Sunday, July 18, 2010

Carrollton Triathlon Championship Race Report

One of the things I like about Hal Higdon is that he isn't a stickler for following his training plans down to the letter. Today's triathlon - my first - served as a replacement for a 10-mile long run. Considering how long I was active, I think I satisfied the requirements.

I didn't sleep well, so I was more than ready to get out the door by 5:30 AM (Eastern). The transition area was open for business at 5:45, and I wasn't surprised to see a couple of dozen vehicles in the parking lot already. I'd scouted things out the evening before when I got into town, so I knew exactly where I wanted to be. I took my bike off the rack, pushed it down the small hill and claimed my spot. I picked up my race packet and began the process of setting up my area, getting my body marking taken care of (#195) and chatting with some of the other competitors. Only two hours to go until the start of the race.

Since I had so much time on my hands I went over everything once, twice, maybe three times. No matter how organized you are for this type of event I imagine there's always something you have to return to the car for. I actually had to go back for my running shoes and sunglasses. Once I was satisfied I had everything ready I mingled with other racers and learned about the course. I met a bunch of first-time triathletes, like myself, and listened to some of their concerns. One guy was worried about the swim, because it would be deep. Another was confident on her bike but fretted about the run, thinking the heat would be a factor. It turns out it wouldn't be.

About 45-minutes before the pre-race meeting I decided to take a short run to loosen up. I was curious if I running without socks was doable, so I pulled on my Adidas and hit the road. They fit just as snugly as they do with socks, so I decided to risk it in the race. It's only 3.4 miles, I thought. After the jog I had around 20 minutes left, so collected my cap and goggles and set off for the beach. Others were in the water warming up, so I followed suit and swam out to the first buoy and back. I returned right as the meeting began.

The start was organized into three waves. Males 15-34 first, males 35+ second, and all others third. Waves two and three would start in four-minute increments after the first. I'd wondered why I had been issued a blue cap, and now had my answer.

The race director had impeccable timing. The first wave went out right on time. All blue caps filed into the shallow water and waited our turn.

5...4... I lifted my head...3...2...1. The siren went off and I followed the rest of wave number two into the race.

I waded as far out as I could and then dove in. I expected there to be jostling and bumping, but experiencing it was something else. You know how in a road race you usually start out too fast? Well, this was way worse. See, in a road race you can slow down if you want. But in the water, if you're not smart enough to position yourself at the back or on the side, you can't. You're screwed. You have to do your best to keep up with flow of traffic so you're not impeding the people behind you. Miserable. After 100m I was gasping for every breath. To make things worse, the water was so brown and dark you couldn't see your own hands in front of you. I had to do the "prairie dog" constantly to make sure I wasn't going to run into the person in front of me or swim 90 degrees off course. I couldn't believe how out of control I felt.

I reached the first buoy and cut out wide to try and find some room to work with. I still managed to touch the foot of a swimmer in front of me, and when I popped my head up saw a man doing the back stroke. I briefly considered following his example, dismissed the idea and hunkered down into the crawl again. I forced myself to slow down a little and tried to control my breathing. By the time I hit the second buoy I'd finally found my stroke. As I exited the water a volunteer called out my time - 10:17. Not bad I thought, considering I'd probably inadvertently added an extra 100m zig zagging.

I ran to the transition while ripping off my cap and goggles, surprised at how many were walking or just taking their time. When I got to my bike I turned on my Garmin, which was already mounted on the handle bars, threw on my shirt, sunglasses and helmet and pulled on my shoes. I was out pretty quickly, but I'm not sure exactly sure how long. No chip timing at this race.

I ran with my bike to the transition exit, hopped on and clipped in. I'd read a few days ago that a higher cadence was better for smaller athletes like me, so I focused on keeping up the RPMs. I was cranking along pretty well, but still got passed left and right. At the 2-mile mark I was passed by the first overall female. Yeah, she started the swim 4 minutes after me. I settled into a good pace and took every opportunity to drink my water, since I could feel a twinge in my right calf. At around the 6- or 7-mile mark I was passed by a guy who looked at me, smiled and said "rock and roll, dude!" Even though it was in good fun I made a mental note. Despite the hydrating I started to feel my calves cramping, followed shortly after by my quads. I was beginning to wonder how the hell I was going to run after I got off the bike. At the 9-mile mark I scarfed down a Gu pack I had taped to my bike, washed it down with the last of my water and beared down as hard as I could for the remaining few miles. I somehow managed to not get passed again on that last stretch. My time for this leg, according to the Garmin, was 41:55. Average speed 17.5 mph and cadence 85.

At the second transition I successfully dismounted without collapsing or wrecking and ran to my station. I propped my bike up on the rack, discarded my helmet and shoes, and donned my cap and running shoes. Like an idiot, I lost a few seconds trying to remove my Garmin from the bike. I also managed to cut a gash into my finger while doing so. Nevertheless, I hit the road and my happy place. I felt slow at the start, but was actually right where I wanted to be. I clocked a 7:26 first mile and then picked it up a little after the blood returned to my legs. I started picking off many of those that blew past me on the bike. That lifted my spirits a bit and helped take my mind of my quads, which were beginning to scream. I passed "rock and roll" and just smiled. Words weren't necessary.

At the 2-mile mark I passed a couple of guys, one of which looked over to the other and said "there goes a runner!" Damn, straight. "It's all I've got," I replied. I kept my focus forward on more targets to overtake and fought off the pain in my legs. I thought of more painful things to keep perspective and pushed through the last mile. While others slowed, I sped up and overtook them. I finally left two others behind the last 100m and crossed the finish line. 3.3 miles in 24:29. Not great by 5k standards, but this wasn't a 5k. I was most pleased that on the run not a single person passed me.

I hobbled to the post-race refreshments table, picked up some water and a banana, and tried to find a position that would keep my muscles from locking up. I ended up crouching halfway to the ground for a couple of minutes until it finally passed. A man I'd talked to before the race spotted me and asked how I did. I told him I had no idea. I really wasn't sure.

I stuck around for the awards ceremony to see how I might compare with others in my age division. First thru third in the 40-44 age group finished in 1:09, 1:10 and 1:11, respectively. I was also impressed to hear the overall winner blew away the 15-year-old course record by 3 minutes, with a time of 54 minutes and change.

Overall the race was tougher than I'd anticipated. Not surprising, since I really hadn't trained enough for it. I would have to spend a lot more time in the pool and on the bike to bring down my times. Still, it was fun and I'll probably do more triathlons in the future. In the meantime, I have a marathon to train for.

Final Stats:
- Finishing time: 1:19:09.1
- 71st overall out of 239 finishers
- 12th out of 20 in my age group, 40-44
- Overall average pace: 5:03/mile