rolling hills, and then he would totally blow by me on the downhills);
made really good time for the last 20 miles; started to feel like I
should be ingesting more calories (other than the energy drinks, my
only fuel input was a flask of Lava
).  Then I arrived at T2 at the Auburn Overlook Area and
started my run around 4:14 after the start of the bike ride.

On the way out of T2, I grabbed two packets of Gulp 'n Go, and upon downing one
of them, realized that it was the most delicious thing I had ever
eaten.  I think that was mostly because of the state I was in,
though; I felt identically at one point last year about Platinum
Performance Blueberry Crisp Bars

I felt really great at the start of the run, even though the beginning
of it was rather a technical trail.  Normally when I start running
after a bike ride, I have that leaden-legged feeling that I assume all
triathletes are familiar with, but I didn't feel that way at all. 
I figured that I probably should have worked a lot harder on the bike
ride (I had tried to save a lot of energy for what I knew was going to
be a tough run).  It turned out that I didn't have quite as much
energy in me as I thought-- although I felt great on the flats and
downhills, my legs felt like quitting every time I tried to make them
run uphill.  For a good chunk of the run, I forced them to run,
anyway, and I said things to myself like "Keep running unless you're
going uphill and someone who's walking that same hill is going faster
than you!"  That kept me going until about 53 minutes into the
run, a little ways into climbing the "Dam Wall", when I decided to save
my aching calves for later use.  From then on, I walked any really
steep uphills.

Around 9.1 miles in, I was feeling pretty low again, but the aid
station there had shortbread cookies, which sounded really good to
me.  I grabbed a handful while running down, hit the turnaround,
and ran and walked back to the aid station (now at 10.8 miles), where I
scarfed down some more cookies.  The shortbread gorging sounded
great when I did it, but it turned out to be a bad idea, as my stomach
felt uneasy about mixing all the shortbread with running.  I kept
on [mostly] running for the last few miles, expecting that I'd end up
walking up a really nasty 700' climb in the last mile of the
race.  However-- o happy day!-- the run course had changed (due to
some construction going on in Auburn, I later heard) from last year,
and so the last few miles of the 2004 course had no brutal monster
hill.  So I actually had little trouble finishing the race at a
decent (as far as I'm
concerned!) clip.

At the race end, I felt pretty good.  I could have continued
running reasonably well, as long as there were no uphills
involved.  Yeah, I was tired (and hungry and thirsty and not
particularly looking forward to having to drive back to the Bay Area),
but I had a fair bit of bounce in me yet.  I think I should have
worked a lot harder on the bike leg (in addition to knowing how to
operate my inflator!), since I already ended up walking up the steep

My sole claim to fame during the race: style="font-style: italic;">nobody passed me during the run
leg!  Now, it's true that I could have trivially arranged that by
ensuring that I started running after everybody else, and then doggin'
it all the way, but I didn't do that.  When it dawned on me that I
had passed a reasonable number of folks but not been passed myself, I
attempted to use a little strategy to maintain that invariant.  I
won't get into precisely what I mean here.  Instead, I'll just say
that any idiot (e.g., Forrest Gump) can run
like the wind forever and not get passed, but that it takes true
strategy to avoid getting passed when you're not running like the wind.

The results are up here
I must admit that my 6:53:57 is a pretty far cry from victor Tim
DeBoom's 4:28:52 (his wife, Nicole DeBoom, won the women's race. 
An impressive display of family unity!), and even subtracting my 21
minutes of sitting around
and cursing the manufacturer of an excellent product would only put me
incrementally closer.  Ah, well.

Hmmm.  Looking at the results suddenly makes it brutally clear to
me exactly how much slower than everyone else I was swimming. 
Gonna have to work on that a bit.

A few high-level words about the race: it was a lot of very hard going,
and it was (as advertised) a very beautiful course.  All the
people involved in running it were friendly and helpful, and there was
plenty of good sustenance available on the course.  I definitely
feel inclined to do this race again (somewhat faster?) next year.


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