Race recap: Border Wars

Bridge over Mississippi River in Alton Illinois

A lot of the race took us along and over the Mississippi for the run and bike.

Border Wars, held in Alton Illinois, along the border between Illinois and Missouri, pits races from the East against racers from the West in a 70.3 mile triathlon. For me this race was an opportunity to put some of my good fitness gains to use at the end of the season.

The race was great overall, and I would highly recommend it. Even considering that it was in its first year, it was still well-organized, held on a great venue, and boasted some of the finest SWAG around. It had some growing pains like any first year race, but will certainly improve on these things next year.

Rather than walk you through the entire race, I will instead share one story from the experience.

Border Wars features two transition areas, with T2 being at the finish. So on race morning you have to drive to T2, set up the area for running, and then take prearranged street cars to T1. To ensure that more than 300 racers don’t try to sleep in and take the street cars all at once, organizers told racers when they were supposed to be on their car at predetermined times. I was one of the lucky few who had to be ON THE CAR at 6 a.m. Meaning I had to get up at a bit after 5 a.m. for an 8 a.m. race start…I’m not a morning person!

So I did it. I got up. Staged T2. Rode the street car to the T1 area…a pitch black transition area. They hadn’t arranged for lights (little details that will be fixed next year). Also it was around 44 degrees. So I fumbled in the dark, setting up T1. At this point I am pretty good at setting up my areas, so even in the cold and darkness it only took a few minutes.

After that I just sat around and waited…and waited…and waited. I hung out with fellow Blo-No area athlete Matt Cuttell and we exchanged tips and race strategies. I also made small talk with some other athletes around. Finally it was time to get in the water.

I was looking forward to this since at the previous day’s pre-race meeting we were told water temperature was right around 70 though it would feel MUCH warmer since we would be standing in the cold. “It is wet suit legal though,” they said. “You’ll adjust to the warmth.”

Swim at Border Wars

Where we were actually swimming.

The gun fired and I along with other racers went charging into the water.

OH MY GOD! THIS WATER IS FREAKING FRIGID!!!

The shock of the cold came without any warning. I tried calming myself. I tried dunking my head a few times to get used to the temperature. Each time my body fought against me, barely being able to stand the temps. The other athletes were dealing with the same thing. We were all mentally prepared for water that felt too warm, not like ice.

Arctic ocean

Where it felt like we were swimming

For the first hundred yards or so everyone swam with their heads out of the water–extremely unusual for a triathlon. I kept urging myself forward and berating myself to get my head in the water. My body kept fighting me, gasping against the chilly water and air. For a split second I even considered bowing out of the race.

You LOSER! Get your face down in that water and start swimming. You will not embarrass yourself with quitting, you wimp!

Considering quitting roused the voice in my head that has nothing but contempt for giving up. (For the record, I cleaned up the language in the quote above.) Nonetheless I began swimming, looking forward to getting out of the water, dreading jumping onto my bike while soaking wet, and dreaming of a 13.1 mile run along the Mississippi in 58 degree temps.

I found out after the swim that the water temp was around 56 degrees. How it was confused for 70, I’ll never know, but 14 degrees makes a BIG difference!


So how did it all turn out?

Awesome!

Out of 344 finishers, I placed 67th, with a final time of 5:26:57. A new P.R.!

Here’s the breakdown:

Swim: 37:59

T1: 7:15

Bike: 2:50:04

T2: 3:31:58

Run: 1:48:05

That put me as #16 in my age group out of 39. Overall it was a great race for me. T1 was slow because I made the decision to towel off and put on a soft shell jacket for the ride (a great decision). The bike and run went well too. Next time I need to push it harder on the bike and run through. I think part of me is afraid of blowing up on the course, so I don’t work hard enough. I am confident that I will shave several minutes off my 70.3 time next year.

So should you do Border Wars? Absolutely! As I said the venue is great and it is a good time of the year for a season ender. Plus the post race barbecue is delicious! I would already be signed up for this one if IRONMAN Louisville wasn’t the weekend after it. Don’t let my adventure through darkness, cold, and frigid waters scare you away. We need people to represent the EAST! Fight on easterners, fight on.

