Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Good Times in the MWCTC

June is coming to a close, and the racing season is now well under way in the Midwest Collegiate Tri Conference!  The Midwest conference is made up of schools in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin.  In all there are between 12 and 20 schools depending on how you count, with official membership reserved for teams that are USA Triathlon member clubs in good standing with their schools.  Collegiate racing and my recently completed term as the conference commissioner have given me the chance to meet some fantastic people from across the region.  It's fun to have an added team element to racing in this mainly individual sport, and to have a network of friends at races throughout the year.  This year the first two conference races were in our neck of the woods earlier in the month, so I took the opportunity to help the Badgers start earning some points!  Since I was racing for Wisconsin as well as Team Rev3 these 2 weekends, I did my best to represent both with some kit mixing and matching :)

Team pre-race cheer. Look at all those sexy BlueSeventy suits!
Elkhart Lake Triathlon
Wisconsin had a pretty big group head up to represent us at this race.  It was my third time there, and this year was by far the coolest (yay).  Our collegiate wave started 3 min behind the elite wave, and the rest of the age groupers began in time-trial fashion after us.  After a fairly rough first few hundred meters, I found some clear water and settled in by myself for pretty much the whole swim, knowing that a few people were way too far up to catch and not really knowing where anyone else was.  I swam a little too far right of the buoy line on the way in, but could tell I was catching the back of the elite wave so things had to be going decently well.  I came out of the water with my teammate David, who had a fantastic swim.  With a very quick wetsuit removal thanks to my Trislide, though, I passed him before transition even though he is a much faster runner.  I did my best to calm my breathing after climbing the steep hill to the racks and had a pretty smooth transition onto the bike.

One of the nice things (for me, anyway) about this "Olympic" distance race is that the bike is slightly longer than normal- 28 miles of rolling hills.  A couple of fast guys including Iowan Jack Parr and super runner Patrick Brady whizzed by me in the first 5 miles, but aside from that it was a pretty lonely ride with just me and my PowerTap.  I felt strong and just focused on holding speed wherever I could without spiking the effort too much on the hills.  The ride flew by quickly, and before I knew it I was back at transition sliding into my new Pearl Izumi Tri N1's.

Thanks to PB's "Paularazzi" for catching me out of T2!
On the way out of transition, a friend yelled that a female was 30 seconds up.  I had no idea whether this person was elite or collegiate, but I got to work and tried to start reeling her in.  My stride actually felt pretty good, and I felt under control on this cool day- a nice change from past races here.  The woman up ahead looked very strong, but to my surprise and delight, she wasn't getting away- I was inching closer.  I knew all of the hard parts of the course were still ahead in miles 2-5, so I tried to keep myself in check instead of getting too excited.  I saw a lot of friends on the out and back section, and cheering for them helped to keep me cheery as well- funny how that works!  On this section it became clear that one woman (Lauren Jensen) had a sizable lead, but the two of us were the next females.  We hit a section with a few short steep uphills that took quite a bit out of my legs, and I fought to hold the margin.  The big hill on this course is at ~ mile 4.5, so I prepared to take that really hard and see where it got me.  It turned out I didn't have quite enough left- my companion slowly slipped farther away.  I've still got some work to do on my hill running.  I ended up turning in the second fastest time of the day, though, after accounting for start times.  Since I had entered the collegiate division instead of elite, I wasn't eligible for prize money and instead won the "age group" race.  But it was nice to be out there representing the Badgers and know that I was right in the mix with some fast women! Congrats to Lauren on the win- she's an inspiration, and a reminder that I have plenty of time to improve.
splits: 23:10/ 1:57/ 1:18:02/ 1:40/ 45:32, total: 2:30:21

As a side note, it's really useful to repeat a race multiple years as a way to track progress.  Conditions are a bit different for every race, obviously, but some comparisons can still be made.  Bike splits tend to be most stable from year to year since swim courses must be re-set every year, and the run is most affected by differences in temperature.  Here is a slice of data from my races at Elkhart:

2011- bike 1:24:05, total 2:42:14
2012- bike 1:20:25, total 2:36:50
2013- bike: 1:18:02, total 2:30:21

The lesson... consistent training pays off!  Sometimes it's hard to see the improvements we are making until we take a step back.  Trust your coach, trust the process, and be patient!

