Monthly Archives: September 2008

Cougars and Bears and 24:05

A few weeks ago, I got recruited by one of my friends as a “Climbing ringer”. He was taking a group of friends up Zoo hill engaging in an elaborate hazing ritual, and he wanted me to come along because “these guys think I’m a good climber”. Given my distinct lack of form this year, I wasn’t so sure about that, but decided to do it anyway.

So, I showed up at 8:30 AM on Saturday to climb “The Zoo” (so named because of the small zoo on the lower slopes of the climb). I was pretty well warmed up.

I gave my usual introduction at the bottom – “The climb breaks into three sections. The bottom section is very steep, and don’t ride the inside of the hairpin because it’s like 20%. The middle section is the hardest, and then when you turn left that’s when it gets tough.”

It sounds a bit like a joke but it isn’t, especially if you’ve never done this kind of climb before.

At the bottom my friend (who I’ll call Brett because that may be his real name) started us off – I waited for the group to get going and started from the back.

Caught up with Brett after a couple of minutes, and we rode up through the first curvy section to the hairpin. My preference is to ride in the outside of the left lane on this because that’s the smallest slope, but we had two trucks behind us at this point, so I took the lead and the middle of the proper lane, and stood through the hairpin. I slowed down a bit to see if Brett would catch up, and then decided just to keep riding. The top of the first section flattens out a bit, and then you turn to the right for the second section.

The second section is truly masochistic. Rather than the slight gradient changes of the first section, this section. There are approximately 4000 rollers in the second section, and they get worse as you go along, with the gradient of the climbing parts going up and the height of each roller going up. I tried to keep my HR in check – in the low 160s – but on a few of them I was closer to 170, which is where I feel like I’m going to fall over and die. The last roller was especially painful, but there’s a short respite at the top of that section where I managed to recover back to 160 BPM, then I turned left onto the third section, and saw Brett perhaps 10 seconds behind me.

That’s when things get bad. The first turn through there is steep, and it’s really hard to keep riding, but you keep on riding (I did it without tacking, but have tacked in the past), until I reach the top, right as Brett catches up to me.

Brett’s climbing has improved considerably. Probably has to do with something with the 26 pounds he’s lost.

Turned around and rode down to check on the rest of the group. Passed 3 guys on the way down, one near the bottom of the third section, so I went down to look for others. Nobody there so I started up again, intent to catch the rider who was right in front of me.

Right. Try as I might, I couldn’t close the distance in enough time to encourage him, but caught him right at the top. Went off with him (and one other) to go to the gate at the top of the hill (a turnoff to the right of the summit just after you crest the top), which takes you up to an old military installation.

Came down, another guy finished, went back up to the gate with him.

Afterwards, I descended down the south side all the way to the Lake Washington trail, rode north, then up lake hills connector (not bad compared to a zoo climb) and the home.

My polar says 24:05 for the climb, which my website estimates to be 234 watts for the 1300′ of climbing.  I added another 400 or so when I redid the third section and the gate section twice.

My last ascent was 27 with my old bike (10 pounds heavier), so I’m a little happier than I thought – I’m about 4% faster even discounting the bike difference.

And the climb lived up to my billing for the newbies, who agreed when I told them “the zoo will change how you feel about hills”.

Tri Harder

WET SUITS are not mandatory for this event. It is simply a matter of preference.

Apparently, this is a new definition of the word “preference” that I was not aware of. A different word would be more appropriate. “Survival” springs to mind.

Dramatis Personae

Eric, as “guy who is doing his second triathlon with as little preparation as possible”.

Joe, as “guy who spends far too much time on his various bicycles”. Joe is worried because he did a cyclocross race yesterday afternoon and his legs “are pretty tired”.

Greg, a friend of ours who is here to do the duathlon. His apartment is apparently sufficiently clean, but he was unable to find a place to buy a swimsuit. He made poor use of his one chance and merely said, “Hey” when we passed each other this morning, so any worries he may have had will remain a mystery.

Molly, Joe’s wife and another cyclist who I ride with on our group rides, is also doing the duathlon. Molly is “worried about how fast she will be” (dramatic foreshadowing here…).

Kim, my wife, who came along to shoot pictures (all these are hers) and revel in my suffering.

Pre-pre race

In keeping with my innovative training approach, I’ve prepared even less than the last race. I have spent a fair amount of time in the pool, but the combination of spending a week building a shed (no riding) and going to my daughter’s high school soccer games (also no riding) means that I’ve probably ridden about 4 times in the last month, instead of my usual 12. The bodes about as well as you’d expect.


