Sunday, June 28, 2015

Race Report: TriZona Starr Pass

Race Report: TriZona Starr Pass

March 29, 2015
Tucson, AZ

Swim: 550 meters?
Bike: 15.6 miles
Run: 3.1 miles

Starr Pass Tucson
Webb: For the first race of 2015 we decided to leave the giant mounds of dirty snow behind us and head for the desert. The plan was to see my family and squeeze in an early sprint at the Starr Pass resort. We learned about this race from a friend on the ontri.com forum. I was intrigued; Elle was more excited.

Elle: O. M. G. I just wanted to get the heck out of the cold, dark, hinterland formerly known as Boston, Massachusetts.

The SWIM: 550 meters?

Webb: The swim takes place in the resort's lazy river. Prior to race day we submitted our estimated 700 yard swim times. The race directors then placed us in order from fastest to slowest. I was lucky number 13 and Elle was number 17. Before you start thinking that we must have spent a lot more time in the pool than blogging in the preceding months, the race was limited to 50 competitors. Neither of us had swam much and the early season race had us wondering if we should have been numbers 49 and 50.

I was intrigued by this race because it begins on a waterslide. I will write that again:


Elle: Holy crap every race should start on a waterslide! I can't explain how fantastic it was, you just have to take my word for it. Or sign up yourself...

Webb: I could not agree more: Waterslides are the best way to begin a triathlon - no contest. We queued up according to our numbers and one by one flung ourselves down the waterslide every ten seconds. Race officials were clear that all competitors must go down feet first. After splash down you had to reorient yourself on your stomach and get your body pointed the right direction. Once that was accomplished, you had to head out for two laps around the lazy river against the current. Even though the current was not strong, my lats were screaming the whole time.

The 'Lazy River'
Elle: You'd be surprised how hard it is to navigate a lazy river. Even though we were technically in a pool, I almost swam straight into the wall a couple of times. On the bright side, this was by far the shortest swim we have done. And it was over before I knew it. Sweet.

The BIKE: 15.6 miles

Webb: I was more confident in my bike fitness than my swimming since we completed the Tour of Sufferlandria at the beginning of February and had continued with our TheSufferfest.com workouts. Still, we had not been outdoors on a bike in months, so there was a question as to how the body would respond.

The course was a down-and-up affair. Star Pass sits atop of a hill. We rode out of the transition area (TA) down the hill about a half-mile and then onto a looped course for three laps (each being a touch under five miles). After the third lap we returned back up the hill to the TA.

Each lap started fast and ended slow. You begin with a fast descent, followed by a right turn continuing downhill. Your next right initially descends further, but then it levels out after a punchy hill. Your last right takes you on a gradual climb back up to begin your next lap or your return even farther up the hill to the TA.

Elle: Honestly, I was just so happy to be outside in the sun and the warmth, you couldn't have wiped the smile off my face. I passed a number of racers, men and women, young and old. I think it's possible that the long, harsh winter had actually given me a mental edge. Most of the racers were from the area, and maybe they took it for granted? Meanwhile, I was high on sunshine.

Webb: I loved it. After all that time indoors on the trainer (which I also love unabashedly), it was good to get out and race with people. Immediately out of T1 I found myself working with a guy who came out of the water just ahead of me. We yoyo-ed back and forth for the first lap. I was certain I was working too hard but just could not help myself. It was so much fun to race outside. About a quarter of the way into the second lap I realized that my race buddy was no longer keeping pace, but whoa! I had a new race buddy who came up alongside and passed me. At first, I did not think I could close the gap on him, however, within a few miles I was passing him and we began working together. (A note for new readers: I abhor drafting. By working together we forced each other to keep up the pace. If the lead rider begins to slow down, the back rider overtakes him and forces the pace anew. It will force you to work harder than if you were alone, but it can break you too.) After the final right turn up the hill he began to pull away from me. A few times I narrowed the gap but I could not get close enough to pass him or to keep up. I decided to settle down and see if I could run him down.

The RUN: 3.1 miles

Webb crosses the finish line with fervor.
Webb: This was the part of the race we both found daunting. It was pretty simple: Run 1.55 miles down the hill, turnaround and run 1.55 miles back up the hill. That's it!

Elle: That's it. Oh, and it's 80-degrees. And sunny. And there's zero shade. But even so, I was still really excited to be there.

Webb: Coming out of T2 I could really feel how much fun I had on the bike. Even though it was mostly downhill at the beginning, my legs were fried enough that I was still having problems. I focused on keeping a high turnover and hoped that I would recover enough to push harder soon enough.

