Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Racing and sweating: the sunscreen details

As a second-year triathlete, I'm now used to dealing with pain and discomfort as part of the training and racing process. But while my muscles are recovering more quickly the better shape I get into, I'm starting to feel the pain in other ways.

Specifically, I'm unable to avoid getting a bad sun burn on race day.

When I was doing sprints, I wasn't so bothered by the sun because I wasn't out in the sunshine more than an hour and a half.

But now that I'm racing longer distances, I'm spending a lot more time in the hot sun. And my sunscreen just doesn't seem to last me through the end of the run.

When do a long bike or long run in training, I use the same kind and amount of sunscreen (Bull Frog 30 SPF) as on race day, yet I don't get burned when training in the hot sun. Granted, I'm not wearing a tri top when training, but I'm exposed on my arms and legs and face the same way as when I race.

The only thing I can think is that my wetsuit is rubbing the sunscreen off? I'd hate to have to think I need to spend time in T1 and/or T2 re-applying sunscreen, but I also don't want to get in great shape only to succumb to melanoma.

What's your workaround?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Report from the Scene of the Tree Fall of 2009 Vineman 70.3

UPDATE: I'm glad to read the cyclists injured during Vineman 70.3 when an oak tree toppled over on them are doing much better today. When I first arrived at the scene, I though things could have been a lot worse.

Thanks to the confluence of a variety of events (my swim time, my T1 time, my pace on the bike), I was amongst the first to arrive at the scene of the freak accident where the tree fell across the bicycle course at mile 6.55 of the Vineman 70.3 race.

Here's my story, culled out separately from my race report:

I'd come off a good swim for me (middle of the pack overall), and over the first five miles of the bike from Johnson's Beach down River Road I was averaging over 23 mph, getting ready to turn off onto Sunset Ave and then onto the rollers of Westside Road.

I turned off River Rd and made the initial steep climb onto Westside. I was about a mile and a half into the twisty rollers, and that's when it happened.

I was about to crest a slightly uphill blind right curve when I heard what sounded like a a trash truck dropping an empty dumpster on the ground around the bend.

When I crested the curve, I could see there was a tree down by the side of the road. Wait, no, it was down in the other lane. Wait, no it was ACROSS THE WHOLE FRICKIN' ROAD! I slammed on my brakes and came to a stop. There were three cyclists stopped in front of me just staring at this tree down, and that's when we heard the screams of someone who must've been trapped under the tree.

I quickly dismounted as did the other triathletes around me and ran up to the tree blocking the road to see there were two cyclists caught underneath. I shouted at one of the triathletes who was still on his bike to run back to the crest of the hill to warn the long line of cyclists coming up behind us to prepare to stop. And then I ran into the tree to see what had happened.

One of the downed triathletes (cyclist 1: the guy moaning/screaming) had take the full brunt of a big branch across his body and bike. The other one (cyclist 2) looked like he'd been lucky and was knocked over in the relative void between the two thick trunks of the tree. Smaller branches were broken all around him, but he didn't have anything heavy directly on top of him like cyclist 1 did.

I and two other triathletes made a beeline for cyclist 1 as he was making a lot of noise and had to be badly injured. He was scraped up pretty badly, and there was a good sized trickle of blood coming out from under him onto the pavement. We picked away the branches from on top of him and from around him and then the two guys with me started attending to his injuries right away.

I then jumped into the middle of the downed tree to help clear the branches from around cyclist 2. He was ambulatory and seemed to have his wits about him, but you could tell his day was over.

I then got back out of the tree to see there were about 15 triathletes gathered around wanting to do something to help but also wanting to race on. I saw one of them whip out a cell phone and tried to reach 911 (limited cell coverage out there), so I knew help was coming.

I also noticed that there were many triathletes who'd found a 5-foot-tall break around the left side of the felled tree where they could squeeze through and get back on their bikes. The only problem? The break was caused by a line (power? telephone? cable?) that was keeping that side of the tree from crashing to the ground. Some folks were simply clipping out to push their way through while others were dismounting fully, so I decided it was time to play traffic cop.

The last thing we needed was 100s of triathletes bunched up at the tree, so I thought the best thing to do was to help guide folks around the blockade.

The guy at the crest of the hill continued to warn people to slow down, and as they got to me at the tree, I told them to dismount and pass through the opening but DO NOT TOUCH THE WIRE! (later found out it was just a telephone wire). I could see a lot of the triathletes were shocked at the scene (nothing can prepare you for something like this), and they seemed grateful to be able to get around and keep going.

