Unfortunately, the triathlon season started on a tragic note this past weekend at the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Not long after diving into the frigid 50-degree waters of the San Francisco Bay, 46-year-old Ross Ehlinger, from Austin, Texas, suffered a fatal heart attack despite the heroic attempts made by the San Francisco EMS.
Unfortunately, Ehilnger was not the first to die of heart problems in the open water swim portion of the
triathlon. Deaths have been on the increase in triathlons and the vast majority of them occurring during the open water swim leg. This post is not intended to scare into never swimming in open water or ever competing in triathlons, but provide information about the precautions to prevent these types of accidents from occurring.
1. Check yourself: If there is knowledge of health and/or heart problems or genetic predisposition to cardiac irregularities, get cleared by a physician before starting a training program and then again before racing. An EKG(Electrocardiogram) will depict any irregularities that may be cause for concern.
2. Warm up: Enter the water before the start to acclimate to the water temperature. If it is not an option, do jumping jacks, push-ups or jump squats to get the blood pumping.
3. Prior Wetsuit Swimming
: If this is the initial open swim in a wetsuit, make sure to get some
experience swimming in it to understand its somewhat constricting feel. Even a few laps in the pool helps.
4. Practice in open water: Open water swimming is very different from swimming in a pool and can be quite frightening It is therefore important to get some experience in open water; it might help unburden the uneasiness and nerves. Make sure to swim with others and there is a lifeguard nearby.
5. Work on the mental game prior to the next open water triathlon. There are a lot of things people tend to stress about, but with a little mental preparation, most situations that appear will not come as a surprise and can be dealt with.
These are a few small details I have gathered from Kevin Koskella, Tri Swim Coach
, which are mostly common sense, at least to most triathletes, but if it can help one athlete be more prepared, I will quote Kevin and every other swim coach until my fingers fall off. (Then I’ll use my toes, and then my tongue.)
There have been deaths surrounding not just triathlon, but marathons and other endurance races as well. In my opinion it comes to preparedness. Evaluating skill, fitness and injury should take president over our ‘Go Hard or Go Home’ attitude.
Of course after the evaluation is complete and the fear of finishing has been quelled, ‘GHGH’ is a great mind frame.
“Just don’t DO IT…Do It RIGHT!”
Saturday was a phenomenal starting with watching a few of my girls PR at the Great Westchase 5k. The night before I was contemplating going or not going, being that my race was the next day and I should really just head to athlete check-in, get a little workout in and return to relax. I couldn’t keep away though. Just the thought of five of the ladies I coach at Fit2Run (my girls), having the ambition to run that morning, was enough that I just couldn’t stay away. I really wanted to be there for them and cheer them on.
They all looked a little surprised when I arrived, but in a good way, at least I hope in a good way. I was shocked at the amount of people that showed up being that I barely ever heard of this race. My girls, Sharon, Kim S., Molly, Sonja, and Donna were there and ready to rock and I even saw a few of them doing their prescribed warm-ups, which made me smile. With my camera in tow, I was happy to grab a few shots, but I knew I shouldn’t run with them, but deep down I wanted to.
After the gun went off I grabbed a few action shots and raced over to the 1 mile mark, but I missed a few of them, so I just hung out about three-quarters-of-a mile from the finish and waited. I grabbed photos of the women I saw, but I still ended up missing a couple. When Sonja came a long I saw a certain, not pain, but concern on her face, so I decided to jump in and bring her across the finish line. She is one of my projects, as she has been one of the few that continually asks questions, and genuinely wants to get better. I have even put a personal plan together for her to run the Best Damn Race Half-Marathon. She makes me so proud, as she continually gets better in more ways than one. I brought her in, egging her to push just a little more and increase her cadence and speed. She came across the line with a new PR and made this coach feel like the proudest papa ever. To increase that feeling even more, I found that all of my girls PR’d and Sharon by more than four minutes which is HUGE!!
