Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Charlie Browned

Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest - Lucy

Warning: as negative as my posts generally are, this will by far, be one of the most negative.  So keep that in mind if you choose to read this "race" report.  It will then end in a scathing indictment of triathlon race organizations.

Saturday was the first stop in the triathlon season, with the Rumpus in Bumpass Triathlon down in Virginia.  I had been following the anticipated weather reports throughout the week and knew that conditions looked pretty miserable.  However, weather is weather, and everyone has to deal with it the same on race day.  We had received an email saying the water temperature was 68 degrees (pretty nice) and I expected to have my new bike finished by Thursday before the race to ride on.  With OJ having raced the year before, I had it on good authority that the swim was both potentially long, and quite rough.  The bike course was a two loop format, pretty easy roads, as in only small rollers to contend with.  The run was also two loops, not very difficult, not very interesting.  Despite how bad my foot's been lately, I have been feeling okay racing so I figured I could have a decent run, and a pretty good ride.

Then it was time to get Charlie Browned.

Thursday I call the bike shop.  The bike I was/am purchasing was built and ready to go, but I didn't like the aerobars so I wanted to swap them out.  This was last Saturday.  They were going to order the bars that day, expected them in by Wednesday, bike ready to go by Thursday.  I am told on Thursday afternoon that it is on the list to be finished that night.  Okay.

Friday I call the bike shop.  The response I get was quite unexpected.  They tell me that they put the order in Wednesday for one-day delivery, but due to a glitch [sic] the part didn't ship and now they don't expect bike to be finished until Monday. 

I am pissed, but whatever.  I can ride my road bike, even if it is on its last wheels.  I've raced on it many times, and considering I am generally one of the only people that can ride as fast as I do that you will ever see racing a road bike, I really don't care.  I do recognize that, off the bat, I will lose time on the bike.  Simple fact: it is not as fast as a time trial bike/aero position.  My main problem with the bike is how its been behaving lately.  I've ridden the shit out of this thing over the 6 years I've had it, and it needs some serious work.  It's not shifting cleanly, sometimes at all.  This has caused me irritation on normal rides, and I knew it was going to frustrate me during the race.  As a result I do not put on aero wheels, which I don't have anyway, and I wouldn't wear an aero helmet while on a road bike, because that would just look stupid.

Friday night I finally decide to do my taxes and find out I owe money.  Quite a bit, actually.  And it has me stressed.  I don't sleep great, but thanks to the 10am start, at least I don't have to be up at 3am to get there. 

I drive with Alyssa down to Lake Anna, and that was probably the highlight of the day.  The rain starts, it's supremely dark even when it's supposed to be light, it's windy and it's cold.  It evoked memories of April 2008 when OJ and I drove to the very same place for the Kinetic Sprint.  It was a week later, and on the other side of the lake, but the conditions were identical.  On that day, I was racing my brand new P2, and I rode it pretty well.  I then had a good run, and finished well.  I swore that I would not race in conditions like that again.  It's not that I can't, it's that I don't want to.  I have been racing triathlons for 10 years now.  By some standards, far from an O.G., but for most people out there, it makes me a dinosaur.  I have decided that I no longer enjoy some conditions, and I'm not going to pretend like I do.  And considering that, three years ago I hadn't been seriously injured, my feelings are only stronger against it.  There are a few reasons, including the danger of riding wet roads in a loop format when 98% of people can't properly handle a bicycle; roads that remain unclosed to traffic but cars couldn't care less; my knee locks up when it's cold and raining, and knocks me out of commission.

Of the last 4 triathlons I've done, now going back to Oct 2 of last year, the temperature has been below 55 degrees and it has rained.  I just don't enjoy it. 

Nevertheless, I'm already at the race site, and I've paid (oh, I've paid) for the race, so of course I'm going to do it.  I do a short warmup before getting into the sweet new black kit I picked up.  I go down to the start, and since my body is already wet, getting the wetsuit on is becoming a challenge.  In order to facilitate getting it on, I put my right arm over my head and Riiiiipppppp - there it goes.  I now have a hole in the armpit, and my motivation is flattened.  I have never before wanted to just not start a race.  I know this hole is going to bother me during the swim, as it will allow the water to fill up the suit, but the water is too cold to go without the suit.  I don't believe it was 68.  I would say maybe more like 64, and with the air temp and rain, it was miserable.  The only thing keeping me in the water was that I heard Ke$ha's "Blow" blasting over the speakers. 

The swim was eventfully uneventful.  I did not want to be there, but I was committed to swimming at least some kind of effort.  The start was fine, until we made the first turn, when we were faced with some chop.  I didn't really care, but apparently it was a little too much for the slower swimmers of the first wave.  I was having some difficulty making out the buoys, but was doing my best to swim good lines.  I know I made a big error as we made the turn back towards shore, and had to correct myself.  It was around this time that a swimmer from the wave behind overtook me, I felt like it was the form of perennially fast swimmer Chip Berry, so I thought maybe I wasn't swimming all that bad.  Got out of the water finally, and walked it into T1. 

