Pre-race
As you may have read in an earlier post, I got sick and missed the Olympic-distance triathlon for which I had been training for six months.  I was bummed.  At the time thought about ending my “season” and just waiting until next year, but when I started feeling better I decided to try to find one more race before the cold weather arrived.  I looked online and found the Plano Blackland Triathlon, a Sprint-distance, inaugural event held at Oak Point Park in East Plano benefitting Plano ISD Athletics.  I decided to give it a try.  (For more basic information about triathlon races or a recap of my first race, to which I refer in this post, read my previous race report.)

The morning of the race, I woke up a few hours beforehand and ate a breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios, skim milk, and a light banana smoothie (bananas, ice, skim milk, vanilla, and cinnamon).  I had packed up my duffel bag with all my gear the night before, but this time I brought a much larger bag than my last race so that I didn’t have to squeeze everything in.

The transition area was extremely tight—the bikes were almost touching and the rack was too low to park the bike facing front.  One thing I forgot to bring was my painter’s tape, which I’ve found is great for fastening gel(s) on your bike without leaving residue on your paint job.  Because my triathlon suit (i.e. “onesie”) has no pockets, I tried to stuff the gel underneath my bike’s race number, but it fell out when I started riding.  Luckily I didn’t really need a gel in this short race.

One difficult part about triathlon for folks like me who wear glasses is that you cannot see very well when you’re leaving the pool and heading to transition. I don’t put on my prescription sunglasses until I get to my bike, so between my bad eyesight and being soaked and slightly disoriented from swimming, I have a hard time seeing where I’m supposed to go.  Luckily in my first race the volunteers helped steer me in the right direction.  For this race I decided to walk the path to transition a few times before the race started.  As a result, I didn’t have time for a warm-up, but it was a very short swim so I wasn’t too worried.

Surprisingly, they did not sing the national anthem before this event, they did not explain why the event was called “Blacklands” (my dad later told me it was because Plano has always had dark, rich farming soil), and they did not mention what group the event benefitted or how it was going to help.  The event also got started a bit late which is a big no-no in race direction, but I cut them some slack because it’s their first year.

Swim (5 minutes 51 seconds, 115 out of 409)
The Oak Point pool is an indoor, salt-water pool with 6 lanes of 50 meters each.  The pool was overly warm, which I normally don’t like—swimming laps in a warm pool is a lot like running on a treadmill in a hot room—but given the brisk temperature outside, I was actually happy with it this time.

In my last post, I wrote, “I don’t think I would race another sprint triathlon unless it had a swim of at least ½ mile.” And here I was again, racing a super-short swim distance.  I guess I felt different about it in that this race was really the only one I could choose without travelling somewhere.  I still wish it had been longer but it wasn’t as annoying as it was the first time around.

My race number was 278, and since the numbers started with 101, that meant I was seeded 178th out of 409 based on my reported swim time.  As I waited the 20 minutes or so for my turn to get in the pool, I watched the usual people who report a blazing swim time but then end up breast-stroking the entire swim (yes, literally) and forcing dozens of people to pass them.  What are they thinking?  I also waited next to a couple of members of the UNT Triathlon Team, who were all wearing the same green uniforms.  I thought it was really cool to see college triathletes at a local event, and I wished there had been some UT-Austin or even UT-Dallas representation.

When there were only 10-15 people left in front of me, I suddenly felt the need to empty my bladder once more before the start.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do it and I was worried about not keeping my place in line.  In hindsight, I should definitely have stepped out, told the race director I was going to start late, and made a pit stop.  But instead I started the race needing to “go” and knowing I couldn’t while I was exerting myself.  (More on this issue later.)

I started off too quickly and actually got a bit winded after the first 50 meters, but at the wall I reminded myself not to get too excited and I settled down into my Total Immersion style and swam well for the rest of the short swim.  I passed four or five people and was actually passed by one.

Just like last race, I “moved up” from my seeded place with my overall swim finish of 115th.  My 100-meter pace for this swim was 1:57, just under my 2:00 target and 19 seconds faster than my first triathlon swim pace.  And most importantly, this time around I remembered to put on my goggles before I jumped in the water.  At the end of the swim, two volunteers helped pull me out of the pool at the ladder, and I jogged the long distance up to the transition area—without getting disoriented this time.

T1 (2 minutes 44 seconds)
One annoying thing about the sport of triathlon is that there is no standardized transition area set up or distance from swim to transition.  I can understand why this type of rule is not possible, but what it means is that it is impossible to compare overall times from two different races, because even if the distances of each leg were the same, transition would not be laid out in the same way or be the same distance from the swim and the bike mount.

In any case, T1 went very well for me.  I sped up my transition time by not sitting down or drying anything off except my feet.  Putting on gloves was still a pain, and next I won’t wear them when racing a Sprint-distance event.  I did not leave my bike shoes in the pedals (i.e. no flying mount) and instead ran in them to the bike mount, got on slowly, and headed out.