Almost immediately I encountered the first two men coming in hard for the finish. (Wow, they were fast.) A half-mile later, the lead woman ran past me and offered me some encouragement. I started to count. My race buddy from the bike course was in front of me, which put me in fourth, if there was no one other men in front. I tried to maintain contact with him while also attempting to recover. After we passed the 1-mile aid station, the 3rd-place male passed me on his way to the finish line. He looked strong. That put me in 5th with a hope for 4th. A little before the turnaround my race buddy passed me. We high-5'd. He only had 200m on me and I was feeling better. Unfortunately, so was he; that was the closest I would get.

I started to run like the prey instead of the predator. I had seen a couple of guys behind me after I made the turnaround and had no idea how much, if any, of a head start I had on them from the swim time trial start. I pushed hard up the hill. Eventually the racers running the opposite direction stopped saying, "good job" and started saying, "good job you guys." Guys??? Then the footsteps behind me became more audible. I tried to run harder, desperate to hold onto 5th. He finally ran by me and to my great relief I saw the "R" relay marking on his calf. Relief was soon replaced with realization that another might be behind me; I pressed onward.

Elle: This was my time to shine. I can't beat Webb on the swim or the bike. But I can often get him on the run. I started out hard. It was hot. But I took the free speed that comes with running downhill. So I went full gas. About a quarter of a mile in, I saw the 1st place woman running towards me. Holy cow, she was fast! As we passed each other she said to me, 'Good job.' To which I responded, 'You too!'. That was nice. Then at about a half a mile from the turn around I saw Webb running up towards me. 'I think you're the 4th woman!' he called out. That got me excited. I made the turn around and started the 1.5 mile climb to the finish. I was going hard, and passed a lot of people. But ended up stopping, not once, but twice! I never stop during the run on a sprint. But this course was a little severe. As I approached the finish line, I gave it all I had, and crossed, fully exhausted, with Webb yelling out encouraging words. As soon as I crossed, Jodee, the race director immediately came over, she looked concerned. 'You're not sweating. That's a problem. You need water, now!'
I was really surprised by that. I hadn't even noticed that I wasn't sweating. Hello, dry heat!

Oh and by the way, I beat Webb by more than 40 seconds on the run.

The RESULTS

Webb: I was taken aback by our results. I finished 5th male (and 6th overall, not counting the relay team). Spoiler Alert: Elle did not win, that honor would go to a pro triathlete. She did finish 4th female (and 10th overall, again, not counting the relay). My goal coming into the race was to finish in the top 25 overall, Elle's was to finish top 10 among the women. I was especially surprised with the result considering that the top three were a MTB national champion and Olympian (doing his first triathlon), a pro XTERRA triathlete and the aforementioned pro woman. One of the great things about our sport is that even small races can bring great athletes.

Elle: I was really surprised and pleased with my results. It was a fun race, and I was really glad we made the trip out there. The race directors, husband and wife duo Barry and Jodee Siff did a great job. They were super friendly and have created a fun, unique race at this venue that I would definitely recommend. The race has already expanded to 75 athletes - they are taking it slowly to make sure they can successfully accommodate the number of racers, which is smart. We give this race 2 thumbs up!


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sufferfestukah 2014 - Day 6 (the final day!)

DAY 6: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Webb: Day 6 of Sufferfestukah was so tough, it's taken us a few days to post this blog entry. The first five days were fun in that accumulating fatigue sort of way. Angels, The Wretched, Half is Easy, The Rookie and Nine Hammers all led to ISLAGIATT. Four climbs of 15:00, 20:00, 20:00 and 8:00. Each is different and none are real grinders. They are like real climbs with pace changes, stem-chewing tempo and, of course, some big gear work.

This workout began with some difficulty. I opened TrainerRoad and saw that it still could not find Elle's ANT+ USB stick. We had this problem on Day 5. She rode Nine Hammers blind to power, relying only on her speed and cadence on her Garmin, you know not old school, older school. Meanwhile, TrainerRoad Companion worked fine for me. Except on this final day when TrainerRoad Companion could not find my ANT+ USB stick either.

It turns out that Elle had installed the new Garmin Express which causes problems with the ANT+ USB communication. The real issue is that it runs in the background all the time. It is an easy fix to shut off that feature in your system settings. Garmin Express now no longer lurks in the background so TrainerRoad works fine. I figured this out after ISLAGIATT which might have been a good thing.

For the first five days I set TrainerRoad to 80% and came out of each workout increasingly more tired but never crushed. It felt great. I decided to ride ISLAGIATT hard, maybe not 100% hard, but testing myself nonetheless. The plan was to ride at my honest RPE and if I faltered, to continue riding at my RPE, even if that meant my watt output decreased as the workout progressed. That definitely happened. Afterwards, I compared my distance to the last time I did ISLAGIATT in June (when I was in shape). That time I had ridden at 90% and only went about 1/3 of mile farther. That feels pretty good.

