Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Donner Lake Triathlon - Olympic Distance - 1.5km Swim; 40km Bike; 10km Run

Awoke at 5.30am in my tent at Granite Flats up near the race. I had not been molested by bears (my bear spray was in reserve) but the traffic on the 89 was right outside my tent. It was like camping next to a freeway but it served its purpose and I was rested enough.

Unfortunately, when I breathed in fully I noticed a pain in the centre of my chest. My cold had clearly not completely left me. On a normal day I might have decided rest was a better option than racing, but having signed up the day before for $124 I wasn't about to miss the race. Though, the thought of jumping in Donner Lake at 7.35am did give me another reason to wish for the wimp out clause.

I kicked myself into gear and got my tent down. I thought I was going to miss the camping attendant and fail to pay my $15 but he was there, 5.40am, ready to collect cash. Very diligent.

My new racing strategy involves doing whatever I normally do for breakfast on race day. I couldn't logistically manage cereal (too hot for the milk to keep) but I managed tea at mac donalds (disappointing service and tea both). I drove on towards the west of Donner Lake with some semblance of my regular routine, tea, and a chelsea bun with butter icing (not the best choice).

I parked up over a mile from the start, because there was hardly anywhere to park near the start, and joined the parade of triathletes on their bikes with the rest of their gear in rucksacks. I was the only one carrying tea :-)

I headed for the transition area to set out my gear, got my number written on my arms and legs and my age on my calf (useful for figuring out who is racing who in the race). I found a slot for my bike, laid out my gear and put up the flag from my Bob Trailer. People were quite jealous, and some quite grateful, for the extra signpost for finding my bike amid the hundreds of other bikes parked up.

Pretty soon I donned my brand new ProMotion wetsuit, which I'd only ever tried in the lake the night before the race, and headed for the start with the x44 other orange caps (35-39 year olds).

Count the buoys, there are 3 in the picture - the far distant one was part of the course!

The race started under a balloon arch within the water, so there was no shock of running from dry to cold to getting going. The water was actually quite pleasant and the wetsuit very buoyant indeed and very nice to swim in. We watched the red caps head out at 7.30am (30-34 year olds) and then it was our turn, under starters orders and then off. Perhaps the funniest shoal of any kind to be seen swimming in Donner Lake (since last year's event!). Things were pretty crowded at first but people were not too aggressive, just quite confused I think. It's not easy for a pool swimmer to suddenly be left without lanes painted on the floor to follow. I didn't quite know how to proceed so I just swam. Sometimes I managed to keep an eye on someone else to my side, and I cruised along next to them for a while. I tried to "spot" the way ahead but the sun was just coming up on the east side of the lake, right in our eyes, and it was pretty hard to see anything. I could sometimes see a big yellow buoy out there but struggled to navigate a straight line to it. I seemed to spend more time nearer to the kayakers who were out there at the boundary to watch over us.

The race was a big rectangle and the first side of it seemed about 10 miles out there. It took ages to get to it. My race nerves were unsettling me a bit but I found my swim rhythm a couple of times. Things quietened down at the turn but a guy swam over me a couple of times. I couldn't figure out if he was trying to unsettle me (it worked!) or was just as disorientated and confused as me (probably the latter).

Pretty much the whole way I had only a vague notion of direction and no notion at all of how I was doing compared to the rest of my shoal. On the second turn some yellow caps started to appear amongst us. A bad sign - they had set out 5 minutes behind us and had managed to catch up. There were some reds among us too but that was small comfort.

I was glad indeed to swim up the beach until my arms touched sand before hauling myself out of the water and running to transition. I pulled off the top of my wetsuit as I ran as I've seen the experts do. I then plomped myself onto my towel and tried to get the wetsuit off my legs. The left leg came off reluctantly and frustratingly slowly but the right was well stuck. When i eventually got it off I remembered the sensor strapped to my ankle and realized that had not helped me much. My Bently shirt dropped on fine, I fumbled with my socks but pretty soon was on my way pushing my bike out. Then I went back for my race number - D'Ohh. Then I went out to the road with my bike.

The bike leg was much nicer for me. It started with a 3.5 mile climb which went pretty slowly but after the Death Ride and my various Alta Alpina antics, this wasn't too hard. I managed to pull hard up the hill and take a few prisoners along the way. Mind games being an essential aspect I worked hard to pass people whilst looking relaxed and smiling, particularly those out of the saddle standing on the pedals.

