I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to finally write this race report. I guess I have been thinking a lot about this race and whether I was really pleased with my performance.
Being as my first IM was just last August, and was the focus of my season, by the time Clearwater rolled around I was took a pretty apathetic approach to the whole race. Don't get me wrong, I was psyched to be there but I also wasn't stressing myself out over my performance and training.
My Clearwater adventure began on Tuesday November 4 when me and my bike, Lucy (not to be confused with my sister Lucy) packed ourselves up and headed to a red eye flight to Orlando.
I had decided to fly into Orlando instead of Tampa because Alaska Air flies direct into Orlando and charges $50 each way to bring a bike as opposed to the $175 each way that Delta would have charged me. It was worth the extra drive to fly into Orlando to save $250 on bike shipping.
In the days leading up to the race I just tried to work out a little each day to acclimate to the weather. Training in 45 degree rainy and hilly seattle for the last several months hadn't really prepared me for 80 degree humid weather (and a dead flat course).
I swam a few times to get used to swimming in salt water. Even though the added buoyancy is fun, I still think it's gross.
Friday morning Brandon arrived and we checked into our hotel (I had been staying with my friend's lovely parents in Seminole since Wednesday) and went out for a nice pasta/beer dinner. By the time we went to bed, I still wasn't really feeling nervous, more just ready to give the race a go and be done with triathlon for the season.
Race morning was hectic. Of course I was running about 30 minutes late. Rather than having pen marking, they were using stamps to do our body marking which looked really pro.
I had already racked my bike the day before so all I had to do was get my nutrition set up and put air in my tires. I got all my nutrition on really quickly but was unable to get my front tire to take in any air. I run a 404 on the front with a valve extender rather than a long valve stem and even though I poked something through the extender I couldn't get the valve to open up. At this point I had about 10 minutes before they were closing transition so I took my wheel off and ran over to a bike tech who was so nice. she had me leave my wheel with her while I went back to my bike to finish setting up. She brought my wheel back to me like 3 minutes later and helped me top off my rear tire as well since putting air into a Renn 575 is a pain in the ass with only one person.
I quickly exited transition just as it was closing at around 6:30 and went to wait for my wave start. The pro men went off at 6:45 quickly followed by the pro women. My wave (18-29 & 40-44 women) wasn't going off until 7:50 so I had a bit of a wait. I hung with Brandon and Erica and gave my legs a quick shave since I'd forgotten to do that for like ... the last two weeks.
At around 7:20 I suited up and went for a quick warm-up swim before getting into the corral with my wave.
This was seriously the roughest swim start I have ever had. I should have started closer to the front but everyone wanted to be up front so I had no choice. We did a beach start but the problem was that the water was about knee-deep for like the first 50 meters. Half of us were swimming and the other half were still trying to high step through the water.
By the time we were all swimming it was a serious boxing match. I tried to get myself into a good position slightly behind and kind of between two strong-looking swimmers. Unfortunately, some really rude lady wanted to be where I was and no amount of kicking or moving would get her off of me. She was clawing at me and trying to dunk my head under water. totally totally unnecessary but whatever. I decided I didn't want to fight her so I moved out of the way and ended up sprinting past the two women I had been trying to draft to find some more feet.
By about half way to the turnaround I was in a nice little pack and was having not too much body contact. I made the first turn and then the second and somehow managed to lose my pack. Whatever.
Coming back in was a little hard because we were kind of swimming into the sun. I looked for feet to sit on but was a few meters from anyone. Pretty soon thereafter I was also catching dudes in the wave ahead of mine so I had to be careful to make sure I wasn't sitting on slow feet.
A small note on my mental state. After my tough start to the swim I was feeling pretty upset and like I didn't even want to race. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations about this sport wherein I expect everyone to be as nice and civil as possible. I don't want to change my attitude but I also don't want to be naive about how over-competitive a lot of triathletes are.
After what felt like a pretty slow swim I came out of the water in what felt like about 35 minutes, luckily, I was a bit off.
Swim: 31:30 1:39/100m
T1 starts with a 100m long run through sugar-like sand and a tunnel of showers. I stripped down the top of my wetsuit and opted to utilize the wetsuit strippers. When I sat down to have my suit stripped I sat down a little too hard and knew I would have a glorious ass bruise by the next day.
I ran through the transition bag racks and grabbed my bag without a problem. All I had in there was my race belt, two gels, and a small pill bottle with sport legs and Imodium (I was not going to have another run like IMC).
I got through the change tent quickly, grabbed my bike, and ran out.
So ... the infamous Clearwater bike. I have to say, I was nervous about this bike. I'm so much stronger on hills and this bike is pretty much dead flat.
Things started not so smooth as I nearly did a header off the bike trying to get my feet into my shoes. This was lame since I'd spent 20 minutes the Thursday before practicing getting in and out of my shoes when they're attached to the pedals. After a couple of tries I managed to get both feet in and secured and was on my way.
Immediately I was passing girls from my AG on the bike. I was thinking "oh, maybe I'll be okay at this flat stuff."
I stuck to my nutrition plan and was alternating drinking from a water bottle and my nutrition bottle. I also was doing a caffeinated gel every 40-45 minutes. I was steadily picking off girls on the bike until about mile 20. That's when the first pack passed me carrying a girl that I had passed like she was standing still 15 miles earlier. Little by little, more and more draft packs continued to pass me, each carrying a girl or two that I recognized from earlier in the bike.