Elle: Holy lava snow, Batman! Ok, so this day was hard. Real hard. Super hard. Didn't know if I was going to make it. Really. But I turned my brain off, closed my eyes, and accepted the 2-hour cloak of misery that was about to consume my life. But instead of focusing on all the ways this workout is awful and painful, I'm going to list my 5 favorite things about ISLAGIATT:

Elle's Top 5 Favs for ISLAGIATT
1. Synchronized nose swipe!
2. The minions can't stand Gloworm. No one can.
3. Trying to count all the logos on Billboard. You can't! There are just. too. many.
4. At 55:15 minutes in, a spectator off to the right takes a big fall down a hill. Ha! Probably a Couchlandrian...
5. Hurtado-ing. Lots and lots of hurtadoing.


Webb: I will add to the list the moment where the music, video and workout come together perfectly. It is not only my favorite singular moment of ISLAGIATT but of all Sufferfest workouts. There is something about the tempo riding up the mountain with an increasingly anxious techno-chamber music, the drop below tempo as the music also settles down, then back into the climbing and again a short respite. The music begins to subtly build once again as you climb at RPE 6.5 then just as the electro-bass drops Team Sky comes around a turn in a pace line. It is impossible not to drive the pace yourself.

Elle: Hope all had a happy and healthy Sufferfestukah, see you all at the end of January for the Tour of Sufferlandria!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Suferfestukah 2014 - Days 4 and 5

Day 4: The Rookie

Webb: This is new one. The plot: After winning the Tour of Sufferlandria you garner the attention of Team Giant-Shimano who gives you the opportunity to make the team. The workout: Three "races" where you need to show you belong. Good luck.

Elle: I've made a huge mistake. Even though I tried not to be cocky and to start out the holiday conservatively, I clearly did not do that. Well, this morning my quads had a message for me:
"Too much! Too fast! And now you will pay!"
Oh the pain. But it was day 4, and the suffering must go on. So 'The Rookie' beat the hell out of me today. And at 80%, no less! I can't wait until I'm fresh to do this workout properly.

Webb: Meanwhile, I'm feeling tired and confident. This was my first full experience with The Rookie. I attempted it shortly after it was released when I was definitely out of shape and stupidly trying to hit my inflated FTP targets. I bailed after the first race. This time I once again set the effort at 80% and plodded along. The difference is that I made it to the end and hit all the targets. Confidence swells once again.

The Rookie literally cracked
my dork disc!
Elle: This video has everything: an exquisite display of cyclists acting, Kittel's flawlessly gelled coiffure, super pumpin' music, and possibly the best interval of any Sufferfest video EVER: dropping Jens freaking Voigt!!! Is that a polka I hear?
It's hard not to get caught up in the action during this workout, right in the middle of the peleton, all the action, all the yelling. So much excitement! So much suffering! It was all too much for my 'dork' disc, which I found in pieces on the floor when I got off my bike.

Next up: Nine Hammers (shudder!)



Day 5: Nine Hammers

Webb: Another new workout! Nine Hammers released just a few days ago. The Knights and Dames have been hotly anticipating it. One of the perks of gaining Knighthood is being mocked early.

Elle: There's always an air of excitement and anticipation whenever a new Sufferfest is released. What will the music be like? How many intervals will there be? How much climbing? How much sprinting? Only one thing is certain. There will be suffering.

Webb: Will you be the hammer or the nail? This one hour workout features nine intervals structured as three sets of threshold, V02max and V02max with recoveries between each. I'm not gonna lie, I was intimidated and now that I'm done, I'm still intimidated. Once again I set TrainerRoad to 80% and took the workout one pedal stroke at a time. The time will come (next month) when I'll ride this correctly at 100%. It will hurt badly. I will feel like the nail. But I will succeed and in so doing feel kinda like the hammer too.

Elle: There's a nice sense of humor sprinkled into this workout amidst the suffering, which is nice. It's always fun to watch pro cyclists push each other around. What I really wanted to do was hand that BMC rider a drink - seriously, how long did that dude have his hand up?  I especially enjoyed all of the comments by the cyclists and motorists on the cols during the rest intervals (oh, that pesky hamster!).
Oh, and something that both Webb and I have been doing for pre-workout nutrition are these super tasty stropwafels from Rip van Wafels. I highly recommend getting your hands on some. In bulk. Seriously. Webb has a subscription with them.

Webb: Next week I am going to plan out the first three months of my training. Right now, I think I will put Angels, The Hunted, ISLAGIATT, Blender and Nine Hammers in the rotation. Hills and endurance with that nasty threshold and V02max workout.

