Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My first 2.4 mile swim race - The JackRabbit Jerseyman Open Water Swim - coming in last never felt so good!!

On May 7, 2011, just 6 days after completing my first half Ironman, I participated in a swim race called The JackRabbit Jerseyman Open Water Swim (held in Clinton, New Jersey, about 75 minutes from New York City).  I signed up for the "Ironswim", a 2.4 mile swim, the same distance as the swim in an Ironman race.   I need more open water swim experience and my friend (and Ironman) LW told me that this swim is in a nice lake.  The lake is also used for the New Jersey Devilman triathlon.  My friend MH also decided to come with me and ended up doing the 1.2 mile swim (despite the fact that he hasn't gone swimming in a long time).  He even drove which was totally awesome!!

The longest open water swim that I'd done prior to this race was 1.2 miles last weekend (took 50 minutes).  The longest swim I've ever done in the pool is 1.75 miles (1 hour and 8 minutes).  I thought to myself "what do I have to lose?"  My goal for the Ironman swim in Canada in August is to beat the 2 hour and 20 minute swim cutoff (if you don't finish the swim within this time they take you out of the water and you are not allowed to go on).  I'm a weak swimmer (by triathlon standards), but my training times in the pool have been consistent and based on these times I felt like I could beat this cutoff time (not by a lot).  Then I had a horrible swim in Miami on 4/10 and my confidence was shattered.  I began to really question myself and whether or not I can really do an Ironman.  So, I signed up for the half ironman on 5-1 (had a great race) and then this Ironswim on the Thursday before the race.  I decided to put myself in the highest possible state of "discomfort".  I'm going to feel that way during the Ironman swim, so why not now?  Training is a perfect time to be uncomfortable.

So, I got on my wetsuit and touched the water with my toes.  It was freezing!  I decided not to do a short swim warm up.  There was a swim coach giving a clinic before the swim which was cool.  He had some high school kid there showing us swim techniques and of course the kid was an amazing swimmer. 

For the race, Swim participants could choose to swim 2.4 miles, 1.2 miles, or 0.6 miles.  The 2.4 mile swim started first and I was in wave 1.    The swim course was two 1.2 mile loops.  No pictures were taken during the race, but I took this one of the course (you need to zoom in to see well).

The swim was clockwise, with the buoys alwasy on our left.  We swam all the way out to the the triangle buoys, across, back to the beach, and did it again for a second loop

My chip to record my time - had to wear it on my wrist
The race director counted all of the participants swimming 2.4 miles (there were 63 of us).  Everybody else looked like a swimmer.  I mean, come on, who the heck is crazy enough to sign up to swim 2.4 miles in freezing-ass water in early May?  Either a serious swimmer or an Ironman.  The race director said the water temperature was 62 degrees but in my opinion it had to be in the high 50s (earlier in the week the water temp was 55).  The horn sounded and the race was off.  Of course I let everybody else go out first.  I mean really, I looked at the rest of the swimming field and thought to myself "there's no way in hell that I can swim faster than any of these people, just no way."  So, a bunch of us waded out into the water.  Almost immediately, I thought I was going to go into shock because the water was FREEZING!  No kidding, my feet and hands felt numb and I had absolutely no desire to subject my head and face to the same feeling. I immediately thought to myself "there is no way I'm doing two loops - I'll just get out of the water after 1.2 miles, I can't handle this for 2.4 miles". Other swimmers around me felt the same way.....quickly the water was too deep and each of us had to swim, but there were many people around me swimming without putting their head in the water!  A bunch of us were actually talking during the first minute or so of the swim!  "man, this is freezing!!" or "man, this sucks, I definitely didn't expect it to be this cold!".  Talking to others and knowing that they were also struggling made me feel better.  Finally, I put my head in the water and started to swim.  It took my body a few minutes, but after that I felt fine.  I swam nice and easy.  I found sighting to be much easier and less draining.  A few minutes in, the second wave of swimmers all swam by.  Soon, I was all alone.  I decided to push a little bit during the last part of the first loop, came up on to the beach to the timing mat, checked my watch and it read 48:36.  YES!!!!  I just swam 1.2 miles in 48 minutes, a PR for me!!!  I also thought to myself "one more loop to go and I can take my time!!  I'm going to make the 2 hour and 20 minute Ironman cutoff!"  So, I took my time wading out for the second loop and took my time for the rest of the swim.  I was all by myself the entire time (there was one guy behind me but he started in the second wave).  I absolutely love swimming in the open water.  It is a million times better than being in a pool.  As I breathed and sighted, I would look around at the trees, the beautiful sunny blue sky and that, coupled with the fact that I was actually going to swim 2.4 miles had me feeling very happy.  The water was more choppy than I expected (particuarly in two places) as it was a little windy, so I found it harder to swim through the chop, but other than that the swim course was awesome.  Finally, I finished.  It took me 1 hour and 45 minutes, on the faster side of the 1:45 - 2:00 range I thought I would come in at.  I came in last out of 63 participants!!!!  Despite this, I am extremely proud of this accomplishment (plus my swimming confidence is back).  I'll make up some of this time on the bike and the run during my full ironman in August!

