Sunday, April 7, 2013

White Lake Half

I swam, biked an ran roughly 8 or so hours leading into Saturday.  I don't feel like looking through the log right now so that's all I got on that front.  Be happy I'm sparing you totals of my awesomeness this week.

I should preface talking about WL by talking about what the weather has been like in Charlotte and, more generally, North Carolina so far this year.  March has been awful.  February was pretty awful as well.  Not awful compared to the people who live up north because, let's face it, they asked for it living up there.  But, without a doubt, the worst January to February I've experienced since living in the mid-Atlantic.

So this was literally (and quite unintentionally) one of the worst years for having White Lake Half (and sprint I guess) a month earlier than its historical early May date.  I honestly thought nothing of this fact until, in the week leading up to the race, I began sensing a social network tremor about the water temperature.  In fact, a thread on Slowtwitch even re-emerged about the possibility of a very, very cold swim.

Now, to lead into my personal intimidation with cold water, let me tell you of my ONLY truly ''cold water'' experience.  The first time I ever went out to Santa Barbara (June of '11) I made the grave error of saying I'd do a 2 mile open water swim (without wetsuit, as open water swimming events are never wetsuit-legal).  Everyone SAID the water was 65 degrees.  65 degrees is pretty cold, but manageable.  There is NO way that water was 65.  Anyway, at the sound of the gun I ran into the water with everyone else but as soon as I dove in and put my face underwater I popped up immediately and had a very strong hyperventilation reflex.  I could absolutely not put my face underwater again and could not get my breathing rate under control.  The mental hurdle could not be leaped.  I turned around and breast-stroked back to shore.  It was pretty embarrassing.

After this experience, I literally could not possibly imagine why people pay to put themselves into the position of POSSIBLY doing a swim like the one at Escape from Alcatraz. That is a race I will likely never do because of the swim, which is sad, because it looks like an amazing race.

So, the prospect of a sub 60 degree swim did nothing to alleviate any self-imposed pressures I was putting on myself.  I have yet to put together a truly good half across all three disciplines.  I've had good swims, good bikes, and good runs but never all in the same race.  My half-ironman run PR was last year at Rev3 SC at 1:24:xx and I'd run 1:21:xx at NOLA 69.1 back in 2011 but never felt as though I'd really maxed out my capabilities.  I've obviously been swimming a whole heck of a lot so I wanted to put it to good use at this race and the swim being 55 or below made this goal somewhat less...realistic.

I wanted that to change at White Lake, and the thought of not even being able to do the swim because of personal comfort issues was very intimidating.  That being said, race week was fairly busy at the store and we didn't leave for the race until Friday afternoon so I didn't get a whole lot of opportunities to really think twice about it.  That being said, it was constantly on the mind because of HOW MANY PEOPLE called the store or came into the store to ask about wetsuits, booties, and neoprene caps specifically because of this race.  It was unbelievable.  Luckily, I've had all the right equipment for a while now, just haven't had to use it.  Always be prepared.

The Behmes, generous people that they are, offered to let me sleep on the hotel room floor they had reserved.  Me, being the generous person I am, offered to drive the three of us to the race in the man-van.  Being the logical people they are, they accepted my offer (because, let's be honest, who wouldn't wanna drive to the race in such an awesome vehicle?).  John opted out of the race given his work hours and slight sickness the week leading in so just Carrie and myself were racing Saturday.  In this below picture, only two small backpacks are mine.  Also one bicycle.  How can two people, one of whom isn't racing, POSSIBLY BRING THIS MUCH STUFF FOR A 24HR TRIP???

We got to the race site Friday afternoon and went to pick up our packets.  I asked if they had taken a temperature reading that morning and was told that they had but were keeping it secret.  Let's just say that the number I was told had a zero after the first digit. And the first digit wasn't a 6.  We went out to the pier to put our hands in the water and needless to say, it was very cold.  We then went for a short run and came back to do a little glamour shoot.

