My Daybreak Triathlon

It’s hard to believe that this was only my fourth triathlon, and my first since March of 2008. Thanks to some great coaching and support it was a glorious comeback. Here’s how it all went down:

The day before I decided it would be a good idea to eat lunch with Blake Snow at Marley’s in Lindon, Utah. It’s a food joint at the Harley Davidson dealership. I had three sandwiches, fries, and after Blake left I went through the drive through and got a cone of frozen custard. It’s not fast food, per se, but it’s not exactly healthful food either. And although the sandwiches are small (they’re called “sliders” and most people have two for lunch), three was probably overdoing it, even though they have a combo meal offering three. Well, at least I didn’t have dessert…oh, wait, geez, how soon I forget.

Well, I made up for my unhealthful lunch that evening by having a green smoothie…and then around 9 pm I had some small, homemade bean burritos. You see, this is one of the rules of triathlon–don’t do weird things within 24 hours of your race. But here I was, eating a big lunch dripping with grease (mmm, tasty grease), having my green smoothie for dinner instead of lunch, having a second dinner as though I were a hobbit, etc. In my mind I was thinking I needed to eat more than usual, but the thing is that I wasn’t really going to work out more than usual. I’ve already been doing bricks that were much more of a workout than this race was going to be, albeit with longer transitions and without the adrenalin, so there was no need for me to do anything special with my diet the 24 hours before.

That night I didn’t sleep well, or at least I kept waking up a lot. I was pretty excited about the event, even though the swim had been canceled due to a possible infestation in the lake of roundworm. I kept waking up, thinking it was 4 am and time to get up and start getting ready, but it was only 2:15. The next time I woke up I could have sworn it was 4:00 because it felt like I had been sleeping for two hours, but it was only 2:23. Then my alarm went off and I got up. I had a bowl of oatmeal, another change in my normal routine since I normally don’t eat before my workouts, but in this case it would be four and a half hours before my “workout” started, and normally I’m working out within an hour of waking up.

Te Koi picked me up at about 5 am, we loaded my bike on top and my gear in the back seat of his Subaru, and we were off towards Daybreak. On the way we passed another participant driving a white Toyota hybrid (sucker). When we got there we parked in a nice cement lot, but completely ignored the layered parking structure 20 feet away, which would have kept the car quite a bit cooler for when we would be getting back into it several hours later. You don’t think about these things at 5:30 am.

We were pretty much the first participants there. The volunteers were just starting to get set up. The benefit of getting there early was that we were able to choose our spots in transition area, and there are definite advantages to this. The transition area was a long, thin asphalt road leading uphill from the lake to a street. The ideal place to stake your claim was at the top of the road, near the street, because it meant that once you got your bike shoes on, you only had to walk 20 steps to the area where you could mount your bike, and after the bike ride you only had to walk 20 steps after dismounting before you could rack your bike and get your running shoes on. For those who came late, they had to take a spot 200 feet down the hill and do all that running back and forth in their bike shoes or bare feet. I’m sure our placement easily cut 10-20 seconds off each transition. It certainly cut more off the second transition (bike to run) than the first (swim to run) because on the first transition we entered from the bottom of the hill, and so my gear was at the opposite end from which I entered. But it was still a distinct advantage either way since I didn’t have to run as far as anyone else in my bike shoes or bare feet, not to mention running through crowds of people with my bike in tow.

It was completely dark when we arrived, and stayed that way for another hour. This posed a problem as we were setting up our gear because we couldn’t see a thing. Te Koi normally brings a head-mounted light, but he had forgotten it, and I hadn’t brought anything. A flashlight would have been helpful. Even more helpful would have been several floodlights. I’ll have to suggest that to the organizers for next year.

