The short story:
I finished 32nd overall (1569 starters) yesterday at Columbia, there were 12 pro dudes and 2 pro chicks in front of me, so 18th amateur. My time was 2:11:00 with splits of 22:56 in the water, a 1:08:24 bike + T1 and a 38:46 10k. In the open division I finished 9th out of 21. Interestingly enough, last year I was also 9th out of 21 in the division. Those are my lucky numbers for the week.
The longer, less interesting story:
I went to bed Saturday night and it was raining. At points, deluge was the more accurate term. My thoughts were with my beautiful bike. I envisioned it, hanging from the rack, alone and scared, until I realized it had 2000 friends in the same situation. The alarm went off at 4:00 on Sunday and I took a look outside. Wet, but not actively precipitating. It was super windy though, and the air temp had dropped from the day before. I pulled myself together, ate a couple of bowls of cereal and off I went into the dark.
I arrived just after 5am. The parking area was already crowded. I got numbered up, one of my favorite activities of race day. I dried off the bike and put my stuff down before chatting with a few people. I had intended on a 20 minute warmup as per usual, but all of a sudden it was later than I thought and I settled for a short mile-ish warmup. I didn't really care. I was just glad I didn't shard in my shorts. Oh wait...
And the answer is yes, I did. I made sure I visited the bathroom to clean up before I put on my tri outfit.
I put on the ultra comfortable Zoot Synergy wetsuit I'm rocking these days and waddled over to the start. Apparently the water temp was 71, which meant no wetsuits for the pros. I felt pretty bad for them, as the air temp was not warm and I figured there would be some cold pros. Fortunately for me that meant I could wear a wetsuit and in fact it's probably the warmest water temp at Columbia in the 7 years I've done it. Not sure how that worked, we haven't seen the sun in a while and it's rained a LOT lately. 6:45, pros go off. 5 minutes later, we in the Open division go. Despite there only being a few of us, a number of people were determined to swim into me.
I was swimming comfortably, and felt pretty good. It felt like we went farther this year, who knows for sure, but it felt long. When we turned and headed back west, I caught up to my friend Joe. He tried to get in my wake, but apparently couldn't keep my feet. I came out of the water and saw 22:40s, which was a little disappointing as I thought I could crack into the 21:xx range. After running up the grass I split 22:56, so about :33 slower than last year. The good news was that my rank relative to the field was 146, last year I was in the 170s. I got my wetsuit off reasonably fast and made my way up the grass with my bike.
Note: I've only attempted the "shoes already clipped in" entry a few times, but today I pulled it off without a hitch. I need to ask OJ how to station them with rubber bands so that they're not just dragging but I'll do that later.
On the bike now and the rain is really coming down. We make the turn onto 108 and within a few hundred feet I see a raccoon. It definitely had rabies. It was staggering around and it freaked me out - I could just see it jumping on me as I rode by. At the next intersection I yelled to the cops that there was a rabid raccoon, they must have thought I was crazy. I didn't feel as good as I did last year, my legs just didn't feel like they had it. The rain was pelting and it stung, and it was really windy out there. I felt like I was all over the road. I passed a few people, and then went back-and-forth with a couple. I would pass on the uphills, they would pass on the downhills. To me, passing on downhills is worthless if you're not going to hammer the ups. You can lose more time going slow up then you can gain going fast down.
I made it through the first stretch and was in good position, couldn't really see anybody ahead for a little while. At this point I still haven't taken so much as a sip from my water bottle. Entering the little lollipop section, Joe comes speeding past me. He lets me know he feels pretty bad and I utter the same. The truth was I didn't feel terrible, I just didn't feel great. I caught a few people on the relentlessly rolling roads before turning back out onto whatever road that is. I grabbed a water bottle from the volunteers and took my first sips of water since before the race.
The way back is pretty sweet. You can really fly, even up the hills. At a few points I even ran out of gears. The only frustrating thing was the number of vehicles on the road. They were reluctant to pass the woman pro in front of me, as we had a lane full of racers coming in the opposite direction, and they kept tapping their brakes. This made me nervous, because I didn't want to use my brakes.
I eventually caught a few more people on the hill back to 108, and with a half mile to go began to ease up as we headed back into the park. Unstrapped my shoes and had my bare little feet on the tops. I was feeling like I had barely been working for a little over an hour, so I was hoping for a good run. Successfully pulled off the barefoot dismount and raced into T2 to the cheers of Bryan, Emily, Jen and Brennan. My bike split + T1 was 1:08:24. Last year I had something like a 2:16 T1. Really slow. I'd like to think this year was about 2:00. That would mean my bike was something around 1:06:20-:30. About 1:45 off last year's great race, but I expected to be a little slower so I'm cool with that. And while it wasn't 13th best/2nd best amateur like last year, it was 19th overall and in the top 10 of amateurs.
