Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mama Said They Was My Magic Shoes: An Elephant Man Race Report

Today was the second running of the Elephant Man Triathlon. The Elephant Man is kind of an Olympic distance race. It has a one mile swim, 26.5 mile bike and six mile run so all in all it’s a bit longer. It is also the hardest race in New Mexico and in only its second year rapidly becoming the favored race among the top age groupers of both New Mexico and southwest Texas. I was assistant ref at this race last year and so knew the course. I had actually done the swim and rode the bike course twice and knew it to be a tough race. This year I was ambivalent about doing the race at all given the rest of my schedule but the GeekGrl was adamant that she needed to do this race so I went ahead and signed up too. Of course, as bad luck would have it, the GeekGrl came up with an injury post Colorado Relay so was unable to do the race but since the Outlaws host an aid station at Elephant Man she went down and took charge of that along with Dread Pirate, Courtney, Steve and Orlando. I, on the other hand, was on the hook for the race.

To be honest I was dreading this race. Everyone I know was telling me “Man, this will be a walk in the park for you after that 100 miler” but the more I have raced the more I have come to respect the unique challenges posed by all the distances and of course to actually try hard to race and Olympic distance triathlon is no easy feat. Because I knew this race would draw a strong crowd and because, as I have been telling people, I have to much run in my legs, not enough bike and no swim in my arms, I registered as a Clydesdale. If I was going to get myself into something I wasn’t really looking forward to then I was at least going to put myself in a reasonable position to compete. Oh, and have I mentioned, I’ve put on about 15 pounds since Ironman Coeur d’Alene…eeek!

Anyway, we were driving down to Elephant Butte Saturday afternoon and were in a hurry because I was running late for a USAT officials clinic that I was going to attend the night before the race. About 15 miles away from Elephant Butte I suddenly realized that I did not have any running shoes, just my cycling shoes and Keens. Well hell! Many of you may not realize the difficulty of the situation because I was heading to another town, right? Just pop by the local running store and get a pair. Well, Elephant Butte ain’t all that big and neither is Truth or Consequences (Yes, there is a town in New Mexico named Truth or Consequences) so I pretty much thought I was screwed. Fortunately Pirate was many miles behind us near the “city” of Socorro and she happened to need to stop at Wal Mart so we asked her to PLEASE pick me up some random pair of “running shoes.” She walked out with a size 11.5 Dr. Shoals for $30. I wear a size 12 but if that was all I could get, well, whatever.

When we got to Elephant Butte we discovered that a brand new Wal Mart Super Center had just opened up in Truth or Consequences, Halleluiah! The GeekGrl and I tore down the road to see if we could make out better than Pirate.

I ended up scoring me a pair of Sloans baby! I paid $25 for those bad boys and so with purchase in hand we went back to Elephant Butte and I attended my officials’ clinic.

Race morning was the moment of truth. As noted I had many misgivings about doing the race but holly cow it was great to see all the familiar faces, all the old friends and all my fellow Clydes. It’s fun to travel around and race different people from different places but there is nothing like racing in your own back yard. I was immediately at ease and ready to take on the day. I think having the $25 Sloans were a big confidence booster too!

So the race was the SECOND time this month I have gone for a swim and I faced it with some trepidation but once I hit the water it was old hat within a stroke or two. I was swimming well and fairly straight and ended up doing the mile in 31 minutes and 48 seconds. My left shoulder is a little sore right now but I felt great throughout the swim. Once out of the water T1 is a bit long, maybe 150 yards through sand and part of an asphalt parking lot and it is almost all uphill but I made it through in 1 minute and 51 seconds and was pretty surprised when I saw my time. I actually thought it took me the better part of three minutes.

The bike was flat out tough and I was worried that all the run in my legs would take its toll while I was trying to maintain an Olympic distance race pace. There is a big long climb immediately out of T1 followed by about 10 miles of big rollers, the kind that you don’t get near enough momentum going down in order to crest the hill on the other side so its, speed down the hill, climb, climb, grind, grind, grind, recover, recover, speed down the hill and repeat and repeat and repeat then you hit what the RD lovingly calls Crash Hill, which is basically a drop down into a canyon followed by a series of turns rated at 25 mph. This, of course, is followed by “Big Daddy”…yes, the climb back out of the canyon. Big Daddy actually comes in a series of three climbs with, well, slightly less climbing in between. The first climb is basically a wall. Everyone who is able to stay on their bike is in the smallest gears, out of the saddle and moving at maybe 3 or 4 mph. This is the honest truth, you push downward and your wheel turns, you push down again and your wheel turns again. What happens when you d not push down? Well, your wheel comes to a complete stop…a complete stop. It does not roll, not and inch, not a centimeter, not a millimeter, it just stops and you are left doing a track stand until you push down again. The wall part of Big Daddy is immediately followed up by two sustained climbs that are not nearly as steep but mightily unwelcome at this point in the bike. However, once you have departed the lowest point of the canyon the remaining 10 or so miles is either flat or downhill all the way back to the lake. I covered the 26.5 miles in 1:21:15 and was pretty happy with my efforts.

