Lord and Lady of the Flies

Waterville Valley in NH is the perfect quaint town - population hovering just over 300 - to host a smaller triathlon. I had high expectations for the Black Fly Tri: I'd driven over 10 hours, forfeited my Musselman Tri entry, and dropped serious dough on a hotel room booked way too late. Bart and I arrived early Friday afternoon, and as we walked to packet pick-up, I excitedly brushed my toes in the water. Perfect 72-degree water. Possibility of going without a wetsuit. The lake was small, and it would be nearly impossible to map a swim course any longer than 500 meters. The buoys for Saturday's and Sunday's swims were floating in the lake, charting a swim that looked much too short (later, I realized that the course is a 1/4-mile swim around the inner perimeter of the lake). The whole town square is nestled in the valley between mountains lush with greenery, and some of the slopes are lined with groomed skiing trails. Around the town square, a series of arrows point to cross-country-skiing and hiking trails that network throughout the valley and lake area.

Waterville Valley thrives off of its natural beauty. Certainly, you can't compare it to the jagged, 14,000-foot peaks of the Rockies, but New Hampshire has the best air I've tasted along the East Coast yet, and the White Mountains are worth the 10-hour road trip from Washington, DC. I'm addicted to terrain that towers and intimidates, to greenery that you can smell from the base of the mountain, to lakes that mirror reflections of the scenery that surrounds them, and to air that's crisp, clean, and unfiltered. Waterville Valley, thank you for making me smile and remembering what it's like to be out of the city.

I could rave about this race for pages...it's obviously become my favorite tri. Our room at the Golden Eagle Lodge was just 300 meters from the transition area, and each morning, I just needed to open my window to hear the race announcer's voice booming over the loudspeaker, guiding triathletes to body marking and bike racking. No need to worry about race-morning traffic or parking; we simply got up each morning, made some strong coffee, and strolled out the door, around the lake, and into transition. A stress-free way to start a race.

The Black Fly Triathlon is a 3-day event: Friday evening hosts a 4-mile bike time trial, Saturday morning clamors with Olympic-distance triathletes, and Sunday morning culminates in a sprint-distance triathlon. For those audacious enough to test their endurance and the longevity of tired muscles, there's the Lord of the Flies: a 3-day stage race in which you compete in all 3 events.

I like challenges. So I saw the Lord of the Flies as a challenge. Bring it on. Three races in less than three days.

The only stage that I wasn't giddy with anticipation about was the time trial. I bike like a commuter: slow, steady, and without any real power. Cyclists talk about wattage output and wear pointy helmets; they know how to draft and ride off the wheel of a rider mere inches in front of them; they handle their bikes like an appendage of their own bodies; they pound the hills and pass meandering Mindy like I'm stationary. Really, I do try on the bike. I pedal, and I pedal faster on the downhills. I know how to shift gears, but I don't know how to translate cadence or effort into sheer power. I just know how to get from Point A to Point B.

So I wasn't particularly keen on racing in the 4-mile time trial and getting passed by 50-year-old women and heavy dudes on expensive wheels. Accept fate, I sighed. It's not that I don't enjoy biking; it's that I don't enjoy getting passed when I'm exerting effort. It makes me feel slow and incompetent. My lack of excited anticipation for the time trial shifted to giddy impatience, though, when I saw how the time trial started: you brought your bike up to a raised platform, a huge bald dude stood right behind you, steadying the bike, and you clipped in with both feet. Bald dude made sure that the bike was balanced upright, and when the buzzer sounded, he'd release his grip and down the ramp you took off. Just like I'd seen in the Tour de France time trials on TV! It looked like fun; the girl lined up behind me laughed as I described it tentatively as a "rollercoaster ride."

I wasn't sure how this whole balancing thing would work, because my coordination with my bike isn't something to boast about. The line of time-trial-ers quickly moved up as each cyclist went off at 15-second intervals. As I moved closer to the platform, I studied how each cyclist was getting on. It was somewhat comforting to see that noone had fallen yet and that some seemed as unsure of themselves as I felt. My turn. I hoisted my bike onto the platform. Bald dude commented about the size of my bike: "Is that a kid's bike?" As I clipped in my right foot, I told Bald Dude, "I really have no idea what I'm doing. This is my first start like this and I don't have the greatest balance, so hold me tightly." He gripped under my seat with a firmness that comforted me, and I clipped in with my left foot. I started to giggle as I was balanced by the Bald Dude's grip, and the gun went off.

The 4-mile time trial was an out-and-back course. The initial half is a blast; you're coursing downhill the whole way, passing those bikers who are still trying to get their bearings or who haven't quite seemed to let go on the downhills. 180-degree turn at the base of the highway, and it's back up - easy gear, steady cadence, this is gonna be just about 6 minutes of pain. The great thing is that I was only passed by one female during the time trial, but the pitiful part is that I was passed by a super-fast, flying 29-year-old male within a minute of being on the bike. Maybe two minutes. This kid was blasting past me like I was going backwards. After the time trial results were posted, I found out that he had won the sprint and his pace was just under 25 mph. I didn't feel so bad about being passed by a champion.

