Feb 16, 2017

Dopey Challenge Race Report (5k and 10k)

The 5k is my favorite of the four races making up Dopey. Not because I love the course (a boring stretch of parking lot followed by a nice run through Epcot), but because it starts at 6 instead of 530, allowing for some extra time to sleep in. Sleep is important during Dopey. As anyone who's done it will tell you, it's not the miles that are the hard part; it's the four early morning alarms. If an Ironman is a bike race with a swim to warm up and a jog to the finish wrapped around an eating contest, Dopey is a few days of running wrapped around a sleep deprivation exercise.

Keels drove us over to the start, getting us a nice space in the lot closest to the corrals. We took our time wandering over to the race, and by the time we did, corral A had already been released to the start line. I ended up in the back few rows of the corral, only a few meters in front of the tape marking the first row of corral B. The race itself was nothing special, though running through World Showcase in the dark was as good as ever. I ran easy, never felt too crowded, took a picture in front of the ball, and finished in 28 minutes.

Just like the 5k, Keels worked her magic parking skills to get us a place in the front lot again, this time in the front row. Our walk to the corrals took maybe five minutes, and this time, we arrived before A had been released. I still ended up in the back, which was fine with me. Having the fast people head out before me meant a relatively open road with not much congestion during the race.

I love the 10k course because you run through World Showcase; around Boardwalk, Yacht Club, and Beach Club; and back into Epcot again on the way to the finish. Lots of nice scenery and things to look at to make up for the time spent on the road and in the parking lot. I stopped for a few pictures, and more importantly, I stopped for a beer. Keels' friends Mercedes and Angela were outside Beach Club with a bag of beer, though they wouldn't give one to me until they checked my name and number on my bib against their records. Good to see them protecting our supply against all the other people looking for a cold IPA at 615 in the morning. I didn't run very hard during this race, obviously, in order to save myself for a proof of time effort on Saturday.

Keels says I need to work on my product placement skills.
If I don't get the label turned towards the camera, no brewery will want to sponsor me

Dec 18, 2016

IMFL Wrap-up, Stats, and Final Thoughts

Here are some fun and maybe interesting stats, pictures, videos, and random thoughts about the race looking back on it four weeks later. Some are information people have asked to see, others are answers to questions I've been asked, and some are here simply because I want them to be. :)

Training Stats
Meters in the pool – 219,329
Longest swim – 5000 meters
Miles ridden on the trainer with Zwift – 2524
Longest Zwift ride – 6.5 hours
Miles on the treadmill – 239
Longest run in the parking lot – 18 miles
Pairs of Asics Kayanos – 3
Toenails lost – 0
Pounds lost – 12

Race Fueling
1 Clif bar after waking up
1 Clif gel 10 minutes pre-race
¼ Clif bar in T1
2 700-800 calorie bottles of Tailwind on the bike
1 200 calorie bottle of Tailwind on the bike
1 sleeve Clif bloks on the run
Potato chips, chicken broth, and coke on the run
Water as needed on the bike and run

Garmin data

Google Earth view of the bike leg

My video highlights

Official Race Day Video (you can find me at 7:42 and 8:50)

Answers to Common Questions
Q1: Did you have fun?
A1: I had a blast! My race day went better than I imagined it would, and my execution during the day was just about perfect. I felt great the entire day and never once wanted to quit.

Q2: How was the recovery?
A2: I recovered from this much faster than from Comrades. I was exhausted for several days after the race, but I didn't feel as physically beat up as I did in South Africa. I was able to walk the next day, which wasn't really possible following Comrades.

Q3: When are you getting your M-dot tattoo?
A3: I'm not. If Gabe can work up a swim/bike/run design which fits in with the others on my arms, I might do that, but an M-dot itself is not for me.

Q3: Will you do another one?
A3: Definitely. I've got unfinished business, which I know sounds weird considering I just said my race day execution was nearly perfect. In hindsight, I see places where I can save time (no more 25 minutes in transition, and fewer stops on the bike and run legs) and go faster. Mary said I didn't trust my fitness enough, and she's right. I could have pushed higher power on the bike and brought my time down by 45-50 minutes, and I probably could have done the same thing on the run. Keeping my heart rate in low Z2 instead of high Z1 would have gained me another 5-10 minutes. Add all those bits and pieces up and a 12-hour finish looks possible. Not a given, but definitely possible.

Nov 26, 2016

IMFL Race Report, Part II - Race Day

My alarm went off at 430am, but I was already awake. Mary gave me these instructions in my pre-race brief: 'You won't want to eat. Tough. Eat anyway." She knows me too well. I reluctantly ate half a Clif bar and opened a bottle of Powerade. The next 50 minutes were spent sitting on the couch trying to wrap my mind around what I was about to do, sipping on my drink, and running to the bathroom. Holly and I left the condo at 525 to drive to the race. She dropped me off at the run turnaround point where they were collecting the special needs bags for the bike and the run. I handed mine over and walked over to transition. I pumped up my tires, filled my aero bottle with water and put my Tailwind bottle and extra water bottle into their cages, hit the porta-potty (surprisingly short line), and went to find Holly. Our meeting point was at the first trash can to the right of the walkway exit onto the beach, and she was there waiting for me.

Rather than try to get into my wet suit on the beach and end up covering myself in sand, we squeezed our way through the crowd on the walkway and found a convenient corner to stand in. I covered my neck, arms, and shoulders with Body Glide and Tri Slide, and put my wet suit on about 15 minutes before the start. There was a slight moment of panic when I got the sleeves on and realized I hadn't started the zipper first. My Huub suit has a two-piece zipper like on a jacket which needs to be fed into itself before it gets zipped up from the lower back, and it's very tough to do get it started while wearing the suit. Thankfully, Holly got it zipped after a few minutes of struggling, and my heart rate returned to normal.
Stuffed in and zipped up
Keels had found us by this time, and after my pre-race gel, the three of us walked down to the beach. Holly helped get my cap situated over my goggles (I know, nothing new on race day, but it was a better option than being kicked in the face and losing them) and gave me a big hug. I shed a few tears, upon which Keels said there's no crying today, and then I knew I was ready.

