24 Hours of Triathlon- Team “Trust Me” Race Report

11 09 2007

By Becky Dreasher

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24 Hours of Triathlon. What does that mean? In a nutshell: Try to complete as many triathlons within a 24 hour period. Compete alone, or with other people. After the first triathlon cycle, you can complete the legs in any order. Swim legs cannot be started between 6:30 pm and 6:30 am. Sounds like a good idea, right?

The rules are simple enough, but to take on this kind of effort you need a plan. For the second year in a row, I put my Excel skills to good use and worked up the race plan for a four-person team. The guiding principles I used were: (1) Get the swims in early (avoid afternoon storms) (2) Get in as many bike legs as possible in daylight (minimize lighting requirements) (3) Maximize rest periods for each team member.

Last year only one of our foursome (Russ) did all three sports. This year, all four of us (Ashley, Megan, Russ, and me — Becky) would do all three. Last year the race was at the Boulder Reservoir — our “backyard.” This year’s race was at Cherry Creek State Park, and only Megan had raced there before. The bike and run legs were significantly shorter than last year. Our team met once on the Tuesday before the race to discuss strategy and establish our expectations. We’d meet early at the park on Saturday. Ron (my husband) would join us Saturday afternoon to provide race support. No turning back now.

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You know those nights before a race when you wake up every hour because you’re afraid you’re going to oversleep? I decided to skip that drill by sleeping *at* the race. I got to park at about 7 pm on Friday. Somewhere in my piles of gear I was certain I had a map of the park, but it was nowhere in reach. I immediately got disoriented, yet drove directly to the correct parking lot. A good omen? It took a little searching to find our team’s designated pit area due to the darkening skies, but I found it and starting setting up right away. It was at the midpoint of the pit area nestled up against the bike leg’s in/out path to transition.

The team in the adjoining pit area had a pop-up camper and a loud generator (and a chatty pre-schooler doing laps on training wheels). I quickly got tired and impatient while I set up the EZ-up shelter (via Ron’s phone support) surrounded by lightning and some rain. After the neighbors shut off their generator, they fired up a campfire, from which I was downwind. Great — now all my stuff can smell like smoke. The campfire went out, so next came the lighter fluid fumes. Whoo-ee, I thought. These are going to be great neighbors.

Due to the rain, I decided to leave my tent rolled up in its bag in the car and sleep in the back of the van. I shut my eyes yet my mind raced. I sat up and scribbled out a timeline for the next morning. I would never consult this list again, but the mental exercise allowed me to relax and drift off to sleep. It was about 10 pm.

Is was 5 am when I heard the first car arrive. It was time to get up. I don’t remember much about the 3 hours leading up to the race — it was one of those fuzzy periods. My teammates arrived. We put up our tents. I stood in line to get our team’s timing chips. I put in my contacts and put on my swimsuit. I got marked. There was a pre-race meeting where they explained the course and the timing system. The usual drill.

I would swim the first leg at 8:00 am. I put myself in leadoff position not so much because I was our team’s fastest swimmer, but because I’m the least intimidated in the water. I think that goes back to my age group swimming days in Dallas. As a treat, our coach had us play a game in the diving well he called “gutterball.” It was a form of water polo — minus the gentility. For example, instead of throwing the ball into a net (something our park pool lacked), you had to hold the ball in the gutter for three seconds while fending off eye jabs and half nelsons served up by the defense. Suffice it to say that everyone got used to a little body contact in the pool. It also helped with treading water and making quick turns. I bet my coach didn’t realize he was training triathlon skills.

The swim course was described by at least one person as “a flattened lollipop.” It was essentially a 1/4 mile race track out about 25 yards running parallel to the beach. Two counter-clockwise laps of the track were required for each swim leg. A white “Red Bull” bouy marked each end of the track. You swam out to meet the track at the midpoint of the straightaway.

The swim course may sound straightforward now, but it wasn’t clear initially. The park rangers were still setting up bouys after 8:00 am to mark the course perimeter. Unfortunately, the perimeter marking bouys were identical to the ones that marked the end points of the “track.” On the first lap, I discovered I was temporarily chasing a bouy that was being towed away by a boat! Yeah, I know my sighting skills aren’t very good, but I wasn’t the only one.

The other challenging thing about the swim course was that there were only the two end-point bouys. Each required a 180-degree turn. If you were lined up headed straight at a buoy, you could bet there was someone coming head-on, sighting the bouy directly behind you. I experienced no head-on collisions, although I had a couple “wha-wazzat!?” moments when people passed me on my right rather than my left.

I did five swim legs with about an hour rest between each one. By the time our team was done with our swims at 2:15 pm it was well into the 90s. We were all very happy to get out of our wetsuits. The water temperature was a comfortable 78 degrees, and I considered going without the wetsuit altogether. I sometimes wonder who would win a race — me, or me in a wetsuit. I always feel bouyant, yet plodding when I wear one.

Megan and Russ did the first 4 bike legs after my last swim, so I had two hours to sit around and get nervous. Sure, I’d done a whole week of riding during RAGBRAI, but that was a bike *tour* — not a race. The course was mostly flat out and back, with one climb about 1/2 mile from the end. I got spanked on the hill on the first lap. Afterwards I had a 1/2 hour rest while Ashley did her first bike leg. My second leg promised to be much faster than the first, but shortly after the turnaround, my derailer shifted into “11th gear.” I told myself not to panic, clip out, and get off the road. After about 30 seconds of trying to finesse the chain back on, I resorted to brute force. After about a minute total time, I was back on the road, only greasier. I had an easier time up the final hill on lap 2, but my time showed the minute delay. After my second bike leg, it was 6:00 pm. I had a 2:30 rest period before my next bike leg, so I changed to a dry jersey and clean socks.

