Wednesday, April 20, 2011

IM NOLA 69.1

Sorry, this is kind of long.  Without wasting time on intro, I will skip quickly to the narration...
The swim.

As most know already, the swim was cancelled by the race organizers due to the "dangerously high sea state" on the lake.  While this obviously angered those that view the swim as their strongest event, it also reigned havoc on everyone else's race strategy.  Left with the last minute need to improvise, racers had to decide how to reorganize their nutrition, re-plan their bike pace and figure out how to warm up for a time trial bike start.  For many, (myself included) the elimination of the swim seemed to de-prioritize the race to that of a very well supported workout.  


Best ever.  (We had two hours to get ready for the bike start.)

The bike.

In my last blog post prior to the race I mentioned the concern that riding a bike that looked and was in most ways far ahead of my capability might encourage me to attempt to outride my legs.  One would think that having noted that possibility ahead of time and even taken the time to write about it, I would be aware enough to make a conscious decision to "ride my own race," and avoid the intrinsic or extrinsic pressures to push it too hard too early.  One would be wrong.
The same 25 mph winds that led the organizers to cancel the swim greeted us immediately at the beginning of the bike.  The race started with a time trial start, spacing bikers two seconds apart and creating an immediate peloton of carbon and aggression that fed off of a massive tail wind and zipped away at 30 mph. I found myself slamming the pedals to take advantage of what I knew would soon be a demoralizing headwind, keeping pace with the mass of wannabe Lance Armstrongs around me, completely unaware of my 178 bpm heart rate.  And then, after less than three miles, we turned around.   
At about the five mile marker, I met with one of NOLA's famous road bumps and added two of my three water bottles to a quickly growing collection piling up by the curb.  Nutrition-less and disheartened by the pedestrian speed I was making, I refused to let the wind make me it's bitch, and played right into its hands.  I'll resist the cyclist's temptation to claim that there was somehow a headwind the rest of the day, but if you told me that was the case, I would not be surprised.  
My "strategy" was a somewhat desperate mixture of rapid spinning and  pedal-mashing that effectively fatigued my legs and lungs as quickly as possible.  
Around mile 30 I was met with another unanticipated challenge - urination.  Despite the fact that I had only taken in one bottle of sports drink and bottle or so of water, my bladder was so full that the aero position was quickly becoming less and less of an option.  Now, I have had this discussion with many triathletes, and it is a well known fact that pros and serious riders often "go" in the midst of riding.  However, this was not something that I have practiced.  But, not desiring to add even more delay to my already slow bike time, I decided to give it a college try.  I slowed my cadence and even coasted.  I tried sitting up and leaning forward.  I tried everything short of pouring out what little liquid I had left just for the sound of running water to try and get the job done.  But it was to no avail.  If I was gonna go, I'd have to stop.    
By mile 40, when I should have been reaping the benefits of a huge tailwind, I was barely keeping a 20 mph pace and my energy and attitude were sunk.  So much so that by mile 45, I found myself mentally writing a blog about how my race had tanked.  At that point I even pulled over at a port-o-let and put a relieving end to my pissing drama.  
As I finished off the last few miles, I remember trying to figure out exactly what was making me so slow - The wind?  It didn't seem to be effecting everyone this much.  General fatigue?  Yeah, I pressed early, but I've had plenty of time to recover.  No nutrition?  Perhaps...but I didn't feel that smoked - I just couldn't get going fast...
(Fast forward to this afternoon when I was taking the race wheels off of my bike.  As I tried to spin the back wheel before opening the brake lever I noted that the lever itself was twisted to the side and one brake was continuously applied to that side of the wheel.  In addition, that brake pad was significantly more worn down that the other.  Now I am faced with the uncomfortable question - did I ride the whole damn race with one of my brakes on?  Surely I couldn't have been that oblivious...could I?)
Time: 3:11:15 (yeah, really.) 

A quick trip to the bike stand and I was on my way out.  I didn't do any flying dismounts or crazy transition drills.  Due to the grass transition area and the abundance of hitch-hikers (thorny pods that come off of weeds and stick to your clothes and in your feet), I even left my bike shoes on for the run back to the rack.  I grabbed a pack of Clif gels to take with me on the run and was on my way.  Oops, then I went back to turn off my GPS.  After a ride that slow, why rush, right?
Time: 4:41

The Run.

