Race Report: Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race

Signing up for the 18th Annual Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race wasn’t my idea. I’ll own the choice, of course, but I wouldn’t have even heard about it if my friend Phil hadn’t asked me to do it. I was in the midst of concussion recovery at the time, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sign up in part in order to give myself a temporary feeling of hope. Surely I’d be better by May 31st. If I sign up for a race, then it’ll make sure that comes true! Magical thinking, to be sure. Luckily it worked out okay this time.

We had a drive of about 3 hours to get to Wilmington, NY, where Whiteface Mountain rises above the surrounding ridge lines at the eastern edge of the Adirondacks. Lake Champlain was on the way, so we treated ourselves to a ferry ride while we tried to pick the mountain out from the landscape across the water. We never did quite determine which one it was.

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Ferry across Lake Champlain

A couple of guys from Burlington wandered by and chatted with us briefly.

“You racing?” one asked.

“Yeah,” Phil answered, “Whiteface. You?”

The guy nodded, because obviously there was only one race all of us were thinking about. He looked up at my bike on top of the car, an Orbea Terra gravel road bike with 28 mm slick tires. Phil’s was a Trek Checkpoint, a similar machine, with slightly wider gravel tires. “You riding on those?”

“Yeah,” I said, a little unsure about the pointedness of his question.

“Wow,” he answered.

“What are you guys riding?” Phil asked.

“Mountain bikes,” the guy answered, as if it were obvious, and he and his flat-brimmed hat bid us good luck and wandered off.

For the next hour, as we completed our drive to the base of the mountain, Phil had something close to a minor meltdown as he parsed the conversation and tried to decipher what the guy had meant by his line of questioning, his clearly loaded, Owen Wilson-like remark of “Wow” and his utterly straightforward statement that he and his friend were riding MTBs. Did he think we were idiots for our bike choices? Or did he think he was the idiot, now seeing what we were riding? What did it mean, and what would possess a person to convey such apparent passive aggression directed solely to a person’s choice of ride? Were we idiots for riding these bikes? Were we even going to the right race? What day was it? Why were their brims so incredibly flat?

We arrived in Wilmington quite early, with hours to spare before the race was to start. We walked over the bridge spanning the Ausable River and found our way into the ski lodge, where we picked up our race packets, which included helmet stickers, bike stickers with timing chips in them, the largest number bibs I’d ever seen, t-shirts and exactly zero snacks. Good thing we brought our own. Phil had all kinds of goodies from home to choose from for on-the-bike nutrition, including some special power cookies his wife baked. I had opted for a singular choice item: a refillable energy gel bottle containing 100% pure maple syrup. That, combined with water and endurance formula in my bottles, was what I hoped would keep life in my legs as I scaled the mountain in a few hours.

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The Ausable River

After I gathered my race accouterments from the helpful check-in folks, I asked them a question which had occurred to me.

“Is there another race here soon?”

“Yes,” one said, “a 50 or 100-km qualifier for Leadville.”

And suddenly, it all made sense. Those guys on the ferry thought we were doing Wilmington Whiteface. They thought we were going to be riding single track for 60 miles, on slick 28-mm tires! “Wow,” indeed. We had a good laugh about that, and “Wowwww” became an instant catch-phrase for the rest of the day.

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We decided to cruise down the course a bit, just to check out the opening three mile prologue, and see what interesting things we could find in town. We saw a bunch of guys fishing the river, and watched one of them pull a sizable fish out. We stopped in a local shop and got some chocolate for the kids and wives. We saw a giant metal bike statue and debated climbing on top of it, but ultimately left such shenanigans to the presumed local youth to get arrested for. A gaunt man with a beard was lost and tried to get into a locked building nearby. I said to Phil, “That’s either a hardcore cyclist or a meth addict.” Not a minute later, he asked us where to check in for the bike race. #nailedit

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At the start

Finally, it got close to race time. We changed into our kits and took a little warm-up spin up the hill behind the parking lot. Phil had a little trouble with his cadence sensor, but we got it sorted. A lot of folks were really clamoring to start near the front of the pack, which surprised us considering it was a chip-timed race and drafting wasn’t going to be a major factor, so it didn’t really seem to matter when you actually started. Phil had a theory that the best strategy (if you were racing to win) might be to hammer the first 3-mile downhill section, though, so maybe the draft was a bigger player than it seemed. In any case, we opted to start comfortably from the back.

