Friday, August 23, 2013

Island Lake Triathlon Recap

What's better than a triathlon? A triathlon where you trick your friends into doing the swimming and biking for you!

The day started with a 5 AM wake-up so that we could leave at 5:30. I had only managed about four to five hours of twilight sleep the night before, so instead of eating breakfast I tried to throw up to get ready of my exhaustion nausea. Glamorous, I know. I wasn't even successful, so the misery continued.

The race was about an hour away at Island Lake State Recreation Area in Brighton. The drive was pretty with fog all along the deserted highway. We parked near the end of the parking lot, Karin adjusted her bike, and then we went to packet pick-up. This is when we discovered almost no one understood the concept of a relay.
Wait...the three of you are competing...together?
The volunteer handing out packets at least was with it enough to check all our IDs, but when I asked where the relay exchanges were, she looked at me like a deer in headlights. We then went to get Hannah's swim cap. In order to increase the awkwardness of the race, the director had decided that all Olympic relay swimmers should start in the same wave as the Oylmpic men. When Hannah tried to get her Wave 1 swim cap, the poor volunteer looked caught between trying to be helpful and trying to be PC. (Don't worry, we explained the situation and she felt better.) She also tried to give us three swim caps, even after we insisted only Hannah would be swimming. The volunteer was still holding them out as we walked away.

While it had nothing to do with the relay, we did have a scare getting our timing chip. I showed the volunteers the bib number on our packet, only to have them say, "Oh, we don't have that number anymore. I guess we gave out another chip incorrectly!" Luckily, a different volunteer was just playing with our chip and eventually gave it to us. I was a little disturbed that apparently multiple chips had been given out to the wrong people and that people were just playing with them for fun. Getting ready for a race is stressful enough without having to solve the case of the missing chip.

The bodymarking situation was even more hilarious. A woman and her son were volunteering there, and they were extremely confused about how three of us could have the same bib number. Again, we explained we were doing the relay but got only blank stares in return. We must have really scared the mom, because she just wandered away before bodymarking Karin. I wanted to give her son a medal for actually doing the job. (He was also the only one of the pair to understand the concept of racing age. Oops.)

Finally, we were able to get into transition and go to the pre-race meeting, at which we got the most confusing course directions ever. I had looked at the run course before online (both as a written description and a map), and I left feeling even more confused. The bike directions were even worse: one of the landmarks was a dumpster.
We worried Karin would never come back from her leg.
We had just enough time to run to the car and make it back for the swim start. On the way back, we ran down the hill that would be part of my run course. It was incredibly steep and wet, and the director said there was an even worse hill later on. I tried to forget about it.

The only tri I've ever been to was my first one, so it was really fun to actually spectate one. It was surprisingly hard to spot Hannah among the men. It also didn't help she was wearing a red cap and the Olympic women were wearing orange caps. In the direct sunlight, they virtually looked identical. We had hoped to see her as she turned for her second lap of the swim course, but that was impossible.

While we were waiting, I noticed a guy off to the side who looked really familiar, but I couldn't place him. Karin agreed that she thought she recognized him, but she couldn't put a name to the face either. Once he started shouting for his teammate, it hit me: he was the really short Walmart Wolverine who had been on The Amazing Race. He and his partner were hilariously inept, and Eager Feet Dad particularly loved making fun of him. I never expected to see the guy, but he really is short in person.
I'm clearly super awesome at subtly taking pictures.
I obviously wasn't on the course, but I did have some problems with the swim organization. A few times, a swimmer went way off course and it appeared no one was redirecting them. It was also a shame the way the swim caps and waves worked, because the first woman out of the water was part of a relay, but almost no one knew the difference, so the true first woman only got a smattering of applause. 

Hannah killed her estimated swim time, so Karin hustled off to transition when we saw her come out of the water.

Karin was quickly off for two loops of the bike course. Hannah and I set up camp at the top of the hill. The course had a teardrop turnaround to tack on a little bit of final distance, so we would be able to see Karin four times. My stomach finally felt better, so I had one of Hannah's mom's homemade granola bar, which was amazingly delicious. I also thought I was being clever by waiting to use the bathroom until now, when there was no line, only to discover neither the port-a-potties nor the indoor park bathrooms had any toilet paper. Excellent.

