Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blue Norther Race Report: The Newbie Perspective

In early March, you can never be sure what kind of weather is going to roll in. But a race named for a weather phenomenon that brings a stretch of unseasonably cold, rainy days...well, that should give you an idea of what to expect. Hosted in Seguin on March 11, 2012, by the Seguin Sunrise Lions Club, the 22nd annual Blue Norther Duathlon was a success in spite of the storms and chilly temperatures.

For Jeffrey Shelton, long-time runner, the Blue Norther Du was a first experiment in multisport. Since his wife, Liz – a former All-American runner at UT who competed in the 2000 Olympic trials – had already participated in a handful of sprint triathlons, she offered him encouragement and race tips. But some things have to be learned the hard way. After all, what self-respecting man would listen to his wife’s sage advice?

Race Report by Jeffrey Shelton

The duathlon was a 5K run, 14-mile bike, and 5K run. It was 51 degrees and raining cats and dogs all the way to Seguin. Rain, my bike, and me aren't necessarily the best of friends. I really, really hate to clean my bike after riding in rain so I wouldn't have raced, but someone had paid our entry and if you know my wife, Liz, then you know she loves atrocious weather. It's just another challenge to overcome. Here she was saying, "I don't care if it's pouring, lightning, or hailing. Slick roads don't scare me.” Meanwhile, in the back of my mind I was hoping the organizers would cancel or just turn the du into a 10K run or something. At least in a 10K I knew I'd be competitive in the Masters field. Liz asked, "You ready?" I had to just smile and as upbeat as I could feign, say "Yep.”

Well, much to my dismay the race director decided to hold the event. Liz was as giddy as could be as she racked her bike. I'm looking around to make sure I'm doing things right: placing my shoes, helmet, dry socks, etc. I felt like we were the only two "Freds" with road bikes, and we certainly didn't have aero helmets. At least Liz had some aerobars on her bike, but then she’d just had those installed by the shop the day prior and didn't want to use what I like to refer to as "death handles.” The only thing I could have done to be more of an oddball was wear running shorts, the short-short kind. ATC had recommended some good shorts that I could run in. I had tried to run in my cycling shorts, but it felt like I had a diaper on. What can I say, I'm not getting any younger and I want as much padding as I can get when on the bike, but I heeded their advice and got some tri shorts.

Something new for me was this whole marking the age on your calf business. My first thought was "c'mon, I know how old I am," but then Liz explained to me that if someone was in front of me in the same age group then I could see their age and run them down if I had enough left in the tank. Surprisingly, this bit of newfound knowledge paid off as I passed a youngster of 41 in the last 200 meters. I made sure he heard me coming and I looked over and told him "good job," but in my mind I thought there's only room for one Masters winner and I hoped that I'd caught all the 40+ dudes that had hammered past me on the bike.

The transition from run to bike was eye-opening too. Yes, I know I should have listened to Liz and practiced that because I was the third person back from the run and the seventh or eighth person out. I guess stopping to dry my glasses, put on some chapstick, and change into dry socks, and the fact that my road shoes have a ratcheting/tightening system, could explain my tardy departure.

Liz asked if I'd had a nice picnic after seeing my T1. Let's just say that velcro is all the rage and all the fast people and even the not-so-fast people have velcro this and that for quick shoe entry and removal. Meanwhile, I'm fiddlin' with the ratchet, "," and the clock is just tick, tick, ticking away. Now I know that velcro is much, much faster. Mental note: buy some all-velcro shoes if I do one of these things again. The one pro dude made it look easy as pie, or at least I felt like he must have been pro because he took out the whipping stick and put a whipping on us in the first run. I tried to look at his calf but his legs were moving too bloody fast. Liz warned me about the T1, but I failed to take heed. I guess I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm not the butter knife either.