Rockford Triathlon
The drive was only an hour to this one, so I decided to wake up dark and early (3a.m.!) to drive down with a couple teammates and take the opportunity to sleep in my own bed.  It rained for most of the drive, and the forecast didn't look promising, but this year I've gotten quite used to racing in dreary conditions.  The major detrimental effect of the rain on the race seemed to be that it scared away many volunteers, leaving it pretty short-handed.  More on that soon...

The collegiate wave started first.  It was a joint conference race with the Mideast and Midwest conferences, so the wave was pretty large and it was fun to see some different teams represented (Illinois, etc) in addition to the usual suspects (Iowa State and friends).  The swim was 2 loops in a small lake that was very weedy on the back stretch. After 1 loop, each athlete had to run out of the water across a timing mat on the beach before heading back in.  It was nice to see this in place to make sure that everyone did the full course- I'm always of the opinion that the more timing mats on the course, the better!  I felt okay but was excited to get out of the water.

There was a long run up to transition, and part of it wasn't marked so I wasn't sure which path to take.  Fortunately some people at the top of the hill (volunteers? spectators?) spotted me looking around and starting to follow the sidewalk, and yelled to redirect me straight up the hill. At least one speedy runner (my friend Kris, the eventual collegiate winner!) passed me in transition, but in general it went smoothly.
Trying to get my bearings leaving T1, and looking
pretty thrilled with the rain (ha!)

The bike course was a gently rolling out and back with a narrow turnaround in the middle of a 2 lane road. I've improved my cornering confidence a lot lately, but wet roads are still enough to kill it right now.  I lost a good chunk of time unclipping to scoot around the cone safely.  Oops.  Aside from that I seemed to be holding my place in the field well- I passed two very fast swimming Minnesota girls early, and not many guys were coming by me.  I was struggling to get my power up where I wanted it, and after a while just stopped looking at the computer and rode by feel the best I could.  My cycling legs showed up the last week, but they must have stayed in bed today!  It's hard to nail every piece of the puzzle each time. A quick T2 and I was out for the most challenging part of the race.

Unlike the run at Elkhart there were no giant hills on this course, but the small hills were one after the other with barely any flat stretches.  The run was a big loop with a short "stick" to and from the transition/finish area and a short out-and-back at about halfway.  My teammate Jim had passed me late in the bike and was still relatively close at the beginning of the run, so I did my best to keep him in sight as long as possible.  The roads around the lake loop were quiet, and I quickly noticed that there were no directional arrows or signs at the places were other roads split from or crossed the course.  I had looked at the maps the night before, but it was still a bit disconcerting not to have confirmation that I was going the right way.  I relied a large part on which way the guys in the distance turned in front of me.  No mile markers either... I was relieved to reach the out and back section to know how far I was!  The course was pretty, though, my legs felt strong even on the uphills, and I was holding the distance to a Minnesota male a little bit in front of me.  In fact, I saw him glance back periodically throughout the run, which made me think I had a chance at catching him and helped to keep me pushing hard on the lonely stretches.  I held things together well and still never caught him, but it was a good battle!
splits: 23:13/ 2:14/ 1:08:23/ 0:45/ 43:57, total: 2:18:35
Heading into the finish. Another perk of having friends from other teams?
More people to take pictures.  Thanks Matt!
A minute or two after I finished, I was confused to see a couple of Iowa guys who had been a decent bit in front of me halfway through the run just crossing the line.  Huh?  As it turned out, a number of males had overshot an unmarked turn and added about 3/4 mile or so to their runs. As a USAT sanctioned event, it was a race rule that it is the athlete's responsibility to know the course... but this was an unfortunate situation since there were no markings.  A number of athletes wanted times adjusted, which I understand, but there was no fair way to decide how much time to give to particular athletes, even if the USAT rule wasn't in effect.  The bike course had been very well marked, so I'm not sure what happened with the run course.  I felt bad for the race staff, though, who were clearly working hard and doing their best on the day with the very limited help available.  Unfortunately without enough volunteers to help corral the relay racers, too, timing had also gotten very confused due to athletes walking across mats when they shouldn't have.  The end result was that times and splits couldn't be finalized quickly enough to determine placings and awards that morning.  So we finished catching up with our fellow racers, enjoyed some warm post-race sandwiches (welcome on the still fairly chilly morning), packed up, and headed back home. 

