The American Triple-T

This might be the longest race report ever. But whatever. Enjoy!

We all have races we like, some we don’t like, and those we could take or leave. Sometimes though, if we’re lucky, we come across a triathlon that really strikes a chord–one that makes us feel at home and reminds us why we love this crazy sport. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of doing the American Triple-T in Shawnee State Park, Ohio. There, I found that race–my happy race.

The Journey
My husband and I signed up for the American Triple-T a year ago. For whatever reason, we were reminiscing about the good old days when we were young, stupid, and invincible, and this race came up. Somewhat on a whim, he did it 12 years ago with some college buddies. Although all three were ex-D1 swimmers and decent triathletes, the short of it is that they finished the race literally pushing each other through the final run, and my husband thereafter retired from triathlon for the next decade. But we’re older now. We have three kids. We now know what pain really is (it’s the endless hours of driving kids to this practice and that class only to watch them, for example, pretend they don’t know how to swim during a swim team try out or literally lay on the floor for the duration of a ballet class, right?). So, we marked our calendar, sent in our money, and eventually convinced some of our friends to do the race with us.

I started training for it in January. Because my husband and I had to switch off on kid patrol, I did most of my training with my good friend and fellow American Triple-T’er, Bri Gaal. It was super fun. We were getting fit and taking names. Cut to March. We ran the Tobacco Trail Half marathon, and I had a decent race. However, on the very next run my hip started hurting. I should have realized I was breaking down at the time and pumped the brakes; this is a classic symptom of what happens to me with too much training. Instead, I powered through. Eventually I backed off the running but I added more biking. Cut to April. I started the TRY Charleston Half Iron distance but 27 miles into the bike, I tore my adductor magnus on both legs–spontaneously. Um, who does that? And how? And FIVE weeks before the American Triple-T! Unfortunately, my PT gave my left a 12 week minimum healing time (and my right 6). The math was not in my favor. However, I did everything I could possibly do in the next five weeks to speed things along.

Eventually, I decided that I’d start the race and see what happened. I knew my chance to complete the whole thing was iffy, and if I made the wrong choice I’d blow the rest of my season. The good thing for me about the American Triple-T, though, is that it has a unique format; the races get progressively more challenging. So, I could start small to test my legs and then build from there.

The Race
We arrived at Shawnee State Park Friday afternoon. The place is gorgeous. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and you can tell driving in that the biking is going to be a challenge. We checked in to our on-site cabin, drank some coffee, and headed down to the race site to check-in and start racing.

I won’t bore you with long reports (or maybe I will… I haven’t written that part yet :)) of my particular racing, but for those of you who are interested in what the American Triple-T is all about, I’ll give some candid descriptions of each of the races.

FRIDAY 5 PM: Super Sprint (250 m swim, 6k bike, 1 mile run)
First off, the water in this lake is COLD. Cold by anyone’s standards. But especially cold my my native North Carolinian standards. The water was around 60 all weekend. Sounds okay on paper, but damn when I put my toes in that night, I wished I had some semblance of sleeves on my wetsuit! It’s also a little nasty. I read a report before the race where someone described it as swimming in pea soup. That’s not far off. Because the lake is so shallow, there’s a lot of crap that gets stirred up from the bottom; and you swim through it. This swim was the only one that wasn’t a double loop, and it was over pretty quickly.

The bike (course here) is out and back, and it goes straight up on the out and straight down on the back. [And the super fun part is that our cabin was at the top of this course with the transition at the bottom. So before every race, we bombed down to the transition and then had to climb that odious hill with tired legs after each finish. So, just add another 24k to the bike total for the weekend.] 6k is pretty short, and the bike was pretty uneventful. Rain on the way down slowed me down a bit. And got my stuff all wet. Pro tip: bring a lot of newspaper to this race (to stuff in your shoes).

I read several places that this run is flat. It’s not. It’s flatter than any other run of the weekend; yet still, it’s up out, down back. But it’s a mile. So, it’s cake.

This race is a total tease, and it’s hard to know how to race it. Go fast because you can? Or go slow because you’ve got a gnarly weekend ahead? I split the difference, and it still hurt my poor legs that had been in a car 2 hours that day and 5 the previous.

SATURDAY 7:30 AM:Olympic (1500 m swim, 40 k bike, 6.55 mile run)
This picture pretty much sums up how everyone was feeling at the start of the race. Tired (except that we didn’t know what tired really was at that point) and marching towards our possible demise.

