10.05.2008

2008 U.S. Open Triathlon Dallas

SWIM 800 METERS - BIKE 40 KILOMETERS - RUN 5 KILOMETERS

I was so excited leading up to this race. It not only hosted a much larger field of competitors than my two previous triathlons, but also it saw many professional and elite amateur athletes as well. The setup and registration for the race was far more extensive than I was used to. All participants were required to attend a pre-race briefing at the Hilton Anatole hotel. This was a thirty minute meeting in which we went over rules, course map and tips for success. This was also the only opportunity to pick up my race packet. After the briefing, I had to drive to the swim start to check my bike into transition (the day before the race).This would be my first point-to-point triathlon, meaning that you start in one place and end in another very far away. I was accustomed to starting and finishing in the same area. With my bike checked into transition, I surveyed Joe Pool Lake - the location of the swim course. I was competing in the Sprint distance, but there was also an Olympic distance option. From my perspective, the buoys outlining the Sprint course seemed to stretch on forever. I could not imagine completing the Olympic swim. That frustrates me so much because the swim is the thing holding me back from competing in Olympic distance or greater. I just can't swim.

My alarm went off at 3:45 AM this morning - race day. Last night I spent hours getting myself pumped up watching videos (such as this one) and playing music. Once I was up, I picked up where I had left off, watching the same video and playing music - I was ready to race. I gathered my belongings. Thankfully, I did not have too much since I had dropped off much of my things the previous day when I checked my bike into transition #1. In my race packet, I was given a pack of Accel Gel. Up until this morning, I had never tried "goo" before. The thought of it grossed me out. For whatever reason, I gave it a shot...and then wished I hadn't. With that tasty pick-me-up, I left my apartment and headed to transition #2 to place my run equipment: sneakers. I just recently picked up a pair of Saucony ProGrid Omni 7 Moderate shoes, and I love them. This was the first time I bought shoes based upon fit for my foot type as opposed to aesthetics - what a difference! After I placed my shoes, I, along with the rest of the field, boarded a bus and began the 30-minute ride back to Joe Pool Lake.

Once back at transition #1, I checked to make sure my belongings were still there (it was windy yesterday). Then I took my bike over to get some last minute air in the tires. After pacing around a bit, I began my warm-up. I jogged for 15-20 minutes through the darkened streets of Cedar Hill State Park and then stretched for another 15-20 minutes. The air was cool, but I was hot and ready to race. At 7:15 AM, everyone had to leave transition and line up for the race. It was a staggered start broken down by professionals, age group and distance. My distance and age group put me closer to the back, so I was standing for 45 minutes until it was my turn to race. It felt like all of the warm-up running and stretching I did was negated by the lengthy wait in the cool air. However, it was exciting to watch the professionals complete their 1500 meter swim. They appeared to just tear threw the water. I was in awe of their ability. Finally, it was my turn to go. I lined up with three other guys and, like my previous triathlons, I was the only one to run full speed into the water. Below is the course map.SWIM: 800 meters
Prior to entering the water, I expected it to feel cold. Many other participants were wearing wetsuits given the water temperature was 74 degrees. However, not for one second do I recall thinking about or experiencing temperature once I actully dove into Joe Pool Lake. Now, yesterday was my first practice with Dallas Aquatic Masters. I enrolled in their Swim Basics Freestyle Clinic to improve/gain proper swimming technique. I had wanted to enroll in the September clinic so that I would have eight swimming practices under my belt prior to race day, but the class was full. Thus, I was rolled over into the October class. But thankfully I had that one class. When the coaches learned I was competing in a triathlon the following day, they were very attentive and supportive, clearly desiring that I survive the swim leg of the race. So, yesterday I learned some basic breathing techniques and got a few laps of freestyle in. Certainly not much, but better than my preparation for my prior two triathlons. Thus, when I entered Joe Pool Lake I actually began to swim freestyle and I never resorted to the "doggie paddle." Unfortunately, there was no way I could maintain a continous freestyle stroke. Soon I found myself switching back and forth from freestyle to the "back frog" as I call it. When attempting freestyle, I had an impossible time "sighting" - the act of popping my head up to see the buoys and ensure I was following the right line. Whenever I did so, I inevitably swallowed a mouth full of lake water. When on my back, I couldn't see where I was going. I must have swam at least 1000 meters because of my zig-zag course. After the turnaround, I was swimming into the sun on the way back. Because it was early, the sun was low in the sky. The light reflecting off of the water caused a blinding glare against my goggles. I literally could not see where I was going. It felt as though everyone was passing me. Bodies - arms and legs - were slamming into me on a regular basis. While on my back, I nearly swam directly into a jetty. I was following others to my sides, wrongfully assuming they were traveling in the proper direction. When finally back to the boat ramp, I was thrilled to be out of the water. The 25 minutes I spent attempting to swim felt like a day.

