Monday, May 30, 2011

White Lake Sprint II - Race Report

What a swim debacle!.....

Sunday May 15th was the White Lake Srint II Triathlon in White Lake, North Carolina (White Lake Sprint I was the previous weekend.

This would be my first tri since starting to work with The Puppeteer and I was very much looking forward to it.  Because of the distance from Raleigh I decided to get a room somewhere close to the event rather than suffer a really early alarm call and I eventually found a room at the exotic Days Inn in Clinton, NC!

I drove down on Saturday afternoon to meet with The Puppeteer, The Snitch and others for a cookout by the beach.  I met The Snitch and family at the Days Inn (the cheering section were also staying there) and we headed off in convoy towards White Lake.   This would usually be about a 30 minute drive, but within minutes of pulling out of the hotel parking lot we were drove into absolutely torrential rain and had to pull over.  This really was a deluge and at one point there was some hail as well - I felt sorry for the "back of packers" who were probably still out on the road completing the White Lake Half Tri which was going on that day.  I found out later than they had temporarily suspended the event to allow people to take shelter!

Once the rain finally stopped and the Ark had sailed off over the horizon we were able to recommence our journey and made it to the meeting place at Goldston's Motel.   By the time we got there the sun was back out and the kids were swimming in the lake and we were soon sitting around the grill and amusing ourselves watching a wedding taking place on one of the piers.

The Puppeteer, Mr. Puppeteer and The Snitch getting ready to grill
After a yummy meal of burgers, numerous different side salads and strawberries and cream we enjoyed "hanging" for a while before The Snitch and I drove the bike course (two seven mile laps around the lake) and picked-up our race packets.  Pretty soon we headed back to the hotel to turn in for an early night.

The alarm went off at 5 am Sunday morning and I was soon downing a coffee and eating a bagel with cream cheese and a banana while putting my bike on the back of the car.  As usual I was an "early arriver" and soon found a good parking spot, pumped-up my bike tires (or tyres for my UK friends!) to 120 psi, attached my race number to the bike and took a ride up and down the road for a few miles to stretch out a little and make sure gears, brakes etc. were in good working order. 

Next it was off to set-up my transition area....

Neat and tidy!
Note that bike shoes were left on the pedals and the heel of the left show attached to the skewer on the real wheel so as to prevent it from scraping on the ground while running out of transition and also to hold it in a good position for mounting (when you start peddaling the band breaks and off you go!).  This is one of the few components of a triathlon that I'm actually pretty good at!

The transition area was now starting to fill up....

.....and I soon ran into The Snitch setting up her area....

Next it was time for stretching and a run warm-up before the transition area had to be vacated; wetsuits grabbed and heading down towards the start area.

White Lake is a shallow and very clear man made (?) lake that is far enough south for Spanish Moss to grow on the trees....

The 750 M swim course was a pretty standard triangular layout that started with a water start and finished with a climb up onto a jetty to start a relatively long run to the transition area.

Swim start - level with the structure at the end of the pier.
Swim finish
As race time approached it was time to get wetsuits on in preparation for a swim warm-up.   The Snitch was soon demonstrating how to get your suit on more easily via use of plastic carrier bags, while I opted for a more conventional "sit on the wall and pull" technique!

There were wave starts and, at this point, I was feeling pretty good and got into the water for a few practice starts while the earlier waves were heading off.  Little did I know that my confidence was soon to be severely dented!

The 40+ age group men (in fetching forest green swim caps) were called to the start and I positioned myself towards the outside to try to avoid some of the melee that can take place at the start.  It was a bit rough for a while when the gun went off, but I  found some space and was feeling pretty good over the first 100 yards or so and my freestyle was standing up OK.   Suddenly, out of nowhere. someone's foot (I assume) crashed into my nose and pulled my goggles up onto my forehead.   It wasn't a super hard blow and didn't really hurt, but I was disoriented for a moment and had to stop to get my goggles back on.  At that point I reaslised that it felt as if my nose was bleeding and, sure enough, a wipe of my hand confirmed it.   Now none of this was particularly dramatic (or unusual for a triathlon) but it clearly affected me and when I started swimming again my freestyle felt awful and I had no rhythm whatsoever - every stroke felt awful and I soon started feeling tired.  I really didn't have much option at this point but to switch to breaststroke - not a very cool move for triathletes! - but even that felt bad.  Normally breaststrole is a strong stroke for me, but my wetsuit started to feel restrictive and it was a real struggle to get to the end of the swim.  My time was an awful 20 mins plus!  The general post-race opinion is that I suffered a slight panic attack - it was certainly a feeling somewhat akin to the mild claustrophobia that I suffer from - not a good feeling!

