Monday, October 08, 2007

2007 Health First Oly Tri

So race day weather turned out to be pretty much as bad as expected. 82 degrees at the start with humidity making it feel like near 90. Light rain as my swim wave went off turning into a good downpour during the second half of my bike segment but letting up during the run. Winds 14-17mph with gusts up to 23 mph, making the water quite rough for a non-wetsuit swim and the bike course more challenging. The only good thing weather-wise was that the thick rain clouds kept the sun from heating things up even more.

But what frustrated me most was not the weather or the water conditions. It was the lack of buoys to mark the swim course. There were four, the same number as the previous year, but the second one was only ~50 yards from the first one (just for the sprint tri swimmers to go around) so we were swimming nearly 1/2 a mile in heavy chop and waves to get to the third outermost one which was only 2-3 feet high lying on its side. It was ridiculous. Swimmers were spread out as far as I could see to the right and left of me. Who should I follow?

So I spent much time looking for the third buoy myself. After a while, I noticed a flashing beacon in the distance to my right. I searched my mind to figure out what it might mean. There was no mention of a beacon during the swim course briefing and it wasn't there when I was looking at the swim course earlier. Maybe it's some boat out in the water warning us of its presence and to stay clear? Maybe it's the replacement for the swim buoy that has floated away? Is anyone swimming towards it?

Well, unfortunately, there weren't any course support personnel near me to ask and swimmers in front of me did not appear to be changing course so I continued to swim in a direction that would take me 75-100 yards to the left of it. But as I got closer to it, I saw that the beacon was on a small boat and bobbing nearby it was the elusive third orange buoy (so maybe it had gotten loose or the race folks had sent the boat out because people were missing the buoy). Well, whatever, it was going to be a hard fight to get to it, against the wind and waves.

Once I finally managed to get around it, sighting on the way back turned out to be nearly as difficult. We were told to use the end of a pier near the swim start/exit which was, again, something like 700 yards away. There was supposed to another orange buoy near the pier's end to help guide us -- yeah, right. Even the tall palm trees that I'd planned to use as a landmark to get back were not visible from that distance (I should have chosen a big fat tall building instead of skinny palm trees!). So I just kept swimming as parallel to shore as possible until I could finally make out the right pier and the fourth buoy. There were actually a couple piers out there and I saw a jet ski go by to tell one swimmer she was headed to the wrong one. My final swim time was a disappointing 54:01.

But there were guys wearing green caps from the previous wave running alongside me to T1 and other bikes, including one next to mine, were still there!! So my disappointment turned into a big smile as I donned my new aero bike helmet and took off like a rocket. Yeah, it was windy and pouring rain during parts of it but I'd ridden in both before. Besides, it was mostly a crosswind, only a full-on headwind going up and over the causeways heading east. Rain was not much of a concern to me unless cornering or going over slippery surfaces.

Like the steel grating on a bridge around mile 15. Unfortunately, a couple of cyclists ahead of me had slipped and fallen there (OUCH!!!) but were now kindly warning folks to ride on the other side of the bridge against traffic, which was paved. Dave was riding around the course taking photos of me and later told me they were taken off the course in an ambulance :-(

The last causeway heading west back over to the transition area was probably the steepest one on the course but the wind was helping. I slowed way down coming down and into the final turn because folks were warning us that it was very slippery. I managed to stay upright through it but fell over at the dismount point just as I'd unclipped and swung my leg over my bike -- Oops, my legs were a little wobbly after that hard ride but no harm done. Bike time 1:23:25 and the mileage turned out to be about 27 miles, not 40K (24.9 mi) as originally thought.

OK, so maybe I did push a little too hard on the bike, but how could I expect my legs to run fast if I'd not done any hard brick (bike-run) workouts? So I plodded along trying to get the lead out and finally loosened up around mile three, just in time for the big climb up and over the causeway I'd just biked over, but this time straight into the wind. It was tough and a lot of folks were walking up it, but in a few minutes it was over and I was headed downhill (wee!). I rounded the turn at the end of the causeway, went back up and over it at a much faster pace and came home strong. Run time: 52:52, an 8:31 min/mile avg pace, not as bad as I thought considering how slow I thought I was going initially.

At the finish I got a medal (don't think I got one last year, maybe they ran out?). All participants also received a nice embroidered running cap at packet p/u, which I will gladly wear, unlike most cotton t-shirts.

Thoughts on the swim:

Last year, I was the very last oly triathlete to finish the swim, which was in calm conditions. This year, 19 people (~9% of the field) swam slower than me, and half of them had swim times over an hour. Two other women in my AG did the race last year also and they swam 12 and 19 minutes slower this year. I swam only 7 minutes slower, which could be interpreted as saying that I swam better (5-12 minutes faster) this year, relatively speaking.


MarathonChris said...

Great job!!! Congrats on hanging in there and doing so well on the bike and run. I wonder if the helmet bought you a minute or two??

Petraruns said...

A great achievement Shirley Perly - you did everything YOU could do to go as fast as possible. How did the swimming feel apart from the terrible situation with the buoys? Did you feel more efficient? And don't you just look fabulous by the way!

Wendy said...

Excellent work out there Shirley!

ShirleyPerly said...

Chris, I think you may be right. Psychologically, that helmet really made me feel fast and so it probably transferred to the legs.

Petra, yes, I did feel much stronger and more efficient during the swim this year. In fact, when I knew where I was going I seemed to get there quite fast. I think I just need to get more comfortable with letting go of having to know where I'm headed all the time and just swim until it hopefully becomes apparent, which should come with more open water swim exp.

Brent Buckner said...

Great pics!

After Florida 70.3 this year I did the same sort of calculations about the swim - we really do have to try to calibrate respective of that course on that day.

Rural Girl said...

The lack of swim buoys is really irritating. If it would seem that 5 would be plenty, then they should put in 10. I always have trouble sighting.

BTW, nice helmet. How much time do you think you gained with it?

Iron Eric said...

Way to go. The pictures are awesome!!

ShirleyPerly said...

Thanks Wen, Brent, RG & Eric.

In regards to the helmet, I didn't race that bike segment last year so I don't have any hard evidence to compare times. But my husband (who's a bike geek) thinks that based on pure aerodynamics alone, the helmet would have given me a 0:30-1:00 advantage over that distance, esp. since much of the wind on the bike course was a crosswind as opposed to a headwind. However, the mental boost it gave me was huge, particularly because my ride is pretty average (no disc wheels, no carbon frame, curved aerobars as opposed to straight ones, etc), I'm strong on the bike but it's not usually my best sport, and I rode much of the course without the benefit of faster riders near me to try to keep pace with (most of them were far ahead of me because they swam much faster). We think I probably rode 3-4 minutes faster (say, ~1 mph faster avg pace) because of the helmet.

CewTwo said...

Great pictures! Great report! I look so forward to yout reports.

It sounds like you not only competed well, but had a lot of fun doing it!