As a nice surprise, I was finally able to meet Rev3 teammie Laura, whose husband was racing that morning too.  Pretty cool!

These races wrapped up a big block for me. The next one on the calendar right now is Pewaukee in mid July, then Rev3 Wisconsin Dells in August!  I may not be able to resist sneaking something else in there too, we'll see.  For now it's time to get both some solid training done and some good academic work in.  I'm actually currently visiting at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to work on a project- but I'll have to wait until I get back to Wisconsin to post pics, since I forgot my camera cord and my phone camera pales in comparison.  Something to look forward to!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Embracing Discomfort

This post is a little bit about triathlon, and the closest to a Lake Mills Triathlon race report you will see from me, but really it's much more general.  Sometimes I run across something that explains a feeling better than I can, and that's where this is coming from.  I don't want to write just another race report.  When inspiration strikes, you have to roll with it.  This article for the Huff Post blog really resonated with me and touched on a few things I've been thinking about a lot lately. Here's my favorite passage from it:
"There is real value to the attitude that teaches us to analyze a situation fully before jumping in, to avoid assumptions, to be prudent. But we hold onto caution more tightly than we realize. If you're really going to commit to something, you're going to have to catch yourself at that moment when your instinct tells you to play it safe. Embrace the discomfort. Push through the caution. Even if you're fighting for breath and your quads are burning, and even if you're staring at the blank space of an empty screen. Keep going."
The article is mainly about the application of a lesson from rowing to the rest of life: the need to push your own boundaries, to step out of your comfortable little box and see where it gets you if you really want to grow and improve.  As a former rower, I believe I learned how to do that pretty well in the boat.  If you're not hunched over your oar wishing for death at the end of a 2k race, you left too much out there.  And your teammates deserved more.  At least, that's how I always saw it.

Rowing is hard.  Really, really hard.

Chasing that final 1%
Fast forward to my journey in triathlon.  I became a swimmer at age 8 and continued through high school, so I was a pretty decent swimmer for a triathlete right away upon picking it back up at 22 even though I was very rusty and much slower than I was at 14.  And starting cycling fresh off of rowing wasn't too difficult either, honestly.  My legs were pretty strong, and while I had ZERO technical skills, I could hold my own with my new teammates and my confidence grew quickly. With a few more years of training I have become stronger and more efficient, and found that I loved to bike, loved to time trial, loved to push myself every bit as hard as I did in rowing.  Winter time trials at SBR usually finished with Summer stumbling out the door to hunch over the wood chips.  I knew I could give it everything I had.

Running, however, was a different story.  I didn't run in high school, and while I'd always enjoying the run part of training for other sports, I did no run-specific training until I took up tri.  I came in with no knowledge of form.  I just ran.  And I was ok; I was fit.  But compared to my swim and bike, my run was way behind, race after race.  And slowly, steadily, it got to me.  I have always been competitive: with others, but even more so with myself.  I try to be the best I can at everything I do.  I got frustrated with my slow running progress.  I labeled myself a poor runner.  And because of that, when the going got tough in races, when I saw girls coming for me, passing me, part of me let myself accept that: it was inevitable, it was "supposed" to happen.  I was a swim-biker; I was bigger than they were; I just wasn't cut out to be a runner.  Excuses.  I lacked the same confidence and killer instinct that I'd had as a swimmer, a rower, and that I'd learned as a cyclist.  The pain came, and I backed off slightly, afraid to blow up.  Afraid of giving my all and finding that it wasn't even close to good enough.  I couldn't find the guts to dig until the finish line was in my sights.  And it took me a long time to realize I was doing this.  My triathlon runs have always seemed just a little bit short of what I felt like I could do, and upon reflection I noted that it was often not my legs that were holding me back in the middle of the race.  I was hot.  My stomach felt sick.  I was uncomfortable, and habitually I relegated myself to managing a certain level of discomfort.  But really, what would happen if I really just went for it?  What was I afraid of?