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The national anthem was sung, the Canadian national anthem was played, we got the most anti-climactic count-down in history, and the race was underway!

As I mentioned, the first three miles were essentially downhill. I deliberately played it cool here, trying to spin up the legs in a relatively high cadence and to really back off the power. There was enough of a descent that I was clipping along basically without working. Then we hit the corner, and the climb began.

Once I settled in, I kept an eye on my numbers and found that an average of 340 watts felt about right. I was working, but I wasn’t hammering, and my heart rate was staying below threshold. I found my most comfortable gear and got to work.

My numbers from the corner to approx. the toll booth

There was the slightest of reprieves while passing the tool booth, and then it was nothing but up, for a section of about 4 miles that featured the steepest sections of the climb. Partway through this section, I took my first hit of maple syrup. It went down smooth and quick, and much easier than energy gel. I also didn’t feel like I had to wash it down with water to clear it out of my mouth. So far so good.

My numbers from the toll booth to the first switchback

Because of how the road is laid out, I could see the switchbacks quite a ways before I got to them. They were laid out high above me on the side of the mountain. I knew that they were only a couple of short miles away, so it was a bit daunting to consider how high I had to climb in order to reach them, especially knowing the gradient it would take.

My legs were doing okay, but started to get a little crampy and uncomfortable at around mile 8 or so. Originally I had intended to ride a bit easier until this point, and then put the power down. As it turned out, I rode a rather more consistent power output, so I didn’t have a whole lot of reserves to draw from. I was going steady, though, so I figured I’d just keep on with my 340 watts and see how that worked out.

By the time I reached the first switchback, I had enjoyed some amazing views, passed two unicyclists, hit my second dose of maple syrup (so good), seen a guy riding deliberately crosswise across the road repeatedly (to rest his legs, I guess?), gotten slightly annoyed by someone with a squeaky bike that I couldn’t drop, and been told “I like that gear you’re in.” As in, complimenting me on my specific choice of gearing. At that moment. I guess? I still haven’t figured that one out.

I knew from simulating the ride indoors that the switchbacks provided some measure of relief, and were the time to drop the hammer for sure, if there was any hammer left to drop. I latched on to the wheel of a guy about my size, who I had noticed from his bib that he was also in the Clydesdale division like me, and followed him up and around the second switchback. Then I went by him and made for the finish.

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Making my move

I had enough legs left to put down a sprint for the finish of about 0:20. It was completely unnecessary, and nobody was sprinting with me, but I don’t get to race in bike races very often, so it felt right. It was an experience I had never had, and I wanted to go for it.

Sprint to the line. Note the significant drop in temperature.
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Still recovering from my sprint

After I got through the chute and received my finisher’s medal, I pedaled around the courtyard of the little castle-like structure that is at the summit to behold a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. It was a great reward for doing the work to climb to the top. I took a couple of quick photos and then went back to the finish line to cheer on Phil, who was only minutes behind me. I managed to get a decent video of him crossing the line. We took a few more shots and drank some Gatorade, then put on our sleeves and started the ride back down. It was getting cold quickly so we didn’t spend a lot of time up top.

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The first switchback, seen from the summit

The ride down was at once fun, beautiful, exciting and harrowing. We were cruising at 40 mph with our brakes engaged. If we had been alone on the mountain, we probably would have let it rip a little more, but there were still people climbing the hill, cars driving up and down both ways, and other cyclists heading down. With a lot of blind corners, it didn’t seem prudent to be going full speed with no chance to stop suddenly if necessary. It was also really cold, and I had to adjust my hands and arms periodically just to make sure that I could, in fact, still feel them.

We made it down safe and sound, and then cruised back to the ski area for food and to check out the results. I ended up in 7th out of 26th in the Clydesdale division (190 lbs+), with an official recorded time of 1:19:25. I was pretty darn happy with that effort. I don’t know that I could have done it much faster if I had changed anything, and I don’t know what I could have changed. It was pretty close to the best execution I could manage on the day. You can’t ask for much more than that.

The drive home was long and dark, but still a good time and there was plenty to recount and reflect on from the day.