 

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A break up letter

Dear Blue Running Shoes,

Image: Asics Gel Kayano running shoes

My blue Asics Gel Kayanos join the ranks of my exes.

Wow. I never imagined I’d be writing a letter like this. I wish I could do this in person, but this is the only way I can get my thoughts together.

First off, I think you’re great. We’ve had a lot of fantastic memories. Afternoon runs, weekends away together, good times, bad times…for a while you were a good fit for me. But now I’m afraid that time has passed.

In the beginning everything was so new and fun. I loved taking you around and showing you off to my friends. (I got a lot of compliments on your style and looks.) But what I loved most was the support you provided. However in the last few weeks that support has all but faded. In fact it has become painful to be around you.

We could assume we are having a rough patch and hope things will get better, but we’d just be kidding ourselves. Honestly more and more I see myself with shoes that are younger and able to support me–especially through all of my running and triathlons. And let’s face it–time has not been kind to you.

Image: Asics Gel Kayano 20 running shoes

My new awesome Asics Gel Kayano 20s, which will make their race debut at Border Wars.

Please know you’ll always have a special place in the trunk of my car. I hope we can see each other from time to time. And who knows? If things don’t work out with my next pair of shoes, maybe we can go out sometime and catch up.

Thank you for everything, especially getting me through my 5k this weekend. I was thrilled to finish in under 20 minutes (a goal of mine ours), and getting first place was all but a shock to me. It was a grand gesture on your part, but unfortunately too little too late. I’ll try to remember the times like this when you were there for me, rather than the times you were not.

Yours in friendship,

Steve

P.S. Please keep the lock laces. I bought those for you as a gift and want you to have them.

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5 Unspoken rules for triathletes

The way you treat your fellow racers off the track is just as important, if not more important, than how you treat them during a race. I sat down with some fellow athletes and nonathletes and had a conversation about some of the subtleties of interacting with other triathletes. There are always exceptions to the rules, but here are a few we thought stood out and might surprise some outside of the triathlon, cycling, swimming, and running cultures.

1.   No time!

Unless someone is a good friend, don’t ask directly for their time after a race. You can ask “how did the race go?” but if the time isn’t offered, it could be considered rude to press them.

2.   Don’t play it too cool

Another day on the job for you could be above and beyond another athlete’s wildest dreams. Responding with a bored “I got another Kona slot.” or “I smoked everyone out there. I wish someone could give me some competition.” could easily offend. It is okay to be proud of yourself. Everyone loves a good winner.

3.   The “s” word

In my triathlon club, saying the “s” word (slow) is taboo. Someone might be not as fast as another racer, but they are still out there giving it their all. And calling yourself s*** is no good either if the person next to you isn’t as fast as you. You might be making fun of a time you got that the person next to you would kill for. If you are calling yourself the s-word, by proxy you may be accidentally doing the same to them.

4.   Pacing a racer

Pacing could possibly be one of the nicest things you can do for another racer. You’re sacrificing your own race to make sure they reach their goal, whether it is a specific time or just finishing. But what about when you finally reach the finish line? Do you run ahead, fall back, or cross with them? We had a few perspectives on this one, but in the end decided it is best to talk it over in advance. If all else fails, yielding the finish line to your friend can be a very grand gesture.

5.   The first beer

Who gets the first beer after a long day of training or a particularly tough race? All bets are off and all courtesies are dropped. Knock over the elderly, push a child out of the way–whatever it takes to be the first to the cooler! You earned it.

Image finish line

Thanks to Dennis Killian, Lauren McDonald, Mick Hannah, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford for sharing their input. Do you agree? Disagree? What did we miss? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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Race recap: Route 66 Half Iron

On July 26, after two weeks of makeshift training due to work and vacation, I pulled on my EPIC Endurance tri kit and made my way out to the Route 66 Half Iron in Springfield, Illinois. I had heard a lot about this race–good and bad. However the prospect of racing on historic Route 66, along with my own eagerness to do some racing was too much.

