White Lake is a Setup Events race with a clear lake swim, flat bike and run course. I’ll sparred you from last year’s details, but it was 90* the 1st week in May. I wanted a rematch in 2013. They moved the date a full month earlier to April 6th. I was counting on cooler temps (WARNING: be careful of your wishes) and my race goal was to finish near the 5hr mark.
Week leading to race:
I raced with 2 DC Tri club personalities, Erin Bougie and Trevor Albert. If our emails were tracked, White Lake water temp was a hot trending topic. Water was a balmy 63 just 1 week prior to race. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I associated 63 as the ideal temp for Malbec wine, NOT swimming. However, Bougie assured me that 63 was bath water in her native Maine. Geez, my comforting source for my anxiousness was from someone with a nordic skiing background.
Later in the week, a cold front hits and water temps dropped to 52. Trending “White Lake 52 F’ing degrees”. That is considered warm in Puerto Rico, but only when you are referring to beer, NOT swimming. All the sudden, 52* is the real deal. Just the prior weekend, Trevor “swam” in Lake Anna in 52* water and lasted 2 minutes, while covering a whopping 800 mts (4min/mile swim pace). Rumor was that the water was so cold that he ran over it without ever getting his wetsuit wet. I wondered how I was going to pull this thing. Just 1 day prior to departure, we were all franticly trying to find neoprene caps, booties, and full sleeve wetsuits. We managed to get everything, except the booties.
The air temp was 40-50 and decided to bring the entire cycling closet to be prepared. I even packed my wife’s cycling jacket because it fit me tight like a tri top. I was prepared for all conditions.
Before my kids went off to school, they joked that I would be bringing home a finisher’s medal. We have this club in my house (Doggie Tri Team-DTT) and the only requirement is that you complete a tri. We celebrate our athletics accomplishments (1/2IM, kids tri, 1mi family runs, Girls on the Run 5K) with a DTT member non-healthy outing that includes pizza, burgers & shakes, hot cocoa, ice cream, etc. As the DTT Captain, the pressure was on to bring home some bacon and give my teammates a reason to celebrate our 1st accomplishment of the year.
As we are getting ready to depart, I told my lovely wife how glad I was to already have kids. Given the 52* water temps, I’m sure my boys would be frozen for life. This was the beginning of many cold water reference jokes on the 5+ hour journey to NC with Bougie and Trevor.
White Lake Arrival:
The 52 water temp was the talk in town. A race official informed us the swim was on, but they would give athletes a duathlon option. In his words, “you get swimmers out there for 1hr in these water/air temps and you are getting into hypothermia territory”. Hmm, I start thinking hypothermia, hypothermia, hypothermia…Holy Crap!!! I read about it in the book Into Thin Air when those Mt. Everest climbers were in trouble. This lake doesn’t look like Mt Everest, but it sure did look like it to me.
I don’t even want to look at the lake, let alone swim it. I’m deciding if I should absorb the shock 2X (practice swim & race day) or just race day. My fellow crazies decided to go try out the 52* water. I believed Trevor wanted a legit sub 4min/mi pace in the swim & crush his Lake Anna time. I’m left with no choice, but to join them. We saw a couple of guys coming off the swim and asked them how was it? “Well, I can still do math problems.” My response, math as is reciting the quadratic equation or 1+1=2? He replies, “No, I was able to do 8X3=24 at the turn around”. We could only laugh.
I jumped in the water and the shock to my feet (remember no booties) was stinging. I put my face in the water, OMG, this is NOT cool as in it SUCKS. I was in a state of mental shock and off we go to swim. We stopped and chatted to “acclimate” our bodies to the cold temps. Trevor & Bougie had the idea to go chase a buoy that was 300 mts out. That’s 600mts more than I wasn’t planning on swimming. We were in the water for about 15 mins. Back at the car, I had a hard time taking my wetsuit off. Trevor told me to always take it off shortly after the swim exit, and it peels off easily. Tip taken.
Race morning & strategy:
Got to WL and official water temp was 54* (2* warmer than prior day) and air was low 40s. Swim is ON, but you still had option to do a duathlon. Hell NO, we came here to do a tri.
My race wardrobe was swim with tri shorts and no top, wetsuit, neoprene cap. Get to T1, and use wife’s cycling jacket with no top. As the temps warmed up, I would use the zipper on jacket to regulate my body temp. Back on T2, I would take jacket off and put my DC tri top for the run. Sounds complicated, YES, but I wanted to finish alive & bring a medal to my fellow DTT members.