Megan’s borrowed light set malfunctioned right before her bike leg was to start at 8:00 pm. We set her up with the light I was going to use, knowing that we’d have to transfer it back to my bike, then to Ashley’s. We took a couple long transitions getting the light mounted, because it wasn’t something we’d planned. Still, it was time well spent. This light set is awesome. (I had joked with Ron that we could play “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” pretending it was the spot light. (“Relax / Don’t do it…” Am I dating myself? Anywho…)

The bike course at night was spooky. Several of the cones had been knocked over, so it was important to be heads-up and aware the whole ride. I was praying that I wouldn’t meet any wildlife, and luckily was hit by only an errant grasshopper or two. I was surprised how some people managed with so little light. One guy passed me probably going 20 mph with what looked like a 2-LED head lamp. I would have freaked.

I felt fresh on the final climb of my last lap, and didn’t have to resort to my lowest gear. The course marshall at the top yelled, “You *own* that hill!” I don’t care if he told everyone the same thing — it was true on that lap and it felt great.

Done with biking at 9:20 pm, I had 2 hours of rest before I needed to start running. It was time to change into dry clothes and try to relax. I needed to do 5 run legs: a set of 3 and a set of 2. Doubling and triping legs was the only way to give (and get) extended rest periods. The run was a 2.66 mile out-and-back course on park trail. The first half mile was on hard-pack sand/gravel and blacktop; the balance was on concrete. Russ was the only one on the team who had seen the run course in daylight. It was kind of dicey following the first 1/2 mile of the course in the dark, but it got easier with repetition.

I felt dreadful during the first half of the first lap. My left knee started feeling hinky right after the turn-around. I was ready to panic realizing how many miles I needed to do before morning. I had a team depending on me! About that time I decided I would try to say something uplifting to every runner I encountered on the course. The first leg it was mostly “Good job” and “Way to go.” Later it was “Keep it up.” By my final run lap (starting around 4:45 am), I switched to “Morning’s coming!” Maybe I was imparting some positive energy to the other runners, but that was secondary. For me, it guaranteed that I would hear something positive at least once a minute. This helped to keep the goon squad away.

The quarter moon provided the majority of the run course lighting. Many people turned off their lights while out on the course. It was easy to hear the breathing of someone coming up fast, but some of the walkers were very stealthy. I tried to stay focused and relaxed, but I started getting hazy by my third lap. Ashley had told me about the Sleep Number Bed they had at the Radisson the night before. The turnaround point was practically in the shadow of the Radisson. Each time I’d get close to the turnaround, I would blearily think, “Oh, there’s the Radisson. They have Sleep Number Beds.”

The aid station for the run was at the turnaround. I didn’t take anything on the first lap, but took a gel and a cup of water the next four laps. I got progressively better at calling out in the dark to announce what I wanted. On my last lap, the course worker called back, “You sound like you’ve done this before!” With great relief I was able to say, “But this is my last time!” I finished my last run lap at 5:15 am.

We knew that morning would bring a point of reckoning — the point where the race plan and reality would clash. When I handed off to Russ at 5:15, I was spent. Our plan had us completing 17 triathlons with one extra swim and one extra bike, but we were 20 minutes behind plan. I asked Russ to cut his planned 2 run legs back to just one, so we could make sure we wouldn’t get caught a swim short (and get credit for only 16 triathlons). I tried to decypher the notations that Ashley and Megan made to the plan, but my sleep-deprived brain just couldn’t figure it out. For all I could tell, it said I was supposed to swim three more legs. No way! I’m dying here! I woke up Ashley and Megan and we discussed that we needed — at a minimum — 2 bikes and 2 swims. That would give us 17 triathlons minus a run. Megan and Ashley would do the bikes; Russ (still out running) and I would do the swims. I changed out of my damp running clothes and into dry clothes over my swimsuit.

I can’t remember much of the next 1-1/2 hours. I think I spent the time shuffling around in a fog. I do remember seeing Scott in the transition area during one of his rest breaks. I must have looked pretty baked because, despite what Scott was going through, he was able to make fun of the way I was dressed.

When Ashley passed by our pit area starting her bike leg at 6:20 am, she called out that she was going to do the final run leg. That would give us 17 full triathlons. God bless her. I was cooked. I needed to get back into my wetsuit and wait for her to return.

The swim course opened up at 6:30 am. Ashley was back in transition at 7:00. I ambled down the hill to the beach for the last time. Hardly anyone was in the water. It was quiet and peaceful. Less than 15 minutes later I was out of the water and headed back up the beach. I was done. Russ needed to do one more swim, and Ashley needed to do the final run, but I was finished. Done. Toast.

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Last year I was euphoric after the race — exhausted, yet thrilled. This year I was spent. Throbbing headache. Waves of nausea. I spent Sunday afternoon curled up in bed feeling like I was going to die. I guess I can confidently say I didn’t leave anything out on the course.

All-in-all I did 6 swims, 3 bikes, and 5 runs. A total of 45.5 miles: three miles of swimming, 28 miles of biking, and a half marathon (in the dark). All in 5 hours and 18 minutes on the course. Ugh.

Maybe we weren’t the fastest team. (We were, in fact, the slowest team of 4.) I did the fewest number of miles on our team. But I still have bragging rights. I was out there and I did it.

I don’t know if I’ll do the race next year. I need to figure out if there’s anything I need to prove to myself. Maybe I’ll be somebody’s team mom.

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