Starting the Lake Mills run.  Thanks to
Aaron Pratt for catching this.
On to Lake Mills.  It's the basically the Wisconsin tri scene's season-opener.  For a small sprint, the race always attracts a lot of top talent.  I'd spectated or volunteered the past 3 years, and finally wanted to try it out for myself and see how I stacked up.  It wouldn't be a priority race, just for fun.  With that in mind, I talked through my thoughts about my run with my coach and we decided to let the race be an experiment.  The plan was simple: bike like hell, then push the run with whatever I had left.

Race day did not disappoint.  I had a great time seeing so many friends on the course.  I started in the elite wave, which was coed, so that was fun.  Despite almost missing the start, rough water, and a stop to tread water and fix my goggles after they got kicked out of place, I left the water and T1 in good position.  I was biking without power for this race, so I just tried to keep the males ahead of me in sight and made sure the effort was high enough to keep me breathing hard throughout the whole leg.  A little bit to my surprise I rolled into T2 with the women's lead, but I could hear that 2nd (Cindi Bannink) was hot on my heels.  Since she typically outran me by a lot, this would be a good test of my strategy.  I felt pretty strong, and tried to focus on my form and stay internal instead of thinking about what was happening behind.  I made it to the turnaround still holding the lead, and knew I must be running well.  But the moment came, Cindi picked it up on the second half and came by me at about mile 2.  And I fought to keep her as close as possible, to do what I promised to myself and my coach.  I felt sick but kept charging.  And about a quarter mile from the line, I found out what would happen.  Right in front of all the spectators, my stomach contents worked their way up into my mouth, and I fought to keep it closed until I got over the line past the volunteers yelping for my timing chip, to the nearest trash can.  So I'm not going to post any of the flattering pictures from near the finish.  But aside from scaring people with my Exorcist impression, I felt great.  I felt proud.  I did exactly what I came to do.  I raced without regrets.

Carrying it over
Hanging out looking over the edge of
Half Dome with Cal Crew teammates
When it comes to non-athletic endeavors, pushing ourselves that extra bit to grow usually doesn't mean doing the same thing more intensely- it means moving in a different direction, blazing a new path.  It means letting ourselves be vulnerable in ways we aren't used to.  This is something I've realized I need to do a better job of in other areas of my life.  It's easy to fall into routines and get comfortable.  Momentum is a powerful thing.  I've always been good at adhering to expectations, working within a script, following a plan.  I cherish my sense of control.  I like to know what to expect.  But it's hard to make progress when you're imposing your own limitations.

Part of that rationale is why I tend to be a better communicator in writing than in person.  Having the time to craft something into exactly what you want you want it to say, having the power to edit it before sending it away, is comforting.  The internet age is kind to introverts.  But being able to confidently articulate information, wants, and needs to a variety of audiences, in real time, is invaluable. That's something I'm still working hard to improve, even though it can be scary.  I admire people who are great communicators.

As I move into the final year to year-and-a-half before finishing my doctorate, "things are getting real" in that arena.  I need to make jumps in both knowledge and ability.  They don't just give those degrees away.  The process is a bit intimidating, but I need to not be afraid to make mistakes or to ask for help when I need it.  No one is expected to know everything, even at this stage of the game.

So this is a pledge, a pep talk.  A promise to make an honest effort to take more initiative, take more chances, put myself out there even when it's terrifying.  To be more proactive in going after the things I want and better at directly communicating my needs and concerns.  To dream big and own my goals- because fully committing is the only way I'll be able to get there.  I will make mistakes.  I will fall on my face from time to time.  And that's okay.  I don't want any more opportunities to pass me by.  I've come a LONG way in the past 10 years, but I know I have so much more ahead of me.

What risks do you need to get better at taking?  Where can you push the envelope?  Is there something you can do to get out of your own way?

Cheers to you all and your dreams.  Go out and get them.

And for any of you who used to watch Boy Meets World like I did... go here and watch 4:15-5:25.  You may have to watch the rest of the episode for context...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Adventures in Boulder: UNAVCO visit

Yeah, I'm cool.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled race report to bring you some SCIENCE!

Though it may not always seem like it from this blog, triathlon is far from my day job.  Life as a grad student can certainly get hectic and stressful, and athletics have always been my release, my escape, my means of maintaining my sanity.  But many times there are fun opportunities as a student as well, and I recently took advantage of one of them: a trip out to Boulder, CO for a short course in Finite Element Modeling of Deformation at Volcanoes.

