It’s been a good minute since I’ve written anything on my personal site. While fundraising was going on, I decided to focus my efforts on updating my fundraising page, as well as fundraising in general, so this site had to take a back seat. Of course TriRock is in full swing, so while I sat down and typed this up, I never had a chance to edit it (and have Tam do the final edit, Thanks Tam!) and post it. Well, I’m doing that now… better late than never right? Oh, and yea, this will probably be long, but hopefully it’ll be entertaining. 🙂
Bass Lake is a lovely little place right on the doorstep of Yosemite, (fun fact: The Great Outdoors, which forever warped my view of hot dogs, was filmed there!), and I was really looking forward to the race. I mean for one, it’s absolutely gorgeous up there. If you’ve never been to Yosemite, you have to go… even if you hate camping and nature and all that stuff. But please, leave your tiny little dog in its tiny little jacket at home, lest you want to go trolling for large predators. Also, I was really looking forward to doing another race with Tam and our Team Challenge peeps, they’re always a good time out on the course and post-race. However, there was one teensy tiny little part of the race I was dreading… the swim.
Listed at 1500m, I say listed because that would turn out to be a huge lie, it was easily the longest distance I’ve ever traveled in water while not in a boat. Oh, and I sucked at swimming. My legs, these long stilts I have, tend to be attracted more to the bottom of the pool than the top, which of course means draaaaaag. Because my legs are acting like boat anchors, I end up expending a bunch of energy trying to counteract the drag they cause instead of actually propelling myself forward, which obviously translates to me being slow. But whatever, I would have on a wetsuit, so while I was really nervous about the swim, I was fairly confident I would at least finish it. Well… confident is maybe overstating it a little, a more accurate statement would be: I was able to suppress the micro-panic attacks I would have every time the words “swim” were uttered and not turn around and run away. Besides, I’m pretty swift on two wheels, and I was confident about my run… well… until stuff happened.
During a Tuesday swim practice a week before the race, I did what I usually do: cramp up. This time, it was a serious knot in my left calf, bad enough for it to stay tight for a few days afterwards. So when Thursday rolled around things were still a little tight, but it wouldn’t be the first time I ran on a tight calf, so despite Tam suggesting I stay home and nap, since I mentioned I was sleepy, I went out for a run… which would turn out to be a stupid decision. After the first few steps, I felt some discomfort in my ankle, but considering I was all about stupid decisions during this particular workout, I pushed on. Eventually it got to the point where I had to stop and walk, and, immediately, the run started creeping up my “oh crap oh crap oh crap” list. So we went to Urgent Care the next day to get it checked out. While we were there, I almost gave the tech who checked me in a heart attack (because my resting heartrate is around 49), they shot my ankle with their fancy radiation gun, checked flexibility and stability, and then laid it on me: Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis. The Posterior Tibialis is the muscle responsible for plantar flexion, which is the pointing of your toes, so apparently the muscle being a tight knot of rage and venom caused some serious irritation to the tendon and it decided to give me a big “FU” on the run and inflame. Great…
[Some cliché about pushing through adversity], I refused to let something like injury stop me. But I was totally down with letting it slow me down a bit, or a lot, so I hopped on the R.I.C.E train (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), kept it wrapped and KT taped, and scaled my expectations down accordingly… from finishing, to finishing more slowly. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to actually run, but I was still determined to finish the race!
Anyway, race day eventually rolled around. Race day usually starts out with Race “OMGWHATTHEHELLISTH oh, it’s my alarm, ugh, the sun isn’t even out yet!” So that happened… seriously, athletes have to have good cardio or we’d be dropping like flies when our alarms go off in the morning. After we figured out what planet we were on, we got ready to hit transition and finish setting up. Thankfully we were able to rack our bikes the day before, which meant we didn’t have to drive with them on the roof of my car… which meant I could enjoy the super twisty drive. 😀 It also meant getting our space set up was going to be pretty easy, so we arranged our stuff on our fancy orange transition mats, squeezed into our wetsuits, posed for pictures, chit chatted a bit, and then meandered the 6 miles down to the swim entry. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but the walk was pretty long! You walk around the registration office, down a hill, through the pool area, down some stairs, and then out past the beach. Good little warmup though… Tam and I stashed our feet coverings by the stairs onto the beach (her flip flops, and my dollar store socks she got all of her mentees), and then went over to the start to take a group picture, check the water temp (which was quite nice actually), and hang out with our teammates.
