Tuesday, March 24, 2009

AT ORT (Aqua Terra Off-Road Tri)

Last Sunday Mike and Debbie of Aqua Terra held an off-road triathlon in Bastrop, TX. John was psyched to race in the solo division, so I begrudgingly agreed with the caveat that I somehow get a chance to run the river as practice before race day. 99.43% of my paddling experience is in a multi-person boat, and most of the remainder is on flat water. I borrowed Jason/Sheila's Pamlico kayak, a wonderfully stable tub that isn't quite as slow as you might expect.

We did manage a practice run last Friday, and I decided that the river was mostly easy and didn't require turning on a dime (not likely to happen in that boat) so I would be OK to race solo. I started in the back of the pack, managing to avoid all boats except one still waiting on the shore as the 2 women racers next to it were apparently even more concerned with the mass start than I was. One slight bump and I was on my way. Surfing the waves that trailed the gaggle of boats ahead of me was fun! Then it was time to dig in and get to work.

I tried to remember all the things Shaun had taught me during our many hours in a sea kayak at PQ Washington. If I got half of it back, I'm lucky, but at least it gave me something to focus on (push, plant, pull; relax the hands). I will always be a single blader at heart. I found a pace I could sustain, I watched everyone ahead of me, and aimed for the shortest path that stayed in deep water (unless there was more current at the outside of the turn).

The short bits of current were easy and fun. Except for the one large tree in the way, but there was a left channel option with enough water to avoid it. I watched one guy carry his boat away from the tree so he could get back in, while a bunch of solo paddlers wisely went left instead. More flat water, a bit more current, a short windy section, then there was the take-out. I could still see several solo women ahead of me, which pleased me. I had expected (quite reasonably, I thought) that I would lose 10 minutes on the 6.4 mile paddle, but remarkably the gap behind 1st place was less than 5.

A quick transition, then it was off to the dirt roads on my bike. I passed one guy who then sped by me, but he couldn't maintain the pace and eventually had to let me go on the first hill. I briefly caught sight of Tammy in a blue jersey, then she was gone among the twists and turns and ups and downs of Tahitian Village. Bryan the photographer told me I was 4th in the women's solo race, chasing 2nd and 3rd with a large gap to 1st. No matter, I was just trying not to lose too much time on the 11-mile bike leg. I figured I could make up a bit of time on the run course, but that was only 4 miles long so it wouldn't help THAT much.

The second half of the loop was flatter and faster, then it was back to TA for a quick run through the transition chute. As I was making my way to the exit, I noticed Kip talking with someone about me and the riders just ahead of me - looks like there was at least one woman not far ahead. It turned out to be Sheila, which was unexpected because she's an excellent mountain biker. On the other hand, there was hardly anything technical that would slow me down and give the real cyclists a real advantage. I passed Sheila going up a hill, and we both passed a guy that seemed to be chatting away like he had plenty of breath. What's up with that?

I was breathing plenty hard, aiming for the lines that worked for the first lap and improving my lines in a couple places, all the while trying to optimize my gears for the constant little hills. Running into TA, I quickly dropped the bike and pack and grabbed my water bottle. Just ahead of me I spotted Tammy who was chasing Helena onto the run course. We both had gained back time on the bike after finished several minutes behind Helena on the paddle.

Time to run! Well, sort of. I used to do triathlons, and the bike-to-run transition got easier with time, but it's still a difficult adjustment. All three of us women were breathing hard heading down the trail. Tammy stepped aside to let me and my noisy squishy shoes go past. I continued working on my recovery while following behind Helena until she slowed a bit. I passed her and suddenly I was in the lead.

I'm so comfortable chasing people down, that being in the lead of a running race is quite an adjustment for me. I didn't want to look back too often, but I also didn't want to relax and give anything away. The dirt road was a bit difficult for some reason, then the course returned to the beautiful river trail and I felt better. I got to cheer on John as he tried but didn't quite succeed at chasing down Bart for the overall solo win (missed by 6 seconds!). Going through TA for the final time, John let me know I had a big gap, which was good because I still didn't feel like I could speed up at all.

The second lap on the run went great, then it was over and I could breath again. Winning the women's solo race was quite a surprise, but I'll take it! And no, I'm still not inspired to improve my solo paddling...

The splits:
Paddle (including transition to bike) = 1:12:07 (4th of 8 solo women)
Bike = 51:52 (1st solo woman)
Run = 37:37 (1st solo woman)
Total = 2:41:36

Fun race!
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