Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trinona - Battle of the Bluff

I didn’t read the course description until the week before the race (I just looked at the distance, date, and location basically).  Then I read I had to bike up the bluff…BIKE UP THE BLUFF?!  I think I had a heart attack.  All my former plans for this being a fast race were thrown out the window, and my expectations were greatly adjusted.  The night before the race, Andy and I drove up the bike route up the bluff, stopping at the Scenic Overlook (which wasn’t even all the way up).  Looking down from the Overlook was gorgeous, but the hill climb was terrifyingly steep. And long. Garvin Heights was featured as one of Bicycling magazine’s “Top 100 Climbs” in the U.S. The road climbs 540 feet over 1.2 miles with a grade of 9.2%.  Now that sounds like just a lot of numbers, but let me tell you, whatever you are picturing, in reality, it is much worse, and longer, and steeper. 
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
Once you get to the top, it flattens out with just some rolling hills for the next few miles before you turn and begin the descent back down the bluff.  What goes up, must come back down.  We were warned to use extreme caution for the descent, and to make sure our brakes were working properly.  The descent was considered highly technical due to the steepness and curves.  The road was also open to vehicles, so we’d have to be on our guard.  As we drove down it, I noted there were some tight curves.  Would I coast the whole thing?  Would I need to use my brakes?  I hoped not.  Normally I am aggressive on downhills and consider it a strength, so if it was the case where I needed to back off and even use my brakes, it would take a lot away from my ride.  Originally I wanted a fast bike ride at this race, but now I hoped for a good swim and run, and to survive the ride.
            We woke up to perfect weather. The elite waves were started in masses first, and then it was a two-person time trial start by age group waves.  This was nice in the sense that it wasn’t a huge mass start, or even big waves of people to have to try and swim over or through.  I didn’t like it in the sense that you could not tell where you truly were in position to everyone else.  This would prove to be important later on.  In a write-up regarding the race, it was stated that the swim appeared to be slightly long.  I hope this was true because as I exited the water, I saw my swim time was much slower than I anticipated it should be, and it was a bit disheartening.  Nothing to dwell on though, I had the bluff to bike up! 
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
We first had to do an out and bike portion that used the sprint’s bike route, before we split off for the bluff.  For some reason, I had anticipated that this portion would be fairly flat, or straight, and it was neither.  It seemed every time there was a downhill, it was followed by a curve, or a tight turn, making me slow down and brake way too much for my liking.  Then we split off to go up the bluff and immediately it was full-out climbing mode.  Right away I had to shift into my easiest gear.  This was going to take a while.  And it did – over 9 minutes to cover that 1.2 miles, to be a little more precise.  The fastest woman (who also blew the old course record out of the water) climbed it about 2 minutes faster than me.  I was not racing the ascent by any means though.  I was surviving.  I was actually surprised at how quickly it seemed to pass, since in my mind I was convinced that it would literally take FOREVER to reach the top. 
Elevation & speed graph downloaded from the ride.
This was the warning on the race website: “Risks are inherent in this sport, but Life Time Tri Trinona's unique terrain demands a higher level of discretion while tackling the bike portion. While the signature ascent up Garvin Heights is challenging to say the least, extreme caution must be exercised when descending the bluff on Gilmore Valley Road. Tight turns, extreme downhill grade and narrow shoulders prohibit you from aggressively attacking this portion of the course. Please ensure your brakes are functioning properly prior to the race — you will need them.”  It took so long to reach the fun of the race – the descent, as we had several miles between the ascent and descent.  Then it happened, and as soon as it did, I saw the woman ahead of me already coasting.  Should I stop pedaling already?  I decided to keep going, the first curve looked manageable with a little more speed.  I passed by her, and the exhilaration of the descent started in.  I don’t think I ever touched my brakes and I probably pedaled for almost half of it.  It was thrilling.  If there hadn’t been so many curves, I would have pushed the speed more, as I didn’t even quite hit 40mph!  Andy set up a GoPro camera on my bike for this race – check out the footage from the descent!

Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            Any hills I encountered after this point felt brutal on my legs though, and I just wanted to be back at transition.  The first mile of the run felt pretty tough, but I knew that they should loosen up after that and I could pick up my pace then.  They did and I began to push each mile a little harder.  My goal was to make top 5 overall for females, but since it was an out-and-back run, I started counting the women ahead of me and got to 10 before I hit the turn-around.  I didn’t know if some of them were from relays though, or if some I could catch time-wise if they started the swim far enough ahead of me.  We merged with the sprint runners and it became even less clear as to who I needed to catch, so I just chased whoever was in front of me.  The finish line finally came into sight and I kicked it in to the finish for a 10K PR time and broke the tape!  (Okay, they put the tape up for everybody, but it was still fun.)
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            I didn’t know how I placed until the awards ceremony.  I took 2nd in my age group, just 6 seconds behind 1st place in my age group!  Drats!  I checked the results for how I did overall for females and discovered I was 6th overall, with my fellow age group winner just 6 seconds ahead of me for the 5th place finish.  I was so close to hitting top 5, but I had no idea where others were in correlation to me, and I never saw her out on the course.  It happens I guess; it was still a good day overall.  It was neat to be part of a race of such high caliber.  Everything was very well run and well done.  The competition was also some of the toughest I’ve been up against.  This was the first of the Minnesota Life Time Tri Series that I’ll be doing.  I’m definitely excited for my other big races this summer!

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