Exiting transition I was greeted by my buddy Dustin (the loaner of the now cursed race wheels), who joggged alongside for a few strides and checked to see how the ride had gone.  He noted that I looked remarkably fresh and wished me well on the rest of the race.  About a mile later I ran up on another good friend and we paced stride for stride for a few miles.  The pace was easy - 9:30 miles, but I didn't really care too much.  He was struggling a bit, and perhaps I could help encourage him along - besides I had pretty much checked out prior to T2.  (What a negative punk I was, eh?)  
As we approached the half way mark on the run, my buddy noted that I looked like I was "out for a Sunday stroll."  As a bit of dehydration wore on him, he freed me to run my own pace and see what I had left for the rest of the run.  I picked it up a notch and resolved to do at least a little racing that day. 
For the last 6 miles of the run I felt great - a far cry for the dehydrated mess I was during the final stretch of last year's NOLA 70.3.  My energy and the energy of the city seemed to take a turn for the better as I made my way south of City Park and into the French Quarter.  The miles clicked by and I felt surprisingly great as I picked up the pace for the last mile into Jackson Square and the finish line.
Time: 2:20:15 (but the last few miles were worth the rest of the day) 

There are good races and there are bad races.  Every race leaves you with things that you can take into the next to make you better, smoother or faster.  In evaluating my race day I am perhaps more disappointed that I let whatever was slowing me down get me down.  A typically positive guy (I mean c'mon - I have a blog called Enjoy the Ride!), I usually don't let the negativity that can come with our kind of competition get in my head.  And if I hadn't, perhaps I would have been less focused on trying to push my meathead way through whatever was holding me back and more focused on figuring out a better way to use my energy.  I am thankful for the last half of the run, which gave me some indication of progress from this years training, and some comfort as I move into IM training for the fall.  And I am certainly glad that the lessons I learned the hard way were learned during a 69.1 mile bike-run held at home instead of a 140.6 mile race in a far away land.      

Besides, a bad day racing beats a good day doing most other things.

A few notes and tips for next year:

Before the swim was cancelled, it was altered from last year's unpopular dodecahedron to a nice out-over-and-back triangle.  So, it should be better next year - assuming we actually swim.

The roads are as rough as everyone says, though most big bumps are marked with official WTC "BUMP" signs.

Like I said, transition is on the grass, and this being the south, the grass is home to stickers,  hitch-hikers and the occasional ant.  Plan accordingly.

The 2009 event was criticized for a lack of support on the run course.  They have fixed that problem.  Every mile had spots with great volunteers all the way to the end.

If you are planning to meet someone afterward, the finish line is in the center of the French Quarter and is quite crowded - even without a race going on.  Additionally, it is virtually without shade.  I'd pick another spot.

The food tent, bags, medical, shuttle, etc. are a healthy walk from the actual finish line.  Coordinate accordingly with anyone you're meeting up with or risk another 13.1 miles strolling back and forth between the two.

The best sign(s) of the day were a pair of which one said: "Don't stop - almost there!" and the other beside it: "That's what she said.")     


  1. congrats on getting it done! If you want to read about a realllly crappy race- head over to my blog- this past weekend I was kicking in the face during the swim and got a bloody nose and then wrecked my bike after a douche in a sperm helmet cut me off on a sharp left turn. have to have the bad races to make the good ones even better! right? god, i hope so!

  2. twss - I can't wait until that dies.

    Nice one on the brakes. If you were my training partner it would be months before I let go of that one.

    PS - Got the shirt. Its been fun to wear during workouts. Can't wait for the next 10K! (Might consider disabling the word verification - kinda annoying - and I hear there are less spam-bots these days)

  3. I'd be dancing in the streets if the swim was cancelled but I can totally see how that would throw everything off. You gotta work on that pee on the fly thing.
    Skip the coconut mnms, nothing good comes from them.

  4. Great job on a rough day! I am keeping this race on my list but only because I love New Orleans!

    Keep up the great work and enjoy the training for your IM!

  5. Congrats on gutting it out on a rough day.

    Love the TWSS signs!

  6. Great race report! Sorry that it had it's share of obstacles, but you killed it on the run! Way to finish strong! I hope to do N.O. one day...

  7. Haha, love the TWSS sign. I'm a huge Office fan so that's right up my alley.

    Sounds like a less than ideal day, but you finished, learned a few lessons, and put yourself one step closer to IM Florida. All in all, not too bad of a weekend. Good job man.


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