So, despite this blog post, I made the decision to do Pacific Crest as a practice race for Vineman. I still hate this race, but it was ideal as a practice race for a couple of reasons:
1.) Heat: One of the things that is really scaring me about Vineman is the fact that the temp is likely to be between 80 and 90 degrees. Pacific Crest is typically pretty toasty and this year did not disappoint.
2.) Uninspiring run course: From everything I’ve heard, Vineman’s run course is hot, isolated and uninspiring. I can’t think of a better practice for that than Pacific Crest’s terrible tour of Sunriver resort.
3.) Practice with new stuff: I wanted a chance to see how the kit and wheels did in race conditions and test out my nutrition strategy.
4.) No other options: There were literally no other half-iron distance races in this time frame. Everything else was either too early or way too late.
With all of those things in mind, I signed up. I lucked into a free place to stay from a girl on Slowtwitch who I’d met when I’d volunteered at Ironman Canada. She’d posted some questions about the race on the forum and I’d mentioned that I might be up there as well, so she messaged me and offered me a place to stay at her dad’s place. So nice! (And after all of the Smokey Joe expenses, pretty much the only way I could make this race happen financially.)
Per usual, the day before the race was filled with all sorts of errands. Thankfully, there was an option to pay 10 bucks and drop your bike off at Packet Pickup for them to transport up to the lake. Since this saved me two hours of driving, I considered it money well spent. I passed this sign as I was checking in and thought it was amusing:
Because I was doing this race solo, I was a little worried about where I was going to park on race morning. I needed the car to be close enough to hobble to post-race, so I left extra early and scored a nice convenient spot somewhat close to the finish line (and a grocery store, score!) I walked over to transition, set up my T2 and caught the bus out to the lake/T1. As usual, the bus ride was a mix of quiet and nervous chit-chat. It was already a gorgeous day out:
When I got up to the transition area and found my bike, I realized I’d remembered my race number wrong (and set up my T2 in the wrong spot!) I had to have a volunteer fix the number on my calf and felt like a total spaz. (Why yes, I have been doing triathlons for ten years, thanks for asking!) I set up my transition area and tried to keep the butterflies in check by reminding myself that this was basically a training day with company. I also learned that for some unknown reason, they’d changed the swim course to be two loops. Which meant that those of us in the second to the last wave would be passed by all of the people in the the four waves in .6 miles of space. Blergh.
I went in for a practice swim and reminded myself of how freakin’ cold that damn lake is. They claimed it was 67 degrees, but it sure felt colder than that to me! When it came time for our wave to line up, I found a really good spot, to the right of the start, in line with the buoy. There were only two fast looking guys near me, so I didn’t have to worry about a lot of people next to me, although there were a million people to my left that would be merging into my line. I decided not to worry about it.
The horn blew and I focused on just taking it out nice and smooth and use the time before the first buoy as a warm-up. I was surprised to not really have too much congestion from folks merging in. There were a few TnT-ers with some crazy swimming (special shout out to the person somehow swimming freestyle arms and a scissor kick. I’m not sure how you could even do that!) but for the most part I avoided them. After the first buoy, it was a total cluster. There were slower people breaststroking and faster people from the previous waves trying to get through. I got caught up in a big pack just after the second buoy and had a total panic attack. Like, had to stop and catch my breath/calm down freak-out. It totally sucked and threw me off my mental game. I had one other section where I had to stop to figure out where to start the second lap, but by the second lap I found a bit more open water and was able to get a steady pace going again. It was a super slow swim time, but according to my Garmin, I swam 1.27 miles. Sigh.
I finished the swim and wobbled my way to the bike. I struggled into the Coolwing sleeves (I’ll have to wear these under my wetsuit if I use them for Vineman, they took FOREVER to put on.) I finished my changing and stuffed all of my crap into the plastic bag and headed out. I felt surprisingly good on the bike, but tried to keep things easy for the first part. (Which was hard, I really wanted to to fast and pass more people.) I kept up on my water, but my stomach felt really weird and queasy. I assumed it was from the swim, so I eased off the food until my stomach felt better.
By the time the climbing started, I felt like I was riding well. I was steadily passing folks and not getting passed back too often. I was drinking my Infinit and taking in some gel, but not really wanting to eat the solid food I’d brought along. The heat wasn’t too bad, except when we got to some of the longer climbs. Then it was brutal. The climbs weren’t as easy/breezy as I remembered from Leadman, but they weren’t as bad as the last time I’d done Pacific Crest either. I kept my effort as low as possible on them, but was feeling frustrated that I wasn’t going faster. I was so happy to get to the big descent back to town, looking forward to making up some time. But as I started barreling down the hill, a cross-wind hit and moved me over a foot or two. I screamed and grabbed the brakes and nearly stopped the bike, I was so scared. This, of course, made me take the rest of the descents far more gingerly than I ordinarily would. It got better and I started to get a better sense of how to handle the bike in the wind, but it really rattled me.
Plus, my stomach was feeling really weird and I was feeling just strange. I wasn’t sure if it was heat stroke or what was happening, but I was just feeling AWFUL. It was a struggle to ride the last five miles and I wasn’t sure what was happening. I was in tears when I finally pulled into the transition area, but the minute I stood up and started walking the bike, my stomach started growling like crazy. I was super hungry and bonking like crazy. I put my bike in it’s proper place at the rack and walked over to where I’d incorrectly set up my run stuff. I sat down, burst into tears and ate a Honey Stinger Waffle while I changed into my running stuff. I was a mess, but I stumbled my way out of transition and on to the run course.
I’d put my phone in my pocket, so I got it into my head that I should call the boy and get his advice. I sat down on a stump, next to some poor bastards condo, hysterically crying while other racers jogged by me. The boy talked me off the ledge and helped me realize that doing the run was going to put me in a pretty deep hole that would likely effect my ability to train for the rest of the week and that was just stupid. So, I decided to cut my losses and call it quits. It’s official, Pacific Crest, I’m done with you. You aren’t the race for me.
The next morning, I was feeling deeply regretful that I didn’t know if I could have rallied from the bike nutrition fail. It was making me feel insecure about my readiness for Vineman, so with a fairly empty stomach and a decent level of hydration, I went out to do a hot weather run in 90 degree Salem. There’s a great area with running trails at Minto Brown park:
I’d planned to do a 90 minute run, but ended up getting lost and doing two hours. I stashed a couple of bottles of water at various places, but only ended up passing one of them. (D’oh!) I was able to eat myself out of that empty/pre-bonk feeling and found a run/walk strategy that helped when the heat got to me. While I ran, I thought about the previous days’ race and what I’d learned from it. I actually found myself feeling better about the whole experience and extracting things to apply to my upcoming race.
So, even though it was a really crappy race experience, it was a great training weekend. I’m still feeling nervous about Vineman, but I’ve got some sound strategies to make the race go better.