Unfortunately it was one of the hottest days of the summer. The race updates the week before signaled the race would not be wet suit legal, with Lake Springfield water temps recorded at 86 degrees–unusually hot for such a large body of water. On top of that some wind made, what I can only assume are normally calm waters, into a choppy mess.

Oh well. Complaining wasn’t going to make it any easier. I set myself up in transition, stopping to exchange words of encouragement with fellow Tri-Sharks and friends from Path Performance and Grim Reaper Fitness. Around 10 minutes before the swim start a referee made an announcement over his megaphone.

They had checked the temperature of the water and had determined that the race would be wet suit legal. Commotion erupted in the transition area. Most people had not brought their wet suit. I had packed mine out of habit but couldn’t decide whether to wear it. It was pretty warm. I could overheat. On the other hand a wet suit equals free speed and would help in the choppy waters. I went back and forth and finally decided to wear it.

Image Lindsay Bridge in Springfield

Lindsay Bridge in Springfield

The 1.2 mile swim course went under the arches of the historic Lindsay Bridge and back down the shore to a point past the swim start. I fell into a good rhythm on the way out. I easily made it under the bridge, around the turn buoy, and then started swimming back. That’s when the wind kicked in. I fought choppy waters and a current created by the bridge and wind. Every few strokes I took would leave me slightly in the air and smacking back down in the water. Thank you waves. Boats of lifeguards and

Image swimmers in Lake Springfield

Choppy waters in Lake Springfield

volunteers provided an additional challenge when patrolling the perimeter of the course as they created a wake from the side. Nonetheless I kept pushing myself and made it to the swim exit. As I approached the end a guy ahead of me refused to let me pass, so as soon as I could stand I sprinted past him across the line for my own satisfaction. On to the bike.

Swim time: 39:40 Very solid for me. I was pleased!

I was looking forward to the bike, which is odd for me. I do a lot of training on Route 66 from Normal to Pontiac and am fond of the road. The route had some bumpy spots and a few minor hills. I kept my heart rate in low Zone 3 the whole time and managed a good speed. Actually I was flying and feeling really good doing it. I was determined to keep it up through the end of the bike. The way back had a headwind to keep things interesting, but I stayed nestled in my aero bars and kept the wheels spinning.

Bike time: 2:44:49 Holy cow! For me this is amazing. I was baffled that I was able to keep up a 20.4 mile pace over 56 miles. What was even better is I was still feeling fantastic.

After a strong performance on the bike, I was feeling pumped for the end of the race. I did great on the swim. I flew on the bike. And not that I am the world’s best runner, but out of the three sports, the run is definitely my thing. I figured I would be able to finish the race in a really big way.

Image Steven Barcus running Route 66 Half Iron

I quickly played triage with my run pace in favor of keeping my stomach under control and staying hydrated.

But like Icarus I flew too close to the sun and burned. I was little more than 2 miles into the run when the heat and humidity started affecting me. The temperature was around 86 degrees, the air was thick, and the hilly run course was not helping anything. I had practiced good nutrition on the bike and was taking in plenty of fluids and gels on the run, but nothing was helping. It was agony.

I rarely think about quitting during a race, but each time I saw a SAG golf cart drive by, I thought of how easily I could flag it down and end this jaunt through Satan’s backyard.

But pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.

I kept plodding along, grabbing water and ice at every aid station, drinking Heed when I could, and trying to maintain the delicate balance between running, drinking, eating, and not throwing up. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I made it back to the Lindsay Bridge and ran across the finish line.

Steven Barcus running on Lindsay Bridge

The Lindsay Bridge signaled the end of a hot, humid, and hilly run.

Run time: 2:11:47 Ouch! That hurt my ego. I was hoping for something in the area of 1:45-1:50. I reviewed all of the run times for racers after the fact and found that my time was fairly typical, and that there were only a handful of really fast times. Still, I’ll log the run as a lesson in pain and suffering.

Final time (with transitions): 5:42:08 That time ranks me as 8/17 in my age group and 35/155 overall. Minus a slow run I am pleased with my performance. I did well in the overall stats and set a new P.R.

