Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cohasset Triathlon 2013 - race recap

Are you ready for an Ironman length recap for a sprint distance race?! This is my (long) story of the event. I'll do anther post regarding times and standings and my thoughts on all of that.

1/4 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3.2 mile run

Wow. I don't really even know where to start. What an awesome race! I should really say event. It was so much more than just the race day. Bill Burnett, the race director, and his team of volunteers are amazing! Let me start from the beginning...

Back in early December I begged The Husband to register me. I knew it sold out extremely fast and I had to work that day. I said that if he paid for it, that could be my Christmas present. I wouldn't even whine when I didn't have something to open on the day! About 35 minutes after registration opened, I saw an email on my iphone to sign the waiver, which would finalize my spot. Yay! Turns out, the registration site was so swamped, he wasn't even sure it went through. Later I found out that although no records are officially kept by the registration site, it was likely the fastest sprint triathlon sell out ever. I just barely made it through. The Husband also bought me a nifty "I'm in!" Cohasset Tri shirt that they were offering with registration.

Throughout the winter and spring we were kept updated via email or their facebook page. As we got closer to race day, emails were sent almost weekly with 3 in the last week. It was nice to get the Athlete Guide and "goody bag" coupons online. If you do a few races it creates a bit of clutter and I always lose the ones I want to keep. We were also sent a really nice email titled, "Things to Think About." Quite a bit of thought was put into this email including tips to stay calm during the swim. I needed those! It was obvious that every athlete was important and that they have the best experience possible. I emailed Bill about two weeks before the event to ask to be switched to the novice wave (from the general age group). It was a Sunday night and I had a response early Monday morning that I was all set.

There were multiple days of packet pick-up, but there was a special enticement to go to the Saturday date (other than getting to be the first to buy race gear...yay!). Team Hoyt was speaking at the church next to the pick-up location. If you don't know who they are, click on their name above. It will bring you to their "about" page. I couldn't miss that! I arrived to find all kinds of motivational signs posted around the common and some of the cheeriest volunteers I've ever seen. They were so nice and just seemed to love the race. Everyone wanted to know if I had done the race before and wished me luck and to have fun. I picked up my packet, my chip, my race shirt and bought an insulated race logo water bottle and long sleeve pull-over. We had a CHOICE of colors for the free race shirt and I got bright orange!

We stood out on the town common for a bit, watching the little kids play and then headed over to see Team Hoyt. They both spoke, Rick via a computer, and showed a video. It was incredible. The video was about 5 seconds short of me for-real crying it was just so inspirational. I can't do the talk justice, so I won't try. I will say that even as someone who though she knew quite a bit about the team, I was astounded by some of their stories and marathon times (somewhere around a 2:45:00!!!). Check them out below (their story starts about a minute in):

I went back to my parent's house from there and obsessively packed, unpacked, rechecked (repeat times 5) my transition bag (oh holy moly, typing transition bag made my stomach flip!). I was really nervous about the swim. I did a 1/2 mile ocean swim last summer in my first tri. This was only 1/4 mile but the water was far less protected and the forecast was sketchy. I went to bed at about 10:30 knowing I had an early wake up, but also knowing I wouldn't fall asleep right away. It's possible I got called out for being on facebook at 11pm, haha.

At 4:10am I woke up on my own and realized my alarm would go off in 5 minutes. Ugh...so...early. I have been having trouble figuring out what to eat before races, especially triathlons. I can't have anything with a lot of fiber or I get really bad stomach cramps. White bread of some sort seems to work. I get so nervous that everything turns my stomach. I made myself a peanut butter and honey on soft white bread and hoped for the best. I tried having a bagel for my first tri but it was too chewy and I'd end up chewing it forever (hello nervous dry mouth) and then gag when I tried to swallow it. It took me 30 minutes to eat half of it, which is a problem when there's a lot of time between eating and your swim wave. I also do this fun cough-gag thing when I'm trying to eat before races. I never get sick, but I always do it. That morning The Husband just laughed and said, "it's officially race day!" (ha, thanks a lot). I took the rest of my sandwich, a banana and some coffee in the car. By now it was 5am and I expected to swim just before 8. Three hours, for me, is the perfect amount of time to eat a good amount of food and have it be digested enough that I don't get cramps. It's also not so long I get hungry again. I had bad timing in my first tri and it ended up being 4 hours. I actually felt hungry before my swim wave and had to drink some water to feel full. It was pretty annoying, but totally my fault. Timing is definitely something to consider in your own races. So back to the tedious eating details...I'd take a big bite of the sandwich, chew it really fast, take a sip of coffee and swallow all of it together. This somehow worked and I ate almost all of it and a banana. If I had not been able to eat all of it, I probably would have had a Gu gel at about 7 in transition. Also, if my swim wave was later, I'd probably save the banana for about 6:30/7.

