Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fall Creek Falls Triathlon

The Fall Creek Falls Triathlon is an Olympic distance tri that I got talked into doing about two weeks before race day. It's at a really pretty state park, and a lot of Chattanooga folks would be going so I went ahead and signed up. The swim is 1500 meters, the bike 40k, and the run a 10k. Up until this point the only tri I had ever done was a sprint several years ago before I had any swim experience at all, and I learned very quickly that it's not something you can just wing without any practice. I have managed to at least be able to swim consistently, though EXTREMELY slowly for at least a mile, so I figured I could get through this portion of the race without drowning.

The triathlon had five waves of swimmers, the first three being men, the fourth all women under 40, and the last one being women over 40 as well as relay teams. When it came time for my wave to get in the water, I really felt the butterflies. The course was like a rectangle around 8 or so buoys, and some of them looked SOO far away. I just knew I would be dead last and get run over by the last wave. Regardless, it was time for me to get in. The air horn blew, and we were off. I am horrible at navigating while swimming, so I did my best to just follow the people in front of me to keep from swimming off into the middle of nowhere, away from the buoys. This worked for most of the race but did manage to take the long way around several buoys and almost missed the last one. As expected, many of the 40 and over females caught up to and passed me but my only hope was to catch them on the bike or run. After what seemed like an eternity, I got back to shore and glanced back in the water to see if there was actually anyone behind me. Thankfully there were, not many, but enough to keep me from feeling totally demoralized. We now had to make our way about a 1/4 of a mile uphill to the transition area. At this point, the hill that I had been dreading seemed like nothing simply because I was ecstatic to be out of the dang water. I was so happy that I decided not to even bother looking for the sandals I had stashed to run up the hill in. Just moving on to the next leg of the race was a huge mental boost.

Once in the transition area, I did my best to get my bike shoes on and get going as fast as possible. I knew that I had a ton of ground to make up and did my best to hammer from the start although my version of hammering is by no means fast. The bike course is pretty challenging with lots of long rolling hills that are just steep enough to really make you hate them. The wind was also fairly strong at times but nothing too awful. I started passing a few riders here and there and also saw at least two people walking back with flat tires. I felt bad for them because it must be such a disappointment to have your race essentially ruined by a mechanical failure, especially so early on. As we left the main area of the park, I kept catching women every couple of minutes and even a man once in a while. My main goal was to try to pass anyone in my age group, which I could see by the age written on their calf, and to not get passed by anyone. Surprisingly I felt really good for the whole bike leg of the race and caught quite a few people without getting passed by anyone, but you should also remember that there weren't that many folks behind me by this point. I even saw two men on mountain bikes racing and thought about how tough that would be. Because the ride is an out and back, I got to see everyone ahead of me. This is cool because I think its neat to see how crazy fast the leaders are and also to see friends competing. I got back to the transition area for the run a bit faster than I expected which was another mental boost and just wondered how my legs would react to trying to run after going all out on the bike for over an hour.

After putting on my running shoes and racking my bike, I took off out of the transition area only to have some guy ask me if I had my race bib. "Oh shoot" I said out lout as I realized that I had forgotten to pin it on. Most people have a race belt but of course this bozo doesn't so I had to fumble with safety pins for the first minute or so of the run. I was very thankful that the man reminded me before I had totally exited the transition area and thus didn't have to run back far at all to retrieve the number or take a two minute penalty for not having it. The run course takes you down a long gradual hill across the dam and onto a bike path that is pretty shaded. My legs felt like bricks for the first 1.5 miles or so but eventually loosened up. I still had the goal of picking off as many people as I could. This helps the time go by faster for me, too, because I just keep looking ahead and trying to catch anyone I can see. The heat was really becoming a factor by this point, so a bunch of people were cramping up or just getting overheated. I was thankful that the majority of the run was very shaded. After staying on the bike path for about 3 miles, we popped out on the road for a short time and went through the parking lot at the lodge before getting back in the woods and running around the lake and back to the dam. The last mile is the same as the first which means we now had to run up the long hill, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be or remembered it as a little kid when trying to ride my bike up it. I knew I was really close to the finish and tried to pick up the pace a bit in hopes of catching a couple more people. As I rounded the corner and entered the finish area, it was great to see and hear everyone cheering all the racers and see my dad and grandpa there. Overall, I had a great time and really enjoyed my first real triathlon. Dreama, Lance, Leslie, Lisa, Cecelia, Nik, Chris, and Spider all did great as did a ton of other Chattanooga folks. After hanging around for the awards Dreama, Lance, my dad, and I headed out to run a bit on the trails and check out the falls, making for a great day.