Life Time Tri (not the channel), directions, and the aftermath

For our triathlon finale, we decided to compete in the Life Time Triathlon up in Oceanside, CA, sprint distance, of course. Aside from the sprint distance, they had an Intermediate/International/Olympic/longerthansprintbutnotaslongasironman distance that was highlighted by the finale of the Life Time series championships. After having done 2 triathlons in the span of a month, I was a bit on the fence, but decided to do it after seeing a number of our Team Challenge teammates were participating. Yeller originally planned to show up and cheer us on since she wanted to focus on her cycling and swimming skills, but after some “arm twisting,” she caved and signed up. And by arm twisting, I mean “I did nothing and she eventually decided to sign up on her own.” 🙂

After we finished with the football tournament the day before, we hustled home to take care of the dogs and then hit the road up to Oceanside to register and pick up our swag. Speaking of, the swag was pretty great. We got: an awesome backpack with a drawstring bag inside it, another drawstring backpack kinda thing, a lifetime visor, coupons, some snacks, deodorant, and, of course, a sweet tech-tee. They also gave us a couple bags so they could handle trucking our stuff to the finish after the start, which turned out to be pretty awesome (more on this later). After grabbing our things, we sat down to listen to the course rundown so we were clear on where we were going and so we wouldn’t get lost. While the meeting was getting started, we noticed two of our teammates walking by, so they stopped to say hi and listen to the course rundown as well. This is the part of the story where, if it were a TV show, there would be some ominous music or a sound effect or something to signify some level of importance.

After the rundown of the course, we strolled around the expo and, of course, ran into one of Yeller’s friends managing the Tri Club San Diego booth… who twisted our arms (and by twisted, I mean offered us beer glasses) and got us to sign up. It seemed like she was doing a bit of arm twisting because we noticed the name of a teammate on the signup sheet. Yes, we’re addicted.

One of the new things to us was the fact the transition areas were split in two. Instead of the swim to bike and bike to run transition being in one spot, the swim to bike (T1) was by the start and the bike to run (T2) was about a mile away near the finish. This is where the bags came in handy: before we started our swim, we could put stuff we hung onto (sweaters for example) into one of the bags and drop it in a box. After we got out of the water, we put all our stuff in another bag and they’d truck everything to the finish so we didn’t have to go all over to pick up our items. After the meeting, we dropped our running stuff at T2 and drove to T1 just so we could scout the area. Unfortunately, we hadn’t brought our bikes, which meant the next morning we would need to ride them to T1 to rack them and get ready for the start. But after a quick walk around the area we were pretty comfortable with how everything would go down.

Pre-tri, aside from us being a little sore, it seemed like this was shaping up to be a pretty good event. Of course things aren’t always how they seem…

On race day we were once again up before the roosters to pack up the Jooberry (my ’13 WRX’s nickname), walk the dogs (who aren’t morning dogs), and hit the road. Thankfully there were parking lots set aside for the athletes so parking wasn’t an insane madhouse. We typically arrive early enough to find parking without too much of an issue, but knowing we’d have a spot was nice. We grabbed our bags, put the lights and stuff on our bikes, and hit the road to get to the start.

Unfortunately for Yeller, her race day got off to a rough start. As we were leaving T2 to head to the start, there was a sea of barriers marking out the course which made navigating to the street a little confusing. We ended up having to go around a really sharp, tight U-turn to stay on road. As I’m making my way through, I hear a crash followed by a stream of cursing from behind me. I turn around to see Yeller did the whole “foot clipped in, topple over” thing most cyclists deal with at least once. Unfortunately, she released her right foot but her weight shifted left, so over she went. *Queue ominous music*

Bruised, but not broken, we pressed on to the start. We arrived to a fairly busy start area, parked our bikes at transition and got our respective areas ready before wandering off to find our teammates and kill some time before the start. The “T2” bags we had gotten came in super handy because we could keep sweatshirts and jackets on before we got into the water. It was a pretty cold morning, and as we soon discovered, the water was warmer than the air!

The Swim…

Considering this event was a high profile championship event, the first few waves were the pros who were jockeying for their share of the prize money. It was interesting how they handled the fact the championship wasn’t split by gender. They figured out a handicap based on some magical formula concocted by the triathlon wizards, and held the men back a set amount of time before they hit the water. Once they were all clear and on course, they started sending the waves of Intermediate athletes before pausing for a little to send the sprinters. Yeller and I were last in the water because we decided to go in the newbie wave since we both aren’t super comfortable with the whole thing yet. This turned out to not be a good thing for Yeller.

To start, we walked into the harbor using a boat ramp and swam out to the first buoy. From there, we floated (and some probably peed), for a few minutes waiting for the start horn. I’m not a strong swimmer, at all. I can swim, but I seriously need to work on it, so I tried to stay out of the way of people so I didn’t get swam over while in the water. Yeller ended up right behind me on the start, so I got to say bye right before the horn sounded.

