Double Hit at HITS – Palm Springs

December 3 and 4, 2011
Well not quite Palm Springs, it’s actuality in Thermal, CA.

I chose this venue to close out my 2011 season. My earlier iron distance event (Rev3 CedarPoint) in September was good (race report still to come), but my run training leading up to that event was not where it needed to be.  This December race offered me more time to work on my run base and speed. On paper this course looked like to be a winner, flat and fast. Yep, December is very late in the season but I started my season in June and finally feeling in peak condition.

I’ve never been to the Palm Springs area before so was kinda excited to see what it’s all about. The drive over from San Diego was nice, I planned my departure time to miss the traffic. Its a three hour drive when cruising conservatively. The last 45 minutes is the most fun. The route goes east from Temecula over the mountains and then back down into the central valley/desert. The mountain road is nice and windy calling for  race car driver instincts. Keep the eye on the road and attack the turns, a fun drive. No arriving at the venue early to pre ride or swim. They had some pretty good interactive course info on their website which is a nice feature.

I actually left SD later than hoped and made it to the race expo/packet pick up with a few hours to spare. Not much of an expo but for some venders, I think they made some good money due to high demad for what they were offering  and no competition. With the close proximity to San Diego, many Tri Club of SD members will be in attendance. The expo may have been weak on sighst but the athlete dinner was one of the best I have ever attended, or I should say eaten. Plenty of pasta, PROPERLY cooked. Think there were three types of pasta,  gnocchi (which I did not eat),  fresh greens and awesome deserts – buffet style so all you can eat. It was carbo load time! Next hear I hope they bring out the heat lamps cause the expo/dining facility was pretty cold.

The blog title’s “Double Hit” is an indicator of my plans, race on Saturday and Sunday. HITS Triathlon Series offer all triathlon distances over the week end, since I was making the journey I figured I mind as well take full advantage of the opportunity. Race the sprint triathlon on Saturday and then Sunday race the iron distance.

So after chowing down it was time to headed over to Lake Chauilla Park about 10 minutes away for expo site, which will be the finish area for Sundays half and full iron races. Weather improved over the last week but still was 10 degrees cooler than normal and winds are hit and miss at this time of year. Was able to park the car about a quarter mile from the park entrance for no hassle race morning driving. I brought a couple of extra blankets and ski jacket to deal with the “cold” overnight temperatures.

HITS Saturday race morning

Saturday: Sprint triathlon (Oly was raced 30 minutes after the sprint start)

Transitioned opened at 5am and there was a line at the park entry gate by 4:45. Sill pitch black setting up transition but plenty of light with the flood lights. Each participant had their own individually marked transition space  and a fold up stool to use. My designated spot was the most inward in my row. I was not too worried about that “disadvantage” because it was a single wave start and I anticipated to arrive into T1 before the mayhem.

My personal transition space.

Air temperature was actually not as cold as I anticipated that morning. Still cold but not freezing. The lake water temp was dam cold, 55 to 58 degrees. Everyone knew water temperature was gonna be an issue. Booties and neoprene caps were dawned by many participats. For me just the cap, I have found my feet do not freeze, just my face and head. A proper warm up is mandatory for such extreme conditions. Fist splash the face and then the back of the neck, continue to wade slowly into the water and then make the full immersion. Spent about five minutes getting acclimated. Not too bad… let got going now.

Lake Cahuilla with it’s unique mountain back drop.

A brief swim start briefing, no national anthem. The start line was pretty messed up, we just lined up along the water’s edge. An advantage was for those who started further up the shoreline, and that was me. No big loud bang or “Go” over the mega phone. A clean start just the same heading directly into the sun to the far buoy. 375 meters out and straight back.  With my warm up, my body was ready for the chilly water and had not issues with the swim and the short jog into transition. Feet were a little numb but not time to worry and complain, it was just go go go. Swim split 11:54, 9th out of the water out of  252 competitors.

Working the zipper while heading to T1. Photo courtesy of Lisa R

Quick change out of the wetsuit, dawn the aero helmet and put on my running shoe, grab the bike and make a mad dash to the mount line and pedal away. Wind chill was not a factor on the bike. My feet did not freeze over. It was a pretty typical bike segment… just go hard and as fast as possible, flat course and not too much wind. The wind came blowing and did some massive damage to speed for the Olympic distance triathletes. I was battling it out for overall position with one gal on the bike. We traded positions a few times but male ego has it, ya just don’t wanta get chicked. I was able to hold her off but a few seconds leading  back into transiton. She did end up with a faster bike split than me. My buddy Bill W. was out there racing also, he passed me on course just about half way. He is a much stronger biker than me so that put me one spot further down in the age group standing. Not sure what he was so far off my pace on the swim since he is usually faster (I think), must have been that messed up swim start line. Bike Split of 35:54, 22nd OV.

