Race Report: Onion Man

Onion Man Triathlon, Walla Walla, WA – 5/27/2012

I hadn’t run an Olympic distance race in a year and a half, so I was particularly excited to see how much I’d improved. Quite a bit, it turns out. But first…

I used couchsurfing.org once again to find a place to stay, and I hit the jackpot: a very lovely musician couple that has spent the past several years restoring this 100 year old house:

… and I got to sleep in the basement, on an actual bed. Hurrah! I also got to play with their dog, Daisy:

All she wants in this world is someone to throw the frisbee for her, and so I did. A lot.

With the race on Sunday, I arrived Friday, went to the store for some dinner supplies, and grabbed an early bed time. The weekend before this, I had a 92 mile bike ride, 16 mile run and a very cold swim in Lake Washington, plus not enough sleep, which all combined to give me a cold. I’d stayed home from work Wednesday and Thursday and didn’t train at all, sleeping and hydrating like crazy, trying to kill the bug before my race. It worked, but I still slept for 10 hours that night.

When I awoke Saturday, I ate breakfast, suited up and set out for what was supposed to be a 50 mile bike ride, including a tour of the race course. I flatted at the Lake (damn gravel, or damn poor tube/tire mounting skills), but it was a lovely morning and I didn’t mind too much. A quick tube change and CO2 inflation later, and I was on my way. My planned route would have taken me into Oregon, making it my first bicycle ride across a state line. Alas, it was not to be, as the pavement came to an abrupt end:

So, 50 miles became 35. Combine that with all the bed rest from trying to get over the cold and my legs were SUPER ready to tear it up Sunday. But first, I had to make some lunch, which I did to the sounds of opera being practiced in the other room. No, really. It was awesome.

My parents had driven out so I met up with them in the afternoon, and we took a driving tour of the course, then relaxed at a wine bar for a bit (I abstained, of course). Then it was back to the house for my usual epic pasta feast (assisted by the coolest pepper grinder ever):


I was in bed by 9, and up at 5am. For my race morning meal I had a couple english muffins with PB and J, plus a bowl of oatmeal. I prepped a couple bike bottles with Cytomax, plus a 3rd to sip on in the last hour before the race start. I’d also been hydrating for the previous 48 hours with lots of Nuun water (lots = somewhere over a gallon a day… I don’t really keep track, I’m just always downing water, and in the day or so before a race I start dropping Nuun tablets in there to raise my electrolyte levels). I headed to the lake, arriving early enough to score a spot in the main lot (and not in the overflow lot a mile away), and got to work setting up my transition area:

The brightly colored towel helps me find my stuff when I come running in from the swim and bike legs.

I went through my usual land-based warm up routine, chatted with my folks and the other athletes, and soon enough it was time to head to the water. The race director messed up slightly in that he started his pre-race meeting too close to the start time of the race, which meant people didn’t have a lot of time to get in the water and acclimate before the gun went off. This dramatically increases the odds of people freaking out as nerves + cold water + a couple hundred people thrashing all around you = panic attack. Indeed, my mom counted at least 5 people having to be escorted to the beach by the kayak-mounted volunteers. I was fine, though…


In fact, I was more than fine. I absolutely creamed my goal time. So much so that I am positive the swim course was too short. .93 miles in 22 minutes? Ummm, no. I swam damn fast, sure, but I know where the outer edge of my limits are, and that far exceeds them.

I ran up the boat launch (partly because it feels badass to be sprinting uphill out of the water when most are walking, but also because it floods the legs with blood to get them ready for the bike), starting to take off my wetsuit as I went.

I still don’t have sockless bike shoes, so this time I experimented with a super-absorbent ‘pocket towel’ to prep my feet for my socks. It seemed to work pretty well, but it was still slow going. I finally got everything on me and set out:

As I’d learned the day before, the whole area is on this weird uphill grade heading east that looks like it’s downhill the whole time. This meant I was struggling to maintain what seemed like a 16mph average for the whole first half. In fact, I checked my bike clock at the turn around, and at 47 minutes it’s a 15.8mph average. I did the return trip in just 33 minutes, for a 22.4mph average. Woah!