After choosing our spots, then returning to the volunteer area to check in and get bodymarked, we hung out in the transition area trying to stay warm. The staff kind of wanted us to head on down to the shuttle area (more about why there was a shuttle area later), but that would mean taking my sweater and tights off and then shivering in my tri-suit for two hours, so I just stayed in the transition area close to my gear, which I had laid out around my bike in order to access it as quickly as possible when I was in transition. One tip I picked up from the guy next to us (the one Te Koi didn’t like) was to put electrical tape around the bar of my bike, just behind the stem. The tape is applied inside-out, meaning the sticky part is out instead of stuck to the bike, and then you can stick your Gu’s, PowerBars, or whatever you want to the tape and then you have easy access to it during the bike ride. I borrowed his tape and did this.

I also put my Garmin heart rate monitor strap on, because I really wanted to track my data for my coach. I wish I had the data from my previous triathlons but I had thought it was goofy to wear a Garmin during a race. Now I realize that for me, it’s a must because it helps me know how my body is doing which helps me go faster, and it gives great data to my coach to help me improve.

IMG_5022Quickly enough other people started to trickle and then flood into the transition area. One fellow set up next to us with his own rack. He told us that because he’s so tall and therefore his bike so large, that the seat post wouldn’t fit under the rack, and so he had permission from the race organizers to use his own rear-wheel rack. This was all fine and dandy except that it meant he got the best spot and compromised our space. This also meant that he ended up on Te Koi’s bad side, which meant Te Koi ended up making fun of him for the rest of the day, sometimes to his face during the event as Te Koi passed him.

IMG_5017After two hours or so of waiting in the cold morning air, watching the sun begin to come up, and using the porta-potties a few times, we stripped down to our tri outfits. Te Koi was doing the Olympic distance so he had to hurry over to the shuttle area before me, and then I followed a few minutes later. By this time my wife and daughter were there. We hung out for a few minutes, and then they started doing a pre-race orientation meeting (which would have been better with some speakers and a mic rather than a bullhorn that has limited range and direction) so I went over with the other athletes.

IMG_5021We then walked over to some buses which would shuttle us about a mile to the neighborhood pool, where we would do our 75 meter swim. Yep, all that training I had been doing, and instead of doing a 750 meter swim in open water I’d be doing a 75 meter swim in a pool. But hey, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it, except for the mom’s who let their kids defecate on the public beach by the lake or worse, in the lake. But that damage had already been done.

Prior to the swim, they had asked us how fast we were at swimming on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the fastest. I told them I was a 5, even though I was sure I wasn’t anywhere as fast as many of the people around me. The wrote a “5” on my hand in thick, black marker, and I then spent the next hour hiding my hand so that I wouldn’t look like a snob. As it turned out, I was a 5. In fact, I was a faster 5 than the person in front of me.

The way the swim worked is that we waded into the pool from the side in a line. The pool had three lanes set up. As I followed those in front of me in line, a woman would read the bib number of the person in front of her (written on the participant’s swim cap), somebody would start the timer going for that number, and then she would tell the participant when to start swimming. The participant would then push off the wall and start swimming. At the end of the lane they would duck under the lane line, and start swimming in the next lane, do the same at the other end of the pool, and then get out of the pool at the end of the next lane. Participants were being started ever 3-4 seconds to give an adequate gap, and were told to swim to the right of the lane in case the person behind them was going to pass them.

I had sidled my way to the back of the group of 5’s towards the 4’s, feeling that I had made a terrible mistake and was going to be run over by a bunch of superior swimmers and get a bunch of people mad at me. A girl, also marked as a 5, tried to get behind me but I told her I was sure I was slower than she was going to be.

As we walked into the pool and towards the starting point I got my goggles ready and made sure they were sealed, not wanting to repeat my experience from my half-Ironman a year and a half earlier. The girl in front of me pushed off the wall, and I found my place on the wall, holding on with one hand and waiting to push off. The woman on the deck above me read my number, waited a second or two, and then yelled “Go!” I pushed off and starting swimming as hard as I could. With only 75 meters to swim, it seemed pointless to hold back. By the end of the first length I realized I should have let the girl go behind me. I was swimming quite a bit faster than she was, and I realized I would either need to hold back or pass her. I passed her halfway down the next length, and finished a few body-lengths ahead of her.

