Race Report: The Grand Columbian

The Grand Columbian, Grand Coulee, WA – 09/18/2010

On Friday, the day before the race, Matt and I drove out to Grand Coulee and checked in to the Trail West Motel.  We found ourselves in a clean room of adequate size with a couple double beds and a mini-fridge; just right.

I had registered online, so I just needed to check in and get my bike racked.

This was a breeze, as the low overall number of entrants meant plenty of parking, plus the volunteers had everything nice and organized in the way I’ve come to expect of USAT-sanctioned events (not that I’ve been to a non-sanctioned event, but still).

We decided to have thai for dinner, at Siam Palace.  I ordered Hawaiian Curry and a side of Phad Thai (extra carbs!), and when the food arrived, the Phad Thai was a full plate!  “Yeah, we don’t do side orders,” says the waitress.  “I probably should have mentioned that.”  YA THINK?!?  It’s fine, whatever.  I end up eating it all anyway, so no worries.  It tasted ok, but yeah, the service was crap.

The next morning was RACE DAY (woo!) and I was so excited I woke up before my alarm sounded.  I had pushed myself near the breaking point in training, and now it was time to see if it was all worth it.  I was worried I just wasn’t ready.  The training plan I used came from Triathlon 101, by John Mora, and was designed to be used over 3-6 months, but I compressed it to just 9 weeks as that’s all the time I had after Lake Chelan.  I knew I could do each distance individually, but the idea of doing them all at once was still very daunting.

I scarfed my pre-race meal (pasta with turkey, olive oil, basil and oregano), took a shower and got my gear together.  This race was using transition bags.

Transition Bags

Instead of an area next to the bike to lay out your gear for the bike and run stages, you had bags to put your things into, and a tent to change in. The swim-to-bike bag was placed in bib number order on the ground between the water and the tent, and the bike-to-run bag was left next to your bike.  This was all new to me, and freaked me out a little at first, but it all worked fine in the end.

We reached the park early enough that parking was still pretty easy, and I made the rounds to get body marked, pick up my timing chip, and drop off my transition bags.  Then the waiting and watching began.  In time the aquabike and half-iron athletes were under way…

… and shortly after that my parents showed up.  Introductions were made, and soon it was time for me to warm up and get my wetsuit on.

The water was somewhere in the 60s, cool but not biting.  As the Olympic distance athletes started bunching up for the start, the last half-iron athlete was still approaching.  We made an alley for her to get through, and she had her own personal 100+ athlete cheering squad as she stood and made her way to the shore, and a very exhausted and relieved expression on her face.

The swim course was an out and back with a triangle loop at the far end.  I knew I could do the distance, so now it was just a matter of surviving the chaos of the mass start.  The starting siren sounded, and the clear water turned cloudy as the press of bodies began to spread out into the water.  Unfortunately I had misjudged my starting position and now found myself behind a large tangle of slower swimmers.  I had to keep moving further to the outside until I finally found open water and moved past them.  Half way through the swim, this 12 year old (TWELVE!) swam across my path and I had to stop.  He stopped too, I pointed him in the right direction and we got back under way.  Three quarters of the way through I was really feeling fatigued, but I just focused on my form and kept my arms churning, and soon I was done.  I later found out I finished in 31 minutes, a full nine minutes faster than expected!  Wow!  No wonder I was tired!

I struggled to find my balance coming out of the water, jogged up the grass, grabbed my transition bag and darted into the tent.  I peeled my wetsuit off, sucked down a Hammer Gel, threw on my bike gear, ran out to my bike, and I was off!

Photo by my parents. That's Matt on the left, leering for some reason.

The first half mile of the bike course was flat, and the next 3 miles were STRAIGHT UP.  I seriously hadn’t ever climbed hills that steep before.  I was in first gear and panting for the next half hour.  Near the top someone had chalked the words “almost there” on the road, followed by “you all rock!”  That was excellent.  The next 10 miles were pretty standard rolling hills, were far better than standard scenery to either side (simple but pretty farmland and cows).  I ate another gel and then found out miles 14-18 were STRAIGHT DOWN!  I hit a new personal top speed of 41 mph, and I was cackling and screaming like a buffoon the whole way down.  Just before the end, I passed a guy I’d been trading places with the whole bike leg, joking each time about how we called this fun and how we had a 10k to look forward to afterwards.  He wished me luck on my run and I returned it.  I swear triathletes are the friendliest strangers out there.

I changed gear again and started out on the run course, ripping into another gel along the way.  The next 6 miles were some of the hardest of my life.  I knew I didn’t have a lot left in me, but felt it would be enough to last if I didn’t burn it all up too quickly, so I held myself to what felt like a slow but steady pace and stuck to it.  I kept thinking “who put all these hills here!?!?” as the lovely scenery kept going up and down and up and down.  I was near dead by the end, and the last hill up almost ended me, but I knew that once I crossed the top it was all downhill to the finish line.  I stuck to it, crested the hill, and then let gravity take over and gradually sped up into as near a sprint as I was capable of at that point.  I was disappointed when I saw the clock read 4:32, but kept my sprint going across the line anyway.  It was later pointed out to me that that clock had been started when the half-iron had begun, a full hour before my start time, which meant I had totally killed my goal of beating 4 hours!  Woohoo!!

As always, the victory pina colada, this time at Lapresa Mexican Restaurant:

pina colada


swim: 31:47 / bike: 1:45:20 / run: 1:06:57

(distances:  .93 / 28 / 6.1 miles)

total: 3:31:49

placed: 13/15 in my division,  88/115 overall.

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