For fun, I checked the Ironman Canada swim results from 2010.  While a 1:45 swim time is definitely near the bottom, there were at least 20 other people that were slower last year, so I'll have some people to talk to while I'm in the water finishing at the back of the pack!  As long as I beat the cutoff, I'm happy!!

Next up:  the Rev 3 Quassy Half Ironman on 6/5 (unless I can fit in a race or two before then)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bassman Half Ironman Race Report

Date: May 1, 2011 (Sunday) - a year ago to the day I ran a marathon in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  At that time I didn't own a road bike and hadn't gone swimming since high school (and only a few times).  At that point in time, doing a triathlon hadn't even entered my mind yet, not even for a second.  When I ran the Wisconsin Marathon last May, the temperature was in the 60-70s during the race, which was abnormally high.  This year (yesterday), it was in the 40s!!  I needed that last year!!!  :)

Location: Bass River State Park, New Jersey (near Atlantic City)
Race Start Time: 8:03 A.M.

Weather: 35 degrees when I arrived at the park at 5:55am (I was unprepared for it to be this cold, forecast said in the low 50s by 6am), 50-55 degrees during the race (perfect).  Low humidity (also perfect).  Water temperature at the start of the race was 60 degrees, also perfect for me.

Race Specs: 1.2 mile swim (two 0.6 mile loops in a small, shallow lake), 58 mile bike ride (generally flat, although the road was bumpy and very windy for most of the race), half-marathon run (13.1 miles, flat, 50% on trails and 50% on park roads, plenty of shade, awesome run course)

Training Preparation: I decided to do this race about 10 days before the race.  I wanted to gain some more open water swim experience and figured that the race would be a good barometer of my fitness level.  I had been training for my Ironman for 13 weeks prior to this race, with a 13 hour training week last week.  I decided NOT to taper for this race.  I followed my training schedule and took the day off before the race.  I got sick during the taper for all 3 of my marathons and I didn't want that to happen here.

Race Health: 100% healthy, my knees started to feel it a little for about the last 6 miles of the race, but then my glutes starting firing, taking pressure away from my knees and IT bands.  Felt 100% healthy when I finished the race and I soaked my entire body in the lake for 20 minutes after the race to cool down (without a wetsuit).  I'm sure this helped my recovery.  I felt a little general body soreness the day after the race but the soreness went away by Tuesday. 
Other Comments: This was my first Half Ironman triathlon (and my 4th triathlon overall). This was the longest open water swim of my life and only the 4th time in my life that I did an open water swim.

