Battle at Buckhorn

It seems that these days if you are a competitive triathlete, the racing season revolve around an Ironman 70.3 in the spring and Ironman in the fall, or some variation of this format. However the last few years, I found that my most rewarding triathlon experiences have come from some unexpected local races. This was the case yet again this year as I decided to race “The Battle at Buckhorn.” FS series has been putting on races for years and always setting very high standard, that place the focus on participant, whether elite or novice. They come up with unique race names, they find great venues usually within driving distance of the triangle, give out soft T-shirts done in taste so that you actually want to wear them later, they provide tasty food and often micro brewery beer, and finally hand out different and usable awards. For me, their races are set apart from the often crowded triathlon calendar.

After racing Ironman Chattanooga, and slugging through the 95° heat during the marathon, I found myself feeling that perhaps my season was not yet over. So I decided to jump in The Battle at Buckhorn Sprint Triathlon a week later. The good thing about doing crazy things such as racing again the week after an Ironman, is that the expectations are very low can you go into it with a sort of liberating feeling of “just go for it and see what happens”. In addition every race I did this year was a million degree, like Ironman 70.3 Raleigh, Triangle Tri, Lake Lure, White Lake Lake and Chattanooga so I was looking forward to racing in a day in the 70s.

With the cool temperatures also came lake fog that got worse as it got closer to the swim start time. The first women’s wave quickly disappeared into the fog, followed by the men’s under 40. With the small filed and my new found confidence in the swim from a few weeks of cramming before my Ironman, I started at the front. I knew I could not stay with Dave Williams but thought that maybe I could keep up with the second pack. It was a really bizarre experience to start the race without even seeing the buoy that we were supposed to be swimming to. From years of open water swimming, I knew I could swim straight and I knew I could navigate properly once I saw the buoys. So I basically just headed in the right general direction and took off. That actually work pretty well as I started to see if the faint outline of a buoy after a few minutes. In addition I caught sight of the straight arm and the blue short sleeves skinsuit of Brian Stover about 50 yards ahead. Keeping him inside, I rounded the first buoy and then the second, and headed back to shore. As long as I had him inside, I felt like I would have a pretty good swim.

At T1 I knew I was about maybe 40 seconds behind Stover, and maybe a minute and a half behind Dave. I got on the bike and like other sprints I hit full gas right away, trying to make up as much ground as possible and get to the front of the race as quickly as possible. I was making pretty good progress passing competitors from the previous waves until eventually fatigue started to set in on the legs. As I looked at my Garmin to see how far I still had to go, I saw that I was only 2.9 mile into a 17 mile course, to my complete disappointment. For the next 5 or 6 miles I went back-and-forth from trying to pace myself and talking myself into keeping the fast reckless space. Once I started seeing Stover in the distance, I started to feel better again. Sometimes seeing your target is all that you need to get that little burst of energy, to see that all that pain is not in vain. Even though I was pretty spent when I caught him, I decided not to hang around and let him catch on. On the next hill I put another big burst of effort and opened a little gap, which allowed me to slowly ride away. 3 or 4 more miles of hard writing and I was finally approaching T2. To my pleasant surprise, I was also within sight of Dave Williams. Unfortunately though, as I ran out I saw that my gap on Brian was not as big as I had hoped.

It was now time to run and see how much gas I still had left in the tank. I was not feeling springy by any means but the legs did not feel so bad. I quickly settled into a pretty good pace as I set my sights on catching Dave. The run this year was an unconventional double out and back. That was a little weird at first but it gave us all plenty of opportunities to see each other. Plus, it felt a little like ITU or Olympic type of racing, which was kind of cool. I inched my way up to Dave Williams and eventually passed him maybe half way. But by then, Stover was only a few yards behind me. I think I actually lead the race for maybe a quarter-mile but eventually Brian ran by looking pretty strong. By now there were only two competitors running in front of us: one was Bri Gall who was dominating the women’s race and another one was Whit Hughston, who started in the wave before us, so by the math we knew we were ahead of him.

