Sunday, July 31, 2011

Race Report - Creek Streak Olympic Triathlon

There's a whole bunch of stuff to discuss here so I'll try not to go on and on. Like eating an elephant: one bite at a time, that's probably the best way to summarize this one.

If you read my rant at race directors a couple of posts back, you'll recall that I was unhappy about the lack of information about whether or not there would be a pre-race equipment check. Shortly after, they did confirm that bikes could be dropped off the day before to avoid congestion on the shuttle buses.

On Friday afternoon, my brother and I arrived at the Aurora store of Runner's Roost where packet pick-up was organized and went quickly and easily. At the strong recommendation of one of the officials, we opted to do our body marking there rather than wait until the next morning.

Then it was off to Cherry Creek State Park and the staging and transition area by Smoky Hill beach. Judging from the aerial maps, this is the largest lot in the entire park and I'd guess it can accommodate somewhere between 300 - 400 vehicles. Of course, a large section of this was taken up by transition. Although the website indicated that there would be security personnel on site to ensure that there were no bike thefts, we didn't see any indication of that. There were nicer bikes than ours there, but in the interests of being safe, we both locked our bikes to the rack and left them for the night:

Early the next morning we arrived at Smoky Hill High School to catch the shuttle bus to the race. It was around 5:45 or so and we were on our way. A fair number of people had brought there bikes with them that morning and it made for kind of a crowded bus, but we all fit and so far, everything was going according to plan. As we left the school, I saw another bus pulling into the lot. We nearly took a wrong turn when our driver (who clearly had not been given a good set of directions) asked where to go to get to the staging area. A participant from last year--apparently unaware that the location within the park had changed--told her to make a left. The rest of the bus straightened that out. Fortunately, once you drive it, you don't need those directions again, so no harm done.

Arriving in transition, both of our bikes were there and now it was just time to set up. This was only my third time setting up an "official" transition area, but bricks and aquathlons had given me enough practice to know the routine reasonably well. Then it was just time to wait. And wait. And wait.

Turns out, the transportation strategy may not have been well thought out. The event website indicated that both spectators and athletes alike needed to shuttle into the park. Pretty clearly, estimates about how long that would take were far too optimistic. This was compounded by the fact that clearly the event organizers and park officials were not on the same page. When the bus carrying my wife and my brother's family arrived at the entrance gate, the guard actually refused to let them pass without paying the $9 entry fee. Seriously. It took, I'm told, about ten to fifteen minutes to sort that out. And keep in mind, it was not just the spectators on the bus, it was athletes as well.

All of this resulted in a delayed start. I can't say I was minding all that much at this point, but also keep in mind that late July in Colorado is normally about the warmest time of the year. In other words, the day was getting later and the temperature was going steadily up. More on that later.

I had time for a short warm-up lap in the water and then it was time for the sprint athletes to start. Given the delay, the times between waves were shortened so we started about 5 minutes after the sprint rather than 15 but this was still not a real problem.

I found myself feeling pretty nervous. I think all of the waiting had finally gotten to me and I just wanted to get going. There was a very long trek before me and waiting does not help ease the tension. At last we got going. Cherry Creek Reservoir, at least along that beach, is shallow for the first several yards so I was kind of wading until finally diving in and starting my stroke. The swim felt pretty good to me. Unlike some Aquathalons, this was one long 1500 meter loop with no run across the beach and so no laps. That made the long stretch of the course go for a while, but I just kept up a steady pace though not nearly as much effort as I think I would have put into a sprint. The crowd was pretty much with me all of the way and I bumped into a few people. Before I realized it, it was time to turn back to the beach. I was supposed to keep the last buoy on my right instead of left like all of the others which meant a short back-track to go around it. Since this was well within sight of the beach, I expect I would have gotten a penalty or possibly even a DQ.

Unlike the aquathlons or the Greeley Triathlon, this was a fairly long run from the beach to transition. By my estimates, it was nearly 0.2 mile to get to my bike. Also unlike Greeley, there were no wetsuit strippers so I had to do the honors myself. That was fine. I've been doing it at the aquathlon events so I was used to it. Transition went pretty well and I was ready to go:

And this is how I felt through pretty much all of the bike:

It felt really good. I didn't totally attack it considering the 6 mile run that was to follow, but I felt good. The HR only spiked on the one big hill. It was a two lap track that I measured at just under 11 miles each. Unlike my last two competitive bike events, this one felt great at the finish.

The bike also provided the highest entertainment of the event. No there were not any bands but other people on the course were entertaining enough. Less than a mile into the ride, a woman (a very important woman apparently) was shouting "on your left) at me and shouted it again when I didn't crash my bike to get out of my way. This has happened in all three events I've been in this year. As she went by me we approached an intersection and she didn't know if she was supposed to turn or go left. I went by her as she tried to figure it out. When she passed me again, she didn't say anything. Priceless.

Later, on the second lap, I came up behind a guy on a very nice looking Cervelo TT bike. Even though he was on the lighter, faster carbon bike, I was catching him and, mindful of USAT drafting rules, I picked up the pace and went around him. No sooner had I gained the lead then there he was, drafting on me!. And it was not subtle, borderline drafting. He was right in the zone. I looked back a couple of times in annoyance before he went around me and said, "don't worry, I'm not in the race." You've got to love it. On a triathlon bike, riding on the triathlon course, during, the triathlon, but not a participant.

