Monday, February 25, 2013

The Case Of The Runaway Cone: Race Report

You KNOW what this means....

If the Zipps are out, it's time to race!

It means a RACE!  This Sunday was my first race of the season.  It was a 15K Time Trial in Loxahatchee, FL.  I have never done a 15K TT or a TT that involved a tight U-turn.  Aside from my first two 5Ks before I got into triathlon, I have never attempted a race after standing on my ladder all night.  This was going to be fun.  It was also my debut start under DD and as a member of the Austin Bikes/Revenant Records racing team.  I really wanted to do well.

The night preceding the TT was probably more entertaining than the TT.  I was buzzing on so much adrenaline that I braided at a blistering pace.  I was diligently hydrating because it was hot and muggy (100% humidity) so I sweated the whole time I braided.  I got home, cleaned the bike, switched out the race wheels, loaded everything into the car, then went to get into my bike clothes.  Oh yeah, laundry.  I meant to do that.  The jersey I wanted to wear was, um, not clean.  Not even a little.  Oh, it looked fine.  But it did NOT smell fine.  (I must clarify that it was not my AB/R jersey.  That has not come in yet.)

What to do... what to do...

Ok, so MAYBE I febreezed the jersey and hung it in front of an AC vent.  Don't judge!  It worked.  I went to the race smelling all febreezy-fresh!  No ruffled feathers this race morning.

Race morning weather.

I got there, and got registered, then jumped on the bike for a warm up on course.  Registration opened late so I only had about 18 mins to the start of the first rider so doing the whole course was out of the question.  I also had very specific warmup instructions.   I did about half the course and found out that the fog was even denser further down the road.  My glasses were a huge liability, so those got ditched right away, and without gloves, my grip on the bars was sub-optimal due to condensation.  Every time I tilted my head, the condensation ran off my helmet into my eyes.  I made a few notes to myself, and didn't really worry about it.  Everyone would be dealing with the same thing.
Seabiscuit lounging by the start.

I got clipped in, the bike was held, the starter said go, I was in the right gear.... and away we went.  It was eerie riding into this fog at that pace and I found myself reluctant to really drop the hammer with the road ahead disappearing into the mist.  I held a reasonable pace, seeing mostly 22-23mph when I looked at my watch.  I figured the wind would be on my side going back so I planned to make up some time there.

I didn't know where the turnaround was but a man passed me and when I saw him coming the other way, I knew it had to be close.  All of a sudden, the cone materialized in the mist.  It was a fuzzy orange shadow and it was off to the right!  I figured that there must be a turn lane and they were utilizing it to keep the turnaround out of traffic.  Then it moved to the left!  About that time, I realized there was a huge tractor trailer, the size of the Titanic, bearing down on me!! Then I saw the volunteer for the first time.  I was already braking hard at this point.  The moving target and the tractor trailer were enough to get me out of aero and onto my brakes.  Then the volunteer did something really surprising.  He grabbed the cone and ran away!!

Ummm.... dude?  Ummm.. Uh... crap!  What do I do?

The tractor trailer went roaring by.  At this point, I had braked to that slow roll you do when you really don't feel like clipping out for a traffic light and you are hoping it will turn in a second.  The volunteer reappeared, traffic cone in tow, and put it in the middle of the road.  This section of the road was in a curve so it was deeply cambered and the turn was up the grade.  I was essentially taking off from a stand-still.  Now, do you know what I failed to do prior to this moment?  If you don't, I'll tell you.  Drop into an easier gear.  The gear I was pushing coming into this situation was fine for a 23 mph effort, but to turn up a hill from a near standstill?  Oh, no no NO!!  I started the turn up the grade as I began to pedal again and suddenly realized my mistake.  It took 100% of my strength and weight to simply turn the cranks.  I almost wiped out due to a lack of momentum.

I heard the volunteer exclaim "Uh, oh!"  My brain is screaming "oh, SH*T!  Don't fall down, don't fall down!  Pedal!!!"

Somehow I made it through the turn then I was still in the wrong gear heading away.  I did a standing sprint and dropped the gear but it was still far too long before I got the bike back up to speed.

Things went along well from there for a while.  I passed several people and no one else passed me.  I wished desperately that I had some idea how far from the finish I was but as is common on race day, button pushing was not my forte and my garmin had half my warm up and some time in line recorded so the number on the watch was meaningless.  Next time I will display distance instead of time.  Finally, I saw a tree line emerge from the fog.  That had to be the finish since it was the only point I could think of that had trees running perpendicular to the course.

I dropped the hammer.  Even if I blew up here, that was fine.  I did not intend to finish with anything in the tank.  Then I hit the patch of really rough pavement.  It was a significant section and I had to back way off to keep control of the bike but once I was through it, I poured it on again.  Suddenly, I realized that I had misjudged that tree line.  It wasn't the finish, it was a curve in the road.  I had forgotten about that!  I racked my brain trying to remember how far from the finish that curve was.  I decided it could be as much as a few miles away.  I had been blowing out the engines for a while and I knew I didn't have a few more miles in me.  I panicked, dropped several gears and spun down to try to recover.  I got through the turn and saw the finish.... 500 yds away.  DAMMIT!!!  I laid it on but was still accelerating as I crossed the line, winded for sure, but still had another couple of minutes of max effort left in my legs.  Rookie mistake!

As I came through that turn, I saw the clouds break and the fog started burning off.  Within a few minutes, the air had cleared considerably and the pavement was almost dry.  It was the wrong day to be one of the first on course.  Every eventual winner went in the last 25% of starters.  Still, as a learning experience, it was invaluable.  And the effort WAS good enough for a piece of the podium.
Duck on a podium.  I feel like I am at a carnival and some kid is aiming a little plastic rifle.

AAANNND.... now I feel really weird.  I am not used to that cycling arms-up tradition.

After the TT, I went back to the camper, laced up and headed out for a run with Wilbur.  Later that night, I had dinner with my friend Jeanine (who is one of the models for an earlier post) and her family, then headed to the pool for a swim workout.  Clearly, there was too much left in my legs after that race.  I would say that I definitely need to learn HOW to get to the bottom of the tank.  Homework for the future.
We did good, coach!!

In all, it was a good day.  I got to race alongside another of DD's athletes, Adam, and we both medaled so we took a picture and sent it to the coach.  He featured it in one of his blog entries which for me was a great feeling.  I have often felt in the past like my coach's lowest priority, to the point of being unwilling to tell people who I work with for fear of embarrassing them.  It felt really good to have my coach not only happy to have me represent him, but put it out there on his own site.  That was a first for me!  I can honestly say that it is really motivating.  My desire to work hard for myself and to represent him immediately increased.

In all, a good day spent with good people... and another medal!

An old acquaintance  Debra, who didn't recognize me from two years ago because of weight loss.
Jeanine and I.  It was great to see her!


  1. Great recap! Love when races have those challenging conditions. Way to get it done.

    1. Thanks! It was certainly an adventure!