Ray's Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2006

2004 August 1: Half Vineman Triathlon

This day was gonna be huge! I was in shape, well-rested (as
well-rested as I get,
anyway!), and just
plain ready to kick some butt (please be aware that "butt-kicking" is a
relative term. In this
particular case, it meant that I was going to improve upon my 2003 time of approximately 5:12 by
handily breaking the 5-hour mark. 4:50 seemed to me like a
reasonable goal for a man of my magnitude).

In preparation for my expected domination of the course, I tossed out
the usual highly reasonable rule of "not messing with your bike just
before a big ride". (Hey, the 2003 Half Vineman was the maiden voyage for my current tri bike, and it
out fine!) I had a few little tweaks to make on my bike that I
hadn't gotten around to earlier, and on Friday-- two days before race
day-- I decided that I would throw caution (and common sense) to the
wind and do them.

One of these tweaks was swapping out the 12-25 cassette and putting in
a 12-23 cassette instead. This would shave some negligable and
unnoticeable number of grams from my bike, but more importantly, it
would (I figured) give me a slightly more appropriate gearing range for
the Half Vineman course, which doesn't have any substantial hills (and
even if it did, my tri bike actually has a triple chainring). I
did not go out of my way to
buy a new cassette for this; I happen to have a 12-23 cassette that
came with my Litespeed road
bike sitting around and doing nothing in my garage.

After doing all the minor modifications I wanted, I pulled myself
together to go for a ride. I stepped out of the house and
immediately got stung on the arm by a bee. Ouch! It's been
many years since that happened. That sting itched like a
sonuvabitch for the next five days or so.

After some quality time cussing and recovering from the shock of the
sting, I got on my bike and started riding. No problems-- things
seemed great. There was one really odd thing, though-- it seemed
like when I got up a little bit of speed, and shifted into a higher
gear, sometimes the bike was actually easier
to pedal than before the shift! That certainly didn't make a lot
of sense, but I figured that perhaps I was pedaling at a funny cadence
before shifting, and so it was biomechanically advantageous to be in
the higher gear. After experiencing this oddity several times,
though, it seemed that something was definitely wonky. So I took
a look at my rear wheel, and I saw what's in the picture below (more or
less-- the picture was taken well after the fact, at home, which you
can probably tell because the wheel doesn't have a bike (or even a
skewer) connected to it):

My cassette, as I installed it on my wheel

If you don't see what's wrong above, I'll give you a hint: traditional
bicycle mechanics install cassettes so that continued shifting of gears
in one direction changes the gear ratio monotonically. While I'm not
a traditional bicycle mechanic, I could still have perhaps been more
careful in the installation of this cassette, I reckon. Anyway,
as soon as I got home, I fixed this little issue.

Fast-forward to leaving the race expo the next day after registering
and buying a stylin' new Halo II Headband
(something I was planning on buying, anyway, but hadn't gotten around
to, yet-- it wasn't an impulse buy). On the street, Tiger & I
saw a very
interesting bike-- it had a fancy frame built by someone I'd never
heard of, some very fancy deep-dish wheels by someone I'd never heard
of, and a totally weird
looking saddle (by someone I'd never heard of). I asked the dude
walking it what kind of a saddle
it was, and he quickly whipped out an info sheet and offered me a quick
test ride right then and there! It turned out that he was
Stefano Doldi, and his Dimar company
is the US distributor of these saddles and of the Rotor System crank. His bike was
also equipped with this crank, of course, and between that and the
saddle, his bike felt quite different [from anything else I had ridden]
in the few hundred yards I spent on it. When I handed the bike
back to him, I was going to say something along the lines of, "That's
pretty wild! It's tough to tell from such a teeny test ride, but
that saddle really has potential!" Before the words could exit my
mouth, though, he said more or less exactly that.

I have purposely let you, dear reader, stew for a bit, wondering what
was so weird about this saddle. Presumably you're now dying for
some information. Well, it's called the "un~Saddle", and the first thing
you'll likely notice about its website is that it doesn't have any
information right now. The Dimar website
has a few pages of info up, though, to give you an idea. It's
like a saddle that pivots on its post
and that's missing the nose, and I found it sufficiently intriguing
that I'm working on procuring one, even though it's a bit of a pain to
install one on a Softride bike
(you need some custom widget because the Softride doesn't have a
seatpost. I'm looking into it).

Fast-forward once again to the race. While Tiger & I were
hanging around at the
start of the race, waiting for things to
get underway, I heard the announcer say something like, "Wave #3, the
6:38am wave, is actually wave #1 now, because the pros didn't show
up." (In most triathlons, the male pros are the first wave to
start, and the female pros are the second wave to start.)
Although this had no direct bearing on me (or on any amateurs present,
actually), it seemed pretty weird. The only reasonable thing for
me to assume was clearly that all the pros got scared off by the
prospect of my passing them during the race (despite the fact that I
was going to start at 7:10am, which was 40 minutes behind the pro men
36 minutes behind the pro women).

At the appropriate time, I entered the water with the rest of my
white-capped brethren, who turned out to be exceedingly numerous.
"Jeez, there's a lot of 33- & 34-year-olds!" I ventured to say to
my compatriots. Bang! And we were off and swimming!
While I was gonna be busy demolishing my time for the previous year's
race, Tiger had my Game Boy Advance and was ready to spend the day
readin', snoozin', chillin', and gamin'.

