Sunday, June 12, 2011

Oozies and Auras: Boise 70.3

We arrived in Boise, ID a few days early to scout out the race course, relax a little and get acclimatized.  Three aspects of the race concerned me - the crazy north winds that gusted out of nowhere for the three days leading up to the race (notably in the early afternoon when I would be on my bike), the brutally cold water temperatures in Lucky Peak Lake (which were rumored to be between 10 and 12 degrees depending who you spoke to) and the noon wave start.

Unlike last year, I had not actually raced any triathlons leading up to this "A" race but had trained solidly since January.  My goals were twofold - to go under 5 hours, and to earn a qualifying spot to the 70.3 championship in Las Vegas in September.  Lofty goals?  Yes, I suppose they were, but why aim low when you can go big.  I have been running well in the last few months and feeling comfortable on the bike, and although swimming is still mostly about survival, felt that these goals were in my reach....of course the weather, competition and nutrition are always the wildcards.

Boise is set up as a two-transition race, with the swim and T1 at Lucky Peak Reservoir, a partial out-and-back bike course back to town, T2 smack in the middle of downtown, followed by a double loop, flat as a pancake run along a green belt.  Due to inclement weather and cold water in previous years, the start time is an anomaly for 70.3 races....high noon.

You would think that the noon start would afford some sleep in time and a relaxing morning, but it was not to be.  The two-transition set up and bus shuttle made for a long morning, and it was honestly a little disorganized. Some people were even pushing athletes out of the way to get their kids on the shuttle!  (Um, remind me again why your three kids need to be in transition three hours before the start?!)  We ended up waiting in line for 45 minutes for the drive up to Lucky Peak and had way too much time before the race, in the sun with limited shade. The 5 hour, totally unnecessary wait is somewhat suspect to my later issues, and my tummy was not happy before the race. 

The start was definitely interesting. Everyone stands like lemmings baking in the hot sun in the holding areas.   One by one the groups jump off the dock for an open water start, with 4 minutes between waves.  My AG was the 6th wave out and the sound of 100 women hitting the cold water was pretty funny....lots of squealing!  The water was a very fresh 11 degrees and  took my breath away, but we had about 2 minutes to tread water and get used to it. The small wave start was quite civilized but the 4 minute offset was not enough to string everyone out, by 800m we caught the groups in front (each wave had different color caps).  I felt that I had a better swim than the time reflected and felt pretty decent considering the water temp (11 degrees), but was surprised to see how slow I was. All in all, kind of disappointed with the 38 min swim.
The W35-39 swim lemmings lining up for our chance to jump off the dock
T2 was very long - we had to wind our way up a boat ramp to the wetsuit strip area, then into the bike area. Had an uneventful transition, although the mount line was very congested and one poor girl even flatted coming out of T2.

The bike course was surprisingly fast. After having treacherous north winds for the days leading up to the race (which essentially creates a lot of cross wind on the partial out and back), there was only wind enough to create a little bit of sail with my spanky new Shimano C50s. Despite my heartburn on the deep dish wheel choice, the gamble paid off.  The temperature was warm, but not uncomfortable, although it was definitely a dry heat that I am not accustomed to.

I took a salt tab + gel at 30 min, drank regularly (GU Brew + carbo pro), and then started a schedule of gel every 30 minutes.  This has worked in the past....but not today.

At 30k into the bike, I started having vertigo and a visual disturbance, like looking into bright light. I had to focus really hard on my peripheral vision to see the road and could not see clearly straight in front of me. This went on for about an hour, and I seriously thought about getting off the bike. The visual disturbance moved around to the far outside after 15-20 mins, so I was able to focus on a point in front of me but it was still like looking into bright sun and not being able to get rid of the flash.  I have had migraines in the past, and they are always preceded by this "aura", so I stayed on the bike betting that a headache was coming but that my vision would improve. Took one tylenol at this point, but was scared to take another salt tablet as I was worried that the sodium may affect the headache. 

In retrospect, dehydration may have been the problem and I should have probably taken the sodium.  I also should have been a big girl and got off the bike, because I was in no condition to stay on.   I was unable to look at my garmin for this period and rode entirely by feel, mostly in my aerobars while focusing on a point in front of me.  I'm shocked at how decent my ride was in these conditions, just kept the legs moving in a fairly easy gear.  Maybe not knowing is the key?

The race officials were all over me from about 35 miles on, and I spent a lot of time passing so as not to get penalized.  I actually thought I might be riding erratically and that they were watching me (hmm...paranoid much?!), so finally asked if everything was OK and they said yes, that they were just keeping an eye on the AG leaders. I was totally floored that in my state I was leading the bike in my AG - very odd position for me to be in.  I rode into T2 and my entire rack was empty, confirming what the officials had told me.  Being the sole person on my rack afforded me the luxury of 2 volunteers in T2, so I got to leave a tornado of gear in my wake and had a pretty good switch.  The long T2 time reflects a much needed potty stop, at which time the vision cleared up a little and I decided to give running a shot.

The first 2k on the run felt awful. My legs were cramping and it was hot.  I stopped at the first aid station to collect myself, then plodded along.  I eventually started feeling so-so on my feet, but never good.  The headache started and the vision disturbance was off and on.  It seemed to improve when I would stop moving, so there was a lot of walking through aid stations.  Cold sponges were money.

My run time was poor, but I can't expect much better for the amount of time I spent nursing myself.  One girl in my AG passed me at 8k in, and there was nothing I could do. There was another behind me, but I was able to pull off a decent enough last 4k to fend her off. While I was running, my pace was decent - 4:30 or so - so the tempo work seems to be paying off. Trouble was that I had to stop so much to allay the cramping, headache and sight issues that I never managed to get any consistency in my pacing.  I didn't see the clock at the finish (or really anything on the last 3 block stretch!) and just made a beeline for the chairs at the finish and relished sitting down.  The blurred vision and dizziness persisted for about 15 minutes after I finished, the headache for hours.

Props to the friendly volunteers in Boise who put on a great race (apart from the shuttle issues).  The transitions were well organized, the aid stations were frequent and the volunteers were fantastic.  Our drop bags were organized and ready for us to pick up less than 30 minutes after the finish, and the awards were promptly and efficiently managed.  Great small town vibe, fantastic finish area, tough but good race course.  

There are a number of aspects about the race that I am happy with.  My bike split was the second fastest in my AG (by a mere 30 seconds) and I felt really comfortable on my bike.  I was pleased with my run pace (while I was moving) and feel that the tempo work is paying off.  And my sunscreen worked! :) 

I am disappointed at barely missing sub-5 with my 5:00:55 finish, but extremely appreciative of the fact that I finished so close to my goal. Was very, very close to my first DNF and probably had no business being out there in the shape I was in - this was the hardest day I have had in a race in a long time.  

In retrospect, I think that mild head stroke and/or dehydration could have been the cause of my woes.  I'll never know for sure, but think that the hours in the sun preceding the race, dicey pre-race nutrition and the shock of the cold water contributed towards making my head really unhappy.  Several the other racers I know had serious, serious stomach / dehydration issues and really rough days that took mine on a run for its money. 

Posing with our unbreakable trophies - Rachel with an incredible 3rd place pro finish in her first 70.3
My suffering and effort, however, was good enough to earn myself the right to do it again at the Las Vegas 70.3 championship, as I finished 2nd in my age group and earned my slot.  Less than 2 hours later, with my forehead oozing from helmet chafing, I had handed over payment for my slot....we are funny creatures, aren't we?   

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