reprint from January 2013, TCSD TriTimes – digital version at issue.com
Race Report: Along For The Ride, HITS Palm Springs
Last year I had a very good race weekend here, second OV in the iron distance and backed it up the following day with a second in my AG for the sprint triathlon but was very hesitant upon returning again. I hated the harsh road surface and the boredom of racing solo but I found myself here again, for different reasons this time around.
Back in August HITS started their massive discount program, 50% off registration fees if one signs up very early. I knew my friend James Hamilton had intentions of doing the event and I gave him a call to inform him of their great incentive. James had hinted earlier in wanting some assistance with competing his first iron distance triathlon. When he finally asked if I would help, it was hard to say no, so I agreed.
James is no stranger to endurance events. He has competed in multiple Badwater ultramarathons and Rim to Rims just to name of few of his crazy outings that are far beyond my qualifications. James did most all of his training without me. I helped out his training group with a handful of open water and technique swim sessions. Two years ago he was not a water person, but thru many of the TCSD open water swim opportunities he gained his comfidence and set his sights on 2.4. For run and bike workouts we only hooked up for one brick session a week before our HITS event. His main training group consisted of Paul Cates, Jenifer Henderson and his girlfriend Mary Barry. From what I understand they chalked up a good amount of miles, and I hoped they werer also quality miles, not just miles.
Back to race registration, I registered for the Olympic distance and the iron distance. I figured since I was going to help James, at his pace, I would make the weekend a little more challenging and race the Olympic distance on Sunday. However, I didn’t notice HITS switched days of the events, so I unknowingly signed up for an iron on Saturday and Olympic on Sunday. I realized that oversight a month after registering. I did send the oragainzers an email asking if I could switch to their sprint distance but got no reply. Looks like I will have a fun weekend.
Fast forward to race morning… for the swim start we grabbed the inside position on the front line. I was Jame’s blocker from behind as we cleared the first bouy and continued on our first leg of the four loop course. We started in front to avoid the extra swim distance and time that would be required if started in the back of the pack. While Jim was swimming his fastest freestyle, I enjoyed a combination of back stroke, sculling, breast strokes and just floating while still making sure James swam the straightest line possible. It was the most relaxing swim I have ever done, no panic attacks, no tuscling with other competitors. I actually had the opportunity to take in my surroundings and its beauty, the calm water of Cahuilla Lake against the desert mountains was an incredible sight and experience. Even though we were the last to exit the water it was much faster than I had anticipated. I had questioned its accuracy, but was informed it was measured four times. So 2.4 mile swim completed with about 40 minutes to spare before the cut of time, which was 15 minutes faster than my predicted time.
Lending a helping hand at the swim exit.
Our T1 was pretty relaxed. Learing from last year’s event when it was freezing coming out of the water, I dawned a wind breaker to stop any wind chill. Being ten degrees warmer this year, race conditions were just about perfect. Ten minutes later we were out of T1.
The bike course changed a few times before it was finalized to three flat out and back loops, very similiar to last years two loop course. While riding together we had to be cautions to avoid any drafting and blocking situations. We played leap frog most of the time, but once in a while I sped ahead to give my legs a real workout. I was hoping we would complete the bike section with an average speed of a little more that 15 mph. That would have been close to a seven hour split time. However, James had a different riding style that I was unaware of. He liked to rest when tired and take full advantage of aid stations when possible. James also started to have some cramping issues a little more than half way through and we had to adjust our riding pace. He was using Ensure/Boost for his main liquid intake which may have been a contributor to his leg cramping. I set him straight with increasing his intake of salt tablets and electrolites. These extra stops and slower pace ended up adding an extra hour to our bike split, but it is what James needed. I found myself doing a lot of one arm windmills… my signal meaning “get up here, no slacking.” I was concerned that our slow pace would end up effecting our ability to finish under the 17 hour limit. I kept telling him, “yes, we can stop or slow down but we are gonna have to make it somewhere.” Just over eight hours, one of my longest rides ever, we finally entered T2. The last to enter.
