I realize that I waited a week and a half to do this, but better late than never I suppose. I was too frustrated afterwards to say anything about it. This race, now in its third edition, arrived in Mercer County Park in 2006 and quickly became a favorite race. Very flat, very fast, a PR course (not to mention the always short bike course). 2006 was my first year back to triathlons after the long hiatus, and after Columbia it was just my 2nd race that year. I swam like garbage on their unreasonably long swim course, and then rode decent, and had the run I would have expected for myself at that time. The effort produced a 24th place in a time of 2:08:xx.
2007 I knew I was much better prepared, and I was, rocking to a much better swim on their proper-length swim course. I went 25min, which was still slow compared to the olden days, but it was the same time I swam at Columbia that year and without a wetsuit, so I was pleased. I did well on the bike again, being one of the few riding a standard road bike, and then was pretty pleased with my run. My time of 2:05:58 yielded 15th place.
I came into this year sporting a near 9 minute improvement from Columbia year-over-year, so I had expectations of pulling at least 8 minutes from 2007 NJ. I wagered my 22:23 at Columbia would at worst have me out of the water in 23 and change, and then I've been raping bike courses lately so I figured I could have one of the fastest splits on the day. With a 38:09 run last year and a similar time at Columbia this year (on the harder course) I figured sub37 would be reasonable. All in all I was looking for a top 5 finish.
I spent a large part of Saturday watching the Tour, then finally made my way up to NJ, which, thanks to Delaware traffic, took longer than it should have. I called my buddy Vic up to meet for a run in Middletown, so we did that, got some pizza and before I knew it, it was 10pm. I went to sleep probably right before midnight, and woke up around 5.
I woke up to thunder. Loud, disturbing thunder, and thought oh man not again. It was warm, so if it rained I would have sucked it up, but I didn't want it to rain. Fortunately it was all good an hour away in Mercer County. I arrived and due to the Sprint waves going off first, we had to be out of transition pretty early. I prepared my stuff, and went for a warmup around some awesome trails they have out there. I took a dump, it was messy and I was not happy about that.
Made my way down to the water where the bathtub like 80 degrees greeted me happily. I started in the first wave of Olympic folks, and we were off. I felt like I was swimming pretty well and kept one guy to my left for the first half. I still felt like I was going okay, but as we turned into the sun, my goggles fogged up and I was just blindly swimming along, trying to keep this guy in my sight. Now, I can't say for sure what happened, but I could tell I was swimming for a while and since I couldn't see, I was having trouble spotting the buoys. I don't wear a watch, so I didn't know my time out of the water but results indicated that I swam 27:36! No way on earth did I honestly swim that slow. In perspective, Eric Benjamin has never swam faster than I have, I put a few minutes into him at Columbia, and he beat me by 2 minutes on this day. So I was aggravated, not sure what happened and my only conjecture was that I went off course, because I can't fathom swimming 2:30 slower than last year when I am swimming as well as I ever have.
So that pissed me off. I head through the long transition, cursing the parking lot for ripping up my feet and heading out on my bike. This was race #2 with having my shoes clipped in and I handled myself a little better, but still lost 15sec to a guy that I came out of transition with. Once I was settled, I felt amazing - I truly feel at home on this bike/any bike these days. I started crushing the course, but right before we turned into the college campus I got stung by a wasp. In the groin. It was one of the most painful things I've ever experienced. I started freaking out, reaching into my shorts to get the stinger out. It hurt for a few minutes but I put it behind me and continued to smash. Back out on the open roads it was like I couldn't find a bigger gear to push, and I felt like I was effortlessly flying along. By the time I got back to the 2nd tour of the campus, I had caught a few dudes, and at this point there were too many people to pass so the four of us basically rode into the park again together. I separated a little from them just prior to T2, and tore in and out of there and onto the run. 56:07 for just over 23 miles, 24.8mph average and 6th fastest split of the day. I was pretty pleased.
I thought I felt pretty good, and wanted to see how many people were in front of me. There were quite a few. I was moving up well, but when I hit the first mile I saw 6:09. Man, that's way too slow. 2nd mile was even slower. Rather than freak out about time, I was concerned more with passing people. I continued to do that, and just let the run take its course. I started to not feel great around 5k, and could tell I was fading. The heat, which was by no means bad, was getting to me a little. I finally came on a half mile to go and was getting passed by someone (the first of the day to do that). He goes past, and then goes "shit" and slows down. Clearly he had blown his wad.
I catch back up to him, let him know that I wasn't in the age group division but rather the open, and we ran to pick up a guy sporting a DC Tri Club outfit. I just hate DC so much that I had to beat him. The three of us were full on now with 300m to go, and with 200m to go I had enough to sprint. I'm coming down the straight and hear the announcer calling it, and can see behind me the two coming back. I had nothing left. Lunge for the line, it looked like the DC guy got me but in official results it was me, 2:05:10; him, 2:05:11 and other dude 2:05:13. That's pretty sick. My run was a disappointing 38:37, but was still 10th best so I know a lot of people struggled on this day. I was disappointed with the overall result as well at 16th. Had I swam just a little bit quicker it would have made a world of difference. That's really what it came down to.
Eric had a really good overall race, winning the Clydesdale division, but my arch-nemesis Josh Wall got 7th, mostly on the heels of a good swim. I killed him on the bike but again we were just seconds apart on the run. I don't believe he actually lives in Beach Haven, because for 9 months of the year nobody does. That is what bothers me most.
It was also amazing to see the youth factor - so many young dudes in the top 20. Goes to show you that this distance really comes down to that, young guys that swim in college or were good swimmers can get in, get some time and then anyone can ride 23 flat miles reasonably fast and hold on for a 10k. I used to think this distance was my bread and butter, and even though I've struggled with the half distance this year, I think that's where I've got to start focusing more energy. Sucks. They're more expensive and a hell of a lot more painful.
My brother and sister came to watch, which was cool because my brother has never seen me race before. Afterwards we headed up the road a little to Lawrenceville and Varsity Pizza, home to the world's best buffalo chicken pizza, and killed some before I headed back to Maryland.
The race was weird this year, something about it just didn't feel right. I know it's a ways off, but I'm thinking that I've done about all I can do at this race and that maybe I won't do it next year. I say that now, but really my parents (when they're in town) love coming to it, it's pretty close to here and close to home, and it's a good race to do. I suppose if I don't have anything else to do next year I'll do it. I hear that Columbia 2009 is up to $140 and will probably close soon so I have to register for THAT now too.