Friday, April 20, 2012

Shivering Bits (HITS Napa Half Ironman)

It's been a long while since there's been anything sporty on this ol' blog, so here ya go.  Murphy and I absconded to the greater Napa area last weekend largely so that I could self-propel myself into agony at my first triathlon in a year and a half.  Since Silverman in November 2010, I've raced exactly 3 times: the 5k at Burning Man, the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon, and our third quasi-annual Beer Mile; all of these happened last fall.  With the questionable exception of the Beer Mile (a multi-sport pursuit in the most jocular of senses), these were all running races; nary a triathlon in sight.

Deciding that this was hogwash, I vowed to make this season triathlon-centric; a year and a half off made me realize that I missed it quite a bit!  While there are big plans for this season, we have to take it one race at a time, and I wanted to start racing early just to get my feet wet again.  Race-day experience counts for a lot!  The earliest race that made sense from a several standpoints was a half ironman in Napa that was part of a new race series called HITS.

A note about HITS...  First, people tend to be wary of first-time races because of the likelihood of kinks that need ironing out.  Second, HITS came to market with the ambitious goal of having a race during each month in the calendar year.  Third, their brand is based on having 5 different race distances (ranging from super-sprint to full iron) during each weekend.  Needless to say, these three factors together effectively cannibalize their numbers at each distance, so the chance of having a large and competitive field is next to nil.  Anyhow...

Back on topic.  We got down there Friday night and were fortunate enough to stay the weekend with some family high above St. Helena.  We used Saturday to explore the area a bit, have lunch in Calistoga, do the usual registration and bike dropoff routine, and drive the bike and run courses.  Good thing we did!  On to race day...

I awake for an early breakfast and take in the clear and starry sky.  The forecast calls for it to remain clear and rapidly warm from the mid 40s into the high 60s; perfect racing weather!  One nice thing about small races is that race-morning logistics are easier without huge crowds; people are usually in better moods, too.  Everything goes smoothly in the hour that we're there before the gun goes off at the same time for the ~100 half racers and ~20 full racers.


Quick stats-
7th out of the water
T1- 2:25

Look!  We've all got wetsuits!

The water is cold.  Not sure what the temp is, but it's got my attention, and I'm usually pretty tough in cold water.  I decided this winter to finally take the proverbial plunge and improve my swimming.  My childhood swim coaches (hi Sharon and Alan!) probably wake up in a cold sweat every time I tank a swim in a race, and that has needed to come to an end for years.  So I've been working really hard on becoming a better swimmer, and this race is going to be my debut.  The gun goes off, and a small group immediately veers a bit away from the first buoy.  I decide to swim the straighter line, as the water ain't clear and staying with a group is going to be difficult from a vision standpoint anyway.

Off into the sunrise

The remainder of the swim is uneventful, lonely, and scrum-free; it's hard to get crowded with only 120 people in the water.  It starts to feel like we've been out there for a while; the eventual race winner, a strong and consistent swimmer, later said his time indicated the swim was ~500 yards too long (which for a 2100 yard swim is a LOT).  So, time aside, my swim places me well in the field.  The cold water takes a toll on me as I feel a transition, bumbling around and whatnot.  Eh, that shouldn't keep me from piloting a bike at high speed on an unknown road!


Quick stats:
6th fastest bike
T2- 1:01 (looks like I won T2!)

Whizzing along (not a pee joke...or is it?)

The bike starts off as you'd expect after wriggling out of a lake: cold and sopping wet.  However, it's sunny and warming quickly, so all is well.  By the numbers, the bike course has ~3200' of climbing, which is enough to slow things down a bit.  Unfortunately for our splits, some of the descents are technical enough to warrant braking, which is always kind of a drag.  Far more unfortunate than having slow-looking bike times, though, is that we ride into a super-ninja fog bank in the first few miles.  Not in the forecast, not visible from the start.  Little do I know that I've ridden my way into 2nd place by the time I hit the fog, but that's immaterial as I start giving places away.

I (along with everyone else) am dressed for summer weather, as all the information available to us calls for a nice day.  This part of the bike course is also quite fast, so the complete picture is as follows if you'd like to imagine it for yourself: dress in skimpy spandex, hose yourself down with cold water for half an hour, then go stand in 40degF fog at 100% humidity with 40mph of wind chill, and stay there for an hour.  Tell me how warm you are.

I hope this is the most conceited thing that ever leaves my keyboard, but to all the racers that day who had some semblance of body fat, I wholeheartedly say FUCK YOU.


