Wednesday, September 16, 2009

s.o.s. race report - part I

in 2007, j. and his sister laura raced 'survival of the shawangunks' (SOS). i was j.’s crew person and i spectated from as many spots as i could. the race takes place in the shawangunk mountains of new paltz, NY and finishes on the grounds of mohonk mountain house. as a kid my father used to take me, my brother and sister hiking there so the surroundings were so familiar and wonderful to revisit. i thought it would be a phenomenal race to do, but at the same time i couldn't imagine signing up for it! i was intimidated. but as has been the case with most of my racing (first marathon, duathlon worlds, ironman) i told myself "thank you for sharing" and went ahead and did it anyway!

watching in 2007, i was in awe of j. and laura’s ability to navigate this race – an 8 stage triathlon that begins with a 30 mile bike (with a significant 5 mile climb at the end), a 4.5 mile run with a hill called “cardiac hill”, a 1.1 mile swim in the most gorgeous lake ever, a 5.5 mile run that starts with 2.5 miles of up, up, up to the top of a hill that looks out over all of the hudson valley, another .5 mile swim, then an 8 mile run with another named hill, “godzilla”, another .5 mile swim in mohonk house’s lake and finally a .7 mile (1000’ straight up) run to another overlook of the hudson valley. the SOS finish line at skytop might just be the most memorable finish line out there.

the race only has one transition area; when you first get off the bike. the start line is 30 miles away so you have to have a crew person go to the transition area with your run and swim gear while you are riding. once you get there, they take your bike from you and lead you to your spot so you can get your running shoes, goggles, swim cap, etc. you can pretty much do this race however you want (wetsuit, dry bag for shoes, etc.) just so long as you finish with whatever you start with. so if you want to use a wetsuit on the swims, it means you are also running with it for 18.7 miles. believe it or not, people do it! you also see people with dry bags around their waists that they put their shoes in and then drag behind them on the swim.

when i first decided to do the race i thought i would do what i saw one man do in 2007 which was to have a dry bag, put my shoes in it, add some air and stick it between my legs like a pull buoy. i thought it would be great to have dry shoes and since swimming is my weakness (and i feel like a rock start when i use a pull buoy) it would be a great help.

as training went along i thought about it more and more and decided to forgo the dry bag, for a couple of reasons. the main one being though that i thought in the end i would feel like i hadn’t really “done” the race. it’s totally legit to use one, but i have a nasty little habit of discounting my accomplishments, so i didn’t want to give myself any ammunition. i was going to do this one on the “natch”.

training for the race was interesting. there aren’t many lakes in southern california and no trails that come directly off of the ocean. so training wasn’t going to include a lot of exact race simulation. luckily i had a trip planned to illinois to visit my coach, liz, and while i was there i was able to do a swim/run/swim. j. and i also went out to santa clarita for a day of run/swim/run/swim/run/swim. it was BLAZING hot that day, but a good opportunity to get a sense for how it would go.

lake castaic

it was 104 degrees that day

man, do the hills look dry!

i was shocked at how tired my arms felt coming off of the runs and into the swims, so learning that was great mental prep. i also had the chance to try out my gear -- swimming with my shoes stuffed down the back of my one piece tri suit, running with wet shoes, deciding if i would swim with my socks on or off (answer was on, but they had to be thin and tight).

while i was with liz in chicago we made some changes to my swim stroke that i think proved invaluable in the end. thank goodness that trip came when it did. back in los angeles, j. and i did a few more race simulations though they were in the pool and on the roads, for the most part. i did do quite a bit of training in the ocean, but honestly until late in the summer it was pretty cool in the pacific for non-wetsuit swimming and in the weeks before the race we were having some seriously rocky conditions. my training had been going so well i didn’t want to undermine my confidence with some aborted swim attempts or to reignite my open water swimming fears so i chose to use the pool and trust that the training was sufficient for what i’d be doing on race day.

the week before the race i flew back east and spent some time with my brother nick and his girlfriend emily out in montauk. the time i spent out there with them was the perfect way for me to go into a race. i wasn’t even thinking about the fact that i had a race coming up, i was just having so much fun and relaxing. they are both super active people and training for the NY marathon so they completely understood, respected and supported the training that i needed to do while i was there. emily patiently sat on the shore of a rocky bay and watched me while i swam in unfamiliar waters. i was nervous out there alone and she understood and supported me, waving to me each time i’d stop and look around. i swear, for a half an hour the woman never took her eyes off of me! there were lots of other logistics we needed to work with/around while i was there and having them both be so willing to make it work was a huge gift.

montauk point

sunset at ditch plains

me, my brother and iphone

while i was there i got to spectate a race they were doing. both nick and emily ran 10k PRs and i was so psyched i could be there. it was a beautiful course on country roads and i'd love to run it sometime!

my bad-ass brother running a 10k PR and yes, those are vibrams he's wearing!

emily stylishly cruising along to her 10 PR as well!!

