Friday, June 20, 2014

Tejas Tri--Race Report

A few weeks ago, I competed in the Tejas Triathlon in Sugarland, TX.  I had looked at previous years' results and knew the field was going to be much more competitive than other races I've done, so I didn't really expect to end up ranking well.  I primarily signed up because of the swim.  I am wanting to work my way up to a half ironman, which means getting comfortable with a long, open water swim.  I'm completely comfortable with the 400m pool swims I've been racing in, so I figured it was time to up the ante.  Tejas Tri had a 600m open water swim, but with an age group wave start and taking place in a small neighborhood "lake".  It seemed like an ideal way to take the next step on my swimming.

600m is not a long swim, I've done more than 3 times that in a pool without breaks.  Looking out at those buoys lined up though?  That made it seem a little more intimidating. 
That's me in the orange, taking my long, blind walk from transition to the start line.  I think one of my least favorite parts about races is sitting around with no glasses waiting for the start. 
My group was second to go.  I'm standing up in orange, getting my goggles on.  The water for this race is really warm, almost too warm, so no one was swimming in wetsuits. 
And before I knew it, it was time to start swimming!  The first 25m or so went really well.  I stayed to the back and outside because I knew I'd be one of the slowest swimmers in the group.
The next 25m still went pretty okay.  I bumped into a few people, got what felt like a light kick to the leg from someone, but none of this "washing machine" scariness you read about.  Of course, the next day, the spot where I got that "light kick" looked like this:

But it really didn't feel that bad in the moment

The rest of the first 100m went pretty well.  I was sighting okay and swimming well.  I was starting to get tired already though.  A lot of people talk about panic in their first open water swim, they freak out and that makes it hard to breathe correctly.  I didn't really have that experience.  What DID happen was a complete inability to find a rhythm.  I was getting through that 100m, but I was constantly stopping, moving myself away from people, shortening my stroke when I bumped into someone else.  Maybe I'm just too nice?  The lack of rhythm completely messed me up though.  I was wasting energy like it grows on trees.  The swim is NOT where you want to waste energy in a triathlon.  When I tried to just go for it and finally felt I was evening out, it turned out to be because I was going off course and just away from everyone else (the nice lifeguard blew a whistle and got my attention before I went too far).
I ended up doing a LOT of breaststroke, because at least I could do that steadily.  Problem is, I never swim more than 25m of breaststroke in training.  That would come back to bite me in the butt later.  It's also more tiring. 

I always felt safe in the swim.  There were a lot of lifeguards floating on rescue tubes and more people in kayaks.  The rules say you can stop and rest by holding on to something as long as you don't make forward progress and I did end up deciding to take advantage of that in the second half of the swim.  I saw a few other people do the same and all of the guards that were in the water seemed to be great, they really encouraged the swimmers to just take it easy and rest and then cheered them on and told them they were doing good when they took off again.

Moral of the swim---the ability to swim a mile non-stop in a pool means absolutely NOTHING about your open water swim with a crowd abilities.  It is almost an entirely different skill.
I was feeling pretty crummy on my way out of the water.  See all those men around me?  Yeah, they weren't in 30 and up female wave.  Not one, but TWO waves that started behind me caught up to me.  I knew I wasn't going to be competitive, but sheesh.  I gave Josh a big thumbs down when I saw him and some random spectator yelled at me that it was okay, the swim was over, it was time to move on.  Right she was...
Transition was a little bit encouraging.  We had assigned spots by age group and some bikes were still on the rack, that meant I wasn't making a total fool of myself.
It looks like I'm just walking out of transition, but I really was jogging and actually did pretty good here.  Even with walking out of the swim, my T1 was middle of the pack for my age group. 
Because there was some rain and transition was in a grassy area that I knew was going to turn into a muddy mess, I chose to start with my shoes on the bike. 
It was my first time to strap into my shoes on the bike in a race.  I had practiced it a couple times at home and found it pretty easy, so I was comfortable giving it a try.  I was worried I would grind mud into my clips walking across the field in shoes.  Bike mount went well and getting into my shoes was not a problem.  I could definitely improve though. 