Overall Time:  5 hours 54 minutes.  I broke 6 hours, which I was very proud about (a sub 6 hour race was my stretch goal).  50 minute swim, 3 hour 3 minute bike (average 19.0 mph), 1 hour 53 minute half marathon (13.1 miles), an 8:41 per mile pace.  Here is a picture of me crossing the finish line (with more pictures below).  Overall, I came in 77th place out of 120 finishers (114th in the swim, 68th in the bike, and 60th on the run).  If I can improve my swim, I will move into the middle of the pack overall!  The 120 person field was very competitive, so I'm pleased with the result

Next up:  New Jersey Ironswim (5/7) - 2.4 mile swim (I figure why not go for it, I have nothing to lose!); Rev 3 Quassy Half Ironman in Middlebury, CT (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run)  - an extremely hilly and tough course for both the bike and run

Race Details

I went to bed the night before the race at 8pm.  My kids "put me to bed", which was a big deal for them and they really enjoyed it (and I enjoyed it too).  I woke up at 2:55am, ate, went to pick up my car at the garage, packed it, left my building at 3:40am and drove 2 hours and 10 minutes to the race site, arriving at 5:50am.  It was much colder than I expected when I arrived and I was worried that it was too cold to ride a bike.  It was so cold that there was a huge fog over the lake (since the water temperature of 60 was much warmer than the air).  I picked up my bib, swim cap, race bag, and stickers, got marked (they write your bib number, in this case 159, on your arm and on the back of your calf).  They also wrote "41" on my other calf, indicating my age.  Everybody gets marked the same way, so when some 60 year old passes you on a mountain bike or during the run, it is very clear what is going on.  Without question, every athlete focuses on this number when being passed.  It is part of the triathlon racing culture.  If one gets dusted, I suspect the person's thinking goes like this.."oh yeah 32 year old, wait until you are my age" or "no way you could pass me if you were my age"

This being my 4th triathlon, I felt much more prepared.  I knew how I wanted to lay out my "stuff" in the transition area and had prepared everything for days before.   I brought a small towel to put everything down - my bike stuff all together in one pile (sunglasses, socks, race bib, helmet, race jersey), my running stuff in another pile (shoes), my drinks/food/gels in another pile (I had coke and mountain dew but ended up only taking a few sips of coke at one of the transitions), and I even prepared 3 separate bottles of Hornet Juice (which provides a boost and also has a ton of amino acids), labeled "before swim, before bike, before run".  I set them up so I knew exactly where they were and this helped to speed up my transition time a bit.

The sprint race started before my race, and it was delayed about 10-15 minutes for the fog to lift. 