Time trial race was fun, other than the finish line being less than 50 meters after 2 tight turns. The best part was the start: balanced by the grip of Bald Dude and shooting down the ramp with a smile.

4-mile Time Trial:
Placed 3rd in F25-29.

Day 2 - Saturday: A 6 am rising, breakfast at the lodge, and a 1/4-mile walk to the race start. Certainly better than having to fight early morning traffic, find a parking spot, lug my bike and gear to the transition area a mile away from parking, and still have time to breathe before the swim waves go off. This was a perfect day to race in the international-distance triathlon.
I ran into the lodge to make a quick bathroom stop (coffee's aftermath), and in the 5 minutes I was in the building, the rain started to pound. I stepped outside, greeted by the downpour - Argh, I groaned; the weather had been perfect just 15 minutes ago!

The race must go on, and that's what makes any outdoor sport so entertaining - you need to be prepared for all elements - rain, snow, intense sun, high winds, you name it.
I wasn't. My shoes and gear were drenched by the time I ran back from the bathroom to the transition area. Oh well.
The race started off in a beautiful lake, pockmarked by the rain drops splattering across its calm surface. The short swim course was a mere quarter-mile, with swimmers doing a run-in start at 5-second intervals. The swim felt good; my arms felt strong, my stroke felt smooth, and I was sighting well. Parts of the lake were shallow enough that people actually chose to walk, but that only slows you down. Rounding the last buoy, I made sure to clasp onto the powerhouse's feet in front of me, letting his bubbles guide me in for the last 40 yards. Up onto shore, a bit woozy from the immediacy of horizontal to vertical, but I regained balance and ran through the chutes. I saw the wetsuit strippers, but didn't want to risk something new. "Nothing new on race day" is the mantra every experienced triathlete has ever repeated to me, so I didn't want to be the fool who went against time-tested advice.

When I slipped out of my wetsuit at my transition area, I noticed that everything was soaked. My bike shoes squelched as my feet sloshed over the water already in there, I decided not to don a drenched white tanktop over my sports bra, and I grabbed my bike's wet handlebars and ran through to the Bike Out chute.

Out on the bike course for a 20.5-mile out-and-back course that followed pretty much the same stretch of road as the time trial course. Wheeeeeee, I thought, as I flew downhill. Rain splattered against my face and down my arms. There was a small loop near the halfway point, and it was 10 miles back up the highway. Yes, I was passed on the bike plenty by those swimmers who I'd passed earlier or by cyclists with massive quads that powered them through the roads. A tall, skinny white dude on a yellow Specialized bike cheered me on as I passed him on the downhills, then I cheered him on as he powered past on the crescendos. We traded spots, each time congratulating the other on a valiant effort for pedaling through the rain.

Transition #2 - wet shoes off, pair of soaking socks and wet running Zoots on. Visor to keep the rain from pelting my forehead, racing belt in hand, and I was off. The 10K run felt good. Really good - I felt like my legs were fresh and I was surprised by how comfortable the pace felt. I saw the top male and female finishers kicking in the final mile; superhuman strides that posted 5:30-mile paces. Unbelievable. My own sub-7:00-mile pace paled in comparison to the times that these elite men and women were posting, but I was still passing people who had no gas left on the run.

Finish line euphoria came soon - that adrenaline kick when you dimly hear the announcer's voice and you know that the finish chute is somewhat close. Rounded a couple of turns, the volunteers and supporters on each side ringing cowbells and shouting "Go! Finish! You're awesome!", and I was done. Food and fuel? Yes, please.

Black Fly International Distance Triathlon
1/4-mile swim: 5:30
T1: 2:20
20.5-mile bike: 1:04:25
10K run: 34:29
Placed 1st in F25-29 and won some maple syrup (Yum! This ain't no Aunt Jemima's!) and a Timex watch...perfect, since my Garmin was getting repaired.

I was spoiled by the proximity of our hotel room to the race site. We went back to our room, showered, aired out the soaking gear, and headed back down to the race to study results and load up on calories. The Black Fly did an excellent job with recruiting great food sponsors; there were slices of Cabot cheese, some fortified with Omega-3s, steaming bowls of New England Clam Chowder, yogurt smoothies, cold carbonation, fresh fruits, and veggie and meat burgers. I did what I do best, and walked in with an empty tote bag and out with a stash of apples, bananas, mini Clif bars, Stoneyfield yogurts, and enough cheese to fill 2 napkins.

We puttered around the results postings, finding our names and congratulating strong finishing times. Bart and I each won glistening maple syrup that boasted New England roots, along with Timex watches. Black Fly did a great job getting some awesome sponsors: Cabot Cheese, Timex watches, and Muscle Milk? Kudos to the race organizers!