I lined up in the 1:31-1:45 area for the start. Based on my swim times at Abu Dhabi and Galveston, I thought this was a good place to be. I chatted with the people around me, borrowed a splash of water to rinse the anti-fog drops out of my goggles, and waited for the cannon to fire for our start. The wind was whipping (turns out there was a small craft advisory in effect until 7am), and I could see the swells, the chop, and the whitecaps waiting for me as I walked into the water.
Lots of nervous energy
My plan was to relax and swim with smooth and easy strokes, just like Charlotte and Paul advised when I met them on Cape Cod this summer. I wanted to avoid as many people as I could in order to keep a straight line and focus on swimming, not battling for space. I saw a pair of goggles float by underneath me about halfway out to the first turn, making me even more determined to find my own water. The swells and chop got larger and worse the father out we went. To keep me focused and breath under control, I told myself "catch, pull, breathe" over and over again with each stroke.

Off we go!
After what seemed like forever but was really only 800 meters or so, I made it to the first turn, went left, and was swimming right into the wind and waves. This made it very hard to sight the next turn buoy. Finding a rhythm was tough with all the large swell and wind-blown chop on top, but I did. Growing up on the water taught me to feel the timing of waves, and I would take two strokes, glide through the wave, and repeat. Sure wasn't easy, but better than fighting back. Once I made the turn, I switched to breathing on my left to keep the sun out of my eyes and waves out of my face. If you could only breathe off one side, you had a really tough swim.

I drafted off a few people heading back to the beach to save some energy and relax a little bit. I knew from the practice swim on Thursday which building marked the exit, and although I kept a good eye on it, I still had to correct a little for the wind, waves, and current. Pretty soon, I was close enough to shore to be able to body surf in to the beach, riding the waves like when I was a kid at Jordan's Beach. With a few steps in the surf and up onto the sand, I reached the fence to make the turn back to the start of the second loop. I glanced at my watch and 35:xx was staring back at me. I was elated and worried at the same time. This was faster than I swam at Galveston back in April, and I still had to do it all over again. I vowed to walk to the start of the second loop and try to be even more relaxed than I was the first time around. I didn't want to ruin the rest of the day by blowing myself up on the swim. A volunteer gave me a small cup of water as I passed the aid station on the beach. I drank a few sips and back into the water I went.

Conditions were much harder for the second lap. The wind was building, the waves were now at 4-5', and the chop was steep and nasty. Heading out was okay. I swam inside the buoys and let the wind push me to the right to the turning mark. Much less effort and a whole lot less people around me. I could see a long line of caps and arms to my right who were in for a tough push back to the left to get around the buoy. The short leg across to the final turn back to the beach was awful, directly into the wind, waves, chop and sun, which had risen above the horizon and was exactly in line with the buoy. Made it fairly easy to stay on course, though, since if you weren't swimming right into it, you were off to one side or the other. Again I used my feel for the water to swim down the back of a wave, breathe, stroke into the face of the next one, glide over the top, and repeat for 200 meters. Very very tough. There were lots of people around me on their backs, breaststroking, and/or panicking. "Pull, glide, pull, glide, don't fight, pull, glide," I kept telling myself over and over.

Finally I made the turn and was on my way home. I tried to resist the temptation to pick up the pace and focused on staying relaxed and drafting off anyone I could. I got blown off the side once or twice but otherwise stayed right along the buoys. A few minutes of body surfing later, I was done. I glanced down at my watch as I made my way up the beach to the arch and was shocked to see 1:15 staring back at me. Here I was, barely into my first IM, and I just knew I had blown my race with a time like that, much faster than I thought possible. But wait, I said to myself, you're not out of breath and your heart isn't racing. I couldn't get my head around how I felt (great) vs. how I thought I should feel (less than great), so I decided to walk briskly to the changing tent just to be safe.

Cap off, goggles off, and go find the wet suit strippers. I lay down on the sand and two very enthusiastic volunteers whipped my suit right off. I took it back from them, made my way to the PVC showers, and took time at each shower head to get as much sand off as possible. The last thing I wanted was to have sand chafing me during 112 miles of cycling. I heard Holly and Keels cheering for me and waved at them as I rounded the corner into transition where my bike gear bag would be waiting for me.
Heading into T1

"I'm number 2540! Where's my bag?" I shouted to the volunteers, who seemed to be confused and not sure of what to do. Having to track my bag down myself wasn't fun. Easy enough, but mentally distracting given everything else I had to think about.

Once in the changing tent (a conference room in the hotel), I found a chair, sat down, and pulled my gear out very carefully and slowly. Using Holly's chamois towel (definitely on my list of gear to get for next time), I wiped off all the sand I could before lubing up with Betwixt and putting on my bike bibs. My Allagash bike jersey went on, and off, and back on again due to a twist in the sleeve. I dried and brushed off my feet, put my socks and bike shoes on, and stuffed a piece of Clif bar into my mouth. There were no volunteers around to help, so I crammed my swim gear back into the bag, picked up the Tailwind packet which had fallen out of my pocket during the jersey donning debacle, put on my helmet and sunglasses, washed down the Clif bar with some water, and was on my way to my bike. A volunteer asked for my number, and by the time the ladies slathered sunscreen all over my arms and neck, he had it off my rack and out in the main aisle ready and waiting for me. A nice touch which made me feel important and put a smile on my face as I went out under the arch to the mount line. I got to see and wave to my parents, Holly, and Keels heading out on the bike too.

Mary's plan called for me to wait until my heart rate settled into zone 2 before ramping up to my IM power (135 watts). Looking down at my computer as I left transition, I was already in the middle of Z2. That's good, I thought, now I can pedal easy for the first five miles to get my legs going and pick it up after that. Conveniently, the five mile mark came when I got to see Heather outside the Starbucks across from our condo. Then it was time to get to work. I slowly began to focus on my power output and my nutrition, taking my first sips of Tailwind 20 minutes into the leg. My Tailwind bottle held 600-700 calories, enough for me to take two good sips every 5 miles until special needs, where a frozen bottle of 800 calories would be waiting for me. My aero bottle had only water and I refilled it at every aid station (~11 miles apart) to keep fully hydrated.

I intentionally kept my power in the 120-125 range for the first 20 miles. I wanted to be careful and easy until I felt I was settled into a groove and could ride at my IM power. That plan fell apart a mile later when the course turned east and hit the wind. It blew from the east/northeast all day long and was a headwind most of the time. I switched to a strategy of keeping my heart rate in zone 2 instead of my power at 135 and fell into a nice routine. Refill water at every aid station, sips of Tailwind when the computer beeped at me, cadence in the 85-95 range, smooth and steady. I would power up until my HR went to 2.9, then ease up until it went back to 2.6 or 2.7, then start over again. Battling the wind really pissed me off so I focused on small goals like seeing Heather, Holly, and Keels at mile 40. They were right at the turn as promised, screaming and yelling and cheering. Having Heather run alongside and tell me how good I looked me gave me a huge mental boost and took my mind of the wind for a little while.
Passing the crew at mile 40

Sticking with the focus on short goals, my next one was the special needs bag area at mile 53. As you might expect of me, I fell over while stopped with my bag. The very helpful volunteer was polite enough not to laugh. I took time to put my cold-but-not-frozen 800 calorie bottle into its cage, mix a Tailwind packet into my spare third bottle, had a few sips of Coke Zero, popped in some gum, and was on my way. OMG, gum! The best idea ever, thanks to Holly. Getting the sticky feeling out of my mouth felt so refreshing and picked me right up.