We arrived at the parking lot at about 5:45. It was a 1.5 mile walk or bike from there to the race venu. The Husband could have taken the spectator shuttle, but I was nervous. Walking together gave me time to calm down. By a little after 6 we arrived and it was pretty nice out. A little overcast, in the low 70s but a bit windy. Honestly, with the marine forecasts of rough current and head-high waves, I was pretty happy! The water looked flat, although I could tell by the rough texture that there was definitely some current. I also knew the tide had been going out for about 2 hours and that it would cause a pull making the swim back to shore tough. Knowing this probably did more harm than good since it made me nervous. That's what I get for having to look up everything!

Thanks to all the information given out ahead of time, early packet pick-up and great volunteers, getting checked into the transition area was a cinch. I ended up being really lucky with my spot. I was 4 rows from the bike/run out arch. Running with my bike after swimming seemed to be the toughest part and I'd only have to pass 3 racks on my way out. Even the run in after biking wasn't as bad. I also had the spot next to the legs of the stand (more room!) and the two people to my right didn't show up. Sweet! My bike is the smallest men's size in my model and as I suspected, the front tire didn't touch the ground. There it was, just a-swayin' in the wind! I was really nervous it would fall off while I was swimming. I had everything I needed out of my bag, so I propped the tire onto the bag and it worked perfectly. After a few porta-potty runs, I decided to put my wetsuit halfway on. The pre-race meeting was soon and I didn't want to feel rushed. Getting it on is a process and it has to be done right to be able to swim comfortably. Just then my parents arrived, so I went over to say "Hi" to them and then down to the water to get wet. One of the best tips I've been given is to get in the water in your wetsuit and completely submerge yourself. Make sure to get your face and your head wet. Swim a little if you have time and adjust your suit if needed (it will settle a give a bit when wet). Getting your face and head wet kind of primes your nervous system to the cold. It helps diminish some of that panic when you hit the water and reduces that fight or flight reaction.

As I was coming out, the first wave was called to the corral with the elites in front and the novice men right behind. My wave would be next so I nervously made my way up near the chute. We were held for a few minutes and then brought down to line up. Oh my gosh, my stomach was full of butterflies. I decided to move back to the halfway point of our pack and onto the outside. It meant a little more swimming than being on the inside but it also meant that no one would be swimming over me for a better spot. If you are a nervous swimmer or not as strong, many suggest lining up at the very back and taking your time. Most tris wont start the next wave until everyone is at a certain point. They want everyone to be safe. Rushing and freaking yourself out won't help anyone. I personally get nervous when everyone is beyond me. I like to be able to gauge my progress based on how other's are moving. This isn't really even competitive. I just want to know I'm making forward progress!

The airhorn goes off and we run in. I try to find some space, but it's tricky. I'm not happy with how I've put the wetsuit on and it's pulling on the front of my neck. I try and make some room in it but it doesn't help. I realize that this is going to be a very tough swim. I can't really breathe well doing a freestyle stroke due to how it's pressing on me so I flip over and do the backstroke. I pass the first turn buoy of our rectangular course. I see that a lot of people are swimming on their backs. By now it's sunny and I just try to look at the clouds and make some sort of forward progress. It's beautiful and I remind myself that this struggle is a gift. I'm able to do this for many reasons and there are others who cannot. Then I remember that I had this vision of charging in, swimming like a dolphin and coming out in the front of the novice pack. It occurs to me that I'm currently swimming with all the speed and grace of a Mola Mola. I laugh at the visual (which is fairly accurate) and flip over to try and actually swim.

I was a little confused about the angle of the picture until I realized that the swimmers in the foreground are in the warm-up area.

I can't. I can't reach far enough to straighten my arm and get any reach. I can't rotate to help push myself forward. When I put my head down to stay streamlined I can hear myself wheeze from the pressure on my neck. I try to cough but it's definitely the wetsuit causing it. I try to just force the swim and after about 4 strokes I end up just kind of splashing in place. What the heck? This is not what it was supposed to be like! I've swum twice as far! I try to tread water and pull my wetsuit up. It helps a teeny bit and I convince myself to swim to the halfway point turn buoy. The entire time my brain is screaming at me to stop. Im trying to block it out but it's exhausting me.

As I grab on to just give myself a second to calm down from my epic wetsuit struggle I see that many people are holding onto the kayaks and boats along the course. Many more than I saw in my last one. We're all being thrown around by the chop. You can't see it from shore at all and it's disguised my the washing-machine effect of swimming in a pack, but it's there. Stopping was actually much worse. As the buoy starts to drift from the pack I catch the eye of a kayaker who is watching me closely. I give him a thumbs-up and swim back out to the others. I just try and swim as best I can to get to that final turn buoy.