Once we got underway, things seemed to go well. I tried to pace myself so I didn’t hit a wall quickly, but I might have pushed a little too hard early because it got VERY hard to move my arms toward the end of the loop (which was only 400m BTW… again, not a strong swimmer, and it didn’t help that I didn’t get a chance to get in the water much before the event). The arm fatigue got into my head more than I’d like so I started to panic a little. More a feeling of desperation to get to the finish than a “I can’t go on!” kinda thing though. I ended up switching from breathing every 3rd stroke (I’ll wait while the immature folks stop giggling), to breathing every 2nd so I could use a bit more of my body leverage to get my arm moving, which is not really a good thing, but it got me to the finish and up out of the water. The positive thinking coaching we received during the season came in really handy here. 🙂

Unfortunately for Yeller, her swim experience was worse. She ended up getting stuck behind a few people who were more inclined to bob in the water than swim. She’s also not a strong swimmer either, so the constant stopping and getting stuck behind people really messed with her mentally and put a negative spin on the rest of the race. She’s also determined to improve her swimming, so hopefully next time she’ll be able to get in front of the bobbers and not worry about people messing up her swim (more than they normally do).

The Bike

One reason I really want to work on my swim, aside from the obvious, is so I’m not so spent when I get on the bike, which is my strongest discipline. When I got out of the water and stood up, I was so burnt out it was hard for me to think clearly and get my wetsuit undone. I took a second to take a few deep breaths, and then decided to relax and not waste energy trying to quickly get to my bike. Sometimes a slow and comfortable pace is better than rushing and burning energy you need for the ride.

After I got my bearings, I slow jogged to my bike, got my suit, goggles, and cap off and into the T1 bag, put on my shoes and helmet, and kind of power walked my bike toward the mount line. Another guy just in front of me was running to get on the bike and hopped on as soon as he got past the “bike out” arch well before the mount line, which is a big no-no. I, and a few other athletes, tried to warn him, but he wasn’t listening, so the volunteers had to yell at him to get off his bike until the mount line (they were nice about it), which he eventually did… begrudgingly. I could see the irritation with having to follow the rules in his body language as he dismounted and ran toward the mount line, which I thought was a little odd. When he finally got to the mount line, he decided to try a flying mount for some reason… and failed spectacularly. He ended up missing the seat and sliding off the back of the bike while it dragged him along and crashed into the fence around the T1 area. I laughed to myself at the spectacle, thinking it was karma for being a jerk, hopped on my bike, and off I went.

As I settled into the course, I could feel my legs’ displeasure from the day before. Couldn’t really sustain a good power level and ran out of gas pretty quickly up hills, but I still managed to put down a decent time (fastest off the bike in the wave, doesn’t say a whole lot, but still). The course was not bad, not my favorite, but not bad. After snaking through town a little, including climbing up a steep little hill, we hopped on the 78 for a 2 loop out and back. Going out the wind was in your face and there was a bit of a gradual incline the whole way, not fun when your legs are cursing your existence. To top it off, the road was narrowish with rumble strips to the left, so when people inevitably thought they were riding their bikes in the UK, it made it tricky to get by. Also made it difficult when a rider screamed “ON YOUR LEFT” like he was running from zombies as I was passing someone.

The route back west on the 78 was a bit (ok, a lot) faster. With the wind at my back, and a slight downhill on portions of it, I was able to sustain close to 30mph on my tired legs, which was fun. 🙂 After blasting down the 78, I had to slow down pretty quickly to make the U-turn to do the loop again (*queue ominous music*), which meant going back into the wind and up the incline, not fun. I finished the loop, snaked my way through town, and found my way to T2. The ground was marked pretty well, which made finding my way pretty straight forward.

I saw Yeller a few times while doing the loops and shouted a little encouragement her way. She’s still a beginner on the bike so she rides with a bit of tunnel vision and didn’t seem to see me until I yelled her name. Still, she made solid time despite being on a hybrid and not being strong on the bike. We’re looking to upgrade her soon, which should help since she’s already a pretty strong runner.

The Run

Keeping with my “slow is faster” theme, I powerwalked my bike to my transition area, racked it, changed my shoes, grabbed my race belt, and off I went. Considering I predominantly forefoot strike when I run, I immediately felt my calves begin to tighten, so I had to adjust my form a little until my legs warmed up and switched over into running mode. Once the cramping subsided I was able to settle into my pace, which is about 9 minutes a mile. Not particularly fast, but a good comfortable pace I could maintain without hitting a wall, and without my sore legs just dropping me on my face.