We went back to the hotel, prepped our race-day stuff and hit the sack.  With the 9am start we didn't have to wake up until 6am so we were pretty lazy in the morning and ended up not getting to the race site until 8:25 or so.  Not my ideal arrival time scenario but it left little time to think about the prospect of a miserable swim.  I set up my transition, put on the wetsuit, booties, (pink) silicone cap and regular cap and headed out to swim start.

On a sidenote, this would be my first race on my brand new bike.  Let me regale you with some bike pjorn pictures, as it got a LOT of comments in transition area before and after the race.  Makes me proud!!

P5-6 frameset, Ultegra Di2 TT, Sram Red Quarq, Zipp 808cc, Zipp Super-9cc, Dash Tri.7 saddle

Very clean lines

Only one little teeny weeny ''cable'' visible to the wind

Swim - 31:52 - 9th (although to be honest I think it was actually 8th or so given one rogue swim time)

Well, just getting into the water was eye-opening.  As I stepped in I could feel the "pressure'' of the cold water.  I dipped down and let some into my suit and then stuck my face in it and felt similar feelings to what I mentioned above: a relatively uncontrollable breathing reaction.  With about one minute to the start I was still not able to keep my face under the water and was still breathing hard and erratically and was unsure whether or not I'd actually be able to do the dang thing.  At the sound of the horn, however, I just took off.  It was either gonna happen or it wasn't, period.

Luckily, the first 10-15 strokes passed by pretty harmlessly other than the very strong chop that had risen that morning as a result of the wind from the east.  On the way to the first buoy we were heading straight into it and it made this portion extremely difficult.  The waves were pretty erratic and unpredictable which made about half of my strokes enter the water well before I actually meant them to!

I lost contact with any other swimmers pretty much immediately and spent the rest of the swim by myself.  At one point before the first turn I got a little water in my ear so I took the time to stop and lift up my cap to let it drain out as it was pretty early in the swim and I didn't want that causing any problems.  After the first turn I had the waves coming from my left which, with my left-only breathing pattern, made this section difficult as well.  I went along fine though and felt more "warmed up" so my stroke was a bit smoother and longer and I didn't have to sight every single stroke like I did on the out-bound leg.  At one point, however, for two consecutive breaths I got mouthfuls of water instead of mouthfuls of air and this caused a very strong coughing reaction so I had to stop to catch my breath and happened to be right in front of a kayak.  The two girls in it started paddling towards me but I started swimming again to get away from them.  Once I went around the last turn I was with the swells, which was a slightly dis-orienting feeling (kinda like body surfing) but it was definitely the easiest.  I had no further issues and exited the swim feeling pretty fresh (and surprisingly not cold) which allowed me to run towards transition at an expeditious rate.

I knew I'd have a couple of people in front of me: for sure Patrick Farwell, Dan Young and Derek Kidwell...but there was an out-of-towner I hadn't noticed on the participant list that was a bit ahead of me as well.

T1 - 01:57 - 10th

My transition was ok but slowed slightly by having to take the booties off.  Helmet on, shoes on, out the gate a little behind the two Patricks.

Bike - 2:17:44 - 1st

The watts I was given for this race were relatively low as I have not been biking very much this year.  But Brian gave me confidence that my run was very up to snuff and with how fast my setup (position + equipment) I wasn't really worried that I'd have a slow bike split.  I knew it would be windy so that would likely slow my expected time a little bit as well.  Regardless, this didn't change having to get out on the bike and actually do the work!

For the first miles I was behind Patrick W. who was behind Patrick F. who was behind Dan Y. who was behind Derek K.  Dang swimmers... The two Patricks were off in the distance for most of 701 or 702, whatever that road was.  Despite the amazing smooth and fresh new pavement we had a headwind for this section so the speeds were relatively slow.  I tried to stay low and slowly made my way up to PF as it appeared as though PW had made the pass and went on up the road.  I passed PF a little bit before the first right turn, which came at roughly mile 12.  This road also was predominantly a headwind although it had become more 3/4 headwind so the speeds weren't too bad on this road.  PW remained in sight but catching him was going relatively slowly.  I did not actually, truly "catch" him until we made the next right turn, which is at maybe mile 40? Once we turned right I stayed behind him for a little bit trying to decide what the best strategy would be; I hadn't realized until pretty recently that there was still someone up ahead (Derek).  Once we got on the home stretch I could see Derek up in the distance, however, and I decided that now was the time to up the watts a little bit and make the move for the lead.

