Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mermaid Duathlon Report

I was having second thoughts about the whole thing when I dragged my sorry butt out of bed at 4:15 am Sunday morning. A duathlon? Even a sprint duathlon was more than I'd ever done. Since turning over and going back to sleep wasn't an option I started my pre-race morning rituals and got out of the house on time at 5:15.

The whole Mermaid Series was new to me. I had seen their races advertised but hadn't gotten around to doing one. I hadn't even talked with anyone who did their races. Although I thought the duathlon was maybe an afterthought to their regular triathlon, I hadn't been swimming since last year and decided run/bike/run made more sense to me than swim/bike/run. The race took place at Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area in Fremont. I've been running on the Alameda Creek Trail since my first marathon season in 2001 but I've never even known that Quarry Lakes existed. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and a lovely place.

You know how I like arriving early for things, at worst arriving right on time. Once again I misjudged; I had allotted 45 minutes for the drive and it took way less. I arrived as they were setting up registration. Although there had been packet pick-up the day before, it was in Sunnyvale and there was no way I was going to take the whole day going there and back. I was the first in line for the duathlon pick-up and after the volunteers had been instructed in the procedures I got my numbers, goody bag, chip and shirt.

The bag was a reusable shopping bag with the logo, very cute. The shirt was a cotton short sleeved tee. There wasn't much in the bag beyond ads, discount coupons, a mini-Luna bar and Luna Moons and a sample of Sport-Wash, but the bag itself was nice.

front of the shirt

I grabbed my bike and pack from the car and headed over to the transition area. Before I was allowed in I had my left arm, hand and calf marked with my number. It appeared that the volunteers manning the markers hadn't been told what to put where. Some of the duathlon participants had a "D" along with their age, some had only the "D" and some had only their age. Some women just skipped marking altogether. This did make it tough during the race to determine who were your age group competitors.

Since I was there so early I had my choice of racking spot. The racks were arranged by age group with the family/friends and duathlon groups racking together at the front. I got a primo end spot and set out my gear, checking and double checking to confirm everything was in order. Slowly the area filled up but at least around me it never got crowded or cramped.

The weather at that point, and until well after I finished, was overcast and cool with very little wind. It was perfect for running, perfect for cycling. It was light enough for sunglasses but not so bright that I had to squint. The weather became a total non-issue.

Nobody was too sure where the start for the duathlon (or the run in from the first run) was located. I walked around to confirm the other ins and outs and wandered to the beach area to look around. I made a couple of trips to the bathrooms (which were real bathrooms, not porta potties); the lines weren't at all bad.

At about 7:15 I walked down to the beach with a bunch of other women who obviously were doing the du (they had on running shoes instead of bare feet). The first wave of the triathlon was starting at the same time as the du. Many of the tri women were wearing wetsuits but there were others just in swimsuits, tri suits or even just regular running/cycling clothes.

The organizer walked over to one spot and drew a line in the sand; that was our starting point. Although this was a chip timed race, the start didn't have a mat. We all milled around and realized we had to run through the sand for a couple hundred yards before the road. Yuck. There was one horn that sounded at 7:30 and we were off!

Slipping and sliding, I quickly fell to the back of the pack (not a very big pack, less than 100 women) on the very thick, very soft sand. I wanted to run my own pace and not be influenced by speedy starters but I also wanted to push and see what I could do. Once we got on the road, a gravel access road/trail, I was able to pick up some speed. Since the first run was only 1.5 miles I figured I could push myself much harder than I would otherwise.

The course was supposed to be flat, but there were definitely a couple of little hills. A short 25' or 50' climb is not flat, no matter how you cut it. The route was kind of pretty along the water and through the greens. I ran right on the edge of wheezing and soon found myself back at the sand. I saw we had to run along the water to the same spot where the triathletes exited; there was a timing mat right there, then we had to run up the sand, along the walk and into transition. According to Mr. Garmin it was 1.54 miles, average 11:15/mile (I know! I don't run that fast!).

Mostly because of the distance it took me 3:57 in T1. Although I quickly stripped off my running shoes and threw on my cycling stuff, there still was a long way from mat to mat. I got out on the course and set to work.

The route was 3 circuits of a twisty 3 mile route. I was later told that Union City got pissy about the race using the roads and this route was a last minute change. Despite being advertised as a flat route, we had to cross an overpass each loop, both directions. To me, for the first 2 circuits at least, it wasn't much. But I saw several women struggling, slowing and straggling. That wouldn't have been an issue except both directions were sharing one traffic lane; we had to go single file over the overpass with no passing. A few of the intense racing women had trouble with that; I could see them literally bouncing on their bikes, wanting to get around the slower riders.

My biggest problem was when there was a woman walking her bike up; I had to go around her and the people behind me did too. Road etiquette on the route was hit and miss; mostly women went single file and pulled to the right after passing, calling out when they came up beside you. There unfortunately were those other women who rode 3 across, blocking anyone behind them. A couple of the fastest women were scooting along on the right, weaving in and out, getting impatient with the rookies out there. My opinion was they should go for a race where there isn't a "family and friends" category, that doesn't encourage beginners to enter and compete at their own pace. Sure, you can challenge yourself but remember where you are and cut a little slack.

