Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Du Nats Report

Oro Valley, AZ lies just north of Tucson. It is an alluring place for me. I have loving relatives there who welcome me with open arms.  The valley is surrounded by desert mountains which, of course, means there is a field force pulling and guiding me in. And the valley just hosted the USAT Duathlon National Championships for the third year in a row. It is no wonder then that I found myself in Oro Valley again last weekend.

The journey to the desert was fraught with icy peril. Well, not really, but the mere possibility of icy planes initiated two last minute de-icings that caused the Evansville plane to leave forty five minutes late and then wait another thirty minutes on the O'Hare tarmac while another bird was de-iced at our gate. The result was a nervous hustle over to the connecting flight. The last to board that flight, I felt certain that Hope, my bike of choice for the race, had not made the connection. Twenty hours later a part of me was wishing that she hadn't.

The rest of the day went according to plan. I checked into the hotel next to Catalina State Park, built and tested Hope, went to packet pickup, visited relatives, and had a great pre-race meal. I even got to bed early!

I arrived at the race site early enough to stop by the bike mechanic to have him run through Hope's gear settings since I wasn't happy with the finicky front derailleur. He adjusted the front derailleur screw while I applied sunscreen and put on my race belt. (OMG!! Why did I need 9 numbers, USAT?!) When I looked over at one point I thought I saw him looking at my seat, but I thought nothing of it as I was mentally rehearsing my transitions.

A few minutes later I left the bike in transition - right next to my friend and major competition - Andy Ames. Andy, from Boulder, CO, is a talented athlete and a great guy! Followers of this blog know that Andy has beaten me both times we raced this season. Because my health had almost returned to normal and because my training had indicated that I was significantly faster at both running and cycling than I had been all year, I felt that my chances of beating Andy were as good as they could be.

The plan was simple. I would stay within myself and within 30-35 seconds of Andy on the first run. Then I would bike into the lead with legs that were much stronger than they had been when I had out biked Andy twice before. My cycling was, in fact, better than it had been in several years. So, I planned/hoped to get far enough ahead of Andy to build an insurmountable lead going into the second run. That was the plan, anyway.

All seemed well, as I stood on the start line, but full knowledge of the situation at that moment would have caused me to wet myself!

The first run went well for me. The course consisted of two out-and-backs that both dropped down hills before coming back up to the transition/start area. I was surprised to find myself running in fourth place at the first u-turn, but content as I was comfortable and only four seconds behind Andy.

When I reached the second u-turn, which is about 1200 uphill meters from the end of the run, I was only eighteen seconds behind Andy and in second place in the wave. And I still felt comfortable. I moved cautiously up that last big hill, knowing that I would give up time but also hoping to remain comfortable. I crossed the line in 17:35, which was 17 seconds faster than last year. Groovy!

After a smooth transition I powered up to speed on the slight incline leaving transition. Then I settled in for a fast ride while scanning the crowd of earlier-wave racers until I saw Andy climbing the first of many hills as I descended to the base of that climb.

Not the fastest way to ride.
It was on that first climb, two minutes into the ride, that my chasing of Andy ceased. While I was dropping gears and beginning to push hard on the pedals I felt the nose of my seat move. Not groovy at all! After easing up on the pedals for a few seconds I dug  hard again and down went the seat. I stood up and saw that it was pointing down at about 30 degrees. I yanked it up and sat down to start pedaling again. And down it went again! Grrrr.

Post race . . . 
The Oro Valley is quite hilly, so this up/down scenario played out over and over - dozens of times. My frustration grew when I noted at the first turn around that I had LOST time to Andy. As ridiculous as it may seem, I even tried to hold the seat up with my right hand and steer the bike with my left hand on the aero extension. Boy, did I cuss at that bike as I sought to find a way to ride it fast!

I also started scanning for someone who might have a 5mm allen wrench. I knew that stopping to fix tighten the bolt would cost me 30-45 seconds, but that seemed small compared to the minutes I was losing by not being able to push hard on the pedals, taking pedaling breaks to pull up on the seat, and by trying to pedal from awkward seat heights as that value continuously changed by 2-3 inches. Moving back on the saddle helped a little, but it soon had my lower back screaming at me. I passed the message on to Hope. Oh, how I have grown to hate that frame!

The seat position is a lot more laid back than I am accustomed to, so I had to push the seat fully forward. I have noticed that other multisport athletes have done the same. Kestrel seems to have catered more to the cycling time trialist than to the multisport crowd with the 4000 frame in that respect. To further complicate the problem of moving the seat to the end of its range, the seat binding mechanism is a puzzle of six pieces that are all pressed together when the bolt is tightened. And they do not hold well. I would love to have a talk with the person/team that designed it! I learned early on that the torque required to keep the seat from moving is FAR more than normal. I questioned the company and followed every piece of advice. Still, the seat moved until I created enough friction and torqued the demons of hell out of it. It had not moved on me in several months leading up to Du Nats. Sigh.

Those people who know me well are aware of the fact that I don't really care about beating people. I really do all of this to maintain health. My races are goals that keep me motivated to carry out the consistent training required to keep me fit.

Oh, I am competitive, but I know I am only slightly above average when it comes to innate talent. So, I am used to being beaten by superior athletes like Andy. My top competitor has always been myself. More recently I find myself battling Father Time. Growing old healthily has certainly moved me up in an aging field, but being a fast old man is not good enough. I always want to be fit and to give my best effort.

Because not giving my best is simply unacceptable, that ride was frustrating. Knowing that I should have checked that seat added humility to my vexation. Laughter did find me during the ride, though.

Just after I made the far turn around on the second loop I watched an ambulance pass on the other side of the median. Because I had been pushing hard up to the turn, I needed to pull the seat up. As I stopped pedaling and grabbed it I heard someone screaming ahead. I looked up to see a policeman standing in the road. He was facing me with his arms extended. He was insisting that I stop. I was a mere 50 feet from him and moving at 25 mph. Seriously??? Yes. A fire engine was beginning to cross behind him. Oh, sh@t! I stood there and laughed as I asked the policeman for an allen wrench. Wouldn't that have been an awesome gift?

Glancing at my Polar RCX5 as I approached transition I was crushed to see that my ride had been over three minutes slower than last year and four minutes slower than I thought I could go this year. Tough day in the saddle, hombre!

While running through T2 I found out just how strained my lower back was. The pain took my breath away as I slowly bent over and struggled to put my run shoes back on. I muttered something along the lines of "It's time to go, Princess," as I turned to leave.

I started the second run with relatively fresh legs and an incredibly tight back. Game over. Finishing became my goal. I shook my head as I thought about how much my months-long vision had changed in just over an hour. The race was nowhere near perfect. While I cannot predict whether or not I would have beaten Andy, I am certain that the race would have been more interesting if I had turned a small wrench on that seat bolt.

During my final ascent of the big hill I was able to smile as I thought about the fact that I was a lucky man to be healthy and in such a beautiful place with people who care about me.  And I was thankful for my Polar created data and seemingly endless VFuel energy as I zipped up the top near the finish line.

Post race with Andy
The rest of this AZ trip was magnificent, since it was spent with family and valued friends. We ate big, laughed a lot, and threw stones at Hope.  No, not really. But I thought about it several times as I toured the Arizona-Sonoma Desert Museum the next day. The next post will be a pictorial essay of that memorable day. ST

The view of the Santa Catalina Mountains from John and Lori's backyard . . .