2012 Nickel City Buffalo Triathlon
Buffalo, New York
September 16, 2012
For the last race of the 2012 USA Paratriathlon series, I reached out to the Buffalo Triathlon Club in search of a guide. I was fortunate to receive a great deal of support from the club with lots of questions and interest about guiding. It was through this Triathlon club that I met Marit Ogin, and she agreed to race the Nickel City Triathlon with me. Below is a recap of the race from Marit’s perspective. Enjoy!
Marit Ogin’s RecapI recently was a guide for Ivonne Marcela Mosquera-Schmidt, a blind triathlete, in a sprint distance Paratriathlon in Buffalo. A lot of people have told me they want to learn more about Ivonne and/or have asked a lot of questions about the guiding experience and suggested I blog – this is my attempt!
First off, Ivonne is truly amazing. She has done about 6 triathlons this season and has had a different guide for each one. Here is a link to her webpage so you can learn more about what a special person she is, her accomplishments and her reflections on some races. She does a much better job telling her own story than I ever could! In case you want to consider guiding, here are some of my reflections on the whole experience.
How did we connect? Ivonne contacted the Buffalo Triathlon Club for support and posted on our Buffalo Triathlon facebook page last week when she needed a female guide for the Nickel City Sprint Distance Paratriathlon. She listed her anticipated times for each event (750 swim 16-18 minutes, 20K bike 35-40 minutes, 5K run 21 minutes). Her swim and bike times were in ranges that I knew I could support, but, wow, she is a way faster runner than me! I’m a 7:30 pace on a good day for a 10K in an Intermediate distance Triathlon--her ~6:40/mile pace is what I aim to do my 400 meter repeats at for “speed” work. Piece of cake: All I’d have to do was my 12 x 400 set without any rests between. HA! But I was so inspired when I saw her post! I kept thinking about it so I emailed her to let her know what an inspiration she was, let her know my background, experience and split times (stressing that I didn't run as fast as her!), gave her the names of some female triathletes that I thought would be a good fit, and offered to be her back-up plan if whatever guide plan she came up with didn't work out. I really wanted her to have an awesome all-around experience – great race, great impression of Buffalo, great impression of the people and of the BTC so thought I could at least support her as an informal embassador of sorts.
We talked on the phone and stayed in email contact during the week. Thursday morning we confirmed that I would be her plan vs. the back-up plan! I can’t imagine managing the stress of traveling for an event, the pre-race anxiety, plus getting a guide lined up and not even knowing the guide until 2 days before the event! How fearless is that? I knew I needed to learn a lot more, so I made a list of questions, and set out to really know the course. Thursday evening I ran (ok I jogged) the posted run course and biked the re-routed bike course.
Run course scouting: From a guide perspective, I was concerned with the multiple turns, changes in terrain, out and back route on bike path with no physical barrier between outgoing and returning runners, plus some construction. Seemed like a challenging course to manage running side by side on a tether.
Bike course scouting: YIKES! The detour due to bridge construction added 11 turns in the first 6 miles of the bike course! I’m pretty stable on the bike, so I’d usually view that as an advantage: NOT so when I was thinking of maneuvering a 12 foot tandem with my ZERO tandem experience (the bike portion would be done with us riding a tandem). I was not going to let my inexperience on a tandem possibly turn my strongest leg into a disaster for Ivonne, so I reached out to my friend and co-worker, Anthony Chungbin, who spent about an hour with me Friday working with me on his off-road tandem.
How we practiced: • I first rode as stoker while Anthony rode captain and coached me on captaining.
• I rode as captain alone to get used to a long bike
• I rode as captain with Anthony as stoker. We practiced mounting, starting, stopping, dismounting which I found to be the hardest part..
• Rode as captain with Anthony as stoker, doing many tight turns in a parking lot, practicing giving verbal cues, and taking a trial ride on a bike path. Thanks Anthony!
