First things first: The Lake Logan Half bike is absolutely awesome. It’s an open course with occasionally weird traffic situations, but the ride is stunning, challenging, and (as much as a hilly 56 miles can be fun) a blast.
The setting for this race is right out of a Kerouac novel. Nestled in the mountains about 20 minutes southwest of Asheville you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier stage to swim, bike and run. I raced as an Ironman Wisconsin prep, and it is absolutely perfect for that purpose. Wetsuit swim in a lake with moderate congestion, 3400 feet of elevation gain and a couple gnarly hills on the bike, and a sneaky tough run that is 50% uphill with a minor, yet challenging grade.
That said, I’ve come to the conclusion that races like this should only be an option for me if I find a group of people willing to spend a few days near the race sight in a cabin or something. We had to stay 25 minutes away and it made for a super early (4 am) morning, a dark transition load, and sketchy dining.
True story: Pre-race meal, Corey, Rebekah and I went to restaurant next to the hotel called Sagebrush. I said, “Three for dinner,” and a couple kids who clearly didn’t want to be there told me “it would be a 30-minute wait because their power had been out for a while.”
I glanced over their shoulders and Rebekah was on a covert stroll around the shady 4’x4’ salad bar and the look on her face was doubtful at best.
Just then, Corey said, “Hey, Mike, check this out.” I walked back into the entryway where he pointed at the “72 Health Score Rating.” My first thought was “power out, mushy salad, and spoiled meat.”
We both started laughing and a guy in a navy blue polo shirt coming out of the restaurant said, “What’s so funny?” Corey said, “Oh, we’re just looking at the health score.” The guy kinda smiled with a hint of pride and said, “Ah, that’s somethin, idn’t it?”
We sat down for maybe a minute and decided to drive closer to Asheville for dinner. As we walked out of the restaurant we noticed the guy in the polo shirt smoking with a couple other people in polo shirts. They were employees and I’m pretty sure he was the cook.
The Lake Logan Swim is A-plus. It’s a wave start with ample warm-up space at a little beach next to the start pier. It’s just a gorgeous view of the lush green mountains that frame calm water and orange buoys which create a somewhat daunting 1,931 meter swim (which Katie Kedecky could probably do in 19 minutes).
My wetsuit dangled from my waist and when I pulled it up, I ripped a 6 inch hole in the side near my hip. I mean, it was a gash that delivered an internal freakout. I’m far from a physicist, but my scientific mind started imagining water, fish, and snakes leaking into my wetsuit.
I tested the hole with a quick practice swim and it seemed fine, but standing on the shore I could feel water sagging in the butt and leaking down my legs. I was in a precarious situation, but not quite as bad as the guy who showed up to the swim with his wetsuit inside-out. Luckily someone told him.
Your wave waits in waist deep water with toes tangling with the mud and sticks below. It’s a little creepy and I tried not to think about what else could be down there . . . or my wetsuit filling like a water balloon. I found a relatively stable perch on top of some limbs and took a few deep breaths before the wave of 60 swimmers lurched forward.
We were to keep the buoys on our right and I started in the front on the far left of the wave. I’ve been swimming well lately, but my races are always a crapshoot. More than anything I’d rather have a relatively clear and relaxed start. Positioning wide did just that.
After 300 yards I was confident the wetsuit wouldn’t be a problem and found a nice stroke. I’ve gotten better at relaxing and realizing it normally takes me about 1,000 yards to really feel good in a swim. By the time I hit the first turn buoy I was comfortable and looking forward to cross the lake and turn back toward home.
I felt so good at this point I made a conscious effort to start looking at the scenery. As I breathed to my right I took in the unbelievable picture from far end of the lake and wished I had a GoPro on my head because the water forefront with the mountains in the background blew my mind. (This gives some idea of the view).
Before the race, they told us (no less than 100 times) that “As you go under the bridge, the water temperature will drop dramatically.” The lake itself was around 76 degrees… and the water at the bridge was 64 or something, which is how they average-out a wetsuit legal number.
I could feel the cool water begin to surround my face, and when I got to the bridge it was an ice bath immersion.
Once you get past the bridge, the water also gets very shallow and my hands started hitting the round rocks on the stream bottom. You could probably walk the last 50 yards if you didn’t mind breaking an ankle, instead I started “pulling” under my chest instead of to the side.
When I got to the dock, I knew it was my best swim to date. I felt great and was excited to get to the bike. I reached for a lift from the water and as I jumped, my calf felt like it exploded. I let out a loud, “Fuck!” right in the middle of wide-eyed Episcopalian spectators (sorry, Mom) and still feel bad, but the pain was tremendous.
Here you can see me on the pier in upward dog with a strapping young gentleman punching my cramp and assuring me a lot of other swimmers had felt the healing power of his fingers that day.
Then me with a stiff leg hobble.
The pain was one thing, but selfishly I was upset because I couldn’t move, and my fastest swim time was eroding as I flopped like an wounded seal a mere 50 feet from the timing mat. I couldn’t stand and the guy furiously rubbed my calf. Finally, I hobbled off the pier and down the grass toward my bike.