The rest of the bike leg was about the same as the first part. I stared at my computer, drank water, sipped my Tailwind on schedule, and cursed at the wind. It never appeared to be anything but a headwind. I know there were portions where it was behind us, but they seemed to be few and far between. The running joke between all of us as we were riding was "do you think this next turn will be a tailwind?" as we grimaced and shook our heads. I also stopped at every other aid station to pee. Okay, maybe I didn't have to stop as often as I did, but it gave me comfort to ride empty rather than full. Tailwind is great stuff, but it sure makes you have to go.

The worst part of the bike course came around mile 74 when we turned right for an out-and-back section which began into the wind, again, with some long uphill stretches. Nothing too steep (it is Florida after all), but fairly soul-crushing anyway. I'm not a strong cyclist, so I dropped into a very low gear, tried to keep my cadence up, and waited and waited for the turn-around to come. Finally, it did, and I was able to relax for a few miles. From there, I had two simple goals left: 20 miles to the bridge and then 12 miles home. The closer I got to the end, the more people I saw on the side of the road with flat or other mechanical issues. I heard there was some broken glass shortly after coming down off the bridge, but I never saw it. Good thing too, or else I would've totally freaked out because ability to change a flat is limited in a race environment.

I made the last turn back onto the beach road with six miles left, and found myself once more pedaling right into a 15-20 mph wind. I dialed back my effort to bring my HR down even more, chatted with some folks around me, and began to plan for T2. I kept telling myself not to think about the run while out on the bike, but I was close enough now to know I'd finish the longest ride I'd ever done.

To my surprise, I felt great the entire bike leg. I was never depressed, tired, or sad. I never felt like I wanted to quit. I focused hard on my heart rate and cadence numbers and on not looking ahead to the run. It was really really tough because of the wind, but my fueling (yay Tailwind!) kept me from getting down and losing focus. Watching people in front of me get blown off the road and crash was extremely disconcerting, especially given my bike handling skills, and there were a few 30 mph gusts that blew me around too. Thankfully I was smart enough to sit up to get through them. I didn't ride the way Mary and I had planned, and I'm fine with that. I did what I knew I had to do in order to get to the run.

I got to see and wave at everyone heading into transition, which is always a good thing. I hopped off my bike (no falling this time), gave it to a volunteer, and had my bag handed to me without having to go search for it. My legs felt strangely un-wobbly as I walked to the changing room. I used my bib shorts and my jersey to wipe off the sand which I hadn't gotten entirely off in T1 and could feel chafing during the last 30-40 miles on the bike. I layered on lots and lots of Body Glide, and then put on some more. I had no intention of stopping during the run to reapply. Compression shorts on. Race top on. I noticed one of my Band-Aids had fallen off and tried not to think about how uncomfortable the run could turn out to be if I needed Vaseline two hours from now and couldn’t find any. Socks and shoes on. Breathe. Stuff bike gear into bag. SPI belt on. Number belt on. Sparkle skirt on. Breathe. Sunglasses on. Sunscreen on. Across the parking lot, under the arch, and 26.2 to go. Everyone was waiting for me right out of transition. I gave some quick high fives, a kiss to Heather, and told them I'd be back in a few hours.

Heading out on the first loop of the run, I couldn't believe how awful a lot of the people around me looked. Many of them were already shuffling or walking, setting them up for a very long afternoon and evening. I, on the other hand, felt great. I was finally back in my element and ready to chase down all the people who passed me on the bike. The first mile or so of the run was populated by tri club tents and lots of local residents out partying. They loved my red sparkle skirt, hooting and hollering and naming me Skirt Guy as I ran past. I was having a great time already, and I hadn't even really gotten started yet.

Rather than try to hit a certain pace, mainly because I had no idea what my pace should be, I ran by feel and by heart rate. I quickly found that a 9:45-10:00 pace kept my HR around 1.6 or 1.7 and felt good. Curiously, 9:15 felt really good too, but I was pretty sure that was not sustainable. I took in my first water and Gatorade at the mile 2 aid station. Gatorade was a mistake as I felt my stomach get nauseous less than five minutes later. I opted to use coke, potato chips, and water instead after that. Without much else to do, I tried chatting with my fellow runners but most of them weren't interested. Too lost in their suffering, I guess, though I think talking helps take your mind off how you feel. On the plus side, the spectators in the neighborhood were more than happy to chat and engage with people. One group had a huge white board listing all of the college football games being played that afternoon and a sign about 40-50' up the road reading "college scores ahead." If you yelled out a game as you passed the sign, they'd shout the score back to you as you reached the board. They told me Michigan was up 21-0. A few miles later, it was time to eat. I took only two Clif bloks because I didn't think my stomach could handle three thanks to the Gatorade, and then two more every 45 minutes until the sleeve of six was gone.

Around mile five, the course runs through the parking lot of a bar. The bar places a flier in the race packets playing up their location on the course (come see your runner four times!) and offering a free beer to the competitors if they show up with a race bib or wristband. The advertising certainly works because the place was packed, porch and patio filled with people cheering, ringing cowbells, and giving us lots of encouragement. Definitely one of the more fun sections of a run course I've been on. Good thing too, because the next three miles were nearly devoid of people as we finished the out portion of the loop in a state park. Beautiful park with great scenery, but not much in the way of action except the party station being manned by BASE salt and their crew. I didn't mind this stretch as much as some of the people around me who grumbled about how boring it was. I like having a quiet part of a race during which I can focus inward instead of outward and enjoy the serenity for a little while.

With 6.5 miles down, I made the u-turn still feeling great and keeping a smooth and steady pace. I waved at the crowd in the bar, drank my coke and water at the aid stations, munched on potato chips every so often, passed lots of people, and before I knew it, lap one was coming to an end. I heard and saw Keels yelling for me on the corner before the special needs area/turn-around point. Since I didn't see anyone else, I figured she was the advance party, and sure enough, thanks to the wonders of text messaging, Holly and Heather popped out of the crowd to run me into and out of special needs a few hundred meters later. I chewed some more gum (glorious!), left everything else in the bag, and set off on lap number two.
Heather and Holly running me out to loop 2

The second loop was pretty much the same as the first. I ran the whole way except at the aid stations. I took on chicken broth when they began offering it to get a break from the coke and potato chips. I was sad to see the people partying under the LSU pop-up tent had disappeared indoors to watch by the time I went by on my way out to the turn-around. I had hoped to get some Mardi Gras beads as a souvenir.