We got there at 6AM, parked, and I went into the blazingly-lit transition area with my bike. Got marked, found my spot, set up, and headed over to the start.And stood around in the dark as the sun came up. Well, not actually came up, but the sky slowly became lighter in that way you can only find in a cloudy Seattle morning.

There was a pre-race meeting at 6:50, which was filled with important but not-very-interesting information. My wave had originally be scheduled for 7:25, but this got pushed out to 7:45, presumably due to the number of entries (aka a lot).

The elites went in at about 7:15, and we sat and watched them fly around the swim course. And tried to decide whether the waiting or the cold was worse. Standing in the starting area is a bit like being in the airport, where they make the same announcements over and over.


Our wave finally got called a little before 8AM, and we went into the pre-start holding pen. The wave before us went off, and we walked down the steps (nice) into the water. And my second-least-favorite part of the race came. No, it’s not the coldness of the water, it’s the walking out to where you can start your swim. I wear shoes all the time, so my feet are baby soft, and the bottom here is composed of golf-ball-sized rocks. It’s pretty painful to walk on.  

I stand in the back and talk with another guy who is also not wearing a wetsuit. We are trying to decide whether I am more stupid for planning on doing the race without a wetsuit, or whether he is more stupid for forgetting to put his wetsuit in the car. The race starts before we reach a consensus.

I’ve decided to wait a bit to avoid the initial thrashing – I’m wearing my contacts and don’t want to lose my goggles. My goal is to swim fairly hard to the first buoy to try to get warm and then see how I feel. Initially I keep swimming up people’s legs, and decide to hug the inner line. Halfway there I realize I’ve forgotten to turn on my heart rate monitor, so I pause and do that. The bulk of my wave is in front of me, but there are a few guys behind me. Most curiously, there was a guy doing frog kick (ie “*** stroke kick”)  lying on his back while traveling diagonally in front of me. The first buoy comes up fairly quickly, and I swim tight around it and head parallel on the shore to the south. My arms hurt, but they always hurt when I’m swimming. My theory (which is mine, and what it is, too) is that I’m accumulating lactic acid in them, and that (plus my notable lack of upper body muscle) is what’s limiting my swim speed (along with a technique that is a few decades out of date). I keep swimming. At this point I’ve passed about anybody I’m going to from my leg, but I pass a few swimmers from the wave before me. As I get near the last buoy, the chop starts to pick up a tiny bit, but not bad enough to really affect my stroke. I can breathe on either side but prefer my left, and luckily that’s on the inside.

I finally reach the final buoy, and head back in. In this case, the route isn’t straight in but angles back. The archway that I’m aiming for is square with the shore, and it’s hard to tell where I should be swimming sometimes. It doesn’t help that my goggles are fogging up, and I spend a little time zig-zagging back towards shore. And I’m fairly cold by now – not shivering, but close. I try to swim a bit faster to get it over with, and finally swim in to where it’s about thigh deep, and stand up.

And I’m unbalanced, so I take a step to balance myself (or stumble to the side, if you wish…), and put one of those nice round rocks between my big toe and second toe (between market and home). Not normally an issue, but I injured my big toe playing indoor soccer and have been doing PT for the past few weeks, and that’s precisely the motion that hurts. A bunch.

The combination of drunkenness and pain causes me to re-evaluate my evolutionary journey out of the water, and I sit back down with a fair bit of haste (ie collapse), regroup, and try again. I follow a random but roughly forward path towards the arch, take off my swim cap and goggles, and walk/jog on the concrete into transition.

Swim Time: 21:51

Wow, that’s slow. I’ve been swimming pretty consistent 1:06 50s in the pool with slow turns, and that’s about 3 minutes over what I expected. I probably swam an extra 100 going back and forth, and I don’t think the cold helped me very much, but that’s disappointing. I’m glad I didn’t know at the time – all I knew was that the swim was over and it was time for some fun. I’m 785/899 in the swim. The fastest guy did in in 10:18, and Joe swam a very nice 16:09

Transition was uneventful – I took off my swim shirt, dried my back and legs, put on a top, and put on socks and bike shoes. Many people ride without socks, which is too much pain for my sensitive feet. I grab my helmet, jog carefully out to the road (SPD-SL cleats and concrete means slow is the right idea), and get on my bike.

Transition: 4:25

That seems pretty slow, but there’s a lot of distance to cover, and I had to spend extra time telling my wife to stop taking pictures of me in transition.