on wednesday i headed over to new paltz. j. was flying into the city and we were meeting at his sister’s house (she lives 10 minutes from the race start). having so much time to acclimate to the humidity and to get on east coast time was probably the smartest decision i have ever made. i get really nervous before i race and controlling my environment (or at least thinking i do) becomes paramount. i like my pre-race life, the way i like it … clean eating, lots of resting, as few logistics as possible, not a lot of socializing and a complete avoidance of any potential sickness causing germs.

i knew going into the race that i wouldn’t have the level of control that i would if it were just me racing. we were staying at laura’s, there were lots of family members coming in to spectate, not a lot of cars to go around and kids to tend to. they have a wonderful life, but it’s much different from the one i am used to. when we arrived it turned out that her youngest was sick. you’ve never seen me hightail it to the stop-and-shop for a basketful of antibacterial products faster. ha! i love her kids, i really do so of course i felt badly that she was sick, but it also set in motion my worries. i had lots of talks with myself about the things that i can control and the things that i can’t. those conversations usually work for about the length of time that it takes for me to have them.

on top of the little muffin getting sick, j.’s mom, who was going to come to the race and take care of the girls, had gotten sick so stayed at home in florida. this left us with two working parents, one sick child, j. heading off to pennsylvania to visit his grandmother and … yup, me to babysit the sick one. i was happy to spend the time with her and to help out the family, but got a little dizzy from the lack of oxygen due to limiting my breathing around her. i am, of course, laughing at myself. all worrying aside, it all turned out just fine!

the night before the race they have a big pre-race meeting. it’s a tradition for past “survivors” to wear their shirts. there are presentations from the coordinators of each section of the race, there’s a slide show of past years, etc. now mind you only 150 athletes are allowed to participate in this race and all have to qualify through a half or full ironman, but as we sat there i marveled at what seemed like hundreds of very fit athletes striding by. BUT it had a very mellow vibe. sort of a small town, grassroots feel even though the race is a big event to produce.

pre-race meeting, looking like i'm ready to hurl

we chatted a little with the race director and then settled in to listen to the information about the race. as i sat there i thought i might leap out of my skin. they were talking about the water temperatures. the lakes were all coming in at 67-68 degrees. they talked about cramping in the water like it was a forgone conclusion … but no one was saying what to do when you cramp!!.

the days leading up to the race were autumn crisp. i took a walk on part of the course and i was really chilly in a hoodie and a jacket. it was windy and the skies were really dark and then it poured rain. the forecast for sunday was mid-70’s and beautiful, but as my nose ran and i couldn’t get the chill out of my bones it was hard to imagine that was possible.

j. and i biked the first run on mountain bikes -- it's the only way you can preview any of the course. we couldn't really preview any more of it as it would have zapped a lot of energy from our legs to have ridden the whole thing. i had ridden each run leg back in 2007, so i had a pretty decent idea of what the hills were like on the run.

a few days before - a very dark, cold and choppy lake #1

bundled up in four colorful layers to preview the run course

at the pre-race meeting the race director said to laura, “if you’ve got a shortie wetsuit, wear it!” none of us had one. gulp. i couldn’t imagine three lake swims in 67 degree water, shoot sometimes my hands and feet go numb while swimming in an indoor pool!!

we woke up sunday morning, or i should say “got out of bed” as there had been zero sleeping for me and it was humid and a lot warmer than it had been on previous mornings. yeah!!! we had packed everything up overnight yet somehow my race chip had gone missing. i had a moment of feeling sick to my stomach as i dialed my poor brother (it was 5:30am!!) to see if it had somehow gotten into my transition bag. no dice. i tore everything apart and with no luck finally decided that they must deal with situations like this at the race all the time, right? they’ll have another one at the start. as we were leaving jeff’s brother-in-law found the chip on top of the baby jogger in the garage! don’t ask, i still have no idea how it got there.

okay here we go ...

the bike:

the race starts on the bike. there are age group waves, just like the swim start of a “regular” triathlon and they go off every minute after the starting whoop, whoops. so there we are all lined up and i’m kinda quakin’ in my sidi’s not sure that i’ll be able to clip in and steer my bike straight when my wave goes off.

backing up a few days, i got an email from my friend steven telling me that he had reconnected with an old high school friend on facebook and that, crazy coincidence, she and her husband were doing SOS. what are the chances, he said, that out of 150 people racing he knew 4 of them!! he had sent me an email telling me what she’d be wearing, but honestly i was so preoccupied with making sure that i was breathing on race morning that i completely forgot to look for her.

just before our wave went a woman rolled up next to me, i glanced over (black one piece with green piping) … “andrea?” yup, it was steven’s friend. we chatted for a second, but again it was that awkward “i’m so nervous this is a nice distraction but i’m not paying any attention to what either of us is saying” kind of chit-chat.

when our wave started the six or seven women in front of me immediately blasted off into a tight pack. now mind you even though this race is “different” it is still USAT sanctioned and the same rules apply. meaning, no drafting! at the pre-race meeting they had said that it was hard to enforce that rule within the first 5 miles or so since we all start together, but honestly when i saw the group of women in my age group jump on each others wheels i knew i just couldn’t do it.