A science short course is an intensive class that is condensed into a short time frame, usually a few hours to a few days long.  In this case, the course took place over the Tuesday-Thursday of the week after Triple-T.  Our car arrived back in  Madison from Ohio very early Monday morning, and I flew out later in the morning.  So partly by accident and partly by design, I did absolutely zero swimming, biking, or running that Monday-Thursday.  Side note: don't expect to remember everything if you're packing while dead tired.  I think this turned out to be a very good thing, though.  The days in Colorado were full, with class from 9am to about 6pm and evening socializing and networking with the other participants.  It did make me a little bit jealous to see all the cyclists buzzing around the area during those few days, though.

Schematic of how InSAR works.  Blue: positions at
 time 1, pink: positions at time 2. Offset for ease of
viewing.  Range change is represented by rho.
The course took place at UNAVCO, which is a non-profit university-governed consortium that facilitates earth science education and research using geodesy: the study of the earth's shape, gravitational field, and rotation.  Some tools used in geodesy include GPS, gravimeters, tiltmeters, borehole strain measurements, and satellite radar measurements.  I was at the course because my dissertation is using data from technique called InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) to measure surface deformation at a volcano in Alaska, and I am learning to model this deformation using the finite element method.  For SAR, a satellite sends signals of a particular wavelength to the ground, and those signals bounce back to the satellite with an amplitude and phase that depend on the characteristics of the surface and the distance traveled by the signal.  Interferometric SAR involves using the difference in phase returned by a signal sent to a particular area on the ground at two different times to calculate the change in distance between the ground and the satellite, and therefore the uplift or subsidence of the ground, during that time period.  It's pretty amazing that this works when you consider all of the factors that go into making the measurements, and it's only possible because we know and can account for information such as satellite orbits so precisely.  InSAR is useful for volcano monitoring because volcanoes uplift when new magma moves into the system beneath them, so the amount of uplift of a volcano and the rate at which it occurs can be used to try to predict eruptions.

The course went really well- I feel like I learned a lot, and am much more competent with the modeling program I will be using!  Hurray.  I love the Boulder area, too... I could definitely see myself ending up out there one day.

With that, I'll leave you with some pictures snapped by the UNAVCO staff.

morning background lecture
loading our data sets
working through a demo model as a group
getting a tour of the UNAVCO warehouse- really fun stuff in there!
group shot in front of the office

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

American Triple-T Ohio

heading into transition rocking the Rev3 shorts
This race is one of my favorites, one that I look forward to heading back to year after year.  It's pretty much a racing junkie (guilty)'s dream: 4 triathlons over 3 days!  The event takes place in the Shawnee State Park near Portsmouth, Ohio.  I say "near" because there's really no town within miles, nothing close by except for the lodge and cabins up big a hill from the transition area at Turkey Creek Lake.  There isn't even reliable cell service from the lodge area.  Factor in a relatively small field of racers who are seeing each other on the courses all weekend, many of whom are returning racers, and most of whom are staying within the park, and you end up with a triathlon retreat weekend of sorts.  Everyone is required to wear the provided official Triple-T tri top.  We keep the same race numbers all weekend, so you end up chatting up the people who share your rack in transition, meeting people in the "ice bath" that is the creek post-race, etc.  The camaraderie makes the experience really fun.

So, how does this crazy thing work?  Athletes can enter "solo" or part as a two person "team".  The four races are a super sprint Friday night, an Olympic distance Saturday morning, another Olympic Saturday afternoon (but bike-swim-run) and a half distance on Sunday morning.  Your times from all four races are added together to get a total time for the weekend.  If you race as part of a team, you are allowed to draft off of your teammate on the bike leg of the third and fourth races, and the team's time includes the times of each member from the first two races, plus the time of the slower member from the third and fourth race (teammates are supposed to finish together on those two).  This was my third time at the race- it would've been the fourth, but I broke my hand in 2011 and had to back out.  The first two times I raced it as part of a coed team (thanks for pulling me around and being my run sherpas, Kory and Bill!).
Yeah.  Word on the street is that I punched a dragon.
Last year on the half distance's bike leg I remember being passed by a solo female and thinking she was a complete bada**... so of course this year I thought it would be a fun challenge to try it solo myself. This event always attracts some really fast folks, including a few pros, so I knew there would be great competition.  I always like seeing where I can stack up against the guys too.