I got through T2 in 1 minute flat and was on to the run, which is also a pretty tough affair. The run at Elephant man begins with one mile of sand. The very beginning is somewhat less sandy and it gets progressively deeper as you run with the grand finale being about a 50 yard dash up a steep and deep sand hill and onto a road that crosses one of the two dams that you cross during the run. The run is also very hilly and fully exposed to the New Mexico heat and sun. It is scenic however so there is that.

When I began the run my Sloans were working like champs. They felt a little weird around the ankles but other than that they seemed to have plenty of cushioning and were stable enough to keep my ankles and arches feeling fine. Once I got out on the dam I realized that maybe the cushioning had more to do with the sand than the shoes but they seemed adequate and were still stable. Being the first aid station on the run I immediately came across the GeekGrl and the Outlaw Oasis. The music was cranked, the Outlaws were enthusiastic and the wet sponges were ice cold…pure heaven! I ran as hard as I thought I could manage and maintained an average HR of 171. I didn’t feel like I was moving very well and my legs felt heavy but at least I was making some progress. As the run wore on my Sloans were struggling far more than I was. By the time I hit the turn around they felt about as cushiony as racing flats, by the three quarter mark they felt more like cheap flip flops and by the time I hit the Outlaw Oasis again they felt like strips of cardboard taped to my feet but the Outlaws were there with the ice cold sponges, the GeekGrl was there with a little sugar and Bob Marley was singing “Don’t worry about a thing cause every little thing gonna be alright” I was recharged and ready for a mile of running in hot sand. I completed the six miles in 54 minutes and 3 seconds, not exactly blazing along but I'll take it on that course and in those shoes.

I crossed the finish line if 2:49:55 and headed straight for the lake to cool off. My efforts barely won me first place Masters Clydesdale and second overall Clydesdale with the second place Masters Clyde time being 2:52:52. Friend and fierce competitor George, took top honors as overall Clydesdale with a blistering time of 2:35:52.

All in all it was a good day and a great race. I was pleasantly surprised by my race and am now ready to give the legs some rest before the Arkansas Traveler this coming weekend. To top things off…the Outlaws won the aid station contest…again.


  1. I LOVE it! Running in Walmart shoes is almost as good as biking in your running rocked it anyway!! Way to be flexible..

  2. Won your division in Wal-Mart kicks! That is why your are the MAN!

    Best of luck to you this weekend. I can't wait to hear about it! Take care of yourself out there.

  3. Anonymous12:00 PM

    Great race in the Walmart shoes! You looked strong as I saw you coming back on the run!!

  4. Great job! I wonder if the race course took you by or over the site of San Marcial? It was once called the "Pompeii of New Mexico" and my grandma's childhood home is one of the ones buried under the silt. For that reason alone, I'd love to do Elephant Man someday.

  5. Awesome report!

    Great report and great race!

    Way too rock the Walmart shoes.

    Nice times there too.

    I think that next year, I really want to come and try the race. It sounds great fun!

  6. Awesome report Brian! I love it. You had rolling with the flip/flop and cardboard comparisons! :-)

    Now, I'm seeing a new triathlon "reality" where athletes are given X number of dollars and in a small time period they have to buy a bike, get swim gear, get shoes, get to the race and complete an Oly distance tri.... hmmmmm, nah.......... but a funny thought.

    Thanks for the report. Almost as good as being there...almost

  7. Great job out there. Running/racing in walmart kicks, not sure if I could do that..

    Good luck this weekend.. I'm sure you will do just great.

    You are a racing machine!!!

  8. Sounds like a good race in the end, best of luck for the Traveler

  9. My little calendar reminder "dinged" at me this morning reminding me that you are running a mere 100 miles today!

    You are off and running and I hope having a fabulous time.

    I am, as always, hugely inspired by you and wishing you a safe and successful journey!

    Go SB Go!!