Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Columbia Triathlon: A History

Love/Hate: this sums up my feelings toward the Columbia Triathlon.

Indulge me as I provide a lengthy history of me and the sport. I was in 8th grade when I first learned of triathlon. I had heard of an event called Ironman that was a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. Since these distances were inconceivable to me at that age, I thought it was a piece of cake. The following year I began running cross country at my high school, and I was absolutely awful. I could barely run a few miles. At this point I also did not have, nor did I ride, a bike, and I knew how to swim, but was not a swimmer. As I entered my senior year, and decided to attend the University of Maryland, I discovered they had a Multisport (aka Triathlon) Club team. I got in touch with a guy by the name of Peter Hibbs, and let him know that I was interested in the club. I told him that I was going out for the cross country team, but if it didn't work out, that I would be joining them for workouts.

I wound up making the team, and while it was great, I felt like I needed to do my own thing. I started to swim for ancillary workouts, and met most of the folks in the club. There were some real characters. Dzul, who was super smart, his wife Courtney, who was super hot and swam on the varsity team or something; Peter Hibbs, a laid back California grad student who introduced triathlon to UM, his wife Malin, a gorgeous Swede with enormous talent; Lisa, an accounting major; Larry "The Slug" Rutledge, a seemingly random old guy amidst younger folk; Tri-guy Tommy, an anally talented athlete. There were a few others, but this was the crew. When I later decided to end my affiliation with varsity sports in 2001, it was an easy adjustment to begin my triathlon training.

First of all, I was coming off of 80+ mile weeks, so dropping to 50-60 felt awesome and I was one of the fastest runners at any given triathlon. Second, I was swimming enough to get by, and started doing the morning workouts with the group. Third, I was...wait, I didn't have a bike! I wound up spending $1500 on a Trek 2200 - an aluminum bike with Shimano 105 components. It was yellow and it was awesome. I got it in March, just enough time to start riding before the 2001 Columbia Triathlon. I rode a few times a week with Tom Stott, and we must have looked like clowns. Riding our hardest every day for up to 30 mile rides, I felt I could average 20mph at Columbia, run under 40 minutes and swim maybe 25 minutes.

May 20, 2001: My first triathlon. Columbia was a beast. Still is. Always will be. It's always the third week of May, which might lead you to believe it would be warm, but it never is. Some freak cold front and/or storm blows through that weekend and shatters competitors' hopes and dreams of a good race. I borrowed Larry's wetsuit, a sleeveless named "Old Blue" and hopped in the water for my 6:45 a.m. start (they started the 15-19 year olds first back then). I had never swam in open water before, so as soon as I went horizontal and put my face in the water, I freaked out. I considered swimming out of the lake, I was so scared. I eventually started swimming breast stroke, then freestyle (head out of water) and finally sucked it up and started really swimming. I made a good comeback, and got out of the water in 24:20. Onto the bike, and I started pedaling my heart out. I did manage 20mph (1:14:49) and then got onto the run, where my run legs were strong and I ran a 39 something, finishing in 2:23:40. Of all the people competing in their first every triathlon, I was the 2nd best that day (156th overall). More importantly, all of my friends dragged themselves out of bed very, very early on a Sunday morning during finals week to come watch.

I did a few more races in 2001, small ones, mostly, before heading to Australia in the summer. While I was there I intended on becoming amazing. That didn't happen. I did get better, but I was hurt for a large part of the time I was there. I did do the Noosa Triathlon in November, which was totally amazing. I also met Chris McCormack there, and Stuart O'Grady, two of my favorite athletes.

2002 was supposed to be a big year. I was determined to crush every race I did, including Columbia.

May 19, 2002: Columbia again rears its ugly face. I went into the race supremely confident in my improvements. I now had a new wetsuit (Orca Predator) that I got in New Zealand, and I wound up swimming 23:05. On the bike, I was over 21mph at 1:11 something, and I blazed the run in 38:33 I think. Overall time was something like 2:16high or 2:17low. 30th place. Again, all my friends were there to watch. I made it my mission to train to win this race one day, and 2003 was all about top 5.