It took a bit longer but after passing PW I bridged up to DK relatively quickly.  I was feeling fairly comfortable although my seat bones had really started to ache from the constant jarring they were receiving from the road.  Once I passed Derek (a hair before mile 50?) I looked back and noticed PW had bridged back up and I assumed that we'd all mosey our way in to the finish together.  I was not surprised then to arrive in T2 first with DK right behind me and PW also right there.

T2 - 01:10 - 16th

I felt as though I had a relatively quick transition but DK smoked both of us and made it out with about a 100 yard gap on myself and I had a slightly smaller gap on PW.

Run - 1:17:45 - 2nd (listed as 2nd but current 1st is definitely wrong and should be Patrick)

Heading out on the run my turnover felt smooth and my breathing was easy so I hoped that I could run what I wanted (sub 1:20).  The first two miles were a little quick as I caught and passed DK but once out of the neighborhood I focused on a steady, rhythmic turnover and taking in gel and water.

As an aside, this whole race up to T2 I had no idea who Patrick Wheeler was (in the context of the race itself I mean)...I was just thinking of him as the "QT2" (for QT2 Coaching which was his race kit) guy.  Coming through T2, however, the announcer was making an...announcement...about the first racers coming into T2 and he didn't see my number and he did see PW's so he said something like: "Patrick Wheeler also coming in with that first group about to head out on the run."  THEN, I realized who I had been trying to catch and would now be trying to I recognized the name.

Anyway, once out of the neighborhood and back onto the highway shoulder I settled in for the long haul as I knew PW was close behind.  I could only hope that if I held pace he'd fall off eventually.  I held pace well all the way to the turnaround a little past mile 7.  I was getting warm and unfortunately two aid stations in a row were not ready for the two of us.  I requested water but received none as they hadn't yet got set up for it and I heard PW behind me yelling for it as well.  Luckily at the turnaround one of the Setup guys gave me a bottle of water which I was very thankful for.  I also saw, just past the turnaround, that PW was just as close behind me as he had been the previous 7 miles.  I was getting stalked.  Hard.

I carried on and held pace through mile 9 relatively easily but around mile 9.5-10 it became difficult.  That is, it went from being "comfortably quite hard" to just "hard." I was steady in my mile splits but I was having to think a lot harder about doing it.  My breathing rate picked up noticeably and people coming the other way started to tell me "he's right behind you!!" Oh, like I wasn't aware of that!! haha.  Not much to do about it at that point as all I could do was maintain and hope it was enough.  I was in the unenviable position of being the hunted and not the hunter.  My only carrot was the finishing line, which always seems an awfully long way off with 5k to go!

I knew a pass, or an attempt at one, was inevitable, and it came just after an aid station around mile 11-11.5.  PW bridged up to me, was alongside me briefly, and passed.  As he was passing I picked it up a bit but this quickly felt unsustainable. He held that effort and I couldn't and all of sudden two strides became four.  Then four strides became 10 feet.  And 10 feet quickly became 50 feet.  Over the next 1.5mi I don't think he put more than 75-100 yards on me and everyone coming the other way that knew me kept saying "you've got it" or "he's right there" or "bring him back" but little do they realize that I've been ahead the whole time until just now and the bridge just wasn't in the cards at that point. I watched him turn into the finish and shortly thereafter made the turn myself, crossing the finish line 30s behind Patrick and in a hair over 4:10.

Full results can be found here

I am very pleased with this race.  The swim was quite difficult as was the bike and the run was a big mental and physical test.  I've never been pushed in a run like that (i.e. where I felt like I was really RACING) and, while it was a bit short, have never run that fast.  The run was, more realistically, a 1:19 and some change but that's still a big bump over what I've been capable of in the past.  I think, with a faster swim and faster bike (and therefore less time out on the course) I have a sub 6min pace half-ironman run in me.  Only time will tell! It was great to have a guy like PW there to push me to my limits and hopefully I was able to push him to some of his.

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