Sunday, August 21, 2011

USAT Age Group National Championship – The Results

Before the Swim

Yesterday I competed in the USAT Age Group National Championship in Burlington, Vermont. It was, as expected, a well-organized event with great support from the community of Burlington. Suzanne and I enjoyed our four days there – the waterfront area and the commercial areas up from the lake have some nice restaurants and galleries and Ben & Jerry's original factory is just 30 miles away. The weather was perfect, too. Actually maybe too perfect. About mile three of the run, I would have really loved to have had some cloud cover.

When I competed in the Championship two years ago in Tuscaloosa, I set a world's record for the slowest swim time (in my defense it was against the current and the water temp was about 98 degrees so they didn't allow wetsuits – which for some reason didn't bother the other swimmers as much as me) and then after a decent bike ride, I got severe hamstring cramps from dehydration and couldn't finish the race. Not my best day.

The good news on yesterday's race is that I set a world's record for most improved swim time – improving on my Tuscaloosa effort by over twenty minutes. I managed to finish in the middle of the pack – of course I swam with the over sixty year old crowd and some of the pack were in their 70s – but those guys were all serious competitors and a lot more experienced. That's sort of the end of the good news.

Last year I started utilizing a water bottle that fits between my aerobars so that I can sip from it whenever I want without having to grab the bottle from the frame or from behind me. My cycling skill /confidence level is not too high so anything that involves a lot of movement tends to slow me down. This bottle system worked great for me as I could sip continuously throughout the ride and thus could avoid the dehydration that I experienced in Tuscaloosa. The only problem was that I finished the bottle usually about mile 20 and then I had to either go without fluid for the last five miles or attempt to grab the reserve bottle from behind my seat. So this year I replaced the bottle I had been using with a larger one. I raced with it in my last race and at the finish I still had plenty of fluid left.

Yesterday, as I started out on the bike and was headed up the first hill I hit a small bump and the larger bottle popped out of the bracket. It was bouncing around held in only by the heavy rubber band that was wrapped around it as an extra precaution. When I reached the top of the hill, I stopped and pushed it back into the bracket. It held for about ½ mile but again came loose when I hit a rough patch. Two more times I stopped and repositioned it. The third time I took extra time trying to adjust the bracket and I thought I had it fixed, but it came loose almost immediately. I tried holding it, but I found it difficult to steer with one hand cupped around the bottle. I decided that if the rubber band held, the bottle was not going to fall out as it was more or less held in place by the aerobars. I remembered all of the coaching lectures on how we seldom ride a perfect race and that is important not to let these unanticipated problems derail the entire event.

So I ignored the water bottle and got myself mentally back in the game. I raced hard for the last fifteen miles, but those first ten miles cost me at least ten minutes – five or six minutes while I was stopped to try and fix the problem and at least five plus minutes while I let myself get distracted and dispirited by the mishap. I was actually surprised when I finished the bike segment in 1:26. That was eleven minutes off my goal of 20 mph, but at least I had a chance to finish the race in less than three hours. That gave me something to focus on during the run.

It was hot on the run. The first half mile is up a steep hill and it was a tough beginning. I had hoped to run the race at an 8:30 pace, but that first mile was over 9 minutes and the next two were not much better. I did finish with the last mile close to the 8:30 pace. 

I knew I was going to be way down in my age group, but I was surprised to see how far back: 43rd out of 48. Even if I had not had the bike mishap and had finished at my goal time (which I think is realistic) I would have been no better than 32nd. Of course it's a national championship – those old men are all very good athletes and tough competition.

I guess my goal of finishing in the top ten was sort of presumptuous, but it was fun thing to shoot for. I just wish I had come a little closer.

DateTotalSwimT1BikeMPH T2 Run PacePlace
GOAL2:45:0032:002:301:15:0020.02: 3053:008:2915th

At the Finish Line
(I know it looks like I'm about to collapse but
actually I'm running so fast that the photographer
almost managed to miss me...again)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

USAT Age Group Nationals – Burlington, VT – August 20, 2011

When I started this blog in June 2009, the stated goal was to chronicle my pursuit of the 2011 USAT Age Group National Championship which I hoped to compete in as a 60 year old. As it turned out I managed to qualify in 2009 for USAT Nationals that were held in Tuscaloosa, AL that year. So in a sense I started this blog by participating in the 2009 Championship (in the 55-59 age group).

I had a less than stellar performance at Tuscaloosa. The swim was in a river, mostly against the current and the water was in the 80s so wetsuits weren't allowed. My heavyweight body gets a serious advantage from wetsuit buoyancy and swimming at that time was by far my weakest event. Still, I had expected to complete the swim in 35 to 37 minutes, but it took me over fifty minutes. I had a very good bike segment, averaging about 20 mph, but when I dismounted I got severe hamstring cramps in both legs. I had probably become dehydrated from all the time I spent swimming.

