Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 Black Bear Tri Race Report - Return of the Half

Man, I really shouldn't have done this race.
I really didn't WANT to do this race.

But, I'm glad I did, and here's why.

Despite days (possibly weeks) of angst and wise reluctance, and then hours of grueling physical exertion, that moment when I crossed the finish line. It was bliss.
In recent memory, I have not been prouder of a Finisher Medal.

Even though I almost finished last.


Having done that Austin in24 the weekend prior, I was not recovered.
That should not suggest I wasn't as physically ready as possible. But, I was not recovered.
I do not ride my bike. My longest "training" bike ride was to my daughter's field trip, and I crashed my bike on that trip in the "twin tunnels of death" as I understand they are called.
Well, at a minimum, I know they are called the "twin tunnels" because during the race I ended up running about 8 miles with Gail, formerly of Downingtown, and among the million things we talked about, she recognized the exact location of my crash and provided some historical/urban legends background.
Gail is the most interesting girl in the world, you should meet her sometime.
She was mildly interesting as we chatted, mentioning her job as a bartender when moments later she was describing the carbon bond structure of artificial sweeteners when I rudely interrupted her demanding her college background, revealed to be biochemistry of course.
Oh, and she's traveled to more countries than I know exist.
Yes, chatting while running a 2:10 half marathon makes it much less painful.
I took pictures, too.

I canceled our family hotel room for the race while at the airport flying out to Austin for the in24 when the hotel called me simply to ask if I wanted to upgrade to a Queen bed, but this was shortly after my wife suggested that a day spent at the half iron triathlon with the kids would be a long (horribly boring) day. So I canceled the room.
I spell canceled with only one L.
I entered this race in 2013 because I wanted redemption from my 2009 experience, post-pneumonia.
I had sent this email at the time with the included response.


Thanks for your note. It was not an easy decision to switch the distance but we had to do what we felt was the smart choice. There are many athletes like you that were looking forward to taking on the challenge of the half once again. Unfortunately you and those like you are a rare breed...not everyone is as eager to take on such a tough challenge and the Olympic and Half could not coexist. In the end it just came down to the feeling that the Olympic seems to be a better fit for the race.  We think the Olympic has the potential to rival Columbia as the premier early season race for the region.

Sorry to disappoint you but we hope t still see you out there,

------ Forwarded Message
From: Mike
To: <>
Subject: Black Bear - No Half


I raced my first (and only, thus far) Half Ironman (if I can use that term) last year at Black Bear.
It was great.

From the moment I saw the preview video online, I fell in love with the setting.  And I was not disappointed.

But now I am.

I'm sure you've gotten plenty of positive feedback upon shrinking the Half to an Olympic.
I'm sure you'll get plenty more people to register.

But, I just wanted to share the fact that I thought you had a course that was perfect for the distance, both physically and mentally.  I have talked with a small community of racers who had this awesome common bond, "we dared the bear."  No other race could be as challenging for your dollar.

So, when my friend and I were discussing logistics for next year's race, and we hit the website (day before the notification email) and learned that there wouldn't be a Half, that really threw a wrench into my upcoming season.

At that point, it appears that the only other "local" early season Half (Eagleman) was already sold out.  That created an unfortunate hole in my schedule as I intended to compete in a Full Ironman distance race in the fall.

I'm not worried, I'll figure it out.

But the other disappointment was my expectation that I would be able to improve on my performance in May’s race this past year. At the time, I was a few weeks into my recovery from pneumonia and busted my butt to have enough confidence to compete.  I wasn’t ecstatic about my finishing time, but I was pretty proud.
No matter really because I would just try to crush that time next year.
Except there won’t be a “next year!”
My other option I suppose would be to do the Olympic, then get a calculator and see if I improved…
In the end, I wish you success with the race next year.
And I wish I will be there, but I’m not so sure.
It really would have helped to have more notice, if possible.
I didn’t intend to write a book here, so hopefully my few thoughts were effective.
Thank you again for a first-class race last year.  My friends and family really enjoyed it.

I used to be such a baby. Probably still am.
Well, when I saw the half distance returned this year, I pretty much signed up right away.
And then didn't train for it.

The weather for the race was cold and drizzly, in the 50's and the water temperature was 63 in the lake at Beltzville State Park.
I may have been the only half distance athlete without a wet suit. And it didn't make a damn difference.
Trying to stay warm before the race, I found the only public dry spot near transition, a small stage maybe for the post-race rewards. A guy in broken english ran up to me, "You have no water!?" and I said "dude, I have two bottles of water for me. I saw a guy in transition with a gallon, ask him." And I was mildly confused until another person asked me and I realized I appeared to be a poorly dressed race representative because I was sitting on their stage. Couple of asses anyway. Triathloning, but bring no water? Please don't give me another reason to not like stereotypical triathlons/etes.
Um, so I canceled the hotel room but they had free race-day packet pickup, which was clutch.
But I still didn't want to do the race because I was tired as is, and would have to wake at like 3AM to get there in 2 hours, to get my packet and setup in transition. Blah.
And so on the way there, I then had a Eureka moment wherein I conceived a plan to drop from the half distance to the Olympic and save myself suffering throughout the event (I observed people doing just that upon arrival).
But damnit, I guess I had paid for the half and didn't want to throw away $$$.
I was so tired upon waking, I really didn't want to do the race.
Then when I got to the race, I was still sleepy and tired.
You know, I'm not sure how one decides to become a toll booth operator but one saved my life on the way to the race as there was some construction on the Northeast Extension, a helpful highway artery on my way to the race and as I exited for the detour and paid my 3 bucks she said that the roadway was opening in about 5 minutes, a full 1 hour and 15 minutes ahead of schedule. And it did. That was so helpful.