For the rest of Saturday, the rain provided a good excuse to stay inside and relax. We lazily puttered through the lodge, entertained Bart's nieces, who are constant bundles of energy, watched Men Who Stare at Goats, and snacked on Muscle Milk and pretzels. Life was good.

Day 3 - Sunday: Another 6 am wake-up call, and we were out the door by 6:30. Today, the skies were blue. Such a welcome change from the constant rain on Saturday morning's race! Another giddy day as I set up my transition area and chatted with my new friend Kathy (racked next to me). My muscles felt good; no soreness, and although not as fresh as pre-yesterday's-race, they felt ready. Bring it on, stage #3!

The swim course repeated yesterday's course, but this morning the buoys looked like they had all drifted to make the swim course about 20% longer. Maybe I was delusional, but from my view from the walkway, the buoys looked like they had drifted farther apart in the course of 24 hours. It didn't bother me, because I like swimming, just as long as everyone was swimming the same distance.

Again, triathletes took off in 5-second intervals. Without the rain to shield the sun that glared at 7:30, I was swimming directly into blinding sunlight on the last long stretch. I couldn't see any buoys and only relied on my fellow swimmers, who all seemed to be going in opposite directions. I kept surveying for buoys; none! Those things are supposed to be visible from space!

It turns out that my navigational sense was wrong. I nearly stroked right down on a volunteer kayaker's paddle, and my head shot up out of surprise. "RIGHT! RIGHT! RIGHT!" he screamed at me, militant-like. I veered 90 degrees, found some feet, and followed the bubbles. I winced to think how much time I lost with poor sighting, but made up time with...
The wetsuit strippers!
That's right, my favorite volunteers.

Bart had told me that the wetsuit strippers on Saturday were better than fast - "Just go for the dude who acts like he's in charge," he'd advised. As I wobbled unsteadily out of the lake, I heard screams of "Wetsuit strippers on the right!" and instinctively veered to the right, targeting two husky men who were unquestionably leaders of the stripping gang. I made eye contact with the louder one.
"DOWN!" he commanded.
My wetsuit was already to my waist, and I slid onto my butt, raised my legs, and then raised my butt. Instantaneously, my wetsuit slid off! It was miraculous! Maybe all of 0.4 seconds to get that second skin off!
"HAND UP!" the lieutenant barked, and I reached for his second-in-command's waiting palm to hoist me up. I started to giggle, which surely tagged me as a first-timer, but wetsuit stripping was just that much fun.

No time to waste. The fun part was over. Wetsuit over my shoulder, I ran through the racks til I spotted my mini-bike. Bike shoes - check, helmet and sunglasses - check, off to the mount line.

"There's a Lady of the Flies!" yelled a spectator as I mounted. The 16.5-mile bike course followed yesterday's course, which was basically 8 miles of downhill bliss, sharp hairpin turn, and 8 miles of uphill mashing. I did get to enjoy the scenery more today, and despite having raced the international distance the day before, my legs did feel pretty good.

The 3.4-mile run followed the same roads as yesterday's run, and I settled into a fast but comfortable pace. The day had definitely heated up quickly, and at the first and last aid stations, I grabbed a soaked sponge and squeezed it over my head. It's remarkable how a simple dose of H2O can rejuvenate you and put an extra kick in your lagging stride.

The sunny weather enticed more spectators to the race than Saturday's rain, and the first and last miles were lined with supporters yelling random things like "Hey! There's goes a girl!" or "You look strong!" I rolled my eyes when a string of sideliners shouted, "Great job! You're almost there!" I know when I'm almost there. That's what mile markers are for.

Rounding the final turn, I did run a little taller and faster when the race announcer boomed my name and my hometown over the megaphone. "Mindy Ko from Bethesda, MD! Racing for the 3rd day!" I cruised on past the finish line, and the wonderful volunteers quickly removed my ankle strap and placed a cold water bottle in my hand.

Black Fly Sprint Distance Triathlon
1/4-mile swim: 6:20 (damn my poor sighting!)
T1: 1:21 (Thanks, wetsuit strippers!)
16.5-mile bike: 51:12
T2: 1:00
3.4-mile run: 21:46
Placed first in my age group and won another maple syrup (good thing I love waffles and pancakes!)

I've loved every single triathlon that I've competed in for different reasons: Nation's, because your first always holds a special memory; Columbia, because my girlfriends were waving crutches and a broken arm at me as I crossed the finish line; Philly, because that cheesesteak devoured post-race was dripping with deliciousness.
My favorite? Black Fly wins the trophy (or maple syrup). Waterville Valley was the perfect small town to host the 3-stage race, and the forested White Mountains only made me itch to come back when they're actually white. Thanks, Black Fly Crew, for a great weekend and the best wetsuit strippers! See you next year!

Popular Posts