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Despite the picture, I actually did this race side-by-side with Bri and Marty (her husband). They are both triathlon coaches, and I figured that I probably needed someone to help me meter my speed on the earlier races. Besides what’s better than racing along side friends? (the answer is “nothing.”)

The swim was again cold and a double loop. It was a bit short (my understanding is that HFP racing is known for swims being on the shorter side), but again uneventful. It did get a little messy where we started our second loop and were weaving in with people still starting the swim.

The bike course changed at the last minute due to road disrepair. I think this is the course we actually did, but I honestly can’t remember. It was about 40k and it was hilly. Very hilly. Like mountain hilly (duh, we were in the mountains). We tried to go easy, but that’s tough when easy might result in you tipping over sideways. But it was also gorgeous. And wet, though, which made for some pretty scary descents. Oh, and I dropped my only bottle of nutrition near the beginning off the edge of a mini-cliff. No joke. I had to jump a guard rail and climb into a ravine to retrieve it!

Then came the run. From here on out for the weekend, the run is the same. One trip on the Olympics and two on the Half. The run is dirt logging trail (but in decent condition), and it’s [surprise!] hilly. There are ups and downs both ways, but in general the run goes up out, down back. Marty kept us honest on this one and reminded me how much of the race was left when I started bounding up the hills.

SATURDAY 3 PM: Odd-Order Olympic (27 mile bike, 1500 m swim, 6.55 mile run)
By the time we got back up to the cabin, we had only a few hours to stuff our faces, pack our stuff, take a quick nap, drink more coffee, and head back down to transition to start the second Olympic of the day.

This race has a time-trial bike start, and I started with my husband. The course is again hills upon hills with one particular hill that is totally laughable (that is, if you find masochism funny). In a totally professional cyclist manner, of course, I dropped my chain in the middle of it. People stopped immediately to help me put it back on! In what parallel universe does that ever happen in a race?

So, up to this point, my legs (the injury) had been fine. But towards the end of this bike there was a pretty long flat stretch where I was in aero and trying to push it a bit, and that set my left leg off. I backed off and finished the ride feeling nervous.

Then the swim (same course as the AM Olympic). Holy he77, swimming in 60 degree water after working up a sweat biking hills is a surreal experience. My arms didn’t work in the water. My legs didn’t work. I’m not even sure my brain worked. Actually, I’m sure it didn’t because when I tried to find my bike after, I literally was seeing double and wobbling all over. But I didn’t cramp, and I’m told that’s a big accomplishment for that swim. Oh, and a story about love. As I’m swimming, I realize I didn’t put any lube on my neck, and it was already torn up from the other two swims. I made a comment to my husband (yeah, while swimming), and he stops and says “here, grab some off my neck; I’ve got plenty.” So, in a first for me (ok, probably anyone), I wiped lube off of his neck and onto my own during the swim!

Back out for a repeat of the morning’s run. It felt pretty crappy, and was really cold to start, but I got it done.

Then back to the cabin for a quick dinner. After showering, though, I looked down and noticed that my left leg was swelling. Moving around, I realized that it hurt too. Crap. What do I do? The usual Carrie decision would be to forge ahead. Except, I’d just been stranded and trying to find a ride in from the bike during a 70.3 5 weeks ago when I tore my adductors. I didn’t want to do that again. I still have races I want to do this year. So, I put on my big girl pants and made the decision to withdraw from Sunday’s race. Sort of.

SUNDAY 7 AM: Half-Iron Distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run)
When you sign up for something like the American Triple-T, you do it to challenge yourself. Skipping the last day (essentially half the race) isn’t much of a challenge. And I sure as heck wasn’t going to watch my friends suffer while I sat around and ate bon-bons. So, I swam. And I ran. I ran as hard as I possibly could.

This swim was also a little short. And it was [take a guess, now] COLD! However, this time, not only was it cold in the water, it was cold outside the water. It was something like 48 degrees outside. Steam was coming off the 60 degree lake. I wanted to get in the water about as much as I wanted to cut off my right hand. But I did (get in the water, that is). The swim was again two loops. And it was again messy running into the late starters. This time, there were more of them, though, because the half iron is a race in it’s own right that day (The Little Smokies Half). I tried to go wide on the swim, but I still ran into lots of traffic.

After I got out of the water, I bundled up, grabbed my camera, left transition and took pictures of my friends leaving on the bike. Like this one, where Bri and Marty are totally faking being excited about the next 3 frigid hours climbing mountains.

