Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kirkland Triathlon/Starcrossed

Roanne has been on a bit of a post-cancer triathlon kick this summer, and after missing her first one back in August because I was up in Vancouver with my brothers (climbing Mount Alpha among other things, as detailed in an earlier post) I had resolved to join the wizard's triathlon team for the next one that she selected. This selection happened to be the Kirkland Triathlon, which was both good and bad. First the good: Roanne and I had planned on doing this back in 2005 (which would have been my first triathlon), but I then injured myself riding cyclocross the week before and I had been forced to pull out, leaving Roanne to compete solo (though I did come and cheer her on, of course). I did manage to do a triathlon the following summer (the Seafair Triathlon) and enjoyed it, but had not done once since, so it was fitting that Kirkland would be my second triathlon and long awaited comeback to the world of wetsuits, aero bars, and tri suits after a 4 year absence. However, the bad news was: the Kirkland Triathlon fell on the same day as Starcrossed, one of the biggest cyclocross races in the Pacific NW, and one that I was looking forward to competing in.

Faced with this conflict, I decided to do what any sensible person would do: race both! Problem solved. The triathlon was in the morning, starting at 8:00am, and Starcrossed was held in the afternoon with my race going off at 5pm (though I had to be there a few hours earlier to help out as a volunteer, since the race is promoted by people from my cycling club.

Roanne and I had managed to fit in a reasonable number of swims and runs in the 2 weeks leading up to the race (as well as riding my bike, which is a given and doesn't require any special events to motivate for), so we felt reasonably well prepared as we rose at 6am and made our way over to Kirkland to pick up our race packets before the 6:30am deadline. We met Ben and Emily (who had also registered to race) in the parking garage, so we all walked over to registration and then positioned our bikes and gear in the transition area. We felt lucky with the weather, as it was just mildly over cast instead of the rain that had been forecast. Ben and I went for a short run to warm up, and then I changed into my wetsuit before jumping in the lake to swim around a bit before they called everyone out of the water and onto the beach where the waves of competitors had assembled.

I was racing in the Men's 30-34 age group, which was the first of the "age-grouper" waves to go off at 8:05am, following the elite men and women who went off at 8:00am. Roanne and Emily left in the women's 30-34 wave right after me at 8:10am, and Ben went off right after them in the men's 35-39 wave at 8:10am. Several wagers had been made among us, with Ben and Emily wagering on whether Ben would be able to overtake Emily and Roanne and I wagering on whether or not I would get "chicked" (passed by a girl) by someone from her wave (what a ridiculous idea).

At 8:00am the first gun fired and the elite group swam off to much fanfare, and my group then waded into the chilly waters of Lake Washington. I took my place in the middle of the field at the front, as despite my current very low levels of swimming activity, two years on the University of Waterloo swim team left me with a built-in competence (as distinct from the built incompetence which I have in any sport that involves a ball or co-ordination) for this leg of the race.

"Bang!" The starters pistol fired, and we were off. I took off at a full sprint since that is the only way that I know to start a race (unless it is road cycling where you can lazily roll of the line, assured that nothing of interest will happen until near the end of the race). I couldn't see anyone ahead of me, but I assumed that at any moment I was about to be steamrolled by some lean and mean swimming machines who had started further back in the field. After a minute or so I hazarded a glance backwards, and to my amazement there was a gap between me and the rest of the field. Huh? What was everyone doing? Was this a race or a tour? In any case, I decided to keep treating it as a race, and continued my sea voyage around the course. Being in front allowed the luxury of taking really tight lines around the buoys, so I was grateful for that until I started catching stragglers from the elite field who had started in front of us. Nevertheless I emerged from the water first out of my group, mixed in with some of the elites who hadn't taken their swimming lessons seriously enough:

And up the beach we went, here I am simultaneously trying to chase down this girl (who will undoubtedly then get back ahead of me due to my painfully slow transition) and grab the zipper for my wetsuit:

I ran to my bike, and after a struggle, I finally wrestled myself out of my wetsuit (I blame my difficulties in this arena on my impossibly broad shoulders) and began the struggle to don a tight, sleeveless cycling jersey. I have since learned that you are supposed to wear your clothing for the rest of the race (preferably a dorky "tri suit") under your wetsuit, which is eminently more sensibile than spending two minutes trying to fight your way into them after having just spent one minute fighting your way out of your wetsuit. I finally gave up and started riding my bike with my jersey occupying the upper half of my torso only, but despite this I was passed in the transition zone by one competitor from my age group so I was placed second as I headed out onto the wet bike course with my bare midriff drying in the wind. Here I am on the bike, still struggling with my obstinate jersey:

