Sunday, September 29, 2013

NEMO (Team) Triathlon Race Report

On September 8, I traveled to Thousand Hills State Park near Kirksville, Missouri to participate in the 29th Annual NEMO triathlon.  I had asked two speedy friends to join me to form a team: Carrie Kimber swam, Gary Hackman ran, and I cycled.  Last year, after competing in a sprint triathlon and again loathing my time in the water, I decided I was done with triathons, at least for the foreseeable future.  I enjoy training for the swim, just not swimming during the race.  However, I still like to compete and I love to cycle, thus the team triathlon. (I would race more duathlons if more events were close to home.)

Carrie is one of the fastest swimmers in the area and luckily for us, this race fit nicely into her current training program.  Carrie was the first woman out of the water after 3/4 mile and about 14th overall--and that is after spotting the individual male competitors 3 minutes!  Like I said, she is fast in the water.  Carrie was swimming for our team and also racing as an individual.  So, after she tagged me in transition, we both hopped on our bikes and sped onto the course.

I wanted to give myself every aerodynamic advantage I could--with my current equipment, that is.  I have an aerodynamic bike frame and I wore my TT helmet.  I also wore short socks, a tri suit, and did not wear my gloves.  I had heard the course was pretty hilly--the name of the park is Thousand Hills after all--and a friend gave me a summary a few weeks before, so I knew what to expect.  My goal was to average 22 mph for the 18 miles.  I thought that would be challenging, but possible, all things considered.

Exiting transition, the course goes up and out of the park.  The first two miles or so are all up, but the road was very smooth.  At around mile three, we exited the park and had mostly a gradual incline for about three miles on a straight stretch of highway.  It also felt like a headwind, so I was thinking I would be flying back home on the second half of the out-and-back course.  Then we turned onto a rolling, country blacktop for two or three miles to the turnaround.  I had passed a few riders on the way out and no one had passed me.  Then, nearing my turn, I started counting the bikes in front of me--a few of them were really flying--but, I was going to try to catch as many as possible, while continuing to ride my race.  I was averaging around 21 mph leading up to the turnaround.

Those hairpin turnarounds on courses of this type are always tough.  They sap a lot of momentum, having to scrub all that speed and accelerate again from a near-complete stop.  Still, I was able to pass another bike on the rollers.  After leaving the rolling blacktop and returning to the highway, I was still averaging over 21--right on target.  Now, the blacktop did not look or feel quite like I had expected on the way out--it was not the slight downward slope I expected and the wind might have shifted.  Regardless, I had a goal and I had no reason to save any energy, so kept pedaling hard and fast.  I passed another rider on this section who, it seemed, had been trying very hard not to allow that to happen.  My average speed gradually increased to over 22 mph.

After around 15 miles, we entered the park again--smooth pavement, mostly downhill.  I tried to maximize my aerodynamic potential.  However, I quickly realized why the race organizers had placed so many straw bales on the curves.  It would have been very easy to take a corner too hot and tumble through them.  While I like to descend quickly, I am no daredevil, so I kept it under control the rest of the ride to transition.  I braked hard at the line and dismounted for the toughest part of the event for me--running about forty yard on legs of rubber to tag Gary and send him off.  I was able to do it without face-planting, but sat down immediately afterward.  My average was 22.2 mph (Yesss!) and I moved us up about five spots in the overall during the ride.  My average heart rate was 170, so I think I worked pretty hard.

Gary had the toughest segment of the race.  Not only was it very hilly, but the temperature climbed quickly to above 90 degrees and the humidity was very high.  Carrie had the water to keep her cool and I had the wind on the bike, but Gary did not even have much shade to protect him.  Even so, Gary finished the five miles in 33:44--ninth fastest of the day and under his time goal of 35 minutes.

As a team, we were the fifth finisher/s overall.  We were the third team and met our goal of being the first coed team.  Woo-hoo!

It was a blast and I would definitely do it again.  I greatly enjoyed riding the bike without having to experience the stress of swimming first and having to save energy for the run afterward.

So, if you are thinking about entering the sport of triathlon, but are afraid of trying something new or have never tried one or more of the three legs of the event, perhaps a team tri would be a good place to start.  Try what you know and go from there.  Keep in mind two things.  First, not every triathlete is an Ironman.  And second, all ability levels are present.