Sunday, June 13th Greenwood State Park

Ninety-Six, SC

Tiffany Watson

The word of the day for everyone – triathletes and onlookers included – was HEAT!  Record-breaking temperatures were expected for this Sunday, following a wave of extreme heat and humidity for the last few days.  The water temperature at Lake Greenwood was a warm 86 degrees and the air temperature reached 97 with a heat index of 107.  Even when my husband and I stepped out of the hotel at 5:30am, we hit a wall of heat; we felt like it didn’t even cool down overnight (with a balmy 78 degrees and high humidity before the sun came up!).

I had taken as much precaution to the heat as I knew – hyper-hydrating for 3 days prior, drinking G2 and water upwards of 80-100  oz. a day, plus I was armed with two GU’s for the bike and 1 for the run, and ShotBlocks for transition.  The last recommendation I received and followed regarding the heat was to grab a water at each water stop during the run and at least dump it on my head to cool my head.

Despite all the preparations and warnings, I don’t think I could have expected the extreme depletion my body felt with the heat, especially on the run portion.  Needless to say, many of us (especially the 1st timers) had to cut ourselves some slack with our race goals because our bodies were not acclimated for these conditions with a race in mid-June.

Now… on to the rest of the blog…

This was my 1st Olympic distance triathlon, with 5 sprint distances under my belt from the last 2 seasons.  I was calm and focused, wanting to achieve this distance-goal I had set last summer.

Swimming is my natural talent, but I wasn’t thrilled about the mile swim in such warm water.  I did a 10 minute swim the day before and got out sweating for many minutes afterwards from the heat.  Regardless, I felt relaxed and excited beginning the race.  Festival of Flowers starts the race headed straight into the sun, then making two left turns around a land pointe, finishing at a boat ramp.  I settled into a nice, steady pace and enjoyed this leg of the race immensely… with one hiccup… a few of us sighted a 2nd yellow buoy that was part of the middle leg of the swim, cutting the corner of the 1st leg.  The sun was so bright we could not see the green buoy, marking the 1st turn.  Luckily, I heard another woman cry out,”We’ve missed the green buoy!”  Aagh!  We then had to backtrack to  get back around the 1st turn legally, adding 3-4 minutes to our swim time.  I was disappointed in myself for underestimating the 1st leg and adding time to my strongest sport, but I didn’t let it upset me too badly.  I picked up my pace and plowed forward.  As a side note, while I finished my swim, I kept drafting emails in my head that I was planning to send to the Director, informing him of the need for an additional buoy on the 1st leg (or any leg of a swim that faces the rising sun!), shortening the distance of sighting when one is swimming directly into the sun.

The bike leg was very strong for me; I beat my personal goal by 5 minutes.  I was surprised, however, at how many minutes it took my breathing to settle after exiting the swim, having not practiced a brick of the 1mile swim to bike.  The FOF course traveled over rolling hills into the town of Ninety-Six, mostly rural, country roads, and then back into the State Park.  My only complaint on this portion was several miles of highway 702 where the road is grated and made for a very rough ride.  I prayed extra hard on these miles for my tires (whose lifespan is nearly over!).  As I finished my bike leg, I cheered on the many runners ahead of me that I passed coming in… noticing many of them walking and suffering from the heat, cramping, etc.  Uh oh!  Pulling into transition, I felt strong and excited, especially with a good cheering section of neighbors and my husband.

Here I go… one more leg… but my least favorite… and in the extreme heat!  Come on, Tiffany!  Look strong!  Be strong!  It can’t be that bad?!?!

With my 1st steps, I felt my inner thighs and buttocks cramp up, but I eased up, jogged delicately and those muscles gradually loosened up over the next few minutes.  As I headed out of the State Park, I was shocked by how quickly I was out of steam.  My training and my game plan included running the 10K with two or three 1 minute walking breaks, if I needed them.  Ha!  That game plan was thrown out quickly as I already slowed to a walk before finishing mile 1.  Needless to say, my next hour was gruesome – run some, walk some, repeat.  Honestly, I didn’t have any will power left to push harder or finish strong —  I just wanted to be done.  Fortunately, the runners all around me seemed to follow the same pattern.  So… misery is better with company!  And the company is even better for your morale when they run and walk the same short intervals!  I did grab water at each mile to take a sip and dump the rest over my head, but the heat of the wide open asphalt and pelting sun was merciless.  My thoughts during this leg were simply to survive without health problems – the slushing of my stomach tempted me to hurl at times, so I knew during those times to walk!  The chills and dehydration brought on fears of passing out, prompting the water stops. So on I trudged.  My one hour goal for the 10K was long gone.  Oh well… I did finish!

After a long recovery hour under the misting tent and on the massage table, my spirits picked up… I had completed my 1st Olympic distance!  Woohoo!  And even with a very slow run (and walk!), I was only 4 minutes shy of my 3 hour goal.  Too bad I missed that 1st swim buoy!

A week later, many thoughts still swirl through my head…

-Maybe I will do another one in order to beat my 3 hour goal (but not FOF!)…

-Isn’t it OK to participate in this distance if 2 of the 3 sports are strong but the 3rd is weak?  Perhaps I’ll continue to push my swim and bike and then just accept the run for whatever it will be.

-Would I have enjoyed it more if I had just power-walked the entire 10K?  Hmmm… less pressure and expectation… now that’s a thought.

-Ultimately, I need to get acclimated to heat better, but I still will not choose to suffer in 95 degree weather often.  Like most athletes, I train early morning or in the evening, so my control over the heat is limited.

Overall, I am glad I set a new goal and completed it!  But as a fellow triathlete said, “The Oli ain’t no joke!”