As I was directing people around the scene, cyclist 2 climbed out of the tree debris and came up to me asking how his shoulder looked. I looked at his shoulder muscle, above his race number, and only noticed some scratches and told him so, and he said "no, I mean did the collarbone pop?" It did look large, but I asked to see his other one to compare. Yup, sure enough, he'd broken his collarbone. His day was done.

I went back to directing traffic and not too long after, a fellow triathlete in a UK flag jersey told me he'd take over and let me ride on. I don't know how long I'd been there already (my Garmin would later show I'd spent 5 minutes at the crash site) but I was relieved to get back on the road. I grabbed my bike off the ground, ducked under wire and paused as I saw that cyclist 1 appeared to be doing better (he was no longer moaning) and he'd been cleared from under the tree.

I proceeded to mount up and pedaled quickly away, realizing that if I'd only been a few seconds faster on the swim or in T1 or hadn't sat up to take in some liquid in the first 5 miles, that could've been me.

The newspapers report there was a third man who broke his collarbone when he crashed into the felled tree, but I only saw the two. Maybe the third guy came in too hot after I'd left? There was a cyclist about two miles up the road (beyond) from the felled tree who was stretched out in the middle of the road next to his bike. He was clutching his shoulder as two other cyclists stood over him, waving us on.

As I rode the rest of the course, I felt a comraderie with the other triathletes who'd stopped to tend our fellow triathletes. I wish I'd remembered their numbers to give them shoutouts here. It's good to know we've got each others' backs.

Sure, we can compete against each other, but when you're going 70.3 miles as an age grouper, you're in it together to make it to the finish line.

That's what being a triathlete is all about.

Vineman 70.3 race report

Just 24 hours ago, I was finishing the hottest half marathon I've ever run. Hell, it was my hottest run, period. Yet, I persevered the 90+ degree heat, and made it to the end to complete my first ever Ironman 70.3!

My race plan had a target of six hours to finish my first half Ironman: I'd do the 1.2 mile swim in about 45 minutes, the 56 mile bike in 3 hours and the 13.1 mile run in 2 hours. That'd leave me with 15 minutes for transition times and for leaks on the run pace and still bring me in under six hours.

The week leading up to the race was an unintentionally severe taper. I had two big work projects land on the same week, which had me sleeping less than 5 hours a night from Monday through Thursday, and a flourish of 28 hours at the keyboard Thursday and Friday alone. I kept assuring myself I'd get my frustrations out on the course, and sure enough, that was a help come race day.

The Swim
My wave (men 40-44) took off at 6:38am in a warm (75 degree) Russian River. Compared to my previous tri, the Escape from Alcatraz, where the water was just 58 degrees, the river felt positively balmy. Didn't stop me from wearing my wetsuit, though, so I could take advantage of the extra buoyancy.

As we waited in the deep water for the horn to sound, I got a chance to admire the scenery, looking upriver to the two bridges we'd swim under. The sun hadn't yet come up over the hills, and there was a beautiful mist rising from the surface of the river providing a little blanket of fog for us to swim through.

Then the horn sounded and all enjoyment of the scenery ended abruptly when two minutes into the swim I got a foot to the face knocking my goggles off, I stopped to readjust them and got bumped into/run over by a couple guys from behind (totally expected) and when I finally slipped into a nice steady rhythm, I noticed just how narrow the swim course was. It was impossible to get more than a couple feet away from anyone at any time, unless you wanted to fall way off the back.

About a third of the way up the out-and-back course, we passed under the second bridge, and shortly thereafter got into about 3.5 feet of water. As I was swimming along in half-foggy goggles, I was startled to see shapes looming above me before realizing it was some of my fellow age-groupers actually wading through the water! I tentatively put my feet down on the rocky river bank and waded alongside them (was this legal? was this smart? was this tiring my legs prematurely? was this dangerous?) before dropping back into my freestyle for the remainder of the swim.

The turnaround for the swim was just over half-way, and while the current of the river was negligible thanks to the dam at Johnson's Beach where we started, I could swear my swimming was faster coming back to the beach. I touched down at the swim out and quickly scampered to my bike, making it out of T1 just 46:06 after the race started. My race plan was holding!

The Bike
After a short steep climb away from the beach, the first five miles of the ride is nice and flat. I was feeling good about the swim and my legs felt strong for the bike, I just knew I had to keep some in reserve for the run at the end. I'd broken the bike course into thirds and knew if I could hit my targets on the hour, I'd stick to the race plan.