The bike course was slick in a few areas, and this was my rude awakening to yes, those tri bikes, aero wheels, speedsuits, and even the "sperm" helmets make a difference, as I was passed by no fewer than eight people. Way back in the early ‘90s I could ride respectably, but until last year I hadn't touched a bike in 17 or 18 years. I felt very humbled as these tri guys just rolled me off the back like a carpet out of a truck. I've ridden with the ATC Saturday ride so I knew the tri guys are strong, but this was ridiculous.

I kept thinking about what my friend Desiree Ficker had said about the last seven miles and ratcheting it up and riding at my limit. She must have not known my limit was much lower than everyone else's; I tried, though. On the hills, or better said, on the slight rises, I was making up ground like a freight train off a cliff, but on the flats and downhills I could see people riding away from me, and they were making it look easy. I scooted as far forward on the saddle as the unmentionable area could stand and tried to pull on those pedals, but my engine wasn’t strong enough. I felt like I had a 4-cylinder and everyone else was a V8. I have my bike set up for relaxing long rides, and I don't own any aerobars to slap on, so it was like I was riding a chopper. Maybe next time I'll rent some aerobars or rent a bike for a few weeks if I do another one of these things. That's a big IF!

Liz's background is running, and I knew Liz would be alright as she was first onto the bike, but alas, she too said on the downhills she was losing ground. In the end, two women passed her, so she was third into the final 5K run. Yep, you guessed it, those ladies were on those crazy aggressive tri bikes, with skintight speedsuits and aero-EVERYTHING. Liz said she could hear riders with the disc wheels coming and roll right on by, and she couldn't do anything about it. Trust me, I know exactly how she felt. She said she kept looking for ponytails as she was concerned about getting caught by ladies. Liz saw Missy Ruthven come rolling by but couldn't maintain contact. She hung tough on the little hills, though, and kept it to what would be manageable on the run. She said she was focusing on Des' advice too. Thanks Des for the advice, but we're newbies – at one point I just wanted to finish without walking.

Don't tell Liz because I'll deny it, but I did take her advice about installing the elastic strings for quick entry into my running shoes, which must have helped in T2 because Liz didn't ask how my picnic went there. Coming off the bike and starting the run I think I was 11th or 12th but I focused on what Des instructed and thought about quick feet. I imagined I was running through hot coals. I don't know if that was for the quick feet as much as the thought of being warm, since I was chilled to the core and my Raynaud's syndrome was kicking into overdrive.

But quick turnover must have worked, as I passed almost all the guys who had passed me on the bike. Meanwhile Liz had lost something like two and a half minutes on the bike and had her work cut out for her. She passed the second-place girl in the first mile of the second 5K and would have to run her fanny off to catch the leader. Liz said that at one point she could see Missy and thought that the race might be over and that she had run out of road. Liz no longer has the 2:01 800m wheels but she still has wheels nonetheless. So much so that when it comes to a sprint I won't even step on the track with her. I've got a fragile ego and don't want to get "wifed" on the track so it's just safer for me not to toe the line against her in anything less than 800m. I knew she had a good chance if she could get close enough, but the finish line was approaching fast. In the end, Liz caught Missy with about 100 meters remaining.

The timing company had a few things go wrong and there were people confused about the posted results. Ultimately the timing company told everyone to just go home and they'd to sort it all out, which they did. For me as a newbie, the best thing was baked 'taters at the finish line. Yum, hit the spot. And they were hot, which finally warmed me up and helped to lessen the Raynaud's.

Last year Liz said, "I want to do a sprint triathlon,” which she did. Now she wants to tackle an Olympic Distance triathlon and has started training. She is excited to test herself and to do more triathlons. I'll be out there just cheering my heart out for her, wondering all the while how people can have such big engines and do these multi-discipline sports. Me, I think I’ll stick to just riding my bike as often as I can and running every once in a while with the ATC group and my good buddy Gilbert.

That's how I saw it as a newbie. Liz was 1st overall female and I was 1st Old Dude.

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