Recap of Zoom RedHawk Triathlon Festival at Hueston Woods State Park

Yet another crazy race for me last weekend! I thought I’d be running the 20-mile race at the Med City Marathon in Rochester, MN on Sunday, September 12th. Instead, I ended up squeezing one more triathlon into the season. Gotta be adaptable during COVID-19 times when plans are constantly changing and anything can get canceled at any moment!

I had planned to see a band in Minneapolis over the weekend but it was canceled a few weeks ago due to COVID concerns. Although I had also signed up to run the Med City race while in Minnesota it didn’t seem worth the trip anymore. I wondered if I could find something else to do with the weekend and use the vacation days I had already scheduled. There was a concert I really wanted to see on Saturday near Dayton, OH. Then I saw that another band would be in Cincinnati a couple days before that. This triathlon was on my radar already and it was in Oxford – somewhere between Dayton and Cincinnati. Although I was intimidated when I saw how hilly the bike course was, things were falling in place with the concerts so I knew it would be a perfect chance for me to hit that race. I decided to commit just over a week beforehand.

I’ve thought about trying the half Ironman distance someday. I was intrigued when I came across Zoom Multisport Racing in Ohio because they offer the 1/3 Iron distance at a number of their races. I actually signed up for one a few years ago but opted not to make the trip when they announced that the lake’s E. coli level was high. I was glad that one of their events was finally going to work out for me this time. 

Not counting the 10-leg triathlon I did this summer, this would be the longest standard type of triathlon I’ve done. I’ve raced the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 24.8-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run) many times but there aren’t many races that offer a distance between that and a half Ironman. This would be a nice spot in between with a 2000m swim, 34.5-mile bike, and 9.3-mile run. 

I knew it wasn’t ideal that I’d only get 4-5 hours of sleep after being out late at a concert the night before but I’ve survived the lack of sleep plenty of times. Hueston Woods State Park doesn’t have many hotel options nearby so I drove nearly an hour to get to the park in the morning. It wasn’t easy leaving by 5:15! When I got to the park and opened my car door I was hit with a wave of bugs. They were so annoying I was almost tempted to turn around and leave! I really hoped they wouldn’t be an issue during the race or it could be miserable. I’m glad I was smart enough to bring my headlamp because most of the park was in the dark, but the bugs swarmed around the light. SUPER annoying. Fortunately the transition area wasn’t as bad and they faded as daylight arrived. The sun didn’t rise until 7:15 so we were in the dark until close to 7:00.
The race company used extra bike racks to help keep people spaced out in transition. It was nice to have the extra space with only two other people on my rack. At one point I saw someone with a wetsuit and wondered if they were legal. We were told in the days leading up to the race that the water was at least 80°. The cutoff for wetsuits is 78° so we probably couldn’t use them. I found a sign that said water was 75° and the race was wetsuit legal! It’s a good thing I had it in the car. With 2000m to swim I knew it would be very helpful.

Here I am looking awfully concerned as I tried to figure out how the swim course would work!

The duathlon started first at 7:00 and the 1/3 Iron distance started 15 minutes later. Our race had a pretty small group and we all started in the water together. I lined up second from the left because it made the most sense to stay close to the buoys and shorten my course. I was surprised by all of the people who would be adding extra distance to their swims by spreading out to the right, but I do understand wanting some space so they wouldn’t get stuck in the crowd.

In order to get to 2000m we swam a smaller 500m loop first and a 750m loop two times after that. We rounded the first buoys right away so there was a little congestion there but things spaced out pretty well after that. My biggest issue was dealing with a couple of guys who got too close to me. One guy was on the inside with the closer path to the next buoy yet he kept straying toward me on the outside. That forced me to swim farther away! I finally stopped for a couple seconds to let him go then swam to his other side. He and another guy continued to stray way off path. If they wanted to make their swim longer it was fine with me as long as they stayed out of my way! I believe one or two of the other race distances may have started while I was in the water but fortunately I didn’t encounter any congestion because of it. I was pretty surprised a few times when people came at me head on though! I stuck to the rectangular path around the buoys and did not expect anyone to be so far off that path that they came right at me! 

On one side I enjoyed watching the sun rise and on the other I saw other athletes lining the beach as they waited to start their races. Here’s how things looked as the sun began to rise when one of the other groups prepared to start.

I’m not sure if the loops helped break things up but the swim seemed easy and flew by pretty quickly. I’m sure the wetsuit helped! The temperature was just right and I didn’t encounter any weeds at all. It was nice to feel so comfortable during the swim and I was kind of surprised to see 35-some minutes on my watch when I stood up. It usually takes me closer to 40 minutes to swim that distance in the pool. By the time I got through the grass and up to the transition area my time was 36:33 for the swim segment.

I went through my usual battle of trying to get my wetsuit off over my ankles. That wasted a little time in addition to wiping my feet, putting socks and shoes on, stuffing a couple of Picky Bars into my back pocket, etc. By the time I ran out of transition with my bike 3:41 had passed.
Time for the 34.5-mile ride. I knew that the hills would be challenging and I just hoped I could handle them. I don’t feel very secure riding on roads other than at a couple of local metroparks. I typically train on trails that keep me away from traffic and they’re mostly flat. In the week leading up to this race I made a point of adding a few hills to the mix but I knew it was probably too little too late. I also didn’t know if they were significant enough to prepare me for the hills coming in this race. I hoped I could manage well enough because I’d have to ride the same loop around the park four times. I hoped I wouldn’t spend the whole time swearing!