Video capture of me bolting out of  T1. Full video link, this capture from minute 1:13 and 1:23.

A quick T2 transition, actually the fastest of all, with the Pyro Platforms. No need to change from bike to running shoes, Just ditch the bike and helmet, grab my Team Trakkers hat head of for the run. Running is my strength  and I use it to my advantage. Unfortunately being “so far off the pace” with my slow bike split I was not able to pick too many people a head of me. I had to work hard for the handful that I did catch. When I noticed my friend, Bill W., was in sight I made him my target. I made up massive ground on him the first three quarters of a mile and that was about it. Only 10 to 15 paces ahead and I could not get any closer. He knew I was hot on his trail and he admitted after it’s been a while since he ran that fast. He ended up nine seconds ahead of me, and since we’re the same age, he claimed 1st in the individual age group and I got second, which was 7th overall. That gal that I was duking it out on the bike finished three second behind me, but she was only 20 years younger than me. Of the top 10 finishers six were over forty and three were females.

The run course was quite a cluster F. Pylons for runners to run within were too close to the edge of the road so may of the runners, including myself, did not pay attention to then. So the out going runners were now running in close proximity of the incoming bikers, not safe at all. And then at the sprint turn around point, runners crossed paths with the bikers… a big no no. Fortunately the sun was not glaring down on us because there were no water provisitinos. The first aid station was just after the run turn around, oops! 25 yards makes a big difference in race logistics.

Felt pretty good after the race, legs not jacked up with lactic acid. I may have been able to press a little harder to catch Bill but my real race was the next day and I did not want to sacrifice my body for a mere 10 seconds. Run split was 19:53 for an average pace of  6:24. That is if the run was an actual 5k distance.

Garmin bike data
Garmin run data

Total time 1:10:00
2nd AG – 48 year olds
7th OV

Since bike check in for Sundays events was not until 4pm, I was able to help out/set up the Tri Club of San Diego boot at the expo. So just hanging out in the sun and wind and killing time. Saturdays race events pretty much quieted down by 1am, so the booth was folded up and packed away. This gave me a few hours of nap time and a solid rest. I had packed my cooler with cold tuna pasta salad for some carbo loading dinner and my Fluid recovery drink to start the recovery process.

TCSD tagging up with California Tri Club.

With my extended nap I was one of the last persons top load up their bikes in transition. Took my time to get things organized and laid out for tomorrow’s big event. Everyone again had their own assigned transition spaces.  It was actually pretty early but dark, around 6pm, so I  head off to social get together at the Beer Hunter to hang with the gang of the TCSD racers and California Tri Club members. Good way to kill time, hanging with friends and watching college foot ball.

Sunday: Iron distance triathlon (half distance started at the same time)

I  had been anticipating this event since I first heard about it back in early September. On paper it appeared to be fast,  and I anticipated setting an overall pr finish time or at least for the run portion. My body (plantar faciatis) finally healed and I put in the training and was hoping for rewards. With yesterday’s race I already knew I would not have my fastest swim due to the cold water temperature. If the winds were to howl like they did the day before the bike was gonna be a blood bath, fortunately no big winds this day. This days race was to finish at HITS equestrian complex, that meant taking a shuttle bus from the finish to the Lake bright and early. Since I missed the athlete meeting this was new to me and did not initially know about the logistics of the supplied shuttle transportation. Since the complex closed its gates the over night I had to find a safe place to park and spend the night, fortunately the road had massive shoulders, so I park just down the road again for an easy and close proximity to the morning starting point. I was offered a “comfortable” night’s lodging at the La Quinta Resort but  I declined in favor of sticking to my standard routine, sleeping in the car near or at the race start. I will have to admit I did wake up in the middle of the night and my lower back went “wack”, it stiffened up and I was in pain. I got out of the car and did 10 minutes of stretching to try to loosen things up. I was worried, scared and concerned, “Will I be able to race…twist my hips during the swim, hold that aero position for five plus hours and pound my spine into the ground for  three plus hour marathon.?” I self-massage with my knuckles diging deep to break up the tissue and get some new blood flow. Oh, ya I was praying big time also. Finally after a bit of unrest, I fell asleep. Come wake up time, 5am. my prayers had been answered. Only a slight bit of tightness, and as the morning progressed I forgot and did not have any issues with my back!

Another cold morning, fortunately the shuttle buses to the lake were well heated. I think I was on the third bus. No need to arrive too early since bikes were already racked and ready to go. Only reason to arrive  early was again to get a “warm up” swim. This was gonna be a bit tougher. My body can handle the cold up to a certain amount of time if over the limit it effect my core temperature and finger and motor skills. As I was stepping into the cold water, and setting my goggles on my face a small piece of plastic broke that held the head trap to the eye sockets. Dam, broken goggles, and these were my mirrored Sable’s that really enhance my vision during the swim and block out the sun. A .001 cent part ruins a 40 dollar pair of goggles. Fortunately I did pack another pair of goggles, an amber pair of Sables, same optical quality but without the mirrored protection.