What is more, I feel like I will be able to kill at my next 70.3 triathlon, Border Wars, at the beginning of October. I have almost two months to prepare between now and then. My hope is to knock a couple of minutes off my swim, maintain my pace on the bike, and bring that run to where it should be. With cool autumn temperatures, I think I have a shot!

Image Route 66 Half Iron medal

The newest medal on my wall, positioned next to the one I received for my first century at Miles of Smiles. I was sad to miss MOS for the Half Iron, but am glad I got to race.

Thanks to HardyBreed.com for taking photos and posting them to their Flickr account.

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Vacation training in Canada

I may have mentioned this before, but when I first started distance running and triathlon, I would always hear my fellow athletes and friends describe the training they were going to do on vacation. “While we are in Italy we thought it’d be the perfect time to do a 70-mile ride through the countryside.” OR “We’re going to Florida for the week and plan to do a lot of open water swimming and beach running. Sand running really strengthens the ankles!”

Ugh! I wondered why these people couldn’t just go somewhere and enjoy it for a few days without busting their butts all around the destination. I decided I would never be one of “those” people. Evidently I was lying to myself. I’ll share two stories from my own vacation training.

My dad arranged a trip for me and my brothers to do some serious fishing for a week on Eagle Lake in Ontario, Canada. I immediately decided that this was the perfect opportunity to use downtime to log some running miles in another country. I also brought along my wet suit in the off-hand chance I had an opportunity to do some open water swimming.

I did quite a bit of running along hilly, dirt roads and trails near the camp. It was very pleasant overall and my routes frequently took me past gorgeous horses, bald eagles, and sweeping views of the surrounding forests and lake. I even had a running companion at one point–the camp dog, Bosco. Bosco wandered camp and hung out with me on more than one occasion. He would walk down to the docks and lay dutifully by while I fished. He would bring logs over (not sticks) to play fetch. And one day as I was running out of camp he came bounding after. I didn’t mind at first since I had never seen him stray far out of camp. This day he just kept going. I made it around .75 miles, or 1.2 km for my Canadian readers out of camp and he was still following me, albeit at a slowing pace. I had planned a 10-mile total out and back run and REALLY did not want to have to carry an exhausted, 90-pound dog on my shoulders for the second half of my run, so I sent him home. Or I tried to.

Bosco the black lab

Bosco was a great dog, but I figured I shoudn’t be the one to test the limits to his endurance.

He wouldn’t go. I commanded. I coaxed. I pleaded. I even tried to sprint off without him, and he still kept trying to follow. Finally I turned around and ran him back into camp. He ran off to find his water dish and a nice fetch log when we arrived. I used the opportunity to make my escape without him. A little part of me was sad he didn’t end up following me again. But most of me was happy I didn’t have to haul a lab over hills in Canada.

I’ve got to say though that my favorite training day was when I got to do some

Steven Barcus at Eagle Lake

I pull on my wet suit and get ready to plunge into Eagle Lake.

open water swimming. My dad took me in our boat from the docks late one afternoon. As we were leaving the dock hand asked if we were going to fish. My dad responded that he was taking me out a mile and dumping me off the shore of one of the many little islands, after which I would swim back. The dock hand laughed good naturedly at my dad’s “joke.” My dad told him he was not joking. The dock hand gave a surprised look and we took off.

pelicans, seagulls, and Steve Barcus

I swim by the treacherous birds of Bird Rock. Who knew there could be pelicans and seagulls so far north?!

Eagle Lake is really big. It is home to bald eagles, ravens, deer, loons, ducks, seagulls, pelicans, supposedly moose and bear (never saw any), and fish including northern pike, walleye, and musky.

I was dropped precisely 1.2 miles from camp and began the swim back. The route had some opportunity for sighting. First to the edge of Strawberry Island (really wish it had a more badass name), then to a small group of rocks we referred to as

pelicans and seagulls in Ontario

A closer view of Bird Rock.

Bird Rock due to the land being packed with seagulls and pelicans (very clever naming, I know), and finally past an outcropping of land and into Waldhoff Bay where our camp, Birch Dale Lodge, was nestled.

