Friday, July 9, 2010

41.5 Hours and Counting... Not that I'm Counting Or Anything...

Yep...   just 41.5 hours and counting and pretty much no real workouts left to go before race day.  Only thing left is a quickie swim tomorrow after packet pickup just to gauge the current, water temperature etc. and then that's it.

But today however was chock full of fun stuff!  So there's lots to tell.

Last night I very wisely rushed to pack up all my gear and headed up to Lowell to spend the night in a hotel.  Which if I had to pay for it I would not have done, but thanks to having 8 gazillion reward points it was free.  And thanks to my Silver Elite status I was upgraded to a suite too which was nice.  So I had a whole other room just for my bike.

And even better than that was a fridge and kitchenette to keep all my water bottles cold.

So I was quite comfortable for the 8 hours I was actually in the room.  Most of which was spent sleeping.  But it did make a nice bike garage, and was only a five minute drive from the lake where the open water swim clinic I attended was held.  Thank goodness I got a hotel room.  I had to be at the clinic by 5:40 to check in and get my fluorescent pink MPS swim cap which was nice to get as I'm having a devil of a time finding caps in bright colors.  Why would you ever want a black one which seems to be all they sell in the stores?  Its like painting a target for boats on your head.  Anyway....  thank goodness I got the hotel as had I stayed at home I would have had to be on the road by 4:15am in order to have made it in time.  Ugh.

So...   got to the class and saw lots of people nervously milling about.  So I checked in and then proceeded to nervously mill about.  I'm not good at starting conversations with people I don't know.  I do quite well if they start them, but since no one was starting conversations we just all waddled about and shuffled our feet in our wetsuits.  We looked like a bunch of penguins shuffling about I'm sure.  In all I'd say there were about 50 people there which was great to see such a nice turnout.

First order of business in the clinic was to do two laps of the enclosed swim area following the ropes around.  The purpose of this was to act as a much needed warm up (at 6am I'm not exactly loose!) and also so the coaches could gauge the swimming ability of everyone and divide us into groups by skill level.  After completing one lap you had to walk the length of the beach and then get in again.  As I surfaced I realized I was one of the first few people to get out of the water.  Everybody else was still behind me.  I figured this was because I started my lap in front of them.  On the second lap I was also in the first few out of the water.  Which meant that me and anyone else that finished that quickly got pulled into the group made up of the strongest swimmers.  Clearly there must be a mistake!

So me and about 8 others joined up with our coach Mike and after a brief chat we headed out into the water.  The first thing we did was a catch up drill exercise.  Mike seems to think it was relaxing to do and a good thing to fall back on if all hell breaks loose in the race and you want to keep swimming but catch your breathe a little.  I cant say I found it relaxing...  but to each their own.  After that we started to work on sighting technique.  Mike's technique involves popping your eyes out of the water while looking forwards and then rotating your head to breathe.  I tried this but I just couldn't do it.  My method is to sight only when I breathe to my right and right after I breathe I rotate my head towards center as I sink it back into the water at the same time my right arm crosses back down into the water.  It works for me and I'm not about to change it this close to race day.  But...    I think Mike's technique may slow me down less than my own does so its something I'll try later in practice and compare. 

After that we worked on rounding a buoy in a pack.  So we all swam up to one at the same time and rounded it together with lots of feet and arms and bits flailing about.  I got to experience body contact in the water for the first time here which was actually kind of fun.  We were bumping into each other and it didn't freak me out.  I found it just sort of heightened my senses and made me want to look for the opening to get between two people.  I had no fear of reaching my arms forward and pulling myself through the narrow gap between two people making light contact as I did this.  Didn't both me at all.  While working on buoy rounding we also worked on sighting.  And talked about the important of knowing whats next after each buoy and to remember to sight as soon as you round it.

Then we worked on drafting for a while which was fun...  but oddly enough I was one of the two fastest people in our group.  Which meant I only had one person to draft behind.  And she was REALLY fast so drafting behind her felt like about 15 seconds of "hey cool!  This is easier", followed by "hey!  slow down I can't draft you when you swim that fast!".  But it was good to experience it a little.  In a longer swim than a sprint I suspect it could come in quite handy.  And then finally we swam into the beach and worked on swimming for as long as possible in the super shallow water before standing up.

