Monday, June 28, 2010

Iron Goddess Tri

This weekend, I ran in the Iron Goddess, an all-woman triathlon at Waterloo Recreation Area.

This was not the triathlon I planned to do this weekend. When I was looking over the race calendars this spring, I noticed this tri and the Kensington tri were scheduled for the same weekend, and I signed up for Kensington. Although I love races at Waterloo, the Kensington tri had a longer bike course (good for me), and, in all honesty, the idea of an all-woman tri had no appeal to me. It didn't seem like an empowering concept to me - it seemed actually quite the opposite, as if us delicate women-folk needed to be kept away from the big, scary, (sometimes) faster men on the race course. Or something. Not that I am a cut-throat competitor by any means, but I thought this race would be likely to annoy me.

A few weeks ago, the race company hosting the Kensington tri had to cancel the event due to poor swim conditions at the beach. My money was refunded, but I suddenly was without a tri to do in June, so I decided to sign up for the Iron Goddess. It seemed better than not racing at all this month.

As race day approached, my worries increased that this was going to be a weird event. In the pre-race information e-mail, the race directors reminded participants that even though it was fun to chat with your friend while biking, that riding two abreast is against tri rules, and remember, this is a race after all. I groaned reading this to my husband, wondering if this was going to be a race or a socializing event.

Sunday, we showed up for the race and it was business as usual. Pick up my number and chip, rack my bike and set up my transition area, get my body marked, make sure I am familiar with the flow of the race - where to run/bike in and out, etc. Then head down to the beach for a warm-up swim.

In tris, wetsuits are legal if water temps are below 78 degrees. This morning, the water was 77.9. My wetsuit does make me a faster swimmer, but I was a little concerned about being too warm. After much deliberation, and a taking a short dip, I decided to forego the wetsuit this time.

The race was a bit delayed, but finally we got started and I was to start in the fourth wave. I hit the water strong. My goggles were adjusted perfectly, I was having no problem sighting the buoys, and I was up near the front of the pack, just a bit off from the lead swimmers. As we rounded the first set of buoys, however, one of the kayaks had pulled across the course to stop us. Thunderstorms had entered the county, and the sheriff's department was having the race directors pull everyone out of the water until they passed. The earlier waves had already rounded halfway, so they continued on, but we needed to turn and head back to shore.

During the half-hour delay for the weather to pass, the race directors made the reasonable decision to shorten the swim to 400 meters instead of 800 for the interrupted waves. Some racers were apparently concerned about tiring on the swim since they had already done about half of it. I figured that if you trained appropriately, the extra distance shouldn't take it out of you that bad, but I understand not wanting to mess with safety on the swim. Realizing that people had different goals, the director offered us the option of still doing the full swim if we wanted to. It would be a timing headache for them figuring out placements, etc., but they were willing to offer two different race lengths to try to keep everyone happy. I opted to still swim the full 800, since that is what I came there to do.

So, we filed into the water and took off again. And this time my trusty race goggles immediately filled with water. I tried to adjust them between strokes, but could not get a good seal. Any time I put my face flat into the water, they filled up again. If I kept my head at a slight tilt, they did OK, but having a higher head when you swim makes your legs sink, increases drag, and slows you down. I regretted not wearing my wetsuit, which would have compensated for this somewhat. I made it out of the water feeling strong but frustrated, with a pretty crappy swim time well off my usual pace.

With no wetsuit to wriggle out of, I made it through transition quickly, and was out on the bike. The bike is my strongest event by far and my favorite. There are few things I find as fun as flying along a country road on my tri bike. For me, my race is really largely done on the bike. I try to get as much advantage as I can there, then hope I can run strong enough to hold people off. I decided to lay it all out on the bike course this time, and just see what was left in me for the run.

Came back into transition, switched to my running shoes, and started off on my least favorite part of the tri - the run. The first half was on park roads, and then it ended on trail. I knew if I just stuck it out for the road portion, which I find more difficult mentally, that I always do better once I get on trail. After the bike effort I put in, I expected to be feeling dead on the run, but to my surprise I found myself passing several people. At the trail entrance, I pulled in behind a runner who was going at a good clip. I could keep up with her though, so I decided to stick to her for a while. After a ways, I decided to pull ahead, thinking that having her behind me would push me harder, and perhaps I could pull her along as well.

We kept up that pace together, each motivating each other to keep it up. About a quarter mile from the finish, we started to close in on a woman in my age group. She was holding her distance ahead of us, but at an uphill in the trail, I heard her groan about the climb. Figuring that was a sign that she was near exhaustion and wouldn't be able to challenge me back, I kicked up the pace enough to overtake her on the climb. I pulled ahead then into the finish line chute exhausted but knowing that I had left it all on the race course.

In the end, I was three minutes faster than my goal time, even with the crappy swim. I came in sixth in my age group, with the third fastest bike split and fifth fastest run split in the group, which amazed me. My run time still has me baffled. I don't think I've ever run a straight 5K at that pace, so I'm wondering if the course was measured short. On the other hand, I have been working a lot on my running this year, and I know that I was pushing very hard. It isn't an impossible time, and I hope it is a sign that my run is actually improving.

For all my negativity leading up to the race, I had to admit I had a great time. Interestingly, due to the two separate swim length options, you could no longer tell who you were in direct competition with, since you didn't know which swim they had done. So, you really just had to run your own race, do the best you could, and see how it came out in the end.

It was perhaps an odd tri experience, but nonetheless a fun and rewarding one. I'm glad that I eventually shed my negativity and stereotypes and just enjoyed what was actually a very positive, well-run, and challenging event.

Most Awesome Swim Bouys Ever

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