Thursday, April 11, 2013

I'm so hard: the White Lake Epic

This is a race that almost wasn't. This was one of those effed up trips you go on, not knowing if it was good, bad, or just ugly. I like to think of it as a combination of all of those.

Traditionally, when planning out your race season there is a strategy employed to ensure a structured build up over the course of several months, including early season tune-up races and big training sessions, all culminating in an all-out effort during your A-race.  There are many people who practice this and are quite successful.

Then, there are those of us who flagrantly disregard that.
Bill O'Reilly approves of my race schedule planning.
White Lake Half, presented by Setup Events as part of the North Carolina Triathlon Series, has been a May race for the last 10 years. Despite being known for it's brutally hot conditions, the race has grown in popularity, undoubtedly because of the near-perfectly clear lake swim, gently flat bike course, and fast half marathon run. The organizers decided to move the Half up about a month to the beginning of April, which to me seemed brilliant - fast course, cool weather, and most folks will still be soft from the off-season and worrying more about tuning up for May and June races. Why not see about unleashing the fury of 1000 poets and make this my attempt for some new marks in my racing. That means I'm putting my A race up front. At the beginning of my race season. As in, my first race of the season. Excellent choice, methinks. I can train in the cold, it doesn't bother me. Except the time I tried swimming at Lake Anna when the water was barely 50 degrees (with no neoprene cap or booties) - I lasted in the water about as long as a freshman at his first sorority party.

Fortune had it to not let me go alone down to this race. I need redshirts.
I'll take two.

My friends Jorlie and Erin were also silly enough to register for a long race too early in the season, so I'd at least have some other peeps to keep me motivated. Or worry with. The week preceding the race was filled with anxiety and uncertainty - not on capability, but rather on weather. Rain and low temperatures threatened the idea of sun and balmy 71 degree temperatures once promised by the weatherman (that lying sunuva....). The eight days prior to go-time we all spent monitoring the water temperatures sinking from the mid-60's to as low as 49. Due to the nature of the lake, the water temperature could swing 10 degrees in a matter of hours. Heavy rains on Thursday before race day only exacerbated the effects of the water cooling and dropped the water temperature to 52 degrees. This then was followed by an email from the Race Director that wetsuits would be mandatory and that neoprene caps and booties would be HIGHLY recommended. After a drive to DC for a cap that was too small, I found myself headed to Gaithersburg to another friend who had a cap that would actually fit me.

It was at this point, we three determined that this weekend was most certainly shaping up to be an epic. The ride was non-stop sarcasm and terrible inside jokes. We asserted that the weather would make us hard and tough. "Like that song, "I'm so HARD!" Erin suggested. "No, I think it's "I'm so HOOD!". We liked hard better.
The crew. We're so hard.
We drove for hours, it seemed. No really, it was hours. And there is nowhere to stop along I-95 unless you like fried chicken, BBQ, or dysentery. Our only real alternative: Food Lion.
Ghetto lunch station.

We came, we saw, we nearly failed
We arrived at the race site on Friday afternoon around 3pm to do packet pickup and to get a preview of the course. There were barely any bikes already in transition (you were allowed to rack your bike the night before), and the port-a-lets were only just arriving. A walk down to the lake did not bolster our confidence. Wind whipped up waves small waves, unlike the picture on the event website. A quick dip and 15 minutes of swimming soon quelled the thought that the swim would be overly challenging due to the temperatures. None of us were expecting to feel so confident. My high confidence lasted only a few mere moments as we went back to the car to get our bikes of the car roof and start our ride.

Afternoon chop
Don't break me, bro.
Backing up about 7 hours, Jorlie asked me to leave my keys with his wife so she could move my car (which I left at his house) if she needed to. On said key ring was the key that unlocks the skewer of my bike race which we had put on Jorlie's car. Sh!tballs. I was in shock, the horror of coming all this way, just to be spoiled by such a idiotic mistake. No, I wouldn't let it stand like that. I marched off in haste to find someone, some knight in shining armour to rescue me. It was a gentleman named John who worked for Setup. 10 minutes with a hammer in one and a few other interesting bits, my bike was off the car and ready for a spin. I tried to reward him with some cash for his heroics, but he wouldn't accept it. I knew I should have gone to the beer store beforehand. The course felt fast and the road seemed smooth (I'll come back to this later). We racked our bikes, kissed them goodnight, and made our way back to Wilmington for dinner and bed.

Our 5:45 planned wake up moved forward since we all seemed to schedule our morning pee at 5:20. Since we were all up it seemed appropriate to saddle up and move out. Fog blanketed the pastures we drove through, and we watched the temperature gauge dip down to 33 degrees during the hour-long drive to the race site. One of the biggest concerns on our mind was how to dress for the bike? The water would be balls cold and the forecasted temperature off the bike would be somewhere around 48/50 degrees - not awesome if you're wearing a wet tri-suit. In the car I used safety pins to tailor my long sleeve jersey to be more aero in case I needed it. I also put out some arm warmers, gloves, hat, toe warmers, and put neoprene toe covers on my bike shoes. By 9am it was maybe 45 degrees. That awkward temperatures of not knowing exactly how to dress.