We actually swam directly into the sun, twice. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

The half and full distance athletes started at the same time, 2 loops for the crazy ones and one for the halfers. Sighting directly into the sun made sighting  a no brainer however, for insurance purposes I did have to stop a couple of time to make sure I was truly heading in the right direction. With only about 150 athletes between the half and full there was no brawling for position  as the start was given. That also meant not too many feet to draft off. At the end of lap one there was a short water exit before heading directly into the sun again. The second lap was totally solo. I was like a trance, trying to think warm thoughts and just keep the freestyle stroke in constant motion. I could have fallen a sleep and my arms/stork would have kept turning over on autopilot. Being competitive, I did keep an eye on  the return half of the course, I wanted to gauge how my people were ahead of me. By my observation there may have been three ahead. I gauged myself to be behind the leader by 20 minutes.

Thinking warm thoughts, fire, heat, warm. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.
Halfers in light blue, full athletes in dark blue caps. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.
And were off. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.
No not running on water, but a short beach run heading into lap two. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

FInishing the swim in a time of 1:07 was on par with previous outings. I am sure the 55 degree water effected my stoke and overall time by a bout 2 or 3 minutes.  If had to be in the water much long my body may have revolted against that request. My feet were pretty frozen but reflex knew they had to get me to transition. This is where the portable stooles became handy. There was no way I was gonna lean or bend over to take off my wetsuit and put on my cycling shoes and helmet. A race volunteers offered her assistance in removing my wetsuit and getting my shoes on, they helped all the “non-functioning” athletes. My body was pretty darn cold and my dexterity was not functioning at normal capacity. T1 time of  four and a half minutes which was pretty slow considering the proximity of the swim exit to the exit of  T1. Other athlete transition times range from under 2 minutes to over 10 minutes. I noticed one half iron distance athlete had a T1 time of 27 minutes, think that person got a throughout defrost session.

With the sprints race the other day I was aware of the fist six miles  of the bike course but it was actually totally different. I WAS FREEZING. the wind chill was brutal. My arm coolers/warmers that I put on before the swim start needed a little more sun to dry out. They retained the water a bit longer than normal. I did shove a few plastic grocery bags down my top to act as a wind breaker. The sun was out and I did not want to put on a long sleeve top during transition because I knew at some time on the bike I would most likely take it off or it was going to flutter in the wind causing aerodynamic drag and/or added time. So for the first 20 miles my jaw was locked and I had a death grip on the aerobars, keeping the body tense to activate all my upper body muscles to generate internal heat.

Gloves, arm cooler,  arm and knee warmer, calf sleeves and plastic grocery bags  – the most I have ever worn for a race.

I do most of  most of my long rides solo and I knew going into this event it was to be a lonely 112 mile bike ride. The course (a two looper) took us thru desert valley agricultural fields, I do remember seeing the red and green leaf lettuce in the fields. Other than that not much scenery. Road surfaces had a mix of  everything; new smooth asphalt,  dried out mud cakes, small pot holes and typical road crakes. Like any other ride, ya gotta pay attention and take advantage of the “fast” part of the road. Race support/aid stations were every 10 to 15 miles and stocked with the usually. Support was a mixed bag, some of the helpers were there with water bottle in hand and other helpers just sat in their chairs as I passed with my open hand in jest and saying ” thanks for the water.” Yep, it’s up to the competitor to take care of their own needs and if I really needed anything I would have stopped to obtain. Just saying that bike support for this race was a bit lacking compared to other races such as Rev 3, IM and many independent ones. I will say this is primary agricultural area and “winter” time so the volunteer pool is pretty limited.

As mentioned earlier, on paper this look to be a fast course. I was hoping for a bike split in the 5:20s. But no, there was a constant “non” wind, just like those false flats. Ya think you should be going faster but your just not able to go. The fun part was actually catching a few a the halfers who were finishing their 56 miles as I was finishing my first loop. To keep myself on target and focused I spent a lot of time keeping an eye on my cadence and speed and finding the right gearing to allow me to go the fastest with out over taxing the legs. In hign sight, I could have pressed harder but if I did, I know I was going to pay for it on the run. From experience (24 previous iron distances races) I know not to do foolish things. Five hours and 58 later, I made it back to T2, a bit pissed at myself for the “slow” time but I could not control those external facters. I did manage to pass one racer fairly early, but I was passed by another shortly after the half way mark. My finish time netted me an average speed of 18.6 mph, 84 cadence, 149 watts and a Polar pedaling index of 21%. On the bike, the day’s temperature maxed out at 71 and a minimum of 52 so the average temperature on the bike was 64.

