Monday, May 14, 2007

Cultus Lake Race Report

My first Olympic for the season is done. I don’t think any other race this year will have as much rumour and anticipation/dread going with it.

Executive Summary:
Cold, windy, drafting, PRs???, lots of fun.

The Long Version:
The big issue was the temperature of the lake. There were rumours that the swim would be cancelled, that it would be cut short, that the race would be turned into a duathlon, etc. Scuttlebutt had the lake temperature at 10C (50F) earlier in the week – anything below 14C is supposedly too cold to swim in. Lower Mainland swim stores sold out of neoprene swim caps (except the unlucky retailer whose supplier will be delivering them today) and quite a few people just didn’t show up.

The moment of truth came for me on Saturday when Mary and I suited up and went for a swim to test the waters. I have two wetsuits so I opted to do the Saturday swim in my sleeveless wetsuit (a.k.a. the “Why Did I Buy This?” suit) so that on race day I wouldn’t be getting into a wet wetsuit. Yeah, I'm a princess, whatcha gonna do about it? The lake was definitely very cold but once I got in and got over the shock of having cold water flood the suit I was okay. Not much different from swimming in the ocean. Getting my face in took a few tries but in the end my arms were the only part of me that were unbearably cold, which was fine as on race day I’d be wearing a full sleeved suit.

One major hurdle out of the way!

We also did a short ride, Mary wanted to ride the hill just outside of transition a couple of times as that was the only climb on the course. The traffic on the narrow road was nuts and not terribly bike friendly. Add to this the gravel, potholes and broken bottles on the shoulder and we had a pretty uncomfortable ride. I was starting to dread race day as I couldn’t see how this volume of traffic that was so oblivious to bikes could co-exist with a race without some sort of terrible accident.

The pre-race meeting showed two things:
1) they were seriously understaffed for volunteers
2) they were super organized and we had nothing to worry about!

Okay – enough background – you want race details. Getting to the race was largely uneventful, the only morning blip was a nosebleed. I used to have this kind all the time as a kid (I was staying at my parents, maybe I was regressing?) and they’d come back throughout the day so I was a little worried it would come back during the race. Not exactly something I wanted to deal with on the bike or the run. Luckily it was a one-off event.

We got to transition early, in fact we had to wait to get in as we were there about 40 minutes before it opened up (they were short on volunteers so it opened late). I got body marked, picked up my timing chip, set up transition and went for my warm up ride and run on my own and got into a good mellow headspace. Then I got into my good wetsuit (yay sleeves!) and headed down to the lake, which was a balmy 16C (61F). Most of the athletes were standing on the lakeshore in their wetsuits staring at the water in trepidation, at that point only one person that I could see was in the water. I waded in and scooped water into my suit and then hyperventilated briefly at the shock of the cold. I took a long time getting in, did some breaststroke and head-up front crawl to get a feel for the water and gradually got my face in and did about 5 minutes of free. I joked with a few swimmers that the cold would mean that if you got kicked in the face you wouldn’t feel it –you don’t get that benefit in a warm swim!

Mum actually managed to spot me - for a moment I thought she could really pick out her daughter then I realized she'd gone by my race number on my head! She managed to get some pictures of me in my sexy neoprene swim cap.

By the time they were lining up the Olympic racers to start I was at one with the water and ready for a calm but strong swim. I minced my way across the rocky “beach” to line up at the start in knee deep water. The gun went off and so did my heart rate. Suddenly I was in panic mode, and this was while I was waiting for the racers in front of me to get their act together and get swimming (no way I was going to dive in and end up getting kicked in the face by the guy in front, regardless of what I joke about earlier!) so I hadn’t even started racing and my HR was through the roof. The first 300m was a gong show. I was trying to get back my pre-race zen state but swimmers around me were all over the map so there was chaos. The first turn was a mosh pit, I instinctively sought clear water and ended up swimming way off course – too bad for the people following me!

In the straight section after the first turn I began to get back in the groove. Trying to draft was a waste of time as swimmers all around were panicking and either stopping outright or switching to breast stroke or back stroke and no one was keeping a steady pace. The second loop of the swim I had mostly clear water and finally felt I had a smooth and strong stroke. I tried to swim in as close as possible to the finish to save my feet – the beach was pretty rocky. Trying to stand at the end of a long swim when the beach is slippery with pointy rocks, you’re wobbly from the swim and your feet are mostly numb is an interesting experience. I worked my way through my repertoire of four letter words (quietly though) as I tried to get out.