I started using ‘salt tabs’ a few weeks ago, and this was my first chance to use them in a race (tab = tablet, though it’s really a capsule, and has more than just salt). I now have two dispensers in the tubes of my aerobars, so I can hold a total of 12 tabs. This is all due to finally sitting down and doing the math and finding I was well below the recommended salt intake per hour. So now I take a salt tab at each :15 and :45 minute mark, plus a gel at :30 and :00, and drink a bottle of Cytomax per hour. In this race, though, I was going so fast in the second half that I took my second gel early at the :55 minute mark, had a little more Cytomax, but then stopped that altogether, to let my stomach settle before the run.

In the last couple miles I was really hammering it, which is a great way to clear the mind, and it’s always interesting what scraps end up filling that void. This time it was “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” (sorry, Neil, but that’s the first version of this song I heard as a youth and thus, the one that tends to float in, unbidden). But hey, who am I to question the void? I went with it, passed a couple cheaters who’d been drafting off each other the last 10 miles, and zoomed back down to the lake.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention in the past few months to my gut, trying to figure out just what was causing it to clench up in most of my races last year. At this point I’m convinced it was a combination of

  1. too many calories consumed on the bike, in forms that my gut couldn’t quickly digest
  2. not enough salt/electrolytes, so my body couldn’t absorb all the fluids
  3. starting the run WAY too fast

In addition to the above concerns, I’ve been plagued by knee issues all year, which seem to crop up whenever I let my stride go long in an effort to go fast. I’ve also discovered that what I think is a “slow” run pace when fresh off the bike is actually quite fast (for me), because my legs are used to the faster cadence on the bike. So! Armed with this knowledge, I’d adjusted my nutrition plan, and now I just had to hold myself back on the run. I forced myself to go at a pace that felt way too easy, giving my gut and knees time to adjust. In so doing, those cheating drafters passed me back. Blast!

I stuck to my plan. I kept it slow and easy. I made it to the first aid station, about a mile in, and my gut seemed to be OK, so I had a sip of Gatorade. Another bad habit I’ve tried to eliminate is that I tend to down the *entire* cup of whatever fluid I grab at any given aid station. Not so, this day! A small sip was all I needed, so that’s all I took, and away I went.

I kept holding myself back until mile 2 or so, and then gradually let my legs do whatever they wanted, within the confines of my “short, fast, light, easy” mantra. My speed picked up, and I ended up passing the drafters. Huzzah!

I had planned on eating a gel at the turnaround, but my energy was fine and I was still worried about my gut freaking out, so I held off (also: I really had to pee!), but continued taking little sips of Gatorade at each aid station for the sugar boost.

I was finally into the last mile, and let my stride open up a bit, and my leg speed increase a touch more. A quarter mile to go, and some dude was headed in the opposite direction, just starting his run. I called out “high five”, and bam!, it happened. Then it was time for my favorite part of each race, the sprint finish…

this is what I look like when I'm hauling ass. attractive, no?

I had no idea at this point how fast I’d been running. I knew I’d had a fast swim, and creamed the bike leg, and thought I stood a good chance of beating my 3 hour goal, but HOLY CATS!! As I came tearing into the finish corral, I spotted the race clock: 2:43. I was stunned.

see? stunned.

Part of that time is due to the shortened swim course, but even had it been the proper .93 miles, I think I still would have beaten 3 hours. And my run time adds up to an 8:45/mile average… what the what!?!? That’s just bonkers. Even better, though I know I didn’t have any more speed in me, I definitely felt I had more distance.

Departing from my traditional post race feast of Mexican food and a piña colada, I opted this time for some fine vegan fixings at The Garden Vegan Cafe. Delish!

faux-turkey pesto sandwich and blueberry smoothie



swim: 22:22 / bike: 1:22:07 / run: 54:21

(distances: .93 (not!) / 24.85 / 6.2 miles)

total: 2:43:55

placed: 14/18 in my division, 132/223 overall.

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2 Responses to Race Report: Onion Man

  1. Becky Alfrejd says:

    Way to go!!!! Your times are awesome and I truly enjoy reading about your adventures.

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