The second trip into the state park was a little scary. There were no lights once past the BASE salt crew, making it very hard to see people around me. I ran in the middle of the road to avoid the camber on the side which bothered my knee and was extremely cautious to avoid colliding with someone coming back at me in the other direction. My pace dropped in this section by about a minute per mile, which was fine with me. I didn't really pay much attention to my time until I made the last turn around and began my way back. Even then, I told myself that six miles is a long way and anything can happen. I found a few people to talk to, one of whom was on her first lap, which explains the awkwardness when I told her "we're doing great. We've got this!" as we ran along. The perils of a two-lap course, I suppose.

I kept powering along and hitting the aid stations until I had two miles left. At that point, I knew I would be okay if I stopped stopping for water and broth and picked up the pace. From there, it was simply a matter of running and chatting with the guy next to me, building speed, and thanking all the people in the club tents lining the course who had been cheering for Skirt Guy all day. One last left turn to the finish chute, and it was time to start celebrating. I implored the crowd to make some noise, slapped every hand being stretched out over the barriers, including Heather's who I saw but didn’t remember seeing at the time, and powered my way to the line. No tears across the line, but as you can see in the video, I was pretty damn excited. :)

I was surprised at how well I did on the run. I had no cramping, no exhaustion, no issues at all really. I just ran. If there's one thing I know I can do, it's run and pace a strong marathon. Being able to do so while everyone around me was walking and shuffling helped keep me mentally focused and happy. Nothing like running down people lots who flew by me on the bike.

Swim - 1:15
T1 - 13:21
Bike - 6:57
T2 - 12:20
Run - 4:35
Total - 13:14

Overall, I felt GREAT the entire day. I never had a single moment of doubt. From the time I entered the swim chute to when I crossed the line 13 hours later, I felt strong and knew I'd be able to finish. I was shocked at my time, though. Much much faster than I thought I would do. Had I know I was as good at this as I proved to be, I would've spent less time in transition and at aid stations and come in under 13. Then again, maybe being calm and relaxed and not even thinking about the clock is what made me go as fast as I did. I wasn't even aware of my time until Heather and Holly told me after the finish.

I have to thank Mary for being my friend and my coach and for getting me so well prepared for this race. She deserves a lot of credit for giving me a training plan tough enough to push my limits but not impossible to complete. I had an absolute blast on race day, loved every minute of it, and felt fantastic all day long. Being physically ready had a lot to do with that. I also need to thank Holly for being my super Sherpa and keeping me sane and calm-ish in the days leading up to the race, and Keels for driving over to support me and cheer me on. Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife Heather who puts up with me doing all these crazy endurance events. I'm glad we were able to find a way for her to be there because hearing from her after the finish how proud she was of me really meant a lot.

Nov 14, 2016

IMFL Race Report, Part I - Pre-Race

I signed up for IM Florida on December 5, 2015, exactly 11 months before race day. It was a month after Rocketman, my first half-Iron distance race. I always swore I'd never a) do an Ironman, and b) do an Ironman while living in Iraq and having to train primarily indoors, yet there I was clicking on the blue Confirm Registration button on active.com, watching $650 fly out the window. My prior protestations aside, after discussion with Heather, Holly, and Mary, we all agreed Erbil provided a fairly ideal training environment. Sure, having to bike in my living room and run on a treadmill or around a parking lot would be taxing, but I had no outside distractions to get in the way of my training. When you're not living with your wife and aren't allowed outside of the hotel grounds, there's not much to do other than work and workout. I missed less than five workouts while in Kurdistan in 11 months, whereas I probably missed that many during my first business trip of the year to Houston in February alone. Like I said, tough training conditions but a lifestyle well suited to getting the training accomplished.

With the exception of the last two weeks of workouts in mid-October (we got evacuated to Dubai in advance of the Mosul offensive), I did all of my swimming in the Divan's 20m pool. It's designed for fat Kurdish men to bob around in but works well for lap swimming anytime before noon. After lunch, all bets are off as you spend more time dodging the hairy guys using the orange life guard rings as floaties than working on your stroke.

My key to surviving the cycling on the trainer for so many hours on end came in late December when someone on the Ironman Florida Facebook group mentioned trying Zwift, a new online bike training software environment. Zwift is basically a multiplayer game like World of Warcraft, only for cycling. The designers have created virtual roads and routes to ride, and your little avatar is one of dozens or hundreds on the course at any given time, giving you other people to ride with and talk to while you're on your trainer. Like any game, there are increasing levels to attain, different kits to unlock, and achievements to conquer. I did all of my long rides on Friday mornings and got to know the other regulars on course at the same time pretty well.

My running was like choosing whom to vote for in the election - two really bad options (Gary Johnson not withstanding). I could watch movies and TV shows on my iPad in the gym, but treadmill. I could run outside and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, but parking lot. I ended up outside as often as possible when the weather and traffic in the lot cooperated. I'll take making a turn every 20-30 feet over feeling like a hamster any day. Plus, the Kurdish security guards patrolling the hotel grounds were pretty entertaining. I've never seen so many men trying to project an air of machismo while lying in the grass posing for selfies or smoking cigarettes twice as slim as Virginia Slims. They are decent guys, though, who would move their vehicles to give me more room to run a straight line before having to make a turn.

I left Dubai for Orlando on October 23rd to head home for the race. I was exhausted from the last few weeks of training and the stress of having to evacuate out of Erbil at the last minute. Let's hear it for tapering! While I didn't feel like I was tapering for another five days, it was nice to have less taxing workouts to get through. Even nicer was being with Heather again. The presence of your spouse is always calming, at least until you drive her nuts with race talk. I spent the week relaxing as much as possible, getting my bike tuned up and my new race wheels installed, and also managed to fit in a great dinner with Heather at Victoria & Albert's too. Finally, November came and it was time to go. I did my last real workout and made the long drive to Panama City Beach.

