Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 Tugaloo Olympic Triathlon - Race Report

The 2011 Tugaloo Olympic Triathlon on Saturday, September 24, 2011 started at 8:00am at Tugaloo State Park on Lake Hartwell near Lavonia, Georgia and features a 1.5K swim, 42K bike, and 10K run.

The park is located 120 miles from my house on the south side of Atlanta.  I woke up at 3:25am and was out the door at 4:05am.  It was going to be a long day.  The park opens at 6:00am.  I got there right before they opened.  I was hoping to have plenty of time to check-in, get body marked, setup my transition area, and get to the beach by 7:45am for the mandatory briefing and the time trial start at 8:00am.

I packed my car on Friday, printed directions to the park, wrote down the 2010 top five M50-54 age-group winner finish times (2:24:08 to 2:34:28), just in case.  I even had a $5 bill ready for the parking fee at the park.  My USAT card and ID were in my pocket too.  Susan and Max, our dog, were going too, but that plan was cancelled at around 3:20am in favor of the backup plan which was for me to go by myself and for Max and Susan get a little more shut eye.  In their defense, neither of them are used to getting up that early.  There goes my personal photographer and cheering committee.  Although, I was able to take a few pictures on my own.

At the park I paid my fee and followed the directions of the flag wavers to a grass parking area / field near the group shelter.  I got my bike ready and collected all my stuff in my transition bag before taking the Donner Pass to the transition area.  The park's Donner Pass is a foot worn trail through the viney woods, down and then up a ravine, and across a little bridge to the back side of the transition area.  I suppose it's a quick way to get from point A to point B if it's not totally dark, there's only a sliver of the moon showing, and you're not hauling a bike and 30 lbs of gear.  I wore my headlamp but it didn't highlight the dark green "trail starts here" post.  Me and two other guys fumbled through the woods until we saw some others on the path.  I know I saw some Poison Sumac too.  I'll probably breakout in itchy spots later this week.

Cars waiting to enter the park at 6am
Registration was a breeze.  I picked up my race packet and timing chip, got my body-marked, and put my race number on my bike before entering the paved parking lot, now triathlon transition area.  The transition area was lit with portable high-intensity floodlights which was surrounded by about a million flying bugs.  Fortunately, someone had the foresight to locate the lights some distance aways from the bike racks.  The transition area is sort of "J" shaped with the majority of the racks on one side.  I was located on a rack near the bend close to the fence.

Race packet minus the gel packet I used
Transition area
I racked my bike, setup my shoes, sunglasses, towel, race belt, and nutrition and hydration.  I used a rubber band to stabilize my pedal mounted bike shoes.  That was the first time I'd done that.  I also blew up a balloon and taped it to my water bottle.  I wasn't going to lose my bike in the transition area during this race.  I opened two Gatorade bottles and removed the tamper proof seals.  I pre-opened two packets of Shot Bloks before putting them in my bento box where I also had a Clif Bar and some Endurolyte capsules.

My transition area setup
The lake swim start area in the distance
I made my way down to the lake for the mandatory athlete's briefing where they went over the swim course and other stuff.  There were a lot of collegiate triathlon team members participating.  They were instructed to start the swim first.  They lined up 2-by-2 and started the swim in time trial fashion with each set of swimmers entering the water just a few second behind the previous set.  Since the race didn't start for each athlete until they crossed the first timing mat the race director asked faster swimmers to move forward and slower swimmers to start after them.  I stayed with my general group by race number.

I entered the water, started my stopwatch, and headed for the first buoy.  The field was spread out so there was some, but not a lot of bumping.  I swung wide at the first buoy and headed toward the second.  The water temperature was 75-degrees which is very nice for a full wetsuit.  I rounded the second buoy and headed for shore.  When I exited the water my watch read 30:38.  That was not as fast as I had hoped but it seemed as though I had passed a lot of people in the water.  I ran up the beach, dunked my feet in the kiddie pool to rinse them off and headed to the transition area.  The air temperature was around 65-degrees.

I made what seemed like a quick T-1 transition and ran toward the mounting line.  I was able to later run through transition easily with my bike shoes mounted to my pedals.  At the mounting line I hopped on my bike and started to pedal but the rubber band didn't break as I'd expected.  I'd even cut little sections out of it to insure it would break but nope, it just stretched.  I reached down and broke the rubber band with my hand and tightened up the Velcro straps on my shoes.  It took me about 2 miles to recover from the swim, then I was passing people as much as I could.  I think four riders passed me during the bike segment and I may have re-passed two of them later on in the race.  The first three were in the first two miles.  I finished the bike segment feeling good about my overall standing but I know it would be unlikely that I would end the day with a finish time close to the 2010 top five M50-54 age groupers. 

I dismounted my bike and entered T2.  I wasted a few seconds getting my small size bike frame to rest securely on the rack.  I'll have to rig something up below my bottle cages.  With my bike stuff stowed and my running shoes on I headed out onto the run course.

On the run course I hung with another runner for almost 3 miles through the camp ground amongst the smells of last night's campfires and the morning's bacon cooking.  She was doing my pacing for me.  I didn't get the opportunity to thank her.  Actually, before the race I had spoken to Slayer, an All3Sports team member, about the John Tanner #2 race we both did two weeks ago.  He said that the overall female winner was a friend.  When I was on the run course Slayer gave word of encouragement to my 32 year old pacer girl.  I thought to myself this must be the female winner from John Tanner that Slayer was talking about so, I must be doing pretty good.  All I needed to do was keep up with her.  At around the 3 mile mark I passed her.  I didn't realize until the turn-around after mile 5 that she had disappeared.  I only had 1 mile to go and pushed onward and upward.  It was a hilly run course.  About 400 yards from the finish line I got passed by another age-grouper.  He was 49 years old and encouraged me to keep his pace since he had been keeping mine for a mile or so.  Since he wasn't 50 to 54 years old I let him go.

I finished the race 76th overall having gotten "chicked" 13 times and placed 4th in my age-group in a time of 2 hours 39 minutes and 04 seconds.  After giving up my timing chip I wandered down to the registration area where they had pizza, Gatorade, Cokes, cookies, bananas, Cheez-its, pretzels, and other food stuffs.  I got a piece of pizza, a Coke, and sat down for a few minutes.  I noticed that preliminary results had been posted.  I checks the results for my age-group.  I didn't make the cut.  No award for me. 

The finish line in the distance
I picked up my stuff and headed to the car via Donner Pass to call Susan and give her the news.  I wasn't bringing home the bacon today.

A cove on the lake along Donner Pass
The wooded trail on the road to Mordor (a reference to Lord of the Rings)
The viney path
Overall I think I had a good race.  My transitions were much improved.  I do recall thinking to myself what the heck was I thinking when I signed up for Ironman Florida.  That race is more than 4 times this race and this one almost made me throw up.

My hydration was good.  I had two 24 ounce bottles of Gatorade that I brought from home.  My nutrition was okay.  I really like the Shot Bloks but the Clif Bar was stuck in my mouth for a while.  I chewed it up but had difficulty swallowing it.  I even coughed up a wet clump Clif bar paste which landed on my arm.  Nice!  I forgot all about my Endurolyte capsules.

Kudos to the volunteers, sheriff's dept., police dept., ambulance drivers and paramedics, water safety people, residents of Lavonia and the surrounding area.  Not once did I feel unsafe during the race.

If I could recommend two changes to the race organizers it would be 1) relocate the port-a-potties to a paved area and add a few more and, 2) start serving water or Gatorade prior to the race.  Many of the racers are eating last minutes food stuffs and, like me, all their hydration is locked up in transition.

Thanks for reading.