Saturday, September 17, 2005
Around Christmas time I found a pair of Spinergy Rev-X wheels on consignment at a local shop for a very reasonable price. Almost fully carbon and running tubular tires. Yes, the dreaded sew-ups. While tubular tires have come a long way even in a few years, they are still very different from the more mainstream clincher tires that most people are used to. This, unfortunately, means that carrying a spare tubular can be a bit of a problem. And I didn’t have one.
Not having a spare guarantees a flat. When we rode part of the course the day before the race, there were more than a field patches of broken glass. Luckily The Spokesman in town had 650c tubulars in stock. I had no experience swapping tubular tires on the road, but I figured that a spare would work as a good luck charm at the very least. Still, I kept my fingers crossed. With only the spare, and my clincher wheels 300 miles away, a flat could put me out of the race.
The next morning three alarms went off, one after the other. All three of us waited for the last before starting to move. Minutes later we were rolling into the transition area on our bikes, the air cold and crisp, the sun still well under the horizon. In the dark we set up our gear, ran into (literally) friends and fellow racers. The cold was biting, not exactly encouraging. As the first glow of dawn appeared we made our way to the pier and swim start. The sand was more than frigid, it was numbing. At that point I truly feared being pulled out of the water by a lifeguard because of hypothermia during the swim. As a hawaiian blessing was delivered I had doubts. Before I knew it I was rushing into the water.
Swim (1.2 miles)
In the first 25 meters everything changed. The water was calm, and even more surprising didn’t feel cold at all. I got going at a consistent pace, didn’t get run over by any other swimmers, and was able to sight on the buoys just fine. Those things completely changed the race for me - I could do this. I had left my watch on for once and was able to see it underwater. When I made it to the end of the line of outbound buoys I could tell I was making good time. Surprisingly good time in fact. Heading back to shore the course followed the pier. We had our own cheerleaders racked out on the beams under the pier - a colony of 300 pound sea lions barking away. It was at about the point I could hear them underwater that I realized it was the beginning of white shark season in Northern California. That probably helped my time a bit.
A short run up the sand out of the water lead up to the street. Along the way some people - who had obviously done the race before, or knew something we didn’t - had piled running shoes. Me, I had to make it up to the transition area barefoot and in a wetsuit. Now that was a fun half mile, let me tell you. Salt, snot, and neoprene rubber, I might as well have been running out a fetish ball.
Bike (56 miles)
Over the past few races and training I’ve gotten used to the rubber band trick, which allows you to get on the bike and get going with your shoes already clipped in. You pedal with feet on top of the shoes, get moving, and slide into the shoes on the fly. By now it was easy, almost second nature for me. Of course, IMMEDIATELY out of the transition area was a short, but steep, hill. That completely fouled the rubber band trick. I’m surprised the race commentator didn’t crack up watching me run the bike a few steps up the hill, try to get in the shoes, and repeat. Thankfully I found a way into my shoes and got on my way.
On the way out of town we had to cross some railroad tracks, which I had been warned about in advance. I had to take them slowly, but at that point I was still warming up. I knew it wouldn’t be until 20-30 minutes into the ride that I would hit the sweet spot in my power output, so I didn’t mind having to slow down on the way to PCH.
Around mile 8, out on PCH I wasn’t feeling quite right. Even still warming up, something didn’t add up. I was spinning the cranks plenty fast, but my legs weren’t getting into the ride. At some point I looked down and realized that I had somehow gotten into the smaller chainring - which I only use for harsh climbs. After I shifted up to the big ring I felt myself start to get into the groove and finally accelerate.
Then I had to pee. REALLY badly.