I really appreciated the great job Zoom did with the course. Vehicle traffic could only travel in one lane in one direction around the park while we rode the opposite direction in our own lane. Although I didn’t see a bunch of bikers during my first loop, after that it was clearly necessary to keep one lane reserved for us. Beginners, sprint, Olympic, and 1/3 Iron athletes all used the same loop so it got a little busy in spots. Sometimes there were three people wide as people passed at various paces. It was a big relief to just watch out for other bikes and not worry about cars coming from behind as well. I was annoyed a number of times when people zipped by without announcing themselves. It may not always be necessary, but it’s a common courtesy that is helpful when there are so many people on the road.

There were three climbs throughout the loop that were significant. The first one climbed 110 feet in about half a mile, the second segment was around 123 feet in 0.7 miles, and the third was similar to the first although it felt like the steepest one. I don’t think it translates in photos, but the hills felt long and steep!

The hills around home are shorter and not as steep so I really hadn’t trained properly. I was prepared for the distance part but not the climbing part. I tried to spin along the best I could before getting out of the saddle to crank my way up in a standing position. It made me breathe heavily but that felt like the most productive way for me to climb. One thing that reassured me is that most people seemed to struggle. It wasn’t just me! A number of people even walked their bikes up parts of the hills. After a couple rounds of the hills I realized that I kept swapping spots with the same people. I suspected that being lightweight helped me with the hills a little more, but once I rounded them, the bigger guys built up more momentum and passed me again. As I passed one guy I said I’d see him in a minute and he commented on the game of leapfrog we were playing!

I got through the first loop and didn’t totally dread having to do it three more times so I guess that was good. There were some steep downhill stretches that built up pretty major speed. When I move too fast I worry that I’ll go flying if I hit a bump on a curve. I lost some of that momentum as I cautiously braked part of the time. My watch claims I peaked at 30.5 mph and that was a bit much for me! By the time I got to my third loop the hills became more problematic. As I got out of the saddle to climb my quads started to burn. I didn’t have the energy left to pull that off anymore and would have to take a new approach. I’d spin along for a few seconds and feel like I was going about a mile per hour, get out of the saddle for a few seconds and grind until I couldn’t take it, then get back to spinning. By that point I started to question why we choose to torture ourselves like that!

Somehow I survived the whole ride and finished in 2:14:23. I was SO relieved to be done but wondered how I was going to run 9.3 miles on legs that were totally wrecked! I spent 1:13 in transition before heading out to run. 

I had to cover three loops of a 5K course that was basically split into a trail half and a marina half. Soon after heading into the woods there was a climb up a surface with some loose stones. Ugh, more hills! I felt like I was doing more of a hike than a run at times but I tried to keep some semblance of a run going rather than taking any breaks to walk. After climbing that hill there was a paved, flat (yay!) stretch that went out and back. Next came a pretty steep downhill segment that required hopping around potholes in some pretty rough pavement. There was another short out and back part in a parking lot before having to get back up the steep hill. It was so brutal! Once I got out of the woods there was a long stretch of grass along the beach that took us toward the marina.

That was the first time during the day when I began to feel the heat. It may have been in the 70s by then and that part was out in the open with no protection from the sun. There were a few trees around the marina area at least, where we basically ran up and down a couple aisles of the parking lot before heading back to do it all again. 

When I first started the run I had a faint hint that my stomach might cramp. I had plenty of water and an electrolyte drink during the ride and also went through two Picky Bars, plus I had a fuel belt with more of an electrolyte drink for the run. I ate a few chews throughout the run that had a little extra sodium as well. Fortunately I didn’t battle any cramps but I was drained enough by the run that I felt like I jogged the whole time and didn’t have an extra gear. I like to step things up during the run because usually it’s the strongest part of my race but I didn’t have it in me. I told myself that this was probably great for marathon training. Running on tired legs was good practice. I was able to give a little bit of effort during the grassy stretch as I approached the finish at the end of my third loop. It took me 1:29:07 to complete 9.3 miles and I finished the race in 4:24:58.

Wow, that was pretty brutal. They had wet towels so I placed one around my neck. I got a bottle of water, a protein bar, granola bar, and some trail mix. I thought I’d pose for a picture by a banner and discovered that my phone had bounced around so much in my waist pack that it locked me out for 45 minutes! There’s a “tap to wake” setting that I should have turned off. I was lucky that someone from Zoom actually offered to grab his phone, take a few pictures, then text them to me. Many thanks to Steven for doing that!

I packed things up in transition and chatted with a few people there. A couple of them were experienced with racing longer distances and confirmed my suspicion that a half Ironman race with a flatter bike course would probably be easier for me than this race was and that I could totally do it.

Even though the race felt pretty bad at times, I’m really glad I did it and I felt very accomplished. This race didn’t offer awards because “everyone is a winner.” Anyone who pushed all the way through certainly was! Still, I checked the results to see how I did and I placed right in the middle of our small group.

I was surprised to see that I was the fourth fastest swimmer! The wetsuit makes a world of a difference for me. Usually the run is my biggest strength but I placed ninth in the run. As usual, the bike was the weakest part of my race and I was 14th out of 18. I’m just thrilled that I managed to get through all of those hills despite my lack of proper training.

Now I’ll finally have to push myself to commit to a half Ironman/70.3 race next year. I’ve known that I should be capable of doing it and this proved that I have it in me. I may also have to travel back to Ohio in the future to do more races with Zoom because they did a great job. I’ll have to scope out some of their other options and see if I can find one with a flatter course! This was a great way to wrap up this year’s triathlon season.

Now it’s back to running-only races with a half marathon on September 26th and a marathon to come sometime after that. Once again, COVID has messed with my plans. Originally I was going to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon until it downgraded to a 10K this year. I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon instead, but that just downgraded to a half marathon. At this rate I think I’m going to stick with something local so I don’t spend more time booking a bunch of stuff that I just have to cancel. There are plenty of options and COVID can’t cancel all of them! I will find a fall marathon somewhere and put all of my training to use!

– Janet

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