Park City Tri

Olympic distance triathlon #2 is in the books.  Executive summary: it went pretty well. Still plenty of room for improvement.

I was nervous as hell about the swim. Summer is late getting to Utah and the water in Jordanelle Reservoir is a balmy 53 degrees. Last time I swam in water that cold my brain’s ass was kicked so hard I could literally not count to three. I spent several days fretting about it and concocting clever plans for dealing with cold water, including swimming in my water shoes for a bit of additional warmth and stuffing handwarmers in my armpits. In the end, though, I changed only two things: I had a warm neoprene swim cap under the flimsy latex one they make you wear; and I actually got in the water before the start and spent five minutes “warming up” (so to speak) so I wouldn’t be dealing with the stress of the mass start at the same time as the shock of the cold.

It went… ok. I had a hard time controlling my breathing right out of the start. My chest felt constricted. I was gasping for air. I had to keep telling myself to slow down, slow down, breathe. I wasn’t sure for a while that there was a degree of “slow” that was slow enough to allow me to breathe and fast enough that I wouldn’t just sink like a stone. But I found it. Eventually. Actually, it can’t have been more than five minutes before I mostly got things under control, but five minutes of walking a razor-edge of panic while dozens of your new best friends swim over and through you is a long five minutes.

But then I found my stride, and to my amazement, there were still fellow competitors near me. Evidently my slowest setting was still quite a bit faster than last year, where I was completely dropped by everyone on the swim leg and did most of the distance alone and lost. Having people to follow helped. A lot. I wasn’t close enough to draft, generally – in fact the whole notion of drafting while swimming is still entirely theoretical to me – but close enough that I didn’t have to worry about being lost. Being able to breathe, knowing where you’re going: that’s the definition of “win” for me in swimming.

Gradually I dropped back from the main pack, and .soon I was seeing the fast women (who started five minutes behind) start to pass me. I kept drifting off to the right – I bet I swam an extra 250 meters going off course. I got a couple of nasty shocks when I ran into floating debris (the rivers are running unbelievably high this year and the reservoir is full of sticks and weed). But still I spent the remainder of the swim pretty sure I wasn’t going to die. Well, except maybe when I swam through a gasoline slick from one of the safety boats. Boo, hydrocarbons!

When I reached land finally (don’t have official swim time yet, but I’m guesstimating 35 minutes based on the scheduled start time and the start of my bike leg, which is pretty respectable for me [1]) I even managed a little jog instead of a dazed stumble. Unlike my last effort, this tri provided wetsuit strippers: two burly high-school kids who would rip the wetsuit from your body if you wanted. I did want, and it was AWESOME. It turned the usual several minute wrestling match that is getting the wetsuit off into literally seconds of being peeled like a banana. Big recommend!

Running essentially naked to the first transition area I became very aware of exactly how cold I was. Which was very. But the ambient temperature was great, probably 60-ish, so I knew that if I could just get on the bike and start moving I’d warm up.

The transition area was depressingly empty – almost everybody had already left for the bike leg. Clydesdales, old ladies, and me were all that were left. I chatted with the old ladies as I automatically moved through the process of getting geared up for the bike. “That was cold!” was about the limit of our wit.

When I stood up from putting on my shoes I nearly fell back down. I could still count, but the swim had still taken a serious mental toll. I had to lean on the rack for a good minute before I found any balance, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stay upright on a bike. I have no idea why I was stupid enough to try anyway, but I did, and blessedly muscle memory was enough to keep the rubber down and the helmet up.

Mercifully the first several miles out of the swim transition are up a pretty stiff climb. Usually this might be grounds for complaint, but under the circumstances the opportunity for warming up was very welcome. I was not exactly at top speed, but I was in fact passing more people than passed me. This was probably due to everybody but the Clydesdales and old ladies being long gone, but hey, it felt kind of like victory. I hit a stretch of downhill after about three miles – I felt like I was hardly moving, but the GPS told me I was doing 40+mph. The brain clearly still wasn’t quite right.

Then it was more uphill grinding baclofen generic. At about mile 8 a guy came flying by me, and from his leg markings I saw he was in my age group. Ah-hah, I thought, he’s trying the old shock-n-awe on me. So I kicked up the effort to stay with him and sure enough, after a minute or so he collapsed back to a much more reasonable pace.

Now I was actually *racing*. Drafting is forbidden in tri so I had to stay a few bike lengths back, but he knew I was there, and I’m pretty sure he read my leg markings too. The game was on. I let him dangle off the front for a few more miles, taking it easy and waiting for him to get dumb and blow himself up. Probably not smart strategy to leave speed in the bag when there were doubtless other contenders far down the road, but hey, this guy tried to blow my doors off. It was personal now.

Alas, mile 12 – flat rear tire. Bugger! I watched my erstwhile victim disappear up the endless climb while I got to the business of changing the tube. A steady parade of Clydesdales and old ladies chugged past me, each one asking if I had all the gear I needed. Nice guys, these triathletes. Before I even had the tire fully off a support car screeched to a halt and a very earnest young man helped me with the change. God bless him, he knew when to stay out of the way and was a significant help. I’d have guessed the whole change took about three minutes, but the GPS reveals it was in fact seven. Guess I’m not getting a job as a pro bike mechanic any time soon.

So back on the bike, grinding up the hill, passing the elderly and decrepit who had offered me help. The summit was not far off and then it was flying back downhill. One more quick climb and then it was downhill with a tailwind all the way into Park City.

As I rode I asked myself, you know what’s better than downhill with a tail wind? It’s a trick question, I answered myself, there’s nothing better than downhill with a tailwind! It was the height of humor. Aah, the ways we amuse ourselves when doing foolish and tedious things.

And so off the bike, and time to run. I dutifully strapped on my shoes, stood up, mentally told the legs to go… and nothing. Nope. The bridge is calling down to the engine room and there’s nobody answering the call. Instead of a glorious lope, a sorry little shuffle ensued.

Oh well, if a sorry shuffle was what I had then by God it was going to take me 10K. Out I set.

The original course was a loop, but they’d announced it had been changed due to flooding. I had no idea what the new course was. It turns out that it was *almost* an out and back, with a very small loop at the end. Unfortunately I surmised it was a simple out and back from the fact that fellow runners were returning opposite me, and I kept waiting for the turnaround. I managed to take the loop unawares and so I was still seeing people running opposite me – they were outbound while I was returning, but I thought they were returning from some still-distant turnaround ahead of me. At about 7K I was starting to get seriously concerned about reaching the turnaround – I didn’t have 14K of running in me. Finally, recognizing a water stop from the outbound leg, I realized what had happened. That buoyed my spirits something fierce, and I was finally able to reel in white-shirt, the guy I’d been chasing (unbeknown to him) since about 3K. Soon enough the end was in sight and I was in pretty good mettle as me and my sorry shuffle crossed the line at 3:11, fifth of seven in my age group. I was well spent.

In the end it turns out I ran 8:45 miles, which is a pretty decent pace for me. It just felt unbearably slow. My judgment was off all day. The first five minutes of the swim was terrible, the run was mostly kind of painful, and the flat tire was darn annoying. But, on the whole, there were more good bits than bad. That’s a significant improvement over last time. Plus that flat tire cost me fourth place, and from there it was only a couple of minutes to third, which is a podium finish…

The next one is gonna *rock*!

[1] update from official results: the swim took me 34:44, third of seven in my age group. How’s that for good guesstimation, and a surprisingly relatively not-sucky swim?

PS: GPS track logs for the terminally bored: bike and run.

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