I turn the corner and I can see the crowds on the beach. Hundred of people. Cowbell. Spotters waving orange flags to guide us in. People screaming, cheering. They are so close but I feel like I'm on another planet. I swim hard and they appear just as far away. This is what messes with your mind in open water. You can't let yourself think about it too much. Distance in the water feels a billion times further than it is, especially with the tide going out. It doesn't matter. You will get there, you just have to keep at it. I flip over a couple of times to make sure I'm actually moving away from the turn buoy and I am. Faster than I think, actually. As I get closer the waves start and I know we're getting close to being able to stand. I can finally touch the bottom about chest deep and walk myself in. Ideally you swim in until you are almost belly-on-the-sand but I didn't care. I wanted out. Apparently so did everyone else around me as we all professed our love of sand. How did only 1/4 of a mile knock us all on our butts?

I stagger out of the water and struggle to find the motor skills to remove my swim cap. I don't even remember peeling the top half of my wetsuit off, but I did. I waved to my family and tried to run up to transition but couldn't. So many people were cheering for us to keep going but I just felt stunned. I cross into Transition 1 relieved that I would see my bike soon. My bike that I used to be terrified of, and up until last spring wanted nothing to do with purchasing.

It wasn't too bad removing my wetsuit, but it took a bit to get my feet rinsed and my socks and shoes on. I ate an energy gel, gulped some water and took off. I like to wear my race number on a belt during the bike. I just slide it around behind me until the run. It's not needed for the bike, but it ensures I won't forget it in Transition 2. This time I was actually able to run my bike out of T1 to the mount line. I head off and I'm right behind Team Hoyt! They're going at just the speed where I want to pass them, but it's just fast enough that I will be in their way if I slow down or they speed up at all. I use this as a chance to check in with myself and see how I'm doing. I'm actually feeling pretty good and when there's room I decide to pass them with a shout of encouragement.

A few miles in there's a decent hill. I finally remember that I will need to shift to the small ring in the front and get to the top much more easily than before. I fly down the next hill and pass a bunch of people. I kept up with most everyone around me and was really happy to find that I was still passing people, even on the uphills. Hills are not my strength. They're for people much lighter than I am and I try and make up for it as much as I can on the downhills. This course was tough for me. It has a lot of rolling hills, which wouldn't phase an experienced cyclist, but I'm used to fairy flat land. I'm glad I got out there and rode the course twice. It's also really fun with some twists and turns, especially on some of the downhills. It's a very scenic, pretty course that loops back around next to the ocean on the way back. I loved it. I arrived at the dismount line feeling like I had the best ride yet. I ran my bike back, racked it and took off my helmet. I had another gel and water, turned around my race number and I was off again.

I ran out of transition and felt stiffness in the back of my left leg. I'm pretty sure the seat that came with my bike isn't doing me any favors. I get numbness down the inside of that leg while I ride and my foot will eventually get numb too. I walked a little bit at the beginning and then started to run again. It was at the top of the first hill that I had trouble. Glute cramp! It went away a bit as I crested the hill and I carefully ran down the other side. I was fine until the next hill where the cramp came back. I ignored it and it got worse. As great as I felt running, I had to walk every hill. I let it go and decided to just have run with the remaining 2 miles of the race.

The spectators here are great. There are tons of people around the transition area, but plenty in through town too. On the run there were many families that set up their own water tables. You pretty much had water whenever you wanted. There were kids with supersoakers and adults with hoses for anyone who needed a cooldown. I appreciated it since it was getting pretty hot and humid. It was so much fun to race with so many enthusiastic spectators. I mean, we shut down their beach, some of their roads and caused traffic on others and they were more than happy to have us there. About a half mile from the end I could hear the band playing at the finish line. I turned to the girl next to me and said, "I feel like that's the sound equivalent of a mirage...we're really almost there!" She replied, "I'm so relieved you hear it too!"

We went down the last hill, around the corner and the finish was in sight. There were so many people it was happily overwhelming. There was the blue carpet, the fencing and people three or four deep. I saw my family. Strangers yelled my name (this race gets bonus points for personalizing the bib with our names...it's really great). People high-fived me and I ran through the finish arch. I was done! I was so happy and relieved. After getting through that swim, I felt like I could finally enjoy the race. Even the scary swim was enjoyable in some weird, overcoming obstacles kind of way.

The finish area was also nicely done. Having a live band, Aldous Collins, play was a great choice. He was able to infuse more energy and fun into the event. The post race snacks were great too. There was a bagel station with at least peanut butter and jelly (too much for me at that point) and Whole Foods was there with oranges, bananas and hummus/cracker snack packs. They may have provided the bagels too, I'm really not sure (sorry!). There was even iced coffee from Jim's Organic Coffee. We hung around through the awards ceremony and then walked back to our car.

It was a great day. I can't say enough about it. Even my Mom commented on how seamless and stress free the day was (I guess minus the parts where people were wearing wetsuits...haha). I can't wait for the Boston Triathlon (Bill Burnett is part of that team as well) and hope to make it back to Cohasset next year!