We hung around a bit and checked out the expo before I said my good-byes and started my journey south to Venice, Florida in order to Attend the Check-in for my own race. The drive wasn’t bad from Oldsmar, around an hour-and-a-half, but it didn’t feel that long due to the radio blasting classic rock from 107.3 The Eagle. I love that station.
When I arrived I was surprised at the organization of the check-in. There were volunteers helping with everything to include parking. After I received my packet and got my athlete bracelet I was told to go get my timing chip in the next shelter. There stood two, large screen monitors with keyboards and little cameras at the top. The staff member brought up the application where it asked for my bib number and then had all of my information loaded. I verified it and then he coded a new chip and then took my picture. I was curious and asked him what the picture was for and he informed me that as I would cross a mat about 200 yards from the finish, my picture would come up on a huge monitor above the finish line. I was pleasantly surprised and excited about that. I would probably not see it myself, but just the thought already started my heart pumping for the race. I left that area and looked to my left and found a massage tent, and as I didn’t get a chance to see Lisa Jamison that week, I decided to check it out. I again was surprised when I was told by the volunteer that a massage pre and post race were included in the registration. They asked me what I was looking for and I told them I really just needed a good stretch and that is exactly what I got. Three LMTs all took turns massaging and stretching my legs, arms and shoulders out. This wasn’t some 20 minutes quicky rub down, this was a good 45 minute full-on stretch and it was awesome.
I caught up with Pete and Jaime after that and we all went over to get our SWAG bags, which by far was the best I had ever received. A Headsweats visor, Blue-Seventy goggles, samples of Power bites and a new Powerbar and very little paper all tucked in a drawstring bag labeled with Muscle Milk. The rest of the expo was pretty rudimentary, so we decided to head over to Sharkey’s for some lunch before the mandatory meeting.
The mandatory meeting brought on a surprise and a little fun. The race director notified that due to the rough water, and the possible Red Tide warning, that it was possible that the swim would be cancelled or reversed. What I haven’t mentioned as of yet, was that due to Hurricane Sandy, it was already very windy. The waves in the ocean looked angry and rough. One part of me was a little relieved, but it was outweighed by the side of me that was disappointed. I mean I should have been excited due to the swim being my worst event, but it just wouldn’t, and later didn’t, feel like a true triathlon if the swim was cancelled. I felt the last race of the season was going to be a huge disappointment without the swim, not to mention the high winds on the bike were also a concern.
At the end of the mandatory meeting there was a worst wet suit contest which was really entertaining. Six athletes went onstage with really ugly wet suits, some worn, some bleached and one of the custom made was really terrible. An athlete with this multi-colored, turquoise, purple, orange and black multicolored wet suit one by unanimous cheering and laughter by the athletes. The top two ended up winning brand new wet suits provided by Blue-Seventy which was kinda cool for them.
I was continually impressed with Rev3 when I visited transition. They didn’t have the rails that I was used to where the bike seat hooks underneath with just a little room to setup your bike and run gear, they had these wood boxes the ground that gave each athlete a sleeve where your bike tire was inserted allowing the bike to stand up on its own and the ease of removing it and returning it during the race, and a box for your gear and even more room between bikes. Not to mention the little of added extra of personalizing your spot with your bib number and name printed on the box.
The rest of the night basically consisted of packing up my gear, changing an inner-tube on my bike and relaxing. Oh, I will say one thing that the race provided that was really cool; race tattoos. These are temp tattoos with my bib number for both arms and the back of my right hand and my age on the back of my right calf. They looked extremely professional and were a lot easier to apply than I thought. Peel, stick, wet with a wash cloth and peel the back off. Done. I didn’t know how complicated it was going to be, so I applied them Saturday night and slept in them, and they looked just as good at 4 am when I awoke.