Despite the swim only being 75 meters, my arms were weak as I tried to lift myself out of the pool and I struggled a bit, and was already breathing hard. I ran out the pool gate to the street, where we had all left our shoes and any other gear we had brought with us sitting on the sidewalk. Unlike other participants I had not brought a towel with me, so I picked my sunglasses out of one of my shoes and put them on, then slipped my soaking, dripping wet feet into my shoes, and started running across the street where staff were holding back traffic.

On the other side of the street I saw where participants had thrown their swim caps, and I pulled mine off and threw mine on the grass alongside the sidewalk with all the others. As I ran I struggled to put my bib number on, which I had attached to an elastic race belt designed to make it easy. But try running with a pair of goggles in your hand and snapping one of these on–it’s not so easy to do quickly.

I’m so used to running with my Garmin which tells me my pace that I had no idea how fast I was going. I hadn’t wanted to bring it to the swim, so I left it in transition…in my bag! Argh, I couldn’t believe it. I had two hours to set up all my gear just perfectly, but I had left my Garmin watch in my bag. No big deal, except that it meant I would have to dig into my bag to get the watch out and I would lose precious seconds doing this. In retrospect, I should have put it in my shoe during the swim so that after the swim I could have been putting it on and it would be totally ready to go by the time I started the bike. But oh well, live and learn. And what’s a few seconds when you’re carrying 30 lbs of extra fat around? It’s easy to think like that, but when you’re in the race you still get sensitive about any little bit of time you lose due to errors in judgment.

IMG_5063I ran as fast as I could back to the transition area. We ran along a sidewalk that circles the previously mentioned infested lake, and entered the transition area at the bottom where we would have entered had we been coming out of the lake. I ran up the hill to my spot, dumped my goggles on the ground, or on my bag, I can’t remember, got my wet shoes off, put my bike shoes on, my helmet on, got my Garmin watch out of my bag, and then grabbed my bike off the rack and ran out of the transition area.

As I mounted my bike and started riding, I got going fast enough to not fall down and then started riding without hands while I put my Garmin watch on. Again, if I had put it on during the run from the swim to the transition area then I could have started off full force on the bike instead of riding along slowly and risking weaving and running into another participant. I could hear my wife cheering me on, but I didn’t want to do too many things at once, so I stayed focused on getting my Garmin watch on. Finally I got the watch on, the satellites started to connect, and I started pedaling for real, turned a corner, and sped off towards the long, straight portion of the bike ride.

The course started out with a “false flat”. That is, an area that looks flat but is actually slightly uphill. This has the result of causing a lot of people to bike too hard at first because they think they should be going faster. They expend all their energy and then poop out once they hit the real hills. My coach had warned me about this so even though I felt like I was crawling along, I stayed in the easy gears, kept my cadence high, and just kept on going. I got passed a few times and passed a few people, but there wasn’t too much of that. After several minutes the road bent to the right, and then we made a left turn onto another road. At first the road went downhill, but then went uphill quite a bit more. I didn’t see anyone walking their bikes, as I did in the Oceanside half, but there were plenty of people going quite slow. I passed a 25 year old (your age is written on your right calf in large, black numbers) who kept standing up and pedaling hard, only to sink back onto his seat and go slower, weaving left and right as he struggled to maintain his speed and stay up right. My coach had warned me against standing up, since it takes a lot more energy, so I was committed to keeping my behind on my seat no matter what, and here I saw the result of someone without that sage advice.

As I passed the young man (darn it, I remember when I was 25 and I thought I was already old), he said “You’re doing good!” and I replied “Not bad for a fat old man, eh?”

“I’m just trying to keep up, but my legs are killing me,” he wheezed.

“Keep your behind on your saddle, and you’ll have an easier time,” I responded.

“But it hurts!” he struggled to say back.