The format of the race makes for a few unique challenges.  The main one is pacing.  Don't let yourself hear "Ohio" and be fooled, these courses are HILLY.  Go too hard on the first two races, and you'll find yourself walking up the trail on the half.  Fueling is another very important part of the weekend: you almost have to force yourself to keep eating on Saturday.  Recovery is key.  That's the part I messed up this year- academic deadlines meant much less sleep during the pre-race week and during the weekend than I really needed, and I definitely felt it catching up to me on the second two races.  Another challenge is managing all of your race gear. Nothing seems to really dry between races, so it is good to have spares of things if possible.  The tri top is necessarily the same for all 4 (kind of "ew," but unavoidable) but I packed 3 pairs of shorts: my new Pearl Izumi Rev3 ones for the super sprint and half, Endurance House ones for the morning Olympic, and Wisconsin tri ones for the afternoon Olympic.  I also recommend multiple pairs of socks, and bringing some newspaper to stuff shoes with, at least after the Saturday races.

Full race reports for each race would be completely overwhelming, so I'm going to attempt to cover just the highlights.  If you have any other questions about the courses or want any more details about my races, hit up the Comments section below!  I know these routes VERY well by now! :)

Friday p.m.: Prologue Super Sprint (250m swim/ 6k bike/ 1mi run)

Fast and furious, a good time to check out the competition and shake out the legs after a long drive. I went wetsuit-less since the lake was pretty warm this year compared to past years (mid-60s).  The bike is a short out and back, then a trip up the giant hill past the cabins and a screaming fast descent back to T2.  I have thankfully improved my descending since last year so my knuckles weren't quite as white at the bottom!  The run was flat, with a turnaround just before the spot where the trail we would be running on all weekend starts to climb. I kept myself to a quick clip without running too hard, and enjoyed seeing so many friends on the course.  The state of Wisconsin had a pretty good contingent out there this year for a race so far away!
Time: 25:53

Calm before the storm. They send us off TT -style by 3's
Saturday a.m.: Olympic (1500m swim/ 40k bike/ 6.55mi run)

The swim here begins 3 at a time, time-trial fashion, and in what is supposed to be number order (assigned by previous Triple T results and submitted best half distance times).  However, a lot of people seemed unmotivated to talk to each other to actually figure this out, so a lot more people started in front of me than should have.  I must have swam around 40 or 50 people. Argh!  The bike course for this one is really fun and includes the infamous Thompson Hill (which you can see in my power file as a sharp spike at ~22 min/7.7 mi in) as well as a couple of really fast descents with some tricky turns.  When you see an ambulance parked up the road waiting for someone to crash, you know the course means business!  My legs actually felt really great on the bike for this race and it turned out to be my favorite one of the weekend.  The run was our first time onto the pretty-but-brutal Lamp Black Trail, which is pretty much uphill for 2.5 miles, steep downhill for one, then a turnaround and back up and over.  My running legs showed up that morning too, so I had a ball and was really happy with the progress my run has made over the winter.  On the ride uphill back to the cabin after the race, however, I could tell my legs were starting to feel the effort...
Time: 2:33:24

Saturday p.m.: Olympic (40k bike/ 1500m swim/ 6.55mi run)
transition set-up is a little strange for a bike-swim-run
As is typical for this race, by the afternoon it had gotten sunny, humid, and hot!  It was the first race of the weekend that teams came into play, so again we were supposed to line up in number order, but this time teammates lined up at the faster member's number for a time trial bike start.  Unfortunately transition was set up poorly for this and people were even less organized than in the morning.  The slower numbers, who were racked closer to the mount line we would be starting from, swamped the transition area's center aisle and blocked most of the faster racers (lower numbers) from getting through.  Luckily for me overtaking people on the bike is much less violent than in the water, but I was plenty frustrated by having to weave around so many people in the first ten miles.  In retrospect, my adrenaline-fueled riding cost me a few matches that I should have saved for the long climb on the way back... I still need to learn to control my emotions a bit better when racing.  As I reached the hill summit on the way back, the sky suddenly opened up into an epic thunderstorm, one that made me yearn for the pleasant riding conditions of Knoxville.  This was an instantly soaking, struggling to keep my eyes open, gee-I-hope-that-car-can see-me kind of rain, just as I hit the first of 2 big descents.  Needless to say, I lost a lot of time on that one trying not to die.  The storm, though intense, turned out to be fairly small and isolated, so a few miles later we were back on dry roads.  Two or three miles from transition there was lightning directly overhead (enough to make me shriek a little and curse) so I started imagining possible scenarios for the rest of the race. Bike/run? Probably super muddy.  Stop after the bike?  Anyway, I was shocked to turn the final corner into the lake area and spot dozens of flailing shapes in the water.  Guess we were swimming after all...