Wednesday was my race registration day.
I opted to go early to avoid the lines and crowds said to arrive later that afternoon. This turned out to be a wise choice. When I arrived at 930, there was no line. I filled out all the paperwork, thanked all the volunteers, and tried not to freak out. I was fairly successful at this until I reached the last step and was assigned my timing chip. Seeing my name and number on the screen was a huge "holy shit, I'm racing an Ironman" moment, a moment which quickly passed because the next step in the process was the merchandise tent. I don't care who you are, you can't stress over a race while shopping for goodies. I bought the two things I knew I wanted - the shirt with all the names of the competitors on the back and the event backpack - and skipped the IM-branded pot holders and a zillion other tchotchkes. I wonder who feels their race experience is not complete without an oven mitt covered with the M-dot logo.

Holly flew in late on Wednesday afternoon and promptly helped me deal with the first pre-race crisis. Heather sent me a text saying she was having problems checking into her Thursday morning flight, and things escalated quickly from there. Silver Airways had cancelled her flight back in July but Priceline, through whom she purchased her ticket, never bothered to notify her. The three of us spent close to 2 hours on Facetime together researching flights, schedules, and options to get Heather to the race. We finally found a workable option to get her in on Friday morning and out on Sunday morning. Not ideal, but as Holly told me, you will regret not having her here if she doesn't come. Holly was right. Seeing Heather around the course on race day was a much needed boost of the spirit.

Thursday morning I drove over to the race beach to get in a practice swim. I planned on meeting up with a bunch of people from the Facebook group, but as I was walking over from my car, I struck up a conversation with a guy heading that way too. His name was Mike and he invited me to join his group instead. There were ten or so of them, mostly from North Carolina, and hanging out with them was a blast. Lots of joking, laughing, and words of encouragement from the veterans to the two of us rookies. A few of them practiced both with and without a wet suit in case the swim wasn't wet suit legal, but I kept mine on the whole time. With no chance of a  podium placement, there was no point in me not wearing it. The water during our swim was perfect - flat, calm, and clear - and allowed me to thoroughly test my suit for chafing, swim with both pairs of goggles, and practice sighting the finish line. A great morning of confidence building two days before the race.

Following a short ride and run, and a trip to the grocery store for supplies, the time had arrived to begin packing my race bags. Good thing Holly was there. She helped checked things off my list as the piles in each bag kept growing, made sure I mentally walked through the race and didn't overlook anything, and provided a calm voice of experience to lower my stress level. We agreed it ended up for the best Heather wasn't there. She's not a fan of race talk in general, and would not have enjoyed the hour or more of watching us discuss the merits of each and every item as I moved it from one bag to another.The final bags were loaded like this:

Swim: wet suit, cap, goggles (2), Body Glide, Tri Slide, Clif gel.
Bike: chamois towel, bib shorts, bike jersey, chamois cream, sunglasses, 1/2 Clif bar, Tailwind packets (3), bike shoes, bike socks.
Run: Body Glide, compression shorts, run shirt, shoes, socks, race belt & number, SPI belt loaded with Sport Beans and Base salt, hat, sparkle skirt.
Bike Special Needs: Coke Zero, gum, spare CO2 cartridges, spare tube, single-use chamois cream packages (3), Sport Beans, Tums.
Run Special Needs: Coke Zero, gum, Tums, spare socks.

Holly cooked a tasty pasta dinner on Thursday night, after which we hung out watching the World Series and relaxing. I knew this was my most important night of sleep before the race so I turned in early and missed the end of the game. I also didn't set an alarm and hoped I'd be able to sleep in a little the next morning.

The agenda for Friday was pretty simple: easy ride for 10 minutes to confirm the bike is working perfectly, big pancake breakfast, drop bike and bags off at transition, pick up Heather from the airport, sit on butt until bedtime. I was not the only athlete out riding, but I sure seemed to be the only one taking it easy. Most of the other riders were flying up and down the beach road, though given my cycling ability relative to most people, they might really have been taking it easy.

For breakfast, Holly and I made our second visit to Another Broken Egg cafe. Lots of neon green Ironman wristbands visible on the other diners and plenty of bikes on cars in the parking lot.
I ordered the three pancake breakfast with a side of eggs & bacon. Half an hour later, I felt like I was in an episode of Man vs. Food as I struggled to consume the last of the pancakes. During a break to snack on the bacon and gather myself for the last third of the last one, I sent a text to Mary asking for help. She had no mercy or pity.

With a stomach beyond full, we made our way over to transition to drop off my bike and transition bags. As suggested by both Mary and Holly, I walked around many times and spoke with many volunteers to learn the flow we'd be following the next day.
I felt like I was in the middle of an agility course walk-through - swim exit, turn left, grab bag, into changing room, exit, turn right, etc. - as I paced out exactly where I needed to be. Having the layout and movements implanted in my brain on Friday would help overcome the adrenaline-induced brain fog on Saturday. Holly and I also scoped out a good place to meet on Saturday morning after she dropped me off before the swim.

Racked and ready to go
Lunch on Friday after getting Heather from the airport was at Red Robin. I know, not exactly what most people would choose, but their bottomless potato wedges provide an excellent source of carbs and salt. I ate at least a full basket, along with some mac and cheese too, surprising considering how huge my breakfast had been only a few hours earlier. Can't go wrong with more carbs before race day, right?

My parents arrived late afternoon and came over to join us for dinner after stopping by the race village to learn more details about their volunteer jobs on Saturday. They signed up to slather sunscreen on people from 1030-230, giving them something to do while I was out on the bike course. We ordered pizza from Papa John's for dinner. It's something I frequently have the night before a long run, and I know it will not cause me any stomach issues the following morning. I often had Indian before my long rides while in Erbil during our customary Curry & Darts nights on Thursdays, but that's a lot easier to deal with when the bathroom is a few steps away from your living room. And when you're not going to be out on a race course for 140.6 miles.

I was in bed by 830 and fell asleep around 9. Melatonin and 1/2 of an Ambien for the win!

Jun 5, 2016

Galveston 70.3 Race Report

The half Ironman at Galveston was my second race at this distance. I went into the race with two goals: learn how to ride and pace on the bike with a power meter, and complete the swim. The latter was really the the one thing I was sort of worried about. While I had a great swim at the ITU triathlon  in Abu Dhabi, I had never completed an entire 1.2-mile half-iron swim. The one at Rocketman doesn't really count because the course ended up being short after the buoys drifted out of position. I'm a fairly strong swimmer, though not terribly efficient since my stroke is stuck in the 80s, but I had this mental block over getting through the entire open water swim without completely exhausting myself.

