The first thing I did on Saturday morning prior to leaving for Portsmouth was take my car to the auto shop to be looked at. Teresa and I drove it to the east side on Friday night and it was sounding really funky. I probably would have taken my chances and driven it down south, but Teresa, always knowing what's best for me, insisted that I take it to the shop and take her Jeep to the race. The drive south was pretty uneventful other than a pit stop in Columbus at a triathlon shop to pick up a swim cap (which they didn't have - ended up going to Dicks in Easton). Once I got south of Columbus, I became really aware of the heat and the hills that were rising up around me. Once in Portsmouth I stopped off at a Days Inn to get a room for the night and quickly made my way to Shawnee State National Park in order to meet the packet pickup deadline of 3:00. I took my packet back to my car and pulled out my three race numbers; a small sticker for my bike helmet, a larger sticky one for my bike frame, and the typical bib for my running singlet. Also included was a swim cap (I now have two!). I had plenty of time to kill so I grabbed my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap to test out the open water for the first time. I found a spot in the lake that was quiet and isolated. My initial thoughts about swimming in open water were pretty normal. I found the water to be a little colder and darker (i.e. murkier) than what I've grown used to in the pool. Other than that, it really wasn't any different. This was a small lake with no currents to speak of so it was a great transition to open water swimming for me. I only swam long enough to feel comfortable (about 20 minutes) before heading back to my car. Still had plenty of time to play with so I dumped my swim stuff in the Jeep and laced up my running shoes for a 4 mile trail run along the lakes edge. I got a little more than I bargained for as the trail wound up and around the hillside. Plus, the heat of the day (about 75°F) was less than ideal. Thankfully, there was an Infinit Nutrition tent still set up near the transition area with a cooler full of their version of Gatorade. By now I was ready to head back to the hotel. I stopped off at a Fazoli's in Portsmouth for some salad, spaghetti and breadsticks. Once back to the hotel, I started to lay out all of my stuff that I'd need in the morning. I also cleaned my chain with my new chain cleaner and lubed it up real good.
Woke up around 5:15 on Sunday morning and started taking stuff to the Jeep. It was still dark outside but a haze had rolled in overnight and was causing visibility to be low. I arrived about an hour and a half early to allow time to set up my transition area. Luckily, I was early enough to get a pretty good spot in my row (second from the end). While setting up I got to talking with a few of the guys in my age group. Everyone was nervous about the bike course. This one guy from University of Wisconsin's Triathlon Club even went as far as saying it was going to be a technical race. If by that he meant long and gruelling, I'd say he was accurate. Anyway, I slid on my wet suit and headed to the beach area for the start.
I had the luxury of watching all of the Triple-T participants hit the water first, which eased my nerves a bit. I was no longer nervous by the time my age group lined up. I simply made my way to the rear of our pack and waited for the signal. Since this was a land start, I was able to run into the water and "dolphin" dive for the first 10-15 meters until it was deep enough to swim. The first couple hundred meters were probably the most difficult for me as I adjusted to the water, people around me, etc. After that, everything was smooth. I was having a little trouble sighting the buoys ahead and was probably zig-zagging quite a bit. I felt good at the end of the first lap and was a little annoyed having to get out of the water, run around a cone and head back out for lap 2. However, the start of lap 2 was much easier and I was in cruise control almost immediately. In fact, I was actually enjoying the swim at this point. My thoughts were of getting back to the exit and heading for my bike.
I made the transition to the bike relatively smoothly, except that I nearly fell over when trying to mount up at the designated spot. I guess my legs were a little shaky from the swim. I was thrilled to be on the bike, to be on land! The bike was split into two 28-mile loops. There were many rolling hills but the first major climb came about 5 miles into the loop. Started up a hill and it never ended! It was at least a 10% grade and was about 1.5 miles long (possible longer). I was relieved to hit the top and drop in the aero bars for the decent. I couldn't do that for long as there was a hairpin turn about 1/4-mile later. I found that getting in the aero bars on the downhills of this course was a calculated risk. Was it worth the extra speed for such a short time? Was it worth risking a wipeout? I wasn't necessarily racing this thing so I opted to be extra cautious. Made it through the first loop in about 1:40 (17 mph average). I indulged in the rest area as much as possible, grabbing a banana, water, Gatorade, gels, Power bars, etc. Probably took about 5 minutes before I was ready to head back out for loop 2. Very similar to loop 1 except that I felt a little more comfortable on the hills and was able to muscle up them a little easier knowing it was was the last time of the day. Somewhere around 40 miles I made an error switching gears and my chain popped off. Surprisingly, I've become somewhat mechanically adept with my bike and was able to fix it in about 10 seconds and was back riding within 20 seconds or so. Entered the transition area in about 3:30 and quickly prepared for the run.
I found this to be the strangest part of the day. The bike course never doubled back on itself so the only people I saw on the bike were people who were slightly ahead of me or, as I passed them, slightly behind me. The run however, was a double out and back so right from the start I was crossing paths with people who were already well into their run and perhaps almost finished. I was inspired by how great some of these people looked. Most of them were Triple-T participants (i.e. very experienced triathletes). The run course took us out on a fire road that wound through the hills. There was a lot of uphill on the way out with a nice downhill stretch leading up to the turnaround point. By this time it was very hot (about 80°F) , and much of the field was reduce to walking at least a portion of the hills, including me. I took in as much water as possible at the water stops and even grabbed a few Oreos at the mile 9 stop. I've never eaten solid food on the run before, but it seemed like this is just what I needed. My last 3 miles were strong and I clocked a 7:11 for the final mile.
Finished in 6:33'ish and was relieved to be done. Getting back into the transition area to recover my bike was pretty cool. I sort of looked down and saw what looked like shrapnel from a bomb explosion. One cycling glove, an inside out wetsuit, a half eaten power bar, etc. I wondered what a criminal investigator would gather from my personal "crime scene". All in all, I was very pleased with the day and found it to be great preparation for France in less than a month. I took some pictures using my disposable camera but have yet to use up all of the film. Will post ASAP.