Over the first five miles, thanks to my aero bars, I averaged over 23 mph, giving me some ground to lose on the rollers of Westside Road. We turned off River Rd and began the initial climb onto Westside and about a mile and a half into the twisty rollers, that's when it happened: just seconds ahead of me, an oak tree fell across the road, pinning two triathletes underneath it.

You can read my separate post on being one of the first on the scene of the tree fall, but for this race report, suffice to say I spent about 5 minutes at the crash scene before things look like they'd stabilized and I was relieved by a fellow triathlete so I could push on.

I proceeded to mount up and pedaled quickly away, realizing that if I'd only been a few seconds faster on the swim or in T1 or hadn't sat up to take in some liquid in the first 5 miles, that could've been me under the tree. Of course, thinking like that will quickly make you crazy, so I continued to push on. At about mile 9, I came across the first spectators since the crash scene and I stopped to tell them there was a tree across the road pinning two cyclists at milepost 1.5 of Westside and please call 911. Whether or not they did, I'm not sure, but by the time I got to mile 17, a CHP car was flying the other direction with it's lights flashing. The calvary was on its way.

Adrenaline must've been on my side after the crash, because I made my target of 19 miles in the first hour of riding, and then I made it to the 38-mile mark in 1:45. The steep climb on Chalk Hill Road at the 45-mile mark, which seemed so big back in April when I recon'd the route, was relatively easy and from there it was a quick downhill to T2. Even though I'd forgotten my gels in the hotel room (DUH!) and only managed to choke down half a Clif bar on the ride to supplement my energy drinks, I was feeling pretty good.

After all, I'd finished the ride in 2:54:53, still on track for my race plan!

The Run
Ugh, the run. My legs felt wobbly coming off the bike into transition, and when I got to my transition spot, I could already feel the heat was going to suck. How I managed to piddle away 5:48 in T2 is a mystery, but poof! there went some of my cushion for a six-hour finish.

I pushed out onto the run course and the first two miles seemed to go pretty well. I was averaging 8:30 pace, but I knew it was unsustainable given the heat and how my reserves felt.

I slowed to a walk on the first big uphill and resolved to run wherever the road was flat or downhill. If I could just manage a 10-minute mile over the course, I could make my goal!

But I could feel my legs start to tighten, and I spent more time walking than running as I tried to coax as much out of my quads and calves as I could without seizing them up.

A highlight for me was seeing my friend Dan at the aid station at mile 4 (and mile 9). He's done several Ironmans and was/is an inspiration to me as I've started doing triathlons. He checked in with me as he handed me Gatorade and water, walked with me through the aid station and told me to pace myself (unlike the yahoos on the side of the road screaming "push it!").

Another highlight was seeing all the other SVTC club members out on the course and giving/getting encouragement and high-fives as we passed each other. I'm so glad I got the SVTC tri top to wear in competition to stand out from all the other age-groupers sloughing along.

The turnaround loop at La Crema winery was beautiful what with the ponds and vines, if only there'd been some shade out there! And the run back was more of a fast-walk/slow-jog. More encouragement from Dan at mile 9. A fellow SVTCer passed me at mile 9.5 with a "less than 4 miles to go, let's run it in!"

I was melting on the run, yet thankful my day had started at 6:38 so I could avoid the heat that the last waves would be enduring two hours later (at my pace). I pushed myself as hard as I could, knowing my two race buddies, Neil and Thom, were behind me, trying to catch me.

By mile 10, I knew I wouldn't make my six hour goal. I was averaging 11 minutes per mile in my combined run/walk approach. My quads and calves and hamstrings were thisclose to seizing up on me. I was gulping down water and gaterade and cola and gels at each station to try and fuel me to the finish.

I managed to run the last mile in, cheered on by the crowds and their cowbells. And when I made it to the finish chute, I knew there was nothing to stop me from making it to the end of my first Ironman 70.3

The Finish
When I heard the announcer say my name halfway down the chute, I couldn't help but crack a huge smile at the achievement. I crossed the line, arms outstretched, sweating to beat the band with just shy of 6:21 showing on the race clock.

I'd strung together a 2:26 run to finish my first half ironman in a time of 6:12:58

I've already started going through the if-onlys in analyzing this race, and to me that's a sign I'll be doing more of them. (maybe even a full Ironman?)

But for now I'm trying to simply savor the accomplishment. I've got the mettle to do it, and the medal to prove it.

Final Vineman 70.3 Stats

Swim + T1= 46:06
Bike = 2:54:53
T2 = 5:48
Run = 2:26:09
Total = 6:12:58

Overall 1040 of 2286
Men 779 of 1517
Age Group (40-44) 158 of 320