Next up: ISLAGIATT (ugh.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sufferfestukah 2014 - Days 2 and 3

Day 2: The Wretched

Webb: Let's kick this post off with a quick plot summary of the The Wretched. It is sooooo appropriate given my current state of fitness. Here it is: You had a good season and got a little cocky. There were donuts. And laziness. You became wretched. Now you are in the Tour de France based on qualifying points earned when you were strong and fit. Not surprisingly you have not shown well, so on this final stage of Le Tour, your only attempt to bring honor and glory to Sufferlandria is to bring home the stage victory.

I can relate. My FTP in TrainerRoad is inflated. If I did Rubber Glove right now, I don't know if I could finish it. For this reason, my goal is to attempt to complete each of the workouts at 80% (based on my out-of-date FTP). This might be a bad plan. Angels went well on Day 1. I felt good (i.e., not totally wrecked). Tonight with about 15 minutes to go in the 35:00 set I began to waver mentally. Thankfully, I had the typically great visual and music to help me push through. Of course, it is also easier having my suffer-buddy spinning along next to me. Especially when she decided to up the ante right a game time.

Elle: I wanted to be smart, and so I planned to be conservative about this workout. But you know how it goes, you get all wrapped up in the excitement of suffering, and I basically rode this at 100%. Although I haven't been doing many Sufferfests in the past couple of months (known to triathletes as the 'Off Season'), I have been keeping up with my weekly BootCamp and Spin classes. So I'm not totally 'wretched' at this point...

Day 3: Half is Easy

Webb: Here we are the morning of Day 3, some nine hours after unsaddling ourselves from The Wretched. Oh boy. With the full authority of the Scheduler's Prerogative, I chose Half is Easy knowing Thursday morning was going to be tight on time. A 40-minute workout would be preferable for both of us if we intended on making our jobligations. I foolishly thought I might still be able to squeeze in Extra Shot. That did not happen.

I was under no illusion that it would be easy. Any Sufferlandrian knows "easy" is only used with sarcasm, as in ... The Other Half is Not. Forty sprints with forty paltry recoveries: HR up. HR kinda down. HR up more. HR down less. Even at 80% it took me the first five sprints to find my legs. I won't talk about the last five. Suffice to say that in the beginning and end I wasn't sure I would finish and yet I did.

Elle: Ahhh, the early morning Sufferfest. I was absolutely feeling last nights workout in my legs, which felt a little bit like lead. Although I started the video at 100%, that didn't last long. This is one heck of a heart rate spiker. I gave it everything I had, which declined throughout the workout, as I lost my will to live power. Thankfully, we have a full 24 before the next 'fest to rest up and prepare for more glorious suffering.

We are half-way done. Next up: The Rookie.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sufferfestukah 2014 - Day 1

ANGELS!!!

Elle: As some may know, Angels is one of my most favorite ways to suffer. Everything about it is
Webb prepares to suffer, Angels style.
pretty fantastic. The music, the workout (what a killer!), Contador getting dropped, thumbs up from Mr. Frank Schleck, and, as always, climbing the Alp d'Huez (shudder!).

Webb: For the return of Sufferfestukah it only seemed proper to start with Elle's favorite workout. I dig it too. Plus this is the right time of the training year to do it. Climbing builds strength, specific strength that leads to improved endurance and speed.

Elle: I tried to keep myself in check today. With this being the first of 6 straight days of suffering, it's important not to get too cocky. There's a lot more suffering to come!

Here's where I'd like to give a shout-out to Chris W., a friend and new citizen of Sufferlandria, who has informed us that he will be joining in Sufferfestukah this year. Congrats Chris, enjoy the suffering ride!

Also, let it be known that it was Webb's idea to do Extra Shot before every workout for this Sufferfestuakah. I did not necessarily agree to this. So I didn't do it today. But I will give it a try tomorrow...

Webb: There is no doubt that my fitness (and FTP) are in a reduced state. Rather than subject myself to Rubber Glove to reset my FTP, I am reducing my effort on Trainer Road to kickstart my base training for January. Right now my goal is to develop consistent training habits to prep myself for the first eight months of 2015. If I try to crush a workout, especially based on an outdated FTP, then it will only produce a set-back which also means inconsistent and infrequent training. As of right now, I think I nailed it. I finished the workout feeling tired but not devastated. One of these workouts, perhaps The Rookie on Friday, I will test myself.

Next up....The Wretched

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Return of Sufferfestukah in 2014!