I still had fresh legs, but was not exactly sure how James’ were. Ten minutes later, all changed into our running gear we headed out for the marathon. James brought along his camelback filled with Boost, flashlight, cell phone, gels, bars and I am not sure what else. During our lone brick workout, James and I stratagized on mechanics and pacing when walking, jogging and shuffling our feet. After our short practice brick we determined an optimal race day pace; 11 minute mile run/shuffle pace and a 15 minute mile walk pace. I knew it was going to be a long run, something that I had never done before. With Jame’s experience of his ultras I let him set the tone as we began the maraton. James had participated in the HITS Palm Springs training camp a couple weeks earlier and knew the run course well and made mental notes on landmarks and distances. A mile or so into the marathon I took over wearing his camelback, it was only then I discovered how heavy it was, let’s just say a ton. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for James. Our fist section was a walk, a bit longer than I wanted. Through our marathon I was in constant clock management mode. Whenever we slowed down, I sounded the alarm with ”Do you really want this!” James wanted to walk more often than not, but that was not going to happen under my watch. Aid stations were perfectly placed and we used every one except one. Of course we stopped at each one, tick tock is all I could think. Every second counted. When one is out there competing, the mind lets the time and mile disappear as if they were never there.
Leading the way and keeping the pace.
Competing for 14 hours plus at this point the thought of missing the cut off time would be horrible and I did not want that. I made James break through every mental and physical barrier he put up. He “complained” of hurting, I did not know how much and really did not care, that was not part of the equation. The battery for my GPS watch gave out six hours into the marathon at mile 24. We were so close, struggling every bit. I kept insisting that James shuffle not walk, “Tick tock, you can do it”. Those extra 17-18 minute mile paces felt as they were catching up with the fishline clock. It was truly all mental at this point. We finally could see and hear the finish lights and sounds from afar. I was not exactly sure of the time… I felt we were just going to finish or just miss out. I did not want to be on the latter, for James’ sake. Finally, the finish line in sight and a down hill finish. At this point I noticed James’ eyes light up with a beaming smile. All I could say was “You did it.” We were greeted by the race director, James’ girlfriend, one of the event photographers and a couple of other race volunteerrs. There was no finish line clock, so we had no idea of what time it was. “Did we make it?” James barley eked out. The answer was yes, 16:31, with plenty of time to spare. Both of us were stunned, and so happy the journey came to a successful ending.
Finish line, with time to spare.
For me coming in last, the first time ever, has never been so rewarding. Even though I did not push my body to the brink like James, being out there for 16 some hours was a first for me. Helping a friend accomplish a goal and achieve a first place age group award was very rewarding.
Race Report: Part II
So, my race or as I called it a “long workout” was in the books. Even though the crown and all the participants had gone, I was able to scrounge up some of the remaining pasta and salad from the earlier athlete dinner. Then I collected my sole remaining items from transition and hastely loaded up my car. I had six hours to recover before Sunday’s Olympic distance triathlon. Another night of car camping was my best option in which I find very comfortable.
The next morning I was suprised I was able to walk around, with little soreness or any issues. And it’s true that DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) does not take full effect until 24 hours after a hard and strenuous event, so I was in the clear. The Olympic tri was the second event of the day which gave me 30 precious minutes to get my transition area prepared and rest.
26:34, my average swim time.
Still had some spring in the legs.
The swim went off with out a hitch, pretty much on par with my other 1500 meter swims. On the bike, I felt remarkebly strong until the half way mark, when my legs began to feel the effects of the previous days workout. I also noticed a big difference in the road surface. I thought it was very smooth while cruising along at a leisurely 15 mph, but at race speed (21+ mph) it changed into being bruttaly harsh and it remined me why I dislike this race location. For a flat course, I was more than five minutes off my normal split time. On the run my legs were either going to respond or shut down and I was quite suprised at how much spring was still left in them and was able to pass several competitors in may age group. Much to my suprise, I pulled of a third place finsh in my age group for both events, and all I wanted was to have an “insanse” weekend of physical activity.
“I’ll take it, third place in age group.