I hop on my bike, and head out onto Lake Washington Blvd and head towards downtown Kirkland. Despite having put on a different shirt, I am cold. I have no idea how fast I am because I’m wearing my polar on my wrist rather than on the handlebars, so I just ride. We get into downtown, I follow 2 very slow guys through a tight corner, and we head up market and turn left into the low rent district, and then right and up the hill.

Beautiful mansions. I pass 5 or so riders on the way up but one guy on a bike with aero-bars gets by me (presumably a fast(ish) guy from the wave after me), I pass him going down market, and we turn left to head east. We roll through a few roundabouts at speed (got to like the police escort), and head towards the major climb of the race. My plan is not to hit it too hard, which I follow for all of 100 feet as I stand to pass somebody over the first steep part. I try to hold right on the edge the rest of the way up, pass around 15 people (the # of people I pass will feature prominently because the bike is where I *can* pass people), and get passed by 2 fast guys and one slightly fast one.

We cross 405 on a special police/fire bridge (annoying, normally you have to do a set of tight switchbacks to use this route), go slow at the bottom (steep and wet with crosswalk markings is not a good combo), and turn left onto Slater. I drop down onto my aero bars, and pick off several bunches of people. This section seems longer when we ride it in the opposite direction in my group, but it goes by very quickly and I work my way through a busy intersection (thank you officer…), and head towards the steepest climb. Right as I turn onto it aerobar-dude (the one I passed earlier) comes by me and pretty much stops. There are approximately 5000 riders trying to climb the hill all at once, some riding slowly, some riding really slowly, and some walking. Some may be sliding back downhill for all I know. It’s “Flying Wheels up Inglewood time”, so I look back, pull left, and ride by a bunch of groups. Nobody passes me uphill, though I’m pegged heartrate-wise and pretty much looking for a place to pull over and die when I get to the top.

So, I slow down a tiny bit, and aerobar-dude comes by again. This next section has the shoulder of the road coned off, which surprised me a bit because you only get 3-4 feet along the side. I crank up to about 90 RPM (a bit below my long-distance cadence but should be a bit faster), and settle in. My legs hurt quite a bit, which means I’m where I expect to be. I pass a few people in ones, and then come up behind a group. There are 3 people all the way over on the right, and 3 people on the left, passing. The passing folks are at about 16 MPH, and I’m around 20. I look behind, see that there’s more traffic, pull out into the car lane, and pass the group.

Which is, as Joe points out later, very much against the rules and reason enough to get me disqualified from the race.

Which I’m sure I read in the rules and had repeated to me during the pre-race briefing, but slipped my mind at the time. This is a place where my road cycling experience collides with the triathlon approach. Given the amount of traffic on that road during that time of day, there really isn’t a lot of reason to cone it at all, and by doing so all you do is put fast riders closer to slow riders and make it more likely there is an incident.

I continued that approach the whole way – if you come up on a rider *right in the middle* of the coned-off section, you can either yell “move right” (Joe’s approach) and hope it works, or take my approach, which I’m convinced is safer but happens to be illegal.

So, anyway, I fly (as much as I can fly at this point) up to the turnoff, head on a short flat, and then climb up to the high point of the race. All that is left is a screaming descent and a short flat down to the start. I’ve been looking forward to this because a) it’s fast and b) I won’t have to stop for lights, but it’s still wet and I approach it a bit cautiously. As I head around the tightest turn at about 30, there’s a women who has crashed into the center lane of the road, with an aid car and a couple of EMTs in attendance. She is sitting up and looks like she’s in pain, which I’m hoping means it isn’t too serious. I pick up a little more speed (say, 35 instead of the 40+ I’d aim for in the dry), and pass a few more people on the way down.

The last part of the bike section is a short flat. I’m in the bike lane, and an impatient motorist pulls out of a driveway in front of me, and then swerves back into the bike lane. It’s my closest call of the day but not really very close, though it impresses a woman right behind me.

I turn the corner, cross the street, and pull off and head back into transition…

Bike Time: 42:43 @ 16.86, for 261st in the group

A bit slower than I hoped (maybe I had a bit of a cold or something), but I don’t feel like I could have ridden much faster. Maybe a bit faster in the dry, but not more than a minute or so. My bike ride moved me up from 785th after the swim to 484th after the ride.