I was very glad to be able to do this race. It’s one that I don’t think I will ever forget.

Adventure Ride

Some pretty big stuff has happened since I last wrote an entry, but for now I’m going to step back to recap a fun ride that I did just before winter hit here.

There’s a great and eclectic group of people that I’ve connected with through the local bike shop, Vermont Bicycle Shop, who are part of the shop’s “adventure club.” It’s not exactly a team, and not exactly a club in the traditional sense, and not exactly anything else.  It’s a somewhat loose collection of people, most of whom hang around the shop fairly frequently, who get together and go on halfway madcap rides that deliberately seek out challenging, weird or nonsensical destinations and routes. The one thing I’ve seen that this ragtag band of cyclists (in the broadest of definitions) all have in common is that bikes are an extension of their identity in one way or another.  Lots of people enjoy cycling; for these folks, the line of distinction between themselves and the bicycle is hard to find.  

I’m the only triathlete in the group, and one of the few with a roadie background, so I amicably bear the brunt of a lot of jokes about aerodynamics and fancy equipment.  I don’t mind.  It’s always good to receive perspective from others, and there’s plenty of opportunity for me to jovially strike back when the mood is right.  

The ride of the day was to be a gravel ride, on dirt roads with quality ranging from “maintained” to what’s known around here as “Class IV.”  To normal people, a Class IV road is something you would normally only see on the Discovery Channel or if you got lost in the woods.  Usually just a vestige of the past and only technically a road, they are swaths of relatively clear space cutting through the remote Vermont forests, littered with rocky glacial remains and leading to places only the hardiest of folk will ever see. To adventure bikers, it just means ‘fun.’

The group gathered at my house, as it was the ideal starting point for this particular loop.  That gave everyone plenty of opportunity to make fun of my brand new Bont triathlon shoes, which I had just gotten fitted since literally tearing the soles off my ancient pair of Garneaus.  Considering it was about 35 deg. F and these shoes are basically open-air slabs of carbon with velcro straps on top (they don’t even have a tongue), they were definitely an unusual choice for the day. They were my only choice, though, apart from putting platform pedals on my bike and wearing hiking boots.  I was too excited to try them out to miss the chance, so I doubled up my socks and stuck some plastic baggies over my toes in between and let the ribbing fly.

We set out, starting on dirt roads and heading further away from civilization as we went.  One of us realized he had a soft tire, but luckily we were riding right by his house so he stopped to swap out his bike (the N+1 rule is widely followed in this group.  I’m an outlier, having a mere two bicycles in my possession). No big deal, and we continued onward.

Some of my favorite parts of the day were when we paused to regroup, and found ourselves in a serene section of the forest, where nobody was around, but there were quiet signs of life if you knew where to look.  A farmer’s field, just through the treeline.  The peripheral lines of a sugarbush down the hill. An abandoned cabin by a pond, once idyllic, now forgotten and reclaimed by the encroaching wilderness.  Artwork on an old barn.

These are the moments that give ‘adventure biking’ its definition for me, personally.  But everyone has their own ideas of what it means, which is part of why it’s such an interesting thing to do.

Our first Class IV section was traversed with great enjoyment, and spilled us back out onto a dive-bombing gravel road that intersected suddenly with a main asphalt town highway.  Brakes were vigorously applied.  Luckily, none failed.

From there, a decision was to be had. Do we continue on the planned route, or do we diverge back into the woods to tackle a serious Class IV section that promised adventure of the hardiest sort, an incredibly technical downhill on terrain that could only be called a ‘road’ if you squinted real hard, were slightly drunk and had never seen a river before?  I had the suspicion that this was the plan of the ride’s organizer (shop owner and mechanic Darren) all along, and that he lured everyone in with the relatively sane route in order to spring the change of tack on them at the fateful moment of divergence.  It wasn’t a far stretch with this group; the decision was all but foregone.  Plus, Darren brought snacks.  So off we went.  To adventure!

Getting to the challenging bit required some more climbing on dirt roads, which was fine by me.  I love climbing, and I love doing it on dirt roads, now that I’m the proud owner of an Orbea Terra, which is basically a carbon frame road bike with almost-all-terrain tires.  I felt great and looked forward to every foot we went up.  