Later Friday afternoon, I met Ivonne and her husband John with the plan to do bike set up and practice. My first thought when I met Ivonne was, “Oh my gosh, I am about 1 and a half of her”: Ivonne is very petite and weighs about 88 pounds. My second thought was, “Ya-Hoo! Her petite frame is going to make tandem riding so much easier!” Unfortunately it was pouring when we met, so we just talked through my checklist of questions I had written down and drove the bike course so I could describe terrain and corners to them both. Ivonne thought my list of questions would be helpful to other guides to know what to think about so I’ve included those as well.
Do I need to go to registration with you?
Do I need to fill any paperwork out?
I didn’t have to, and I don’t think I was listed anywhere, so, I made sure I wore my road ID
What do you need me to do in each transition to support you?
Are we set up in same transition as age groupers?
How do you set up in transition and where do you want me?
Swim planning checklist:
Do you wear a wetsuit?
Remind me where we are tethered and how?
Who swims in front/back?
Do I need to give you any physical cues on turns?
Ask to see the tether (Wide Velcro bracelets connected by a 16” cloth bungie)
When do we untether?
What do you need me to do between exiting water and running to transition?
The plan was to be tethered below the knee by a 16” bungee attached to wide Velcro straps– my right leg to her left leg, so I would be swimming on her left, slightly ahead and I’d “just swim”. I would know to slow up or speed up if I felt really strong drag on the tether either way, and I was to constantly monitor if the tether was still on if I didn’t feel a tug. We’d untether when we stood up at the beach. We didn’t practice the swim.
Bike planning checklist:
Can the tandem be set-up with my pedals, seat and handlebar positioning?
Are the front and back pedals in synch or offset? Important to know for leg position in turns!!
What is the gear and brand/format of shifters? (Practice shifting until it is natural!)
Which side of bike do you prefer to walk/mount on?
Which leg do you prefer to have “up” when you mount?
What is your typical bike cadence?
Can I wear an aero helmet? (Ivonne’s response: “Sure, I’ve always wanted a parrot.”)
What about standing climbs?
What type of verbal cues do you want me to give on the bike?
We were fortunate that we both had the same “side of bike” preference for walking the bike, mounting, and leg up.
Saturday morning, I met Ivonne, John (her husband) and Louie (her tandem bike). We first focused on getting Louie equipped with my pedals/fit for me (Ivonne’s mechanical aptitude with bike maintenance blows me away -she takes Louie apart and puts him back together again, and knew exactly what needed adjusting as we practiced riding). We found a section of the parking lot that had turns very similar to the tightest turns on the bike course and did a lot of practice turns, then did a lap of the ring road. I did this first with John so he could gauge if I was ready enough to have Ivonne get on. They had a prior guide get on and crash Ivonne within 100 feet, so John now does the initial work on tandem training!
My take on a guide’s key responsibilities as bike captain: • Keeping the bike in a stable vertical position while Ivonne mounts/dismounts
• Really knowing the course.
• Steering, gearing, braking and giving advance verbal cues of when I was going to do any of those as well as advance notice of terrain items I couldn’t maneuver around (potholes, uneven surfaces, bumps)
Run planning checklist:
Apologize that I don’t run as fast as her. Repeat 100x.
Which side do you want me to run on?
What is your cadence?
What physical or verbal cues work best to meet your needs?
Where are we tethered? Can I see the tether?
Apologize that I don’t run as fast as her. Repeat 100x.
We ran one loop around the Botanical ring road with the tether – My cadence was off, I did not feel self-confident and was worried that I would disappoint her on the run. Her husband John is a great runner with near perfect running stance, so, he gave me some quick pointers to try. She constantly reassured me, “No worries, nice and easy, this is a tune-up race for Worlds, if I get through the swim it’s good!”
My take on a guide’s key responsibilities on the run:
• Run straight – resist the urge to follow if I l feel a tug to the left or right.
• Really know the course.
• Keep Ivonne safe from terrain issues – If could navigate around a hazard, I was to just take her hand/link arms and navigate around it—she didn’t have a need to know what is was if I could navigate around it. I only needed to give a verbal warning if there was something I couldn’t navigate around (change in surface from asphalt to gravel, timing mat, curb, tight turn, etc)
• Manage running side by side within the given running space.
