Race Reviews

Let’s Talk About Triathlons

Today’s long run ended in tears. I’m not getting into whose, but we can assume it probably wasn’t the dog’s. Let’s not get hung up on that just yet since I’ve got more fun stuff to focus on.  We might come back to it if only to explore, for some twisted reason, exactly how and  why I ended up short of my planned 20 miles (let’s call it close enough that rounding up would be perfectly defensible, however) with such an unmerciful running beat down.  Anyways, back to putting a pin in that whole sobby messy running business for now because I’m overdue in recapping how cool and fun the Priest Lake Tri was. REALLY. Here we go.

 I’m alive and in one piece after finishing my first triathlon.  Pretty exciting stuff considering my resting state of clumsiness and general lack of spatial awareness. As if I had any business asking for more than that, I thoroughly enjoyed myself through the entire thing, with only minimal episodes of hyperventilation and even single digit fatalistic thoughts.  As it happens, the only injuries sustained were en route to the event, where I forgot how to move a bicycle without actually riding it (see aforementioned misapplication of objects in space and confusion re: gravity.) So my pedals mauled my left calf.  More than once because I am obviously a quick study. 

Schwimming

As they are wont to do in these events, things started out wet. Acknowledging the swim to be the most nerve-wracking of the activities, I had plenty of time to stand around on the beach being anxious about it.  Full disclosure here though- I actually did do something right in choosing Priest Lake for this event.  If you’re going to stand around being nervous somewhere, Priest Lake is the place to do it.  Here’s the other thing –  this particular body of water and I have heaps of history because I like to return to the scenes of childhood shenanigans when trying brand new and potentially scary things.  Am I hoping familiarity breeds bravery? In any case, it helped.  There was something comforting about the big grains of sand under my feet, the deep shade of blue green water that always seems to match how I have it parked in my memory, and old, friendly peaks I’d climbed and cavorted around on countless times surrounding me. Occupying yourself with this kind of scenery before undertaking something moderately bonkers is highly recommended.

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Despite boldness borrowed from this home court advantage, the swimming went just about as un-smoothly as you could imagine.  I watched throngs of athletes cross through the feather flags into the water, dropping farther and farther back in the pack until I was the dead last swimmer in the lake.  And when I threw myself all in, there was a totally foreign sense of panic at all the wet stuff around me.

I’d like to tell you the water was particularly cold (it wasn’t) or that it was the anxiety of being surrounded by hoards of swimmers (by this point, most of them had already passed the first buoy) or that I’m a brand new swimmer (I’ve -historically at any rate- been more than comfortable in the water) or that I’d forgotten my goggles (I almost did, but remembered just in time to run back to the bike corral with mere minutes to spare) or that I was scared I’d lose a contact (this has never.once.happened. ever.)  What I have to tell you instead is that I couldn’t manage to get my head underwater for a single, solitary stroke, I probably dog paddled a good portion of it, all the while sporting wildly out-of-control breathing for no good reason at all.

I somehow managed to slosh my way back to the beach, in what I’m certain was a spectacularly ungraceful series of thrashy, aquatic maneuvers, where I found my legs eager to the task of running. Getting them under me quickly felt easy, I can only imagine because they were so totally relieved to be out of the water, and I was off to the first transition.

Mountain Berzerking  

Navigating any lingering resentment I had about the bike and its uncanny ability to manifest open leg wounds, I found I was pretty excited while toweling off, grabbing a snack of sport beans, and a quick drink of water. So excited I almost run-walked my bike out of the transition to the trail.

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Steep, winding logging roads of mostly large rocks, sand, smaller rocks, and tree roots were the order of the course, with intermittent single track trails that quickly became my favorite portions. It is easy for me to overestimate my prowess on a bicycle which is borderline delusional because I have zero practical basis for this confidence.  As a younger person, I used to barrel down a very steep trail we aptly referred to as “Death, Doom, and Destruction.” On one such descent, I managed to bend the frame of my then bike, narrowly missed vaulting ass-over-teakettle-over-handlebars on multiple occasions, and accumulated a matching set of bright purple contusions and various abrasions. In hindsight, this was probably the best possible preparation for the mountain bike course.

Full of this manufactured but not-nearly-recent-enough-at-all swagger about the mountain biking thing, after the first long, grueling climb I quickly found myself in white-knuckle, hand sweat situation.  Tires skidded out from under me in sandy patches and gravity launched me over large rocks before I could manage to steer completely clear.  I can only say after the first descent that I got extremely, mind-boggling lucky in not ending up completely laid out on the gravel with my bike god knows how far down the trail in front of me.

From the bike I assumed I’d be home free.  I should just stop assuming things. Forever.  I can’t explain it, but somehow the intense climbs and heart-stopping serotonin floods that followed were over too quickly.  I’d been nervous about losing my way on the course, so just about the time I started fixating on what I’d do in my own version of Get Out Alive – Selkirk Edition, I was grateful to come across a race official and discovered there was less than a mile left to the finish. 

Speed Tripping 

Happily escaping to park my bike with every bone in tact, I thought the 5k run would be a short, fun, and manageable way to cap off the morning. These days my short runs are longer than this! My overconfident self narrated.  I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t overwhelmingly right, either.

There is a particular, unsteady sensation that wobbles my legs right after a long bike ride, completely unique among the fatigued feelings I’ve yet encountered. Since I hadn’t exactly trained to manage this, I can’t imagine what my first staggery steps out of the bike corral must have looked like.

After reteaching myself how to walk for a good few minutes, I slowly managed to get things under control.  If the bike was over too quickly, then the run certainly was, though I’ll admit I was more than relieved when I reached the turn around to head for the finish.

I ended up finishing in just about 2 hours, walked away with the most useful race medal I think I’ve ever encountered, and can’t wait to do another one.

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[yes, it’s a bottle opener.]

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Hot Chocolate 15k: Race Review

The mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running.

-Bill Watterson

One of the coolest moments in my racing history happened a few weekends ago.  On a cold and drizzly Seattle morning, in the early Sunday fog, we were off through downtown prepared for a hilly, challenging Hot Chocolate 15k.  I expected many things from this race.  I knew I would be wet, cold, and wobbly- legged from the hills.

What I didn’t except was the eerie, elated feeling of turning up a steep hill to see the course turn dark and serpentine into the Battery Street tunnel.  Sheltered from the rain for almost a mile, the light at the end of this particular tunnel was bittersweet.  Inside, we were dry.  Thousands of running footsteps echoed off the walls, cheery voices welcoming the shelter from the rain, lanes completely empty except for us – runners.  Hundreds of us, making our own traffic noises, all blending together as we curved along to see the opening back into the daylight.

I can’t say enough good things about this race. I tried in my post for RunOregon.  My crowd-averse self normally registers events like this as a bit of a chore, but RAM Series‘ Hot Chocolate single-handedly revived my interest in, and enjoyment of races.  I’ll take hill tired all day, every day when the trade-off is stoked on racing again.

Running through the battery street tunnel

Seattle’s Battery Street tunnel