Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The American TTT - Epic Event, Epic Race Report!!

The supposed 10 hour drive from Aurora to Shawnee Park, near Portsmouth, Ohio was severely hampered by the friendly US border guards at Windsor who kept us holed up for 2 hours. This lengthy delay resulted in our 8.30pm arrival at the camp site just before dark. This is the first camp site I have ever stayed at where there is no actual designated space to pitch a tent - just a parking bay and a sheer drop of rocks, moss and roots. Too embarrassed to ask what to do we pitched the tent on a slope in between the fire pit and a picnic bench, in a wet patch next to the river just before dark. We agreed that as we were on holiday we would have a small snifter of wine before bed and promptly drained 1.5 litres before passing out on our semi inflated mattresses. Sarah Taylor was honky tonk, and kept falling off her air bed.

It was unbelievably cold and it rained all night and on and off all day Friday. We collected our race kits at lunch time in the driving rain and wind. The thought of jumping in a freezing lake at 5.00pm was highly unappealing and we felt generally quite miserable. Luckily the rain cleared away at 4.30 just as we donned our wetsuits and headed to the start line on the beach for the first race.

Fri 5.00pm; Race # 1 Super Sprint; 250 swim, 6 km bike, 1 mile run.

All the races have a time trial start with 3 people entering the water at 3 sec intervals, a nice way to start a race but a long wait for some people. Once in the water it was quite nice despite being on the chilly side. 250m is definitely short and sharp for a wetsuit swim and it was over in a flash. The last 100m of the swim must have had a mountain stream feeding into it - it was like swimming through iced water and made my teeth ache. A quick T1 and onto the bike. Downhill first and we got an insight into how cold it was going to be over the next races. I have heard of people biking in wetsuits in cold events before but never actually witnessed it. Some people here did the bike AND run in them!! There is no way on earth that that is the easier option!! After a tight turn at the bottom we climbed up and up, quads burning to the summit before dropping back down to transition. The road was too steep and too wet to go aero. Onto the run and a rapid mile 'sprint' - a real lung burner but great fun. We got really cold soon after the finish so after attacking the buffet we got our stuff together and headed for the campsite to prep for the next day.

We checked the results and Sarah was in 25th in her age group, I was 8th in mine and Genevieve finished in 1st place in hers!! A great start but a long way to go yet.
Unfortunately we were shivering by now and the showers were also freezing. Not good. The temperature was still dropping so a quick glass of wine and we wrapped up in all the warm clothes we had brought for the night. The temp dropped down to near freezing in our wet tent. Not too much sleep and when the alarm went off at 5.15am it was so hard to get up and out despite the tent feeling like a fridge. 

Sat 7.30am; Race # 2 Olympic Tri; 1500 swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run.

Setting up in transition was SO cold. Everyone was shivering even when fully clothed and the lake was steaming as the air temp was so low. We put on our clammy, still wet, wetsuits and queued up on the beach for the start. 2 laps of the extended course this time. I could feel my body temp dropping on the 2nd loop and the last section through the icy patch was so cold that it was tough in T1 to get the shoes on with no feeling in your fingers. Out on the bike and straight down the hill again and I was chilled to the bone. With only a Tri suit on, freezing from the lake and the air temp around 5 degrees it was horrific. The course has some crazy climbs on the forest roads and some very long steep descents with tight turns and loose gravel everywhere.My teeth were chattering on the descents. With your body trembling a speed wobble is a serious concern especially when you can't brake because your hands are numb! Nonetheless we all survived and made it onto the run with feet like blocks of ice. The run is unfortunately also a killer - 5 km uphill on a gravelly fire road with lungs and legs burning to the turnaround then back down again to the finish. All the time I was thinking - how on earth am I going to run up here again later in the day! Despite feeling like I was dragging my ass up the hills I managed to average 4.27/km so quite pleased. It was good to always see Genevieve and Sarah on the run for a high five.

Once we were all in, we wrapped up warm, loaded on the buffet and checked times again. Sarah had moved up to 19th in her AG, I was 10th Masters Male and Genevieve was still in 1st place! 2 races, 2 wins for Super G!

We headed to the campsite, still freezing and shivering for another cold shower and a coffee (thank god we packed the coffee machine!!) then 30 minutes in bed before the alarm went off. Time to go again!!

Sat 3.00pm; Race # 3 Olympic Tri; 40 km bike, 1500 swim, 10 km run. 

Fortunately the sun was now out and it was up to a balmy 10 degrees. This was going to be a weird race with the bike first then the swim and run. I had planned to man up and go non wetsuit for this one but the race announcer said don't even think about it - the chance of cramp in the cold water after biking was high and you don't want cramp in a lake with no wetsuit on.