The waters were pristine, but brisk, so I was glad I had my wet suit. There were no big problems for the most part. My dad did a great job of spotting me between landmarks and drove off the seagulls and pelicans from Bird Rock that were taking dives at me. He also had a sea plane come in really low. Thankfully this did not land on me due to the presence of his boat!

Steven Barcus at Eagle Lake

I make the approach to camp unbeknownst the groups of unsuspecting campers.

When I arrived at our dock and heaved myself onto the wooden planks, I was surprised to hear applause and cheering. I looked over and saw that a dozen or so people had watched me finish. It doesn’t get any better than having your personal cheering section. I took questions, accepted compliments (including one boy telling me I looked so fast he thought I was a musky), and made my way back for a hot shower.

I may be one of “those” people, but I see it as being fortunate to have the privilege to train in places others will never go. Big thanks to my dad and my little fan club for making it possible.

Steve Barcus on  a dock in Eagle Lake

I stand up on the dock and greet my public! Hooray for me!

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My July 4th in 88 words

I summarize my fourth of July in 88 words:

American Triple-T swim cap

*Happy Birthday America!

5:45 a.m. Bzzt! Bzzt! Snooze…Bzzt! Bzzt! Snooze…Up! Water. Gel. Running shoes. 6 miles with intervals. Home. Protein shake. Load bike. Drive to the lake. Wetsuit. Goggles. Jump. Sploosh! 1.2 mile swim. Pose. Click*. Strip wetsuit. Change into bike kit. Bike. 15 miles. Merna Tap. Hamburger. Bike. 8 miles. Retrieve CO2 cartridge. Scold. Kicks on 66. Beer. Bike. 11 miles. Lake Road Inn. Pop. Bike. 3 miles. Lake house. Beer. Chat. Home. Stretch. Shower. Nap. Dinner. Drive to party. Fireworks. Wine. Beer. Snacks. Home. Prep bike. Stage gear. Sleep.

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42

“Don’t Panic,” the world’s greatest relay team, rebranded itself as “42” and headed north to take on the Rev3 Wisconsin Dells 70.3 relay. We were all eager for a repeat of the success we saw in Knoxville, Tennessee, and were approaching the race with a relaxed attitude. We figured if we each raced our portion to the best of our abilities, we wouldn’t have any trouble at least being contenders for the podium. Unfortunately even simple plans can become complicated.

Infinite improbability

Saturday night before the race we had a good dinner, hydrated plenty, stopped by the candy store for post-race gummy bears, (David and I went and grabbed a couple of drinks), and we all got to bed at a decent time…no problems here, right? Unfortunately Kelly has had problems with her back for years. I never appreciated the full extent of those problems until a coughing fit caused her to completely throw out her back.

She was in pain. A LOT of pain.

She took some medicine, tried to use a roller on her back, and did some basic stretching. We drove to the race course to set up our gear, hoping by then she would begin to feel better. She did not.

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

Don’t let the smile fool you. All was not well at that moment!

Excruciating pain was scrawled all over her face.  Dave and I were ready to consider other options including:

1. Jori Cooper, a friend who was spectating the race could fill in.

2. I could borrow some goggles and swim in run shorts (not ideal).

3. We could just not start the race.

Kelly had other ideas. She decided to do the practice swim and see how she felt. After gutting it out several hundred yards she swam back to shore. The pain from her back could be seen in each stroke. What she said when we pulled her out of the water surprised both Dave and I.

Kelly Ruiter Rev3 Wisconsin Dells

Kelly Ruiter on the practice swim trying to come to terms with her surroundings.

“I think I’d like to try it.”

I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled about the idea. In fact I gently tried to talk her out of it. But I also knew the only person who can tell Kelly Ruiter what to do is Kelly Ruiter. With that she lined up to start the swim, jumped in the water, and started working on the 1.2 miles ahead.