Not ones to follow trends or any of that nonsense, Bass Lake sends the Sprint waves off first. Ok, so they do this because the sprinters do an out and back on the bike course and they can’t close the roads, but still, it’s weird. Eventually the time came for them to begin sending racers, so we hung out and cheered on all our people as they got going in the water. After the sprinters were all splish splashing, there was a 15 minute break and then the Olympic waves started. Since Bass Lake is a pretty small race – there were less than 200 Olympic distance racers – there were only a few waves. Lucky me, I was in the Men under 40 wave, which has some of the fastest participants, so we were off first.
Once they called us into the water, I checked my swim cap, made sure my goggles were tight, checked to make sure my watch was all set, and then waded in. I made my way to a nice open area, and then peed. Hey, when you gotta go! It’s not like all the other wildlife isn’t peeing and pooping in there anyway… so yea, just think about that next time you go sprinting from a Baby Ruth in your local pool. Anyway, after my bladder was sufficiently empty, I mentally prepared myself for what was to come: “Man, I really hope I don’t have to pee the entire race like at the Napa to Sonoma half marathon. That would be annoying… Wonder if I could pee on my bike?”
Eventually I could hear the voice from Pole Position, and then something that sounded like “Go!”, and all of a sudden, everyone around me was diving into the water. I followed suit, but tried to stay away from large groups so I didn’t get trampled while jockeying a little for position. Once I got my lane, I settled into my turtle-like pace… which probably isn’t fair to turtles. I was using a full sleeve suit for the second time, so I wasn’t sure how my arms would handle the increased resistance. So I set my goals accordingly: go at your own pace, save some energy for the bike, enjoy it. I eventually passed a swimmer, which I briefly celebrated, but then I got passed by people wearing different colored caps. And then passed by people with another colored cap. And then more caps… and I hadn’t even hit the first buoy! I resisted the urge to speed up to chase them, and also when I saw the sea grass, and, instead, stuck to my slow, comfortable pace.
Sighting was a breeze, and I swam in a much straighter line than I expected. Only issue was when you turned at the final buoy and swam toward the shore. Not only was it hard to sight because of the sun and all the people and stuff on the shore, I was suddenly surrounded by around 100 people. I just kinda guessed, didn’t want to swim into the boats, didn’t want to swim into the open beach, so I aimed just to my right of the boats since I knew where the landmark was, and hoped for the best. The swim was actually 2 laps, so we had to get out of the water after the first lap, run around the sand a little, and then get back in the water and swim the loop again. Kinda like an ITU race, only a whole heck of a lot slower. I was actually looking forward to the short break to give my arms a rest, but I was concerned the break would mess up my flow. I knew ahead of time I was going to walk on the sand (I wasn’t going to risk any ankle damage), but that didn’t stop Coach Linda from yelling at me before I made it back to the water!
The second lap was more of the same, more caps passing me (“am I getting lapped? Probably…”), but then, as I was on the back straight, I had to pee… I figured what the heck, I had already peed in the wetsuit, and I’d only worn it for a total of what, an hour and a half, so stopped kicking and just let it flow. And it was glorious. Emboldened by the surrounding water, my body flushed itself for what felt like minutes, relief replacing fatigue in my mind. Which was quickly replaced by horror when I heard “You got this Joel!” come from right behind me. Yup… totally peed in a teammate’s face. She was a little bit off to the side of me, so I don’t think she was directly in my pee-wake, but still. But I didn’t have to pee anymore, so that was excellent.
I finished up the swim, still concerned about urinating in a teammate’s grill, and discovered that Tam had caught up to me. So we both put on our socks/flip flops, and began the long walk to Transition… no way I was running to Transition either! Since the theme of the day was to just take my time, after I did the usual “drunken wetsuit” dance, I spent some time rinsing my feet off, telling my teammate I peed in their face, and chit chatting with Tam. Once I was all set, I gave her a kiss, walked my bike to the mount point and I was off.
Total time in the water: 55:20, good for not quite dead last, but faster than the people who doggie paddled the whole way (160 out of 181). The final distance according to my watch was north of 1800m, just a little over the 1500m they told us.