After making the big climb there were a series of smaller climbs, nothing much flat. When people came past me I took the opportunity to tag along. You can't draft in triathlon but you can get a mental pull from keeping someone in sight. At one point a fairly large group came through, some of whom were 50 (ages written on backs of legs helped), and I joined the fun. They were awesome to ride with and very quick indeed.

Coming back was nicer and descending the 3.5 miles down to the start was a nice rest for the legs. I struggled to pass a guy in front but was quite chilled out about it. Towards the end someone hollered at me to get out of the way, which seemed unnecessary and annoyed me somewhat. During the race I shouted encouragement at most people who overtook me, it's part of the fun and sometimes it helps to get encouragement. Some people seem to take it all a bit too seriously like mr shouting person. Perhaps it was race adrenaline, totally forgivable I'm sure.

Event photos from Brightroom.com...

Coming down to transition we had to foot down stop (to make sure we slowed down) or face a disqualification (DQ). After the foot down we were encouraged to ride to the transition area across sandy, grassy mess - pretty tricky on narrow tyres. I would rather have run.

This transition went better. I racked the bike, got my running shoes on, grabbed my hat and Forerunner GPS and legged it.

Pretty soon I caught up to Mr shouty from the bike leg and had the opportunity to express my dissatisfaction at his vocalization. Somewhat surprisingly he was a pretty slow runner so it was with some pleasure that I cruised past him. That was the only part of the run that felt like a cruise, most of it felt pretty heavy legged to me. I employed my usual strategy of trying to catch people in front whilst seeking someone running a little faster than me, so I could get paced in.

After what seemed like forever I past the 1km marker. Wow I felt tired and 9 more of those to go. Only 9 I told myself, I'd done a tenth of it. As we went on there was a 45 year old guy in front pacing well so I kept him in my sights. Nearing a water station his leg gave quite suddenly. I asked him if he was ok but his face said it all, his race was over for the day. I felt pretty sad for him, it's a long way to get to not finish. A couple of other folks stopped to pee. I was pretty envious of that but wasn't prepared to waste seconds that way! So I soldiered on.

By the 3rd km marker we had already run the length of the lake. I wondered what kind of extra punishment they had built into the course to take us to the full 10km. Annoyingly the tree cover was interfering with my GPS so mostly it sat there with it's usual mindless question "Weak Signal - OK?". I was ready to take it off and throw it in response.

This was a hard run but at least now we were on a trail, which I tried to tell myself was pleasant even though everything about the run was hard. The water stations on the race were pleasantly staffed and plentiful but have both gatorade and water and I always want just water when I run - it was hard to find out who had what. I made a 'W' with my fingers as I approached the water station but nobody understood (once I had to wait to get water because things were so confused).

At around 3.5 km I caught up to someone I was racing (he was 36) but was stunned to see him walking so much whilst drinking. I urged him not to give up a place to easily and he was soon running again. I liked his pace so he was a good person to follow. We passed a couple of others in our agegroup too, who looked very worse for wear.

At around 4 km there was a big hill. By now people were walking and up that bloody great hill, and I could do nothing different. My new competition also walked a bit so I kept him in sight. Someone shouted that this was the only hill and it was downhill all the way afterwards. That lifted my spirits for a while, until I came to the next hill.

It was about this time when it was feeling like the longest 10km race I had ever come across. I must be really tired. I was starting to suspect that the KM markers were really mile markers. I fiddled with my all but useless GPS only to discover that there were 2 MILES left. They WERE mile markers and I was over halfway done. Thank goodness!

I was still trying to make the best 'W' I could with my fingers as I approached another water station. This time the kid caught on and promptly threw a whole cup of water over me, which he explained, is what he thought I wanted. I managed to articulate, 'I wanted a drink', which was the cause of some amusement. Apparently his Dad then said that this was the 6 mile point. A quarter of a mile later I saw the REAL 6 mile point, with some disillusionment. I knew the race was an overdistance 10km too, so it was hard to predict how far the end was (I thought it would never come).

By now my friend was still in sight but sometimes I was distractedly losing him. We easily past a young guy (24) who was flagging and I shouted "Keep it strong buddy" (someone said the same to me in a previous race). The difference in him was marked. He really woke up and picked up his pace a lot - he even came to thank me after the race.