Considerably more diplomatic:  in hindsight, I really don't know what I would have done differently.  It may have been a necessary bout of suffering.  But ohhhh, what a bout it was.  For starters, I start expending a lot of energy to stay warm, instead of expending that energy to go fast.  Next, the incessant shivering tightens up my back and shoulders to the point where being on the aerobars is most uncomfortable.  Furthermore, my hands and food/water bottles are both so cold that I can't squeeze them, so nutrition and hydration come to a screeching halt.  Continuing on, the shivering gets strong enough that I'm not really biking straight any more, skittering about like an out-of-control sewing machine.  And finally, my sight and vision become affected such that I can't process anything more than about 20 yards up the road; it's simply not computing.  So I'm careening along at 30+mph in dense fog, unable to feed myself, praying that I'll shiver right into a pothole that will fling me over an embankment, which will certainly be more enjoyable than being cold.  At least the wind chill will stop.  It is a dark time.


Finally, I reach the big climb.  I've been in the fog for an hour, I'm starving and thirsty, and I can't feel my hands or feet.  The climb gloriously removes the wind chill factor, and I've given away quite a few places already, but I have mostly stopped caring.  I just want to be warm.  The next bonus is that topping out this climb takes me out of the fog once and for all, so if I can at least survive the harrowing and technical (and damp) descent back to the valley floor, recovery isn't out of the question.  It turns out the descent was scarier in the car than on the bike, so that's sweet.  And sure enough, the warm sun is shining at the bottom.  I start the process of eating, drinking, and soaking in glorious photons, all the while perking up and beginning to care again about where I am in the race.

Mossy canopy

Not too much time goes by before I feel OK again, and the bike is coming to a close.  It's a good thing that I'm not wearing a watch and don't have a bike computer, as I'd probably be dismayed to know that I've been on the bike for nearly 3 hours.  This is not part of the plan, but I guess a hard course and hypothermia will do that to ya.


Quick stats:
2nd fastest run (by 0:19...grrr)

Bridge over Berryessa

When I leave T2, I have deposited the 7th bike among many empty racks.  I will certainly say that it's nice to be able to count the bikes in T2 on both hands...this is a good goal at any race!  My primary goal for the race is to smash the run, and it seems as though I've got some work to do.  I immediately set my pace high and dispatch the first victim.  It's now nearly uncomfortably warm, but it will prove to be about mile 4 before I feel my feet turn from senseless blocks into actual appendages.  As the miles tick by, I bring the next few racers back to me.  The eventual winner is WAY off the front, which is a bit of a bummer, but I convince myself that I want to catch the rest of 'em.

Smashing along

The run course is not exactly easy, either.  The first ~1/2 mile (and consequently last 1/2 mile) are flat, but the rest is up and down.  It's not steep enough to throw my rhythm off, but it won't exactly make for a blistering time, either.  Approaching the turnaround on this single out-and-back course, I see the 3rd place guy in a lot of pain and the 2nd place guy looking good, although I'm catching him.  Unfortunately, seeing me lights a fire under him and he finds another gear; he successfully gaps me and I never see him again.

Lush green hills

By the end, I feel pretty used up, but I'm happy and healthy and have caught most everyone in front of me.  I'm also exceedingly glad that I'm not gutting through the full ironman with the small field of 20 out there; I'd rather go find a beer.

3rd overall

After we cleared out of the race site, we drove the hour back to civilization and stopped for a delicious burger and beer at Gott's Roadside.  After packing up our stuff and saying our goodbyes, I played the shattered athlete card and promptly passed out while Ethel drove home.  Thanks babe :)

Next race is in Auburn in a few weeks but the next post will be some scenery from the hills above St. Helena.  Gotta keep things mixed up!

All photos in this post are courtesy d^2 and Murphy.  Thank you both :)



Spencer Jones said...

Well, I can't say "Wow, great pictures Eliot" since you didn't take them, but nonetheless they were awesome shots! Your story of the event felt as if I was there cheering you on. Congrats and great job on your accomplishment through this race!

Ryan D said...

I agree with Spencer - great pics (as expected, accomplices!), and great RR too. I enjoyed the "dispatch" verb usage.

Considering you have World's toughest half in a few weeks, this was likely a 'warm up'!

Eliot said...

Thanks dudes :). I'm fortunate to roll with a great photo crew.
Ryan- yup :)

Beth said...

Beth: He's all alone!
Ed: That's because everybody else is behind him.

Eliot said...

It's really the best option to manage a crowded race course :)

Past Detritus