Webb:  Hello everyone! We are pleased to announce the return of Sufferfestukah for 2014. Before we announce the Schedule of Suffering and other pertinent news, we must apologize for doing a lousy job of maintaining the blog. Both of us have been very busy these last several months with new and changing things in our non-training lives.

Elle: Since our last race report on Challenge - St. Andrews half-iron distance race, we competed in three more races, the Massachusetts State Triathlon (Olympic-distance), the Appleman Tri (sprint) and the Boston Triathlon (sprint). In fact, we raced the Mass State tri the weekend after St Andrews and Appleman the week after that. We won't be doing that again.

Webb: The Mass State tri was the best triathlon ever. I didn't place particularly well since it was the regional qualifier for the Age Group National Championships. It was my best because it was the closest I have come to having everything click in every discipline. Other than my swim being a little off, I executed everything else nearly perfectly. I applied a steady level of effort through the bike and run and had my best splits for an olympic. The sense of accomplishment of putting everything together far outweighed how I placed.

Elle: The Appleman sprint triathlon was a new one for us this year. The swim is in a lake (not the chilly Atlantic Ocean!), the bike is hilly & challenging, and the run was tough, with an honest-to-goodness vertical trail run thrown in. This must be a good combo for us, because it was the first triathlon where we both ended up on the podium!

Next up, the Boston Triathlon. Even in August the Atlantic Ocean is cold. We did this race last year for the first time. One of the best parts is that it is less than 2 miles from our door, so we can roll out of bed and bike on over. It was a good day, I finished third in my AG. Webb was  outside of the podium in fourth, but not so close that he could have done anything differently. (Webb: There is some comfort in that.)

Webb: And now Sufferfestukah. We decided to reduce the number of days from the original eight in 2011 to six this year (and likely for years to follow). Back when we first started this tradition, there were only eight videos. The Sufferfest catalog has since grown to more than 20 (counting the new running videos). Our decision to reduce the number of days is based primarily on keeping things a little fresher for the Tour of Sufferlandria in late January. We are confident it will still provide a kickstart to winter training.

Tuesday 12/16:  Angels
Wednesday 12/17: The Wretched
Thursday 12/18: Half is Easy
Friday 12/19: The Rookie
Saturay 12/20: Nine Hammers (to be released on 12/18)
Sunday 12/21: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Our plan is to precede each of the above workouts with 'Extra Shot' as a warm-up. As always, this holiday is about what you want it to be. Crush it if you like. Add to it if you desire more suffering or only join us for part. It is up to you. We just hope you join us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Race Report: Challenge St. Andrews (1/2 Ironman Distance Triathlon)

Sunday July 6th: Race Day!

Race morning.

Webb: 4:00AM ... So now I come to you ... With open arms ... 

Elle: The power outage from Saturday was still causing cable and TV problems. So we had to listen to the radio as we struggled to wake up and prepare ourselves for the day. No problem, I like listening to the radio. We had found a pretty good station the day before that played mostly classic rock. But when I turned it on, we were in the middle of the DJ's personal 3-for-3 set. And it was Journey. Oh. My. God. My least favorite band of all time. One Journey song after the other. Really? C'mon! Ugh, hopefully this wasn't an omen of things to come.

The race organizers had been up all night, clearing hurricane debris from the road, setting up the course and getting the transition area (TA) ready. It was pretty impressive how they came together and got it done after a day of having to just sit inside and watch the town get roughed up by Arthur. But it was a beautiful morning, and it was on! Transition would only be open for an hour, so we got down there and set up. There were no assigned spots on the bike racks, just put your bike where you can find a space. So Webb and I positioned our bikes right next to each other, which we never get to do. By the time we were done setting up, we didn't have time for a bike or run warm up, so we made our way down to the swim start.
A gorgeous race morning dawns over Katy's Cove

The Swim: 1900m/1.18 miles

Webb: When people weren't discussing how amazing the post-hurricane set-up was, they were wondering whether wetsuits would be legal. The swim venue, Katy's Cove, is not only protected, but shallow and managed by gates. The effect is a surprisingly warm water swim. Apparently in the days leading up to Saturday the water was in the 26-28C (79-82F) range. Some were saying the rainstorms would lower the temps while others were sure that the water would warm up quickly. Shortly after 6:00AM we received the official announcement: Wetsuits MANDATORY. There were definitely sighs and exclamations of relief rippling through the TA as well as some audible groans. My fear was, how cold does it have to be to be mandatory? I don't know what the official water temp was. I thought I heard 16 or 17C (60-63F). It certainly felt that cold.

The swim course was creative. The competitors began between two large red buoys, swimming with the shore on our right before turning left at about the 600m mark. We then swam another 200m or so before turning left again and swimming straight for another 600m or so. We turned left once again to head back to the two red start buoys. Once there we swam through the start line, angling left and heading towards the center of Katy's Cove where we took about a 240 degree right turn around the buoy and then straight to the shore for the run up to T1.