A little Q&A with Mike and then it was time to reassemble the entire group for a bit of fun.  All 50 of us lined up on the beach and waded into the water to practice some group starts.  Now here's where it gets a bit funny.  Each instructor has clearly told all their students to line up to the side of everyone, or to wait a couple of seconds after the gun goes off to hit the water.  But all 50 people can't all line up to the side or wait for everyone to start first!  Most of my group was right on the front line of the crowd as we were going to go for it.  I was front and center.  Not on the best line possible, but close to it.  When they said GO I went for it!  The course was an out and back around this swimming raft that you can see in the photo below.  I'd say it was about 100-125 yards from the shore.  I swam as hard as I could for it.  Arms and legs were churning everywhere and the water was all white and frothy.  I came up to sight and realized I was starting to get close to it.  I saw a few other swim caps around me but not a lot.  Rounding the dock was fun as there were a few of us rounding it at the same time in a narrow amount of space.  As soon as I popped up to sight and lined myself up for the beach I went for it.  HARD!  I think I only sighted one more time in that distance.  I knew I was going straight.  I kept swimming till I had to bend at the elbow to finish my pull, probably in only about 2' of water and then when I popped up and ran onto the beach I realized I was FIRST!  YEAH!!!!   I was PSYCHED!!!   I know it was just a mock race, and I know it was made up of mostly newbies, and I know that in a real race I won't win, but today...   I ROCKED IT!  I was so excited.  I can't say how confident that made me feel.  But maybe it was a fluke.  Somehow I managed to beat that woman who was so much faster than me in our group. 
So then we lined up again to do it one more time.  This one I was a little bit tired for from going so hard on the first one.  But I was still going to go for it again.  I purposely started just a tiny bit further back this time and dead center.  I wanted to be in the midst of lots of people to see what that was like.  It was tons of fun!  I loved it!  All those people jockeying for position, body contact and confusion and trying to get around someone in front of me that was a bit slower was really really fun.  I was having a ball.  I rounded the raft and headed in for home as hard as I could.  This time I was third out of the water.  Good stuff!  I had a great time in the class and I feel so much better now going into my first race on Sunday.  The class was definitely worth it!

After the class I got cleaned up and changed into bike clothes and then headed into Lowell so that I could ride and preview the bike course for the race.  I parked in the parking lot that will be the transition area.  Somebody is a genius!  Its the parking lot to Heritage Ice Cream! 
 Man I hope they are open, because if they are I'm going to get a GIANT sundae after the race.  Sweet!  While there I walked across the street to take a look at the river, see what the temperature was like and get a look at the current.  The temperature was nice and warm.  I think I'll go sleeveless but I'll determine that for sure after I do a test swim there tomorrow.  The current looked strong at first as seen by the swim ropes in this photo.
But then I found a stick and threw it into the water to watch how fast it would drift.  Lamest game of Pooh sticks ever.  The stick barely moved with the current.  So hopefully that's a good sign.  That bend in the ropes could just be from the ropes you see in the middle that make up what I imagine is some sort of lap area.  I also talked to some of the instructors at the clinic about it and they said not to worry about it.  That the current isn't that strong at all and not to worry about it.  They said it won't be a factor and I got the impression they were being very honest.  So that was good.  We'll find out for sure tomorrow though.

So after my beach inspection and dreaming of ice cream sundaes I figured I should probably go and bike the course.  My plan was to do it pretty easily.  The only times I really pushed the pace was on the uphills as I wanted to gauge their difficulty and see if I was going to have to shift into the little ring.  I'm pretty sure I can stay in the big ring on this entire course.  There are no large hills on the course at all.  There are plenty of rollers but you can just stand on the pedals and zoom over the top of them as they are all pretty short in duration.  So I sort of raced up the hills, coasted the flats and downhills.  Not a lot of downhill on the course, just a few here and there.  Its a generally flat course I'd say.  I'm glad I rode the course as now I know what to expect.  The road conditions were pretty poor I have to say.  I hope there wont be a lot of traffic (its not a closed course) as there are several sections you have to ride pretty wide in or you'll be shaken to death by lots of pot holes or just generally crappy sections of road.  I'm a little tentative of what the bike course is going to be like with lots of people on it.  The Olympic length tri starts first so they will all be on the bike course when I get to it as they run the same course, they just do two laps of it.  So all of those riders will be on the course, fast, slow, whatever.  So I suspect I'll be passing a lot of the slower riders from the Oly as I ride the course.  So take a slower rider, move them away from the side of the road to counteract the crappy pavement, mix in riders faster than I am, and somehow we all have to navigate this course at the same time that car traffic does.  It could get interesting.  I'm going to need to keep my head on a swivel and be really careful.  I don't want to do anything dumb, and I need to remember to stay to the right as much as possible, but still ride hard and pass as many people as I can.