The swim start is in the water off one of the piers at Moddy Gardens. You hop into the water, but unlike Abu Dhabi where you hold onto the dock before starting, you swim out a bit and tread water between two buoys until the horn sounds. I'm not a fan of the pushing, kicking, and elbowing that happens right after the start so I chose to move towards the right end of the line and let the chaos move along without me. I found it fairly easy going to swim towards the first turning buoy from an outside position. There weren't very many people around me so I had clear water and could focus on my stroke and my breathing. Shortly after making the first turn, I passed someone from the wave in front of me. To catch someone who had a 4-5 minute head start in such a short distance meant that either I was swimming really well or they were quite slow. I assumed I was doing well, and that gave me a boost of confidence and energy as I made my way down the long leg of the course.

I managed to have a clean line for most of the second leg, although there were a few spots where someone who couldn't swim in a straight line kept cutting across my line from right to left and then from left to right a few minutes later. A few sharp elbows into his thighs kept him from doing this more than once. Once I made the second turn onto the final short leg to the finish, things got a little more crowded. I was right in the middle of the slow people from the two waves in front of me, the decent people from my wave, and the really fast people from the two waves behind me. I tried to draft off one of the women going past me, but that was a futile effort. I lost her wake after 20 or 30 seconds, though any little bit helps, right?

I made my way out of the water and went straight for the wet suit strippers. There were people half out of their suits that kept running into transition, which made no sense to me. Why go right to your bike and have to step and stomp your way out of your suit when there are numerous strong young volunteers ready and willing to peel your suit off for you? A quick lie down on your back, a few pulls from the helpers, and you're out of your suit and on your way in 5-10 seconds.

My time in T1 was slightly better than my time at Rocketman. Officially, I was 3 seconds faster, but since Galveston had a much longer run to get to my bike, I think I managed to be quite a bit quicker in getting changed and on my way.

The bike course began with a few zigs and zags through the neighborhood near Moody Gardens before we made the right turn onto the road running along the beach and took off to the west. My primary goal for the bike course was to learn to ride a long distance with my power meter and keep in the 150-160 watt band that Mary set out for me. I also aimed to keep my heart rate in zone 3, preferably on the low end of the zone, because I've yet to learn how to prevent my HR from skyrocketing at the beginning of the run coming off the bike. I'm sure I'll figure it out someday, but for now, I'm using every race as practice and training for Florida.

The wind on the bike course wasn't nearly as bad as predicted. With a forecast of 20-30 knots from the south-southeast, I was expecting to struggle and slog through a headwind or crosswind most of the time, and thankfully the conditions were much more moderate. Heading west towards the turnaround point (the course is one long out-and-back loop), the wind was somewhere between a cross and a headwind with much less force, maybe 15-20 knots. A few strong gusts knocked me around a bit, but I held on and stayed upright, which is more than I can say for one of the guys in front of me. He swerved to avoid an orange safety cone marking a pot hole and went head over heels into the grass shoulder. Fortunately for him, he was unscathed, popped right back to his feet, and passed me again 10-15 minutes later.

Immediately after making the U-turn to start the second half of the course, I saw a woman laid out flat on her back on the ground, thankfully with a few volunteers from the nearby aid station warning the approaching riders so she didn't get run over. I couldn't figure out exactly what happened to her, but I'm pretty sure there's no way she finished the race.

To this point, my ride was tracking pretty much on plan, with my average power sitting around 145 and my HR in low to mid zone 3. Of course, that's when disaster struck. I felt my rear tire turning a little soft and squishy as I motored along in the tailwind. A few glances down and back at the wheel confirmed my worst fear: a flat. Now you must understand that I'm not really afraid of a flat. I simply happen to be absolutely terrible at changing them, a fact proven again during this race. I struggled to get the tire off the rim, struggled to get it back on once the new tube was in, and even struggled to get all my tools back into the bag under my saddle, though that's mainly because I was furious at that point. My HR track bears this out. I dropped down from ~145 bpm to 120 bpm during the first 10 minutes I was on the side of the road working on the tire, and then it gradually rose in direct correlation to my level of frustration. By the time I was up and going again, my heart was beating at 152 bpm, faster than it had been while I was riding. [on a positive note, all this unanticipated practice came in handy when I returned to Erbil and my pump ripped the valve off my training tire. I had that sucker back on and rolling again in under five minutes.]

Needless to say, my mental frame of mind deteriorated significantly during this period. I argued with myself for the next 25 miles about whether it was even worth it to attempt the run or call it a day and have a beer with Jackie and her friends. I also stopped paying such close attention to my heart rate and my average power. There's more enjoyment from mashing the pedals when you're mad than there is in calming down and sticking with your race plan. In the end, my bike leg turned out pretty well, not counting the flat debacle. Remove that lost time from my official record and I finished in 3:03, just a few minutes over the three hours I was shooting for. I am confident I would've been under three hours if I had kept riding and concentrating for the entire race and hadn't had to stop along the way. That, at least, gives me some hope I'll be able to handle the IMFL bike leg.

T2 was far from speedy. I had no real sense of urgency because my personal goal of 6:15 or less was long gone. All I wanted at this point in time was to be done, making the 13.1 miles left to go that much less appealing. I've never quit a race, though, so as much as I felt like it, tossing in the towel wasn't really an option, especially since Mary was at the race too and I knew I'd hear it from her at the bar afterwards if I did. To be fair, going balls out to run as fast as I could wasn't really an option either. I chose a happy medium and ran when I could and walked when I felt like it.

As hot as the run course was, I did have a pretty good time. I ran into some friends along the run route who were kind enough to let me have a few sips of their beer to keep my carb level up. I tried chatted up people who seemed to be taking it easy like I was, but didn't have much luck. A few people talked to me about meeting up for IPAs and chip & salsa once we finished, but for the most part, triathletes aren't the conversational bunch that marathoners are. Sad. I'll have to do something about that at IMFL this fall.

While I didn't enjoy this race as much as I did Rocketman, I'm still glad I did it. I learned how to ride effectively with a power meter, realized my open water swimming is better than I thought, and reinforced to myself that it's better to keep going to the finish even when your flat tire and chain problems make you want to quit.

May 1, 2016

Back in the Saddle

A pretty decent week of training this week. I finally got back into the groove after struggling with jet lag the week before. The only part of a workout I missed was the last few intervals from today's swim. Brian cooked an incredible meal last night (rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, roasted veggies, and chocolate fondant for dessert), and I ate way too much. Tough to swim well and for a long time when you've still got a pile of meat in your stomach. Worth it though. He's off rotation on Tuesday, so we won't have another dinner like that for a month.

Swim - 4.15 miles
Bike - 61 miles
Run - 15.9 miles

It's taking me some time to get used to my new position on the bike. The adjustments Adam made moved my saddle up and forward and dropped my stem, increasing the pressure on my shoulders. It's not horribly painful, but after a few hours, there's definitely some discomfort. Better to be working through this now well in advance of November, though.