Anyway, I rode pretty hard and by the end of my third circuit I could feel my legs getting weaker. I was happy to get to the end and hop off. According to Mr. Garmin, 9.3 miles with a 14.3 average. Not too bad, but I thought I had gone faster (according to the official results I averaged 15.2 mph which seems more accurate). T2 was faster with a time of 2:40.

I started running the second route and realized after a few minutes that I had made a big mistake: I didn't eat the gel that was sitting right on top of my running cap. Uh oh. I'd been working hard for almost an hour and all I had consumed were 2 Sport Beans while I was on the bike. At least I had been drinking while on the bike so I wasn't dehydrated. But I was feeling lightheaded and weak.

I slowed way down, and walked up the hills. I also threw in a couple of 30 second walk breaks here and there when I got woozy. When I could I continued running as hard as I could but it was more of a shuffle than a run. No matter, I was shuffling quickly. I managed to take the time to check out the scenery, smile at the other people, think about how lucky I was to be out there. Before I knew it I was back at the beach and running on the damn sand.

I'm glad I'll never know how clumsy I must have looked running along the beach. The sand was deep and soft and rutted from all the others who had run ahead of me. At the end of the sand we had to make a sharp right turn, step up a curb and run up a grassy hill. Man, that was tough for me. I had left everything I had on the course and couldn't make the final sprint look good. I finished that 2.64 miles with a 12:22 average, faster than I had expected.

My final time was 1:35:32. I was happy with that as my new duathlon PR. Since duathlons come in all shapes and sizes it could stay a PR for this particular distance combination. I was in the last quarter of finishers of the duathlon but everyone behind me was younger than I was.

After crossing the line they collected our chips and gave us our finishers medal (and chocolate!). The picture doesn't do the medal justice, it's hard to photograph a shiny little silver object. On one side it says "live, train, sweat and laugh' and the other side "mermaid athlete."

the medal is shiny silver, same as the chain (stupid camera)

Bottles of water were handed out right at the finish, and then there were booths with several vendors. There were samples of many products including Luna, and sponsor vendors selling sports gear, clothing, and other stuff. There was also a free pancake breakfast with fresh fruit and other treats. Very tasty.

Although I wasn't sure, I had a feeling I could possibly be one of the age group winners since I hadn't seen many women with numbers in my age group written on their legs. I knew that one 57 year old had passed me on the second run, I saw a few other women who might have been my age who weren't marked, and a few that I was certain had done the tri, but there was a chance since it was such a small race. I decided to stick around to see if I won something.

It turned out to be quite a wait. There was some problem getting the results out and posted so I plopped myself down on the grass and watched the rest of the athletes finish. There were still quite a few since the last wave went out an hour and a half after the first wave (mine). Each and every woman had her name called out, spurring them up that last hill. It was touching to see many women finish their first event ever, cheered on by their family and friends.

Aaaaaand, I kept waiting. Finally they posted the results but it wasn't broken out by age group. When I was able to get through the crowd I checked the list, checked it again, and rechecked it one final time. Whoohoo, I was second in my group!

Fine, I was also last in my group, there were only two of us (the first had been the woman passing me during the second run). The other women I though were in my age group ended up being either in their 40's or early 50's. Whoopsie. I won't tell them I thought they were older than me.

It was still some time before awards were handed out and the crowd thinned considerably. Little prizes were being handed out for various things like answering questions about the race, or being a Little Mermaid, or having your birthday that week. I think they were just blowing off time until the results were tabulated. My guess is there were problems with the bike route being 3 circuits and some women only riding 2 of those. Some of the bike splits were suspiciously fast and I think they were trying to verify those.

Finally the overall awards were distributed, then the tri age groupers. Finally the du age awards were handed out. I got a nice little bag containing a pair of mermaid socks, a race belt and a few Luna bars. Also? It's pretty damn cool getting your name called as a winner (even if the pool is so small). Worth waiting for!

My overall impressions? Even though I was alone I had fun and a challenge. Both the tri and du are great races for beginners or those trying to challenge themselves. I don't think it's really a race for experts unless the bike route is improved. The overall organization was very good with only a couple of glitches (the body marking and the delay in the results). Course support was excellent, both along the running trails and the cycling route. It also looked like there were many volunteers in the water to help out the swimmers. The running route was scenic and the surface didn't give my clumsy ankles any problems. The bike route was crap, but that wasn't the organizer's fault. The shirt was cute, the bag was nice, the food available afterward was abundant and tasty. I will definitely do it again as long as it remains in a location that's accessible (I was told they'd probably move it next year).

And next year? The rest of you 55-59 year old women can just stay home again. I like placing in my age group!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on placing in your age group! Sounds like a tough race and you did great.

    Thanks for all the pics and the great race report. (Not that I'm contemplating doing anything like that in my lifetime--I'll just admire from a distance).