A few weeks ago, Ryan and I took a whirlwind road trip to San Francisco for a Giants game then L.A. for the X-Games. You thought that was crazy? We knocked crazy out of the park this last weekend.
What’s the best thing to do before a 12-hour drive to Washington, you might ask? How about a triathlon!
That’s exactly what I did. I woke up before dawn cracked on Saturday morning, to get ready for Eppie’s Great Race. I’ve talked about it before here (mostly my struggles with training for the run): it’s a 5.82-mile run, a 12.5-mile bike ride, and a 6.35-mile downriver kayak (or canoe) paddle — it’s also called the “No-Swim Triathlon.” If you’re interested, here is the course map. It’s nice, because you start and end in the same place. Unfortunately, neither the bike nor the kayak starts in that place. So it takes some logistical planning to make it all work.
I’m going to go into a lot of boring detail here because I would have loved it if someone could have explained the logistics of it all to me better before the race. But I couldn’t find anything online that was particularly helpful to those of us who aren’t seasoned triathletes, so maybe someone will find this useful next year. If you don’t care, you can probably just skim down to the results at the end. Or just go read something else.
I set up my kayak on the bank of the Sunrise River Access at 6:00am. Well, I got to the entrance to the access at 6:00, and ended up parking at 6:25. The line was backed up to the gate. During this time, I practiced driving a stick shift on a hill in a stressful situation, and perfumed the morning air with the aroma of eau de burning clutch.
I rented my kayak, paddle, and PFD through Current Adventures, and they were by the river with all the gear. They were phenomenal. I also took four classes from them in the weeks leading up to the race, and I used the same little green kayak in those classes and the day of the race (I want one now). They included pick up and drop off on the race day, and everything was organized very well. Their classes helped me do much better in the kayak portion than I could have done on my own, because they taught proper form as well as where the fastest parts of the river are. Dan Crandall, the owner, even paddled back up the river after he finished the race, helping other racers with their form. He’s a great guy. If you’re planning on doing Eppie’s and want a rental or training, I couldn’t recommend them more highly.
At 6:00am it was already warm — I knew we were in for a hot day (it ended up being 100!). I met up with my friends Hannah and Isaac and we put our boats next to each other on the beach, pretty far up from the water since the beach was already filling up. In my kayak I left a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade, along with my paddle and PFD. I tied a green ribbon to my kayak and tried to memorize where it was on the beach among the hundreds of kayaks. This is the only (quite pretty) picture I got during the race set-up:
I had one of my crew members (my awesome dad) place my bike at the bike start under the Guy West Bridge (12 miles away from the kayaks). Hannah and Isaac placed their own bikes after placing their kayaks, so I know it’s possible to do it without a crew, but I knew I would have stressed too much. With my bike, my dad left my helmet, bike gloves, padded bike shorts (some people did the whole thing in their padded shorts, but I didn’t want to run in what feels like a diaper), and a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade. He tied a green ribbon to the seat, and then texted me its position among the racks (middle of the fourth rack from the bathrooms). I had also put on my bike tag and helmet number the night before so those were ready to go.
A note about footwear: I decided not to use my clip pedals on my bike — I changed them out for regular flat pedals. I just couldn’t figure out how to get from the bike to the kayak (quite a distance) without a) running in clips, b) running barefoot across a rocky shore, or c) carrying kayak shoes with me on the bike and changing my shoes in the middle of the chaotic bike drop off. I wore my regular running shoes for the entire race, and I think it worked out the best.
With my bike and kayak in place, I headed to the start line at William B. Pond Recreation Area. I wore tight running shorts, and my bike jersey, a visor, sunglasses, and I tied my car key to my running shoes. I didn’t carry my phone or an iPod (I left my phone in the car once I’d heard from my dad about my bike). I met up with Hannah and Isaac and we placed ourselves around the 12-minute-mile marker. The gun went off and we started to run.
I’ve been struggling with running because of a very painful recurring calf cramp in my right leg that started about two months before the race. I’d been resting it, rolling it, and trying to take it easy, but that also meant that I didn’t train for the run like I’d have liked (I am not really built for running. I’m built for roundhouse kicking you in the gut.). Hannah, Isaac, and I ran about two and a half miles at an 11-minute pace before my calf started cramping. I was also feeling a little dizzy — the heat was something I hadn’t been training in (my treadmill is inside). So I told them to go ahead and I walked for a bit and drank some water. The next three-plus miles was a combination of jogging and walking. I made it to the transition in 1:11:37 — a 12:18-minute-mile (Hannah and Isaac maintained their pace, averaging a 10:59-minute mile. Go them!!). I saw my dad and that boosted my spirits. For this portion, I placed 102/122 in my division (ironwomen under 40). Not the greatest, but all things considered (I walked a lot!), I was happy with that time.
