Jason and I drove up to Bend with the car absolutely loaded (as usual). The forecast for race day wasn't great, so we were as prepared as possible, bringing pretty much every piece of cold-weather gear we could. Good decision. We arrived in Bend, which is a beautiful little town in central Oregon. Did all the pre-race check in stuff, short ride, quick look at the lake and decided it was too cold to pre-swim (good decision), drove the bike course, etc. We dropped off our swim-to-bike bags and bikes at T1, then bike-to-run bags at T2, and settled in for the night with an eye on the forecast and incoming storm.
|We drove the bike course, and part of it was|
through a controlled burn by the Forest Service.
That should make for some fun racing when our lungs
will already be working hard at the altitude!
Race day was an early wake-up, as the lake was way out of town and we had to catch a shuttle before 6 for our 8:30 start. I was really glad I packed my down jacket, ski pants, toque (that's Canadian for beanie or knitted cap), gloves... we were pretty bundled up as the temperatures were close to freezing. But not actually freezing like friends racing IM Lake Tahoe experienced at least! As the sun came up, it warmed up a bit, which was definitely welcome. We got our bikes ready and then retreated to a heated tent to pull the wetsuits on.
We waded into the lake for the short swim over to the start line and gasped - it was sooooo friggin' cold! I kept my hands in the air for as long as I could, and just laughed at how ridiculously frozen they were. But that was quickly forgotten once the race started, and it was head down and go. Almost right away I found a set of feet to draft off, and ended up staying on them for the entire swim. I could feel the altitude right away (the swim was just over 4500' elevation, which is pretty significant for this sea-level girl) and had to switch my breathing to every two strokes instead of every three like I usually do in open water. But my swim training has been solid this year, and every time the feet I was following pulled away a bit, I'd pick the pace for a few strokes to catch back on. Major props to Noa for having me do "25 fast" in the middle of distance sets all the time; now I know what that was all about!
The lake was crystal clear, I had a nice draft, and got into a rhythm in the swim fairly quickly. We hit the turnaround buoy and headed back, and soon enough hit the boat launch and exited the lake. I looked at my Garmin... 34:05... so the swim was short. I knew I was having a good swim, but not that good! It was supposed to be 2.5km, but I'd say based on that time it was more like 2100m-ish. I was kind of bummed about it, as I'd been working hard on my swim and had a goal time in mind. It's hard to know if I was close to my goal when I don't really know what the distance was. It had been pretty windy overnight, so perhaps the buoys blew around. Or perhaps they measured the course in yards instead of meters, who knows. But turns out I had the second-fastest swim in my AG (W40-44; the fastest went to a pro, but there wasn't a pro category so she was racing AG), so I'm happy with that.
T1 was a bit of a grind. We ran up a boat launch, over about 100m to our gear bags, crossed the timing mat (so my official swim time was 34:50) and into a change tent. I had decided not to change completely, but put on socks, arm warmers, a vest, and gloves. It felt like it took forever to pull all that stuff on while wet... my T1 time was 6:17 (from my Garmin). I stuffed my wetsuit into the bag, ran to my bike, and lucky me had the farthest spot from the exit onto the course... but soon enough I was pedalling away.
|Bike course map.|
The bike course was beautiful, but the day was cloudy and foggy so most of the views were obscured. The earlier rain kept the smoke from the controlled burn down, which was great as my throat and lungs were already working overtime with the elevation. I felt fantastic on my bike, knew I was riding well and was cruising along at my goal pace. I was a little bit cold - could have used a jacket instead of a vest - but that just made me work harder.
It was pretty lonely on the bike course and for most of it I didn't see many athletes go by or get gone by :). I was settling in, working hard, paying attention to how I was feeling and it was going by quickly. Then I ground almost to a halt. The course climbs gradually for the first half, then kicks up sharply at 5500' up to 6500'. I planned to ride that climb aggressively, but that plan went nowhere. I tried to push but was pushing a brick wall. I'm guessing it was the elevation, but I just couldn't get anything extra... between gasping for breath, trying to eat, and trying to ride hard I just didn't have the extra gear I wanted. So the climb became survival, and it seemed like everyone and their dog passed me before I got to the summit at the Mt. Bachelor ski area.
|Bike course elevation profile.|
|Nice roads to ride!|
I was pretty happy for the descent into town, but honestly it was harder than I expected (which was my general impression of the bike course overall). It was fast, really fast, which was good, but took a lot of energy to hang on and control the bike... I wasn't coasting but I was working the descent. There were a few little ups just before the finish, and temperatures had warmed up in town so I felt my fingers and toes starting to thaw. I came into T2 in fourth place (I was kinda hoping for third) with a bike split of 3:47. I really wanted to ride under 3:40 for the 107 km, but knew my trouble pushing hard on the climb cost me that time.
I peeled off my extra clothes and tried to move quickly through T2 (2:22). Jason was waiting there, as he had just finished. He was second overall (by 30 seconds to a 25-year old) and absolutely destroyed his age group, taking the win by 49 minutes. Fun fact... there were a lot of fast girls in this race, but not that many fast guys as my swim/bike would have put me in 6th place in his AG (M40-44).
I knew the run would be difficult, to say the least. The course was pretty, winding around a new development and golf course, and very hilly. But the problem was not with the course, it was with me. I had an MRI for a knee injury a few months ago, and have been on a very restricted running plan. Basically 30 minutes, 3x/week (or close to that). So I knew the 12km run would not be my best performance. It was a mixture of running and walking, but the good news is that my knee never really hurt that much. It hurt to see my brutal run split (1:37, slowest of the day in my AG), and I came across the line in 8th place. 6:07 on the clock. Would have been great to be under 6 hours, but I never pushed hard on the run - just basically relaxed and enjoyed it.
The race itself is an interesting one. The course is definitely hard - they don't call it the Leadman Epic for nothing. The organization is really grass roots, and there are some rough edges they could take care of... but overall I'd recommend it and race it again. I'd like to try my hand at the 250 (5k swim, 223k bike, 24k run), and that's definitely on my list for when I feel like I'm really cycling-fit. The bike course in the 250 would be off-the-charts hard. It was our first time to Bend (Jason now wants to move there), and we'll definitely be back someday for more adventures. Hopefully it will be warmer!