is that a tennis ball in your calf muscle?

May 16, 2009.  I was on my way to the first duathlon of the season.  This would be the first race with the new road bike.  In the past, I had raced this event with a hybrid, sitting up tall and proud catching every particle of wind I could to make me slower and thus, better able to challenge myself on the run portion of the event.  I picked up the phone to call my sister and wish her a happy birthday.  The thought occurred to me that it was still early, perhaps she was sleeping in, or getting breakfast served to her, or some such novelty so I decided against placing the call.  My stomach was in knots and for no real reason.  As the race director noted at the race “there is no money involved” and even if there was, I would not be in the running (hah) for it anyway.  Still, I get knots on race morning.  Maybe my stomach is just getting ready for the energy gels and beverages consumed before and during the race.  My goal in this race was to crush my cycle time from the year before.  I had spent some money on new wheels and spent some time working on hills so that I could at least not have to push up a 10 degree slope.  What follows is a mental diary of the race.  I’ve done this twice before with mixed results.  Practice makes perfect, sort of like the transition area.

Prerace:  Wow, this parking lot is full.  That’s great though, these races keep getting bigger which means more people are getting out and challenging themselves…ah, there’s a spot.  I like parallel parking in grass, it’s very forgiving.  Okay, one Gu gel down, some water, coat off, grab the helmet, shoes, bag, don’t need the warmup pants anymore, tires pumped to 115…ready to head to the transition area.  Hmmm, I see a man and a woman pushing a stroller, that’s not so unusual, but they each have a bike so they are both racing.  I wonder who is watching the kid.  Anyway, here we are, got my timing chip.  Found a nice spot for the bike, just hope I can find it at some point when I finish the first run.  That’s always fun, trying to catch your breath while looking for your ride.  One more gel, some water, make sure my shoes are tight enough to stay on but also easy to slip off without untying, and we’re ready for the starting line.

Run number 1:  This is a nice two mile trail run with a small stretch on the road and some good challenging hills.  At least that’s how I remember it.  The first mile starts with a downhill over grass, crossing a driveway and then ducks into the woods.  We keep going downhill until there is a left turn and we head uphill.  This uphill path is a boat launch so the path is a bit rocky.  For the second run we’ll just turn around at some point here, but we’re heading to the right and down another hill now.  The problem with running downhill is that at some point, you have to go back up.  It seems like for this race most of the downhill is happening already.  When is that gel going to kick in?  Or the oatmeal?  It seems like I should have a burst of energy at some point.  I’ll probably get it during my drive home and suddenly stomp on the gas pedal.  No song in my head today, seems like a lot of clutter floating around up there.  Maybe I’ll just enjoy the silence and the sound of feet and breathing.

Transition 1:  The end of the run has a short uphill, a short, steep downhill, another short uphill, some flat, then downhill to transition.  So if you weren’t a bit winded during the rest of the run, now you are.  Time to find your bike.  I should have put one of those big flags on the back or something so I could see it.  Ah, there it is.  Okay, running shoes off, cycling shoes on.  Velcro tight, helmet on and clipped, bike off the rack and we’re running out of transition to the mount line.  The feet are clipped into the pedals and we’re on our way.  Finally, I’m on my road bike, not doing this race with the hybrid tank and already passing people.  Awesome!  They run two races at once for this event.  The first race to go off is a longer distance.  2 mile run, 10 mile bike, 1 mile run, 10 mile bike, 2 mile run.  The second (I’m in the second) leaves five minutes later for a 2 mile run, 10 mile bike, 1 mile run.  This means that you have no idea if the people you are passing are in your race or the other race. 

Ride 1:  Feeling good after the first mile, the legs are working, grabbed a beverage, turning south and we have a nice headwind.  This isn’t great to see, but I’d rather have it now considering we are heading north toward the end of the bike leg and will have this as a tail wind.  At least in theory.  The course is rolling hills so you get to test your climbing skills in short spurts and then fly down a few paths.  Everyone is riding well.  People are making way for each other when passing, I don’t see any drafting and even the cars are giving us a nice wide path.  At mile 3 I’m engaged in some sort of competition with two other riders.  They are passing me on the downhills and I’m passing them on the uphills.  The downhill is interesting since I’m not the lightest rider and usually can pass people just coasting.  My plan is to build a good enough lead on a long hill around the 4 mile mark and not see them until the run portion.  A sweeping right turn moves us to a southwest section before a traffic circle heads us back north.  This is where the gels and speed kick in.  This route has some long hills so you can get some great speed down and carry yourself over the top.  Back in the park area we’re back in rollers and some rough road but fewer cars.  One final left turn carries you down toward transition and the dismount zone.

Transition 2:  This is where it gets interesting.  Push your bike to the spot, back on the rack.  You don’t want to make a mess and leave your bike in the way of your fellow competitors.  Now kneeling down, off comes the right bike shoe, on goes the running shoe.  I’ll just pull off the left bike shoe and owowowowowowowowowowow!  My left calf has a tennis ball in it now.  Okay, not a real tennis ball, but a knot in the muscle or something that I can actually see.  Oh man, that hurts!  Ow!  Cramp, cramp, stretch it…you’re running on time here…I don’t think I can go any more.  Ow!  Okay, let’s get the shoe off.  Rub the spot a little.  Okay, I think the ball is gone.  Running shoe on.  Quick stretch.  Let’s go. 

Run 2:  This is not going to be fun.  Usually when I start the second run, there is pain in my quads from the change bike to running.  This time, I have a nice cramp in my left calf that is better than it was in transition, but is still making me slow.  Worse, up in front of me about 20 yards is one of the two guys I was battling with on the bike.  He seemed to be in my age group, the other one wasn’t.  I should at least try to stick with him.  Down the hill, up the boat ramp again to the turn around.  Down the hill, right turn, flat, right turn, uphill (this is as much as my brain can muster at the time) left turn, uphill, left turn, uphill through the woods, steep downhill, he’s still ahead, steep uphill, passed three people on that section. flat and can see the finish line, left turn around a tree, he finished and no one is around me for a final sprint….and I’m done. 

Finish Line:  My goal was to finish in under an hour.  Mission accomplished:  58:34  Second was ride the bike faster (done by almost 6 minutes).  The cramp in transition cost me at least 30 seconds but it was either that or quitting.  My run slowed down from last year too (31 seconds slower on first run and 41 seconds slower on the second), but I placed higher so obviously the strong bike leg worked.  Plus the guy in front of me was in an older age group.  That’s a win all the way around.

All in all, another fun race put on by Yellow Jacket Racing.  Great people were there racing, volunteering and cheering.  You never really see someone upset to finish no matter their place.  We’re all there working off the beer that we’ll drink later in the day.  Okay, that’s just an assumption.  Bring on the Fly By Night!

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