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Pleasant Prairie Triathlon race report

Ok, grab a cup of coffee first...

We had the car pretty much packed before going to bed so that all we had to do when waking up at 3am was carry the kids out to the car. And put the bike rack and my bike on the car. Since we live in an urban neighborhood with people walking through our alley at all times, it seemed like a good idea to not tempt any thieves. Pulled onto the freeway in perfect time and settled in for the hour drive. The kids were super good with Cole staying awake and--again, like the early morning trip to Madison for Ironman last year--amused that we were driving somewhere in the dark after getting him out of bed. Not much traffic on the road at that time...other than a few other cars with bike racks probably going to one of the two triathlons in southern Wisconsin yesterday.

Found a place to park easily. Plenty of signs and volunteers directing. The kids wanted to get out so it was hard to explain that Daddy was going to go race and I needed to leave them. At first, I had a hard time figuring out from a distance the best way to get into the transition area...lots of metal gates and railings to figure out the flow. Athletes were starting to trickle in so I followed to where they were body marking. Not a long line here at 4:30am, but in an hour it would be dozens deep. They eventually had to recruit more volunteers and let people go rack their bike and come back. The lady who marked me--wasn't the only one--only did my arm numbers so some of us had age/bib on legs and some of us didn't.

A pretty decent handful of people had obviously elected to rack their bikes the night before because there were bikes on nearly every rack. I wandered around for a few minutes trying to figure out where my spot was...turned out to be in the far corner, near the elites and the bike/run exit. Two in my age group had left their bikes overnight but the rack was otherwise empty. I knew A) it would be full B) I would be the slowest in my row for sure. So I tried to be polite and make myself comfortable out of the way by going with the last spot on the bar, near the fence. The guys in my row were super nice asking if everybody had space and being polite to the latecomers. I joked with the guy next to me that he'd be back here long before me so he'd have plenty of space come race time.

So I laid my stuff out like I practiced then had some time to kill. They announced that the race shirts had come in after the Chicago packet pickup and we could go get them at the tent by the finish line. So I walked over there, used the bathroom, ate a waffle, drank some water, practiced finding my way to my area, and then about 5:30am I was changing into my tri top when they announced they would open the lake to some warmup swimming for 30 minutes at 5:45. I figured I probably should take advantage of this so I put my wetsuit on up to my waist and grabbed my cap and goggles. Didn't stay in long, just enough to get wet, go a few yards out from the beach (it dropped quickly), then find my way back.

Transition closed at 6:15am anyway, so I opted to just hang out on the grass by the start line. If we were supposed to be in the pen, it wasn't very clear to everyone. Most people crowded the entrance to the lake and I knew I needed to find the other guys in my wave because I was the 2nd "real" wave of the morning after the paratri and elites. So they sent the 18-29 men into the water with the horn then it was our turn. A dude next to me said he needed to get towards the back and I agreed. Horn. We're off. Quickly made it to the deep water with the rest of my wave. There was an orange buoy we were supposed to keep on our right for the swimming lane then a series of yellow buoys in a triangle to swim the 1.5k. With the first and 3rd straight being shorter than the long back straight.

To say I started my race frustrated would be an understatement. It wasn't fear or panic or lack of ability. I knew I could do it. But that's also not the voice that started talking the loudest. Eventually, I had to tell that voice to shut the &^%$ up. That was the longest few hundred meters to get to the first turn I could have imagined. I swallowed water and it was a dirty, sandy-tasting water that burned my nose and throat and gave me a horrible queasy feeling in my stomach. I'd swim a few meters and just get into a rhythm when I'd invariably run into someone--not intended, sorry, and part of the sport for those who aren't as familiar--or someone would swim up on me and their arms or kick would throw off my breathing and I'd swallow more water for more frustration. I tried to open the neck of my wetsuit and get some water in it to feel more "one" with the water I was swimming in. I tried to sidestroke.