|Pete, Jamie and I before the race|
All of the athletes I knew had rented hotel rooms in Venice, but the ride was less than an hour, and I thought I would be better off sleeping in my own bed and having some solace time, prior to the race. I was very happy I made that decision. The ride down that early in the morning was easy and fast. I had plenty of time to rack my bike in transition and lay out my shoes and stuff before the race. As I walked up to transition I heard the announcer officially cancel the swim and proclaim the pros would have a 1.5 mile run prior to the bike but the age groupers would have a La Mond Time Trial start. While the disappointment came over me I was also curious about this time trial start as I had never had that experience before. Upon finishing I caught up with Pete and Jaime and socialized with them, Carola, Laurie, and some new friends we made.
|Carola and I|
Finally, after the pros finished their run and started on the bike the officials lined us up in bib order and started us at the Swim In as if we just came in from swim. After the first athlete ran into transition they continued starting each athlete every 3 seconds. I was bib 364 which gave me a good 5 minutes in line before I finally was started. I ran to my bike, jumped into my shoes, put on my helmet, with clipping my chin strap, grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line. I registered 1:37 for T1 which was ok, being that I was at the far end of my row and far from the bike out line. The wind was howling the whole time on the bike, but luckily the first 25 miles or so had a great tail wind. I was keeping speeds of 25-27 mph with medium effort and was feeling pretty good, even with some of the more experienced bikers passing me like I was standing still. Even Pete caught me with his race wheels and flew by calling me to chase after him. I kept him in sight for a good 5-6 miles until I lost him, which just at the point we turned into the wind.
It was brutal. I never thought I could work so hard to reach speeds over 16 mph. That is all I ended up thinking. “No matter what I just can’t go below 16.” It is such an arbitrary number but it sticks with me for some reason. I just refused to go under it. Later on this might had led to another problem, but I will get to that in a minute. Around mile 40 there was relief of about four miles, but even that was quickly defeated by turning back into the 20 mph headwinds that plagued us all on the back half of the course. After mile 20 I wasn’t really passed again, however I was doing my fair share of passing which was nice ego boost. I caught up to Jaime who started 260 people in front of me and even Blaine who was ahead of me by 100 or so. I was feeling pretty good in that arena, but I just couldn’t catch Pete. I tried though.
When I got back into transition I was noticing a little pain in the arch of my right foot. I never felt that before, so I just shrugged it off, but when I returned my bike it’s sleeve in transition, and donned my running shoes, I felt this sharp pain in my foot like I was running with a nail stuck in the ball of my right foot. I seriously thought I somehow broke my foot. I left transition within 90 seconds only to end up sitting on the curb howling in agony at the pain in my foot. I took off my shoe, massaged it and started rolling it over the curb and the pain was so intense tears started welling up, and not just due to the actual pain, but for the brief thought I might DNF. I said to myself, forget it, I am going to finish this thing if I have to hop the 13.1 miles and crawl across the finish line. I put back on my shoe and started to run slowly. I was so relieved when the pain started to disappear. I didn’t quite have my legs after the bike, but at least my foot wasn’t broken and hopefully the pain would subside completely and soon.
Digressing back when I first entered transition, Pete yelled at me as he had just crossed the timing mat, to come and catch him. Well, even after hanging out for a bit, I caught him before the first mile marker. He was hurting pretty bad and I was hoping he was alright. We stopped for a minute to stretch and then we walked and then ran for a bit. Just about the first mile marker Pete cramped up really bad and he just shouted for me to go on and even after I doubled back to make sure he was all right, he shooed me away so I ended up back in familiar territory; alone or alone as one can be in a race with 500 athletes.
My legs were still a little stiff, but they slowly loosened up. When I hit the second aid station, I grabbed some water, but at the third station I walked through it grabbing water and Pepsi washing down a Honey Stinger gel along with it. Interestingly enough, I had just recently found that Coke or a cola of any kind, really helps during a triathlon run. Not as much in a fresh run, but in a triathlon it sends a bolt of sugar right to the glycogen stores and seems to give me this little lift, just enough to make me feel like I can push a little harder. Problem is, it is short lived, but combined with the right other source of sugar it can keep me going for at least a couple of miles until I hit another aid station. That ended up being my strategy. Walk through every other aid station grabbing water and coke(Pepsi) until I got to the last garbage can and they I started running again.