After my ride I took a brief look at the run course.  Its a dead flat 2 miles out, turn around and run two miles back.  Piece of cake.  The transition area is a parking lot so no issues going barefoot.  It even looked pretty clean too which was nice.  I wish I could say the same about the roads.  I hope they send a street sweeper out along the course but I guess that's probably wish full thinking.  Lots of sand and debris out there.

After riding the course I started to head home.  But since I was driving right past the Wrentham outlets I figured I should pop my head in there.  Oops!

I first went into the Nike outlet.  I'm always going into the Nike outlets for deals on running shoes and they never have what I want.  But today they did!  I got another pair of the Lunarglide's that I'm loving so much lately and I was finally able to grab a pair of the minimalist Nike Free shoes to try.  I figure if I don't like running in them I can wear them out as they look nice too.  The concept of the free's is that the sole is hinged in lots of places so it lets your foot feel unsupported and closely mimics barefoot running without being one of those crazy over hyped barefoot running shoes.  It is essentially the compromise between too much support, and some sort of slipper crap with toes.  (can you tell I'm not a fan of the barefoot running movement?)  The point of running in these is that because there is less support it strengthens the muscles in your lower leg, foot, joints etc.  I'll never run a race in them, but I will do some training runs in them.  And since I was already in the store I picked up some sleeveless running shirts on clearance too.  Oops.

Here's the Lunarglides...  which initially I thought I'd only use for shorter races, but I'm really loving them.  They weigh nothing but offer as much support as a much larger sneaker.

And here's the Nike Free.  You can see in the lower photo how flexible they are.  The other nice thing about these is that the liners on the inside are great for barefoot running which is perfect for tris.  No socks=quicker transitions

Then I went into the sunglass hut.  I've been on the lookout for a pair of sunglasses to wear when cycling.  My current sunglasses are a pair of Oakley's that I love.  I have two of them.  When one breaks I send it back and they send me a new pair free of charge.  They are great sunglasses.  The problem though is that they slightly reduce my peripheral vision.  Which never bothered me until I wore them cycling.  So after 30 minutes in sunglass hut I walked away with a pair of the Livestrong edition Oakley's.  Which incidentally are the same price as the non Livestrong edition ones, except that a large percentage of the money you spent on them goes to a good cause instead of to Oakley or Sunglass hut.

Then I went into the gap outlet.  Oops!  Mostly as they are one of the few places that sells jeans that fit my scrawny self.  Today I tried on 28" waist jeans, and they fit!  I was stoked!  Considering at one point in my life I have worn a 38" waist putting on 28's felt pretty good.  I didn't even wear 28s in high school when I was skinny.  Triathlon does a body good!  And now I can stop having to over tighten my belt so much to hold my pants up.

And after all this I decided I had better get home to start packing up for the race before I spent any more money!  So that's whats next.  Tomorrow morning I'll head out for Lowell around 9ish in order to get to packet pickup around 11am as it closes at noon and I want to leave extra time in case something dumb happens.  I'll get my stuff, do a quick swim, and then check into the hotel and spend a quiet afternoon bouncing off the walls with excitement.  I can't wait!  All my hard work is going to pay off.  I know it!  I feel so prepared, and so ready.  I'm nervous, but I know I'm going to rock this thing.  I can't wait to hit the turnaround point on the run and know that there's just 2 miles between me and the finish line.  I'm going to be smiling the whole way in.

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