TRANSITION #1
As soon as I exited the water, a burning sensation shot through my arms and lats. Once again, my unnatural and irregular swimming stroke not only cost me time, but energy. I attempted to run to my bike, but my legs just wouldn't move like I wanted them to. I struggled for a minute trying to pull my tank on over my head. It curled up on my back and the wetness did not help. Eventually, I was geared up and ready to hit the bike course.

BIKE: 40 kilometers
The first few miles of the bike course were through the hills and tight turns of Cedar Hill State Park. It was a constant up and down followed by a hard right or hard left. As soon as I exited the park and entered the main road, a huge gusty headwind drilled me. I was pedalling all out and could not exceed 15 mph. Looking ahead, I could see all those in front of me were also struggling to fight their way into this wind. I found that I was able to push through better than those around me. Not before long, the bike course took a turn and the wind was no longer a factor for the time being. The turn took us into a very steep hill, but I loved that. I found that I excelled on the climbs, whether by bike or foot. Despite the intense gradient, I powered through and overtook more of my competitors. However, something was different on the straight aways and downhill slopes. Despite the fact that I would be pedalling as hard as I could with my road bike in its highest gear, I could not nearly match the speed of those on triathlon bikes. People seemed to cruise by me on the straight stretches with ease, obviously pedalling at a far lower cadence than I was. I just don't see how my bike could have possibly gone faster than I was at the time. My speedometer read about 30 mph. I knew I had more strength and stamina in me, but it felt as though my bike was limiting me. My mind harkened back to my first triathlon when I rode a nine year old's mountain bike and everyone was just flying right by me. Frustrated as I was, I pressed onward. At about mile 12, my butt started to hurt. By mile 17, it was killing me. It felt as though my glutes cramped up, and I was in agony. It made it so difficult to pedal. For some reason, it bothered me a lot more on the downhill stretches. The last 5 miles were an absolute mind vs. spirit battle to push on despite the ever-increasing pain in my hind quarters. Perhaps my lack of bike preparation was coming back to haunt me.

TRANSITION #2
My legs were wobbly when I hopped off of my bike, but the sensation was different than I had recalled. This time, the discomfort was centered largely in my glutes. The cramp in my glutes I experienced on the bike persisted well into the run.

RUN: 5 kilometers
My pace was slow. I knew it was, and I was furious about it. I wanted my legs to move, but they just wouldn't. My stride was unnatural. As I rounded the American Airlines center, I passed by the food tent and finish line. I looked up and I saw a guy with a medal around his neck holding a plate of food. He looked at me and said, "Keep going! It feels so good to finish!" His words sparked something in me and I quickened my pace. Once on the Katy Trail, the absolute worst cramp of my life set in. It hit me in my lower right side, just above the waist. The pain caused my upper body to lean forward. For some reason, I could not stand upright. I could not believe how much this cramp hurt. My pace slowed so much that I came to a walk. A guy that I had passed earlier came upon me, and when he saw me falling into a walk, he said, "Come on. We're almost there." Again, at the sound of his words, my legs began to move again. I maintained a slow but steady pace. Once the finish line entered my sight, I prayed to God and turned it on. Much of my strength seemed to return to me. I broke into a sprint and was passing people for the first time in a while. With 100 yards to go, I could see three guys well in front of me. I instantly made it my mission to overtake each of them before the finish line. I passed the third guy in the last five feet and dropped my hands to my knees, so thankful for rest.

SUMMARY
It was an awesome experience to participate in a triathlon with such prestige and so many athletes. My journey from start to finish was harder than I had anticipated. I expected the swim to be about survival, but the bike and the run ended up being a greater challenge than I would have guessed. Clearly, I have no swimming technique. I really hope the clinic with the Dallas Aquatic Masters proves beneficial. Also clear is the fact that I need to develop a triathlon-specific training program. I need to log many hours on the bike to develop those bike muscles and to adapt my hind quarters to the strain of sitting in the saddle for so long. On top of that, I need to practice the transition from bike to run. That always seems to be hardest part of the race, so I need to be prepared for that sensation, fully able to overcome it.

After my race, I spoke to a guy who works for the bike company Orbea. I had never heard of the company prior to today. Once I had finished and got some water and a bagel, I made my way through the vendor tents. I stopped at Orbea when I saw this beautiful black carbon fiber tri bike on display. It was the most beautiful bike I had ever seen. Later I learned that the winner of the US Open Triathlon rode that very bike - the Obrea Ordu. I talked with the Orbea rep for a long time, not only about their bikes, but also about triathlons in general. He told me that if I had a triathlon bike as opposed to a road bike, I would easily shave at least seven minutes off of my time. Then he asked if I at least had aero bars on my road bike. When I told him that I did not, he said I should at a minimum invest in a set. I would love to purchase a triathlon bike, but first I have to happen upon a big bag of money. We'll see.

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