Back into the woods we went, and the challenge was suddenly upon us.  Photographs and videos unfortunately can’t do it justice, and my phone died from the cold before I made it to the bottom, which is where the better perspective would have been provided.  But picture a steep hill in the forest.  Now, make it twice as steep.  Now, rake out all the trees in an 10-foot-wide swath, straight down the hill.  Then erode it with wind and particularly water for about 100 years.  Find all the boulders and rocks under the soil that you can, and leave them there.  Call it a “Class IV” road.  Now get on your bike.

Those riding fat bikes were the only ones to make it down successfully.  The more experienced riders on gravel bikes generally made it about halfway.  Darren made it ¾ of the way down, displaying excellent bike handling skills, but then missed a line and over he went.  He was certain he’d cracked his frame and damaged his drive train because he landed right on a boulder, but he miraculously evaded consequences.

For my part, I stopped about halfway down and walked.  I knew there was no way I was going to survive the descent without falling, and I didn’t want to break anything – on myself or my bike.  What I hadn’t accounted for was my shoes.  Walking down a mostly-dry glacial riverbed meant I was slipping and stumbling off boulders with every step.  Not exactly the surface a pair of triathlon shoes were meant to walk on.  After I got home later, I photographed the bottoms of my brand new babies and sent the picture to Darren in horror, asking if I had just ruined everything.  Luckily the damage is largely cosmetic.  But I’ll be re-thinking my footwear choices for this kind of ride in the future for sure.

Once we all made it down, across an intersecting stream bed and up a hill on the other side, it was back out onto gravel roads and onward to home.  We had all met a challenge together, survived it and had a blast doing it.  Exactly what an adventure ride is meant to be.

First ride on the new ride

This was meant to be a 1 hr workout with 30 minutes of ‘big gear’ in zone 3 or so, but I was hungry for a couple of climbs and was pretty amped up about being on my new bike. I followed the first couple of intervals but it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do that for the whole ride; not because I couldn’t hit the zones, but because I was in zone 3 for most of the ride. Slowing down on purpose on a climb isn’t normally in my nature and was even more unthinkable today.

The bike feels very light (because it is) and it’s really motivating to crank it up the hills. There’s a climb right near my house that I have been using as kind of a benchmark of strength progress. In May of this year, it took me about 6 minutes to do the segment. Today, I smashed my most recent PR by 9 seconds, making the climb in just over 4 minutes. That felt really good.

I know that for the long term, I need to learn to slow down — not just in terms of relative speed, but mentally. I’ll never finish a 70.3 riding amped up like this. But on a day when the point is to build strength, it’s pretty fun to hammer. Especially on a shiny new bike.

Old Bike New Bike

My trusty steed of 17 years was acting funny in the shifters the other day so I took it into the shop. I was on my way to my swim workout when my mechanic sent me a message:

The front derailleur mount tab thing had split and was about ready to let the derailleur just fall off my bike. That explained why I was having trouble shifting into my big ring all of a sudden.

There was some consideration of whether it could be welded somehow or ground down and replaced by a clamp style derailleur, but at the end of the day it was just another step in a downward spiral that had been going on for a while. The bike was showing its age. It was getting less and less worth it to invest repair money in. I had been planning on getting a new ride next year; this just moved up the timetable.

I talked over options and was eventually convinced to test ride an Orbea Terra, which is technically a cross bike kind of, but has road bike geometry. So it’s a road bike you can put wider tires on. Which is a big advantage where I live because the roads aren’t great, and being able to ride on gravel opens up a lot more options.

I was concerned that it might be a slower solution. I am not objectively that concerned with speed but I didn’t want to feel like I was downgrading my ride, or riding a mountain bike.

I took the bike out for a spin of about 20 miles, with about 1600 ft of elevation, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. My average was great, easily comparable to my old road bike, if not faster, and I hit a max speed of 47 mph, which was perhaps my fastest descent all year — and I barely noticed.

The wide tires make for a really comfortable, stable ride, but don’t seem to sacrifice much speed at all, surprisingly. And it’s a carbon frame, so climbing felt light and strong. The gearing is different and will take some getting used to but I already like it a lot. I felt fast on the hills, both up and down.

Best of all, come race time I can put 25mm tires on it and I’ll be good to go.

I had been feeling pretty sad about losing my old friend. But things are looking up. And bonus points: I think my old ride should still be useful as an indoor trainer bike.