The water temp was 60 degrees at the start of the race.  I wore my full body Blue Seventy wetsuit (I love it).  I also bought some new Aqua Sphere goggles for the race (in Miami, one of my problems during the swim was that my goggles were permanently dirty and I could barely see out of them).  The swim was an "in water swim start", meaning that we had to wade out a bit to start swimming.  I started in wave 2 at 8:03am (the first wave went off at 8:00am).  At about 8:02 and 30 seconds, the race director called "30 seconds to race start".  I wasn't even in the water yet!  So, for the first time, I stepped into the water. It didn't feel too cold to me (my cold water and ice water baths have toughened me up), and seconds later the race frenzy started.  I waited, once again, for everybody to go first.  The water was so shallow that I was able to stand up and I waded out a bit.  I was thinking "hey, this is totally sweet, I can run the entire swim".  I tried it for about 15 seconds and found it to be tiring (and frankly I didn't sign up to wade), so I started swimming.  There were 120 people doing the Half Ironman distance (and more people in the water than that doing the swim as part of a duathlon).  I'm not a fast swimmer, but I was surprised at how fast people were.  These people were racing.  After 4 triathlons, I've come to the conclusion that average (or more likely below average) swimmers like me don't do triathlons, they just don't.  After a few minutes I felt great in the water.  The temperature was perfect for me and I was swimming all by myself.  No pushing, kicking, pulling, or bumping.  Frankly, it was very relaxing and totally sweet to be experiencing it!!   I told myself "just swim hard to the next buoy" and I kept doing this for the entire swim (two 0.6 mile loops).  I was much better at sighting (likely because I am getting the hang of it but also because my fitness is better so I don't get as tired when I look up across the water).  Every once in a while, I looked behind me to see if I was last.  I spotted a few people behind me a few times.  I got the usual encouragement from the guys on surf boards "you are doing great, you are almost there".  My response, this time verbally (not just in my head), "thanks dude, this is my first half".  I was able to get into a groove many times and tried to do what I do in the pool (except I find open water swimming much more fun than being in a pool - it is totally cool to look around, and for me, totally awesome to think to myself "hey, you are about to swim 1.2 miles!!".   Near the end of my swim, I pushed my pace and didn't touch the ground (despite it being very shallow) until my arm hit the ground (literally less than 5 feet from the beach).  Then I sprinted out of the water to the swim timing mat, trying to shave a few second from my swim time.  YES!!!  I DID IT!!!!!!  The race director and his crew were standing on the beach as I came out.  I asked somebody what time it was and somebody said 8:57, so I assumed that it took me 54 minutes.  Not bad, I thought, given it took me 52 minutes to swim 0.9 miles in Miami.  I had a proud sense of satisfaction during the rest of the race with a 54 minute split, a significant improvement for me over my last race. Later, I found out that my exact swim split was 50 minutes and 23 seconds.  BOOK IT!  I didn't wear my watch during the swim (no need for GPS in a lake, even for me).  Next time I'll wear my polar watch.  The lake was pretty nice, but it was a bit murky and during one stretch had a lot of plants on the ground that looked like white ghosts all over the place (which I experience twice because I swam 2 loops).  Overall, I'd recommend this swim, it was pleasant.

Swim:  50 minutes 23 seconds, 114th place out of 120.  I felt like I had a great swim.  My place just tells me that the race field was very strong and that I have more room to improve. 

Transition 1
Very happy with this overall, except I had a tough time getting my wetsuit off so I had to sit down and yank it off.  When I did so, I got a little light headed and dizzy.  I haven't felt this way after a swim since I first started swimming (when I used to be exhausted coming out of the water).  I drank a little bit, ate a gel, put on my clothes (which I had out in order so as not to forget anything), and was on my way.  There was a long run from the transition area to the start of the bike ride (probably took about 45-60 seconds). 

T1:  4:25 (95th place out of 120)

I felt pretty good when I got on the bike, but I felt a little more tired than I expected to feel.  I looked down at my watch, and my heart rate was 156.  "156??, I thought to myself, wow, that's high".  I definitely pushed a little hard at the end of my swim and I was feeling it.  Being one of the last people out of the water, I was way far behind everybody else.  I pushed forward and noticed that my pace was around 18-19 miles an hour (it felt a little hilly to me early on and the road was bumpy, definitely not smooth).  The temperature was great, in the low 50s, so I wasn't cold or hot.  As time progressed, I got felt stronger and was able to push the pace.  My heart rate fell down to the mid to high 140s and I felt better.  I ate 3 gels on the rode, 1 rice krispy treat (not sure I'll try that again), and a large bottle of Gatorade.  I picked up some heed at the turnaround as well as some water.  The bike course was two loops, each 29 miles long (for a total of 58 miles).  A typical half ironman bike ride is 56 miles, but they couldn't get the course to equal exactly 56 miles, as they had to change the course at the last minute because a tree fell in the forest.  Much of the bike ride went through the forest, and for most of my ride, I was completely by myself, with not a person in sight.  I passed about 15-20 people, and two people passed me at certain points, but I was able to overcome both of those people over the long course.  One guy passed me about 8 times (and I passed him the same number of times).  I gained strength over the last 5 miles and caught up to a lot of people.  Over the last 5 miles, I thought to myself "how the heck am I going to run a half marathon after this??  That's 2 more hours!"