Finding my legs after the dismount line. Notice the amount of fluids left? The cool day required less hydration. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

Hobble hobble, not the smoothest transition surface. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

Sorry Team Trakkers shoe sponsor, Avia, had to do this marathon with a shoe that offered a little more forefoot cushioning. The Avia Bolt’s were great for the sprint tri the other day. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

And we’re off, with my 1st Endurance flask full of EFS Liquid Shot. Enough to last the first half of the run and then it’s Gu time. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

So, already off  my goal time, I now had to try to salvage the day with a speedy run. By now the temperature was in the low 60s (just a guess), perfect for running. I found my run legs right off the bike, but this race I had a different strategy… run at a consistent pace of  7:50 to 8:05 miles and that was gonna get me a finish time of  3:30, and hopefully setting a pr. Instead of tracking down racers ahead I was focusing on my Garmin to keep me in check. Like the bike, it was gonna be a lonely run. I have run a solo marathon before, when I was living in Chicago, and know how to stay focused. Aid stations just about every mile to mile and a half so that was good however some of the later ones were not supplied with coke on time and no chicken broth. Even though there were only 15- 20 athletes out there ya gotta know what athletes need. If race management/support is not there you will not survive. With a small field of athletes there is also an upside, at mile four of the run the race director came by in his support vehicle  and asked if  I was doing ok, did I need anything. Will have to give it to ’em for being out there an offering personal support to the athletes. The first half of the run was pretty consistent, but then if fell off the pace by 15 to 30 seconds a mile. My legs were feeling find but it must have been the loneliness and lack of cheering that allowed me to slip off the pace. The course was a two looper, so we were able to see other races sporadically on course. The lead guy was massively in front, but the 2nd place guy seemed to be faulting and by the second sighting going in opposite directions he had a gap of  about a mile.  Since he had such a massive lead of the bike initially I thought I would have no chance at tracking him down. At marker 14.5, I had 12 miles to make up 8 to to 9 minutes on him. That’s what makes sports so fun and challenging, it’s not over until you cross the finish line or the clock runs out.

On course, I did get some suprise encouragement from the Team Trakkers leader, Carol S – aka Bama Bear. She was actually out for this event to support one of the event sponsors, SBR- as in TriSwim, Foggle and TriSlide. She and her co-drive were kinda bored from lack of  finish line, all the halvers had finished up, and headed out to see what was happening on course. They ended up taking quite a bit of video with their mini video camera (Hope to see a final cut). When your on film you want keep good face and I did my best. When I started asking the aid station for coke I got back a no answer, they must have over heard and by the next aid station they had some coke for me, it was not de-fizzed but the instant caffein gave me the jolt I needed. They also supplied me  at several points gap times of the guy just a head. It was dark by now and I was able to vaguely see a silhouette of a figure a head. It took forever to close the gap but sure enough by mile 23.5 he was no longer in second. Think he may have tried to hang with me for a little bit, I did not even look back. Ya never know if a person is gonna have a second wind and try to recapture their position.

When your our there alone, one thinks about everything and nothing, calculating pace, finish time, how far ahead, for the most part one is in a daze – a trance. Think it is the endorphins at work! As I made my finish line push I was upset with myself for not being able to hold  my desired pace, a personal disapointment. But I have to answer myself back and say, it was not an easy race, ya hung tough and did the best you could in the moment (a quote from Dave Scott). Marathon split 3:41 for a mile pace of 8:26. However it you take in the fact the run was actually 26.68 miles my pace was actually 8:17 and a 3:37 split. That was my 3rd fastest of all my iron runs.

Gotta say thanks to Lisa, Rich and Eve R. for cheering me during transition and at the  finish. They were out for the week end to cheer many TCSDers, it’s always nice to see a familiar face. For Lisa and Eva that was two iron distance races of support in three weeks… that is dedication!

The crowds go wild at the finish.

Breaking the tape. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

Sure it was cold, but I needed a cool down. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

The awards ceremony, with RD Mark Wilson, second place overall. Photo courtesy of Lisa R.

I did not meet my goals this time out, but I tested my mind and body one more time. I have set the bar for others to follow and hope it stays up for a while.

The rewards for a 13 hour weekend.

So that’s a 1:07 swim, 5:58 bike and 3:41run for a total time of 10:57 (transitions not noted).

Garmin data did not want to upload. It’s in the watch but not the computer… Garmin kinda sucks at times.

I’m sure I left out a bunch of details of this race report. and to be editing as I remember specific incidents/details.

This was HITS inaugural race week end. They are gonna have to step it up on some of their race preparation, safety, course details and community involvement if they want to make their 12 race series a success. I am sure they will make necessary improvements that enhance the enjoyment and safety of their events in the future. I wish them much success an will be following them on FB and the race results after every race.


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