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And then I sat. For 3 hours. Waiting for my husband to come in off the bike. When he did, I ran into transition and yelled “can I run with you?” He said “sure!” (he couldn’t say no, could he?) and then went flying out of there like a crazy man. I thought I had 3 miles at that speed in me at best. But I held on for 10 miles or so until I had to make a pit stop to go to the bathroom. I finished the rest at a good pace alone. I even garnered a “keep it up, pretty lady!” from a stranger on the home stretch, which pretty much made my weekend.

In the end, I did as much of that race as my body would allow. Am I sad I DNF’d? Of course. Do I regret racing? Heck no. That was more fun than I’ve had in any other race. The scenery. The incredible challenge. The comedy. The people. It was worth every second of the 3 hours I sat sadly waiting at transition during the bike I wished more than anything that I could be doing. Crap happens. It’s how you handle it that matters, and I did the best I could.

Considering the race?
And you totally should–>I’m already signed up for next year! Here are some tips:

-rent a cabin (see http://www.americantriple-t.com/tt/travel.htm). worst case, stay in the lodge. both options go really fast.

-get sleeves. either neoprene sleeves, or a sleeved wetsuit.

-bring ready-made meals. you don’t want to spend time cooking.

-eat all weekend. even if you don’t feel hungry. you’re gonna need all that fuel.

-you’re probably going to get wet. be prepared. and bring lots of clothes.

-as the race site says, bring your climbing gears. the biking is no-joke.

-pace yourself.

And finally, have the time of your life, and don’t take yourself too seriously. This is what it’s all about.

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It happens

It was a nightmare come true. Really. I’ll get to what actually happened in a second, but first the actual nightmare I had one night…It was one of those silly anxiety dreams, like before the first day of school you dream that you show up to school and forgot to put pants on. It was one of those but in a triathlon setting. I’ve had these in the past before a season begins, with things like showing up with no bike, crazy courses with waterslides (fun!), and running through buildings. Because it’s my first year racing in the Open division, part of the dream this time was starting in a small wave of Open athletes, we end up spread out on the bike course, which is a new course that I don’t know, and at some point on the bike there I am by myself…lost. More things happened after that, but the bike fiasco is the pertinent part of this story. At the Pinehurst International, I lived my nightmare and was lost on the bike course.

The Pinehurst International has been one of those races that I’ve heard much about and wanted to try for a while. “It’s beautiful. Challenging, with rolling hills and curves, but beautiful.” Great, sign me up! Due to the postponed entry thanks to a hurricane in 2015, I moved from Age Group to Open for the race.  As it turned out, only three Open Females and a handful of Masters Females were registered for the May event.  Race started. We take off. The women were pretty well-matched in the swim but with enough separation that by the time we were on the bike leg, I only saw one other woman in the beginning. After that point, the curves and hills took over and I had no idea where I stood with my competitors. It was just me out there. Here and there a guy would pass me, but for the most part, just me and the open road.

Volunteers and officials were stationed at the major intersections and turns. However, at one particular pass towards the back end of the bike course, I had a miscommunication with the large orange foam finger. I went left. It should’ve been straight. But I didn’t hear any correction at the time and had no one racing around me to verify. I had a funny feeling at first but was trying to analyze as I kept pedaling. The hills dipped and rose and curved. I thought maybe there’s someone in the middle of the valley when I’m on a peak and vice versa. It started to feel eerie. I almost panicked, thinking of the anxiety in my dream and that here it was actually happening. A driver responded to my frantic hand waving and was able to confirm my worry- they had not seen any other cyclists on their drive on that stretch of road. I turned around and rode back the couple miles it’d taken me to realize the error.

On the ride back, I knew my time was shot. Any chance of a top overall finish was blown. So what do I do? During my remainder of the bike leg, my mind pondered what to make of the situation. I decided to go with focusing on the up-sides. The list I came up with is as follows:

– My next time on this course will look like an AMAZING improvement.

– At least no thunder and lightning too, as was in the original forecast. That’s a whole new level of nightmare material right there.

– I won’t get lost again when I get back on course since more people will be around by then.

– It will be a good lesson someday for my twins about perseverance.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. By transition, I had decided that the run deserved my best effort despite the diversion. At the end of the race, I was proud to at least have had a decent swim and better-than-expected run considering the circumstances and course. The detour on the bike was further confirmation of why we want to drive the course and be familiarized before race day. Having an idea of what to expect and what the turns look like is a boost for confidence. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t swing it for this race (too far to pop down in an afternoon and too close to go down the day before).

Next time Pinehurst, I’m ready for you. See you next May.