This Saturday was my half iron tune-up race for Lake Placid.  My training has been sporadic and pretty minimal, but I’ve been trying to do quality workouts to at least make the most of what I can fit in.  I’ve been spending my time focusing on my bike, since that is my weakest leg, and also the longest leg of the race.  I’ve been working hard on my climbing and my speed on the flats, and I feel like I’m seeing improvement.  I’ve been riding the Lake Placid course as frequently as possible, and am getting faster and more confident each time.  I’m still slow, but at least at this point, I feel better about making the cutoffs.

So back to the race.

Friday afternoon, I went up to Hague to pick up my race packet and stop by the pre-race athlete meeting.  Check in and packet pickup was very smooth.  The athlete meeting was run by the race director, Mark Wilson.  He was very friendly and entertaining.  The thing that I was most impressed with was his desire to work with the athletes and give them whatever they needed on race day.  It definitely had gave the race a nice personal touch that you just don’t get at a bigger race.

After the athlete meeting, I headed home, packed my equipment, and gave my bike a pre-race check.  Then it was time for dinner and bed.

Saturday morning my alarm went off at 3:30 am.  I made some breakfast, loaded up the car, and headed up to Hague.

Parking was easy since we were there early.  I rolled my bike into the transition area and set up my stuff.  There was plenty of room for every athlete, complete with stool, a bin for bags, etc., and a designated spot on the bike rack.  Each stool was pre-marked with each athlete’s name and bib number, so there was no rushing to snag space, which was great.

The transition area was going to close at 6:40am, so shortly before that, I got into my wetsuit and headed down to the beach.  There were several other members of my triathlon club racing that day – including one doing his first full! – and it was nice to see everyone on the beach, zipping into their wetsuits.  Several of us wandered into the water, which was delightfully warm right at the shore, but then got significantly colder just a few strokes out.

Just before 7am, Mark called us all out of the water.  He gave a few quick instructions for the athletes, and then went down to the end of the point to sound the horn.  We all waded out into the water (it was a mass start), and about a minute later, the boat Mark was signaling sounded its horn.  We were off.

The Swim

The 1.2 mile swim course was basically a big diamond.  I felt really good through the swim.  I was a little worried about not feeling comfortable on the swim, but I managed to get rid of my last early season OWS jitters at our tri club practice on Thursday.

The jitters were gone, but the other bodies and flailing arms and legs were not.  I found it to be a pretty physical swim for most of the way.  There were only a few moments where I really felt like I had open space to work with, and other than that, I was constantly being squeezed between two people, smacked in the legs, back of the head, or arms, or getting cut off or just plain stopped in front of.  It was a little obnoxious.  There was a group of three guys in particular that were making me a little nuts.  They would keep blowing past me, swimming with everything they had, and then stopping five feet in front of me to talk and rest.  I kept having to pop my head up and go around them.  I finally had enough when I rounded the third and final buoy and they had stopped immediately behind it, where I couldn’t see them.  I almost plowed into them, popped my head out of the water, and out of sheer surprise (I swear I wasn’t trying to be a bitch), yelled “jeez!”  Oops.

After that, it was pretty smooth sailing – aside from the guy near me who couldn’t swim in a straight line to save his life and repeatedly cut me off through the entire swim.  Like many other people that day, I had a little bit of an issue sighting the buoys since they were a dark red color and didn’t really stand out.  But once I had a landmark to work with, I was fine.  When I rounded the last buoy and made the turn for the beach, it took me a minute to figure out where I was going.  After a minute or so, I got my bearings, and headed into shore.

I walked out of the lake, peeling off the top of my wetsuit as I went.  Mark was waiting on the beach to greet every single athlete with a handshake, smile, and congratulations, as they came out of the water.  I hit the mat at 43:14 (not bad – about two minutes slower than I would like, but considering I’ve barely swam at all, I’m happy with that), and headed into T1.

T1

Just beyond the timing gate (there were no mats here), there were some fabulous wetsuit strippers.  My girl worked her magic in about two seconds flat, and I ran into the transition area.

At longer races, I prefer to take the extra minute to actually change my shorts so I’m more comfortable (I’m not competitive anyway, so what’s an extra minute?), so I grabbed my bike shorts and ran to the changing tent.  A few moments later, and I was good to go.  I chugged a bit of water (breathing while swimming makes my mouth super dry), put my bike shoes, jersey, and helmet on, unracked my bike, and was out to the mount line.

T1: 5:26 (not bad considering at B2B I was 11+ minutes)

The Bike

Holy f-balls, this was the bike course from hell.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Okay, I’ll write more then.

So the bike course had a lot of people nervous.  in the 56 mile out-and-back (which actually appeared to be more like 58 miles), there were 3,215 feet of climbing.  That’s 700+ feet MORE than Lake Placid’s course.  Oh, did I mention that 1,300 of those feet were in the first five miles alone?

No???  Silly me.

HITS bike

The first five miles of this bike course are a category 2 climb, up and over Graphite Mountain, just to the west of Hague.  My goal was to not get off my bike and walk.  And I did it!  I put my bike in the easiest gear, and just plugged away.  I am absolutely certain that if I hadn’t been riding the Lake Placid course so much, I never would have been able to do it.  But overall, it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be.  Sure it was long, and my legs were tired, but I never had that “oh my god, I feel like I am going to die” moment.

I hit the top of the mountain with an average speed of… 6.2 mph!  Wow.  But then I got to do the fun three mile descent down the back.  One nice thing about this course is that the roads are in great shape, and are pretty much wide open, so I was able to get some decent speed on the way down.