“Yeah, it hurts, but you’ll make it. If you keep standing up, you won’t.” I said back.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then I rode on ahead towards the halfway point, and the steepest part of the bike ride.

After passing the young man, there was another mile or so of a decent uphill climb, then two steeper hills, and then the turnaround point. On the hills I was just barely able to keep my legs going without standing up, but I made it, turned around, and felt the relief as gravity pulled me down the hill at a quickly accelerating pace.

The ride back took a fraction of the time of the first half of the ride since it was all virtually down hill or flat, and although the wind was blowing it was coming from the side and had a neutral effect. I was passed by people on tri-bikes (I was riding a road bike) who looked a lot more fit than me, but I was also passing people who looked more fit than me. I passed a girl walking her bike, evidently with a flat tire. I think it was the same girl I passed during the swim. She looked dejected and I thought of stopping to help, but knew some staff would be along sooner or later to help her out, and I was keen to not mess up my data. Feel free to call me a bad Samaritan, but I passed another 3-4 people with flat tires as well. If I stopped to help everyone with a flat tire in every race I was in, there wouldn’t be much point in me doing the races. And it’s not as though there wasn’t someone else coming along to help her, and it’s not as though she was hurt or something. Fine, I’m rationalizing because I feel guilty, but it’s all true!

IMG_5106I rode back towards the transition area, and this time was able to give a little finger wave to my family while not letting go of the handlebars. I dismounted and ran in only to find that Te Koi had already left his bike and was taking up my space on one side, and the participant to my right was taking up all the space on the other side. There was no room for my bike! I said “Excuse me” to the lady on the right, and she quickly got out of my way, although what I should have done was shove Te Koi’s bike over to the left. During all this, I noticed the big guy’s bike hanging on the rack, instead of the rack he had brought. I thought he had said his bike wouldn’t fit on the rack…? Oh well, whatever. I’d let Te Koi deal with that (he said he did by mentioning it to the guy as he passed him during the run portion of the race).

I got my bike shoes off and slipped my feet into my running shoes again…rats, still wet from running over from the swim area. I would later notice in one of the photos my wife took that the lady next to me had used one pair of shoes for the transition run, and another pair of dry shoes for the real run–smart. I should have thought of that, although at this point I didn’t realize my wet shoes would turn out to be a problem.

I ran down the transition area (thank goodness for downhill running!) and out onto the cement trail that ringed the lake. The downhill quickly change to level concrete, and then uphill concrete, doh! Why couldn’t it just be flat? There’s nothing like running uphill within 30 seconds of getting off your bike. I was already starting to wheeze and pant, but according to my Garmin my heart rate and pace were about right, so I kept on pushing.

The path leveled out and for the most part stayed level with some very minor ups and downs for the rest of the run. I definitely had a harder time running in the race than I normally do during my workouts. My legs felt like lead, and it was hard to concentrate on running on my toes and keeping my cadence high. I was getting passed quite a bit, which I somewhat expected, although one guy passed me running like a gazelle and made me feel like I was standing still. He made running look effortless and he must have been doing miles that were under 7 minutes.

I had brought two bottles of gatorade on the bike but hadn’t touched them. In the past I’ve had a tendency to drink too many liquids and then get a side ache and have to walk. I also didn’t feel thirsty. I had hydrated quite a bit the day before and that morning, and I knew from training that I didn’t need to drink anything else. Even so, I was nursing a stitch in my side (I just started calling it a “stitch”, I think it sounds more sophisticated than “side ache” and makes me feel vaguely British) the whole way. I took a small sip of water at the halfway-point aid station, but no more. At around the 2-mile point of the 3.1 mile run, I could hear someone running right behind me. Since there was a bit of a headwind, I figured out that the fellow was drafting behind me, using me to block the wind and make his run easier. It didn’t make my run any harder, but somehow it felt as though he was sucking the life out of me.