I have to say that I've never been pushed around so much during a swim
as I was in this race. I sustained no serious damage, but for
most of the 1.2 miles, people kept on prodding me. I managed to
keep myself on course better than usual, but other folks going in
random directions repeatedly tried to shove me off to the side, to my
annoyance. Despite this, I kept up a huge pace, since I was
intent on some good results.

At the end of the swim, I ran out of the water and into the transition
area to my bike. No time to waste here! I took a glimpse at
my watch to see exactly how much butt I was kicking and determined
that apparently, my own butt was the only one that I kicked: I was
somehow already far, far behind 2003's effort (Editor's
note: 44:18.8 vs. 37:17.0. Ouch! How the hell did that
happen?). Inconceivable! Well, not a big deal, really--
after all, the swim is just a warm-up for where the real time is spent, on the
road. I'd make that up in no time on the bike, since I was
planning on showing some serious speed there.

The weather was so perfect (not too cold or too hot or too sunny) that
I didn't need to use my bike gloves or even my sunglasses. I did have on my new headband, which,
by the way, did a great job of keeping the sweat out of my eyes
during the ride and the run (admittedly, things were cool enough that
that probably wouldn't have been an issue even without it. At
this point (the time of this write-up), though, I've worn it on hotter
days, and it is indeed most excellent).

Back to the main event. The ride began nicely, with me passing
lots of folks initially as I warmed up my legs a bit. Lookin'
good! But somehow, I never really managed to get into the
high-speed groove that I had anticipated would be so easy to fall
into. Perhaps this was partly an issue of nutrition-- for some
(or for no?) reason, outside of water and Gatorade, I consumed nothing other
than half a banana during the bike leg. (I picked up this half a
banana at the second aid station, perhaps 26 miles into the ride.
Snagging it was kind of an afterthought; I had already started to pick
up a fair bit of speed after getting a bottle of Gatorade when I yelled
to a banana-holding volunteer, "That banana looks great" (or some
such), and I grabbed it out of her hand at high velocity. For the
next 10 miles, I kept on hearing Paul McCartney singing words to
the effect of "banana...on
the run.")

Sometime after eating the bit of banana, I started to feel the effects
of possibly overzealous fluid consumption. Without getting into a
ton of detail (I think I swore in some previous trip report that I'd
stop detailing what my bladder was up to in every race or ride in which
I participate-- although I'll violate that oath here, I'll try to do so
tastefully), I had to go a bit slowly and in a rather upright position
for some miles because, well, I
didn't want to pop. It was quite a relief (in several ways) when
I finally reached a Porta-Potty, and I was able to bike significantly
faster after my pit stop.

Around 44 miles into the ride, I hit Chalk Hill, the biggest of the
hills on the course (which, as I indicated earlier, is quite
flat. Chalk Hill is only about maybe 300 feet of climbing, and
it's not incredibly steep). I stood up for the duration of the
hill and worked through it quickly, since I knew I was (to put it
mildly) behind schedule. Even if I have nothing else positive to
say about my biking, I will
say that I climbed that li'l peak at a good clip.

Nothing much else to report on the ride other than that I managed to
lose yet more time, relative to 2003. (Editor's note: 2:49:20.9
vs. 2:40:23.3. What's going on here?) Not doing so well
thus far, but
luckily, I was going to do the run so incredibly quickly that the day
wouldn't be a total loss.

Like the first leg and the ride, the run started out swimmingly.
I was jammin' on
past everybody at breakneck speed and feeling great, except that my
bladder was again fit to bust. It didn't sound like fun to wait
until the 2-mile aid station, so I made a pit stop at the very first
opportunity. Unfortunately, both Porta-Potties were occupied when
I got there, so I had to wait two or three minutes to get my
turn. As usual, I have to say: it was worth it!

Back on the road, the miles were flying by. Around three or four
miles in, Chris Gregory saw me and hailed me, and we exchanged some
[very small] number of words. It's always nice to see folks you
know during something like this-- it provides a rather welcome

I have to admit that although I still felt terrific on the flats, I
found that even the little rolling hills on the course really made
things tough (at that point in the day, they feel like they only roll
up, and never down!). Still, I knew that in 2003, my run was
completely pathetic, and that
although I did in fact run the entire distance (i.e., I didn't stop or walk any of
it), I was going to crush
that effort this year.

The last few miles felt thoroughly slow. Feeling is believing,
and so I have to figure that they really were slow, too. Even so, I
was absolutely positive that they were going by faster than they did in
last year's race.

Imagine, then, my shock & appallment at the end of the day when I
ascertained that I had run slower in 2004 than in 2003! (Editor's
note: 1:46:47.5 vs. 1:45:37.8. Words fail me.) A
week later, I still don't
know how this could happen, and I figure there was some sort of
relativistic effect involved.

(I may have been guilty of consuming too few calories during the run,
too-- other than a few cups of Gatorade,
all I had were two ClifShots.)

The one bright spot: transition times! In 2003, I spent a total
of 8:38.3 in the transition areas, but in 2004, I reduced this to
6:35.2. Still not exactly smokin', but you gotta take your
victories where you find them, I figure.

My slower-than-expected time was particularly tragic given the ideal
weather on race
day. In 2003, the run was hot!
In 2004, the sun waited until a few minutes after I finished to finally
kick away the clouds, and so I didn't have to deal with any of that
unpleasantness. As long as I'm coming clean, I suppose I could
mention that my bike is sporting cooler wheels, pedals, and saddle in
2004 than in 2003 (plus I have much phatter bike shoes). Over
time, I see more and more the truth in the title of Lance's book, "It's
Not About the Bike".

More detailed results for the day's efforts are here.
I wore bib #1198.


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