Official swim time was 35 minutes, but I’m certain it was closer to the high 33’s. Either way, it was a great confidence boost on my way to the beastly mass start at Ironman Wisconsin.
I saw exactly 7 spectators, two illegible signs, and two guys putting up a 6 foot cyclone fence around their lot while on this bike ride. Aside from that, the Lake Logan bike course is phenomenal.
Tons of fast descents, tough climbs and a lot of turns, all of which I love.
You wind through mountains, over creek beds on rustic bridges, and through small towns on nice roads. Some of the intersections are a little dicey, but in general, it was a highly enjoyable two hours and fifty minutes of my life.
I had mixed emotions about how to handle this ride. Part of me wanted to take it easy . . . while another wanted to crush it. I sided for taking it “moderately easy” because I “thought” I drove the last 10 miles the day before and what I “thought” was the end of the course scared the crap out of me.
The reality, however, was that the course broke down like this:
A pretty fast first 30 miles, then some moderate to big climbing till mile 42 or so when you hit a monster mile-long rise. Then, in my mind I’m thinking it will be hilly the rest of the way, but instead it was about 10 miles of super smooth and flat terrain until the very last mile when they decided to insert the second toughest climb of the day before you scream back into transition.
If I had known the real course I would have rode it differently and probably been able to cut 8 minutes. I most certainly would have gone out harder and taken advantage of that early speed instead of trying to save my legs for the non-existent last 10 miles of hell.
Side note: I find the contrast of super-expensive bikes and skin tight lycra very intriguing when compared to the culture of the neighborhoods we ride through in these races. They’re often unincorporated towns that likely have no appreciation (or angst) for triathlon. I have to laugh when some of these guys in massive pick-ups fly by with Skynyrd cranked and oversized tires making a mockery of my race wheels.
I spent a lot of time on the bike stretching my cramped calf in preparation for the run. I didn’t anticipate a problem and running out the gravel road of transition, it felt pretty good.
The plan was to average 8:30-9 the first half and pick it up a little on the second half. Unfortunately the nature of the run course didn’t really lend itself to that kind of strategy.
The first 3.2 miles were uphill. I knew this going in, but it was a gradual climb I didn’t anticipate a problem. The climb wasn’t too bad, but it got old pretty quick and the second loop started to remind me of Barton Avenue at Ironman Chattanooga.
There’s actually a lot of shade on the run course, I’d guess about 50% is under trees, but that second loop got really hot. The aid stations had super cold towels, but weren’t handing out ice.
I didn’t wear a Garmin and was restarting my watch every mile. The fist mile was just under 9:00, so I picked it up a little and got mile 2 down to 8:40, then mile 3 came in at 9:25 even though I thought I was on the same pace. Mile 4 was mostly downhill and my watch said 9:45. Frankly, that kind of pissed me off and I thought they must have the markers off, so I dug deep and ran hard to the next marker where I read 7:47.
Now, I’m completely screwed up with no plan other than getting the hell off this run course. Mile 5 went back up to 9:05, then 9:15 and blah, blah… I kind of stopped paying attention but knew it wasn’t going to be a great run. My half marathon time was 1:57, about 7 minutes slower than I’d hoped.
The bottom line is, I “ran into” the same problem I had at Chattanooga last year. My hamstrings felt weak. Not really sore, just weak. I’m sure 3-mile climb right out of transition didn’t help, but I just don’t know what’s going on here . . . other than, obviously, my hamstrings are weak.
I understand this is a common problem with triathletes because our quads become the dominant muscle group and create an imbalance. It’s too late to make any huge gains before Ironman Wisconsin, but I’m gonna focus on body-weight-hamstring stuff and overall muscle balance in my legs until race day.
One note of interest to the first time racer (and watcher) at Lake Logan. When you come around for the second run loop, the turnaround is built in the cruelest of triathlon lore. You run back down the gravel transition road, then turn into a grass field, then run right at the finish line before turning left and running across more grass on your way out the gravel road, and, of course, uphill for the next 3.2 miles.
The turnaround is fantastically sadistic in a great kind of way (which is ironic considering it’s on religious property) and about the most redeeming factor for those watching because it’s not the most spectator friendly race . . . unless you bring a camper or a rent an onsite cabin, which I understand sell out the day after the race.
The run course was basically contained on the left lane of a two lane road that was open to traffic. On the way out, they tell you to stay to the left, which means (or should mean) that on the way back you stay closer to the center line. Well, I can’t tell you how many ass-wipes ran right at me as I was climbing that hill. To me, every one of them seemed like they were hopped up on EPO or something. Snarling with a loud, messy breath, and eyes spun back in their heads. They barreled down with no intention of moving, so, even though I was doing harder work and they were cruising with natural momentum, I would slide out to my right and let them take the inside before saying something like, “Nice lane, Dick.” But, when I was on my downhill portion, I noticed people all over the place. It was kind of a cluster and I just played the nice guy shuttling back and forth to avoid a head on collision.
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Below, Corey and I celebrate our glorious mid-pack finishes. He turned in a 5:22, I clocked a 5:33. This leaves us even in our head-to-head battles and he keeps baiting me for the money match at Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, which I am currently debating while eating Pop Tarts in an ice bath.