Videos and Race Planning

I’ve started an experiment of recording training journal diaries for each day of my current training plan. I don’t know yet whether I’m going to do anything with them. But it’s a quick way to get a certain kind of thought out, often much more easily than typing. Right now I’m thinking I’ll stick to it for a week and then get a second opinion on whether they should go public.

We have started looking ahead to summer planning for next year already, and that is bringing my mind around to figuring out a race schedule. This year was learning about triathlon and doing 3 sprints, to see if I liked it. Next year is going to be something more. Whether that means Olympic or bigger challenges, I’m not yet sure. I’m hoping it’s something that coaching can help me figure out in the coming weeks.

My main concern is avoiding burnout. I want to find the right trajectory that will keep me interested and motivated over the long term, and won’t leave me susceptible to massive post-event backsliding like I’ve experienced in the future.

Today I rode on wet roads and my bike looked like I went trail riding by the time I was finished.

Lessons Learned

  • 31.73 mi Distance
  • 2:05:03 Moving Time
  • 2,635 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 15.2 mi/hr
  • Max Speed 42.9 mi/hr
  • Avg Heart Rate 151 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate 189 bpm

I don’t quite have enough evidence yet to fully substantiate this with data, but anecdotally I feel like I always have a really good training week after I do a race. This week, for certain, was pretty huge. 

I took the day after the race off, then swam for 18 minutes the next day, which was a longer swim time for me at that point.  Then the next day I ran 4 miles, much farther than I had been doing on most of my other runs.  I hadn’t run that far in about 9 weeks.  When I finished, I felt like it wasn’t enough.  

The next day I still felt fired up, so I went out to tackle a ride I’d been eyeing for a long time, wondering if I’d actually be able to do it with any measure of performance.  It was about 32 miles, and according to Strava included 3 category 4 climbs and one category 3 climb.  I was feeling really good about my climbing legs, particularly after the second triathlon, so I decided to give it a go.

The biggest climb came early, starting at about mile 4.  I cranked my way up, feeling the heat and sun but not getting beaten down by it.  I wasn’t going fast but I wasn’t slowing down, either.

I was grinding it out about a mile from the summit when I realized that I was in my middle ring on the front, despite thinking for a long time at that point that I was in my small ring.  That was frustrating.  I could have been spinning a lot easier and using a lot less energy for nearly the same speed, had I only been paying attention to my riding. On the other hand, it was also a relief.  I had gears I didn’t know I still had, and the rest of the climb was made significantly easier.

The extra effort I put in by grinding the bigger gears ended up taking a lot out of me. When I got to the final set of climbs near the end of the ride, I was pretty pooped.  I wasn’t down for the count, though, and finished out the ride feeling pretty good about it overall.

There’s nothing quite like a good climb to teach you some lessons.

It was a day to learn a lesson about mental focus, and also a day to learn about my own capabilities on a climb.  I really hadn’t had a lot of confidence I could do the climb at all; as it turned out, I could do it with more effort than was even necessary.

My first triathlon!

I finished my first sprint distance triathlon! Getting here was the culmination of 10 weeks of training, with a focus on changing my eating habits and trying to lose weight. It was a milestone I worked hard on, and I was proud to achieve it.

It took the week beforehand off almost entirely, doing only an easy swim where I tried out a couple of techniques I had seen online. Other than that, I didn’t exercise at all. I knew I was really stretching the definition of “taper” but considering my recent calf injury, which had only just begun to feel normal again, I thought it was best to go the route of complete recovery.  Certainly nothing I did in the week beforehand would make much a difference fitness-wise; it was up to the 10 weeks prior to see if that was up to snuff or not.

I spent the day before the race in something of a haze of nerves and intermittent preparation.  I ended up taking two separate naps by accident, and it took me probably 4-6 hours to actually get my kits together.  Mentally, I was in a fog. Eventually I did manage to get things laid out, though, and then packed them up into two reusable grocery store shopping bags, for T1 and T2.

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On the left we’ve got tri suit, race-provided swim cap, sunscreen, goggles and earplugs, and race manual. In the middle is T1 – spare bike bottle, helmet, gloves, numbers, bike shoes and socks, 2 towels and large water bottle. T2 has running shoes, an energy snack, another large water bottle and a towel.