The course was a little odd, had a number of really steep declines, and a run up a rather steep ramp by the Oceanside pier. Yeller and I live in an area where, no matter where we go, we’ll either run up or down a hill, so the hills weren’t too daunting, but I did see a lot of people stop to walk up them. There were a few parts where it was nice running by the ocean, but all in all, I wasn’t a huge fan of the course. I did see a few of my teammates on the run, both running and spectating, so we shouted encouragement and high fived each other as we passed. I also saw a group of my teammates who started in an earlier wave on the side of the course with some spectating friends, which I thought was a little surprising since they looked like they had finished a while before I ran past… and I was only around half way through the run! (*more ominous music*)

The Finish

The run was rather uneventful, just found my stride and cruised along. Still, I was relieved to see the finish line and it was nice hearing the announcer give a shout out to Team Challenge since I was wearing my TC kit. Once I crossed, I was handed a clean dry towel and a nice cold towel which I immediately draped over my head. After procuring my medal, letting a volunteer remove my chip, and finding a bottle of water and a quick bite to eat, I parked at the finish to wait for Yeller to cross.

After a few minutes, I saw her off in the distance, smiling as usual, and greeted her when she crossed the line. We immediately got in the food line (overcooked tacos, but it was food), and after our bellies had something in them, we started looking for our teammates. We did spot a sign pointing us to the medical and free “message” area, which we decided to take advantage of after we met up with our teammates. The “message” was nice, my legs really appreciated the treatment.

As we talked to our teammates who finished ahead of us, we were told about a rather troubling issue that a large number of the sprinters had to deal with while on the bike course…

The Aftermath

So this has been a very long post, it was a long day, but here’s the part where it gets particularly interesting…

While I was on the bike course, I noticed a volunteer standing by the U-Turn for the second loop on the 78. I didn’t really pay much attention to him since I knew the course, so I made the turn around and began my second loop and didn’t give it a second thought. It turns out that for the first quarter or so of the riders, the volunteer was incorrectly telling them that sprinters only did 1 loop on the 78. He was also very forceful in his direction giving, actually arguing with a number of riders, including our teammates, about which way they were supposed to go, despite them knowing the correct route. One teammate was so frustrated she turned in her chip and ended up telling the race officials at the finish about the issue so they could radio out and correct it. When she tried to explain what happened to the race organizer (who seemed a bit confrontational when she spoke to him, likely because he had argued with someone else) she was given an extremely bizarre analogy, which I unfortunately can’t remember right now.

When all was said and done, out of 251 athletes who did the sprint course, 40 were DQ’d because they didn’t do 2 laps of the 78. After seeing this I decided to shoot a simple email to Life Time to see how they planned to handle the issue. This is the response I got (copy and pasted, typos and all):

Thank you for reaching out an racing out to us.

There was an emergency and we had to move a different volunteer group from a different area over to that area in a quickly  that wasn’t as familiar with that area. Our bike course address that issues with that volunteer area when we had reports from athletes.

Oceanside Tri was a USAT sanctioned race – all athletes were required to know the course and attend the athlete meeting  which went in detail over the course and the two loops.  We had a very good and clear marked course.

If any of you friends have more questions they can reach out to us.

Few things:

  • 40 out of 251 is no small number.
  • Emergency or not, the race officials should make sure volunteers know what’s going on so they don’t mislead athletes.
  • One of the athletes who was DQ’d was our teammate who we saw at check in, and who stuck around for the course rundown.
  • When you’re on course, even if you know the course, you expect volunteers to not lead you astray. What if something happened and the organizers had to clear the 78 early so the course was modified? The racers don’t know, they just know someone whom they trust to not lead them astray is telling them to do 1 loop.
  • In fairness to the volunteer, the course was changed a few weeks before the start. It used to be 1 loop for sprinters, 2 for International, so it’s likely they didn’t know about the change. Again, this is a situation where the race officials should properly instruct volunteers on course.

I sent back a more long winded response basically laying out the above comments, to which I received no reply. Another teammate contacted them as well, and after some time, Life Time eventually offered an olive branch in the form of 50% off any Life Time event for the team. It doesn’t make up for a horrible experience for a number of athletes, but it’s better than nothing. We just hope they extended the same offer to EVERYONE who was DQ’d.

It’s unfortunate that after the positive experience Yeller and I had as volunteers, we run into such a negative. Volunteers are greatly appreciated for the time they donate to helping make events safe and fun, and most of the volunteers, especially those on the run, were cheerful and helpful, so it’s a shame that one volunteer had to tarnish what was otherwise a well put on event.

The End

All in All I had an OK race. My poor swim ability hurt me, and so did the 3 hours of football the day before, but I mostly enjoyed the experience. Yeller, on the other hand, hated it. The bobbers she encountered on the swim frustrated her and put her in a negative mindset that was hard to recover from. She did decide that instead of just being angry, she’d smile and thank every volunteer she saw, which helped her finish.

At this point I’m not sure I want to compete in the event next year. I’d like to tackle the course with more experience under my belt, and hopefully better swim/run technique and more overall speed, but after the response to the issue with the volunteer misleading people, I’m not so sure. I certainly have some time to think about it, so we’ll see…

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