Black Bear Triathlon is the most difficult race I ever participated in. It is situated in beautiful area of Pocono Mountains in PA. The race venue is near Lehighton in Beltzville state park. The event offers a sprint and half ironman distances. Last year I did the sprint and was very impressed with the CGI who puts up the race as well as the venue. This year I decided to upgrade to the half ironman distance which I like best of all distances I tried so far.
I'll spare you details of when I woke up and what I ate. I got on site just before the cars started to queue up at the park entrance. This year the setup was different and it in my opinion better than last year. The transition area was moved further down from the parking, but it was much close to run exit - no longer need to run 0.5 mile to get to your bike. The bike exit was little longer run, but it was much easier to manage than run uphill over roots and pavement barefoot. If CGI reads this - guys please keep the 2009 setup for next year if possible. The bike splits are little slower due to the extra run with the bike, but the transition setup this way is much better than 2008 event. When I was setting up in transition Garen stopped by and we chatted for a bit and I finally gave him his hardware from Quakerman HIM where he placed 3rd in my AG. After I got setup I went back to my car to drop off my bag. It was good to get walking. On the way out of transition I ran into Herb and we walked together while chatting away. Killing time before the start which was more than hour away for the HIM.
Then I came back to transition and started to look for Fred and Kristine to say hi and wish them good luck in Kristine's first triathlon and Fred's first half ironman. They are brave couple - both finished standing up and braved the difficulties of the course. I'm sure they will be back next year to conquer the Bear again.
Soon after that I started making my way to the beach for the practice swim. It was brisk morning so I spent only about 10 minutes in the water - I did some sculling practice and pick-ups while trying to avoid other people that practiced in the small roped off area. At that time the sprint was getting ready to start so I went back to the beach and cheered on the athletes that had much shorter day ahead of them. Time passed quickly and the HIM was getting ready to start. I looked for Erica, Craig and other EnMu athletes, but the beach was very busy. I only caught Erica as she was heading to the water for her part of the half iron relay. We wished each other luck and off she went. My wave was next so I got my goggle setup, swim cap and went to prepare for swim start. The start is in water and knowing my swim improvements I lined-up in the second row expecting to finish between 32 and 34 minutes. The swim started as usual with lots of jockeying for position, kicking, etc. But I made sure to avoid all the legs and big packs and just settled into my pace. This was first race I used sleeveless wetsuit and it is amazing. I can feel the water, do not need to lift hands against the rubber and get overall better feel for water. It is also fast. Swim went well until about 500 meters when my googles started to fog-up. Damn - I swam on my back kicking and cleaning my goggles. This repeated once again and after that I just decided to swim with mildly fogged googles which worked out pretty well. Everything was very smooth until the turn back where we caught up with the slow swimmers from previous wave and also the speedsters from the next wave caught us. I had to swim around a guy that seemed to perform slalom. No mater which side I tried to pass him on he always ended up blocking my way - swimming to the left, then right oh boy. So I kicked harder and swam very close around him. The rest of the swim was uneventful and I exited the water in 32:30 which is not bad for twice cleaning my googles.
Transition to bike was smooth. I took off my wetsuit, put on my helmet, grabbed my bike and off I went. The run uphill was pretty hard after the swim, but I knew I'll get my HR down eventually on the first part of the bike. I took the first 7 miles fairly easy to settle into my groove and did use easy gear on the uphills while still spinning hard gear on the downhills. Worked quite well and I soon found my pace. The course is best described as very hilly - total elevation gain over the 56 miles is about 1200 meters and there is no single part of the course that is flat. Either up or downhill which makes the course hard for taking in nutrition. When we were passing the sprint newbies on the hardest hills I encouraged them, but kept focused on me not expending too much energy on the first loop. I was done with the first loop just around the 1:23-25 mark which was just on pace to have good bike. On second loop I noticed I kept passing guy on red Trek TT bike and after looking at his legs I recognized them from previous weekend ride with EnMu athletes - it was Herb. We practically paced off of each other (legally) the rest of the course and finished the bike side by side - you can see Herb and me above on the way to T2. That was also time when Dasa, Ian and Ivana got to the park to cheer me on and spectate the race. Thus pictures start at the end of bike.
T2 was smooth and I was feeling well even considering the grueling hills we just finished riding. I took off on the run with my fuel belt and kept plugging at what looked like a relaxed 7:40 pace. Only at mile 1 I noticed that it was more like 7:00 pace which was way too hard of a start. It showed on mile 2 where I got a huge side stitch that I had to work for the next few miles. It left me at about mile 5. I was able to run even with the stitch, but I could only go about 8:30 or slower otherwise it was just unbearable. I kept my fuel and salt intake and by mile 6 I was back running, but then my knee started to act up. Well I guess that is what you get when you do not run for a month before a race because of injury. The good thing is that I was able to run the whole 13.1 miles and I only walked aid stations and parts of the course where the side stitch just got too much to bear.
On second loop I caught up with Fred who was having hard time due to nutrition deficit. I said hi the first time we passed each other and then when I caught up with Fred on the dam we chatted a little, I gave him the rest of my nutrition (no ned for me to keep them as the finish was only about 2 miles for me) and then another runner suggested to Fred not to run with us and instead to take it easy. I stuck with the older runner for the next mile and a half and then our ways split. He was heading to second loop and I was heading to finish. It was funny as just before heading down to the finish line Jim (another EnMu athlete from our relay caught up with me and passed me).
It was good because I had someone to pace me to the finish. After the last turn there was the finish line about 200 meters ahead of us. At that time I heard Erica yell "Jan go for it, go, go!!!" so I mobilized what I have left and closed the gap to Jim and passed him about 10 or maybe 20 meters before the finish line - thanks to Craig's signature tempo workouts with pickups I'm able to do this. I hope no hard feelings Jim. It was not personal I really needed the few seconds I gained by this otherwise I would have been few places lower. Thank for pulling me across to the finish line. By the way you handily beat me in the run time. My run time was pretty pathetic due to the side stitch and knee issues. But I'll take this result. It was hard race and I left everything on the course on Sunday. Finished 40th overall and 6th in my AG. Not quite hardware position, but good placement. This race also shows me and Craig what we need to work on for my A race in July. Oh by the way Craig also raced and placed 15th overall which is great in this strong field. I was aiming for better finish than 5:24 - about 10-15 minutes faster to be honest. So I'm little disappointed with my run. On the other hand I'm happy that my ankles and heel are back to normal after 2 weeks of absolutely no running and painful walking. No signs of pain after the race which is really good - I look forward to my first long run this weekend and most likely some serious tempo work next week.
The race would not be as much fun if Dasa, Ian and Ivana were not there. Thanks for coming to cheer me on it was very helpful especially seeing you as I was getting back from first loop and heading out on the second one. They gave me the energy to run and smile at the same time. And it looks like they had pretty good time as well.
Leah and other EnMu athletes also raced this weekend and everyone did very well. You can read all about their relay race on Leah's blog.