Now since it was wet, and I have a terrible time with not wearing sucks as it is, I was going to put on socks. But I let the race dictate strategy here, and since I had come into T2 with a couple of dudes I caught at the end of the bike, I didn't want to waste time putting socks onto wet, cold feet. I ran out with the group after a 1:01 T2 (decent) and me and this guy Todd quickly dropped the two others on the nasty hill a quarter mile into the race. Todd was with me through a 6:10 first mile, then he fell back. It was at this point that I caught and repassed Joe. I was feeling comfortable, but couldn't go a lot faster. My feet were freezing. I ran a 6:05 2nd mile and was pleased with that.
Miles 3 and 4 are tough. They go through a neighborhood that seems to run completely uphill. I had slowed down in mile 3, that I knew, but was disappointed when I saw 6:32. This put me at a 19:30 5k. The quick math would suggest a 39:00 10k, which I was prepared to accept. I put in a little more effort in mile 4 to bring it back to a 6:26. I know the last 2 miles can be much quicker, and I quickened the pace out of the neighborhood to pass mile 5 in 6:12. One last test - the so-called "Gatorade Wall" - separates runners from the final stretch. I made it up without concern and tried to hammer around the lake.
There was a dude that was making up ground, so after mile 6 (6:08) I made sure I wasn't in trouble, and strided in. I again saw my friends and gave a little smile and thumbs up to the camera, and crossed in 2:11:00. Not quite the 2:08:40 from last year, but I wasn't disappointed. I chatted with some of the guys after the race and then caught up with the squad.
Some of the lowlights this year:
The food, which is always terrible, was more than usual terrible. What kind of post-race food consists of fake Oreos, bananas, homemade tortellini/pasta salad and grape soda? I pay $125 for this race and most of the race is paid for via its sponsors. Get some better food.
The shirts are awful this year. As Alyssa pointed out, they look like the color crayon that you used to use to color in white people, since you felt awkward using the white crayon.
The weather. I always anticipate the worst for this race and it did not disappoint. I don't understand why or how it gets so cold and rainy this particular weekend every May.
The timing system. You just spent $70,000 on this IPICO timing system that you debuted (as in, used for the first time) at this big event. As I peruse results, a much higher number than normal are missing splits, including Alyssa, whose bike split was somehow missed. More annoying is that it lumped T1 and the bike split. I may be nitpicking, but I am definitely the type of person who likes to know what his T1 and bike split are separately so I can know what I need to work on.
The field was stellar. The young Andrew Yoder placed 2nd again, this time by 10 seconds on super 70.3 athlete Terrenzo Bozzone. Of course, Andrew did have a 1:45 advantage going into the run, but that's neither here nor there. He went 2.5 minutes faster than his 2008 time, with a non-wetsuit swim (on what was probably a little long of a course anyway) and then had the fastest bike of the day by 2.5 minutes (in that weather) and a solid run. Great job.
Reigning two-time Ironman World Champ Chrissie Wellington was there. I had the opportunity to chat with her in the morning and she seems like a pleasant person, one who is genuinely into the sport. I fully expected her to put me into the ground, and was glad she was starting 5 minutes ahead of me. I did not expect to pass her on the bike, after all, this is the woman who had the fastest bike split of the day at the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon. Then I was worried that she would run me down, but fortunately there was none of that. She still finished 6th, and I know she's not a short-course specialist, so good on her.
A lot of my friends were doing the race, and while nobody had super stellar, out of their mind performances, nobody did terrible. Alyssa, Stanford, Claire, Tall Matt - all great jobs. And a few of my friends were doing their first ever tri/first Columbia, and did really well.
So by 9:01am I was done, and it felt like I had been up all day. But the day was just beginning. Following the race I met JK, Alyssa and Stanford at Kisling's for wings. Then it was Bike Jam time to watch some sweet bike racing in Patterson Park. The day's final event was the croup d'etat: a beer mile, in the parking lot of Ravens stadium. It was a ridiculously amazing event, and nothing will replace the experience of watching the crew run around in absurd outfits, crushing beers, vomiting, and not a single passerby batting an eye. Ahh, Baltimore.
Now that I've managed to make a really long post, I'll wrap it up. My knee is killing me, and I need to do something about it before this weekend. I've got big bike plans, just like last Memorial Day. And I know I'm only a month off the Boston Marathon, but I haven't been running that much. I talked to Matias and concur that I can afford to "run off that fat" for a while, but I don't want to skimp on some long runs and harder efforts between now and next set of races.
I feel pretty good about Eagleman. I'm confident in my swimming right now, and feel I can make a few improvements in the next 3 weeks. On the bike, I'm sure I'll be back to feeling normal after a good hard weekend, and running, well, if my knee would stop hurting I'd be fine.