It isn't obvious from that shot, but I do have an aero helmet on. I received one for Christmas a couple of years ago when I was still living in a dream world where I thought I might be a decent time trialist. After a number of time trials where I have yet to register anything even modestly resembling a respectable finish (at this point I would even be happy with mid-pack) I no longer live in that fantasy land, and as such I try to avoid entering time trials and the silver bullet helmet doesn't see the light of day as often as it should. So, despite my lack of time trial credentials and the fact that I don't like to dress the part for an event where I feel like I can't walk the walk, I decided that I couldn't roll down that starting ramp without donning the silver bullet.

After I finally worked my jersey down low enough so that it was almost concealing my navel, I abandoned any efforts at further sartorial improvements and I settled into a rhythm as I turned over the pedals with visions of spartacus dancing through my head. It wasn't much of a rhythm as it was a pretty torturous course with lots of hills and abrupt, tight turns on wet pavement. The hills worked in my favour as riding uphill is the type of road cycling that I suck at the least, and about halfway into the bike leg I caught the competitor from my age group who had passed me in the transition zone. He was wearing a Cucina Fresca kit (another local cycling club) and was on a full TT bike with an aero helmet, so I felt less like a dork wearing my aero helmet as I motored past him on the climb. Drafting is not legal in normal triathons, but using someone in front of you was a motivational carrot is legal, so for the rest of the race we stayed more or less together, with him usually going by me on the flats and me generally passing him on the hills.

I happened to be in front as we finished the long downhill that lead to the transition area, but once again he left the transition area first due to my inability to change clothes. This time all that was involved was a change of shoes, so I was only about 50 meters behind him as we headed out onto the run course. I'm not a great runner but he seemed to be worse, as I passed him soon after exiting the transition zone. He didn't seem too bothered about being passed and didn't make any great efforts to hold my pace, which once again left me wondering about the seemingly weak competitive fires burning in the bellies of triathletes. Oh well, as they say, don't look a gift horse in the mouth so I was pleased to be back in the lead with my weak-willed competition disappearing in the rearview mirror.

As the run progressed one of my feet began to cramp a bit but nothing too bad, and the only events worthy of note were being re-passed by a couple of the elites who didn't know how to swim but evidently did know how to run (but then, who doesn't know how to run). The finish line came up out of nowhere (the legions of screaming fans I had been expecting were somehow conspicuously absent), and before I know it I was done and was being handed one of ridiculous "finisher's medals" that are so ingrained in the "you can do it!" triathlon culture. Here I am coming in to the finish line:

I met my friend and co-worker Adam at the finish line (he was the one who was kind enough to take the photos that appear in this post, thanks Adam!), and hung out chatting with him while I waited for the others to finish. Ben was the next to arrive, having made good on his promise of passing both Roanne and Emily (though in fairness, Emily got a flat tire on her bike which lost her some time), then Roanne and Emily. After recounting our respective race experiences, we made our way back to the transition zone to change and collect our gear. On the way there I made the mistake of accepting a free sample of "Muscle Milk", some sort of protein drink that looked and sounded a lot like chocolate milk. Unfortunately it did not taste anything like chocolate milk and it took about 30 minutes to get the terrible taste out of my mouth. Gross! I don't know why anyone would try to improve chocolate milk; it is already the perfect drink so any attempts to modify it will inevitably end in something that tastes worse.

On the way back to the cars we stopped at the registration for the "podium ceremony" (in quotes because there was no podium and very little ceremony involved), I had indeed ended up winning my age group and Ben and Roanne had both ended up 3rd in their age groups with Emily coming in 4th despite her bad luck with the flat tire. Here I am reveling in my moment of glory:

Despite all of my verbal digs at triathletes and their pursuit I did have a lot of fun, and will definitely do another triathlon next summer. I do think I will stick to the shorter distance though, I like how you seem to be able to do pretty well without training too much. The older I get, the greater appreciation I have for the types of events where you can "fake it" without having to train too much.