I was hoping to see something along mid 30s, but my plan was out the window. We had strong headwinds blowing towards the swim start and chop. Mr, Wiggly (swim exit inflatable from Setup Events) looked like he had a rough night of drinking and was laying sideways, instead of his usual straight up position.
My feet were cold and walking to the start was not fun. There is a difference between going in the water at 52 and outside temps in low 60s versus water at 54 and outside in low 40s. BIG difference. All the sudden, WL looked like Mt Everest. I was going to conquer it, summit it, and descent safely. Getting hypothermia was NOT an option. I got in and to my surprise, even though it was 2* warmer than the day before, it felt like 20* colder. My feet were numb and I couldn’t put my face in the water. Hmm, this will make for an interesting swim. I tried to warm-up, as in try not to freeze, and it just wasn’t happening. The thought of quitting crossed my mind. They gave athletes the option to “test” the water and change their minds. I signed up for a tri, not a duathlon. I took my chances and went ahead and swam.
I lined up towards the back and off I go in the 2nd wave after the elites. I can’t keep my face in the water. I find myself doing the I’m going to drown stroke. I stopped and try to touched bottom, but I COULDN’T reach bottom. Even though this was a clear swim, I was not willing to put my head in the water and try to find a shallower area. I swam with my head outside the water. Not too far into the swim, I saw someone being “rescued”, then someone else gets pulled out. Never a good sign when people swam towards shore. I was furious because it was hard to swim without putting your head in the water. I honestly thought about hitching a ride with the rescue boat, but the thought of quitting and disappointing my fellow DTT members was unbearable. They’d be planning a celebratory dinner at Johnny Rockets, while I was gone for the weekend. OK, I told myself, “I can do this even if it takes me an hour.” Ohh Ohhh, I remembered the race official and what he said about being in the water for that long. YIKES!!! I found myself climbing Everest (white caps in the water looked like it) with the risk of getting hypothermia. I couldn’t come back home being a quitter. Suck it up, suck it up and took one for the team. I kept at it.
I did the back stroke, and moved with some “speed”. Then, changed to freestyle and it got better. Just when things are starting to go somewhat my way, all the sharks from the later wave (blue caps) are coming straight towards me. I felt like a wounded seal and swam towards the sighting buoy to seek shelter. I didn’t felt many parts of my body, so I got down and dirty with the buoy to see if it would provide me some bodily warmth. After holding her tight for some time, our little fling came to an end. We never got around to listening to Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On and closing out the deal. Bummer.
After the blue cap sharks passed, I started to swim again and my face finally could tolerate the water. Surprisingly, I was swimming quite well, just like I practiced all winter in the pool. I started catching up some of the blue cap sharks (OK maybe baby sharks) ahead of me and I even started passing some of the wounded seals from my white cap wave. I felt the rhythm in the water, my body warmed up, and the wetsuit was doing the work. About 500 mts from Mr. Wiggly man, I felt a cramp in my right calf. Then, I had to stop kicking & relaxed for a bit. I thought, CAN ANYTHING ELSE GO WRONG? I limped in the water. Finally, after an endless battle and drinking about 2 gallons of lake water, I made it to the exit ladder. YYYYYAAAAAAYYYYY!!!
I remembered Trevor’s advice about peeling the wetsuit right after the water. My hands are frozen and I couldn’t find my zipper string. It took me forever until I was able to grab it. Zipper downed and went straight to yank my left sleeve, when all the sudden my left shoulder got exposed to the cool breeze. Screw that, I’m not taking this wetsuit off until the last possible minute and I took off to transition.
The race clock had 53:xx and I start getting concerned about my (58:xx) time in the water. My frozen brain had me adding 5 minutes to the race clock, when I needed to subtract 5. All I thought about was how dangerously close I was to the 1 hr mark in the water. I thought about my conversation about hypothermia with the race official. Not a good thought when you are getting ready to embark on a 56mi bike ride in cold conditions.
Swim--48:42. It was not until I finished the race and “warmed-up” that I realized my perceived 58:xx swim time was an effect of my frozen brain.