Bike (44 minutes 47 seconds, 116 out of 409)
It wasn’t until about 10 minutes into the bike course that I realized how badly I needed to “go”!  I suddenly became jealous of those Tour de France guys who teach themselves how to “pee off the bike,” but there was no way I was going to try that in my onesie!  I also wasn’t going to stop, unclip, and go on the side of the road.  So I held it in and kept reminding myself that the faster I finished, the faster I got back to transition and the port-o-potty.

Maybe my full bladder contributed to my great bike ride or something, but on a hillier course than my first race I managed to slightly decrease my miles-per-hour pace, and in this race I actually finished in the top third on the bike instead of the top half in the last one.  I felt really strong throughout, pushing through a headwind during the first half of the out-and-back course and passing about 15 people, including three or four while going up hills.  I was also passed by two riders, both who flew by me with impressive form and really cool bikes.

As I wrote last time, riding on a closed course with policemen directing traffic is so great.  But through a couple of intersections, the traffic was really backed up (10+ cars on each side) and in one particular intersection dozens of cars were laying on their horns and yelling out the window at the cops.  They seemed in disbelief that the cars were not getting right-of-way over the athletes.  Part of me felt great that for once a car had to wait for a bike to pass, but most of me felt bad that triathlon might be getting a bad name here and worried that the situation might actually get violent.

Towards the end of the race, I encountered a “rabbit” like I had in my first race—a rider I wanted to pass who was riding at my speed or slightly faster.  This guy was on a bright-yellow bike with no shirt and riding with terrible form: legs splayed, body rocking, and back crooked.  But as I’ve learned so many times in the past, looks are deceiving in endurance sports, and every time I tried conservatively to pass the guy (i.e. increasing and then holding my pace to get by him without sprinting) he would pedal with all his might to stay ahead.  I was impressed with him, and although I didn’t ever pass him he definitely helped me push my pace.  I unfastened my shoes during the last minute of the ride and pulled my feet out so that I could hop off my bike and run barefoot into T2.  It turned out my rabbit was racked one space down from me!  We congratulated each other on a good bike leg and he headed out on to the run as I pulled on my running shoes and made a beeline for the port-o-potty.

T2 (3 minutes 29 seconds)
Ahh!  As I exited the big blue box, I knew I had lost at least 1.5 minutes between the detour and the deed, but I felt so relieved I really looked forward to the last leg of the race.  Hopefully I won’t make this same mistake again and this transition will be the longest of my triathlon career.

Run (28 minutes 34 seconds, 203 out of 409)
What an incredible run!  It was a flat course and sunny outside, but cool with a nice breeze that I hated on the bike but loved now.  I had almost no problem with stiff legs running off the bike, which I attribute to my near-weekly brick (i.e. bike-to-run) workouts that have made me much more comfortable with that awkward feeling.

I started off at a fairly fast pace of slightly under 9-minutes per mile, but then I reminded myself of my negative split philosophy and slowed it down.  Four people passed me almost instantly after that, but because I picked up the pace with each half-mile or so, I actually passed them all but one in the end.  That really felt good.

I’ve been training much longer distances for both the Olympic triathlon and for the upcoming Turkey Trot, and so the end of the run came way too soon.  Despite a 9:13 minutes per mile pace and finishing less than a minute off of my fastest 5k run time ever (which occurred in a normal running race without a bike and a swim!), I really felt that I had a lot of energy at the end of the race.  In hindsight, I should have tried a 5k prep run before the race to try out a 9 minutes per mile pace and see how it felt.

The final quarter-mile was up a hill along the back of the Oak Point Amphitheatre, which meant that I had to basically run a tight U-turn right before the finish line.  The positive of this setup was that I finished in front of a live band, but the negative was that I couldn’t judge how close the finish line really was and the spectators couldn’t see athletes coming before they suddenly finished.  Joanne still snapped a cool picture of my form as I pushed through the finish, and I ended the race with Emma running up to me for another big post-race hug.

Final Result: 1 hour 25 minutes 29 seconds, 163 out of 409
It was sad that I couldn’t make it to my Olympic-distance triathlon this year—and it especially stung when some of the other athletes had triathlon shirts and other race gear from that event—but this really was a nice end to my triathlon “season.” I ended up improving my finish spot from the top 56% in my first race to the top 40% in this one, so I’m still officially a MOP’er (i.e. middle-of-the-pack athlete), but slowly getting better—and still enjoying training even more than I do my races.

Speaking of, my next race is the Turkey Trot 8-mile on Thanksgiving.  My Dad and Rebecca are going to walk the 3-mile course that morning so I will have family joining me in addition to the handful of friends I know who are running it.  After that, I hope to run the Houston Half-Marathon in January.  My Mom and the Larsons would be spectators there and if all goes well I’ll run it with Debbie, Tim, and Nicole’s husband Mike.  Finally, barring another case of strep throat, I’ll race my first Olympic-distance triathlon in the Spring—I’m leaning towards an event in South Carolina so I can go visit Curt—and then the Olympic-distance race I deferred which will happen again in October 2009.  Thanks for reading and please let me know if you’re ever in Dallas and want to swim, bike, or run!

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