May 31, 2010
For those not in the know, this is 4 races in 3 days and totals just slightly more than the ironman distance. Many folks use it as a training weekend for their ironman race this summer. Some are racing in the team division, but like most, I'm doing the solo version.
It all starts late Friday afternoon with the prologue super sprint: 250 metre swim, 5 mile bike, 1 mile run. Saturday consists of an olympic distance race (1500 metre swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run) in the morning followed by another olympic distance race in mid-afternoon. The twist for this third race is that the bike is first, followed by the swim, and ending with the run. Then Sunday tops it all off with a half-ironman race: 2 km swim, 90 km bike, 21.1 km run. The bike courses are notorious for the hills, hills, and more hills.
Lady luck smiled on me the previous day as I managed to snag a room at the sold out lodge at the race site when a team pulled out of the event at the last moment. Since I had only entered the race a month earlier, the closest hotel I could find was 40 minutes away but I was able to cancel my reservation without penalty. Now I could just ride my bike to each race. Sweet.
I was using the races as a training weekend toward my 2 major goals: Gay Games olympic triathlon in Cologne on August 1st and Ironman Louisville 4 weeks later. As such, the Triple T races were to finish off a training block and to be followed by some very easy -- and well deserved -- recovery days. So the day before I drove down I had a hard training day on the hottest day so far this year in my 'hood: 45 minute swim, 5:45 bike + 30 min run = 7 hours. Waking up at 3 am to drive after that is friggin' difficult, I tell ya.
Having spent 10 hours driving to the race site in Shawnee State Park in southern Ohio (which included a frantic hour in Columbus locating a triathlon store and buying a wetsuit because 3 hours into the drive I realized I forgot to pack the one I had -- duh!) I pulled into a parking spot at the lodge as other athletes milled about.
As I get out of my car I asked the guy in the next parking spot where the front desk was located, as he turned to answer me I recognized him: Alain, my nemesissy from the Outgames last summer in Denmark (where he crushed me in the cycling time trial race in spite of crashing, but I gained revenge by whipping his ass in the triathlon). He was racing in the team division with his buddy Mark and they registered their team name as "Canadian Fags" -- so appropo and ballsy in the homophobic bible belt. Mark would break a toe in race #2 but that didn't seem to slow him down much -- he finished the rest of the tough and challenging weekend.
Then lady luck frowned at me. As I settled into my room and started to prep for the prologue race I started to feel sick. The sick feeling reminded me of when I get too little sleep and since I had 2 nights in a row of short sleep, I figured I just needed a good night's snooze. By the time the race started I was feeling pretty crappy. My original intention was to make this race as easy as possible -- I was going to go slow and not stress my body. I was not "racing" and didn't care how many people passed me. During the race I actually felt ok but within minutes of finishing the sick feeling returned. After inhaling some food and my meds I was in bed by 7 pm and sleeping shortly thereafter.
I woke up shortly before 6 am feeling worse. I managed to force down a couple of bites of food with my meds but puked most of it all up a few minutes later when I was brushing my teeth. Once in the transition and set up, I laid down beside my bike and debated whether or not I should start the race.
The debate went like this: I drove 10 hours for these races. Yeah, but I was so sick for 5 weeks in the spring I couldn't train, I don't want to get that sick again. But this doesn't feel like the same type of sickness as before, so if I take it real easy during the race I'll be okay. This is only a training weekend, it doesn't matter in the larger picture, being healthy 2 months from now is what matters. Go back to your room. But I paid a $250 entry fee, I don't want to waste it. Nor do I want to pass out and end up in the hospital. This is why I bought travel health insurance. Racing while I'm sick will only make me sicker. Suck it up, Buttercup.
I wandered down to the start line. As competitors lined up on the beach chatting and excited to get started, I lay atop a picnic table as the debate raged on in my head. Finally I dragged my ass down to the beach and pulled a friend aside and asked her if she was cool with me referring paramedics to her should things go from bad to worse for me. I was feeling that rough. But here's the strange thing: within moments of starting to swim I felt okay. So I continued on very easily, constantly reminding myself to hold back, slow down, stay relaxed.
I felt dizzy when I stood up after the first loop of the swim and again at the finish and bounced off the railing on the way to my bike but otherwise was feeling much better than before I started. The hills on the bike course made keeping my effort low a bit of a challenge but I managed to consume some calories and fluids. The run course was also hilly and there is just no 2 ways about it -- running up hills requires effort, but I kept plodding along at what I was calling a jogging pace and finished race #2 feeling pretty good. Once back in my room I laid down for a nap and felt mildly sickish with alternating cold and hot periods. I was definitely fighting some sort of bug but overall was doing better, but not great.
I had another lie down in transition waiting for race #3 to start and gave myself permission to quit if I started to feel worse during the race. But again, as soon as I started I felt better. I took it very easy on the bike -- well as much as one could in spite of the hills -- and then enjoyed swimming very easily -- a number of people had problems with cramping, but I hardly use my legs in the swim so avoided that experience - before heading out onto the tough run course for the second time that day. By the time I got to the turn around on the run, I was feeling good and figured that I must have fought off the bug. While some were walking the hills I just kept trotting along, keeping my effort as low as possible, happy that I was feeling good, that I was over being sick, and looking forward to the next day's long race.
That feeling didn't last long. Within 5 minutes of finishing I was feeling sick again and soon worse than before. Damn. I went back to my room and curled up under the bed covers. When Alain and Mark came to fetch me for dinner I said I could only manage to make it the lodge's restaurant, I was not up to driving 30 minutes to eat in town. Luckily the lodge was serving all you could eat pasta, so we headed down for some spaghetti and fettuccini, but I had to leave abruptly - I was afraid I was gonna puke right there in the restaurant. Not so appetizing for the other diners.
By this time I realized that doing a half ironman on a hilly course the next morning was probably not going to happen. Even the prospect of driving for 10 hours seemed daunting. As I drifted off to sleep I hoped that I would feel good in the morning, but I was not counting on it. I could hear my doctor's voice from my last appointment echoing in my head, "you know that your heavy training negatively impacts your immune system?"
Come morning I was still feeling sick, so wisely packed my stuff and headed home. Disappointed that I didn't finish what I started but content that I had made the right decisions along the way. Pleased that I had done 3 of the races in a very controlled fashion. I'm also happy with how my placing improved with each race. Of the almost 400 competitors, I had the 264th fastest time in the first race, the 206th fastest in the second race, and the 112th fastest in the third race. Not bad considering how sick I was and how much I was holding back.
Special shout out to my gal pal Linnea and her bf Glenn who are racing Ironman Brazil this weekend. Linnea is a major contender for the win in her age group, tough as nails, and very consistent no matter how difficult conditions get. Go get 'em girl!