The group does pretty well. “Tired legs” Joe rode a 36:41 @ 19.5 MPH, netting him the 24th fastest bike split of the event (did I say he rides *a lot*). “No suit” Greg rode a 37:09 at 19:4 MPH, and “I’m so slow” Molly rode a 40:53 @ 17.61, nearly 2 minutes faster than my time. Molly is officially no longer allowed to mention to me how slow she is. Great ride for her.

Transition 2 is quick – hang up the bike, after moving a Cervello that’s diagonal across my space. Shoes off, shoes one, put on the number belt run out of transition grab some water, “you forgot to take off your helmet”, a volunteer informs me. He’s inside transition, I hand him my helmet and run out.

Transition time: 2:23 (Joe does a 1:50, probably the closest I come to him all day…)

Then it’s off for the run. My stomach hurts (it did the whole bike leg), and my stride is about 14″ right now. I get  to the top of the slight hill and feel like I’m going to die. A quick glance at my heart rate monitor tells me I’m right – I *am* going to die if I don’t slow down, since I’m in the mid 150s. I slow down a bit, it comes down to about 145, and I settle into the run. About 3 minutes into the run I pass Joe coming back to the finish.

The run is mostly flat, with one climb up towards the midpoint, and then a really strange coned-off course through an empty parking lot. They needed to get the distance somehow but it feels like something you’d do in elementary school. I manage to lengthen my stride a bit, but I still get passed by a fair number of people on the run. Here I can really tell that my endurance is down – I can usually run fast enough to make my unused running muscles hurt, but I can’t get there today. I come into the finish, hear Kim/Greg/Molly cheer for me, run to the finish where they cut of my tag, and run into Joe on the way out. Then it’s off to IHOP for brunch.

Run Time: 26:09, 561st.

The run is what it is. Joe did 21:23, 142nd, completing his sweep over me. Greg ran a 22:26, and Molly ran a 25:49.

Overall time: 1:37:31, 460th out of 899.

My bike was 2 minutes faster than I expected, my run pace was 3 minutes slower, and my swim was just plain slow.

Joe does a 1:18:33, putting him 68th in the field.

Closing thoughts

First of all, if I’m going to keep doing this, I really need a wetsuit. It will keep me warm, make me a bit faster, and provide ample opportunity for mishaps in transition.

Overall, I had fun on both of these, and will probably do a couple next year, perhaps moving up to do an Olympic.

Tri again…

Sunday morning I’m doing the Kirkland Triathlon.

It’s another sprint, running the traditional distances this time:

  • 1/2 mile swim
  • 12 mile ride
  • 3 mile run

That’s about double what the swim was at Lake Sam, and a bit shorter on the ride.

My preparation is a little more than in the past. I’ve been swimming a couple of times a week, and have worked my way up to 1500 yards at a time. I’ve continued my approach to run training – I ran a couple of miles a few weeks ago, but I’m trying to rehab a toe injury that I got in indoor.

The swim course is in Lake Washington, which is likely to be 5-10 degrees colder than Lake Sam was.

I went out last Sunday morning and rode the bike course. The description says “moderate in difficulty with some hills”. That may sound relatively good – it’s only *moderate*. What you have to realize is that course descriptions are always written by the best people who participate in the event, rather than the average or beginning entrant. My polar says that the course has about 700′ of elevation gain in 12 miles. The group that I ride with typically does around 1200-1300′ of elevation in 20-some miles, a ride that we classify as “hilly”.

That’s fine with me – I found the lake Sam course to be pretty boring, and my advantage (relatively speaking) over other entrants is when the cycling part gets harder. The course is pretty cool. All the climbing happens in the first two-thirds, then there’s a long flat to slightly uphill section, and then a screaming 40 MPH descent back down to the finish.

The run is along the waterfront, and on pavement most (if not all) of the way. That’s good because my toe feels better on pavement than grass/dirt, bad because it’s harder on my knees.


I’ve been swimming consistent 1:06 50s in the pool for long distances. That puts me at 17:36. I’m going to go out on a limb:

Swim: 17:00

Given that it might rain and will be cold, I’m going to take the time to dry my back and put on a different shirt to get some protection. Probably.

T1: 2:30

Bike: I did it in about 48:00 when I rode it at a moderate pace. I think there’s a fair bit more to be had there, but we’ll see what kind of legs I have:

Bike: < 45:00

T2: 2:00

I’ll go 25 minutes if I run at the pace I did last time. Barring stomach issues (and assuming I don’t kill myself on the bike and my foot is okay), I’m going to say:


For a total time of: