Monday, September 24, 2012

Leadman 250 Bend Race Report



Smoke, Tears and the Navigationally Challenged


Not familiar with the Leadman Tri series?  This is part of the Life Time Fitness company and they promise to put together races under the Leadman Tri name on some of the toughest courses. Leadman originated in Leadville, CO in 1983 and now the series spans 3 months of racing including a 100-mile trail run and 100-mile MTB race. They take the term "endurance athlete" to an all new level. They call it the 250 because the race is across 250k (156 miles) of some of the toughest and most scenic venues. The swim is 5k (3.1 miles) followed by a 223k (238.5 mile) bike and then a 22k (13.7 mile) run. They also offered a 125k version of Bend which was a 2.5k (1.55 miles) swim, 106k (66.9 mile) bike and 16k (9.94 mile) run. Read more about the Leadville race series here.

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, the longest officially recognized name of a place, has 85 letters. It's the name for a hill, 305 meters (1,000 ft) high, close to Porangahau, New Zealand. Just like that names slides off the end of your tongue, I envision myself gliding through the clear cold ice melt of Cultus Lake with only the slightest of effort. If only I could say that the colder the water the faster I swim because it dulls the senses, causes my body to constrict and makes me more streamline. The morning kicked off with the swim in cool, calm conditions. I was doing really well and hung with the pack all the way up to when the canon sounded to start the race. About 800 yards after we jumped in the water I dropped off the pack, backed off and began my solo journey through 3.1 miles of crystal clear mountain lake water. I wasn’t going to win it in the swim but I always seem to lose it in the swim. As I completed the first 2.5k loop and took a glass of water from the aid station it didn’t look like I was more than a minute or two behind the pack. Like a sumo wrestler at a ballet I jumped back in for Round 2. I never bridged the gap or ever swam with anyone the rest of the way and exited the water in a manageable 11th. My hands and feet were numb but not as bad as some other swims this season, nothing like Oceanside or Boise. As I ran to the bike racks I could see that my bike was one of the last still there. I wasn’t too worried because I knew the race wasn’t going to be won on the swim and that there were 138 epic bike miles ahead of everyone. Still, I didn't know how far back I was and don’t like being at the back of the pack and there as some strong cyclists racing so with some haste I put on arm warmers and a jacket to keep the cool mountain air from chilling my core within the first couple of miles.

The bike was challenging. Having race Pacific Crest Long Course a couple of time I was familiar with how difficult the day was going to be. You ascend from 4400 feet to 6600 feet over the first 45 miles, with much of that coming on the Mt. Bachelor climb. It was very confusing as you came out of Cultus Lake and headed south to the turnaround. It was supposed to be 10 miles down and back but for some reason they had moved it to 20 miles. The Sparks Lake climb was a heart pounding 2 miles of 9% grade followed by 2 miles of 3-4% all above 5,000 ft elevation. The air is thin and the entire course is very quiet, almost an eerie quiet but I would say it doesn’t quite measure up in difficulty compared to Richter at IM Canada and the Nasty Grade at Wildflower. It’s similar in climbing distance as Richter and a little less steep than Nasty Grade. The kicker comes leading into the climb where you have a 13 mile stretch of steady uphill with 17 uphill pitches that serve as a good warm up before the quad killer. This section kind of reminded me of the 7 pitches after Richter in Canada without the descent after each steep pitch, just false-flats between them. And then you get to loop back around and do all of this again before riding the 20 mile decent back into town going 45mph.

My race plan for the bike was experimental but simple, let my Trek Speed Concept chew through 8,000 feet of elevation in 138 miles faster than Joey Chestnut dunks and chomps his way through 68 hot dogs. Actually, my plan was to keep the heart rate low and cadence high and the thought of eating that many hot dogs makes my stomach churn. I’d never raced 138 hilly miles before and then had to run a hilly 22k right afterwards. I've ridden 140 miles before during training for IM races but never raced it. I wanted to be conservative and have something in the tank for the run then go all out and completely bonk only miles into the 22k. As I rode south on the first 10 miles I saw course signs at an intersection for the 125 distance racers to turn but I didn’t see any course markers indicating which way the 250 distance racers were supposed to go. I knew we followed a similar course but according to the course map we were supposed to go ~11 miles before our turnaround. Without seeing any course markers I turned and headed down the road and immediately felt like I made a mistake. I stopped and positioned myself so I could see both roads from the same point, then came a quick prayer. "WHICH WAY?" As soon as I opened my eyes I saw a guy with a red bike number go straight. Red race numbers were the 250 racers. That was all I need and gave chase. After I got on the correct 250 course I saw the course marker for the 250 distance pointing the correct direction. It was just over a slight hill on the other side of the intersection. This race would have turned out much differently if that specific course marker was 100 feet before the intersection, not past.

I caught up to Paolina Allan about mile 30. I raced with her last month at IM Canada and knew we have similar race abilities so she must be having a bad day if I’m catching her. We chatted as I passed and told her to keep the gap but ride with me so it’s not as lonely. Shortly after Paolina dropped off then I caught up to Jennifer Lebuke right before I stopped at the Special Needs station to drop off my jacket. I didn't want to stop but my arm was stuck in my jacket sleeve and I couldn't get it off without wrecking myself. It wasn’t until the climb at Sparks Lake at about mile 60 that I caught up to Heather Gollnick. An average human speak 4,800 words in 24 hours. To go 60 miles without talking to anyone meant I needed to make up for lost words as I met other racers on the course. I was cordial and cheered for her as I passed but inside I was like…”Holy crap, I just passed Heather Gollnick, she’s a 5-time Ironman champ.” I'm sure she looked at me like I was an auctioneer in training as I tried to squeeze 500 of my 4,800 word daily allotment in the 5 seconds as I passed. I checked my heart rate and my cadence just to make sure I wasn’t outside my ranges. She must be having a bad day or just pacing herself for 6+ hours in the saddle. Anyways, no time to stay and chat.  The next 60 miles were ugly with strong headwinds on a lonely, worn out stretch of the road  and then at about mile 120 I caught Haley Cooper-Scott as I neared the summit of Mt. Bachelor for the second time. I’ve raced Haley a couple of times this year so I knew her abilities and I also knew I was going to be at a disadvantage as soon as I crested Mt. Bachelor since the next 18 miles going into Bend were all downhill and she was riding a full rear disc. I had to hammer now and get a good lead or she would just pass me again on the freshly paved road before entering T2. As I closed the gap between us I watched as she looked back to see who was coming and I purposely sat up to make it look like I wasn’t closing on her. Then the next time she looked back I was actually right next to her and it kind of startled her.

I pulled into T2 in 4th position with a 6:30:09 bike split, that ended up being the fastest of the day, and watched as Mackenzie and Christine ran out. I wanted to follow but with the thick smoke I needed to take my inhaler. As I sat down during T2 to put my shoes on and take my inhaler everyone was going crazy telling me they were only a couple of seconds ahead of me, don't sit, GO! Trust me, I would have loved to followed but it’s too hard to take my inhaler and run. As I ran along the course I saw Linsey Corbin and only thing I remember hearing Linsey say is, “Don’t cry, they’re right in front of you.” If only she knew these weren’t tears of joy or sadness but tears of pain. I have sensitive eyes to smoke and they were burning so bad it made it look like I was crying. During the 2,475,576,000 seconds of the average life, averagely we speak 123,205,750 words, have sex 4,239 times, shed 121 pints of tears. During that run, I shed about half of those tears.  My legs felt better than they have coming off the bike in a long time and it didn’t take long for me to get into a groove. Don’t be confused. This run course was not flat or fast. Lots of elevation change as well as different terrain kept things mixed.  At mile 3 I caught up to and passed Mackenzie and could see Christine not too far ahead of me. Unfortunately we were on a switch-back portion of the course which allowed her to see me coming up and caused her to run harder before I wanted her to. A mile later and instead of being the stalker, I have Haley on my heels stalking me. I ran at threshold for the next 2 miles trying to shake her but like lint on a bad sweater she matched my pace. In the end I broke and she pulled ahead. Paybacks, I guess. My heart was jumping out of my chest and miles 8 thru 10 were then some of the hardest I’ve ever pushed through. Then, I started to empty my stomach involuntarily which then made me feel much better. Nice…that’s how I can tell whether I’m giving it an honest effort…losing your cookies on the run course. I didn’t need that nutrition anyways, it’s just extra weight. Like I always say, “Get it up. Get it out. Get on with it.”  On the run they had mile markers every 0.5 miles and part of it went through a golf community. Somehow I got to a point where I wasn’t seeing mile markers anymore and wasn’t seeing any other runners. As I looked around I noticed a guy running in the same direction but a couple of blocks away. Somehow after mile 10 I had missed a turn and added a little extra sightseeing. Once I got back on course the next 3 miles were my fastest splits of the day and about a half mile before the finish I was able to overtake Kristen who had lead through the swim and the bike. Final 22k run time was 1:44:25 which resulted in a season defining 3rd and a final time of 9:36:14.


Next Up



Arizona it is.  I made the decision before I left for Leadman that I wanted to end the season with one more Ironman distance. I had been planning to race 70.3 Austin but since the focus is now on Kona points for 2013, Arizona offers a lot more and as long as I place inside the top 10 I would earn more points than winning Austin. Granted, I would be outside the money if not in the top 6 but my ultimate goal is to go back to Kona as a Pro. I could technically race Austin as a warm up for Arizona but this late in the season I don’t have cash to travel to both. After Arizona, then it’s time off, hunt for sponsors and Holidays with the family. 2013 will bring…wait and see! Faster times for sure.


Insights



I’ve already been asked, by a number of people how I carried enough nutrition with me on the bike. I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining it because I’ve talked about it a lot in previous race reports. VESPA, people! Fat is fuel. I carried the concentrate with me on the bike and the run then only took water at the aid stations to mix it with. The approach is a little unorthodox compared to conventional carbohydrate beliefs…but it works.

There must be something subconsciously wrong with me where I don’t feel like I’m racing if I’m not chasing everyone. I swim faster than this during training in the lake. Someday, like a snake in the grass, I’m going to surprise everyone by exciting the water only a couple of minutes behind the lead swimmer. Sometimes I wonder why the first discipline in a Triathlon can’t be something like boxing or arm wrestling. This was a 5k swim but I swam 3 minutes faster than I did at Canada which is a shorter course. Go figure. Luckily I have TYR who makes me look good getting in and out of the water and also recognizes that for moms like me the only way I’ll have good looking abs again is if they are painted on. It's all about intimidation.

Would I do this race again? Without hesitation. I’m already putting together my race calendar for next year and I’m trying to make this one fit. I love the distances and the emphasis being more on the swim and the bike and not having that body pounding marathon at the end. Sure there were some things that went a little awry and could have been done differently but seldom do you ever go to a first year race and have everything set up perfectly. I heard of racers taking wrong turns and getting off course, heck, I did it too, on both the bike and the run which both cost me precious minutes and energy. That was the longest, loneliest 138 miles I’ve ever ridden. The entire field was so spread out. Not seeing anyone for so long was physically and mentally draining but watch for my name on the start list again for next year. Leadman refers to it as Epic. I prefer single syllable words like “Hard”, “Tough” or a simple grunt especially after that much distance and elevation on the bike. I’m still winded. Instead of Lead-man, Lead-legs is more like it.