While others rushed around me, I had no impetus for moving quickly.  There was about 100m on grass that we had to run out to the road, and then another 100m before you could mount your bike.  My feet, being cold especially, but with my left foot being unable to run barefoot, were in serious agony.  I had clipped my shoes into my pedals, and as I tried to hop on my bike, my calves cramped.  I could not get my feet into the shoes.  I wound up having to get off the bike, unclip the shoes, put them on my feet, and then get back on.  Now the wind was really out of my sails. 

Onto the bike and I felt okay, I passed a few people, then a few people passed me.  I brought no water bottles, I carried no food.  I rode at an effort that wouldn't have been acceptable for a weeknight ride.  The parts that I took pretty slow were the turns, as I've ridden enough to know that water + paint = fall.  Other than that I was mostly sitting up, and keeping a consistent effort going.  When I got back to the last 600m or so, I really sat up, stretched out my back a bit and then got off the bike, took OFF my shoes, and walked down the hill into T2.

I was pretty annoyed that my feet were as wet, cold and muddy as they were, so I slowly put on my socks (which were wet) and old flats (which were wet) and got on my way.  Two dudes from that Team FeXY came out of transition with me, and started moving at a pretty good pace.  I briefly gave consideration to running with them, but then thought, why bother?  My day was over before it began, and now the goal was to run 10k as efficiently as possible so that I could at least salvage the weekend with a better day on Sunday.

I didn't wear a watch, which was one of the first times I've run a race without a watch.  I didn't even want to know my mile splits.  I passed a few people, think I got passed by one kid (a Terp Tri member, go Terps!) who had started in the wave before me.  I was unimpressed by the course, which featured a 200m section of trail that was particularly muddy, at the end of the first loop and then at the end of the race.  I walked across the line, grabbed a bottle of water, and went straight into a short cooldown, where I headed back up to the main road to see Alyssa come through. 

When it was all said and done, my 2:19:17/39th place finish was the worst placed finish relative to the race (distance, field, etc) that I think I've ever had.  I tend to only use the markers of the best of each discipline to measure my day, and they were all lackluster.  The swim ended up being a shade over 27 minutes.  I always expect to lose around 5 minutes to OJ, but this was like 6.5 minutes.  That's really atrocious.  On the bike, based on last year's results, I felt like I could have ridden under an hour.  Given the conditions of the day, and the bike I had to ride, I knew this wouldn't happen, but between my slowness in getting my shoes on/off at the bike mount/dismount line, and the level of effort I put out, it just wasn't happening.  I think it was a little over 1:08, and actually ranked worse relative to the field than my swim.  Ouch.  The run ended up being 40:28, 31st best for the day.  That's one the slowest 10k's I've ever run off the bike, but considering how little effort I put in, about right.

Actually, I don't even feel all that bad about the run, because I know what kind of shape I'm in and that was as easy of a day as I've had in a while. 

There were some things in my control, and some that were out, but in the end, I just didn't want to be there - and it showed.  I won't make an excuse for my lack of effort.  Conditions are conditions, and races are still races.  The likelihood of having a shitty day at Columbia (cold, rainy) and Eagleman (hot, humid) is quite high, but those races are more important to me and I try to save my efforts for when they count more.  If anything, I should apologize to my fellow competitors, who are guaranteed shitty weather anytime I touch the course.

Now, as promised, an open letter to organizers and directors of triathlons:

After racing at Saturday's Rumpus in Bumpass Triathlon (Setup Events), I feel even stronger than ever that the registration fees for these events is criminal.  The trend over the past few years is races selling out and fields expanding, but the quality of races has not improved.  As much as it kills me to spend $600 a year in advance to sign up for an Ironman, I have come to expect that one of their races will not only be run well, but you will at least feel like you've received what you paid for.  Even a race like Columbia, which charges now $130, you expect great competition, a professional field and a well-organized race. 

Rumpus cost $95 when I went to register some months ago.  For this, I had the opportunity to do a race.  At the end of the race, I got a bottle of water, a small pizza from Papa John's, and a couple of Cokes.  There were over 700 people registered for the race on Saturday, and another similar size field registered for Sunday's sprint event.  My best estimate is that in registration fees alone, the race cleared something like $125,000 for two days' worth of activities.  I certainly don't expect people to go broke, in fact I expect race directors to make enough to get by, but I also think that fees should be reasonable.  I know there are both fixed and variable costs, including things like permits, insurance, POLICE, t-shirts, food, portable toilets, lifeguards, EMTs, etc.  This stuff all adds up.  If it adds up to even half what they generate from registration, that's still a lot of money.

The reason they can charge it, though, is because they can.  They say "well it's less expensive than races like Columbia."  True, and it certainly doesn't dismiss the fact that, in 2001, I paid $65 to register for Columbia in February (race is in May).  And, 10 years later, we still eat the same shitty pasta salad and fake Oreos at the end of that race, which are inevitably soggy because it rains every year.  Everyone knows that triathlon is an expensive sport, and over the years has priced some people out.  What the sport needs is people like Brad Jaeger, whose Triathlantic Association used to hold lowkey, fun races, that charged a minimal amount.  Sidenote: Brad has gotten back into the business, and tried to hold a duathlon this weekend in Chesapeake.  He had to cancel due to lack of interest. 