And, at that point, I just sat floating for a few seconds, trying to find the nearest kayak lifeguard...because if this didn't sort itself out soon, I was gonna need to raise my arms and be that guy who DNFs 5 minutes into the race. What a lame! Or at least that's the way I felt. But then later in the day Kelly would say something intriguing to me...she said, "you got it done. 'Even if I have to flip over and backstroke this bitch.'" She was being funny. But she had a point about perseverance. So there I was, staring up the clouds. Past the first buoy (and surprisingly on course for someone doing the backstroke) and down probably half the backstretch. At some point, the overcast day turned sunny and I was happy I had on my tinted goggles. And I learned a few things. Like: that despite the fact that you'd think you could be able to swim next to a group of 10 people in open water since they must know where they're going...don't. They're probably just as likely to be off course as anybody else. A couple of the buoys weren't quite in a straight line so you definitely had to pick the overall line and ignore a couple that were too far to the left.

At some point on the backstretch, after the sun came out, I started feeling ridiculous. They were still releasing waves at the start and I could at least hear the loudspeaker signaling I wasn't the last fool still in the water. But backstroke is insanely slow. Anytime I flipped over to freestyle, it was amazing how much quicker I was. But I was also surprisingly more on-course with backstroke. My freestyle was also pretty wobbly so my frequent attempts to sight ended up more like periscope style reconnaissance missions to get my bearings after veering to the side.

By the time I got to the final turn buoy, I was in the middle of a pack of middle-aged women struggling ("just like me!" as Cole would say) to make it back to shore. One had a coach/friend next to her encouraging her to do 100 strokes at a time before resting. I could see the beach! Nearly there! You have no idea how happy I was to be swimming and, instead of looking down to see murky brown, there was lake bottom! Woohoo! Not bad for someone who only learned how to swim properly 3 months ago. It may have taken me 20 minutes longer that I had hoped, but I was out of the water.

Up the hill out of the lake, across the timing mat, through the racks to the end where my bike was. I had to keep my goggles on to see so when I got to my spot I was still pretty wet from taking off my swim cap, wetsuit, etc.. I didn't take my time but didn't hurry either and got into my socks, bike shoes, gloves, helmet and was on my way out of T1. I noticed there were still plenty of people standing at their bikes and people still leaving for the bike course. A slight ego boost. In fact, a pack of about 5 people were standing at the mount line trying to climb on so I remembered what I read in a recent article, walked my bike past them, then climbed on mine with open road ahead.

It felt good to be on the bike and the first part of the course was fairly speedy. I'll be curious to hear what some past participants have to say about the new first half of the bike course. It's certainly hillier than what I'm used to riding in Chicago though I wouldn't classify what we were riding as "hills." They follow the contour of the land which gives them some slight elevation changes. Enough to get my little hybrid up to 30mph in spots. And enough to have me down to 10mph on some climbing sections. I spent most of the bike getting passed by folks on their $5000 tri bikes--expected. But I also saw a number of mountain bikes, road bikes, other hybrids. This was the fun part of the race for me. Well, mostly. I drank most of my electrolytes fairly quickly from being thirsty after the swim. Which meant I had to ration my other plain water bottle for a good chunk of the bike and it was getting hot(!) out there--more on that later.

I had gotten a pretty bad calf cramp on end of the swim and my neck had been in an odd position for an hour--both due to the backstroke. This came back to haunt me a bit on the cycling. My head was getting stiff and I was pushing a bit harder than usual so my feet had some aches on the bottom from pedaling--usually not the case. Then again, I'm also frequently unclipping with city riding. With just a couple miles left I was happy to be getting off the bike and semi-unhappy with the upcoming run. No shade on the bike, no shade on the run...and I overheat easier on the run. This was going to be a slog. You pedal into the park and turn into the long chute where we'd lined up to get marked before having to dismount almost literally at the start of the transition area. Frankly, I had expected the line much farther back. The bike went almost exactly how I'd pictured in my head, which was nice, though.

Put my shoes on, grabbed my hat, some water, and felt good for the first half mile before the heat set in. I knew there was no way I was going to run my real 10k pace with the sun baking down. But I'd been hoping for at least my marathon pace. Maybe with more frequent aid stations or if I had my own or some shade...if, if, if. I ended up about 3 minutes per mile slower than I had hoped. Walked some sections. Poured lots of water on my head and arms and neck to cool off. That part was pretty miserable--even as a seasoned runner. It was last year North Shore Half hot. It was 2010 Chicago Marathon hot. Warm is not where I perform best. So I lost some time here from my "ideal." A pretty long way between a couple of aid stations, no toilets outside of transition to speak of, by the way, though I hear this is common in tri.