Finally, as I neared the bike finish, I saw a woman riding ahead of me who appeared to be standing very high on her pedals. As I got closer, I realized she was not on a bike at all but an EliptiGO. Obviously she was not competing, but it was amusing nevertheless. My description can't do it justice so follow the link if you want to see more about it. Before I knew it, the ride was coming to an end.

I got out of both pedals and came to an easy stop at the crash line and ran into transition. I do think all of the practice with the mundane things has paid off. Items were arranged in order of need on my towel and I was out in 2:32 which is not my fastest, but this is also an Oly so I think a little more time made some sense.

Then it was time to go out and face the run.

I don't know the actual temperatures during the run, but I think it would be safe to say that they were well into the eighties and probably quite a bit warmer in the unshaded areas. As I approached the turn around, I was feeling not well at all. I had taken water at each stop and as I turned around I even dumped some on my head, but I could not cool off. By the time I reached the 4.25 mark, I slowed to a brisk walk for a couple of minutes until my HR had come back down below 140. Then I started up again until reaching one of the final hills. I walked up it and then ran down and continued again until the final big hill. Again, I walked until reaching that summit and then took one more slow walk before finishing the rest of the race at a slow run. There's not a lot of detail in this picture, but my wife tells me that I looked like I was either going to puke or pass out:

I would note, however, that the guy behind me did not pass me, so at least there is that. I still finished at just over an our which was only four minutes over my goal for the run. An ice cold bottle of water and an equally icy towel were waiting for me  as I crossed the finish line and rarely have I been so relived. I really don't recall the last time I finished a race with so little left in the tank.

I have no regrets on this one. I was in good enough physical shape to do it, but the heat on the run was just too much. Would an on time start have made a difference. Maybe, but I can't say for sure.

In the end, I still met my goal for the race and although there were only 7 people in my age group, I finished fourth. More impressive still, my brother got second!

Race Review:

I like to start with the bad and end with the good. I also want to say up front that the event impressed me enough to come back next year and do it again. Ultimately, there can be no higher praise:

The bad:

Pre-Race Communication: Information about parking, start times, early equipment checks and so on were not posted until very late. I don't know for sure, but I expect that State Park officials may have been a contributing factor to some of this, so I give the race directors a partial pass. Nevertheless, I've yet to see a triathlon that couldn't improve in this area.

Transportation: Again, I expect that spectators and participants were required to enter the park via shuttle bus because park officials did not want the event overwhelming the parking lots. If that was the hand dealt to the race director, that sucks. But it is also their responsibility to make sure there is a viable solution in place. A clear plan about where on the somewhat large Smoky Hill High campus pick-ups were being done, where the drivers were supposed to go and how all of those people and their bikes were going to fit should have been though through well in advance. A meeting with the transportation company, assuming one even happened, should have had all of this addressed.

Rewarding Bad Behavior: I mentioned this in my rant against race directors. Out of concern for the lack of parking, my brother and I took the shuttle and told our families to do the same. Meanwhile, others, including plenty of athletes, parked in the lot right next to transition. We might as well have done the same for all of the enforcement of their own rules.

Overnight Security: I did not see any guards nor did anyone else I spoke to in transition pre-race. That's not to say they weren't there, but a visible presence by security is part of what discourages theft. Fortunately, I have not heard of any bikes being stolen, but there should have been people present to ensure that equipment costing thousands of dollars was well secured. If you can't do that, you should not have the previous day check-in.

Course direction: I personally believe that if you are doing any kind of a race, ride, swim, whatever, you should spend some time studying the course map. This event had maps available in both PDF and on Running Ahead. However, there was one particular intersection that was confusing and I saw some riders going the wrong way. I have no first hand knowledge of this, but was told that they were given bad directions by a volunteer. Four roads come in unevenly to this intersection and its easy to see how one could get confused if they had not ever been there before. I have to ask how hard would it be to get a big piece of poster board and make a sign that says "Cyclists: Do Not Enter"

The good:

Venue: With it's self contained roads, huge lake and abundant running paths, this is an excellent place for a triathlon. The grassy area by the picnic shelter made for a great location for the awards area. The huge parking lot also made for a good transition area while still allowing an easy flow for the finish.

On-course support: The one bad direction scenario not withstanding, I thought the volunteer crew at this one was excellent. There was lots of encouragement and the direction I personally received were good. They also were handing out bottles of water and Gatorade on the bike course which is a first. It's a nice touch. Though I had my own hydration and nutrition with me, the effort was appreciated. There also seemed to be adequate water on the run course (I think only a fire truck pacing me could have kept me cool) and it was always ready. In fact, at the run turn around, the volunteer was asking runners whether they wanted water or Gatorade as they approached and had cups ready.

Value: Entryy fees for the Olympic were only $25 and then each participant had to either raise or donate another $50 for their charity of choice. All in, that's $75 and two thirds of it is deductible. You can't find anything for that cheap anymore!

Fundraising Format: Offering reduced entry fees for raising money for your choice of charities is one of the cooler things I've seen anywhere. I was personally able to raise $325 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund
and the event itself raised $75,000 for various charities. It's a great idea and I hope we'll see more of it. Less important than the money I raised, though also pretty cool, was the insulated water bottle I got for my efforts:

In the time since my finish, I've been enjoying a lot of beer and pizza and doing little else (except writing this blog). I may do some lifting and an easy ride and then, weather permitting, do my final Aquaman on Tuesday. After that, I hope to have some pretty good posts up here. So stay tuned for the Italian Job!

Until then....

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