We knew they were going to change the run course so we drove over to Gallliger beach to check out the new course, as well as the transition in/out details but we were too early since the Elite race was still in progress. Guess we’d find out in the morning. Holy cow -I know how I scrutinize the course before an event, I am amazed at how Ivonne managed that uncertainty so well!!!
Ivonne and John came over to the house to have dinner with my family Saturday night so we could get to know each other better. Ivonne is primarily a vegetarian. I asked John if he was a vegetarian too, for menu planning purposes. His reply? “Yes, the food I eat does eat lots of vegetation – cows, chickens, pigs…”. I also heard Ivonne mention “chocolate cake” a few times during the day Saturday, so I had an evil scheme to slow Ivonne down by feeding her lots of chocolate cake for dessert. Just kidding. But it obviously didn’t work!
RACE DAY! Forgot my BTC jersey. BTC pulled through (as always!!) and Kate Leary brought me her tri tank, before she covered the event with photo play by play post to Facebook. Thanks Kate!!!
Transition was separate from the age group racers. Ivonne’s husband John volunteered to be a handler for one of the other Para triathletes so he was able to be in transition as well.
In transition I watched as Ivonne set up. Louie was racked first. She used Louie as a reference point to position her other materials, so, I made a mental note that we needed to make sure we racked Louie back in the same spot. Once Ivonne was set up, I set my stuff up on the other side of Louie so I wouldn’t disturb her set-up.
Body marking: I was marked with same info as Ivonne (loved having Ivonne’s age on my calf!!!!)
Swim start! I looked in the water and gave Ivonne some last minute info on course and conditions. “Smooth water. Swim straight about 300 meters, left turn, swim about 100m, left turn, 300 meters straight back then a turn to the shore about 50 meters. Divers, kayaks and jetskis in the water” “Looks like there might be some seaweed. Oh.Looks like there might be lots of seaweed. OH! Okay, there’s just going to be seaweed everywhere.”
SWIM reflections: I am disappointed in my management of the swim course for Ivonne. I know she could have had a better split. Some things I could have done better as a guide on the swim:
1) I hadn’t thought in advance about passing people. I realized in the water as I came up on a person, I didn’t want to pass them on their left for fear of steering Ivonne right into them. Ivonne lost time due to me slowing up to go on other side of people and divers a couple of times.
2) I didn’t increase my spotting frequency to account for being pulled to the right at times—Ivonne had to swim a little wide going out because of this.
3) I hadn’t asked to try putting the tether on in advance to see how it felt. I mentally freaked out when we attached it around the top of my calf at the swim start. I was thinking, ” NO!! I have spiteful calves that cramp! Maybe this being tight on my calf will aggrevate my cramp tendency!” I didn’t tighten the strap enough.
4) The awesome tip I got to lube up the outside of the lower leg of my wetsuit to aid in getting my wetsuit off more quickly? It also worked really well at lubing up the tether so it would slide off my leg. I at least was diligent in being aware of it and didn’t lose her, but, I had to tread water a few seconds to get it back on, and a couple other times to slide it back up as I felt it slide down. I finally yanked it up on my thigh, which positioned Ivonne and I to whack each other in the head for the rest of the way. On the bright side, when Ivonne decides to take on an Ironman she got some great Ironman swim wave bashing practice I guess…
5) I took the tether off before we had to make a right turn at the dock toward the beach and held it in my right hand. I switched to breast stroke, using each stroke with my right arm to nudge Ivonne around the turn. I probably could have managed this better as well. We had planned in advance to take the time to put shoes on before running from the water to transition. While walking around the main event area the day before, I had caught a 3 pronged fish hook in my sneaker, plus, the forecast of low temps convinced us that the time it would take was worth the added safety/warmth.
T1 (first transition from swim to bike) – I was looking over in amazement at how Ivonne was so calm and quick in transition –she was ready to go before me. I hadn’t asked to practice transitions-I could have served better as a guide by having my act together more in transition.
Our plan to just keep walking with Louie beyond the bike mount line and walk him around the first corner was a good one (there was a 90 degree right turn at a stop sign about 5 feet after the mount line – mounting is hard enough without managing an immediate turn!)