The 300m between the swim exit and transition was a bit rough and had lots of pinecones – the upside of this was that I could tell the feeling was coming back to my feet. At this point no one was running to T1, more walking with the grim determination of people who’ve survived a terrible ordeal, so I felt no pressure to hurry.

Had a great chat in transition with women at my rack – not the fastest or most intense T1 ever but we were all just happy to have made it through the swim! Got my gear on – smiled for the camera as Mum snapped photos, which slowed me down as I didn't want photograpic evidence that I was drying between my toes (promise not to tell my coach?).

I had a somewhat embarrassing moment as I got across the mount line then just didn’t go anywhere. Ever tried to clip when your feet are shaking uncontrollably? Not terribly easy. My Mum said everyone was doing this so I guess it’s not so bad.

Getting on the bike felt great. I managed to put on my game face for the official race photographer and passed a few people on the hill out of transition. About 8km later I saw Dad ready with his camera and yelled and waved and grinned like an idiot (NOT my game face!).

The ride consisted of a sharp hill out of transition with a sharp descent but just as you get comfortably into a fast pace you have to slow for a sharp left. That was the only real hill of the course (we’d do it on the return) – from there it was about 6km of gently rolling hills then out into the flat, flat, flat floodplain. I leaped frogged back and forth with a few people then either dropped them or they dropped me and I was alone at the start of the flat. About 5 minutes in a bunch of people passed me and eventually formed a loose peleton of 10-12 people. As this was a long flat road with no trees or obstacles, even though I was well behind them I had the opportunity to watch these drafters for a good 20 minutes. I was struggling into a headwind and watching them flout the rules really burned me up. I think it may have helped my race (although not as much as a good draft would have!) as I focused on the cheaters rather than allowing myself to be miserable about riding into a headwind.

Oddly, a number of people passed me when we were riding into the headwind or crosswind but as soon as we hit a tailwind I started reeling people in.

The hill back to transition was fun as prior to the hill another racer and I had been passing and repassing each other so I spent the whole hill trying to catch her. She didn’t push through the crest so I passed her at the top and dropped her on the descent (my bike loves going downhill). She left me in her dust on the run and probably beat me by about 5 minutes but I won the hill darn it!

T2 was significantly faster – no shivering made getting in and out of shoes easier. I felt good going out on the run and focused on all the form issues – head up, shoulders back, engage the abs and drive with the knees. The knees is a new one so I was running thinking (but hopefully not saying aloud) “knees-knees-knees”. I had a side cramp kick in about ten minutes in but managed to run through it.

There were lots of out and backs on the run so I got to see almost everyone from LETC who was racing, which was fun. I finished the first loop in 24 minutes and change, which was shockingly fast for me and this gave me a kick for the second loop as I’ve never broken 50min in a 10km.The second loop was fantastic for the first 3km. Then the side cramp came back. I knew if I stopped running I could walk it off but there was no way I was going to miss that sub-50 so I kept running. The cramp never let go but I thought I was doing okay, photographic evidence, however, proves otherwise. Mum took a picture of me nearing the finish and I look like I’d just been shot.

So, my times:
Swim: 25:02 – PR (previous best 30:42)*
Bike: 1:23:39 – 1 min off my best time
Run: 47:02 – PR (previous best 50:10)*
Overall: 2:42:40

*My swim and run times are pretty unbelievable. So much so that I’m sure the course was short. Everyone had an amazing PR on the swim, this is an early season race so either all 153 of us have been training exceptionally well and made fantastic gains early on or else the swim course was short. A couple people had their high tech gadgets on for the run course and pegged the distance at about 9 km, which makes sense to me as although I felt good on the run I didn’t feel “smash my PR by 3 min” good. I didn’t even feel “match my PR” good.

So, despite cold water, strong winds, drafting and some course irregularities, it was a great race. This was the first year and they’ll figure out the course issues for next year. They’ll have more volunteers next year and can have more people on course to deal with drafting. The organizers had to deal with the legacy left by the last person to [dis]organize a race in the area and locals were justifiably wary of getting involved. What they did with a skeleton crew beat what pretty much any other race I’ve been to manages!

Next stop – Oliver Half Iron on June 3.

1 comment:

penney said...

Nice work!

Great photos.

J.