Monday, September 30, 2013

Carolina Half

S - 11,400 yards
B - 111.6 miles
R - 36.5 miles
Time - 13.3 hours

The real story of the week though, was Setup Events inaugural Carolina Half, the first half-distance triathlon to be held "in" Charlotte.  It seems like everyone was fairly excited about this prospect but this excitement was tempered by the realization that the course was going to be pretty difficult.  As the week went on it became more and more of a certainty that the race was going to be wetsuit legal, the air was going to be a bit chilly and breezy early, and the run was going to get warm and sunny.

Having ridden 90% of the course several weeks ago, I had my own thoughts about what the bike would be like.  Most people seemed to think the bike was going to be very difficult, but I was not sure I agreed.  Yes, there were lots of turns.  Yes, it was fairly hilly.  Yes, it was quite exposed so the wind would be a factor.  I still thought it would roll pretty fast, however.  I was thinking the fastest bike split would be under 2:20; I hoped that it would be my own split but I was ok with whatever came my way on the bike ;)

The run was going to be the difference maker.  This was definitely the most difficult run course of any half-distance triathlon I've done and of the current races in the area.  I was excited for the prospect of a hard run as I knew it would be to my advantage with the way I've been running lately.  Not to toot my own horn, but when you put in the work and you inspire glances like this from Matt Wisthoff himself, you know you're running well (although it didn't matter since I didn't catch him, womp womp!)

Race day approached and given that I was bib #1 I was excited to "live up to it." Derek Kidwell signed up race-week so he became the main competition as prior to that I was fairly sure that nobody on the participant list would be too much of a challenge.  If Kenneth had been healthy most of the year I have no doubt his race would've gone very differently...given that he hasn't raced at all this year a 4:33 on that course is pretty dang impressive!

Despite waking up with more than enough time, the logistics of the point to point race (two different transition locations) meant that the morning was rushed.  Jenny and I had very little time to spare but they ended up starting the race a little late to accommodate the people on the last shuttle.  I was really excited that they decided to make the race a beach start as I absolutely love beach starts.  Running into the water is an art.  there is no graceful way to do it so the timing is incredibly important... Unfortunately not many others shared my enthusiasm...and looked at me funny when I practiced it before the start of the race.

Swim 1.2mi - 27:17 (5th)

The swim started off and it quickly became obvious that the front of the swim would be Derek and Jenny.  John Shilt was also in the mix for the first 200 meters or so but he fell back pretty quickly.  Jenny on the left, Derek in the middle and me on the right.  Jenny relatively quickly got to the front and before the first turn buoy Derek moved over and got on her feet.  This, plus the marked increase in his pace, meant that a gap formed.  Unfortunately I could not close down this gap.  I was a little mad at myself this entire swim.  Whether it was a combination of wearing a wetsuit, which I don't really like, tired arms, or just a big dose of being a wuss I let the swim happen in front of me.  At nearly every race this year that he and I have done together I've had little to no trouble sitting on Derek's feet.  But (I can only assume) since he chose to hop onto Jenny's feet it meant they both broke me a little bit early on in the race.

After the first turn, sighting was a little difficult.  Having the sight buoys be the same color as the turn buoys made finding the right buoy a little frustrating.  I meandered along by myself, slowly losing ground to the pair in front of me. As I got closer to the second buoy I realized that Jenny had popped Derek and there was clear separation between the two.  This made me feel a little better and as I rounded the second and final turn I told myself that I had plenty of time to make up the gap.  The way back in towards the run-out was a little weird as I felt as though I was getting pushed.  I cannot remember which direction but I felt like I was "fighting" a bit the last several hundred meters.  I exited the swim and removed the top half of my wetsuit before crossing the timing mat.

T1 - 2:49 (5th)

I stopped before getting to the grass to remove the rest of my wetsuit as the run to T1 was very long and slightly uphill.  I was not particularly smooth about it so that plus the laborious run meant that as I got to my bike I was fairly out of breath.  Everything was smooth there, however, and I hopped on my bike for 56mi of fun.

Bike 56mi - 2:21:46 (1st)

I headed out on the bike knowing that the race was in front of me.  I had a goal watt range for this race similar to Williamsburg but from the start two things were immediately apparent:

1) My legs had little to no desire to meet those watt goals
2) My handlebars were crooked and pointed to the left while the wheel was straight. Very annoying. Didn't affect anything, but very, very annoying.

That being said, I couldn't really do anything about it so continued on my merry way.  I caught Jenny after about 10 minutes and remarked to her on how it was going to be a pretty lonely day out on the course.  I am not sure she heard me as she did not laugh at my obviously hilarious comment nor did she expound on my supreme motivational skills so I continued onwards.  After a little while longer I looked back and saw someone closer than I expected.  Or rather, in my head I thought Jenny was catching back up to me.  I knew I didn't feel great but that very much surprised me.  I looked back again after a little more time and this person had closed down the gap completely! They looked a little tall to be Jenny so when Kenneth came rolling past me at about 20-25' into the ride saying "ICE, ICE BABY" I laughed a little at myself.  Kenneth and I went back and forth for a little while and we caught sight of Derek about 1/3 of the way into the ride.  I kept holding decent watts and taking down liquid fuel and after about an hour caught up to Derek.  It was almost at the exact moment where we made a right hand turn and saw, among others, these three hooligans cheering incredibly loudly and obnoxiously while the police officers looked on helplessly:

This was a nice little boost mentally but unfortunately did nothing to help out my tired legs.