That was the order in which we crossed the line. I finished second about 35 seconds behind Brian. The race went much better than I expected. Plus, like all FSSeries races, the atmosphere at the finish was awesome. DJ Alex was rocking while people were hanging out waiting for the awards. And speaking of the awards, I usually don’t get too excited about awards but this time I was really really bummed that I could not manage first place. The first place 4 inch rodeo buckle was one of the coolest trophies I’ve ever seen. In fact it is not even a true trophy; it is in fact a real belt buckle. So after swimming at Buckhorn Lake, and riding and running through the rolling countryside of Simms North Carolina, I can honestly say that I will put this race on my list of one of those must do yearly races. Hopefully I will be fast enough next year to get that buckle.

Granite Falls and Refocusing in the Sport

The 2016 season was planned to be an interesting year for me as I had taken on a different work environment and schedule.  The main issues was that my training schedule had been cut by 50% and shift drastically in the time of day, moved to the early am and when it is dark outside, not the most motivational time of the day for me.  I made it through transitioning the year into a next fun and recovery year, which I think my body probably needed.

One of my enjoyable races in 2016 was my home town race, Granite Falls Triathlon.  This is always fun as this is centered at my training location and many friends and training partners take part.    

The swim started fairly normal, starting in the open divisions continues to be a plus, always finding clean water.  I tend to always be dead on with my previous year’s times and surprisingly, with the less amount of training I came in with my fastest swim for this race.  I’ll accept that.

The bike course had changed from prior years and was reduced in distance by about a half mile.  It was also going a route that I didn’t prefer for my strengths.  Heading into the race I focused on the positive and this was my home field.  Everything seemed smooth through the entire bike besides I couldn’t get comfortable or find the speed I felt I was capable of.  It felt like I was sliding forward and my shoulders ached, I wasn’t sure why.  I finished solid on the bike, fastest split of competitors, however similar to my prior bike splits when the course was longer.  I week or so later while riding with Chad Kufen, he pointed out my seat may have been shifted.  Sure enough the nose had dropped very slightly.  We adjusted that and it sure made a huge different.  Lesson learned, small adjustments can result in a major negative or positive result.  It is extremely important to have a bike fit and be sure it stays adjusted as needed. 

The run was an enjoyable and I felt good.  I ran solid in the beginning and following the turnaround I saw Glenn Cook, he was a bit closer than I had hoped and was moving fast.  I did pick it up for the last mile to maintain the gap the best the I could.  In the end it was enough to hold off the field and meet my race goals.        

IM Chattanooga

After racing half IM distance and shorter triathlons for the past nine years, I finally took the plunge and signed up for my first full IM last September after volunteering at the 2015 Chattanooga race.  I was really unsure how I would be able to manage the increased training volume with a full-time job and a very busy schedule with the kids’ activities.  It hasn’t been easy, but with the help of my coach, my husband and many friends/training partners, I was able to get it done, and even had some fun!