Most of the rest of the way out was full of nonstop rollers, but nothing horrible.  I have no idea what I averaged on the “flats” because my garmin didn’t record split times (grrr…), but I felt pretty strong, and based on my real time splits (that don’t appear to be saved), I was hitting 17-18 mph pretty consistently.  Hooray!

Just before the turnaround, there was one more fairly unpleasant climb – a category 5.  After a few minutes, I made it to the top, and the turnaround.  It was well marked, with police, volunteers, cones, and an aid station.  I buzzed around the cones, and headed back to Hague.

The only really eventful parts of the bike were going up and over Graphite Mountain again at the very end.  Worst climb of my life!  It was horrible at the end of a 56 (58?) mile ride – I can’t imagine the people who did the full.

The climb over the mountain back into Hague is a category 3 climb, and was so much worse than the cat 2 we had to do on the way out.  Partially because my legs were getting tired, and partially because it was steeper.  I felt like I was busting my ass and getting almost nowhere.  BUT, I didn’t walk.  I actually passed three or four people who were, too!

Also, I was going so slowly that a horsefly started to follow me, and the proceeded to bite me in the armpit.  Bastard.

After several minutes of churning away, exchanging encouragement and a few curses with those around me, I made it to the top, fist pumped, shouted out a nice loud “$%@* yeah!” and then began the final descent into Hague.

The five mile downhill at the very end was wonderful.  I enjoyed the smooth and quiet roads, and blew down that mountain with a big smile on my face.  That is, until a bee flew into my bike, and got itself caught in my aeronet (the mesh bag for water and fuel between my aerobars).  I was barreling down the mountain doing at least 45 mph, and there was an angry bee stuck in my bag, only inches from my face.

Cue panic.

Fortunately, after a few minutes (or what felt like a few minutes, but was probably more like 30 seconds) of angry buzzing, the bee dislodged itself from my bag, showed me mercy, and flew away.

I was free!!!

I cruised into Hague and into T2 with a bike time of 4:15:20.  Significantly slower than what I was hoping for, but considering the difficulty of the course, I’m very happy with it.  Also, my splits were 2:15:57 for the first half, which means that I did the second half in just under 2 hours.  Yeah, negative splits!

T2

I re-racked my bike, and changed into my running gear (including a change of shorts again because I HATE HATE HATE running in bike shorts).  The garmin came off of my bike and onto my wrist, and away I went.

T2: 4:47

The Run

The two biggest challenges on the run course were:

1) the heat

2) the hills

It was as if they thought the bike course wasn’t hilly enough, they decided to squeeze in a couple more on the run.  And by a couple, I mean as many as was physically possible.

HITS run

Not one single second of that run course was flat.  Not one.  Nada.  Zilch.  Zip.

When I started out on the run course (which I admittedly didn’t look at the profile of beforehand – oops), I told myself that the only times I was allowed to walk were uphills, and aid stations.  if it was flat, or downhill, I HAD to run.  And I stuck to it, which I’m proud of.

At every aid station, I made good use of my ice-in-the-sports-bra personal cooling method.  I still maintain that it’s the best thing ever.  I also stuck ice in my hat.  These ice reserves were restocked at every aid station (which was about every 1.5 miles).  That made a big difference.

Aside from being hilly, the run course was very pretty.  Aid stations were frequent, and very well stocked.  Volunteers were very nice and helpful.  And the course was well marked.  It did appear to be about .75 miles short though (which I was totally okay with).  There really isn’t much to report about the run.  I saw a lot of my tri club friends as they passed me on their way in to the finish, and my old high school track coach (I had also bumped into him at the pre-race meeting) who kicked my ass.  Eventually I made it to the turnaround, and made the (supposedly) 6.55 mile trek back into the finish.

Coming into the finish, the announcer called my name, I crossed the line, and got my medal.  A volunteer handed me some water and took my timing chip, and I met up with some friends.  After a few minutes of chatting, it was off to immerse (and de-grossify) myself in the lake – probably the best moment of the whole day.

Run time: 2:30:21 (not bad considering the heat and the hills)

Total time: 7:39:11 (almost a full hour slower than my half iron last year, but I don’t think these two courses are even comparable)

Thoughts on HITS

Since HITS is new to the tri scene as of last year, a lot of people have been reluctant to sign up for one of their races.  My advice would be to do it!  They were great!  I’ve been dealing with them for a long time now, since I originally signed up for their full at Cooperstown that was supposed to run in fall 2012.  I deferred to the 2013 race, but when HITS bought out our local race (The North Country Triathlon), I asked them if I could switch.

Their answer?  Sure!

I also asked if since they had rolled out their new pricing system (basically 50% off), could I be refunded the difference since I paid the original registration fee.

Their answer?  Sure!  (Me:  REALLY???)

I found every one of my interactions with their office to be very pleasant and helpful.  Not to mention quick.

As for race day – Mark was great.  He was very personable, and responsive to athletes requests.  It was very clear that everyone there wanted to put on a great event and had the athletes’ best interests (and safety) in mind.  The courses were well marked (really, you can’t get lost on this course since it’s basically one road all the way), aid stations were frequent enough, and well supplied.  And volunteers were helpful and pleasant.  Aside from the minor issue with the bike course being slightly long and the run being slightly short, I really didn’t see anything that was an issue.  Granted this is the perspective from the back of the pack, but I loved it and would happily do another one of their races.

Up next, Ironman Lake Placid!

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