A Lesson in AdaptabilityJune 9, 2013 – Manitou Sprint Triathlon, White Bear Lake, MN
Day Before the Race
I have participated in the Manitou Sprint Triathlon three times before (2010, 2011, 2012), and I always really enjoyed the race. It was a fun, fast course, with great competition. However, the organizer of the race had changed from last year to this year, and so, I all I knew when I made my way to White Bear Lake was (1) the field was quite small with no female participants whose names I recognized, and (2) the weather forecast indicated a 90% chance for rain. It might sound strange but despite the fact that I participated in triathlons since 2007, I never had to deal with rain during the set up or during the bike. I had searched the web for some suggestions about setting up the transition and racing in rain, but last minute, I thought I would also asked our club members for advice, and received some good feedback from Neil King and David Bjorklund.
It is my habit to check out the course the day before the race, even if I have done the race before, looking for any changes since last year. I timed my drive to White Bear Lake, so I could stop in St. Cloud for a late lunch or early dinner, and still have some daylight to look over the course. Nothing new there, just a few more pot holes and frost cracks on the bike course. In previous year’s they already had set up the transition area the night before, but not this year. So, I could not scope out this part of the race. All that was left to do was to check into my hotel and get ready for the next day. As I was preparing my equipment for the next day, I was trying to think through different set up options depending on the weather. I was also trying to figure out which steps that I normally do in the morning could I already do right now. And so I ended up preparing my running shoes by putting plenty of “blister block” at the spots that tend to chafe as well as in the heel cup and on the tongue for easy entry. I put them with my cap and race belt in a Sterilite container, so I just could put the container in the transition area. Finally, I was mentally trying to picture myself racing under very wet conditions.
Day of the Race
I woke up sometime during the middle of the night and I could hear the rain coming down hard. Positive thinking let me hope that the rain would blow through faster than forecasted. … Well, it was still raining when it was time to leave for the race site, and it was pretty much raining throughout the whole race. Not only was it raining, but the wind had picked up with gusts up to 25 mph, and with temps in the 50s it was really uncomfortable.
As I arrived at White Bear Lake Park (or Ramsey County Beach), I saw that the transition area was moved from the parking lot where it was located in previous years to the grassy area closer to the beach. Rain and grass make for a very sloshy transition area. And to my surprise, the bike out went through the breeze way in the park pavilion. The wind was whipping off the lake; it churned up the water, and made the pavilion breeze way into a wind tunnel.
I did not really want to have my stuff exposed to the rain longer than necessary. I was not worried too much about a wet bike, but I wanted to try to keep at least my running shoes dry as long as possible. So, I got just my bike out of the car, checked the air pressure in my tires – I kept it about 10 psi below my normal pressure, hoping that the slight increase in the contact patch would give me better traction on the wet road especially in the turns – and claimed a spot in the transition area. Of course, I could not forget my German flag to indicate my spot. Once attached to the rack, it was whipping in the wind.
After getting my race number and timing chip, I bumped into Randy Fulton, the organizer. He was contemplating of changing the swim-bike-run into a run-bike-run because of the cold water temps combined with the strong wind. He said he would make the decision about ½ hour before the scheduled race start.
By now it was 7 AM, about 1h before race start, time to warm up. But how do you warm up under these conditions? I started my regular warm-up jog adding acceleration sprints, A-skips, B-skips, and high knee carioca. But it did not take long for my shoes to be water logged, and my pants to be soaked. I skipped the bike warm up. By then they had made the decision: no swim today, instead a 2-mile run, followed by the 14-mile bike, and a 3-mile run. So, no need for a swim warm-up. Luckily I had brought two pairs of racing flats and socks. I got the Sterilite container, my helmet, and my bike shoes out of my car and completed my transition area. I set the container next to my bike, clipped in my bike shoes, secured them with rubber bands, and set my helmet on my aero bars. However, to avoid the pads getting soaked with water, I had it opening down instead of up with the straps hanging down on either side of the aero bars.
The rest of the time, I spent in the women’s changing room. It was way warmer there than anywhere else. I was starting in the third and last wave (all female 30+ and all male 45+) at 8:04. Everybody seemed to be racing in jackets, long sleeve shirts, or with arm warmers. I had neither of these options. Standing at the starting line with my Headwaters Tri shorts and top, I had goose bumps all over. I was just hoping from experience that once I get going I would be fine and any additional clothing would just get wet and heavy. And in the end I was glad I made this decision, I did not feel cold while racing.
15 second to start, 10 …, 5 …, and off we went. I felt pretty good on my first run. Not even 1 mile in the run I realized that I only had 2 guys of my wave ahead of me. Before the end of the 2 mile run, I already had passed some of the athletes that had started 2 min ahead of me.
T1 shouldn’t be a problem, right? Running shoes off, helmet on, grab the bike, and out we go. Well, that’s what you would think. I came into T1, grabbed my helmet, and when I wanted to close the buckle the straps were too short, one of them had got caught in an opening at the bottom of the helmet. I struggled to free it up. As I wanted to grab the bike, I looked down and realized that I was still wearing my running shoes. Off they went, and finally I was ready to grab my bike and run out of T1. Running through the wet grass, my socks obviously were soaking wet in no time. My bike wheels slipped sideways on the wet grass. Luckily I was holding on to the bike on the handle bars and not the saddle, so I could just pull it up while running without stopping. Instead of mounting my bike while I was jogging, I decided to stop and mount from a standstill to not slip off the wet biking shoes.
I took the bike somewhat conservatively: slowing down more than usual going into turns, not leaning into the turns as much as I normally would to avoid slipping, and avoiding any major puddles. Otherwise I was trying to go as hard as I could. However, going into a head wind with gusts up to 25 mph, does not allow you to set speed records, and the rain hitting your face can really hurt. But, turn around and go with the wind and you easily hit speeds over 30 mph. It was the first time I raced with my new race wheels, and even though this was probably not the best test, so far I love them.
People were cheering when I came into T2. I assumed that I probably was the first women to come in, but I was not sure. T2 went better than T1: take off the lid of the container, shoe one on, shoe two on, grab cap, and off I went. Unfortunately, the sole in one shoe had bunched up underneath the arch, I was hoping it would straighten itself once I started running. No such luck.
So, shortly after exiting T2, I had to stop take of the shoe, straighten out the sole, and put it on again. Otherwise the run went really well. I love the Manitou run course. It goes through a really nice neighborhood with lots of trees, it is really flat and quite fast. The trees protected somewhat from the rain, but not from the wind off the lake. Shortly before the end of the run, a young woman from a relay team passed me, so I was not technically the first woman crossing the finish line, but the first woman doing the whole race. And what do you know, the race was barely over and the rain stopped, go figure.
I ended up not only winning the race but also winning a pair of running shoes. Not bad for a rainy days work. Overall, I had a lot of fun with the race, despite the not so optimal weather conditions. It was a lesson in adaptability, but, hey, triathlon is an outdoor sport and you have to roll with what nature gives you. I just wish my competition would have been stronger. And I was REALLY glad for Caribou Coffee and its fireplace to warm up after the race!