Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Disney Triathlon Report

I’ve got mixed reviews of the Disney Tri – it was a fun race with a cool course – running through Epcot – but the organization and some of the course routing was just not a whole lot of fun. I’m probably not going to do this race again, and it’s only 70 miles from my front door.

Registration: This was the most cumbersome registration process I’ve had to endure so far (out of 11 races in a year and a half). We had to be registered the day before so we decided to get a hotel room and stay in Orlando for the weekend (one of the nicer parts of the weekend – we did a park on Monday…). My friend Luke and I left our wives at the hotel rooms while we took our bikes and braved the registration process without them – a wise decision! The “expo” and registration area was in the Contemporary Resort area, but we couldn’t park there – we had to park in the Magic Kingdom parking area and either take a shuttle to the transition area, which was in Fort Wilderness, or ride to the transition area, about a mile and a half away – no big deal. Luke’s bike was making a new mystery noise, probably in the bottom bracket, and we needed to see a mechanic.

We rode our bikes to the transition area, only to find out that the mechanic was over at the expo. We walked our bikes over to the boat shuttle that went over to the Contemporary resort area, and had no problem getting our bikes on the boat and in a few minutes we were at the back of the resort. Inside the building, we finally found our way to the “expo”. I guess I use quotations for the expo because there were just a couple of vendors there – I’ve been at smaller races with less of an entry fee that had more vendors working the expo than here.

Luke’s bike has the older Shimano components on it – and the expo bike mechanic did not have the proper tool to do anything to help the noise. I’ve got about 2 or 3 bike-specific tools in my garage, one of which is the tool to turn this older Shimano BB. Unbelievable, but Luke decided to roll the dice and hope his BB didn’t blow up on him in the 25 mile bike – it didn’t, thankfully.

So, we register and brows the expo for the 5 minutes it took to see everything, then make our way back to the transition area – requiring another shuttle ride. This time we were informed that the boats do NOT allow bikes on them, so we walk our bikes back through the convention center and to the front of the building to the awaiting bus shuttle. We find our places in the transition area and leave our bikes, load back on a shuttle bus to get back to the parking lot, and then re-navigate our way (oh yea, did I mention we got all miss-conglomerated on the unmarked streets of Disney?) back to the hotel, a mere 16 miles away.

Now I’ve heard that the night before a race’s sleep is really not that important, so I wasn’t really worried when, at midnight I was still tossing and turning in an uncomfortable hotel bed with folks coming and going on a Saturday night. Someone had their NEXTEL beep-beeping outside our door at one point, and it was easily 1am before I finally got to sleep. It’s probably just me, but I’d have rather put the miles on the car than go for the convenience of being close by the race – just to have the comfort of my own bed and pillow.

Also – the timing chip bands were awful! Luke’s actually cut into his ankle – mine barely fit. I really didn’t expect it to be there at the finish. By the time the National Anthem was being sung (the absolute best rendition I’ve heard in 11 races – great job, singer!), I was still in line to get my timing chip. They were not issued at check-in….its just about time to get my own timing chip band.

Swim: The swim was the best part of this race! The lake was flat, pretty clear and not too warm. I really like these longer, triangular swim courses because the first turn is usually not so crowded, and the start is less of a fight, for some reason. The beach start had a sandy bottom far enough out that it was still sandy when I left my feet and started swimming. There were plenty of boat support on the course, but they let the 2nd course buoy – the one before the 1st turn buoy – drift about 50 yards to the left (inside) of a straight line to the turn. And yes, the announcer did mention it and did say to disregard it but when you are out there and you can’t see that well to begin with, you rely on every buoy, regardless….so I wound up having to cut back, like many others with bad vision just like me, which was the only bad part of my swim. I do need to learn how to slip by other slower swimmers better. I seem to be able to reach out and not hit a foot, but touch about mid thigh – of the person I run into. Sometime I’ll even be waist high – and in this instance, with the 3 waves before me being all female, well, I was embarrassed on a couple collisions. Anyway….I have a tendency to almost stop when I run into someone, and then look up for an opening, then start swimming again, feeling for the opening. There’s got to be a better way.

T1: The run from the water’s edge to the transition area was the longest I’d ever done, and I’ve done Tri-America in Clermont, with a longer T1 run, and even Miami-Man, which has a really long run for T1. Sure, there’s Escape from Alcatraz – so I shouldn’t complain – but this was unexpected and seemingly unnecessary. Now there are those that will lament, “Know the course, it’s the racer’s responsibility” – true! The course was not set up until race day morning – and with the parking and shuttle gymnastics, we were lucky to get out of the transition are before they closed it 30 minutes before the race began. I tried to get over, before my wave start, to see the route from the water to T1, but they had the beach barricaded from the route – I don’t think there was any way to recon it without actually running it – which I was too late to do. At least the whole way was carpeted, which was nice.