I have to admit, I definitely toyed with the idea of hopping into one of the packs to pick up a couple of extra minutes on the bike and save my legs a little for the run. The fact of the matter though, is that even on my best possible day, I'm not going to run any faster than about 1:45 off of the bike. Even if I threw down a stupidly fast bike, there is no way that I could hold on to any girl who is going be running 1:30 or under. Also, I came to Clearwater just to experience racing against a really fast group of people and to see if I could finally get under 5:00. I knew I could get my PR here, I wanted to do it on my own legs.
So I let the packs pass. I'm sure I got some advantage as they passed me but I made a conscious effort not to draft and to just keep my own pace and race my own race. As the race went on, even though I wanted to just race my race, I grew more and more disheartened to the point that I thought about dropping out at T2. I went into the race knowing it would be a draft fest but I wasn't prepared for how bad it would make me feel to see such blatantly poor sportsmanship.
As I hit the last aid station at around mile 40-something I popped my sport legs and my Imodium even though I wasn't sure that I was going to finish.
Bike: 2:24:39 23.23 mph
I came into transition and handed my bike off to a bike catcher. I had gone balls out on the bike ... a little too balls out, and my legs were definitely paying for it. Also, my back hurt from spending almost the entire 56 miles in the aero position (unlike some people who were able to sit up for their whole ride). I shuffled through the change tent and headed out on my run.
I honestly still felt like I wanted to drop out just because I wasn't having as much fun as I usually do but I made a pact with myself to do at least one loop of the run and then reevaluate.
T2: 3:02 (definitely taking my time here)
As I was heading out on my run I took a glance at the clock, 4:07:xx. Since I had started 1:05:00 behind the first wave that meant I was about 3:02 into my race meaning I just needed to run 1:57:xx to break 5 hours. A friend of mine had told me that I would probably run 5 to 8 minutes slower than Lake Stevens just because I would probably go too hard on the bike (he knows me so well). I had run 1:48:xx at Lake Stevens so I was thinking I would probably run 1:55:xx here, barely making it in under 5 hours. Yes, slow runner, I know.
I saw Brandon on the run out and he let me know I was doing well. At that point, I decided that I was going to finish. My whole family (including Brandon) has been so supportive of me in my racing and I wasn't going to drop out just because I was feeling a little sad. My dad had let me use his frequent flier miles to get my ticket and Brandon had paid out of pocket to come out and support me, dropping out for anything short of an emergency felt like it would have been the most selfish thing in the world.
The first loop was uneventful. I grabbed iced sponges at every aid station and stuck one down the front of my shirt and one on the back of my neck. I drank water at every station and Gatorade at every other station. I also ate a couple of gels, maybe 2 or 3. After the first loop I grabbed a quick glance at the clock and saw that I had finished that loop in about 54:00, nice. Brandon yelled I had an hour to make it under 5:00:00. Actually, I had like an hour and four minutes. In my head I was thinking "dang, I could run 10 minute miles and still make it." I was actually tempted to slow down and just cruise to the finish but instead I just kept up my pace.
The second loop I was starting to get a little tired. I did, however, have one funny encounter. Around mile 10 at an aid station I shouted to a volunteer that I wanted 2 iced sponges (the volunteers said they appreciate me telling them how many I wanted ahead of time) and right as I was going to grab them some a-hole from the wave behind mine (45-49 men) ran between me and the volunteer, shoving me out of the way and tried to grab the sponges. I was like "what the #&*# dude?!?" and he flipped me off and shouted something back at me in German. Then another dude made some derogatory remark about Europeans being rude. So much hate on the course! I kind of wanted to find the guy afterward and just be like "dude, mile 10, ain't either of us winning this thing, chill out." I laughed the whole thing off and continued on my way.
Finally, 1 mile from the finish I started to have fun. the crowds were so nice and I knew I was going to meet my sub-5 hour goal. As I approached the finish like I saw 5:56:xx up on the clock meaning I was going to finish well under my goal. Awesome.
Run: 1:49:17 8:20/mile
26/52 25-29 women
92/~360 amateur women
I am definitely pleased with my performance. I had my fastest swim by nearly 3 minutes, a stupidly fast bike (but so did everyone), and a run that wasn't as slow as I expected it to be. I achieved both of my goals by finishing in the top half of my AG and breaking 5 hours.
I'm still bummed about how much cheating there is at this race. Clearwater drafting discussion is such a dead horse but it doesn't make it any less of a bummer for people who really want to race clean. My AG ended up being the fastest women's AG at the race. I would have placed higher in both the 30-34 and the 35-39 AGs even though they were much larger and are usually a bit faster. I think this is due, in large part, to the fact that my AG started directly in front of the 45-49 men and the 18-29 men. Last year, my AG didn't start in front of those groups of men and surprise surprise, the bike splits and overall finish times were significantly slower! freaky! In fact, the girl who won my AG last year, wouldn't have even been in the top 10 this year with the same time.
I know that as Clearwater gains popularity, it's going to get faster and more competitive but this was just ridiculous.
Also, I want to be clear that I'm not complaining because I feel cheated out of a place or somethign. I knew, given my slow run, that I wasn't a contender, but it still would have been nice to actually know where I, as well as everyone else, stood.
One final little note, I did have one really nice thing brighten my day after the race. I got to see my high school buddy and training partner Timothy who is now a super-fast pro triathlete. We hadn't seen each other in 10 years so it was really nice to catch up. I was also thrilled for myself that he beat me by less than an hour (finishing 59:57 ahead of me).
So peace out to the 2008 triathlon season. It's definitely been a good one. I won't be racing much next year because of the bar exam but I'll still try to squeeze a few in.
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