New Jersey Devilman Half-Lite

The 2012 New Jersey Devilman Half-Lite is one of those races that you sign up for that really doesn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time. When I signed up, I had already committed to my first Half Iron Man in June and was going to take a whack at a Boston Qualifier at the Shamrock marathon in March. Heck, I’d done the Devilman Sprint as my first triathlon last year and this was just the same course twice around. How hard could it be?

Fast forward to Thursday May 3rd which was two days before the race. Somewhere on the Piranha Sports website or facebook page they mentioned that the race was 50 miles. What!? Hmmm . . let me get out my grade school math book. 8/10ths of a mile swim, plus 40.3 on the bike, plus 8.8 running. Damn. This is a long race! Up until this point, I had been almost solely focused on the swim. You see my grand plan for a long swim last year fell apart when the 1 mile swim at the Atlantic City triathlon was cancelled due to surf conditions. Not wanting the 1.2 mile swim at Eagleman in June to be my first REALLY long swim I figured I’d better do something longish in the Spring to get some confidence. Now bear in mind Devilman 2011 was a panic-fest in the water for me. I spent 3/4s of the swim pumping along on my back like a crippled jellyfish afraid to stick my face in the cold dark water. Still, I knew I had the fitness to finish the distance. It wouldn’t be fast, but I didn’t plan to be fast. (Good thing.)

Janice & I packed the car and arrived at Dad’s in Salem, NJ on Friday before the race. Dad lives only 30 minute or so drive away from Cedarville where Devilman takes place. We stepped out of the car and were instantly swarmed by gnats. Hmmmm. Back in the car and off to Wal-Mart to buy a bottle of Bull Frog combination insect repellent & sunscreen. That turned out to be the best $9.00 I would spend the entire weekend. After catching up with Dad, taking care of a few things for him and having a dinner of roast beef & potatoes Janice and I turned in early in preparation for an early start on Saturday.

Saturday started warm and muggy. Just the way Friday ended. We drove to Cedarville arriving by 5:35 and noting immediately the amount of cars was far greater then last year. The little race was growing quickly. We got out of the car and, predictably, the swarm descended. Never fear. Bullfrog is here. A few moments of spraying later and we were bug free unlike most others. It was a little funny to watch new arrivals. It was always the same. They would exit the car and begin going about the business of unloading tri stuff and then suddenly stop, look around and begin flailing hopelessly at the air. The gnats were thick and got everywhere biting as they went. I could have sold Bullfrog for $10.00 a spray. Maybe even $20.00. The scene didn’t change at registration. It was a long line of people flailing perpetually at the air or simply whimpering and hiding under whatever clothing they could cover up with.

After I got through registration I heard a familiar voice and turned around to see Joe Lombardi. A good friend and superior runner & triathlete. (I wanna be Joe when I grow up.) He headed off to register and I headed for body marking and transition. I wouldn’t bump in to Joe again until the swim start.

I’m getting pretty good at setting my transition area up and was done in short order. I then wandered around a bit finally bumping in to Susanne Vanzijl another supremely awesome triathlete. (I wanna be her when I grow up too ’cause then I’ll be fast and a whole lot better looking.) She was running a bit and I wasn’t sure if she was warming up or the gnats had driven her batty since she was wearing tri shorts & sports bra and had plenty of exposed skin for them to dine on. I called after her and produced the Bullfrog. Seconds later she too was bug free and I didn’t charge her $10.00.

Enough about gnats . . on to racing. Around 7:30ish we donned wetsuits and headed to transition. From a plane it probably looked like some sort of freshwater seal migration. 500 neoprene clad athletes migrating to the water. The sprint went off first led by the younger men, younger women, and then the “more experienced” folks. Sean Vanzijl (Susanne’s hubby) and I watched in admiration as the faster swimmers erupted from the water. There were some veritable torpedos out there. Soon, the call came for those with purple swim caps to get ready. That was us. The old guys.

Until this point, I’d kept the butterflies at bay. Last year’s swim, my first open water swim and first race, had been a debacle. I didn’t have a wetsuit and as soon as I stuck my face in that cold, tea colored water I’d panicked and took nearly the entire loop to recover and start swimming normally, leaving the swim behind with relief. Since then, I’d done an Open Water Swim clinic, another triathlon, and a couple on-my-own swims. But that was all last year. My plan was to get in the water as quick as I could an acclimate. However, the plan was shot almost immediately. First, the start was much closer to shore this year. Last year we swam 30 yards or so offshore to get to the start. Second, when the starter called out 30 seconds to start, I was still mired on the ramp not even close to the water. I was seriously ready to start pushing and shoving. I’m not sure what was taking so long but pictured guys dipping their toes in to see if the water was cold.