Elle: We all started in the water. And we were there for awhile, treading water. Through the national anthem, and all of the swim waves, not that there were many. This was basically a mass start. First the pros. Then all the men. Followed by all the women. And it was a battle. The whole way. My super foggy goggles weren't helping at all.

Webb: I have never battled for so long in a swim. Normally, the melee settles down as the wave stretches out. Not on this day. And I don't know why. While the positioning was not intense as most mass-start races, it was persistent for the first half of the course. As much as I wanted to draft off stronger swimmers, I needed a break and finally got one as we returned to the starting buoys.

It was about that point my left calf began to stiffen. To keep from cramping, I resorted to the dead leg defense. I simply did nothing with it, hoping to release any tension in the leg. It was literally a drag - though better than sinking to the bottom of a cold cove. It didn't work. The calf seized on me a few meters before the buoys. I soft-paddled to the left buoy figuring there would be a place I could grab hold. As I approached, the cramp released. I eased back into the swim and headed for the center buoy. I made the turn for shore and decided to crank it up a little. BAM! The calf cramped immediately. I had to tread water for a bit and just try to let it release itself. It wasn't long before it did and I quietly and patiently stroked to the swim exit.



T1: It's a long way to the top

Webb: There are triathlon transitions and there are life transitions. This one falls somewhere between the two. The TA is at the top of a hill 400m in length from Katy's Cove. How far in height? I don't know. To put things in a little perspective, it took me about 3:30-4:00 to reach the TA. (For those of you familiar with Pumpkinman, I ascended that pre-T1 hill in 1:33.) Officially my T1 time was 6:26. My T1 times are under 3:00 when I have to deal with a wetsuit. This day I had a particularly rough time getting out of my new suit. I opted to remove it at the base - not sure if that was the right move or not. Ultimately it doesn't matter; I wasn't going to challenge for the fastest time up the hill. That person won a fantastically large gift basket of chocolate from Ganong.



The Bike: 56 miles of ups & downs

New bike shoes!
Webb:  The course description used words like "scenic" and "rolling hills" and maybe even the single appearance of "challenging." It was all of these things amplified. When we drove the course during Arthur's torment, we noted the near total-absence of any flat sections outside of St. Andrews. I think Elle was a little aghast as we previewed the course. I told her it always looks worse in the car than on the bike. No one knows why. It is just true.

The course is broken into six natural sections. After a few initial turns out of the TA, the course goes straight out Rte. 127 for about 10 miles to Highway 1 to make up the first section. Once on the highway - Wait, what? Yes, on the highway! - we completed two out-and-back loops or, if you will, four sections of about 9 miles each. These make up sections 2-5. That also meant we would see each other three times, if I stayed far enough in front of Elle. The sixth and final section is the 10-mile return trip back to the TA via Rte. 127. The highway's pavement was fast and smooth. The pavement on Rte. 127 was fair, with several touchy spots. They certainly weren't bad, especially if you have cycled in Massachusetts.

Elle: Whoa, this was a challenging, ├╝ber hilly bike course. While it was cool that we got to ride on Highway 1, it was also kinda brutal. All hills, all the time. It did not look worse in the car. I was exhausted and relieved to finally get off the bike. It was just a tough course.

Tough bike course...
Webb: I had a race buddy for most of the bike. Although she gave me a 3 minute head start in the swim, she made it out of the TA before me. I caught her on the early flat section and moved right on by her. On the first notable hill, she floated past me. I then flew past her on the descent. It was my Obree tuck on a tri-bike cranking a 53x11 versus her light and nimble road bike with a compact gruppo dancing up the hills. (I suppose her superior fitness and climbing ability may have been a factor too.) We did this back-and-forth ascend-descend thing for 40 some miles. I even noticed at one point we were on the same snacking schedule. She finally dropped me on a climb when I dropped my chain. It was totally my fault. I smashed the gear lever too far in my desperation to get out of the big ring, sending my chain between my inner ring and bottom bracket. I had to stop in the middle of a tough hill to deal with it. Tip: Consider a proper rear cassette when taking on Challenge-St Andrews and take care not to shift while panicking.

I had a lot of fun on this course even though some headwinds robbed us of some fast descents. I did have one moment around the 50-52 mile mark at the top of one of the last hills where I thought, I'm done and even if I get through this, there's no way I'm finishing the half-marathon. Instead I slowed down to take an extended recovery. After a couple of miles I found myself ripping through the flat sections back to the TA. Sometimes you just need a little break.