The bike portion was more mental than physical.  It was a flat, easy course.  Because my swim was so abysmal though, I was CONSTANTLY being passed by the young guys catching up to me.  That was a little demoralizing.  They were all nice enough, announcing when they were passing and every once in a while shouting a word of encouragement as they went by.  I regretted not riding hard enough in my last race, so my little mantra for this one was "race the bike".  I know it's my best leg, I need to make up as much time as possible here.  So I tried to block out all the guys passing me because I wasn't really racing them anyway and eventually I started catching up to some women in my age group. 
Remember how I said all the breaststroke would come back to bite me in the butt? About halfway through the bike, muscles started to cramp up in my right hamstring and glutes.  It wasn't fun, but I managed to stand on my pedals and stretch a little bit to make it bearable.   
Bike dismount was great, I was out of my shoes and on one pedal at the dismount line, able to run into T2 without ever stopping.  Virtually a flying dismount, just a little slower than the more experienced folks.
All that was left was a little jog through the neighborhood (and past a sign warning of alligators in the water...yikes!)
It was starting to get hot and I was running out of energy....until I passed the first timing mat, which gives the announcer my name.  As he's announcing my name, he also says a second name.  I could see my shadow in front of me and another shadow was creeping up and starting to pass
In short, aw hellz no.  I really really hate being passed at the finish line
Turns out I had a little bit of energy left for a short, all out sprint.  So the guy actually beat me by something like 20 minutes because he had started after me, but it was a fun finish. 

As far as the race goes, it was well organized, on time, warm water and a safe course.  I was really disappointed in the tech shirt quality, I think it's the cheapest feeling shirt in my drawer.  Mostly, I was disappointed that they did not hand out medals.  We got cheap water bottles instead.  I've got plenty of water bottles, I would have really liked a medal for a full sprint race with a longer than typical, open water swim. 

I was feeling a little down about my ranking/times when I first saw them, but then I compared against previous races and it turns out I didn't do all that bad.  My swim pace was actually faster than I swam in my first race (which was only 400m and a pool).  Thinking back, I'd say I probably felt just about the same after this swim as I did after that one too.  My bike went well, I kept my pace over 16mph for the first time (still pretty slow, but improving!).  My run was a 12:30 pace, which isn't fabulous, but it's not terrible and it's better than other races I've done in similar temperatures.  Each of my transitions were a full minute faster than my average race T1 and T2, so that's improving as well.  Basically, I raced well in a really competitive field.   I ended up 20 out of 23 in my age group and 447 out of 579 overall.  Not bad at all when it's all said and done. 

Anyone out there have open water tips for me?  I have very limited open water practice opportunity, what can I do in the pool to feel more comfortable in open water?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ozarks Trip Day 6 and 7 (Headed Home!)

Day 6 was the beginning of the end for our trip, it was time to make our way towards home!  It took a while to get the girls out of bed, they had been staying up late and actually slept in.  You probably don't understand how monumental that is.  I have seen these kids stay up until 2am, sleep in a windowless hotel room and STILL pop out of bed at 7am like clock work.  The last time I saw them sleep like this was our trip to Disney.

After eating breakfast and getting everything packed up, we started making our way out of town.  First, we made a quick stop for a park and grab geo-cache.

We also drove over to the downtown/main street area to grab starbucks for the road and t-shirts souvenirs.  The five and dime shop was INSANELY packed.  Merchandise everywhere and crowded with people. So grandma and the girls waited outside while I checked out.  I came outside to discover the girls trying out the Dixie Stampede trick riding skills. 
We did eventually really get on the road. I want to swing by Fort Smith National Historic Site, so we took Hwy 65 south and then Hwy 412 west towards Springdale.  We saw a billboard on the road for Osage Clayworks and I'm a sucker for handmade pottery, so we stopped in for a visit.  There was a little bit of drama at first.  Sedona remember the last visit to a pottery store and started crying as soon as we pulled up.  I promised her it wouldn't be the same and thankfully I was right.  She calmed down right away when she saw the dog and cat roaming the store.  She immediately set to work loving on the (very sweet and calm) animals.  Then the lady asked the girls if they wanted to make some pottery!  This is a brilliant move, it teaches the kids a little bit about art and sharing and gives parents time to shop.  She gave each of the girls a piece of clay and showed them how to make a pinch pot.  Then she explained this little system worked on a "make one, take one" system.  Kids make a pinch pot and leave it behind to be fired.  In return, they get to take a pinch pot out of a basket that another kid has made and left behind.  They were so excited that they were getting to create something and getting a treat for themselves.  I didn't get pictures, but it was a cool little system. 