Anything that happens, happens

Bike transition at Rev3 Dells triathlon

Bike transition at Rev3 Dells triathlon

Dave and I stood around transition making final preparations to his bike, chatting with other racers, and calculating imaginary splits. Kelly had originally planned to do her swim in under 40 minutes, but had adjusted her anticipated time to 50 minutes, not including the additional time that would be needed to sprint up the long hill to transition. We watched the clock and also kept tabs on other relay teams, one of which took off the bike before us. Suddenly we glanced over and spotted a girl with spiky red hair waving her arms and running through the transition gate. She was way earlier than we expected.

“Holy crap, there she is!” I said, very surprised.

Dave snapped on his helmet and pulled his bike out of the rack while I ran over and ripped the timing chip off Kelly’s leg, wrapping it around Dave’s immediately after. With that he was off on a brutal bike course that features more climbing than the 112 miles of the IRONMAN Wisconsin bike course.

Kelly’s official time: 40:07…Geez!

She was in quite a bit of pain afterward, but she had that luxury. Against the odds she had made it through 1.2 miles and at a time many would be envious of. Great job.

Oh no, not again!

Dave had ridden the Rev3 Dells bike course before, so he knew what he was getting into. Unbeknownst to his competitors he had a few advantages.

1. This time he did not have to pace himself for a full 70.3.

2. There was a relay team in front of him he wanted to hunt down.

3. Dave has been royally rocking his bike races this year.

4. He is David Ford.

Steven Barcus and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells

A few seconds earlier I was lounging in the shade. Now, having just taken the timing chip, my mind was focused on running.

Knowing that the course had some brutal hills, Dave anticipated finishing his leg in just under three hours. Kelly, Jori, and I made plans to run back to the hotel and return to transition in more than enough time for Dave to pass the chip to me. Everything proceeded as planned. When I returned to transition I stretched, tried to get pumped for the run, and then sat down on the ground underneath a tent. No point in me baking in the sun and getting dehydrated yet.

I was in the middle of taking a gel, anticipating that Dave would be returning in around 10 minutes, when I heard someone yell, “Barcus!” It didn’t register with me at first. The second time I heard my name yelled I suddenly realized that it was Jori calling out, and the only reason she would be doing that was if…

I sprang up from the ground and dashed to the bike rack as Jori hollered, “He’s coming.” I turned to see Dave barreling into transition, screeching to a halt in front of me. I grabbed the chip from his ankle, wrapped it around mine, and sprinted out of transition.

Racing hard hurts! Dave catches his breath after making the handoff. Sometimes you keep it together only as long as you need to.

Racing hard hurts! Dave catches his breath after making the handoff. Sometimes you keep it together only as long as you need to.

Don’t panic

Dave did a great job. With a bike time of 2:51:22, he had not only caught the relay team in front of us, but also created a nice lead. During the first few miles I scanned incoming bikers for the other team’s number. I was at mile 1.7 when I saw their rider headed toward transition.

“Well,” I thought to myself. “It’s my race to lose now. Get on it!”

The Dells course was hot and hilly. Still I kept on it, pushing it up the hills reasonably and letting gravity do its work on the descents. It was grueling, and the entire time I was keeping an eye out for other relay runners. Kelly had a great swim despite her back and Dave had an awesome bike. I really didn’t want to be the one to blow this.

I kept moving and eventually saw the finish chute. I was worn out and felt a bit like a zombie after all of those hills, but I managed some energy when David and Kelly met me in the finish chute. We all ran across together, putting another relay in the books.

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

42 crosses the finish line!

Steve’s run time: 1:40:57

I’m pretty happy with me time for all of the hills and heat. I’ll take it.

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

BONUS PIC: Speaking of “sometimes holding it together only as long as you have to,” I gave in to exhaustion immediately after crossing the line. Sometimes racing isn’t pretty.

Team relay time: 5:14:46.746

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

Podium shot!

Our finish time earned us a spot on the podium once again. There may have been some hiccups (or coughs) along the way, but we all did the best we could and were able to enjoy doing it. Walking away with hardware is great, but at the end of the day it is just icing on the cake.

Next up for our team…I don’t know. I guess we should start working on that.

 

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