Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Woodstock of Triathlon

Recently, my race experiences have not been so great. However, my latest race experience involved minimal travel. This time, all I had to do was load up my equipment in my SUV and drive an hour and a half down the road to Oklahoma City. I didn’t have to pay exorbitant fees for the airlines to lose my bike and the stress level was much lower.

Redman is a fantastic race located in America’s heartland. The folks in Oklahoma City have gone all out to produce a high quality event and the race has grown in participation every year. This year, Redman was hosting the USAT Long Course National Championship that would be run concurrently with the Redman iron distance event.

The weather forecast for the morning of the race was excellent. It had rained every morning for the past week, but for the day of the race, the forecast was for a 20% chance of showers. That meant that there was an 80% chance that it wouldn’t rain. My bike was spotlessly clean, and the chain was lubed. A clean bike is a clear mind. I pictured myself racing on a bright and sunny windless day.

When I arrived the morning of the race, I was forced to park a mile away. This was another sign that this race has grown. Every year I get pushed further away.

The energy in the transition was high. I was just putting the finishing touches on my transition setup when they called for us to clear the transition area. It was still dark and the race was about to start. Moments later, there was a huge deluge. The sky opened up and it started to pour. I saw lightning in the distance. So much for the weather forecast and my image of a bright and sunny day.

The rain was persistent and the transition area soon started to flood. Items that were neatly set out by athletes moments before in the transition area, began to be washed away. Helmets filled with water if they were placed open. It was also unusually chilly. I was happy to have my long sleeved Xterra Vendetta on. It provided a warm neoprene insulation converting my 5% body fat to 15%.

The race start was delayed, so I found shelter in one of the Ironman transition tents. The race director happened to be there on his phone. I overhead what was going on. Apparently, with all the recent rains, the ground was so saturated and the roads were flash flooding. There was talk of canceling the bike segment because a portion of the course was knee deep underwater and mud was flowing out onto the road. I felt for the folks who had prepared months for the Ironman and had traveled a long distances for this evert. A cancelation would be devastating to them. The race director joked on the P.A. system that the were considering changing the event to a swim run swim. I don’t think these folks got the joke.

After an hour delay, the race director and staff decided to continue with the race. The only stipulation was that we were required to dismount our bikes on a segment which was underwater, 6 miles out, and walk or run through it. I felt this was a gutsy call by the event staff and the decision won many praises from the athletes who traveled here to race.

The Ironman heat started first, followed by the under 40 half iron, then the over 40 men (my heat). I am in fairly good swimming shape, so it only took about 50 meters to clear the field. Once I caught the bulk of the under 40 group and as I moved through the field, I found it noteworthy to observe the swimming skill and the stroke technique of those that I passed. The swimmers at the rear or middle of the field appeared to be kicking and trashing wildly while those who were swimming closer to the front end of the field had strokes which were smoother and kicking was more streamlined. It was just a random thought I had as I made my way through the packs. I can tell that I’m going to have a good swim time when I’ve caught up to some smooth swimmers. In this case those that were going to get out in 27 minutes. I exited the water in 24:30.

One of my spotters told me I had moved into 15th overall and was 4 minutes back. So with their 3 minute head start, I was only one minute back and was actually third overall behind Tim Hola and Willy Pickhart. I wish I could have started with those guys, maybe I could have been towed to a faster time and had cleaner water.

The rain was coming down hard, but it felt good. I stayed cool. I prefer to ride the trainer on days like this, It’s just too much of a hassle to clean my bike afterwards. I was cringing as I rode through the mud puddles. My bearings, my cables, the future corrosion. Ugh!

At 6 miles I hit the underwater section. I dismounted, as instructed, and ran through it. I had to carry my bike on my shoulder, cyclocross style, because the water was knee deep. This is the first time I have had to do this in a race. It was memorable moment. I wish the race photographers were out there taking photos of this section. I would have bought that one for sure.

Despite the wet roads, I was able to maintain my race wattage. There were very few turns on this course but the of the turns that were there, I took them very easy. I’m sure everyone else did too, because I didn’t see anyone with road rash after the race.

The race for the overall top finish soon faded away from me, as young guys were just killing it and flying by me on the bike. I lost concentration after the turnaround as I began to watch the folks on the other side of the road going the opposite way and randomly wondered to myself if the Spiuk aero helmet which I was wearing was actually making any difference in my overall time as I puttered along. At least it looks fast.

As a daydreamed about aerodynamics, a guy with a 45 on his calf came buy me at around 42 miles. Luckily, he wasn’t wearing compression socks so I could see that he was in my age group. This woke me up. I can’t let an old guy in my age group ride away from me. I stayed 4 or 5 bike lengths back like glue for the remainder of the ride then passed him in transition. My bike time was 2:32...Not bad for the water, rough chip and seal roads, loss of concentration, and the overall conditions. It must have been the helmet.

We headed out on the run together. This guy was killing it, and he was killing me. We went through one mile at 6:20. This old guy didn’t need a gimmick like compression socks to run fast. His pace was so fast I felt that there was no way I could hang with it and not explode, so I let him go. Turns out this guy’s name was Robert Schloegel from Kansas City, he is a top athlete in my age group and consistently runs low 1:20‘s in half iron events. He has also gone 9:15 in Kona. No wonder I couldn’t hang. He is world class and out of my league. I visited with him after the race. He was nice guy and a doctor too. He used this race as a tune up for Kona.

The run course was flooded more than the bike, and the rain kept coming down. At first, I attempted to run around the puddles to keep my socks dry but eventually I found this useless, so I just ended up splashing through the puddles and mud like everyone else.

Tim Hola won the event in the time of 3:59. He looked so comfortable and smooth. Robert ended running himself into 4th overall and went 4:22. That’s what a 1:22 run will do for you as a 45 year old at the amateur level. The running at this event was stellar. There were some very fast times. Maybe the cool rain helped those who otherwise would have blown up in the heat and humidity that is usually the norm for Oklahoma at this time of year.

I ended up struggling to a 4:30.22 holding off some charging younger guys with a 1:30 run split. Nothing spectacular, but it’s something I am always striving to improve on. My time put me 15th overall in the National Championship, so as a 47 year old, I can’t complain too much. I was hoping to go under 4:30. Maybe compression socks would have got me that extra 23 seconds. Another helmet? Nah..I think I’ll just hit the track.

I’m really learning to love this distance. It’s long enough that I don’t need a tremendous amount of power and speed to be competitive. It’s also short enough that I only have to train 10 to 12 hours a week and unlike, Ironman training, still be competitive, work more than full time, and maintain a life without totally pissing off my wife and alienating my kids.

This race qualified me to participate in the ITU Long Course World Championships in Immenstadt, Germany next summer. How cool is that. I think the distances are 3K/80K/ 20K. I like that combo even better than 70.3 distance. It puts more weight on the swim. My goals are set for next year.

Following this race, the venue was completely flooded and muddy. Some folks were walking around with bare feet covered in mud. When I returned to claim my bike it was covered in mud as well. It was painful to look at. Doug Kopp, a writer for Runner Triathlete News called the race the “Woodstock of Triathlon”. I had to laugh. It sure was.

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