Pre-race

We arrived in Chattanooga on Thursday around dinner time, three days before the race.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn on Chester Street, which was only a few blocks away from Ironman village and that ended up being worth it with all the walking back and forth we ended up doing.  After unpacking, we got together with a group of friends from Cary that were also racing and headed to the Bluewater Grille for dinner, which was pretty good.
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The next day my friend Anne and I went for an easy 25 min run.  During the run we passed by the organized swim in the river and decided to come back later to swim.  After a little breakfast we gathered the others in our group and drove over to Coolidge Park on the other side of the river to get in a short practice swim and see what the current was like.  This swim is known as a “down hill” swim because you swim down river with the current. I didn’t really feel the current on the way up stream, but once we turned to swim back it was amazing to see how much faster we covered the same distance.  After our swim we went to the IM village to check in for the race and walk around the expo for awhile.  We met up with the group again for lunch at the Village Grill.
After lunch I tried to sit in the shade and listen to the 2:00 athlete briefing.  It was so sunny and hot, and the forecast for race day was for more of the same.  We had heard the humidity levels would be low for the race so at least it wouldn’t be as bad as it was training in NC this summer! So we thought…
Then it was time to relax at the hotel for a bit.  The Gaal’s had rented a condo on the river, so we drove over to visit with other OSB athletes and friends from Cary for a few hours before meeting back up with our group for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant downtown, Alleia.  The pasta there was homemade and delicious!  We had a relaxing dinner and were all excited and looking forward to race day.
Saturday morning we went to the Bluegrass Grill on Main Street to have a big pancake breakfast as our biggest meal of the day.  I had a little bit of everything!  When we got back to the hotel we went for a quick bike ride to check that everything was working, and then organized all of our gear into the bike, run and special needs bags.  This was a little stressful for me since it was my first full IM and I had not yet totally decided exactly what I would carry on the bike and run for nutrition and what I would put in special needs.  One big decision that I had to make was whether or not to wear a fuel belt for the run.  I always wear one in training, mainly because there are no aid stations on training runs.  Some people prefer to carry their own nutrition in a race and others don’t want anything around their waist other than the race number belt.  I had decided not to use it for the race and trained with Gatorade Endurance the last month or so of my training so I would feel comfortable drinking what was available on the course.  However, with the forecasted high temperatures I started to second guess this decision.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get enough fluids this way. In the end I decided to start with an old hand held bottle that I could toss if I got tired of carrying it.  Once the decisions were made I put everything in the correct bags and my husband and I walked my bike and bags down to the transition area to check everything in.
For the next several hours I relaxed in bed at the hotel to stay off my legs as much as possible.  I ate a pb&j sandwich for lunch rather than go out to eat.  We decided to get take out from Tony’s Pasta Shop with our friends and eat a small pasta dinner back at the hotel rather than wait in line for a table.  This worked out well, and we all went back to our rooms early to try and sleep.

Race morning

I had set my alarm for 4:00 am, but woke up at 3:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep, so at 3:45 I decided to get up.  I went downstairs to the lobby and got a bowl of oatmeal, two pieces of toast, and a banana and brought that back to my room to eat. I also drank a bottle of Infinit.  I added lots of ice to all my bottles, got dressed and we headed to transition to put my nutrition on the bike, pump my tires and drop off my special needs bags.  Then we hopped on a bus to the swim start at around 5:25.  When we got there we set up towels on the sidewalk so we could sit or lay down while we waited for the race to start at 7:30.  I realized at around 6:30 that I should have brought more food to eat at the swim start as I was starting to get hungry.  I did eat another banana I had brought but wished I had a bonk breaker or something.  As it got close to race time I did a short jog around the parking lot to get my blood flowing, and hit the bathroom one more time.  When I got back to my spot I had to hurry and get my swim skin on because it was almost time to start.  I took a salt stick capsule and Gu and had a few sips of water and then put everything but my cap and goggles in my morning clothes bag to drop off near the swim start.

Swim (57:20, 10th AG)

The pros started at 7:20 and the first age groupers at 7:30.  We had a pretty good spot in line and the line moved very quickly, so I was in the water by 7:36.  The water temperature was 83 degrees, which felt good to me.  I tried to swim towards the middle to get as much current as possible and avoid getting into the crowded water closer to shore.  As I got close to the island I started heading left closer to the buoys.  We swam under three bridges and then headed to the swim finish where there were a bunch of volunteers waiting to help us up the ladder and on to the carpet to run to transition.  I looked at my watch and saw that my time was about what I expected based on last year’s times, so I was happy with my swim.  I pulled my swim skin down to my waist and took off my goggles as I ran to get my bike gear bag and head into the women’s changing tent.  As soon as I came into the tent there was a volunteer there waiting to help me get ready.  She dumped everything out of my bag and helped me get everything on and out the door.  T1 time was 5:38, not too bad.