Mar 18, 2016

Abu Dhabi ITU Race Report

I signed up for the Abu Dhabi ITU because several of my friends in Doha went last year and told me it was a great event. That might have been true back then, but it sure wasn't the case this year. Parts of the weekend were good, but overall I was very disappointed in what's supposed to be one of the premier races in the region. I won't be going back.

I flew down to Abu Dhabi via Doha on Qatar Airways, a fairly uneventful trip. This was my first experience on their discount arm, and I hope I don't have to fly it again. The seats are pretty uncomfortable, there's no entertainment system, and the legroom is much less than on their normal planes. It's like flying on United, really, and I expect more from QA. After waiting what seemed like eternity for my bike to show up at baggage claim, I hopped in a taxi and was on my way to the hotel to check in and meet up with Alan. He wasn't too hard to find - at the hotel bar of course. We had a few beers, talked about the plan for Friday, and went off to bed at a decent hour.

Friday morning was the practice swim. The race organizers opened part of the course for anyone who wanted to get in to test the water, sight the buoys for the race, and loosen up after traveling. They let us swim the 500 meters the sprint athletes would be tackling the next day. This was good for getting used to the water, but not very helpful for learning where our course would be. The entire marina area was filled with buoys of all shapes, colors, and sizes. One of the race officers had to show me which tall orange buoy was the correct one for the Oly race, and it's a good thing he did. The other tall orange one near that one was for the elite course. Apparently more than a few people went the wrong way on Saturday. I opted not to bring my wet suit for the practice swim. I wanted to see what the water felt like in case it was deemed too warm for wet suits on Saturday. The verdict? Not too bad, definitely doable without a wet suit, but much preferred to have one.

Trying to get into the swim was my first view into how well the event was or was not organized, and it was clear they didn't think things through. In order to be allowed on the dock for the swim, you needed to show your wrist band. In order to get your wrist band, you had to pick up your registration packet. Registration opened at 10am. The swim was from 8-9. Presented with this dilemma, the organizers did not choose option 1 (allow people to swim without the bands) or option 2 (open registration early). No, they chose option 3, open everyone's packet to take out the wrist band and make them come back and stand in line again at 10 to get everything else. Not a huge inconvenience but definitely a bad sign of things to come.

Knowing we couldn't get our packets for over an hour or rack our bikes until noon, we walked back to the hotel to shower and get some breakfast. I think breakfast before race day has become my favorite part of a race. What's not to like about the freedom to eat as many pancakes as desired? Add in the masala omelettes the chef was making to order, and I had one delicious meal.

We met at 1230 to ride our bikes over to registration, which turned out to be not too much of a hassle. The volunteers at registration were able to keep up with the crowds pretty well, and aside from a line to get our bikes inspected before entering transition, things went pretty smoothly. One of the local bike shops was there doing free tune-ups, and not just the basic stuff either. They were tweaking the derailleurs, truing up the wheels and spokes, and cleaning and lubing the drivetrain too. Had I known they were being that thorough, I would've stood in line for one instead of making a mess of myself cleaning my chain while the bike was on the rack.

I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing through the vendors (picked up a nice pair of 2XU bike shorts for half price), visiting with people I knew from my novice tri camp last year (one of whom is doing a full this year like me), and drinking as much water as possible. The high 70s of Friday were forecast to be 80s on Saturday, a bit warmer than usual and not exactly ideal weather coming from Erbil.

With transition opening at 5am, race day came early, and then I got up. One of the very nice things this race does is keep transition open for athletes in later start waves. Rather than have all 2300 people arrive at once to set up, they allow you to enter transition when it's convenient for you, though they did close it at certain periods to let the swimmers from the maxi distance waves that started first exit the water and get out on the bike course free from interference. For all the things they got wrong over the weekend, this is one of the ones they got very right. Being able to show up at 7 for a 750 start sure beats getting there at 530 and sitting around for a few hours.

I used this race as practice for how I want to do things at Galveston next month, one of which was a new way of setting up my bike computer. Rather than having to remember to start it when getting on my bike coming out of T1, I tried turning on the auto-pause functionality, hitting Start, and leaving it sitting there on the bike. This worked like a charm. When I grabbed my bike to head out to the bike course, the unit detected movement and resumed operation. I use my Garmin to record the entire race, but I find it easier to see the bike computer instead of mounting the 920 to the bars and looking at the small screen.

Leaving transition on my way to drop off my bag at bag check, I noticed no line at the toilets (the UAE uses portable toilet buildings instead of the plastic ones used everywhere else) and decided to take advantage of the situation while I had the chance. Once inside, I realized why there was no line: there was no water and thus the toilets and sinks didn't work. The ladies toilet building didn't have any water either. How the race organizers botched this one up is beyond me. With a few thousand people entered, you'd think that restroom facilities would be near the top of the list of things to be sure were in place and functioning.

I dropped off my bag, sat down in an empty chair, and delayed stuffing myself into my wet suit for as long as possible. To pass the time, I chatted with a guy across the table from me from Finland. He had flown in for his very first tri, leaving behind sub-zero temperatures for the warmth of Abu Dhabi where it was already in the 70s. Poor guy was already a lot more uncomfortable than I was. Finally, around 730, they called for my wave to report to the dock. The time had come to get into the suit. Thanks to plastic bags on the feet and Body Glide on my wrists and neck, I managed to put my wet suit on, and after a few minutes of rolling the material up my legs to my waist and up my arms to my shoulders, my new friend zipped me up and I was on my way.

They held us on the dock until the wave in front of us made the turn at the first buoy, at which point we were asked to slide into the water and hold on to the dock until the start. Even with a few hundred people in the wave, most of us were able to grab a piece of the dock. The rest put their hand on one of our shoulder's and floated until the horn went off and away we went. I started at the very righthand end of the dock with a straight line to the first buoy that would hopefully keep me out of the scrum in the middle. I took off very quickly. I blame the extra buoyancy from the wet suit and not my inability to pace well during an open water swim. Before too long, I settled into a routine that seemed to work pretty well for me. Swim 3-4 minutes, switch to breaststroke to catch breath and see the buoy, lather, rinse, repeat. I felt I was working hard, maybe too hard, and liked having the 10 second break to calm down and relax. I got pretty mentally discouraged when the buoy I thought was the turn for shore wasn't. I'm not really sure what it was for. It could've been there to guide us along the course to the real turning point, but there were enough people swimming to either side of it that make me question that assumption. Either way, when I realized I wasn't able to turn left and swim hard for the finish, I started doubting whether I'd ever be able to get through an Ironman swim. It felt like I'd been out there forever. Finally, I made the last turn and swam towards the dock. Or as much of the dock as we could see. The arch that we thought was marking the swim exit was off to one side, making it difficult to judge exactly where the exit was until you were close to shore. For evidence of this, look at the nice curve in my path and you'll see almost the exact spot where I figured out the exit was to the right of the arch.