So the bike course… You know in some TV shows where they blatantly foreshadow something? Like, they’ll show some random character say something like, “I sure enjoy walking down dark alleys,” with ominous music in the background, and then sure enough, they’re the next victim of the serial killer the good guys are tracking on the show. Yea, so the Bass Lake bike course is kinda like that. You get on your bike, you ride, oh, 10 feet, you turn right, and you CLIMB a nice steep little hill. It wasn’t very long, but it was a nice little slap in the face as you got situated in the saddle. I had loaded my top tube snack bag with Skratch Fruit Bites (which are yummy), so I used the climb to shovel a few into my face to get a few calories in my body. Oh, and more foreshadowing: I passed more than a few people going up the hill.
My plan was to play it a bit conservatively. Bass Lake is at around 3000-3500 feet, so I wasn’t sure how it would effect me or my endurance, and I didn’t want to blow up before the run. But I had a full bottle of Skratch drink mix, a bunch of Skratch bites, and my legs were feeling pretty good, so I was confident. Either way, I definitely did what I should’ve done on that fateful run: played it safe. Maybe too safe (ominous music)…
After that initial little kicker, you swing a right and then head down one of the main drags past Bass Lake. “Undulating” is fun word… but if undulating means going up and down in a wave-like motion, the waves were ocean waves during a Cat 5 hurricane. You go down really fast, then you go UP really slowly… rinse, drink, repeat. It’s like being on a wooden rollercoaster, but I love rollercoasters, so I was actually having a good time. It helped that off to the left there were some simply breathtaking views of the valley and mountains around us. Come to think of it, it’s a good thing I didn’t crash! I also continued to pass people like they were standing still… if this were Ragnar, I probably had a few dozen “kills” on the first road alone. Some of those people were teammates, so I won’t count them as kills… they merely sacrificed themselves for the betterment of my performance. They shall be remembered and honored as heroes.
I was feeling better after my slow swim though.
After a few miles you hit a nice long, straight descent. And as soon as you hit about, oh, Warp 7, you have to grab fistfuls of brake, and make a very sharp right into a little town called North Fork. Thankfully there are volunteers there, but if you weren’t expecting the turn, it could be bad. North Fork gives you a nice little respite before the Bass Lake Bike Course really bears its claws. A right hand turn off the main road, a friendly wave and thank you to the volunteers offering water, and the road goes from undulating to basically straight up. I was anticipating this section, but that basically meant I knew it was going to suck… hard. I passed a teammate who put it nicely: “embrace the grind!” So, I did. Up onto the basebars, into an easy gear, and I began to spin my way up the hill.
When I was younger, I used to hate that I was skinny. It was nice that I could eat like a horse and not gain weight, but it was annoying being so thin. That is until I started cycling regularly up and down hills. My svelte physique means I can scurry up hills pretty quickly, which I’m sure drove some of the people I passed crazy. But I felt their pain, sort of, so I made sure to give them a few words of encouragement, and ample warning that I was about to pass them. Although judging by the labored grunts I heard from a few people, I’m not sure they were in any mood to engage in conversation. I also gave some friendly shout outs to the volunteers on the course; it’s always nice to see some friendly faces when you’re suffering up a hill, plus keeping a positive attitude helps improve the race experience overall. 🙂
After more climbing, and a particularly deceiving sharp downhill, into a left and up a steep incline, I found myself on the twisty back roads of the lake. This is where things got really entertaining. The roads were rather narrow, and very tight and twisty, which meant good times for me on my bike. Throw in the camber in the turns, and you could dive into corners with some serious speed. If we go back to the rollercoaster analogy, this part was more modern metal coaster, with lots of small climbs and descents (I think my bike computer said 0% grade for a grand total of 30 seconds on the entire course), and tight turns. I was grinning ear to ear by this point, hooting and hollering the whole way. I even yelled “THIS IS AWESOME!” through one particularly aggressive turn, not sure if anyone heard me though. This road snakes up past the lake, so when I wasn’t dive bombing my way through sharp bends, there were some pretty great views to take in. This single section made me forget the long uphill slog I had just endured pretty quickly.
Eventually the fun ended and I made the final right back onto the main road where we started, and back into the undulations. After flying down the “intro” hill, it was time for T2! I walked over to my station and got my bike all racked, changed my shoes, grabbed my visor, and hit the road… for a few steps at least.