The bike was a Time trial start and Genevieve and I started together. I was surprised that my legs felt good and unlike the mornings route that was just climbing or descending, this one had a longer flat sections along the ridge for a good section of time trialling. I caught a lot of people on these flat sections and on all the climbs as did Genevieve the mountain goat. There were a lot of crazies flying down the descents  - way too fast for my liking. We inevitably all saw some of these people lying face down in the road at the bottom. A serious reminder of how dangerous the roads were. Like the morning this was a tough course with over 1200 ft of climbing over 42km but I managed to average over 30km/hr. What a difference being slightly warmer makes!

Into T1 and I managed to slip into the wetsuit pretty quickly. Diving into the water I expected warmth but it was freeeeezing! The same 2 lap course as the morning and really cold all the way. If you tried to kick even slightly you could feel you feet and quads trying to cramp so it was just drag the legs (thank god for the wetsuit) and avoid kicking around the turn buoys. With frozen hands and feet it was out onto the run again and that long wretched climb up the hill. Again I was surprised how good my legs felt and I managed to hold a similar pace to the morning.
Scores on the doors after race 3; Sarah 18th, me back up to 8th and Genevieve was 1st again!!

Same procedure post race - warm clothes, buffet and back to the campsite for a luke warm shower this time, beer and bed. Another VERY cold night with sporadic sleep, not the best recovery or prep for a half ironman!

The alarm went off at 5.15am for another painful exit of the tent. It was dark and we had tried leaving the wetsuits out to dry. On hindsight this was not a good idea! They were soaking wet and almost frozen so we had to put them in the car with the heaters on full to try and dry them a little. We sat in the car and ate breakfast and coffee feeling sorry for ourselves.

Sun 7.00am; Race # 4 70.3 Tri; 1900 swim, 90 km bike, 21.1 km run.

This was it - the big one! This 70.3 would be a tough one, even without the previous 2 days racing in our legs. We stood on the start line shivering and waiting. People were saying if this was not an independent event it would have been cancelled as the air temp was too cold. We entered the water, swimming out towards the rising sun and it was so cold my goggles fogged up again and again. After 4 rinses they stayed clear and I picked up the pace. Pretty uneventful otherwise for me once my arms woke up, Genevieve got punched in the eye, drank half the lake as a result and had to lie on her back to get over it. Sarah had a great swim, her best ever! The icy patch before the exit made my hands cramp, making T1 a bit tricky like trying to get dressed with your fists. To try and stay warm on the bike and speed up T1, I had swum with a baselayer and arm warmers on and added another top in transition. Bad idea - I got on the bike and felt like I was wearing an ice jacket. At the bottom of the 1st descent people were bailing out and turning back. We heard of cases of hyperthermia. We saw more people crashed out on the road and someone apparently got hit by a car. I eventually warmed up after 90 mins and started to feel surprisingly good. The km's rattled by and with the final last loooong climb that looked like a wall out of the way it was a fast long downhill to T2.
The uphill section of Lap 1 of the run was dire as my hamstrings started to complain but the legs felt ok going down. The 2nd loop was a bit of a blur but knowing it was the last one helped, just had to dig deep for a little bit longer. For the 1st time all weekend I was overtaken on the run by 2 guys which pissed me off but I couldn't do anything about it! G and Sarah both looked strong to the end.

We refuelled big style at the buffet and left as I felt the on set of a body melt down. After a HOT shower (finally) we headed to the prize giving banquet (pizza). Still unsure of the final rankings it was great to see that Genevieve had won every single race and was the Womens Masters Champion. KABOOM!! I finished 7th Male Master and Sarah was 13th Female Senior. Given that there was no Pro division and all the pros and elites were mixed in with the regular field we should all be pretty happy with these results. When G missed out on Ironman Mont Tremblant last year after her bike crash we always had an uneven number of big medals hanging up. Now she has won a coveted ATT Belt Buckle we are all even again!!

The American Triple T is a very special and unique event - certainly not for everyone but if you are an endurance junky or used to the volume of training for Ironman and you want an inexpensive, super tough training/racing weekend then I would highly recommend it. The organisation is incredible, the venue beautiful and race courses are 'challenging' (understatement). We liked the friendly relaxed approach of the organisers - each race started more when everyone was ready rather than at the advertised time! The post race food is basic but plentiful. We were unlucky enough to take part in the coldest and toughest conditions that the event has seen in its 12 year history but that just makes you feel all the more tough!! 

We may be back!!


spindizzy said...

Unbelievable! Congratulations to the 3 of you - you are all so incredibly badass for doing that race (races?) in those conditions AND camping and putting on a cold wet, wetsuit. 3 times.

Border guards...ugh!


Keith's Blog said...

Wow! Great job Athelites! I didn't even know triple triathlons existed and you guys did awesome!