I was tired by now but wasn't going to let this guy beat me, at least, I didn't want to, whether I could do anything was doubtful. I narrowed the gap using some of what Terry had been teaching me - I ran pick up drills. Between one tree and another a little further on, I picked up the pace. Then rested. Then picked it up again for another section. I managed to stay with this guy and close a little doing that.

We then turned a corner and I saw that delightful word, "Finish". Always one for a sprint finish I closed the gap on my nemesis, coming up directly behind him so he wouldn't see me readily; then I turned on the sprint and flew past him. I continued pushing it all the way to the line expecting him to be breathing down my neck. I crossed the line without seeing him, turned around, and he wasn't there. Slightly disappointing but I guess he wasn't a sprinter! So, I gained 1 place in the closing minute which was quite satisfying.

I got my medal, drink and then sat down in the shade. I could do nothing but sit down. I noticed my tight chest was still tight. That was quite a surprise. I wandered in for the free lunch (which was excellent) but before I ate I signed up for a sports massage. They had about 10 massage tables set up, so I decided that today was the day for my debut massage. I ate lunch and did yoga while I waited and then had the massage. It was pretty painful and pain relieving and oddly and I had no lower back pain after the race. So, I was impressed and would definitely try it again. He seemed very good at focusing on the pain points and tight muscles and SLAMMING that problem out of existence. Cool.

The medical tent was quiet so I wandered in to ask about my tight chest. I've had a collapsed lung once and the word 'pneumothorax' was sufficient to get the Dr to have a listen. It didn't feel to me like a "pneumo" but it felt strangely tight. The Dr said my lung capacity sounded pretty diminished throughout. I hadn't felt pain during the race but I guess this lung problem hadn't helped much. He figured my cold had brought on some Asthma, which I get sometimes in the Hayfever season, so that made sense.

I planned to go to work after the race but was so tired that I ended up pulling my car over and sleeping on the drive back. After the Death Ride's 11h30 effort, a mere 2h50 seemed a bit light; but I was clearly pretty tired. Perhaps too from trying to digest the huge amount of carb loading I had undertaken!

And so the results of the Donner Lake Triathlon for bib number 577.

Time: 2:50:49
Overall in Agegroup Male 35-39): 19th (of 45 entrants)
Overall Place: 127 (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 104 (of 272)

Swim (1500m) Time 28:25
Agegroup Place: 33rd (of 45)
Overall Place: 240 (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 166 (of 272)
Pace: 1:53 per 100m (appalling!)

Swim to Bike Transition (getting wetsuit off!) 3.24 (very slow)

Bike (40 km/24 miles) Time: 1:23:27
Agegroup Place: 18th (of 45)
Overall Place: 87th (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 77th (of 272)
Pace: 17.87 miles per hour (hilly course!)

Bike to Run Transition: 1:07 (a little slow)

Run (10.5 km - 6.25 miles+) Time: 54:30
Agegroup Place: 17th (of 45)
Overall Place: 135th (of 411)
Overall Male Place: 102th (of 272)
Pace: 8.21 minute per mile pace (not too bad)

It's easy to over-analyze the results. I can quickly see that slow transitions alone cost me 2 places. If I had lied about my age and gone with the 30-34 group or the 25-29 groups I would have got 14th place. If I had lied about my age and said I was 40-44 I would've been 27th - those old dogs know how to compete. I'd better get training!

I certainly felt the strongest on the bike and am a bit surprised I didn't do relatively much better against my peers. It shows the quality of the entrants that I couldn't do better against them on the bike, even fully acclimitized, unlike some of them, and familiar with hauling up hills and racing. The run time doesn't seem terrible either, for me an 8.21 pace with heavy legs is forgivable.

For the first time ever I managed to convince myself to sit in a bath of cold water when I got home. I'm told this is good for the leg muscles, though gasping at the cold did nothing to help my tight chest problem.



At 7:11 pm, Blogger Sarah said...

Great race report!! I did the Donner Tri as well and haven't gotten around to posting my full race report...I think you just inspired me. :-) Anyway, just wanted to say congrats on a great race - it's always harder than it seems like it should be (for me, anyway).

You didn't by chance do the Donner Swim this weekend as well, did you? I wish I would've found your blog sooner so I could've alerted you to that. It's really my favorite open water swim.

Good luck with future endeavors! -S


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