What I could have done better as a guide on the bike…
• I forgot about “not standing” after we went around the last turnaround and stood up (when I am riding alone, I almost always do a few quick standing pedal strokes to get up to speed after a turn)---I again was grateful for Ivonne’s petite build and great bike handling skills– we wobbled a second but recovered right away when I sat back down. Unannounced standing and leaning of the bike side to side when standing can be ugly, especially if there is a heavy person in back!
• Checking the bike before we started-come to find out, the front brakes were disengaged the whole time. When John pointed it out after the race, Ivonne and I said,” Brakes? We didn’t need brakes!”
T2 (second transition from bike to run): What I could have done better as a guide…
I started my run panic right on schedule with a mile to go on the bike. In T2– I was so worried about the run I forgot about the importance of where Louie was racked. Ivonne had to coach me on getting Louie racked in the right place. Ivonne secured the run tether (clipped to the waistband of each of our shorts), and we headed out.
Run: As we headed out on the run I took Ivonne’s hand, cued her on the timing mat location, guided her around the first corner then let her hand go. I did my deep breathing chant, “In the with Faith” (deep inhale), “Out with the Fear” (deep exhale), prayed for my calves to cooperate by not cramping and for the stamina to do my 12 x 400 speed workout without rests in between. I was hoping I could at least match my PR for a stand alone 5K (21:40) so I wouldn’t slow her down too much!
The race directors mapped a new run course for the Para Triathlon, separate from the age groupers. This was an AWESOME AWESOME run course for Ivonne and a guide. AWESOME!
What was ideal about the course?
• After exiting the transition area, we made one turn, then repeated a 1 mile out and back loop 3 times—once we had done one loop, we didn’t have to worry about any more un-knowns on the course.
• The course was on a wide, nicely paved, closed road with wide physical barrier between out and back. She didn’t have to slow to accommodate for of have me maneuver her due to terrain conditions. This gave us a HUGE running space to manage within. The only time I had to take her hand to guide more closely was at the turnarounds and at the finish.
• People have asked if it was hard to run tethered – the course made it about as easy to manage as it could be, so we could focus just on running most of the time. I think with a different course it would have been more challenging to run as fast.
Ivonne’s PR (personal record) for a sprint distance race!
Ivonne’s PR on the sprint distance bike split!
Run split? I don’t know if this was a PR for Ivonne’s sprint distance run split – but Ivonne helped me beat my stand alone 5K PR by over a minute!
What was the hardest part of the guiding experience? For me, the 3 days before the race I was stuck in a mindset that I couldn’t run that fast, doubting myself, with an endless stomach knotting feeling that I was going to let her down, let the BTC down and she’d remember her trip to Buffalo as the worst race ever. Guiding Ivonne helped me get beyond that mindset. I was willing to push myself to run faster for Ivonne than I was willing to try just for myself.
What was the most important part? Course familiarity and communication – thinking about and talking about everything we could think of in advance, and for me during the event, constantly thinking about and trying to do what Ivonne needed from me to have a good race.
What was the best part? Ivonne! Sharing this experience with her and John (and Louie!). Feeling her passion and her faith that I would guide well was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life. As I’m writing this, my eyes are starting to well up for about the 10th time since we crossed the finish line.
What’s next for Ivonne? She is off to New Zealand next month to compete in the World Paratriathlon Championships and I know she will kick some butt!
Go Ivonne, and come back to Buffalo!
A huge thank you to Marit’s family for encouraging Marit to try guiding! A special thanks to Marit for her willingness to try something new like guiding, and to run her best. Plus, I can’t thank her enough for coming out in the pouring rain the day before to meet me and to drive the course with John and me the day before. Marit, you are a fenominal athlete, have incredibly strong and confident bike handling skills, and have great energy and meticulous attention to details! To my husband John, your support and encouragement are always reliable, and grounding. Finally, to all of you who have trained with me on the track, in the water, along Kelly Drive and West River Drive, you keep me motivated to train harder and smarter! All of this is what makes racing possible and successful!
Thanks for reading!