I had intended on updating this sooner, but just didn't really feel like it. The nerves have been building for this weekend for quite some time. It's not that Columbia is a big race for me, it is THE race - the one I tend to judge my entire year on. This year's edition will be the 8th time competing in this race for me, dating back to 2001. I missed 2004 due to injury, 2005 due to still not being in shape/not having done a triathlon for two years, and last year due to injury again. It's the race I've done the most times in my life, it was my first triathlon and while it used to give me ogeda just thinking about it, I've become a little more mellow about racing. Because, after all, it's just that - a race. Nobody is paying me or counting on me to perform a certain way, if I don't do well everyone will still say good job, even if they're lying through their teeth. Even the phrase "did well" is relative. Still dealing with my messed up body every day has forced me to re-evaluate my goals. When I raced in 2001, I went 2:23:40, at age 19, for my first tri ever. I got down to 2:16 but wasn't able to get over that hump until 2008 when I hit 2:08:40. Even in 2009, coming off of a Boston Marathon spring that limited my riding/swimming, I still managed a 2:11:00. So I know that, come Sunday, the worst I could swim is maybe a 24, I could literally soft pedal a 1:10 (particularly on the new bike) and as I generally don't run worse than 40, just do that for a 2:16.
But obviously that's not the goal, nor do I entertain thoughts of it. If I tried to pull that shit in this year's open wave, I'd be banned from Columbia for life. In talking with my friend, Brian Shea, over the weekend, he and I remarked and agreed that this year's open wave is like a semi-pro field. There are something like 25+ dudes all capable of sub 2:10 performances. Some monster swimmers, as always, and some terrific runners/new triathletes. And I don't anticipate anybody riding all that slow, either. Whoever manages to win this wave will certainly have had to work for it.
That's what makes this race so exciting: a top notch field on an honest course. With my ride there on Tuesday, I've now ridden the course four times this year. Normally I like to do the run course at least once to refamiliarize myself, but I just didn't feel like it anytime I went down there. I put my hand in the water and it feels pretty decent, not that I would expect it to be all that cold, but with the buckets of rain lately, you never know. Having ridden the course I'd say now probably 100 times, I have a good sense of gearing, wind, even where the cracks in the road are. Anticipation is key to a good ride there.
After last weekend's ride/run, I was somewhat unreasonably sore for a few days. We had a fun track workout planned for Tuesday, and the conditions were pretty nice (actually, it was nice all week). We did 3 sets of 400-800-400, with the first 400 just under 5k pace, the 800 about the same and then a 400 at mile pace, with 60sec, 90sec and then 400m jog recovery. Coming off the Alumni Mile, I was feeling pretty quick I guess, and ran my first set in 77/2:36/69.5. This is probably the fastest I've run for a 400 since I got hurt, so I was pleased. It did, however, take a little bit out of me. I controlled the 2nd set, running 78/2:36/74 I think, and then headed into the third. I remember it being 76 or 77 again on the first 400, and then after the first lap of the 800 I pulled off to the side - the point was to be comfortable for the 400/800, and I was working a little too hard to run what would likely have been a fast 800. I ran a 72 for the last 400 and called it a day.
Wednesday I headed up to Weds Night Ride with OJ again, and my legs felt like garbage. I told him I would try to hang as long as I could, but didn't expect great things. The previous week, with shitty weather, there were 8 of us. Funny how when the weather is nice, 45 people show up. With a group that size, particularly with people I don't know or trust, it made the first few miles a little tense. The sun was peeking through the trees real awkwardly, too, so my eyes were getting screwy. The pace was set pretty high once we turned onto Falls Rd, no doubt in an effort to shake some of this large crew. I was riding mid-pack on Stringtown, keeping an eye on those in front of me to make sure they weren't losing wheels. When I sensed someone was, I just moved up. I felt really comfortable, and as we made the left on Yeoho, half the group was jettisoned. I was riding by my standards pretty amazingly, and as we approached the sprint point, I found myself in a position where a dude went, another dude got on his wheel, and I figured what the heck, may as well mix it up, so I got on his wheel. They both looked around and when each decided to give it up, I went off the front on my own. Unfortunately that got pinned back, prior to the sprint, and I was swallowed up, but I felt good about giving it a go.
From there the pace seemed almost to relax, but just past halfway in, a group of 4 or 5 took off. OJ had been on the front, and when they went he tried to go, but too much work on the front leaves the legs zapped when it's time to go. My group of my 7 or 8 now picked OJ back up, and as we ascended Glencoe Rd, OJ found himself on the front again. Just as it looked like he was going to turn off the gas, I came up, flicked my elbow to suggest he get on my wheel, and we took off (side note: for being roadies, these guys ride uphill like they're on tricycles. We live in a super hilly area, friends, learn how to ride them better). We created a huge gap, and were off on our own. The effort was quite hard, and as we came up Belfast, I was having trouble keeping it. I told him to go if he felt good, but ultimately two were still probably better than one, and then just as we got to Cuba, we got scooped up.