Meanwhile, I did not know where Elle was. Even though we did see each other three times I had no idea how she was doing. I can easily lose myself in my own thoughts of pedaling. As such, when I saw her, I didn't make note of a reference point to judge if she was a closing the gap. Given how hard my return trip was on Rte. 127, for all I knew, she was off my back wheel.

T2: Helmet off, shoes on

Webb: My thoughts coming into T2 were: Wow, that is a lot of bikes. Time to get moving.



The Run: The Predator stalks her prey for 13.1 miles

Webb:  Who has the shortest hamstrings off the bike? I do! While I shuffled out of the transition area, I went over my run strategy: Stop at every single aid station to drink and walk. Don't hurry, don't delay. Drink, walk then run.

The run course is an out-and-back loop, run twice. If you want to break it down strategically it is four 3.25-mile sections. The first aid station comes up quickly out of the TA just past the resort. The next aid station was on Water Street in the downtown area. The third aid station is at the turnaround. Since this was a double-loop run, you hit each station twice.

Hooray, we're on the run!
Elle: I was just happy to be off the bike and tackling the run. Because, hey, all I have to do now is run. Let's do this!

Webb: Pretty soon after the first aid station I saw TO running towards me on the other side of the road. After him I saw Karen Smyers. That was probably two miles in and I was starting to feel ok. Then I saw Nate on his way to a 3rd place finish (yes!) and yelled something encouraging. I found my stride coming out of the Water Street aid station. That was unexpected. I stuck to the plan and stopped at the turnaround. Again, I came out of the aid station feeling strong. I started watching for Elle.

Elle: What a lovely course. All along the water and through the quaint town. I was concentrating on my breath to stave off my enemy, the evil Dr. Cramp. I was actively looking out for Webb, and finally saw him near the downtown area. We did our usual hand slap, which always energizes me.

Webb: The 3.25-mile stretch back towards the TA was fun. I found a rhythm and was super-chatty with aid station volunteers and town residents. Things were good. This reminds me that there should be an antipode for the cliche "it's always darkest before the dawn." Perhaps, "it's always cheery and wonderful before the darkness consumes you"?

After completing the first loop, I concentrated only on the next 3.25 mile section. Things started going poorly. I began searching for the downtown aid station, trying to will it to appear sooner than I knew it should. It finally arrived and not a moment too soon. I drank. I walked. I ran.
On the f*&$ing run
And then I stopped and walked to the curb to stretch my calves. I took a deep breath and began shuffling. It was rough going from there.

My driving thought was, get to the turnaround. About a half-mile from the turnaround my peripheral vision began to disappear and I started tripping over my feet. I walked briefly to collect myself. I knew this could go in a dangerous direction in a hurry. My other thought was, don't hang around to make this last any longer than necessary. Somewhere in the functioning part of my brain I realized I needed glucose badly. I needed to get to that aid station. I walked the last 50m to the turnaround. I grabbed a Hammer Nutrition Montana Huckleberry gel, walked through the turnaround and back to the aid station for a few cups of water to wash it down. I am not a fan of gels. I am now a fan of gels.

I shuffled on and within a mile I saw Elle for the third time. My legs may have been running, my mouth certainly wasn't. We caught each other's attention and Elle ran towards the center line.

Elle:  I was feeling good. It was a great day, a great race, and a beautiful course. Huzzah! I had no idea what Webb was going through, but I was clearly gaining on him. As we approached each other, I pointed right at him with a harassing message, "I'm comin' for ya!"
Now that I know what he was going through, I feel a little bad about it...

Webb: My thought was, cool, I'll be sitting down right over there.
After seeing Elle, the gel's wonders continued to work through my system.
The finish line
I kept pushing, thinking of the finish line. Challenge would be good to call this a summit finish. The final stretch is up a long hill that feels much steeper the second time. I ran from telephone pole to telephone pole, not allowing my gaze to look any farther. Eventually the crowd grew thicker and the hill fell behind me. I had nothing left when I crossed the finish line.

Elle: All in all, I think I had a pretty good run, passing a lot of people I had seen pass me on the bike. I wanted to finish strong, but as Webb explained, it was a tough final stretch. There were big hugs from Webb at the finish line, which was really great. I couldn't believe it was over.


T3: Transitioning back to life

Webb: That race smashed me. I had to sit down just beyond the finish line and attempt to stretch a little. Afraid Elle was right behind me, I forced myself to standing and leaned on the barricade to watch for her. It was not long before I saw her heading up the hill. My happiness for her made me momentarily forget the pain in my legs.

Elle: After we both recovered a bit from the race, we returned to the transition area to collect our stuff. Webb was moving pretty slowly, so I got my stuff and went up to the hotel room for a much needed shower.