Coming out of the water, I felt tired but good about my swim. I didn't get run over, managed to draft for a while off the people around me, and didn't get caught by anyone in the wave that started behind me. Turns out I had a 30-minute swim, much better than I thought I did, and was 19th out of the water in my age group. Needless to say, I didn't remain in 19th for very long. I took my time in transition to make sure everything was in place and ready to go. I know Mary is going to fuss at me for taking so long, but while I'm still learning how to do this, spending an extra few minutes is worth the peace of mind of knowing I'm ready for the bike.

The bike course was two loops along the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Quite scenic and very flat, though without a lot of shade. The roads were closed to vehicular traffic, so for most of the course, we had plenty of room to ride. There were a few places where it narrowed down to one lane and got fairly congested. It was almost comical listening to people coming up from behind shouting "On your left," and trying to pass in those sections when the riders were already three or four abreast. No collisions occurred between bikes or between bikes and cones, but more than a few "Fuck off and wait" were uttered. As my bike handling skills are barely beyond the novice stage, I simply held my line and let everyone else get wound up.

My instructions from Mary were to keep my hear rate in zone 3 and try for a steady and even ride. I think I managed to accomplish both goals, especially since zone 3 felt way too easy. I was clocking along at 18-20mph and had a mental discussion with myself over slowing down to be in low zone 3 or to keep motoring along in the 3.8-4.0 range. I opted for the latter. I kept up with my fueling the whole time, drinking one bottle of my Powerade and most of one bottle I picked up at the aid station. They planned the course very well to locate the aid station on a slip road so the main course didn't get dangerous with people slowing down and bottles in the road. I ate a piece of Clif bar every 20 minutes, kept my head down out of the wind as best I could, and yes, I took advantage of the draft of some large clumps of riders in a few of those narrow one-lane sections. Technically against the rules, I know, but I wasn't about to intentionally slow down while 15-20 people went by.

The end of the bike course was extremely dangerous - a hairpin u-turn followed by the dismount line 30 yards later. It was too far away to slow around the turn and just coast to a stop. I saw one woman ditch her bike and slide across the line so she didn't crash into the other riders who were braking and getting off their bikes. I nearly did the same thing because it really was a quick slow->u-turn->pedal->speed up->halt kind of sequence. Not very well thought out at all, like a lot of the small but important details during the event.

T2 was another more-leisurely-than-truly-necessary happening. Not all of the wasted time was my fault, though. When I got back to my towel, I saw the guy who was racked on the other side of the bar from me had stuck his bike on top of all my stuff and there was no room for my bike. After trying to find room for mine somewhere near where it belonged, I gave up and stuck it on his side on top of his gear. A few sips of water and a change of shoes later, I was on my way. It was really hot by this point in the morning, and I knew constant fluid intake would be the key to a good 10k run.

My first mile was sub-9, probably a little to fast for the conditions, but I couldn't slow my feet down. The legs just kept turning over rapidly as if they were still on the bike. At each water stop, I walked while drinking a cup or two of water, poured one over my head, stuffed ice down my shirt if they had any, and started running again right away. There was no Powerade, Gatorade, or sports drink at either of the aid stations. They only had Red Bull, helpfully in both the regular and sugar-free varieties. Or not. Needless to say, I didn't see very many people choosing to drink Red Bull in the middle of a race. I held a pretty good pace and routine on the entire first lap and most of the second. The wheels fell off at mile 5 when the aid station ran out of water and ice. The mental letdown of looking forward to a cup of water on your head and then coming up empty was significant. I began walking and ended up run/walking the rest of the course until I got to the finishing area. No walking allowed then; have to look good for the crowds and the photographers. Not that any of my race pictures ever come out with me looking good. I've always got the worst expressions on my face, my form has gone to shit, and I look like I'm dying.

Anyway, I crossed the line in 3:01, barely missing my goal of coming in under three hours. Those lazy transitions killed me. Once across the line, I expected to be given a medal (nope), some water (nope), and maybe a snack (nope). There was nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, for the finishers. They had run out of everything and no one was taking the initiative to ask for more supplies. "Go to the registration tent," was the default answer of every person there, including the race officials with the formal ITU passes. Like any of us were in the mood to walk all the way through transition and back to the registration area to get a medal and some water. I ended up talking to the very friendly guy who was announcing people coming across the line, and he was able to reach someone who showed up about 10 minutes later with a shopping cart full of medals. It really shouldn't be that hard to have all of the boxes of medals stored at or near the finish line along with several hundred cases of water too.

My next trip was back to the tent where we had dropped out bags off before the swim. I figured I'd pick up my bag, go back to transition and pack everything up, and head to the hotel to shower, change, and have a beer before the pros started their race two hours later. Good plan, right? Too bad it didn't work out that way. The bag drop tent was woefully understaffed by people who had clearly never organized numbered bags before, and the line to get into the tent had a 45 minute wait because they couldn't figure out how to efficiently retrieve people's bags. I decided not to wait around because in a surprise turn of events, the race announcer began telling people that everything had to be out of transition, except the bikes, by noon. So much for the race program telling us that transition will be open for our use from when we finished until 6pm. Once again, their desire to cater to the pros made things complicated and difficult for the rest of us.

Carrying my wet suit, bike shoes, and other gear along with my bike wasn't easy, but I managed to get it all sorted and out of the area with 15 minutes to spare. By this point, the line for bag drop had decreased to a 25-minute wait. Still a long time to be standing around in the sun, but better than it was before. Finally, I made it into the tent and understood exactly why things were taking so long. The woman at the table looked at my number, pointed to a pile of bags, and said "yours is over there. Go and get it." Fortunately, my bag was a grey transition bag and was very easy to find. The participants trying to find their blue race-provided bag amongst the sea of blue race-provided bags weren't so fortunate.

All told, I had a really good time seeing my friends from Doha and Dubai, and with the actual race  segments themselves. The organization surrounding the race was abysmal, though, and I'll never do this event again. I doubt I'll be living here a year from now, but if I am, I'll go race at TriYas which got glowing reviews from everyone who had been there the weekend before the ITU race.