The race was about an hour from my house, so the wife and I were up early to get there. I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, and hydrated on the drive.  The weather was perfect, so I was glad to see that wasn’t a factor I’d have to contend with.

The logistics of transition setup had me more nervous than almost anything else.  The two transitions were in two different spots, as opposed to being in one location, and I didn’t really know how most people would be traveling from one to the other. Everything seemed roped off, so parking at T2 didn’t seem to be an option. Parking at T1 wasn’t an option either, for that matter; we had to park at a 3rd location and then walk (or ride) to the Ts.  So we ended up walking pretty far, carrying my shopping bags, which almost immediately demonstrated how poorly chosen they were.  Why it didn’t occur to me to use a backpack, or at least a duffel with a shoulder strap, I have no idea.  The fog was pretty thick the day before, I guess.

I got my stuff set up at T2, then headed to the beach for T1.  After being handed my bike stake, I asked someone why people were leaving their bib numbers at T2 – because the race manual said you had to wear it on the bike.  Did they get two numbers somehow, did I miss something?  No, they said, they’re just not following the rules.  Cool.  At least I knew I wasn’t screwing something up.

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T1 setup

I got my T1 spot set up, then headed to the overlook just above the beach to check out the swim course. It looked to be a long way, standing on shore. It was hard to tell how it measured up to the training I had been doing. Only one way to find out, though.

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Swim course

Due to how the timing mats worked, they had us all line up in a crowded mass on a pathway before entering the beach area, and once we were there, we weren’t allowed to leave.  Due to the low water level, it was going to be a water start, so everyone waded out to a first set of buoys to await the start signal.

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Getting set for the start

The start was in two waves, with the men going first and the women and teams going second. I positioned myself to the outside and toward the back of the pack, thinking that would be safest and easiest to manage.  I had never swum in a pack before so I had no idea what it was going to be like. I was just hoping I wouldn’t get panicky.

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First wave start

The signal sounded and we were off. I took a few steps, plunged in, and almost immediately it was chaos.  People were thrashing and kicking all around me. I got kicked and whacked several times right from the start. Because it mostly happened underwater, it didn’t really hurt, but it was always unexpected and somewhat disorienting. It was hard to find a route forward that wasn’t full of arms and legs. The pack didn’t really thin out until we had rounded the second corner and were on the way back toward the beach, so I probably only had about 40% of the course when I could really swim comfortably and try to find my own pace. The rest of the time was spent primarily fighting my way through and trying to navigate. The water was terrible, too – almost uncomfortably warm, full of weeds and smelling like boat fuel. Not the most pleasant environment to swim in. 

I ended up working pretty hard on the swim.  By my watch, I was out of the water in about 10 minutes, not including the run up the beach, which was 3-5 minutes faster than I expected. I think I swam a lot faster than I had trained.

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Out of the water (on the far right)

It was over soon enough, though, and I was back on the beach, heading up for T1. As I ran up the hill, I discovered that one of my earplugs had suction-locked into my ear, and I couldn’t for the life of me get it out. There was nothing I could do but leave it in and do the rest of the race with one ear plugged. I hoped it wouldn’t affect my balance.

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Drying my feet and getting ready for the bike

I dried my feet and got my biking gear on, then jogged my bike out to the mount line and headed out on the bike course. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the transition times, since this was my first triathlon. I primarily wanted to get through them successfully, so I didn’t mind taking a little extra time.  As it turned out, I took a lot of extra time and had some of the slowest transitions of the entire field. 

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Heading out on the bike

Cycling is definitely my strongest discipline, and the course was pretty flat, so I was eager to put down a good time. I realized right away that the effort I’d put out on the swim was definitely too much, because I was eating people up left and right in the first mile.  That meant I could have swum a bit slower and made up time on the bike.  Lesson learned.

As I rounded a corner to head up one of the only hills, passing another cyclist on my right, I learned another hard lesson – never forget to check your tire pressure.  Like, with a gauge.  And a pump. My tire seemed to roll out from under me and go soft, and I was sure I’d blown a flat.  I stopped at the top of the hill and got off my bike to check.  My rear tire was soft, but it wasn’t flat.  It was rideable, and I wasn’t about to take the time to pump air into it with my little hand pump.  I decided to keep riding as far as I could.  If it went flat on the course, so be it.  For the time being, it was low but usable.