Webb: While Elle went back to our hotel room, I collected my things in slow motion and chatted up the other athletes in the area. There were a few of the pro bikes still racked. Sitting on the pavement in the TA I spotted a unique Trek. It was painted an almost navy blue with chrome accents. I also noticed it was set up with a Campy gruppo, an oddity in the triathlon world - or at least I think it is. I then saw TO's signature on the bike.

A few moments later I was able to stand. As I was making my way out, TO was returning to the TA. I said, "Hey, great job today and by the way, you have a hot %*$!%#^ bike." He laughed out a thanks to my unexpected comment. Rinny looked ... perplexed?

The Banquet: On average finishing times and above-average people

Elle: After we both showered, we went downstairs to hang out before the banquet. Lots of laughing, congratulations, and war stories, the best part of a half-iron distance event! The banquet, like the transition area, was free-for-all seating. We secured a table with a good view of the small, awards stage. We saved seats for Nate and our Sufferlandrian friends (Richard & Jane). Some other people also sat down. Just after I explained to Richard the story of how we met Karen Smyers for the first time and how, ever since, we always seem to run into her, guess who grabbed the last seat at our table? You guessed it. Karen Smyers. As it ended up, our table was made up of a pro (Nate), hall of famer (Karen), age group winners, Richard (who finished under 5 hours) ... and the slow couple - us. Webb and I really brought down the average finishing time of the whole table.

Webb: The awards ceremony was good. The food, which included a salmon appetizer and a salmon entree, was excellent. There were several awards and prizes presented. The most moving in my opinion was the Most Inspirational. That was not the name of the award. It is actually named after a man whose name I did not catch. It was a terrible story about a local athlete who showed commitment and perseverance only to be taken from his family and the endurance community at a young age. The award was presented to a woman named Mary Beth, whom we met the next day. Later Ryan from Hammer gave away a spot to Kona for the best bonk story and acknowledged some people he met during the weekend who had their own stories of perseverance. For his last prize, he asked Rinny to help him. He claimed it was better than a trip to Kona. He handed a Rinny a slip of paper and asked her to read the name of the lucky winner. Rinny nodded her headed as she looked at the paper and exclaimed, "Wow, this is better." The room was quiet with wonder as the reigning World Champ just confirmed that Ryan was not messing around. What would it be? Rinny then called Sarah's name. She seemed to be bewildered to have her named called. It turns out that she idolizes Rinny. Oh that crafty dog. Oh wait! What's this? Then he came out with it: The Ring. He professed his love for Sarah, how she has changed his life and asked her to marry him.

After that we spent more time with Nate, Richard and Jane. Eventually fatigue got the best of us. Getting up at 4:00AM, swimming, cycling and running for nearly 6 hours and then eating and drinking had finally worn us out. We went upstairs and passed out in our room while watching Stage 2 of the Tour de France. What a great day.

Oh yeah, Sarah said yes.

Elle: When I woke up Monday morning, everything hurt. But that didn't stop Webb and me from going to check out the hotel pool, heated whirlpool and water slide, located in a separate building right next to the main resort. I kept moving back and forth from the steamy whirlpool to the refreshing pool.

Webb: This may have been the most anticipated moment for me since I noticed the water slide when we arrived at the Algonquin. I had never been on a water slide. Before I hurled myself down that twisty tube, I also allowed myself some time in the whirlpool. O man, those jets felt good on my calves. We ended up talking to Darren from Hammer Nutrition and the most inspirational Mary Beth.

Mary Beth had been training and losing weight when she decided to throw caution to the hurricane-force winds and enter her first triathlon, the very same Challenge-St Andrews half-iron distance race that drew the rest of us. For many people I would say that was unwise; however, if you met Mary Beth and saw first-hand her abundant positive energy you would agree with me that she can tackle anything.

As it turns out, she did not make the swim cut-off. She swam for 1 hour and 20 minutes, partly with Simon Whitfield cheering her on from his SUP. Finally they told her they needed to bring her in. Most of us would have climbed dejectedly into the boat. What did she do? She asked if she could barefoot waterski to the shore. Once on dry land she asked if she could volunteer. So there she was at the finish line cheering in all the athletes as they ended their day. I agree with Simon Whitfield that she is 'truly the spirit of triathlon.'

I was proud to race with her that day and even more proud to dominate that water slide with her.

Elle: Knowing this was Webb's big moment, a small group gathered at the end of the slide and all clapped as Webb slid his way to his first water slide experience ever. Fun times! After Webb got a few more slides in, we finally said 'goodbye' to Darren, Mary Beth and Tressa, and sadly bid 'farewell' to The Algonquin. Back to the USA!