Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Big George Was Too Big

Never having been to Lake George, I had no idea what to expect. We rolled into town on Saturday, Aug. 31, and immediately it felt a bit touristy for my taste. Even worse, coffee was not available in town on Sunday until after the race started at 7 a.m. (you'd think merchants would figure this stuff out). Still, the area around the Lake George Triathlon Festival site presented a good flow for the swim-bike-run of the 70.3-mile Big George, my A race for 2013.

At the same I have been training for this race, I have been working toward the Steamtown Marathon, Oct. 13 in Scranton, Penn. It's been tough training for two races at once--at the end of every week, I feel like I haven't done enough running or biking. With one small tri to go, I now have more time to devote to running.

Add a new job--and everything there is to learn with that--and you have someone with not enough time who didn't pay attention to certain aspects of her training--longer bricks (bike/run) workouts, for example, and long bike rides. Still, I had a quality tune-up race at the Cayuga Lake Olympic Tri, so I knew I would finish Big George (an injury forced me to drop out of one race in my long career). I'm nothing if not stubborn.

The hotel was situated about a 1/4-mile from the race site. However, I never sleep well in hotel rooms, and this being Labor Day weekend, I should have known better. The drunks were in fine form on both sides of our room, fireworks boomed, making it difficult for me to get to sleep, and I made the mistake of saying yes to my stepdaughter's request that her boyfriend come along. Their whispering at 1 a.m. woke me up, and kept me up. It was not a good night (in good triathlete fashion, I have already learned from the aforementioned mistakes). Add insufficient coffee, and no traditional pre-race breakfast of scrambled eggs and a wheat bagel with peanut butter (no way to cook the eggs)--well, you know where I'm going with this.

Anyway, bikes had to be in transition on Saturday, one less thing to think about on race day. Sunday morning, 5:30 a.m., I headed to transition, toweled off the night's rain from my bike, and set up my gear. One of my favorite things about triathlons is that 99% of the people who compete are wonderfully friendly and helpful. At this race, they placed us "old ladies" together, helping me to size up the competition. Immediately I spotted a woman no taller than I but a lean, mean fighting machine, and thought, "There's the age group winner." We all chatted, got our gear ready, put on our wetsuits and headed across the street to Lake George, incredibly calm and a perfect 73 degrees.

I had wanted to swim the 1.2 miles in 40-45 minutes; I came out of the water in 43 (yay!), but a key mistake in the lake affected my time. I wasn't hugging the buoy line at all (I wondered where everyone else was), and kept getting off course, adding meters to an already-long swim. In fact, at one point while sighting, I saw a yellow kayak move in front of me, blocking my way and forcing me back on course (thank you). I had counted the big pink balls from shore (there were 9) and spent the swim counting them down--that worked for me at Steelhead 70.3 last year, giving me something to do. It was a small swim wave, and I started on the outside, so no need to wrestle with anyone for position. Except for getting a little off-course, this was an excellent swim!

Then on to the bike, the dreaded bike. Now, don't get me wrong, I love biking--it's the fastest way to cover ground (that's not driving) and this course was especially scenic. It's just that I'm terrible at it! The 4-mile climb out of town wasn't nearly as challenging as the 10 miles up Sweet Road in the beginning of the Syracuse 70.3; now that's a hill! I was impressed by the excellent volunteer support and police officers stationed at key intersections. They would prove helpful when two idiot drivers, on two separate occasions, thought the officer was waving them through when he meant that I could go.

The bike course goes along the Schroon River (I got a chuckle when an Adopt A Highway sponsor, as written on those blue signs, was, "Just Schroon Around." Get it? Adirondack humor.) Approaching Brant Lake felt like going back in time, with gorgeous homes and summer camps abutting the lake; charming is an apt description. The back side of this course is quite fast--the uphills of the eastern side became downhills--and just lovely. I bet in about three weeks it'll be even prettier.

I finished the bike near my goal time (I had wanted 3:35, but got 3:37, not bad for my worst discipline of the three) and changed my shoes and donned my hat for my joy, my first love, my best event--the run! The nice breeze on the bike became a blanket of humidity on the run, not oppressive, but moist just the same. And the first mile of the run was uphill! And the second! Which meant, in a two-loop course, miles 7 and 8 are the same uphills; there were some inclines on the back side of this course as well, but up always goes down. I had trouble opening my packet of Gu Chomps because I was too sweaty. An obliging volunteer at a water stop opened it for me, but it cost me some time.

I just could not get into a rhythm, but the wonderful downhills kept me going. The hubby was at the bottom of the first loop (I say bottom because it was downhill), and then up I went again. It was agonizing for me--remember, I love to run, and I usually am pretty good on hills. When I realized I was struggling I downgraded my goal, which had been 6:45. New goal: under 7 hours. I crossed the finish line at 6:59:19. Whew!

I watched the awards ceremony and sure enough, there she was, my predicted winner in the 50-54 age group, grabbing first place. Well, good for her!

As an aside, and mighty impressive--a woman won this race; yes, a woman, and after she had won the previous day's Olympic distance triathlon--they call this double-race King George. This is second race I have been in this year (the first was a 10K) when a woman crossed the finish line first. Title IX is finally paying off.

On the advice of the race director, whom I had emailed earlier in the week to ask about post-race showers, I headed toward what they call "Million Dollar Beach" to a clean bathhouse with hot showers! And changing rooms! Thanks, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation! Cold showers are the worst!

So, I've taken a few days to mull this race over, especially trying to figure out what went wrong on the run. These are my takeaways, things I will change for the next big race:

1. Do longer bike rides leading up to race day. I had done a few 40-milers and one 56-miler in the four weeks ahead of Sept. 1; clearly not enough.

2. Run off those longer bike rides. I do brick workouts once a week at least, after a 20- to 25-mile bike ride, and then only 2 to 3 miles of running; clearly not enough. This happens to be a factor of time--I need a good five hours to complete such a workout, and that's very difficult to carve out of my busy life. I need to find a way because I know it will reap benefits.

3. Do more hill work. I drove out to bike the beloved Sweet Road hill-from-hell, and did hill repeats closer to the house but I did them once each, meaning twice total; clearly not enough. Same goes for the run. A problem for me is that where I live, there are no hills. That was an advantage to living on the east side of Syracuse--drumlins galore! I'll figure it out.

4. Honestly assess my nutrition. I'm not sure I'm eating properly for what I'm asking my body to achieve week in and week out. This is something I will study over the winter.

Now, did I successfully train for a half-ironman race at the same time as a marathon? I guess I'll find out Oct. 13 in Scranton. Will I attempt another half-ironman? Of course! In fact, I plan to try something completely different in 2014, a new event called Incredoubleman, Sept. 13-14, a weekend devoted to several distances in gorgeous Sackets Harbor. I will race Saturday's sprint distance tri, and then compete in Sunday's 70.3.

Hey, I have more than a year to train!