Thursday, May 8, 2014

Festivus of Mysteri-ishness -- Lake Guntersville Triathlon Festival 2014

I said after last year’s Guntersville Olympic experience of 43 degrees and rain that I would not be back.  Not to mention the 7.1 mile eroded trail run that kept me out of running for almost 2 weeks after the event.  However, when I saw the announcement of a Festival (aka Festivus) I was unable to resist the temptation to participate in another epic Parker Edmiston extravagahnzaaaa!
The morning started with the early wake up, picking up Doug Wright for his first Olympic distance triathlon and arriving at Guntersville State Park at 6:00 a.m.  I racked my bike in rock star parking and commenced to stand around trying to convince myself to go for a warm up jog or bike ride.  I eventually rode a short distance to mechanically check my bike and then back to standing around.  The next decision was, “Is it really cold enough to justify a wetsuit?” (I think the announced water temperature was 72 degrees).  I’m convinced that I swim slower in my wetsuit.  It feels like I have giant rubberbands wrapped around my shoulders.  I ultimately caved to peer pressure and the chilling idea of treading water waiting on the start horn and donned my wetsuit.
I started in the 2nd wave with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Look at the results and you will see that of the approximately 8 of the Top 25 male Olympic racers were in the 40 and older category.  Another interesting statistic was that the Top 5 male finishers were from 5 different age categories.  I mention this to show that this sport truly is for everyone and age does not have to be a discriminator.  Swim was 1500’ish meters, and I knew after the first 200 meters that it would be a slow time.  My shoulders were getting a much heavier workout than should be expected.  My swim time was just under 33 minutes and proved to be a weakness in the overall race.  It is usually my strongest event (relative to my age group) and provides a few needed minutes versus the guys that are running sub 7 minute miles on the 10K. I will have to give a sleeveless wetsuit a test to see if this will improve in the future. 

 T1 was unremarkable and off for the bike.  The rolling hills going out of the park and on the first portion of Hwy 227 kept things at a slower pace for the first 5 miles.  The course isn’t difficult, but can be deceiving if you fail to respect the climbing portions.  I felt good coming off the bike and T2 was pretty quick.  I did choose to run in my Hokas and wear socks due to the expectation of a tough, hilly, and graveled run course.  This added a few seconds to T2 trying to get socks on.
I headed out on the run dreading the big gravel hill.  I kept a 8:10 pace for the first 2 miles, up to the start of the big hill at about mile 3.  I was reduced to speed walking the last 25 yards or so of the hill.  Walking was faster than my run pace.  I ended up with an average of 8:31 min/mile. The good news is that this year the 10K was actually “only” 10K.  I finished the day at 2:45:17 with a 4th place finish in my age group for the Olympic Triathlon.

 The day was still young.  Next up was a 3’ish mile trail run.  Marty Eaton was the course director and he did not disappoint.  I’m not an accomplished trail runner, but I venture to say that this was a relatively challenging course.  It started off the gravel hill from the Olympic 10K course and made a giant loop around a pretty large hill.  It felt like most of the course was uphill, but somehow I ended back up at the start point.  This was a lot of fun, but around 2 miles in, the woods were getting hot and there was absolutely no wind.  I was praying that 3’ish was closer to 3 than the “ish”.  It ended up being 3.3 miles on my Garmin and was advertised as an “active recovery” by Marty.  Ha! I say to whoever believes in the myth of active recovery within 3 hours of completing an Olympic Triathlon. 

What next you ask?  Of course, a 2.1 mile King of the Mountain (KOM) hill climb with an average grade of 7% and the maximum grade at 19.5%.  steepest .25 mile section gaining about 200 feet in elevation.  It began at the campground store with a time trial start.  The first section was nice climb, but manageable.  The second half was a BEAST!  It was great that the crowd of family supporters were all stationed at the steepest part, yelling and ringing cowbells.  I resorted to the serpentine technique (aka “delivering the mail”).  Thankfully this concluded day 1 and my legs and lungs were both ready for a break.
Sunday morning started with a quick trip to the buffet and Guntersville Lodge.  Then Festivus Event #3 was the dip and dash.  This was a 1500’ish meter swim and a 3 mile run.  Again, I fought the wetsuit idea, but decided I just wasn’t comfortable having not completed any cool temp open water swims this season without a wetsuit.  At this point (to borrow the phrase from Suzanne Erickson) I had become more of a "completer" than a "competitor".  The run felt good considering the "fun" that my body had endured on Saturday.  After the run I gladly retreated to my camping air mattress in the shade to recover before the next event.
After a very short rest, the 5 mile individual time trial commenced and brought on the leg burn.  It was from the beach parking area to the park entrance and back.  I don’t remember the hills being such a challenge during the Olympic Tri, but I suppose the cumulative effects of the Festivus events were now entrenched in what remained of my physical will power.  I have never participated in a time trial.  This being my first, I just tried to hit the wall in 5 miles and not pass out.  I must add here, that as the number of events progressed, the level of competition was still very high.  It seemed that this type of sustained torture attracted the elite triathletes, as well as a few non-swimming runners and cyclists with fresh legs as they were only participating in a few of the events. 
Last event of this epic weekend was the Team Trial.  It consisted of a 10 mile out and back.  The "SOB Squad" team had some minor adjustments and supplemented the roster just before race start.  Considering that Josh Pierson and I were on our 6th event of the weekend, I think that we had a great “completion” of the team time trial. 
In closing, this was a very different experience than I could have imagined.  It was much more about the experience of testing your body’s ability to push a little harder even though fatigue has a firm grip on every muscle.  I was unsure how to approach the multiple events, so I elected to race each one as though it was my last.  I don’t know how to evaluate this strategy, but I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend.  And for what it's worth (nothing) I was the only 40-44 year old male that completed all the that makes me 1st Place in my age group.   Lots of thanks’ish to Parker Edmiston, Dawn Edmiston, Doug Tinkham, Marty Eaton, and KatieBeth Pierson and the host of volunteers for putting together this event.  Another thanks to Gregg Gelmis ( and Katie Beth ( for the great photos.  Shout out to Fleet Feet Huntsville TriathlonRacing Team for a great race day.