I had picked up a gag gift for Josh, but we got him a real souvenir while we were here, a new coffee mug:
I also picked up a butter dish
They also had t-shirts.  They were a place I'll happily advertise for and the shirts were cheap, so I came home with one of those instead of a Branson shirt. If you're in the area, stop in and shop!

We picked up a late lunch in Springdale and listened to Sierra beg to stop by the Duggar's house (she literally wanted to just go knock on the door).  I'm pretty sure we did see their old car lot, but we did not stop to Duggar-sight. 

As we neared Fort Smith, we ran into another directions snafu.  We ended up in Van Buren, thinking it was Fort Smith and being all sorts of confused because the directions weren't working out.  I pulled over to take a look at the map and got even more confused because I knew we needed to be right on the bank of the river, but we WERE right on the bank of the river in Van Buren because there is a big switchback in the river in that area.  So word to the wise, if you're looking for Fort Smith, but sure you're actually IN Fort Smith.  We did figure it out pretty quickly, but the longer than necessary drive through town streets ate up a little bit of extra time and we ended up arriving at about 4:50 (the visitor's center closes at 5)
It was enough time to run in for a bathroom stop, get passport stamps and buy a few things in the gift shop

Much of the site is out in the open and you can take your time visiting that stuff, so we did still get to walk around the grounds and talk to the girls a little bit about the fort and the Trail of Tears. Closest to the visitor center, there is all of the stuff about the Fort


The commissary
Replica flag pole
You walk to a separate part to learn more about what was just outside the fort and the Trail of Tears
I took a picture of this because I just thought it was kind of funny, I wonder how true it is.
The Arkansas River
At the edge of the river, there are a lot of informational plaques about the different tribes that moved through the area

We had a short conversation with a couple from Australia and a guy who happened to be from Sedona, AZ around here too.  The Australian guy saw my A&M t-shirt and asked if I was really a Texas Aggie...he talked a bit like we were mythical creatures, it was kind of funny. 

We also spotted a gaggle of geese moving to the water.  There were 3 or 4 adult pairs and a whole bunch of goslings between them.

By now, it was getting late and we had another 3 hours to drive, so we hit the road.  Just outside of the park, we entered Oklahoma
The girls had gotten prairie hats at Fort Smith.  Sierra wore hers for the rest of the day

Near sunset, we saw a big rainbow.  It was actually a double rainbow, but the pictures didn't show the second one.
We were planning to stop in Sherman, TX, but as the day wore on, we decided to push south another hour and stop north of Dallas.  It made for a late night, but a short driving day on our last day. 

The last morning, the same friend we'd met up with on the first day came over to visit with us a bit at the hotel before we had to check out.  My girls love being around babies and were missing their little sister quite a bit by this point, so they had fun playing with her baby, Abigale. 
 Abigale thought the big girls were pretty cool too
Looking up to Sierra (literally), doesn't she have gorgeous eyes?
Before long, we were back home!  Josh and Secora were waiting for us and helped unload the car, then I gave Josh his gag gift.....Bacon Soda!
Which smelled absolutely awful, but he tasted anyway for some reason
It didn't taste any better than it smelled.  Don't buy bacon soda unless you just want it for decoration
And that brings us to the end of our trip!!  The next morning, I woke up and packed for another trip...yes, really.  We got home on Thursday, and left Friday evening for triathlon I was registered for.  Race report coming soon!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ozarks Trip Day 5

Day 5 of our trip was our second full day in Branson.  The all inclusive package we'd reserved included two day passes to Silver Dollar City and we decided to check that out instead of catching another show.  We were a little worried about the weather, but decided to just take a chance and head out there after our buffet breakfast. 

Of course, as we pull into the parking lot, it starts raining.  You aren't allowed to park where you want at Silver Dollar City.  The parking lots you can walk from are reserved for season pass holders and handicapped visitors.  The other parking lots are too far away to walk, you have to wait for a tram.  And there isn't really covered waiting space (there's a very very tiny covered bus stop, but it wouldn't come close to holding everyone).  We decided to bring the umbrella and make the best of it anyway.  Thankfully by the time the tram got to the gates, it had just about stopped.  The rest of the morning was muggy, but we didn't get drenched.

The girls aren't interested in big rides and neither is my mom, but I had heard Silver Dollar City had a lot of craftsman demonstrations, so I figured we'd find plenty to do for a couple of hours and we really only wanted to spend the morning out there anyway. 