The run was two loops with this two mile, out-and-back concrete trail along a canal. That was the part I wasn’t happy about. First, it felt like it would go on forever and second it was concrete and I could feel the impact. I adjusted the best I could by lifting my knees and landing as softly as possible, but it just wasn’t enough because I could feel it in my legs at times. On the long canal trail I saw Jaime on my left after the turn-around, and it didn’t seem like she was that far behind me and then I passed by Blayne who was looking really strong. They both inspired me to push a little harder. I was feeling stronger at the start of the second loop so I started to lean from my ankles a little more and raise my cadence. The second loop seemed a lot shorter than the first, not that I wasn’t terribly thrilled when I saw a sign “Half Mile to Go”. I powered through that last 800 meters passing two other athletes in my age group. About 100 meters prior to the finish line I heard in a huge booming voice, “And from Tampa Florida, Brad Minus coming down arms wide looking like a champ.” I was ecstatic, exhausted and in a lot pain. The pain in my legs was terrible. I knew it was a soreness from the race, but it was a pain a little more intense than normal. A handler walked me through as I was awarded my finisher medal and handed a Gatorade and a water, making sure I was stable. After I assured him I was fine he took my chip, told me congratulations and pointed out the amenities for the finishing athletes. I wanted to wait for Jaime, but I knew if I didn’t get someone to work on my legs before I cooled down entirely I was going to be in even more pain later, so I headed for the massage tent.
I didn’t have to wait long til I was lead to a table where a Chiropractic student named Marceia, worked me over. In other races and even while watching some of the other volunteer massage therapists work over other athletes I usually see a cookie cutter approach to working on athletes. Meaning, like an assembly line, athletes are brought in each one is worked on in the exact same way. I only say Marceia work on the athlete prior to me and I was wondering if it was going to be the same way. I was so delighted when it wasn’t. She continued to ask me about my soreness and pain levels as she worked on me, and she was even using the same techniques that Lisa uses with me and even better, she did nothing to me that was even similar to the athlete prior to me. This woman had instincts and they were good ones. When I got off the table I was still a little sore but I felt 90% better. Thank you Marceia wherever you are.
I heard Jaime cross while I was waiting and by the time I finished my massage I saw Pete from a distance come across, so we were all in at this point. Chris and Fallon had come to watch and pleasantly surprised me by staying for the entire race. I am so impressed with Revolution 3 and everything they had available. It was actually possible to cross the finish line and walk right over to the results tent, type in your bib number and immediately check all of your splits, and since it was web based anyone who is tracking an athlete was able to receive real-time information. The very second an athlete crosses a timing mat, anyone in the world could see the time if they are on the web page. The last few Ironman races I have either watched or competed in, my followers have told me the lag could have been up to an hour after the split was crossed.
|Jamie, Pete and I afterwards|
After, some pics and some socializing we checked our times and awesomely found that Jaime had placed in her age group. While looking at the computer it looked as though she had taken third, but when she was actually called for second place during the awards ceremony. Congrats Jaime!
I ended up breaking the 5 hour mark at a final time of 4:59.13 with 2:49 bike and a 2:06 half marathon, so I was happy with my performance. If there was a swim, I probably would have come in right around the same as Augusta, and I was glad for that.
This ends my triathlon season. I am in the midst of planning my off season and I have already titled it, S3F. Speed, Strength, Swim & Flexibility. I plan on working on my speed on the bike and the run, adding some endurance strength especially in my back and arms in order to increase speed in the water, doing more work in the pool on my form to try and relax and reduce my time in the water and increase my flexibility to protect my back and lengthen my stride and stroke. I am planning on competing in Tough Mudder in December with the A-Train, probably doing the Clearwater Marathon and maybe a couple of other short races just to keep my edge a little, before the first race of my season which at this point will be St. Anthony’s in April 2013.