I super failed at taking Karin's picture on the bike, but Hannah did a much better job. Karin always had a few other people by her, so it was hard to immediately pick her out, and both times she would come by on the loop was downhill, meaning she was going so fast it was hard to time the picture right. This means I got some nice shots of an empty bike course. Karin had a great bike time, but it was so strange without the sprint athletes on the course. We got really worried we had missed her.

When we saw her the third time (hooray!), I ran down to transition. Karin rolled in about one minute before they opened part of the fence for the sprint athletes, who were getting super antsy. Luckily, I was able to run out before the angry mob burst in.

Again, I wasn't on the course, but there seemed to be some organization problems. On the first loop, everyone coming by us was in huge clumped packs. I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and thought perhaps there was an unseen bottleneck that fed into the portion of the course we were spectating. However, Karin reported there were blatant drafting and blocking penalties the whole way, with no USAT officials in sight. (This also irked me - I paid my exorbitant $12, I would expecte there to at least be officials!)

It suddenly hit me I had to compete, not just spectate. Starting out the run on the super steep grass hill was brutal. I knew there would be some grass, so I hoped that would be the worst of it. The rest of the first two miles was paved, with part of it on a boardwalk. Almost none of it was shaded and there were some hills, which made it relatively challenging. I skipped the first aid station, thinking I would be fine. Big mistake. The second aid station made a big difference - at least, it would have, if the final mile hadn't been all grass. I despise running on grass, partially because it really hurts my Achilles tendons. The grassy sections were also significantly longer than advertised.

I finally got to the final hill, which was even scarier than the director had described. It was a super steep downhill, ending at the edge of a cliff over the lake. I felt awful walking so close to the end of the loop, especially the second time, but I was legitimately worried I would have so much momentum I would fly into the water. Not only would it have hurt, I didn't think I would be able to climb out at the same spot, and I wasn't ready for an aquathon.
Pictured: almost me.
I was super hot at this point and 1000% done with the grass, but I still had one more loop to do.

The second loop did feel better, even if I did know the grass was coming. I did hit both aid stations, though I got more confused looks when I requested a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water. So needy, I know. I couldn't figure out why the Gatorade (which is what the volunteers were calling it) tasted so weird. It seemed watered down, but the color still looked very vibrant. I realized afterwards the Gatorade was really Heed. I've read race reviews where people complain about how awful it tastes. They are completely correct.
It's me - Hammer Nutrition!
My watch showed the course to be a little short, but I think it was just because it was unclear were exactly to run in spots. They had cones out, but it wasn't obvious if we needed to run directly next to them. I also spent a lot of time dodging recreational runners and bikers using the path. I understand why they couldn't close it, but it would've been nice if they had put out more signs explaining that there was a race. Some non-race were getting really cranky. There also could have been officials here, several people with bibs were rocking to their iPods.

Run Time: 1:00:06
Team Time: 2:56:00

We ended up coming in 4/5 for the Olympic relay teams, but I think we were all happy with our performance. The three teams above us were made up of members of the UM tri team, and only one was made up of only women. In the end, we only lost to the third team by nine minutes, which I think means we kicked butt, considering our disadvantage. It was disappointing only in that the top three relays got awards, and last year only one team had done the Olympic distance. I hope this means I'll have enough karma built up to place at an upcoming race. 

The post-race food was really good, included tons of fruit and a selection of sandwiches. I had a fruit roll-up, which made me really happy for some reason. It was nice to wade in the lake afterwards; I only wish I had had my tri suit on so I could swim a little. The swim area was nice and large; I might consider it in the future if I want to do an open water swim.

I don't think I would recommend this particular race - there were just too many problems, especially the blatant rule violations at a sanctioned event. The race company hosts a tri on this course three times a year, so it's not as if they're new or had some unexpected events occur. I imagine if I had done this tri as a solo athlete, it would have felt even more annoying. 

I wasn't sure what to expect from doing a relay, but it was super fun! I haven't done any team sports since seventh grade track, when my specialty was placing consistently last in the 800. I was surprised how nervous I felt going into my leg to do well, even though I knew we were virtually out of contention to place. (My super secret plan to turn into Usain Bolt didn't pan out.) It was also really fun to spectate and to cheer on my friends. I would definitely recommend a relay to anyone even remotely interested.

Go team!

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