Total time on the bike: 1:24:19 Good for 28th overall. In retrospect I could’ve gone harder on the bike and shaved even more time, especially on some of the “flat” and downhill sections.
Update 3/14/2016: So I stumbled on this cool little tool to export a zoomable map of the course, as well as an elevation chart. Figured it could be handy. 🙂
Here’s how my run started:
- I’m feeling pretty good!
- Ok, maybe my ankle is feeling a little sore.
- Ok, my ankle is sore, I may be able to run through it.
- Ok, I can’t run through it, time to walk!
This all happened within the span of a few minutes, so I knew I wasn’t going to set the course on fire. Sticking with the theme of the day, the course was anything but flat, but I quickly figured out which parts hurt the most (going downhill), and primarily walked those, while jogging the parts that didn’t bother me (going uphill). There was zero chance of me setting any kind of good pace, so I went from racing mode, to “hanging out and having a good time” mode. I thought about asking some of the spectators for a beer.
I did manage to learn something rather profound on the run. So, and this is some life changing stuff, my ‘fro doubles as a head cooling sponge when water is applied! It was quite hot and sunny out, so at the water stations, I’d take one cup to drink, one cup to dump on my head, and my frosponge would retain the water and keep me cool until the next station. This revelation was up there with peeing in my wetsuit… it was amazing stuff. This is gonna come in very handy when we do Silverman later this year in “Surface of the sun” Henderson, NV.
Also, while I’m certainly grateful for the medical staff at the races, the EMTs they had at this particular event weren’t exactly the most knowledgeable folks about sports injuries. After the first lap, I realized I should probably have my ankle wrapped just to be safe, so I asked them if they could help me out. They were helpful, but obviously they haven’t had to do much ankle wrapping before, so it took me a bit to explain what I needed. Oh… and I got heckled some more by Coach Linda and some teammates! In their defense, they didn’t know I was stopping to get my ankle wrapped, just that I was sitting on a bench drinking a cup of water.
The run itself was a mix of walking with teammates and cheering some on… including a very confused Charlie who wondered how I went from in front of him to behind him (he didn’t see me stop to get wrapped.) I got a pretty good chuckle out of the mixture of exhaustion and confusion on his face when he saw me. Another nice shot in the arm was when I finally saw Tam on course. I was keeping an eye out for her as I was trotting along, eager to see her smiling face, so it was nice when it finally happened. We went in for a high five, and of course completely blew it, but we redeemed ourselves later on course. Another course highlight was Coach Skip’s Sardine Station! I know of at least one runner who was glad to see a guy with a bunch of tins of sardines on the side of the course! Oh, and thankfully there was a bathroom off to the side of the course, because I had to stop and pee at one point.
Eventually, I came to a point where the experience was coming to a close. I could see teammates who finished before me cheering, I knew the finish line was around the corner, oh… and there was another stupid hill to go up. I told myself that I was going to run through the finish line come hell or high water, so I set a landmark for myself and prepared to run… and then Sally ran up to me! She offered to help run me in, so I mentioned the landmark, we passed it, and off we went. She peeled off a bit before the finish line, but I kept at a nice slow jog while doing my best to avoid hurting myself further.
Finally I heard the announcer: “Team Challenge! Racer number 38!” Except that wasn’t me, although I would’ve happily taken #38’s time (Scott, who came in 4th overall)… so I flashed a “6” with my hands at him until he figured it out. I grabbed me medal, some water, and went straight to the “BBQ” tent… which was a damn lie. “BBQ” was some hamburgers and hotdogs… AND THEY RAN OUT OF WATERMELON! Ugh! But I was hungry, so I shoved it down my gullet, grabbed an ice pack from the EMTs, and went to join my TC teammates to cheer, sulk a little bit about my ankle, and see the last runner in.
Total time on my feet: 1:19:31, or 153rd overall. If my ankle was better, a sub-hour time would’ve been pretty easy as my legs were pretty fresh, but it wasn’t meant to be.
All said, it took me 3:45:04 to finish, including the times I spent lollygagging in transition. Overall, I was pleased with my effort all things considered… plus hey, I set the bar pretty low for next year! Besides, at the end of the day you should be able to enjoy yourself, and I had an absolute blast.
Oh, and we spent the next day seeing some of the sights in Yosemite, which is just an awesome, awesome place. See?!