So, with the triathlon part of the day over and done with, we decided to head out for a celebratory breakfast at the Portage Bay Cafe. I have heard a lot about their delicious breakfasts and Emily and Ben and had both been and confirmed the rumours, so we all headed there for some well-deserved sustenance. Their reputation is well-earned, as we had a delicious breakfast before I needed to head off for my afternoon event, the starcrossed cyclocross race. I was scheduled to serve as a volunteer crossing guard from 2-4pm which I did, leaving me with an hour to prepare for my race at 5pm. I had opted to race with the Master's 1/2 field, since my newfound Cat. 2 status means that I otherwise would have had to race with the pros (which would not end well even on a day that I hadn't already completed a triathlon that morning). Happily at this race the Masters age limit was lowered down to 30 (from the usual 35), so I gratefully accepted this gift and registered to race with the old guys.

Crossing guard duties were uneventful (though in their abesnce I might have found a more restful activity than standing up for 2 hours), and after finishing I hustled back to the car and frantically began tuning my bike. I had received a new Blue cyclocross bike earlier that week from the cycling gods, which was a good thing, but I had made a few changes to it and had not yet had a chance to ride it to test either the basic fit or the mechanical integrity of my changes. I headed out for a quick spin as the start time was approaching, focusing mainly on the top priority of getting the seat height right. After getting what I thought was the right height (though you can't really tell until you start riding fast on the actual course) I headed over to the start area where I found that, like last year, I was slated to start right at the very back of the 90 riders in my field.

While last year I had felt disappointed at this turn of events, this year I felt like it was a stroke of luck as the sensations in my legs while warming up didn't signal that my forthcoming performance would be particularly inspiring. This way I could just roll out with the back markers and work my way up a bit if I felt so inclined. By the way, the lack of photo journalism in the latter part of this blog past are a result of Roanne being presented with the opportunity to attend a pig roast in the afternoon, which somehow was more appealing than coming to watch me suffer at Starcrossed. Who would want to eat succulent, roasted pork instead of watching their tired husband ride his bike in circles around a velodrome? Crazy.

Anyways, the metaphorical gun fired for the second time that day (there might actually have been a gun, but I was too far back to hear it if there was) and we were off, hurtling around the slightly damp course. I began working my way past a few riders, and at the same time coming to the realization that the seat height which had felt perfect on the gravel path that I had warmed up on was much too high for a bumpy cross course. Mental note: ride a new bike at least once before racing it. Nevertheless, things were going well until the third or fourth lap when I remounted my bike on an off-camber section and suddenly found that I couldn't pedal. I looked back and much to my dismay saw that I had rolled the rear tubular tire off the rim. This was likely due to two factors: one, I hadn't reglued the tired from the year prior, and two, I am not very good at gluing tubulars in the first place.

I stopped and pushed the tire back on the rim as the people I had worked so hard to pass streamed by me, but eventually the tire and rim co-operated and I was off and running again, taking a bit of extra care in the corners now that I know I was relying solely on friction and 35psi of tire pressure to keep my rear tire in its rightful place on the rim. I resumed working my way up, until a few laps later I heard a rattling sound as I rolled up to the barriers. I looked down, and was disconcerted to see that my front quick release was flapping in the wind with the "lawyer tabs" on the front dropout being the only thing between me and an abrupt face plant. I quickly stopped to tighten and reclose the quick release (Mental note 2: tighten your quick releases before racing your bicycle), as my fellow competitors once again went streaming by.

Thankfully this was the last bike problem for me of the race (other than the constant spectre that my rear tire might pop off again in a corner), and I ended up rolling across the finish line in a respectable 41st position after starting in the high 80s. Not bad for the second race of the day! After changing back at the car I went to watch the elite races (for which it once again poured rain, very similar to last year) and was joined by Roanne, Ben, and Emily after they managed to tear themselves away from the pig roast. The Elite women's race was painfully boring with Katerina Nash riding away from the field on the first lap for a solo victory with a huge margin, but the men's race was pretty fun as French national champion Francis Mourey took a flyer on the first lap only to be reined in by domestic strongman Ryan Trebon who when pulled the 5'6" frenchman around the course (Trebon is 6'6" and goes by the moniker of "Tree farm") before being bested by him in a 2-up sprint for the line. Anyways, a great end to a super fun day, I'll definitely do another triathlon in the future, and who knows, if I continue to taste success it might even become a yearly occurance!

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