Bike (5:58:45, 7th AG)

I headed out on the bike and checked my HR.  Oops! My HR was already about 10 beats higher than the range I had planned to maintain for the bike, so I tried to relax and get into the lower zone.  I couldn’t seem to get my HR down even though I didn’t feel like I was riding that hard so I just went with it.  I would still hold back on the hills to keep it steady and try not to let it spike higher.  I kept my pace as steady as possible.  I kept hearing the words “HOLD BACK ON THE BIKE” and “STEADY IS FAST” which was good advice from my coach and others.   I don’t like to hold back on the bike, but I knew it was best, especially with the forecasted high temperature in the mid 90’s.  I kept thinking about the marathon and tried very hard not to use up any excess energy.  The first loop went by pretty quickly.  I was hungry so I ate a bonk breaker in the first half hour of the bike.  I alternated drinking Infinit Go Far and water, and took one salt stick capsule every hour.  I felt full after the bonk breaker so I didn’t eat anything else during the first half.  The course was beautiful, so I tried to just enjoy being out on my bike in the sunshine since it wasn’t too hot yet.  As I came in to Chickamauga, GA there were spectators lining both sides of the street, and I saw my husband and Anne’s husband on the side of the road screaming and waiving as hard as they could.  They had said it was too much trouble to get there so they probably wouldn’t see us on the bike, so it was a really good surprise to see them there.  It definitely got me pumped up and ready for the second loop.  But first I had to make a quick stop at special needs to get my two bottles of Infinit Speed for the second half of the bike.  I was so happy to see that they were still cold, and actually still had a little ice.  The Podium Ice bottles in an insulated lunch bag worked well.  The second loop was not as fun as the first one.  The sun was high in the sky and it felt like I was riding in a furnace!  Also, we seemed to have more of a head wind on the second loop.  I just kept plugging along and drinking as much fluid as possible.  I was really happy when I finished the second loop and turned back on to the highway for the final stretch.  That part felt a little easier and I was excited to be getting off the bike soon, even though the run wasn’t going to be fun in the heat.
I decided not to do a flying dismount off the bike since I had bottles in the rear cages, so I left my bike shoes on and got off the bike.  It was really awkward running in bike shoes after riding 116 miles let me tell you (the Chattanooga bike has an extra 4 miles). I should have just taken them off and run in my socks.  I eventually made it to my run gear bag and headed into the changing tent.  I had three volunteers helping me all at once, and in my rush to get ready I forgot to tape up my toe that rubs on my shoe, so I had to take my shoe back off and get that taken care of.  One of the volunteers added ice water to my bottle which had Infinit powder in it, while the others helped me get my run gear on.  They had me all ready to go in no time, but since I was not able to go to the bathroom on the bike I made a quick stop at the porta john right outside the tent.  I probably didn’t drink enough on the bike to make it through 6 hours without going.  T2 time was 8:46.  A little slow, but still not bad.

Run (5:01:23, 7th AG)