T1 Wardrobe Change and Comedy of errors:
I went over my wardrobe change countless times. I stripped my wetsuit and found myself in tri shorts and shirtless. What do I do first? I clipped my Garmin 310 on my wrist. Why would anyone with a clear mind put a watch the size of a small PC on before trying to put on a long sleeve jacket? I tried to put the jacket and the sleeve got stuck at the Garmin. Took jacket off, unclipped Garmin and tried again. The sleeve still would not go in. I tried both sleeves and failed. Since I couldn’t put the jacket on, I scraped my original plan. Then, I decided to put my DC tri top and go with arm warmers. I didn’t feel my hands or feet, and don’t appear to have much coordination. Now, I’m tried to put the tri top while I’m wet. Good luck!!! Of course it got stuck. I looked over T1 and saw another racer a few racks up from me. The walk of SHAME….I went over to him and kindly asked for help pulling my tri top down on the back. This was all about survival. He helped me and I thanked him, then walked back to my bike.
It was time for arm warmers, when I realized they were in my car. Luckily, my wife and I have the same style jackets so I was coherent enough to know that I could take the sleeves out. I finally gave up on putting the jacket and took off sleeves. I was left with a vest over my tri top. My lovely arms were exposed to the elements of nature. Off we go on a 56mi bike journey. I had no idea how long it took me in T1, but I felt like I missed a full door size mirror, hairdryer, and some lessons from supermodels in making quick wardrobe changes. T1--7:12
We had either strong headwinds or crosswinds that lasted for 90% of the race. I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, my arms were shivering, and I wanted to get off the bike. I was just miserable. My power numbers were a solid 20-25% below my race level effort. I was getting blown around like a rag doll in the heavy winds, shivering, and hating everything about that ride.
I was uncomfortable on my bike that I found myself pedaling with more power while riding the horns. A FIRST. I wanted to get off the bike and couldn’t wait until I finished the 56. In the last 10 mi stretch, it finally warmed up and I opened the zipper on my vest/jacket for some added air flow. I thought I finish in around “2:41”, far from my goal of around 2:30. Official Bike--2:45:36 (Another sign that my brain was frozen, when I thought I finished in 2:41).
YAY, nothing went wrong. The temps warmed up for nice running conditions, but I still couldn’t feel my feet. As I ran out of transition, I knew that I had this tri in the bag.
As I started the run, my total race time was 3:43:xx. Yes, I didn’t misread, it was a clear 3:43:xx. We all have race goals, but sometimes those get adjusted during the race. I already accomplished two major race goals (survived swim and got off the bike). I also knew that I would finish the race, so my DTT mates would get their medal and have a reason to celebrate. My last and final race time goal was simple…I would not let this 1/2IM be my personal worst. My personal worst was 5:44:14, so I had to run a 2:00 half marathon (9:08 pace). Given my day and earlier cramps in the swim, nothing was a sure bet. Also, I couldn’t feel my feet while running.
My avg pace was 9:30 and that was all I had. At about mile 2, there was out and back section, when I crossed paths with Trevor and he looked strong. He yelled at me, “Don’t let me catch you because I’ll slap your ass.” It was only a matter of time until the inevitable. At about mile 5, I had to get rid of the 2 gallons of excess water that I drank during the swim. As I made my “sprint” towards the porta potty, I saw Trevor about 20 meters behind me. HA HA, what a perfect timing. I saw the disappointment in his face. YAYYYY, I saved myself from a slap in the ass. My avg pace kept increasing, while I got rid of the 2 gallons of lake water.
I was unsure whether or not this would become my personal worst 1/2IM time. At mile 7, my legs and feet woke up. I picked up the pace and started seeing my avg pace go down. By about mile 10, I knew this would not be my personal worst. I knocked down my avg 45 seconds to about 8:5ish. Around mile 11.5, I ran with another guy side by side. He asked me about DC Tri and I told him how AWESOME we are as a club. We ran for about .5 mile together, when I told him that I had a shot at going sub 5:40. What’s another last minute goal? He says, GO for it. I picked up the pace. I ran a 7:45 mi to “save” the day at 5:39:11. I negative split every single mile from starting at mile 7. What a day!!! Run Time (1:55:37)/8:50pace Just finishing saved the day.
After almost an epic fail in the swim and save out on the run course, I brought back home some bacon. It was 70s and sunny when we arrived back to DC. I gave my son the medal. My daughter ran inside to get her other finisher’s medals. They came out to ride around and showed off the bikes and medals to Bougie, while Trevor and I enjoyed a beer. Bougie couldn’t get over my daughter riding in her rain boots. Those boots did come in handy as she hosed down my wetsuit and tri shoes in typical DTT fashion. DTT meets DC Tri. Epic ending to an epic racing weekend. This is one for the books.