i probably lost myself a few places with that decision, but i feel really strongly about sticking to the rules. it's one thing if you really can’t avoid it, and there were a couple of times on some hills where it was a bit tough, but i knew that it was well within my power to not grab a wheel and so i let them go. that really was the first defining act of “racing my own race” and i’m so glad i set that tone right at the start because i think it served me well throughout the entire race. future waves came by later on like they were in a team time trial. i thought that was a damn shame and didn’t mind one bit passing those folks later in the race as we cranked up the 5 mile climb. that climb, by the way, was a little more steep and challenging than i had thought. i kept it in an easy gear and just spun, spun, spun up it.

the bike course was out of this world. it was 7am and there was the most phenomenal golden light blanketing the hudson valley, along with thin layers of fog hugging the farmland. we rode by horses, cows, rows and rows of sunflowers. went through tiny little towns that i feel like i ought to call hamlets just because they were so dang cute. i even passed a huge gnome with a plaque under it that read “World’s Largest Garden Gnome”. i smiled and said out loud “hey, charisa (facebook, triathlete, blogger friend who loves garden gnomes) thanks for coming out” and then i pictured her face (she has the world’s best smile) and thought about how positive and talented she is. i tried to channel her energy and it actually worked! i felt totally inspired and sorta giddy.

from the get-go this race was something different than they usually are for me. i felt a calm and lack of racing “grrrrr”. this wasn’t a bad thing. i was 100% in it, i felt passionate about it, i wanted to do my best, but i also didn’t want to miss a moment of it to the tunnel vision that i can sometimes get due to a singular focus of fast, fast, fast, (don’t drown, don’t crash), finish line, finish line, finish line!!

the bike had some great straightaways and rollers where i was able to hold 23-24mph and just be in a comfortable groove with the perfect gearing. i said "hello" or "good job" or some such thing to everyone i passed. i thanked the volunteers and the cops. i smiled BIG. i loved the bike. j. started in a wave 1 minute after me and at about mile 9.5 he came along side of me and asked “are you okay, honey?” and then he passed by. oops, maybe i was slacking? i hadn’t thought so, but they way he said it sounded like i should have been further along. about a half mile later i passed him back and we didn’t see each other again until toward the end of the 1st swim.

at about mile 28 i passed laura and knew that meant we’d be running together for at least the first leg. as i came around a bend and looked up a little rise i could hear thunderous clapping and cheering. i couldn’t see any people yet, but i knew i was close to the bike hand off.

finishing up the bike

moments later i was entering transition and being cheered on by my brother, emily and j’s family. nick took my bike and lead me to my transition set up. they had gotten us a rockin’ space and done an amazing job laying everything out just as i had shown them. LOVE that.

i was pretty quick with the switch to running shoes and grabbing goggles and swim cap. took a bite of a banana, a swig of water and was off for the rest of the adventure …

next up, run #1.



Jerry said...

I'm loving this!


Mama Simmons said...

YAY!! Let the race report begin! Can't wait to read more. Your descriptions are great. And I LOVE that you said you 'didn't want to miss a moment of it'... That's so good to keep in mind during big awesome events that you've been training for for so long... :)

Alili said...

Yippee!!! Keep it coming. :)

Stef said...

You pulled me right in! Can't wait for more - very inspiring!!!!

Pedergraham said...

Darn, darn, darn, I can't play close enough attention to this while hollering at Lelia to stop palying with the dog and eat her breakfast since we already missed the schoolbus. I have a date with this RR with my after-lunch coffee...and I am looking forward to it.

ADC said...

Ahhh, can't wait for the part 2 - the excitement is building up over here :))

Beth said...

FUNNNNNNNNNNNN!!! I am picturing the beauty in my head - but I'm sure it's multiple times better than I'm picturing it. Can't wait to read more. Go Cat Go! :)

IAN said...

This race sounds really cool. Like a mix of tri and adventure racing

Charisa said...

It is just as I imagined!!! I want to do it someday. You biked awesome!!! The gnome that you saw rocks!!! Oh - and steven and I love montauk too! :) can't wait for the next installment :)

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Love it love it love it!!!! Great report Cat - it is such a pleasure to read! :) And I feel the SAME way pre race, especially with the germs. Ugh! That drafting is awful on the never ceases to amaze me that so often people, who are faced with the RIGHT or the WRONG choice - that they choose wrong. And for what? A higher place?? Really?? In the end - its NOT that important. Its what we do when no one is looking that truly counts!

Thanks for the RR - I love it! I know it takes time to write (they always do!) - but more! PLEASE!

Jerry said...

Waiting (im)patiently for the next installment ...

Josh said...

loving your report! i totally remember how pretty that bike course is - and I also remember the paceline of guys from the wave behind me streaming past me on each other's wheels. Such a bummer! Thankfully it didn't take away from your enjoyment!

TriGirl Kate O said...

I've been intruigued by this race ever since I read J's report on it. This sounds like my kinda race--swimming and running (shorter distances) are my favorite. Can't wait to read the rest!!!