June 6, 2010 - Blue Lake Triathlon & Duathlon - Olympic Distance (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run); (5k run/40k bike/10k run) - Fairview, OR
***My First Olympic Distance Triathlon***
What's that big bright thing in the sky? - When my husband and I arrived in Portland on Saturday, June 5th, the sun was shining and it felt like summer, which was very welcome after experiencing one of the coldest, wettest May's on record this year here in the Pacific Northwest. After picking up our race packets at Blue Lake Park, we dropped our bikes off in the transition zone with numbers attached (they would be secured overnight by event staff) and headed over to the swim beach to have a look at the lake.
Blue Lake is beautiful and with the warm, sunny weather it was tempting to get our suits on and jump in for a swim. Families and kids were playing in the water and soaking up the sun. The swim course was already marked by big green and red buoys. There had been a sprint distance triathlon, as well as kids triathlon already that morning. A typical sprint distance triathlon involves a 1/2 mile swim, a 15 mile bike, followed by a five kilometer run (3.1 miles). Distances can vary a bit depending on the course.
Parking for the course was moved to the Chinook Landing about 1.5 miles from the park due to excessive precipitation the week prior, rendering the grassy fields that were to be used for parking a muddy mess. In order to save the grass from being completely ruined, cars needed to be kept off it as much as possible. Shuttle busses were available to deliver us to the transition zone from the parking lot on race morning.
After checking out the lake we headed back towards Portland to check into our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Benson, a beautiful, historic hotel right on Broadway. Unbeknownst to us, the annual Rose Parade and Starlight Run were scheduled for that evening and would run right past our hotel. Oh, goody. lol. So much for early to bed; might as well enjoy the festive mood surrounding us (shoulder shrug and grin). We should have added that run to our weekend, had we only known sooner; I do love to dress up!
Apparently Portland has more micro-breweries than any other city in the United States; my husband was keen to check them out (okay, I was interested too), so we strolled over to Deschutes Brewery for appetizers and fresh drafts. After enjoying the great atmosphere there we headed over the Henry's, to enjoy their outdoor patio dining and watch all the costumed people fueling up before the Starlight Run and the Parade. It was the perfect evening for a parade: warm and windless.
We enjoyed the run and some of the parade from our hotel window, which got rolling around 9:30 p.m. We knew though, that we had to rise early the next morning in order to be ready to race at 8:00 a.m. in Fairview, so we closed the shade well before the festivities ended and drifted in and out of sleep to the tune of marching bands and parade revelers, until the police cleared the streets around midnight.
Race morning dawned with the pitter patter of rain on our window. Say what?! Yes, rain. Breakfast was coffee and a Cliff Bar for both of us. We left our hotel at 6:15 a.m. and headed to Blue Lake, having to switch lanes on the freeway as our car was hydroplaning in the puddled ruts. Could it rain any harder? It always does right when you pose that question, doesn't it? We parked at Chinook Landing and joined the line of triathletes waiting in the downpour for the shuttle buses. We were all shaking our heads and laughing at the abrupt change in weather. Yesterday had been so promising!
After arriving at the park, we made our way toward the transition zone, with a quick stop at the restrooms on the way. I was using an umbrella in a mostly futile attempt to stay dry (and warm) until the race start. We half joked that we should have stayed at the hotel, slept in and partook in the special champagne brunch they were hosting in one of their restaurants that morning.
Bodies marked, bikes racked, helmets, shoes, etc. organized for a speedy transition at our assigned rack locations, we wished each other good luck and Shawn headed off to start his duathlon, while I finished donning my wetsuit and headed down to the lake. The duathlon and first wave of triathletes began at 8:00 a.m. Waves began in five minute increments according to age, with the elites starting the race off first in a special "elite" wave. My wave began at 8:30, so I had time to start getting a chill in my wetsuit while waiting on the beach.
The 60 something degree water felt downright tropical when I got in and swam out to the starting corral with the other gals in the 40-49 age group. After all my worries and preparations for the swim, it ended up being the best part of the race. Swimming in the rain is much more enjoyable than racing your bike through street wide puddles. I felt relaxed most of the swim with the exception of swallowing a bit of water from an unexpected wave in my face and the few times that faster swimmers in the waves behind me bumped into me as they overtook me on their way to the finish. My swim time was 38:38. It's relatively slow, but for me it was a victory. I exited the water running and feeling good, already unzipping my wetsuit and pulling my arms free as I ran through the mud toward my first transition (T1).
Wetsuit off, helmet on, glasses on, then off (better vision without in the downpour!), bike shoes on, bike jersey on, grab bike and run through the muddy, grassy chute to the road. Ding. Bike leg has started. Clip in and go! The bike leg is a mostly flat course with two out and back sections, the second one along the river(?) and airport. There were a couple dicey spots in the park where we had to cut through the muddy grass, making a u-turn back to the transition zone.
Cycling past the airport on the return to the park, a plane took off to my right, heading the opposite direction as me, while a blue heron simultaneously glided across the road right in front of me. At that moment, I felt very glad to be out there, pedaling hard in the inclement weather.
During the bike leg I had a little competition going with a very fit older (68) gentlemen on a tri bike. I caught up with him and passed him about 7 miles into the course, after which we leapfrogged each other at least seven times. If one of us lost concentration or paused to hydrate or fuel up, the other would pounce and pass. It really made it fun and kept the pace going for both of us. Drafting is not allowed in triathlons, so when you pass, you have to do it decisively and the other person may not grab on to your wheel as you would see in races such as the Tour de France. In triathlon, you are on your own and it is essentially a time trial.
Twenty five miles later, as I dismounted and jogged back through the mud with my bike, I realized that my legs felt really good and ready to run. This was partly thanks to my good fueling and hydrating efforts during the bike leg. (Gels at miles 1 and 22, with electrolyte drink steadily along the way.) My T2 (transition two: bike to run) was faster than my T1, but would have been speedier if I had been able to get my helmet off more quickly! My hands were wet, cold and stiff, so stiff that I had a really hard time just squeezing the little chin-strap buckle. I finally got it off and quickly slipped my shoes on in the mud (no socks), grabbed my hat and race belt and headed out of transition to the run portion of the race. The approach to the run leg exit resembled a pig pen, with the mat virtually camouflaged in mud.
As I started off through the park my legs felt good and I picked up my pace. Mud and puddles really don't bother me when I'm running. As others jogged around each puddle, I splashed right through, high stepping it as I went. Two miles in and 4.2 miles to go to the finish, I had a smile on my face. It was hard but I was having a blast out there. I had passed numerous people on the bike leg, but on the run I was overtaking people left and right. I offered up some "good jobs" and some were tossed my way as well.
About 150 yards from the finish line I spotted at gal with the number 40 on her right calf (someone in my age group!). I sped past her, up away from the lake, and down through the finish chute, almost losing my shoe in the mud as I approached. Whew, I did it! Shawn was there, freezing his butt off in the pouring rain, waiting for me. He soon headed off on his bike, back to the van to find something warm to wear. My run time was 46:59.
Shawn did great in the duathlon and I'm hoping to keep improving on my swimming abilities for future triathlons. What a great feeling to have trained and finished successfully. It's all about actively living life. There is just so much out there to experience. Rain or shine, it's all grand.
Ride on folks!