The way I laid my summer out, it looked like I’d have decent triathlon training, even with, what, eight or nine weeks of travel, mostly right before the Jordanelle Olympic Tri near Park City. I actually got great bike training on the Road to Discovery trip from Austin to Baltimore. I rode 40 or more miles every day and most of those miles were hard miles for me, since I have been in mediocre bike shape after ACL rehab. I also got some runs and swims in on that month-long trip, but they were more mentally tough than physically. My grip on triathlon fitness was tenuous at best, then came two weeks of not swimming and only fun running in Orlando and London.
Lured to stay in Maryland with my family an extra day by the promise of a crab feast (which turned in to a barbecue; the old bait and switch), I finally got home to Park City on Wednesday. Race on Saturday. Truly, my only disciplined training day was Thursday, and it’s already time to taper.
In the big picture of triathlon, the Olympic distance (.9 mile swim, 24ish miles on the bike, and a 10K) is my least favorite. Half ironman is my favorite; I even kind of like Ironman in a sick way. It’s long, but the intensity is lower, and I can suffer at low intensity for, well, 12 hours. Sprints hurt because you can go hard, but, hey, they’re short. You can race one and still make brunch in the morning. The Olympic, you’re supposed to go almost as hard as the sprint, but for twice as long. Emphasis on “supposed to.”
Here’s where the deal-seeking/deal-making starts. First, since 99-percent of amateur athletic events happen on Saturday (it’s a Mormon church thing), Saturdays are packed with events to choose from. I considered blowing off the tri to run the Park City half marathon (13.1 miles) instead, with my friend, Linda. Then, I realized I haven’t run more than 5 miles at once since, oh, November, right before I blew my knee out. (Remember, the triathlon is going to require me to run 6.2 miles, which is also more than 5 miles. Just for clarification.)
Then, there’s a huge fire raging outside Park City. I hear it’s close to Rockport,which is where I thought the swim for the tri was starting… only to be assured that we are swimming at Rock CLIFF. Not only that, the wind is blowing AWAY from us, so I can’t even use throat-choking smoke or staying out of firefighters’ way as an excuse not to race.
I leave early, in anticipation of not being able to find a parking space and knowing that I have to ride almost four miles to the race start. Surprise! UDOT is working on the highway and we sit in traffic for more than 20 minutes. Darn, I might have to turn around. But eventually, they open the road and off we go.
So, it’s just going to be a long training day, if I don’t drown in the murky, shallow water of the Jordanelle Reservoir first. It’s a two-looper and I can see all three of the buoys, which is different from all of the races I’ve done in recent years. Usually, I’m standing on the shore squinting in to the distance, saying “I think this swim is long.” Actually, I’m ALWAYS saying that minutes before a race. The swim is fine; I like the swim, even though the water is murky and so shallow that branches from the bottom scrape your arms as you take a stroke. Oh, and the mud where we stood before we started swimming was like goopy, clay quicksand. And… well, that’s it. I didn’t drown even though this was my longest swim in weeks, months.
In this tri, you have to run more than half a mile up a rocky trail to T1. You’re allowed to leave shoes or flip flops at the water’s edge to protect your feet. Last time I raced this race, I didn’t leave anything and actually had to stop on the run and take off my shoes and socks to get the rocks out from under my feet. Not making that mistake again, probably. I think the “half-mile run in flip flops, carrying your wetsuit” leg should make this a quadrathlon.
Now, I should have felt awesome on the bike. As I said, cycling has gotten the bulk of my training attention this summer. Because I always have to try something new-ish in a race to make things harder for myself, I rode my TT bike, which I haven’t been on since May. All that cross-country riding was on my very comfortable road bike with aerobars clipped on. Surprise: Bad idea. The first half of this race is up a 1-2-percent incline. I never got comfortable on the bike. I could only stay in aero position for a few minutes at a time, then I’d have to sit up. I couldn’t find power in any position. Every time I pushed a little harder, it felt like an anaconda was squeezing my lungs (hello, 7,000 feet elevation!). Sustained suffering makes me negotiate with myself. If I can stay in aero for five minutes, then I can soft-pedal for one. If I can pass the guy on the mountain bike, then I can slow down and take a drink. If I finish the bike, I can walk on the whole run. Just as the negotiations are getting ridiculous, we make the 180, and it’s mostly slightly downhill home. I love downhill. I love going fast (landspeed record, 50.9 mph, set this summer). All of a sudden, I feel great, comfortable, aero, passing people all the way back to transition.
Then comes the run. All of my races have runs at least twice as long as this one so this shouldn’t be a thing; still, I’m not the runner I used to be, especially not now. And I’d forgotten how tough this run is. You run up up up out of the park, then turn into the gravel and dirt road steep down up turn turn turn up down up down across the bendy bouncy bridge past the start (!) and do it again. I ran out of transition (because you can’t walk!) with the intention of running all the way up the hill. Then, I didn’t. I’m walking. Then I start running again, thinking Jeff Galloway will save me: Run 7 minutes, walk one. I made it to 4:30. Walk. Ok, I’m going to run 4, walk thirty seconds. Made it to 3. Ok, I’m going to run to that portapotty. Ok, I’m going to run halfway to that portapotty. Ok, I’m going to run until that anaconda returns, then I’m going to walk 20 seconds and run again. This deal actually works for a bit, til I get to the short steeps on the trails. I hearken back to the back halves of the runs at Ironman Lake Placid and Kona last year. Walk the uphills, run the flats and downhills. Bingo. This worked so well, I was able to at least shuffle up the paved hill on the second loop.
I crossed the finish line in over three hours, which I thought quite ridiculous, but at least I finished. I had to DNF the St. George half ironman earlier this year because of my knee rehab and I would have crawled across this finish line rather than DNF again. (My only other DNF was my first triathlon ever, an off-road deal in Orlando. I think I swam the whole swim leg holding my breath. I sat on the ground to put on my bike shoes (big mistake), because I stood up and passed out cold. I came to with the race director (who eventually became my first triathlon coach) standing over me telling me my day was done. I begged him to let me continue, KNOWING I could win my age group, but he sent me off the the hospital. Not too auspicious of a triathlon career start.)
Just for yuks and out of habit, I wandered over to the results board. Surprise! No one in my age group had crossed the line yet! My friend, Anna, told me I’d won my age group, to which I replied, “Probably because I’m the only one in the age group.” A victory doesn’t seem to carry as much weight when you’re the only one standing on the podium. Although I still maintain that if you think you can beat me, show up. But guess what, there was a full podium, actually 5 women in my age group (Yea Title 9!). Now I’m feeling pretty good, pulling off a decent win, with mostly imaginary training under my belt. But I also know that this race isn’t my distance, and I have a half ironman on the schedule in three weeks. So it’s back to the TT bike. But that’s tomorrow. I’ll ride long tomorrow if I can have a java chip frappuccino today. The deal-making continues.