People don't want to race those races.  I don't know why.  And I'll admit, I'm part of the problem.  I'm going to do big, competitive races because that's my focus.  I don't want to do a duathlon because, well, I don't want to race duathlons. 

In the couple of years that Setup Events has gone from hosting a few races to now being the "nation's largest triathlon production company", they have put on great races and have always received positive feedback.  I loved the Kinetic race (done it twice) and Luray (done that twice).  But I say, with great power comes great responsibility (Peter Parker's uncle also said it, after I did).  If you are going to be a premier event producer, act like it.  You have 700 people registered for your race, and you are giving out towels to the winners?  That is bush league.  A towel with "Virginia Triathlon Series" printed on it not only cheapens the effort of those who have helped make your race a great, competitive race, but it also shows how cheap you are.  I wager that towel, bought in bulk, costs less than $2.  Probably less than a trophy. 

Mark Coleman of Endurance Maryland gets it.  He put up a prize purse for his St. Patrick's Day Duathlon.  It was a small field, and that severely cut into his budget for the race (the race did, however, cost $95), but he still offered it.  That was enough for me to go.  And you know what, if he has the race next year, I'll probably go back. 

For Setup to not offer a cash purse, or even free entry into another race of theirs, is absurd.  But, they are able to act as a small monopoly because people will keep signing up for races regardless of the possibility of a payday.  Very few of us are in this sport to become professional triathletes, earning minor ducats along the way.  No, instead triathlon is a sport of opulence, for people who can afford to do it, and would do it anyway. 

To be fair, while this is like the US Government (wasting time) trying to send Barry Bonds to jail for doing something everyone else does too, Setup Events is not the only culprit.  All of them are.  Columbia Triathlon Association is just as guilty.  They have now begun their IronGirl race, and the Celebration Sprint.  They just use the same course skeleton as Columbia.  I know triathlons are limited by swimmable bodies of water, but to me that's just lazy.  The worst is probably Piranha Sports, because they put on the same shitty race weekend after weekend, on the same flat, boring Delaware courses, and charge a ton for that privilege. 

I am not saying I could do better, nor am I offering.  I actually do not want to be a triathlon race organizer, mostly because I still want to race myself.  I know that races struggle to make money, and a lot of them are trying to raise money for causes other than their own pocketbook.  I just think that there need to be some changes, like if you're going to charge as much as you do, put some money on the line.  There are plenty of running races that do it, and some of those fields are even smaller than triathlons.  There are some race directors out there who are open to suggestions, and others who operate on the MYOB tip. 

Of course, the only thing I can do is not go back.  I'm not going to actively tell people to not do a race, or not support one association over the other.  They wouldn't listen anyway.  I can say, unequivocally, that I will not go back to Rumpus, but in all likelihood I will go back to Luray in August.  I generally appreciate Setup Events and what they have done and continue to do for creating more races.  I wouldn't have gone to Rumpus anyway had they not changed the date of Kinetic to the week before Columbia.  I love how we can have plenty of Father's Day races but nobody dares F with Mother's Day. 

Ultimately I have been having a bad couple of days, and it culminated with the bitterness of a race that I did not enjoy.  It happens. 

As far as my foot, I don't know how I'm going to deal with it.  My knee was locked up all Saturday, and my foot has been unbearable.  I'm going to see if a few days off from running will help out.  I can't really run less than what I'm running right now.  Oh and update on my bike - well there is none, as they still aren't done with it yet.  I wonder if I'll even have it before Columbia at this point. 


Chad Holderbaum said...

My towel already gave me a rash....not to mention I forked over 200 bucks for a charity spot. Haha

Nice race man.

RM said...

Holy shit - you paid that much for that race??

I truly do hate complaining about races, and at the very least I was able to voice my opinions in the survey they sent out, but these races are going to get out of control.

This wound up being a very competitive race, I mean with some really solid splits you were 4th, right? I just think that, in a race of 700 people, each paying (at least) $100 to register, they could fork over a prize purse for at minimum top 3, maybe even top 5. And instead you got a freaking towel.

And I just cringe at these cookie-cutter courses. There was nothing remotely interesting, challenging or differentiating about this race. Maybe that's hard over such a short distance, but why are we paying for double loop bikes and runs on an OLYMPIC distance course?

At least Columbia is super hard and has established itself as one of the premier races around.

It just seems like race directors don't have the best interest of the athletes in mind, not in a safety way, but in making races fun and making you feel like you're getting something for your registration fee. Setup used to give you shirts AND socks at races. I would gladly not get a shirt if it took some money off the entry, the last thing I need is more shirts. The socks, however, were actually something pretty useful.

Bags, to me, are also pretty worthless, because you only need so many bags, and if you do a few races a year and get a bag at each, you're on bag overload.

Hats, hats I actually don't mind, although getting one a few times a year again means having too many.

Either way, I'm obviously salty about this entire race and I need to just get over it. This will be it.

Good race though, Chad, all the best down at St. A's - that's a race I need to get to one of these years!