No sooner were we in the water when the command to GO was given. I stuck my face in the water . . that cold MUDDY water from all the recent rain and tried to swim. I was in a sea of arms & legs that I couldn’t see due to the murky water. I got kicked and swatted by invisible limbs. I stopped, started, stopped and finally let things clear out a bit. I was not interested in being first in my age group to leave the water. My focus today was to get through the swim. I had to do it to know I could make it through the swim at Eagleman. If I failed here, I knew Eagleman would be a DNS. And it was not going well. Within a few yards of the start I was overwhelmed. “Why am I doing this? I can’t do this? Look how far it is and I’ve got to do it twice. There’s no way”. Keep swimming . . back stroke, take a few freestyle strokes. Keep moving forward. “Oh my God, why didn’t I just do the sprint”? It went on like this around the first buoy and on toward the second buoy. I had given up and decided that when I got back to the starting point I would just get out. I wondered if someone would be there to take my chip. It was going to be disappointing to meet my friends as they finished the sprint and explain that I quit. Perhaps I should just leave.

“Okay Pete . . so you are going to quit. At least try to swim like you’ve practiced”. A few normal strokes. “Come on now, relax and swim like you are in the pool. Don’t try to be Michael Phelps. Breathe”. My jangled nerves calmed down and my face got used to the cold water. I stopped holding my breath underwater and breathed normally. I began to develop a rhythm and started listening to the sound of my breath on each stroke. I began to focus on the next buoy. Suddenly I was almost back to the start. Decision time. It would be so easy to turn a bit to the right, climb out, hand in my chip and be out of the miserable, muddy, cold water. I could climb out. Instead I turned left and headed around the start buoy and lap 2.

Comfortably now. Stroke breathe. Stroke breathe. Stroke breathe. Stroke sight breath. “Just aim for the biggest green tree to the right of the gap. Just make for the next buoy”. Quickly, I was there and around buoy 1. Only 3 to go. For every yellow turn buoy there was an intermediate orange buoy. “Just get to the orange buoy”. Sighting for buoy 2 was a snap. There was a giant church steeple and a big red firetruck. Take your pick. Stoke, breathe. My heart stopped pounding a mile a minute. My progress was fast and efficient. The orange buoy glided by and the turn buoy approached quickly. On to buoy 3.

I’m not sure when it happened, but I was suddenly aware that I was really enjoying this. One lap ago I was wishing I had done the sprint. Now I was overjoyed to be swimming efficiently in this dark, cold, muddy water. I can do this. I AM doing this.

I rounded buoy 3 and made for the mid-stretch orange buoy all the while looking for the picnic pavilion that marked the exit. I was stroking harder now. Kicking more. “Okay Pete. Take it easy. You wasted a lot of energy on that first, slow lap, you aren’t going to make it up here and you still have to bike & run”. But I knew I would be triumphant in the swim. I KNEW in moments I would climb out on the dock and head for transition, unzipping my wetsuit like a pro as I ran. I knew I’d see the finish today and not quit all because I got through that swim.

With 100 yards to go I couldn’t help it. I pulled harder and rocketed toward the ramp. I probably had a grin a mile wide on my face as I exited the water. Anyone watching would probably have started looking around for the finish line as I punched the air in triumph. The bike and run would be easy. I had survived the swim and more importantly swam a great second lap after getting my head under control. The day was one-third over and already a success. Swim time: 30:00:10. I’d love to know what my two lap times were.

I dashed off toward transition, counting rows as I entered. I now understand why people put up balloons and flags in transition. But I got the right row, finished stripping off the wetsuit, stuffed a couple gels in my pocket, donned glasses, helmet, and bike shoes, grabbed the bike and ran. I haven’t mastered having the shoes pre-clipped yet but almost ran into someone coming back to get a fallen shoe. I also use SPD clips and my bike shoes are really easy to run in. I hit the mount area, clipped in and took off. I rounded the bend onto Main street in Cedarville and heard Janice cheer me on as I went by. T1: 2:09

Bicycle! Bicycle! I want to ride my Bicycle

The bike at Devilman is fairly easy. You can break it up into four 10 mile segments. 10 out, 10 back, turn around and do it again. The wind picked up pretty hard on the second loop and cut speed a bit both directions but it wasn’t bad and it was a fairly pleasant ride. I grew up in this area (just North of here actually) and have fond memories of the New Jersey bay shore. If I had money with me, I may have stopped to buy a quart of local strawberries and sat on the roadside and eaten them. As it was, I settled for gels every 45 minutes or so.