I was relieved to be back on terra firma and peeled down my wetsuit and took off cap and goggles as I ran towards my bike.   First transition went pretty well - wetsuit came off with little difficulty (thanks in part to the Pam cooking spray which I sprayed on the outside of the ankles before I started) and the bike mount was good.

The bike course was flat (but pretty bumpy in places).   After working up through the gears I found a nice cadence of around 90 and maintained an average of around 20 mph for the 14 mile bike course.  As usual I was passed by a few speed demons on fancy tri bikes, but I also passed more than my fair share of other riders.  Kept down on the aerobars the entire way and was reasonably pleased.  I'm still getting the feel for how much I can thrash my legs while still saving something for the run.

Transition two was also fine and went without incident.  My legs didn't feel too bad at the start of the run and I concentrated on fast turnover and light feet as I headed out on the 5K out-and-back course through a local neighborhood.  I was pleased that I passed a couple of guys in my age group and felt that my run classified as "OK" although The Puppeteer saw me on the finishing stretch and said that my turnover was too slow - this is something I've been working on and will obviously have to continue to do so!

I had put the swim out of my mind while biking and running, but was pretty annoyed with myself after the race.  It didn't feel at the time like something that I could really control, but the swim time was obviously terrible and I need to do something about it!

While I was in no danger of being anywhere near the front of the pack, I'm very pleased to be able to report that The Snitch came second in her age group and that Mollie Brewer, who was one of the previous evening's cook out attendees won the ladies 20 to 24 age group.  It's nice to be associated with some real talent!

Pleased to be finished....
Mollie on the podium

With The Snitch

The Puppeteer got new wheels!

The Snitch "podiums' too!
So we've seen that the swim leg basically sucked (and why), what about the other legs?   Here are the details and my critique:

Swim:   20:08.   Age group rank:  22nd.    Basically awful as detailed above.
T1:         2:05    This seems to be comfortably in the top 50%, which is good considering that many of the good swimmers didn't wear wetsuits. 
Bike:    43:11    Age group rank:  19th.    I felt that the time was OK, but wish it was ranked a little higher.  In this case, however (unlike the swim) there was a cluster of guys with pretty similar times. 
T2:         1:13    Comfortably top 25%
Run:     27:27    Age group rank:  20th.  Disappointing.

Total:   1:34:02  Age group rank:  20th   Blech!  Needs to be comfortably sub 1:30:00 for a race like this!

So, what did I learn?    Basically that, although the swim was an obvious problem, by rank I was about equally "bad" (or "good" if you wear rose tinted glasses) in all three disciplines.  I'm not bad at transitions though!    There is a lot of work to be done!

I have had a lot of time to reflect on this since the event.  Felt pretty despondent at first and yes, questioned myself quite a bit.  After chatting with The Puppeteer we are going to make some changes to the upcoming race schedule and long term plan (more on this in a later post).  

One of the great things about working with The Puppeteer is that you get to "hang" with some great athletes - it's nice to see so many of them climbing up onto the podium to collect their rewards.  The way I look at it I can choose to be intimidated by this or inspired by this.....   and I choose inspired!  This was only my third race and I have a lot of time ahead of me for improvement.  :-)


  1. Great job under the circumstances. Its hard to get back on track after your concentration is completely thrown off. I am sure the bloody nose didn't help.

  2. Thanks Ken. I guess it was a reasonable excuse, but disappointing none-the-less! Pleased to report that I had a good open water session with my coach this evening - felt good and have some great tips to work on!