Given the way I felt I was content to just sit on Derek's pace as Kenneth had floated backwards a little bit after about 1-1.25hrs into the bike.  I figured that nobody else behind us was going to close down the gap so I hoped to either:

a) feel better and be able to raise my watts
b) roll into T2 not being overly tired

Well the bike continued onwards and "A" never came to pass so I banked on "B" and continued semi-contentedly. Derek rolled the hills pretty hard which raised my effort level a lot but then sometimes on flats and downhills I had to brake and/or coast to stay a legal distance behind him. I think his knowledge of some of the course and its corners definitely helped a lot and given that I had ridden these roads many a time over the past couple of years it helped me also.

At one point in the last 5-7 miles I got close enough to Derek that I felt as though I needed to pass him just so I wouldn't be susceptible to a drafting penalty (even though I saw a motorcycle one time for only about 5s...) and I knew Derek would stay behind me the rest of the way and we consequently rolled into T2 one right after the other.

T2 - :52 (8th)

I did not rush my T2 and it showed, as Derek made it out onto the run course about 100 yards ahead of me.

Run 13.1 - 1:23:33 (2nd)

As I ran out of T2 I realized that I did not have my gel flask with me so I turned around and rooted around in my transition bag to find it.  I was luckily racked all the way against the fence so I could just reach over and grab it versus having to run all the way back into transition (and likely causing a timing chip malfunction for the race results!).  But I knew I needed that flask and it was worth the time penalty to get it, no question.

Derek had a 15-20s lead on me but as I started running the turnover felt relaxed and easy and breathing was mostly in control so I just set out comfortably and figured I'd wait and see what would happen.  The first mile is rolling with some climbing and descending around the park before coming back up to transition and heading out on the out and back section of the course.  It did not take all that long to catch up to Derek who must've gone through the first mile in 6:10ish and just before getting on Bailey School Rd I was up on his shoulder and could tell his breathing was fairly labored.  I felt relaxed and had no need to put on the hard pass so I just continued on and slowly went by and subsequently heard him matching my pace.  On the downhill leading into the cheering section I believe I left him behind a little bit and carried onwards feeling confident the race was now mine.

My first three miles were pretty consistent, with a 6:0X for each one through the rollers but miles 3-4 brought with it the climb up Patrick Johnston Rd (or whatever it's called) and my pace consequently slowed.  This was a tough uphill and it forced very short but powerful strides and my adductors felt a little queasy as I neared the top.  Luckily this passed quickly but the next 1.5+ miles were all a net uphill to get back to Davidson-Concord road.

I crossed over this and headed down into the parking lot where so many rides and runs began and ended in 2009 and 2010.  I cannot possibly tell you how happy I always was to see that sign into that parking lot at the end of SO many workouts back when I was first learning what it meant to break down.  Luckily we had a brief respite from all the climbing with the short but sharp downhill from the street, around the lot and onto the soccer fields leading into the trails.  The mile or so of groomed trail with crushed gravel leading into the Davidson XC trails was pretty hilly and made the legs hurt a little bit.  Once into the trails proper, however, the shade and twists and turns help keep the boredom at bay and allowed you to kind of focus on the rhythm of the race.  I was trying to remember earlier today what exactly I was thinking about during the run but I honestly can't remember much of the first 10 miles.  I'm not sure whether I "zone out" or just get so "in the zone" that my mind kind of goes blank.  You focus on the little things, like picking the best line, cutting the tangents, not making any weird movements, taking nutrition in, spitting when appropriate, worrying about your hair, etc.  It's partly what I love about long distance racing...the mental blank slate you have and hopefully embrace to disassociate from the pain and suffering you are putting yourself through...

Once I reached the turnaround point at mile 7 I looked at the time so I could get some time-checks on any chasers.  It was almost 2 minutes before I saw Derek and 7 or so before I saw Kenneth so I knew that, barring catastrophe, I was going to win the race (since doubling both meant I was actually 3.5-4 minutes ahead of Derek and 13-15 ahead of Kenneth). I got back out to the parking lot and had what was, other than the cheering section of hooligans, the most memorable part of my race.

There was an aid station on the left and as I grabbed and drank a cup of water I heard a guy say, quite clearly: "Wow, check out that guy's hair!?"  I am not sure whether he said that with respect in his voice and honor in his heart or with shock in both.  I'm going to assume the former and walk away with that one.  I did not know the person and can only assume that he follows Haycraft's Hair on twitter...

At this point there were more people coming the other way and it was great motivation to know so many of them and be able to genuinely say (and mean) "good job," "nice work," "keep it up" to all of them.  Or at least, as many as I could muster the breath for.  Things were normal until I got off the greenway and got back into that neighborhood where the course served up another long, tough climb for the racers.  My adductors felt this much more strongly than before so I slowed my pace so as not to do anything too catastrophic to them.  This was a decent length climb and the downhill afterwards was very welcome, as I knew the only things that stood in my path were a climb up to Bailey School Rd and a gorilla, banana, and clown-in-a-speedo before the finish line.

I finished the last bit of climbing before getting to the flat section and rolling across the finish line as the winner of the first year race (setting a course record by default, woop woop!).  Schwing!

OA - 4:16:20 (1st)

I was very pleased with this result, as it confirmed several things:

1) My hair and a visor do not go together
2) I am in good running shape
3) Even when tired, a good performance can happen if you don't give up on yourself
4) I have basically won the series (I think), so that means a sweet pay-day
5) It was great to race with Derek and Kenneth (on that note...1st, 1st and 3rd aren't bad for 3 racers from ICE Racing, eh?)
6) Podiums need more humor, on that note:

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