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The low tire definitely slowed me down.  I couldn’t corner very well, for fear of losing stability, and whenever I tried to stand and power over small rises, the back end of the bike went all wobbly.  It didn’t feel safe at all. I kept it conservative when maneuvering and put as much power in as I could when the road was straight. That got me to the end of the course with an average of about 19 mph.

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Coming back in to T2

I found my transition spot easily enough and put my bike down. I basically ignored everything else there except for my running shoes. I carried one of my bike bottles with me for a short distance to douse myself with before tossing it to my wife, who was there cheering me on, then bricked on out to do the run.

The legs felt dead and weird for the first mile, as expected, but my pace was good and my calf felt great. I felt the exertion in my lungs but I still had legs, so I pushed it pretty much as hard as I had left.  The course wound through some residential areas and back along the lakeside, finishing up along a bike path.

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I came into the finish with an overall time of 01:21:34. I didn’t have a fixed goal to shoot for going into this; I was aiming just for completion.  But under 1:30:00 seemed to be fairly respectable, and I was placed somewhere in the middle of the field, both in my age group and overall. The distances for the race were allegedly 500m in the water, 12 miles on the bike and 3 miles on the road (but I’m not sure I trust their measurements, either, particularly for the run).

I say somewhere because the timing for this event was completely messed up and none of the splits ended up being reliable.  The only time I trust from the official results is the overall.  When I got home, I checked the results and saw one set of split times and placing; the next day, they had completely changed. Neither of them made any sense, either, and didn’t align anywhere close to what I had on my devices during the race. 

Luckily, the times didn’t matter all that much to me.  This one was about learning how to do a triathlon, completing it and having a foundation for the next one.  In terms of those goals, it was a complete success.

The biggest racing takeaway I got was that I don’t need to go that hard on the swim. I’m not such a good swimmer that it will make much difference, except to tire me out. Meanwhile, I’m much better at biking so I can easily make up the time on wheels. Logistically, the biggest lesson was to pare down my transition gear, to put it in a backpack and to not take so much stuff!  I brought two giant water bottles I never even touched during the race, and I had way too many towels. I also didn’t need any food for such a relatively short race.

I didn’t walk away with any medals, but I got a cool training shirt, some free food and a whole bunch of knowledge. It was a good day.

Rebrick

Bike:

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  • 11.49 mi Distance
  • 39:37 Moving Time
  • 647 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 17.4 mi/hr
  • Max Speed 40.5 mi/hr

Run:

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  • 2.58 mi Distance
  • 26:13 Moving Time
  • 10:08/mi Pace
  • Elevation 169 ft 

It was time for another brick, the last opportunity before my first triathlon. I decided to try to closely simulate the upcoming event, as well as ride out on the same route that foiled me earlier in the season, with a broken chain and a calf injury. 

This was what I needed to be confident that I could complete the race.

The bike went according to plan.  I took it relatively easy, not working too hard and focusing on keeping myself to about an 80% effort. One of the things I’d been concerned about was outpacing myself on the bike and having nothing left for the run, so I wanted to work on actively preventing that.

The legs still felt terrible for the first mile of the run, but by this point I knew what to expect and it was easier to deal with. I felt no hint of a problem in my calf on the way out of the out-and-back route, but just after I looped around to head home, it seized up on me.  It was bad enough that I had to stop completely. I tried to relax and calmly stretch it out, but I was cursing inside. I was terrified that this was going to be a re-injury that would prevent me from racing.

Luckily, the stretching seemed to help quite a bit. I started running again, very slowly, to test it out.  It held up.  I continued and made it home ok, without further incident.

I hoped it was a fluke. My first tri was just a week away.

A flat ride!

  • 30.02 mi Distance
  • 1:34:24 Moving Time
  • 784 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 19.1mi/hr
  • Max Speed 41.6mi/hr

This was a fun ride.

I took advantage of being on vacation, in a different area, to do a ride that was almost entirely flat.  Better yet, it started on the side of a mountain – going down.

I wanted to stretch out a bit to ride something longer than I had so far, and this was the perfect route to do it.  30 miles with basically no elevation wouldn’t overly tax my calf, but would let me get my heart rate up for longer than usual.