In addition, at this point I started noticing the inside of my right foot was getting hot–the symptom of a blister coming on. As I continued to run it went from hot to sore, and I started worrying that I wasn’t going to just have a blister, but a raw spot on my foot. It didn’t slow me down, but I was worried about the post-race complications, since I have another triathlon in just a few weeks, but taking a look would have to wait.

The run seemed longer than the training runs I had been on. It even seemed longer than the 6-mile I had done a week or two before. Maybe this is because I didn’t have my iPod with me.

IMG_5132I was wheezing and panting and my legs were burning as I approach the finish line area. As soon as I could tell exactly where the finish line was I started sprinting, as did the fellow drafting behind me. I could hear my wife and a friend who had come to watch cheering me on. The other runner pulled ahead of me before the finish, but I didn’t care. At least it wasn’t one of the two guys with body piercings, mohawks, extensive tattoos, and very skimpy speedos. I just wanted to finish strong, find some chocolate milk to guzzle down, and take a look at the spot on my foot that was feeling more and more sore.

I got a banana, downed five sample-size bottles of chocolate milk, some fruit snacks, and some licorice. Unlike at most events, family and friends were welcome in the post-race food area, so we visited there.

When I took off my shoe, my foot was indeed raw where I had felt it hurting. No blister, but no skin either. Just a small raw area where the skin had been worn away. I’ve never had anything like this happen before, I’ve never even really had a blister before, and I knew it had come as a result of running in wet shoes. Lesson learned, and then some.

All in all I thought the race was well-organized. The organizers dealt well with a difficult situation due to the lake problem, and it was a fun event that I’d definitely like to participate in again.

Update 23 Sep ’09: What’s funny is that I was so into telling the story I totally forgot to post my times here.

bib number: 914
gender: M
overall place: 84 out of 327
division place: 15 out of 45
gender place: 70 out of 174
time: 1:19:52
swim: 12:00
t1: 1:15
bike: 39:25
t2: 1:05
run: 26:10

So how does this compare to past performance? In my first sprint distance triathlon (warning: graphic fatness photo exposure), which was two years ago, was cumulative time was 1:51:18. My second sprint distance triathlon time was 1:30:30. While this one was 1:19:52, which seems like a distinct improvement, it’s hard to tell for the following reasons:

1. The swim was canceled on this one, so I didn’t have that level of exhaustion going into the bike.

2. This bike ride was shorter than the Ogden Valley bike ride, although I think Daybreak had more uphill in it (but what comes up must come down). I’d say it’s sixes for Lake Powell vs. Daybreak as far as difficulty, but Lake Powell had an extra mile on the bike ride. Well, maybe now that I look at my Lake Powell time of 38:47, the Lake Powell course must have been easier, because I’m pretty sure I’m in better shape now than I was then.

3. Ok, nevermind all this. The more I look at my Lake Powell times the more I’m feeling like I did pretty well there. I definitely improved slightly on the run at Daybreak, but I think there was more elevation change at Powell and the difference isn’t that great (27:55 vs. 26:10).  But I definitely did better at Lake Powell and Daybreak than I did at Ogden, that’s for sure.

With Lake Powell coming up in less than a month I don’t have a lot of time to prepare, and it will be my first Olympic distance (I’ve already done a half, but skipped Olympic on my way there). So I won’t be able to compare it to my previous Lake Powell triathlon, but it should be fun anyway.

  • http://www.blonderunner.com blonderunner

    Great report. I put a flashlight in my transition bag when I got home…it was really dark. I do think they did a great job organizing it even with the last minute changes. They had a great spread for the athletes too, it reminded me of the Canyonland Half…great assortment of refreshments. Have you ever tried those Zoot Ultraracers? …I love mine.

  • Joshua

    I think I’ll be heading down to PowerTri to get some Zoot shoes today. I’ve got Lake Powell in a month, which includes a half-mile run from the beach to the transition area, so I’m going to need two pairs of shoes for sure!

  • Alan R

    Way to go. This is a great write-up. It’s fun to read about your progress.