While on the Olympic bike course, nearing the end of the 1st (of 2) 28 mile super hilly loops, I THEN considered dropping to the Olympic again but was unsure what the likelihood of successfully doing that would be.
The swim was easy. Long but easy. The water was cold but just on my face and the crybaby wetsuit-dependent others had the same problem putting their face in that cold water.
I spent oodles of time ahead of the swim start warming up my feet, hands, face and my feet again in the nearby restroom using the hand dryers. It was so cold out and the ground was cold making my feet numb.
Possibly because I looked like a white flash of flesh during the swim, people were knocking me around. It was not a problem.
When I was a kid, I used to care about transition times and now I'm old and don't care and my transition times were effectively the same.
The bike sucked. Super sucked. I was so NOT in bike shape, and we couldn't safely fly down the hills because the road was wet, I was leaning hard on my totally worn out brakes.
The bike sucked. It was not a race on the bike, it was a ride. I got passed by the entire 7 billion world population minus maybe 7.
I played leap frog with another Mike, he was funny and complained that all of his training rides were on flat near-beach roads and I said shut the fuck up, my training rides didn't exist. I said that with an understood smile.
I had to pee on the bike but waited until the run when I found a spot behind an along-the-run-course dumpster to provide privacy.
I ran a couple early miles with one of the top 50-59 age group women because she was going slightly faster than me. I caught up to her and may have slowed her down but again it was mindless (forced initially) chatting to take the mind off the task.
I was so hungry on the run, I ate just enough food after the race at their well organized buffet spread. On the way home I stopped at a rest stop to pee and hit Starbucks for a frozen coffee slushy (I'm sure they have a pretty name for it) but ya know the line was too long so I bailed.
A guy in the rest stop parking lot, his feet propped up on the passenger seat dash applauded me as I walked through the parking lot because I had on my nice new Black Bear tee shirt (wearing it again now actually) and he was a fellow competitor.
Dude, we had the best moment on the run when Gail cheered for a fellow competitor as we neared the final turnaround on the dam with just a few miles remaining, "Almost there!" all full of cheer expect the reply from the competitor when she said "Not for me :-( :-(" super sad face was the biggest buzz kill Debby Downer in the history of sportsmanship. So we went into Stealth Mode when we passed her with a mile or 2 to go.
I had every intention of showering immediately after the race but just wanted to go home and never do a triathlon again.
I'm doing Black Bear half again next year if it exists because my time was 7 hours and change, and I know I can do it in 6 hours. If I ride my bike here and there. Right now I'm riding my bike all the time.

What Worked

Almost nothing.
Chatting like a socialite during the run.
Not wearing a wetsuit for a decent swim and an easy transition.
Getting there early even though I hated life with a rage of drowsiness. I had a great parking spot.
I was a shorts genius. Conned into purchasing "tri shorts" in the past, I finally called bullshit. I wore just compression shorts for the swim. Perfect. Pulled genuine honest to goodness bike shorts over them for the bike. Super padded butt cushion. Heaven. Then lost the bike shorts and pulled on running shorts for the run. Duh. I know. Genius. Most comfortable and effective triathlon wardrobe ever.

What Didn't

Where to begin.
NOT bringing throwaway Gatorade bottles for my bike to expel at the bottle exchange. Stupid.
Needing to tuck my "fuel" aka Scooby Doo fruit snacks alongside my water bottles on the bike. Such a pain to remove.
Not being able to bike hard up hills because my legs just didn't know how anymore.
My lower back hating me for riding the bike so far of a distance.
Oh damnit, wearing my wedding ring to the race. Knowing when I realized I had it on that it was gonna slip off my frozen shrinking ring finger during the swim.
I had to do the whole damn race with my wedding ring tied inside my shorts on the drawstring.

 It was not helpful to have run 75 miles the weekend prior and now needing to knock out a half marathon after 5 hours of swimming/biking. But the run was OK despite appearing slow.
I have never NEVER had the experience, until this race, where a course marshal needs to confirm we are on the 2nd (final) loop of the run because we are bumping against the 8 hour must-be-done time limit. Damn really?
I should not have relied on solely water for the bike, because I needed sugar and happiness, granted I did STOP at the bottle exchange and load up on Gatorade on the 2nd bike loop.


I still don't like the triathlon scene as much as I did in year's past. But I did feel like a minimalist and still didn't forget a damn thing. So even though I was CERTAIN that this would be my final triathlon, all during the race I repeated my so-finished-with-this attitude toward the triathlon sport.
Despite that, I want to a) do this race again next year as previously mentioned and b) maybe do the Full Iron Man (not the "branded" one mind you) this fall.
Decisions, decisions but simple matters of responsibility, prioritization and logistics, all of which I'm getting better at in my old age.

1 comment:

Seth said...

That's a killer medal. Congrats on finishing.