Bike: Ouch! I saw 2 accidents and many (at least 3) flat tires on the way out, and it’s hard to tell why. The roads were nicely paved, but it did seem narrow in some areas, probably because it was pretty crowded once I got out of the water. Luke got caught behind a Life-Flight helicopter on his way back in which had to evacuate one of the bikers hurt that I passed (the ambulance was already there) on the way out. I sure hope he or she is ok! Once the course opened up, it was slightly up-hill and into the wind, it seemed, to the turn-around. Sure enough, we started to fly coming back in. Making a turn I recognized as the one that got us “heading back in”, I realized that this Olympic distance race was going to be about 5 miles short of a 40k – and according to my Garmin, it was right at 20.01miles…..that was a bit disappointing, since I was well on my way to an Olympic bike split PR. Heck, it took me 6 miles just to get my average speed over 21mph, it was that congested – I really could have used those last 5 miles! As it turns out, my average was right at 21mph because of the HORRIBLE routing at the end of this ride.

For the last 3 miles or so, we had runners leaving T2 on the first part of their 10k run, the last bikers going out on their bike, and folks coming in to finish their 20-mile bike all in the space of half a rode (the other side of the road was open to traffic!!!). There really was no safe speed, and there really shouldn’t have been any passing – so you really had a nice cool-down leading into T2 (there, I took a positive away from that….). It’s for that reason – the total disregard for racer safety – that I will not do this race again.

Run: The run, except for worrying about being run down by a biker in the first couple of miles, was pretty nice. Still, there were some things that for a $100 entry fee and the prestige of having the “Disney” label on it that you’d expect. Like mile markers. Not a single one. And I forgot my Garmin – left it on my bike. So I’m not too sure, but the first water point was probably at 1.5 miles and the second one at about 3 miles. With a total of 4 water/Power-aide areas, that seems about right. The stops were well manned – the volunteers were awesome. It was pretty hot there at the end of this – those stops were a welcome relief. It was neat to run thorough Epcot – well, I would have liked to have run through it, but by then I was suffering pretty good with thigh cramping of all things – never had that happen before – so I probably didn’t drink enough or get enough sodium – I’m still figuring all this out.

Finish Line: I’m probably being overly critical here – so bear with me. I like a race where I get to the end, run though the shoot, and there’s some water or Gatorade being handed to me – I find some shade and then recover for a while. This race ended in the middle of a giant parking lot – the water and refreshments were down a ways from the finish line and the shade, well, the shade was located outside of the barricades, away from the refreshments. I’m not lazy, and really didn’t mind getting my own drink, but it shouldn’t have been so hard to find a cool place to sit down! In every race I’ve been to the results are updated and posted close to the finish line – I don’t think this was done – Luke couldn’t find the results anywhere, and he finished well before me. The finisher’s medal is pretty cool – as is the T-shirt - nicely colored and unique – a pretty nice touch for an otherwise lackluster race. We waited in a 15-minute line on black parking lot with our family’s to board shuttle busses back to the transition area to get our stuff – our wives stayed on the bus to take them to the parking lot to sit in the A/C. We rode our bikes back to the parking lot from the Transition area, which was no big deal.

Spectators: It was just as hard to watch this race as it was to register for it. Because of the barricaded beach and long run from the water to T1, there was no way my wife was going to watch me get out of the water and leave on the bike. Then they had to get on a shuttle to watch us finish up it the Epcot parking area. Yea, yea, we knew all this in advance, but really didn’t think it would be as big an ordeal as it was.

Summary: As for my performance, well, I felt great on the swim, but had my worst Olympic swim time yet. Granted, it was my first non-wetsuit Olympic-distance swim, so the 35:45 probably isn’t that bad. I swam into more folks than I can remember, but I’m not sure how that affected my time. I was well on my way to an Olympic bike PR – with a 21.12mph average speed – but with the shorter course, I’ll have to forgo the PR for the next one. The run, well, I blew up on the run. Weirdly enough, I had asthma in the beginning of the race, which I almost always have to run through, but then again around the 3-mile mark, I had to walk the asthma was so bad. That wasn’t normal. Then the cramping in my legs, also not normal – so the whole run experience was pretty crummy.

I did forget to mention that I took the past 2 weeks off, completely, from biking and running, with only 2 swim sessions of 800 yards each. I did a Century ride 3 weeks ago, my first, that caused some crazy right calf tear that I exasperated by trying to train through it. By the time I decided to let it heal, it hurt to the point of throwing up. So I’m really not all that upset with my crummy run – I half expected to DNF because if my calf acted up AT ALL, I was going to drop out. I got to jog about half the run, so at least I know my calf is healed. Running (my weakness) will be my focus in the coming weeks – I have 7 weeks to ramp up for my first half-iron distance race – run, run, run. I also need to lose as much weight as I can – I’m still tipping the scales, as of this morning, at 247.5 lbs. As for next year, like you couldn’t guess, I’ll be passing on the Disney Triathlon.