At mile 10 the first aid station had water, and a porta potty. Volunteers were handing out water as I screeched to a halt and waiting for the restroom. After loosing a few pounds in there I was off again. Within a mile I was back in the groove and down in the aerobars. On the flats I was going about 20mph, but the flats didn’t last long. This course wasn’t flat at all, it was a series of punchbowls. Rocket down one side, make a somewhat brutal climb up the other side. Over and over again. Since my front derailleur had a history of being a little bitch, I was very wary of shifting out of the big ring to climb. I stuck with the big ring and gutted it out, even though at times that meant climbing out of the saddle at a less than ideal speed.
Nonetheless, I was still kicking some booty. As usual, the field of racers was a mix of veterans, newbies and people who fall into the “should know better” category. Groups of three to eight racers bunched up, drafting close (though they were probably not doing it intentionally to save energy). Considering we were riding on a narrow shoulder about two feet wide, with cars passing on our left, this was terribly dangerous. The upside was that if you called out you were passing someone, they would let you by. The downside is that the same people who should have known better than to bunch up like that rarely told you they were passing you. Thankfully nothing worse than flat tires happened to anyone out there, though easily something could have.
Coming up to the bike turnaround I saw the first of the elites coming back the other way, meaning I wasn’t all that far behind them. That was a good sign, but riding the punchbowls on the way back without getting out of the big ring opened up the gap between the elites and myself quite a bit.
Towards the end of the bike I ran over a piece of metal in the road. I hoped that it didn’t puncture the tire, or that it would at least hold a few more miles. Turns out the tubulars were more durable than I thought - after the race there wasn’t even a scratch on them.
Run (13.1 miles)
After a quick transition I started to make my way out to the run course. At that point I realized that all I had consumer since the start was the PowerBar Endurance drink in my NeverReach. The HoneyStinger gels and ClifBars I had brought remained untouched. I decided to take some with me on the run, which could very well make me puke, but it would beat running out of energy. I yanked a gel off my bike where they were taped, which sent Honey-Goop spraying ALL OVER ME. So walking out of transition I was desperately licking it off my fingers with ClifBars in my clean hand. I was quite the sight.
I decided to take it easy in the first half mile and walk it to be on the safe side. When I started running, I didn’t feel so hot. In training, if I felt not so great when starting a run, I knew that by a half mile into it I would be fine and be able to go on forever. This run was different. My body never adjusted to running, so I had to alternate between running and walking the run course. I ended up running just over half the course. I didn’t let some of my memories of the area - gee, that’s where I slept in the car waiting for her a few years ago, there’s her old house - push me to run and burn out my knees. I kept on going, but didn’t burn out.
The finish was on the sand. Where on the sand it was, I had no idea. I followed the course, a volunteer yelled out “800 meters to go!” as I ran through loose sand. 900 meters later I was dodging kids on the beach and still looking for the finish line. 100 meters after that the announcer called out my name and I crossed the timing mat.
I turned my head and there was Mom, which was great.
If I had managed to run more consistently, I should have been able to break 6 hours for the course. That said, I still have no problem with how I performed, if I had pushed much harder I think I would have injured my knees. I still have some room for improvement on the bike, on the swim I really can’t tell how much more potential there is to tap. Training with the PowerTap and putting on the race wheels certainly helped. The race wheels made it easier to accelerate and stay at speed once I was moving quickly. The added complications of the tubulars, though, were definitely a disadvantage. I don’t think my next pair of wheels will be tubulars, and I can’t say I’d recommend running tubulars to anyone. The advantages of tubulars over clinchers at this point are not significant enough to really warrant it.
Going into it, I really didn’t know if I could complete a half ironman. That was the point. I hadn’t yet done a mile swim. I had not taken the bike that long (though, really, I wasn’t worried there). I had done half marathons in training, but not frequently enough to truly be confidant. During the race, however, I went from wondering wether or not I could make it through the first forty minutes or make the 1pm cutoff time to be off the bike, to knowing that if I pushed a bit harder I could do the entire race before 1pm. In the end, I finished with a 6:41:41 that I can be proud of.
[ 9/17/2005 01:34:00 AM ] [