It took me nearly ten minutes in transition to get ready for the run and then when I reached the first mile marker the cramps returned. I tried to work them out, but every time I would start to run the cramps would return so I withdrew from the race. It was the only race I've ever withdrawn from and I regret doing it. I think if I had kept at it, the cramps would have eventually subsided. Of course the race might have been closed by the time I actually finished.

Vermont is a far different venue from Tuscaloosa. The swim will be in Lake Champlain and right now the water temperature is 72 degrees so we will be able to wear wetsuits. Today I biked about 70% percent of the bike course. It's tougher than Tuscaloosa, some serious hills at the beginning and then rolling hills. It will be a challenge for me to average 20 mph. Later today I'm going to try the run course. There's a steep hill at the beginning and then it looks fairly flat and scenic – with much of it along the lake shore.

My goal when I started the goal was to finish in the top ten for my age group. I knew that would take a time of close 2 hours 35 minutes based on previous race results. My best time (in my last race) was 2:48 – and that was a much easier course – so it is not likely that I will finish in the top ten. My primary goal right now is to actually finish this time and to run a good race. Here is my goal (I am going to try and be realistic):

DateTotalSwimT1BikeMPH T2 Run PacePlace
GOAL2:45:0032:002:301:15:0020 mph2: 3053:008:2915th

They had been predicting rain all week, but today the forecast has been upgraded and there is only 10 percent chance of rain on Saturday. I'm looking forward to a good race. Tomorrow Suzanne and I are going to tour the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. I'm looking forward to that, too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sewanee Writers’ Conference – July 26 to August 7, 2011

    A week ago I returned from the Sewanee Writers' Conference at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. I would have posted this blog earlier, but my laptop crashed while I was at the conference and I couldn't get the hard drive replaced until this week.

    I had to overcome many challenges to attend this prestigious conference.

    My first obstacle was the admissions process. Sewanee only admits about one in four applicants and the first two times I tried I wasn't one of the chosen. But I eventually wore them down and this spring my application was accepted.

    It's approximately 563 miles to the campus from my home. I started out at 5 am for the ten hour drive. At mile 16 the engine light went on in my trouble-free Chrysler 300 (the same car that overheated on my last expedition.) At mile 32, after slowing for traffic on the Skyway, the transmission refused to shift out of first gear. I got off the expressway, looked around for a garage that might be opened at 5:30 in the morning and, finding none, decided to drive home and rent a car. But when I got back on I-90 the transmission worked normally so I turned back around before the skyway bridge and headed south again.

    I made it the rest of the way without incident. I dropped my car off at the only garage in Sewanee and Harold promised he'd have it ready by the time I needed to leave.

    The conference is organized into workshop groups: four fiction workshops, two poetry and one playwriting group. There are about twelve participants in each workshop and each is led by two instructors. My fiction workshop was led by novelist John Casey, author of "Scarpina," which won the National Book Award in 1989, and novelist and short story writer,Christine Schutt. Her novel Florida was a National Book Award Finalist and her second novel, All Souls was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. As workshop leaders they made a great team.

    The workshops meet every other afternoon for about three hours. At each session three of the participants' work is discussed. It was an eye-opening experience to listen (mixed metaphor AND a cliche) to the other participants as they critiqued my work and others. Most of the folks were graduates (or attending) MFA programs and they had well-developed critical tools. I workshopped the opening of my novel and their comments have given me much to think about.  My contribution to the workshop was mostly to offer an historical perspective.

    The non-workshop portion of the conference was packed with faculty reading and craft lectures. There was something going on from about 9 am to 8 pm. Meals were provided and at dinner sometimes they served wine. Wine nights were very popular. They also had several open mics, which gave everyone an opportunity to read their own work.

    I had time to keep more or less to my triathlon workout schedule as breakfast didn't start until 8 am. The first time out on my bike I had a flat tire (it was a week for break downs) and swim workouts were a little inconvenient because the pool hours were from noon to 3 pm. But I adapted. I had a great incentive to get up early to get my run workouts in, because, despite being on the top of a mountain, it was hot and humid. On my most days it was over 90 by 10 am. And it wasn't a dry heat, either.

    The conference was definitely long enough (at least for someone who isn't use to attending classes) and by Saturday I was ready to get home. I had picked up my car from Harold on Friday and everything seemed to be fine (only cost me $587). Saturday morning I packed up and headed home – skipping the wrap up dance, which I am sure disappointed many. Five miles down the road, the engine light went on and by the time I got to Nashville the transmission problem had returned. I made it home by driving 70 mph and not stopping except for gas. It worked fine until I hit traffic in Calumet City. After that I got off the expressway and took surface streets for the last twenty miles. I took it to the dealership and they replaced a few more parts, which cost me an additional $1,800.

    I've been home for a week and so far nothing else has broken. I was impressed with the conference. It is well organized and both the instructors and participants are engaged and enthusiastic and most are extremely talented writers. It was a great experience for me. Daunting, but very much worth the effort - even with all those extra difficulties.