It was a scenic place to ride, too, so all in all it was a good day on the bike.

The true winner of the day was the swimming hole I got to jump in directly after the ride.  There’s nothing quite like doing an extended cardio workout and then plunging into a clear mountain river.

A painful brick

Bike:

  • 9.98 mi Distance
  • 33:38 Moving Time
  • 565 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 17.8 mi/h
  • Max Speed 39.1 mi/h
  • Avg Heart Rate 149 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate 173 bpm

Run:

  • 2.58 mi Distance
  • 25:49 Moving Time
  • 10:00/mi Pace
  • Elevation 170ft
  • Avg Heart Rate 166 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate 182 bpm

A key component of triathlon training is doing combination workouts, or “bricks” as they are called in the sport.  These are training sessions where you essentially simulate one or more transitions, doing a ride and then immediately going for a run, for example, just as you would in an event.

This was my first attempt at doing such a thing.  I really wasn’t sure how it would go, since I’d never done it before, so I decided to keep both the bike and the run relatively easy.  I’d shoot for around 10-12 miles on the bike and about 2.5 miles on the run, as flat as I could manage from my house.

I felt really good on the bike, putting down the miles with relative ease and moving fairly comfortably.  Things took a turn when I was close to the end, though.  I came to an intersection in the middle of a hill and had to stop for traffic.  Then as I started up again, preparing to tackle the rest of the hill ahead of me, my chain snapped.

Like, literally just broke in two.

I heard a snap, my legs started freewheeling and I looked down to see it just dangling off my chain ring.  

I was only a mile from home, so a rescue mission didn’t take long to reach me.  It was frustrating, though, and dropped me out of the zone hard.  I hurriedly changed into my running gear (no tri suit yet) and headed out on my run, eager to regain the momentum I had had going before the mechanical failure.

My legs felt awful. I had never experienced anything like it.  I’ve been tired on a run plenty of times, and having finished two marathons in the past, I know what it’s like to feel nearly 100% fatigue in your legs.  But this was different.  This was like my legs belonged to someone else and I was controlling them remotely, or something.  It was really weird.  They felt almost numb, even though I could feel them.  It was clear very quickly why people practice this sort of thing.

After about a mile, the weirdness started to clear up and I felt more like myself again.  I crested a hill and started down the other side, when a car appeared heading toward me.  I moved to the side of the gravel road, into the shoulder.  And felt a twinge in my calf. Different than a cramp, it was like a very specific section of my calf contracted as hard as it could.  

I should have stopped immediately to stretch and rest, but I was determined to see this through and was locked into a mental race mode.  The leg hurt for the rest of the run but I finished it out and limped up my driveway.

I wasn’t sure how that was going to play out, but it didn’t look or feel good.

Strawberry Festival Ride

On a gorgeous summer day recently, I joined a group ride for a trek on class-4 roads, rail trails and asphalt, journeying to a local strawberry festival at a farm up in the hills of a nearby town.  I rode my MTB for this one.

This was an eventful ride right from the start, and not at all in a good way.  On the way out of town, we passed by a house that was situated close to the road.  A dog came sprinting out of nowhere, barking at one of our group.  Suddenly, from up ahead around a blind corner, a car appeared.  The result was a collision that ended in the dog’s death, right in front of us.  

The owners were understandably shaken and mortified.  A few of our group helped move the dog’s body off the road.  I stood up ahead to signal cars while they did that and did their best to console the heartbroken owners.  Eventually, we moved on.  A couple of our riders returned the next day with flowers.

It took a while to shake that off, but exercise is good for such things.  We journeyed onward, putting miles behind us and looking forward. 

The pace of the group was pretty slow, overall, with a lot of stops.  At one point we hit asphalt and I couldn’t help myself; I had to drop the hammer and stretch out for a bit.  One other guy came with me.  We burned up a couple of miles and then pulled off to wait for the rest, next to a morbidly appropriate roadside cemetery.

That effort would eventually catch up with me, as the ride finished on a legit Category 4 climb, which I ultimately had very little left in the tank for.  I did eventually make it up, but it was brutal.

Luckily there were strawberries, hamburgers and live music waiting for us at the festival.  A pleasant end to a tumultuous ride.