Being a young-buck put me all the way back in Wave 7 along with the aquabikers. That gave me an extra half hour to stand around in the cold wind and watch the 1-2 foot swells slowing down swimmers in the 54.6 degree water (shrinkage factor 4). I waded with Erin, who was doing the aquabike, and watched motor boats sprint around pulling swimmers out, while some were able to retreat back to the swim start under their own steam. When the horn sounded we took of and began feverishly stroking through the waves, only to gain little ground with each pull.  Erin passed me by, and I hear "danger zoooone!" Awesome. I'm able to finally make it through the waves to a slightly calmer section of water where I found my stroke and began to cruise. I passed Erin after the first turn buoy and pressed hard into the sun. Smoke/Reflective goggles were the way to go. There were no feet in front of me to tickle, aside from the swimmers I was passing from earlier waves, so I just kept sighting and going from one buoy to the next. At on large orange buoy I actually stopped and floated a moment to get my bearings, to find the next turn buoy. Seeing it off in the distance I gave chase. Minutes went by and I still hadn't reached it. Was there a current? Not really. Pulling and pulling I hoped to get closer  soon, but that did not happen.

"Blurr gnnd rrnng aaeeyeyyyyy!" There was a sound coming from behind me, muffled by my cap. Stopping for a moment I heard it more clearly. "You're going the wrong way!!" shouted a kayaker, pointing me in the correct direction. Apparently, the buoy had come loose and floated away, and I chased (at least I wasn't the only one that day).  The water muffled my expletives. In a fury, I darted toward the swim finish indicator:

Only, the one at the race was yellow.
There were only two ladders at the swim finish, but I was there alone, finishing the swim in fourth position (let's be real, I'm talking about my Age Group, not overall). After popping out of the water, it's was a sprint down the dock into transition. My swim was the slowest ever, and was pretty disappointing considering all the improvements I've made shot to hell by a runaway course marker.

It felt so warm in the sun, so I decided to forgo dressing in winter apparel, and opted for the most useful addition: socks. Essentially, I couldn't feel anything below my ankles, which was kind of awesome and scary at the same time. I settled into a groove at my planned power and heart rate and tried not to kill my legs. I felt incredible and powerful. My skin felt cool in the endless headwind, but the air was comfortable. The road started as a blissful, smooth asphalt and degraded to cracked chip-seal for the majority of the ride. There were four turns on the whole course and none of them were sharp. I eventually passed Erin, who had passed me during my swim detour, but wouldn't stay in front of her for long. It was around mile 30 that my next battery of troubles would come.

Under my bum there was a growing pain. I couldn't tell if my hammies were tight or my glutes were sore, but I knew it was hurting. Over the next few miles the pain increased exponentially and my power decreased at the same rate. Pedaling out of the saddle did nothing. I began to realise with every bump that it must be my sit bones, and I reached the point that it hurt so badly that I had to get off the bike. Yes, you read it here first, I got off the damned bike. A la Normann Stadler, I threw my bike down in the grass and stood there rubbing my ass.
What I felt like I was doing.

What I really did.

I took advantage of the moment off the bike for a quick tinkle and got back on my stallion. The best I could reason for this pain was not being used to the new saddle position and the extremely bumpy road where cracks were merely filled in with tar instead of giving the road a good old fashion repaving. My power output was down by about 28% and every time I tried to bring it up my ass would sting. The last twenty miles I made sure to keep a balanced pace and play it safe. No PR, but I don't think anyone did considering there were headwinds 53 out of 56 miles. I still had a half marathon to run afterwards that I needed to save for. Overall I liked the bike course, just not the sore bum. it wasn't technical, but the wind was a challenge.

Transition was smooth and without error, being the fastest in T2 than my competition. I loosened the legs for the first mile before putting in a little more pep. My HR zones stayed where I wanted them to, and my pace was acceptable. The sun stared at me from above and I could now feel it sinking into my ginger skin. Since the course was out and back I got to see the pros/elites come back through. Wow, they were flying! Every time I saw a young looking male I would glance behind at their leg to see who was in my Age Group. No one at this point in the race has overtaken me, and I haven't seen anyone in my AG since the swim start. I saw the first place male on the return, and then the second. Not extremely worried, I continued. Moments later, just before my mile 6, the third place male was already heading back. Math was hard this far into the race, but I estimated I was maybe 2 miles behind the third position runner. Buzzkill. I'm struggling, but I don't feel like I can catch this guy. I wasn't confident that I could do it and figured I'd just coast the rest and finish with the field.

At the turnaround point I could hear the mats beeping to record that I had gone through, and this beep turned something on in me. Anything could happen in the race, there is no reason to give up. What have I got to lose? Fuck it, we'll do it live. It wasn't till mile 11 that I came storming up behind the runner in third position. Shadow him and sprint for the finish? My inner Pre came out when something inside me just said, "hey wait a minute, I want to be him." So I took off. I blew by and waited to hear his steps pick up behind me. I heard nothing.

Out of a race that almost didn't happen for me (on several instances), I managed to secure a spot on the podium, knock 6 minutes off my run, and not die in the process.
Yay new pint glass!
Swag: Cool mesh bag, a pretty medal, a super soft shirt that I actually like, and a sweet-ass pint glass. (Don't worry, Dan, I'll get more pix up here later, just for you).

Setup Events did a terrific job putting on a great race on a beautiful course and the volunteer support was outstanding. Next year, I want the calm, temperate water you promised! Thanks for having John on staff to help me with my bike, too!

Big thanks to Coach AJ for getting me on the podium on my first triathlon of the season! I hope the rest of the season will be as successful. Thanks to Bryan for the cap, and Damon for the disc wheel last minute.

There were some fast folks out there, and all the other racers were super cool. Hope to see you all again at other races.

We're still hard.


  1. I appreciate that you have added a section just for me.

    Also, in the question of what to wear on the bike: Isn't the proper answer to that always "Top hat and tails"?

  2. and a monocle for eye protection...