With no impetus to ride hard, I sat on the front the whole way up Cuba and set a tempo that no one was going to mess with. I figured, may as well set Juice up for the sprint. Note: these "sprints" are all uphill finishes, so they're extremely difficult, and often result in a lot of failures. Shortly before the top, OJ did indeed go, and Benda came around me (squeezed through on my right even though I was all the way to the right, it was dicey!) and finished just behind. When we got back to the park, it was 1:23:30 ride time for what I think is either 30 or 31 miles, either way it was 5 minutes faster than I've ridden before, and I was really pleased with the effort.
Tired on Thursday, I rode with Alyssa on our Gunpowder loop (35 miles) and then Saturday, following a great 90 minute run with a good group, including Terp and GRCer living and studying (unfortunately) at Duke, Patrick Reaves, I again saddled up with Alyssa for a longer ride. It was raining when we started, and I was not at all psyched about it. The planned ride of 3.5 hours I had mentally shortened to 2, tops. But once we got out there I felt better and figured what the heck, may as well get it done. Of course I hadn't brought any source of food or water, not thinking we'd be out that long.
Sunday came and following another race timing, I zoned out for a while. I finally slinked into the pool in the late afternoon, and then actually got out to run in the evening and I felt better than I've felt all year. 35 minutes around the stadiums, Inner Harbor and Fed Hill, with the pace quick the whole time. My foot didn't feel great, but I managed. Monday I felt it, and last night on the track I felt it for sure. Our workout last night was 3200m "tempo" followed by 4x400. Normally before Columbia I don't like to do much on the track. Most years I just do a couple 400s, maybe some 200s. With less confidence in my running than in years past, I felt like doing something closer to projected race pace, which, off the bike, is slower than real race pace for 10k. It was a blustery night out on the Hopkins track, and since it was only really me, Pat and Ed doing that workout, we were spread out. But, my splits were pretty awesome, and by awesome I mean totally calculated and radical. 88.3, 88.2, 86.7, 86.5, 84.8, 84.8, 83.7, 82.9 for an 11:25. First 1600 was 5:50, came back in 5:35. I'd say only the last 2 laps was I working for it, but I also don't anticipate running 5:35 on race day. My 400s weren't great, for some reason I didn't feel as comfortable going fast last night, but still averaged 75 for 4 of them so I took that.
I then kept things in perspective and realized that halfway through this month of May I have run 81 miles. That is 81 times the number of miles I ran last May (1.00), although Ed is quick to point out that my average speed (somewhere over 7min, obviously) for these 81 miles is slower than last May (6:15). But I also remember starting to run again last summer and having a hard time running under 6 minutes, so that's cool.
Something just seems up, I can't quite put my finger on it. Talking with Brennan about it, he felt the same way - we're just amazed at how much a body can handle, and then curious why doing so much less feels just as hard, if not harder, than the higher volume. Last fall I didn't have any weeks really under 20 hours. My weekly miles on the bike were always over 200 (now in the 120-140 range, albeit much faster). My meters per week were in the 17-25k range (now 9-10k). Running isn't too much different, and I'm running my workouts faster, but I just feel more tired. It's weird. I don't quite understand it.
But, Columbia is only a few days away now and there's no more that you can do other than rest. To quote all the euphemisms, the hay is in the barn, the money is in the bank, yada yada. I think part of the reason I lived in fear of Columbia was that I didn't have experience with anything longer, and also that it came at the end of the school semester. In 2003, my senior year, I was ready to go fast. Then school decided that, even though we don't have Saturday classes, we'll give finals on Saturdays. And even though I only had 4 classes to begin with, 3 of them had Saturday finals. So that year I had to take an 8am final, then a 10am, then haul over to Columbia, drop of my bike and stuff, then come back for a 6pm final. On a Saturday night. I went to bed tired, woke up at 4am to 40 degree rain, went and suffered for a few hours, came back, and had an 8am final on Monday. It was a confluence of terribleness.
I'm excited to go head to head with these guys this year. It really is a choice field, and I could honestly see a huge PR and still finish dead last in the wave. I think the swim will be close to what I always swim, and my run will probably not be far from what I always run. If I have a good day, maybe I'll be able to finally crack that 38min barrier that has eluded me for years. What I'm counting on is a strong bike. That is the key to the race this year for me. I'd like to get into the 2:06:xx range and believe it's possible, but I've got to ride super duper fast to accomplish that. It will be fun, we'll see what happens on Sunday!