May 18, 2003: I was in the best shape of my life. Just a few weeks prior, I finished in a 10k PR of 34:08 at Pike's Peek, and a week after that finished 7th at a sprint in Salisbury. The weather that entire spring had been very wet, and sure enough when I woke up at 4 am on Sunday, after taking 3 finals the day before, it was 40 degrees and pouring. I was again entered in the open division, which is a category designed for athletes wishing to compete head to head against other top athletes rather than in their respective age group. The other benefit is that you start first, out of the way of everyone else. I've never not race first at Columbia; I have seen the massive packs on the bike that make it annoying to pass. Back to the race. Water temp was 61, so it was much warmer than the air, but still very cold. Open division was pretty small this year, so when I came out of the water in a PR 22:13, there weren't many people around. I was just wearing my neon green speedo and I was freezing. I couldn't go any faster on the bike, and wound up riding a disappointing 1:12 something, before getting onto the run and jogging with one of the women's competitors. I ran 44 minutes, my slowest ever 10k. It was the worst conditions I'd ever raced in, and I finished in a miserable 2:21.

After Columbia, my resolve was even stronger to race well and earn my pro card. I needed (at the time) three top 10 finishes. Piece of cake, I thought. Well I didn't race again in June or July, at least not that I can remember, and then on August 1, 2003, I broke my ankle and tore all the ligaments in my foot. It was a huge blow, to say the least. When I could finally walk normal again, I hated to run because of how much it hurt, and I wasn't in any kind of shape to race. I tried to get back into it, finally racing again in November of 2004. I did the Manasquan Turkey Trot (5 miles) and ran 30:03, which I was actually pretty pleased with. I then got back out of shape, and furiously scrambled to get back into it in 2005. I did two 5 milers within weeks of each other; the first in 31:40 or something, the next in 30:30. Then I moved to Baltimore.

Coming to Baltimore was the life-change I needed, at the time I needed it. I began running with the Federal Hill Runners on Monday nights, as well as my friends from college who also lived here. I was getting in pretty good shape. I started riding on Thursdays at Race Pace in Owings Mills, and despite totally blowing up on the first ride I did with them, I scrapped into amazing shape on the bike. In September I went to the Lancaster Triathlon, a favorite event of mine, and did the bike and run legs of the relay with Lisa as my swimmer. I killed it on both. I was finally back. I signed up shortly after for Columbia 2006 and made that my goal.

May 21, 2006: It was a weird feeling, to be back. I've trained here so many times, and even though I've only done the race three times, it felt like home. I thought I was in decent shape, so again I entered the Open division. Pro Matt Reed, along with some other fairly big names, were in attendance. I had not been swimming at all but my riding and running were good. I came out of the water in a disgusting 26:3o or something. I rode somewhere around 1:11. I ran 40:11. Total time was about 2:23, I think barely faster than the first year I did it. And a few friends were there again to witness my misery. In fairness, the weather was not great, as expected.

I used the rest of that year to really kickstart my fitness. We began Tuesday Night Track and I was getting faster again. I was rocking and rolling with the Thursday Night Ride, and I had met the winner of the 2001 Columbia Triathlon, OJ Keller, and started training with him. For me, this was pretty big, because OJ was the guy back a few years. Won everything he did, one of the most fierce competitors I know. I did about 20 races that year, including the inaugural NJ State Tri (where I did pretty well) and Lancaster, where, despite a terrible swim, I finished 7th overall. I finished the season with a small sprint in NJ and took 5th or something there.

May 20, 2007: Back again, fifth time's the charm. Another cold and cloudy day with some rain. Not psyched at all. I was swimming more this year, and it showed as I at least reclaimed some time in the water (25:04). I rode marginally better (still riding my road bike) with a 1:10:04. I ran a 38:57, and was pretty pleased with that. I got back within PR territory, going 1:17:21. The race was becoming more and more competitive.

Last year I did about 18 real races, including 7 triathlons. My best finish was 5th at Endless Summer, but my best race was probably the NJ Tri. I suffered a significant injury in August (a bad month for me) and that took me a while to work through. I committed for 2008 to race more early in the season and head into Columbia with more racing under me, but my real goal was for Eagleman, a half Ironman, and to try and qualify for Hawaii. I want to do 26 races this year, one for every year of my age, and 8 triathlons (8 in 08). I also need to race a marathon in under 2:40 so I can beat OJ's debut time.

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