Long story, but I did not have my beloved sleeveless BlueSeventy wetsuit for the weekend, and the idea of struggling into my full sleeve in T1 didn't seem worth any time savings in the relatively warm water.  So I took off the tri top and charged through transition in just the tri shorts and sports bra.  In case you were wondering, swimming after a hard bike ride and two other races is really, really not fun.  I'm not sure how much the wetsuit would have helped, but I felt a lot like this:
save me.
and was thrilled to get out of the water.  By the time I got out, though, I was apparently low on fluids/electrolytes/calories because I rode the struggle bus all the way to the run turnaround trying to revive myself with sports drink. I came around quite a bit on the second half, but it was a little too late to salvage a good result.  I took advantage of the on-site massage afterward (glorious!) to begin the recovery for the big one on Sunday.
Time: 2:45:00

Sunday a.m.: Half (1.2 mi swim/ 56 mi bike/ 13.1 mi run)
Racers foggily trying to scramble out of transition in
time for the start.
I made sure to start a lot farther towards the front of the line for this race and was rewarded with a pretty clean swim.  My shoulders and back were tired, but I still felt like I turned in a pretty strong split.  Once on the bike I found that I'd beaten a lot of the top guys out of the water, because a bunch of them came by me in a pack as we started the long climb on that course (sigh).  Madison rockstar Cindi Bannink also passed me up that climb and I expected that to be the last I saw of her until the run, but to my surprise I caught her again about 5 miles later after a flat/descending section.  Pretty cool, until I botched a sharp gravelly turn and wound up doing a little off-roading on a rocky section.  Luckily I managed to save it/ sta upright.  I checked my tires after maneuvering back onto the road- no flats, but the incident killed my cornering confidence a little bit, and Cindi was long gone.  I came through the aid station at the end of the lap pleasantly surprised to see myself on par with the pace Bill had pulled me around in the year before.  But the bike course of the Triple-T half is no time for heroics, so I backed off a little bit on the second and final lap and brought it in with my bike power just above what I'd ridden at Oceanside (and a little over 25 minutes slower than my split there, which should tell you a lot about this race course).  Aside from a dropped chain on one of the climbs (gah), the second lap was without incident, just a bit lonely.  Knowing the course helps a lot at a race like this.

Finally it was time to run, and the day had heated up considerably.  I began to suffer pretty quickly and found myself grasping at anything I could find to cool me down. I was wearing the Fuel Belt I won last year at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells to carry some extra fluids and salt, so in addition to fetching ice and other fluids at aid stations I used the belt's bottles to pour water over my head and take in salt while walking the steepest uphill sections.  The leading males actually lapped me while I was walking up the long hill after the first lap's turnaround, which was kind of embarrassing even though they told me "nice job" as they glided by. The ice and fluids eventually helped to start perking me up, but I was still out of it enough at the aid station halfway to beg a nice volunteer for the rest of their Coke (it worked!) and accidentally leave one of the bottles I had intended to fill sitting on the table.  A small rain storm on the second lap helped me to cool down and feel more like myself, and I'm pretty sure my second lap was much faster than the first.
Time: 5:51:53
Part of the Madison crew at the post-race pizza party/awards

Overall I think I performed pretty well considering the fatigue I was carrying into and through the race weekend, and either way I had a great time again out there.  I came out as the 4th solo "senior" female (ages 24-39-- way to make me feel old) which was just shy of getting an award.  But I'm sure I will be back, and I've got plenty of good years ahead of me.  Special congrats to Cindi and Dan for taking home division awards, as well as Justin and others for finishing their first Triple T!