I need to digress for a moment to pick a bone with my fellow triathletes, runners, & cyclists. I know we are all trying to be fast out there, but is it really necessary to drop empty gel packets on the ground? USAT does have a littering rule and even that shouldn’t be necessary. Small towns like Cedarville welcome us with open arms, accommodate our races, and put up with driving delays while we take precedence. I think the least we can do is NOT LITTER. Stuff the empty gel pack in your pocket please. I saw dozens of them up and down the roads along the course. I’m sorry but NOT COOL.

“That was easy. What’s next?”

Now . . back to our regularly scheduled blog. The bike ride went by pretty quick. On the first lap I had some discomfort in my left glute and hamstring and was forced to stretch and change position a bit but it seemed to calm down as I went on. I think I was a bit tense from the swim. The only real moment of lunacy on the bike came at around mile 27 when I rather inexplicably began to sing Johnny Cash tunes. I’m not sure how pedaling a bike gets one mentally to “Fulsom Prison Blues” but that is where I was.  Regardless, after a couple hours, 3 gel packs, and a chorus of “Five Feet High and Rising”,  I was headed back toward mount/dismount and T3. And no, I haven’t mastered the flying dismount yet either, at least not intentionally. I go with the COPS dismount. That is where you get off the bike and start running, except I take the bike along with me. Bike time: 2:16:35.

There were two humorous moments in T2. The first was when I thought someone had stolen my running shoes. I slipped my bike shoes off all the while looking for my running shoes. Hmmm. “They aren’t here. That’s my bike, and my towel, and that’s where I left my shoes”. But they weren’t there. Glancing around I saw them on the other side of my bike off my towel yet neatly stacked next to each like they should be. Interesting. I’d love to know the story behind that. Anyway, I grabbed them and slipped them on. (Love my Zoot shoes & iBungees.) I then did what all the transition videos tell you you should do by attempting to put my race belt on while moving. This doesn’t work so well when a) you are attempting to carry a water bottle with you b) you are so distracted putting the belt on you attempt to run out through “Bike In”.

It’s hard to read but the sign that is the other way behind me says “Run Out”

Fortunately, ol’ Wrong Way Petey found his satellites and turned around the right way, if not the long way around the end of the racks instead of just running down an aisle. Regardless I was off on my strong suit: the run.  T2: 1:39.

Heading out on the 8.8 Mile Run
Running sure is a lot tricker after a difficult swim and 40 miles on the bike. For the first two miles I struggled to slow my pace to something reasonable and with mild to severe back spasms. I was forced to stop and stretch several times. I walked for a few yards but my back didn’t feel any better walking so I figured I may as well run. After stretching for the third time, and grabbing some gatorade at the second aid station, my back eased up and I was able to run normally. Overall the 8.8 miles was a bit slower then I expected but the goal was to finish. As the run progressed I began passing runners despite not exactly setting a torrid pace. I think I was between 8-8:30 which for my purposes was fine. Maybe someday I’ll worry about being fast. For now, finishing running was the goal. My run got stronger as I went and I began to visualize and look forward to the finish. I hit the last aid station (where they were out of gatorade . . not good considering there were still well over 100 runners behind me), looped into town, on to Main street and then toward the school. At that point, I could hear the finish. I couldn’t wait to finish . . mostly because I was FAMISHED!

I took the last right turn by the school, passed the woman in front of me who seemed to slow a bit (clearly she wasn’t as hungry as me for the finish, and I mean that in the most literal sense of “hungry”) and sped across the line in 4:08:48 total time.
It is worth mentioning that I’m quite sure I had one accomplishment no other athlete on the course today had. I was able to identify over 20 bird species by call during the bike & run including 9 species of warbler. I think USAT should take this under consideration during rankings.

Also while many athletes went home yesterday with medals, age group awards, and team points, I scored a couple quarts of those fantastic Jersey strawberries on the way home. Pure deliciousness.  If you do this race be sure to stop and get both local strawberries & asparagus. You’ll find none better anywhere.

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