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I started the run with a hand held bottle full of Infinit since I wanted to make sure I got enough to drink.  However, I have never really liked running with something in my hand and today was no different.  I ditched it by mile 2!  Starting out the run felt kind of rough.  I managed to run a 9:30 pace the first mile but my pace slowed quite a bit after that.  I had decided I would walk through all aid stations and try not to walk more than that for at least the first half of the run.  The first 4-5 miles were on a boring highway with no shade and if it weren’t for a guy from VA named Brandon who starting chatting with me I don’t know what I would have done.  He told me we would turn off of that road soon and then we would have some shade.  It was so much better once we turned and started running on a the riverwalk greenway trail that took us through a wooded park and along the river.  That was my favorite part of the run course.  Unfortunately at around 6 miles I started having stomach issues and had to use the bathroom again.  The extremely high temperature was making it difficult to process the calories I was taking in on the run.  Once I got back on the road again my stomach felt better for awhile and I was able to keep up my slow running from aid station to aid station, although I did have to stop one more time during the first half of the run.  After running for awhile on the riverwalk we ran across a bridge to the the back half of the loop, which is mostly up and down hill.  So many people were walking on this section of the course, but I managed to keep running for the entire first loop.  I told myself I could walk more in the second half if I needed to.  After the hilly section we ran over the Walnut Street bridge where I got to see my husband again.  That lifted my spirits again for awhile.  When I finished the first loop I still felt OK, so I decided I would keep running as long as I could.  I had to make another bathroom stop at mile 19 and started to worry.  My stomach issue was getting worse, so I thought maybe I should walk for awhile.  After walking nonstop for a mile I decided I was OK and only had 6 more miles to go, and the sooner I finished the better. I was pretty sure at that point I would be able to finish so I went back to running when I could.  This time when I got to the hilly section I decided I would walk up the hills and run down them.  I hardly saw anyone running at this point.  Once the hills were over and I reached the Walnut Street bridge again I was almost finished!  As I headed over the bridge and made the turn toward the finish I could hear the announcer as others were finishing and picked up my pace for the final stretch.  It was so exciting getting to the finish with everyone cheering and hearing “Cari Soleo, you are an Ironman!”  Total time 12:11:52 (7th AG).
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I was so happy to be done, and feeling OK.  After seeing Lou and getting my picture taken I went to the medical tent to make sure I was really OK.  They gave me ice to help me cool off and offered food and water. A guy sitting next to me told me to drink chicken broth, so I did.  That really helped!  After 3 cups of chicken broth I was feeling so much better!  I watched my friend Anne finish and then walked back to the hotel to shower.  At about 9:00 we met up with Anne and her husband and went to celebrate with pizza and a beer at Mellow Mushroom.  The next day at the award ceremony we learned that the high temperature had been 97 degrees (the hottest on that day since 1931!) and 87% humidity.  The DNF rate was over 25%, the second highest in Ironman history!  Times were about 1-1.5 hrs slower this year compared with last year’s times.  While my final time wasn’t the time I was hoping for, I am happy that I did as well as I did considering the brutal conditions.  And I managed to finish happy and healthy, so I can’t complain.

Hot Weather Racing

This racing season has been filled with speed suits and lots and lots of sun and sweat! Raleigh 70.3 was the beginning of hot races for me. I had a slow but steady swim without my trusty HUUB wetsuit. Then I had a great bike split for me but had to ration fluids a little towards the end. Lastly, I THOUGHT I was good to go for the run but very shortly I realized I was in trouble. I was already thirsty coming off the bike and to make matters worse, I left my Base Salt electrolyte replacement on my bike.

Normally one water bottle an hour on the bike does the trick for me but I did not realize that with the increase in temperature I would go through my fluids a lot quicker. So, even though I had a great bike split without pushing myself into the “red zone” I was still toast coming off the bike. On the run, I normally cruise through the aid stations grabbing a cup for each hand on the move and keep on trucking. I do not walk the aid stations unless it is absolutely necessary. For a half, that is not until at least mile 9 or 10 if at all. On Raleigh race day, I was walking by mile 3. The cloud cover and potential rain that had been forecasted was no where to be found and instead Mr. Sun was in full force. I was not only walking part of the aid stations but walking the full aid station so that I could take in as much fluids as possible. I mistakenly thought I would be able to get some sort of Electrolyte supplement on the course but Ironman DOES NOT provide any unless Base Salt is on the course and they were not on the course in Raleigh. So, be prepared to carry your own if you are planning a hot weather Ironman Brand race. I finally resorted to asking people if they had any salt, and I was lucky enough to get an acquaintance to toss me an extra vial of Base Salt from across the street! Thank you Sophie Evans!! This helped get me through the end of the first loop and back out for the second loop. When I got the end of the second loop I did get the courage to run through the last aid station and made it across the finish line running. It was my slowest half marathon time to date but I felt good about my decision to take it slow through the aid stations so that I wouldn’t shred my body. Recovery time after the race was much easier and given that this was not my “A” race, it was a great learning experience kind of day.

I have gotten lots more practice with hot weather training this summer so I have been able to experiment a bit more with what works for me on a hot day. I was able to weigh myself before and after a bike and figure out that I sweat 30+ ounces an hour on the bike on a hot day so I know that I need to go through at least 3 water bottles every two hours. Knowing how your body responds to different types of weather is key to having success on the run and the whole triathlon in general. Thanks Raleigh 70.3 2016 for the life lessons!!