I took my time at the bike transition because I didn’t want to get on my bike just to crash in exhaustion. I drank water and put my bike shorts over my running shorts. I hopped on the bike and started the 12.5 miles. The first few miles were rough. The run and the sun really wore me down, and what is normally an easy ride took a lot of energy I didn’t have. At the 5.5-mile marker, I finally just stopped and drank a bunch of Gatorade (I was feeling a little wobbly and didn’t trust myself to drink while riding). After that it was so much better. I just needed more hydration. My time was slower than I expected on the bike: 55:07 — a 4.25-minute-mile. Last year, I did the bike portion as part of a team and my time was 47:44. This time I had a much longer transition, so that accounts for part of the longer time. So maybe not so bad. For this portion, I placed 87/122 in my division. Better than the run! My other crew member, Ryan, picked up my bike and drove down to the finish to meet me. Note to other crew members — parking is a nightmare at Sunrise. Ryan parked outside the main parking area and just walked in to pick up my bike.
I was so happy to get to the kayak portion, because sitting. Oh, sitting. As I got off my bike, my LEFT calf cramped up! My not-a-problem leg! Still wearing my helmet and gloves (because both were necessary for the kayak), I jogged ever-so-slowly across the bridge toward my kayak, trying to get the cramp out. My kayak was an easy find, since there were only maybe 150 left on the beach. I dragged my boat down the beach, put on my PFD, and drank a ton of water as I got out onto the river. Then I just dug in and paddled. I felt really good for the paddle — I still had energy left in my arms and core! I was passing people! It was cool on the water! I had easy access to a lot to drink! I made it through the clay banks no problem (they’d given me a little trouble during class — lots of eddies), and approached the rapids. The rapids are a class 1.5 – 2. Nothing crazy, but I watched a lot of people fall out of their boats during our classes. I hadn’t, but I knew it was a possibility. There were a bunch of boats spinning in the eddy off to the left of the rapids — it looks like the calm way to get through the worst of it, but it can really suck you in a circle. So I aimed straight for the “V” in the center of the rapids, leaned forward, and paddled like hell. And I made it no problem! I even shouted a victory “WOO!” as I came out the other side.
After that, it was fairly smooth paddling down the rest of the river. About 2 miles from the finish, I actually caught up with Isaac and Hannah. We paddled together for a bit, but my hips were starting to ache in addition to my calves, so I dug in and paddled as hard as I could. I wanted out of my boat and across the finish line! Even better, I didn’t fall out of my boat at the end (this is really common — run six miles, bike twelve, and then sit still for an hour…and then see if you can stand up!). I crossed the finish line with a kayak time of 1:02:32 — a 9.51-minute-mile (including that long transition). For this portion, I placed 52/122 in my division, which I thought was really great!
Overall, my time was 3:09:16. Overall, I placed 88/122 in my division, in the 72 percentile. In my dreams before my calf-hurting days, I wanted to break 3 hours. But in the days leading up to the race, I thought I’d be closer to 3:20 with the leg cramping. So I did better than I expected, though not as well as I’d dreamed.
(Sponsored by the food-like substance of choice for athletes everywhere: McDonald’s! *sarcasm*)
Ryan was there to greet me with a Powerade and we finally found my kayak in the giant mess of boats. Volunteers take your kayak and paddle from you when you get to the finish line and send it down the shore a bit to be claimed later. This was the one portion of the race that really needed more staffing — the boats started floating down the river! Ryan even carried my boat himself back to the rental area. He’s seriously the best boyfriend. For future reference: check boat in. Don’t just leave it there. Or Current Adventures will call you asking where it is. Thank goodness, they found it and I get my deposit back! I was on a total endorphin high from completing my first triathlon as we headed back to my house so I could change and we could leave on Part 2 of our crazy whirlwind weekend!
This was just the beginning.
(If you’re doing Eppie’s Great Race and you have any questions at all, please feel free to leave them in the comments or send me a note through the contact form in the links at the top of my blog. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have!)