Bike (58 miles) - 3 hours, 3 minutes, 6 seconds (3:03:06) - 68th place out of 120.  I averaged 19.0mph, my average heart rate was 148, and my average cadence was 85.  Total elevation gain was a tiny 465 feet and I burned approximately 2,100 calories.

I forgot to turn on my garmin watch when I started, and I forgot to turn it off when I arrived in the transition area, so the stats are a little off.  Bike Garmin File - Click here

Transition 2
Felt good off the bike, didn't even feel like I rode a bike at all (surprisingly).  Thank goodness, because I didn't run any bricks (a run right after a bike ride) during my training.  As I came into the transition area, I got stuck behind a guy who was running very slow into the transition area, which slowed me down and was a little frustrating (no way to run around him).  I drank some Hornet Juice (like I did before the race and before the bike).  I ate a chocolate cherry cliff gel shot right at the end of the bike and started to feel the spike from it.

T2:  2:28, 79th out of 120

Run - half marathon - 13.1 miles
As I started the run, I felt pretty good.  Overall, I felt a little tired (after 4 hours straight hours of exercise).  I decided to run easy, around 9 minute per mile pace.  I figured that if I could hold this pace, I could clip off some miles and perhaps run negative splits (i.e. run faster as the race goes on).  I caught up to a lot of people at this point and was passing a lot of people at this point.  This is an awesome run course.  Mainly shaded, on park roads and trails (back and forth).  Early on, most was on trails.  I started clipping off miles.  My heart rate was in the mid 150s early in the run, which was awesome, and my heart rate would climb as the run went on (for an overall run heart rate average of 161, still great for me).  My splits for the first 3 miles - 8:42, 8:46, 8:39.  Solid.  I started to weaken a little during mile 4, started to get hungry.  At this point, I knew I couldn't stomach another gel, so I drank water. By mile 5, I tried some heed.  I think it tastes horrible, but I knew I needed the calories.  About 5 minutes later, I noticed that the heed actually helped me a lot.  Book it!  I drank heed during miles 6 and 7 too (and alternated between water and heed for the rest of the race).  I'm now a heed fan (never, ever thought I would say that).  I can't remember at what mile, but the course took us right on the beach!  Full sand running!  Definitely not easy, but my Central Park bridal path running came in handy here, as some of that path is sandy (although not as sandy as the beach).  After that, a lot of the race was on trails. Miles 4- 6 - 9:01, 9:27, 9:09.  Then, I felt stronger and was able to push the pace and ran around 8:30s for the rest of the way.  I felt pretty crappy for the last 3 miles, but pushed through. I saw a sign near the end of the race that said something about rattlesnakes, which had me much more focused on the road until I finished.  I never walked and finished strong, sprinting to the finish with my fist clenched.  I didn't know that I was going to break 6 hours until I saw the clock at the finish line (I didn't wear a watch during the swim so I didn't have a commutative watch count going).

Finishing.  Very pumped up here, happy to come in under 6 hours (note the clock time)
Run (13.1 miles) - 1 hour 53 minutes 55 seconds (1:53:55), 60th place out of 120, which, by the way, is a PR (personal record) for me in a half marathon (this being only the 2nd timed half marathon I have run).  Of course, I have run much faster than this in dozens of my training runs.

Run Garmin File (it had a tough time getting a signal for some of the race in the forest).  Click here

Overall - 5 hours 54 minutes 15 seconds (5:54:15), 77th place out of 120.  I'm very proud of this race and time!


Riding somewhere in the sticks!

Running on the trail

Feeling good

58 miles on the bike is a long way

Running out of the water, struggling with my wetsuit!

I'm in the middle about to go in the water

If you look closely you can see me near the back on the left

Name of the lake in Bass Forest Park (New Jersey)

35 degrees when I arrived, the lake was steaming with zero visibility

My bike in transition before the race (blue Cannondale)

Check out the steam on the lake

Sprint triathletes coming out of the water (before the half ironman started).  Note the steam coming off people's body

A view of the lake from the transition area