My main complaints were that you had to both enter and exit through a large gift shop and the parking was a bit ridiculous.  Besides that, it reminded me a lot of Astroworld in Houston during the late 80's/early 90's.  We started out watching a glass blowing demonstration

Then we found this "rope" bridge to walk across.  This was the site of the infamous "BUG IN THE EYE!" incident.  We got to the end of the bridge and Sierra screamed that there was a bug in her eye.  Sure enough, a gnat had met it's fate by flying straight into her eyeball and wedging itself under her lower lid.  She was FLIPPING OUT.  Got her to hold still, stop flapping her hands, and let me get it out, then she told it off (no really, she lectured it and threw in an, "I HATE you bug!"  for good measure.)
With our newly bug-free eyes, it was a good time to check out the kid's playground/maze:

Sedona was super excited to see the carousel and took a few rides to practice waving at her adoring fans


Then we found the generic version of the Dumbo ride.  Sierra's in the front elephant, Sedona and I are two behind her:
I accidentally left the camera on the wrong setting, so Grandma had a hard time getting pictures.  Here's me at Sedona's mercy...why keep the elephant low or high when you can continually bounce it back and forth?
Nah, it was really okay (for the most part)
And then they spotted the tea cups.  Hard to see, but we're in the front cup.  I can handle riding with them and letting them spin at top speed, the problem is the employees expect you to actually get OFF the tea cup ride and walk to the exit when the ride is over.  It's really the ultimate field sobriety test
We spotted this teeny tiny roller coaster that looked perfect for the girls.  I rode with Sedona (in the second to last car) and Sierra was by herself (last car).  I thought it was totally fine for them, but neither was too impressed.  In the pictures, you can see Sedona try to raise her arms for about 2 seconds, Sierra maintains a death grip on the handle and her seat "belt" bar for the entire ride.  I'm not sure they'll ever be coaster enthusiasts.
By the time all that was done, we were ready to make our way towards the front of the park.  I spotted a pottery shop and had to go look around.  Poor Sedona ended up in tears because I had told her not to touch anything, but she was still being Sedona and I told her she was making me really really nervous.  Before I knew it, she was crying and finally told me she was afraid she was going to break something and be in big trouble.  Mom fail.  She and Sierra sat on a nice, safe, unbreakable bench outside while my mom and I finished checking out.  I ended up with a gorgeous oil bottle and serving dish
Back at the hotel, we had lunch and then went to scope out the indoor waterpark onsite.  The girls wanted a chance to play and grandma was ready for a rest, so we went back to get swimsuits on and grandma stayed behind for a nap while I got the kids out of her hair for a little while.  I wasn't super impressed with the waterpark and would not suggest it be a deciding factor if you're planning a trip and planning to stay at Grand Country.  Online, it looks like this might be somewhat equivalent to Great Wolf waterparks, but it's not.  The water is COLD and there is only a very small area to play in.  The benefit to the size and Sedona's newly acquired swimming skills was that I didn't actually have to get in the water.  I followed them around and watched closely, but stayed dry (and warm).  I also noticed the life guards were no where NEAR the Great Wolf life guards.  They were the bare minimum, looking bored and inattentive.   The girls loved the slides, but the guards weren't even watching those closely, so while I always supervise really closely (maybe too closely) around water, I made sure to have eyes on them all the time.  All in all, the kids enjoyed it and it was a good afternoon break, but I would have been upset if that was planned to be a major part of our trip.  Our all inclusive package included food at the waterpark snack bar, so I got the girls a funnel cake and we headed back to the room just in time to beat the rain.

There was still another mini golf course we hadn't played, so after cleaning up and changing clothes and hitting the buffet for another fabulous dinner, we made our way to the indoor black light golf course. 

This was a fun course, but it was raining outside, so it was pretty crowded with a lot of families looking for indoor activities.  About 9pm on the fifth night in a row of being up past bedtime is not really the ideal time to work with kids on their patience.


Downstairs from the mini golf, I let the girls play a few arcade games, which ultimately ended in Sierra trading tickets for a whoopee cushion.  If you think girls are nothing but sugar and spice and everything nice, put them in a car for 2 days with a whoopee cushion.  They thought it was absolutely hilarious.  That all inclusive package included ice cream and it was still raining, so we sat down with ice cream while we waited for a break in the rain. 

Back at the hotel room it was time to start collecting our things together, the next day was the start of our drive home!

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