Overall, I'd say the race was well-done. Organized for the most part, fairly helpful volunteers. A few glitches here and there--I felt there weren't really enough lifeguards on the lake if I'd really been in trouble. The website claimed there would be water at the swim start but other than gallons of water to wet your goggles, my dry mouth went into the swim dry. I heard stories of people biking the wrong course. I witnessed someone run extra on the Olympic course rather than turning around for the Sprint finish. They were justified in their anger at the volunteer...but then again, it's your responsibility to read the course map ahead of time. Kelly mocked the guys on the $10,000 bikes who apparently haven't read the rules to understand they can't ride their bike in T1 and have to wait until the mount line. Seriously?! Maybe the bike was borrowed. But know the rules of the sport you're competing in!

My toes have blisters, one of them was bloody from who knows what I cut it on, I'm sore, sunburned, was covered in sweat, dried salt, snot, gel packet goo, runny nose from sandy water irritating my throat along with pollen. But I didn't crash. Didn't drown. Some people had far worse a day than me yesterday. Flat tires. Bikes on the back of race vehicles. 7 people--including 3 younger than me--had longer swim times. If I had the kind of race I know I'm capable of it would have moved me up from last in my age group by 7 places. But that's not really what has left me thinking so hard since the hours I crossed the finish line.

I know what work I'd have to do before another race. But do I really want to? It was fun. I definitely had the thought cross my mind one fleeting moment on the bike that this is fun. But it was also a day full of misery and, quite honestly, the hardest thing I've ever done. And that includes parenting, marathons, college, getting into law school, pole vaulting, and doing my own taxes. Triathlon is harder. And I have nothing but respect for other triathletes (I'm officially one of you now, I guess) who do this and especially the people who do this well. You're not human. That's not just athletic talent being displayed out there but the sheer determination of someone to put their mind to doing something. It was exhausting work...mentally, physically, emotionally.

Of course, my intention was to do this race to see what I really think before I tackle an Ironman. Now, I don't know. On one hand, if 2010 had been my first marathon I may have said "never again." Heck, even after my actual first marathon the year before I felt so miserable the next day (much more sore and tired than this morning, by the way) that I barely could get out of bed and wanted nothing to eat even though my family wanted to go out because they were all here. Contrast that to yesterday when we ate a large pizza for dinner.  Obviously, I couldn't backstroke the Ironman swim that is over twice as long. Well, technically, I could...though I'm not sure I'd make the 2.5 hour cutoff. So that would have to be corrected. It's over a year away...plenty of time to work on what needs to be worked on. Though I need to make a decision in about 3 months if I'm going to register when I volunteer in Sept.

The real question now for me is not could I do it...I could. The real question is how badly do I want it and couldn't I amuse myself with a different hobby? Competition backgammon, anyone? I think right now I'm too exhausted to fully appreciate how impressive an accomplishment it was for me yesterday. Honestly proud of my little 4:02:02. Heck, there were still 10 people behind me--not counting the para division racer who would make 11! 670 out of 681 isn't going to get me pro status anytime soon. But there's also a reason less than 1% of the population will ever finish even dead last. I'm kinda sad my 88's have already faded on my upper arms. I thought the marker would last a little longer. Maybe this is why people get Ironman tattoos. The race hurt like hell, but we keep coming back for more because pushing the limits of what is possible feels even better.

Here's my line from yesterday:


Overall    Age Group   Gender     Swim    T1     Bike       T2     Run        Total
670         50/52           409/422   57:18    4:33  1:33:51   2:34  1:23:48  4:02:02

PS Kelly had her own triathlon yesterday watching the kids. Forgot to work into this story that after I finished and got back to the car I found a sleeping Cole who had apparently had a sensory freak-out about the horn, loudspeakers, cowbells, and had a massive breakdown involving lots of crying to the point where a police officer asked if everything was ok. Leda sat in a puddle and wanted to run around. Cole just asked for me and to go home. I climbed into the car to find a very frustrated Kelly, a sleeping Cole, and a fussy Leda. Cheese curds and fries from Culvers made the trip home possible for all of us. 

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