It took me 10 (and a half) years, but on Saturday I finally earned something I'd been working for years to achieve - a triathlon win. I'd been close on a few occasions, but it always seemed that one of my disciplines was not functioning properly and I'd come up short. But this weekend I managed to put together a very even performance and notch a victory at the Waterman's Half Iron race in southern MD.
Interestingly, it was this same weekend a year ago that I came closest to winning, as I raced in the Hunterdon Half Iron race in NJ. The conditions were nearly identical - cool, crisp morning; a small field; a challenging course. In that race, I had a great swim, out of the water side by side with Arland, the Filipino pro. Since it was cold (35 degrees at the start, 10/10/10) he put on quite a bit of clothing and I headed out on the bike about 3 minutes ahead of him. I was on my road bike, and stayed away the whole race. With almost no one on course, I was never really sure if I was even on the course, but I ultimately ended up back at transition, and heard the cheers for Arland behind me. He had just bridged the gap and thanks to a quick transition, he and I were side by side as we headed out onto the run.
Ironman World Championships had been the previous day, and as we ran side by side for 8 miles, he remarked that it was like the battle between Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert. In the end, my knee's discontent for running down hills, combined with the fact I had only run 13 miles once in the previous year, did me in, and I finished 2nd, just a couple minutes behind Arland. Bummed, I plotted my revenge on the Hunterdon race for 2011.
Due to the Ironman 70.3 Poconos race (10/2/11) and the bullying that the race organization does to other local races, Hunterdon was going to be moved to September 10th. I obviously had IM Louisville just two weeks prior, but I was going to do Hunterdon no matter what - I just hoped my legs would respond and maybe put me in a position to do okay.
But sometime during July it became apparent that the Hunterdon race just wasn't going to happen, due to lagging participation numbers. It's sad to see that smaller races are disappearing because of the money train that is WTC. I can understand for the people that want to earn spots to one of the World Championship events, you have to go to their events - but it's amazing how reluctant people are to going to local races of the same distance. A half is a half. I couldn't do anything about it, but now I was down a race, and, importantly, a longer race, between ironman efforts.
Fortune smiled upon me and now that Set Up Events has invaded Maryland, they were staging a half and a sprint on 10/8-9 at General Smallwood State Park in southern Maryland. The half was a Saturday race (a huge plus) and fit well into where I was at with my training. I waited too long to sign up online, so when Alyssa told me it was closed I was temporarily annoyed, until we were informed that you could sign up on race day! Now that's awesome. I had put in a pretty routine week last week, including my Tuesday Track workout (1600-3200-1600 - didn't feel great) and some pretty good swims. Wednesday's swim, in particular, was great for me, and on Friday morning I put in another 3200 of work so I was interested to see how I'd respond on Saturday morning.
The weather late last week was perfect - temperatures were crisp in the morning but would warm up through the day, the sun was out, no rain. Saturday's race conditions were going to be perfect for a long race. With a 90 minute drive in the morning, Alyssa and I arrived at 6:30 so I could sign up, and the race was scheduled to start at 8. The water temperature had been recorded at 65, which is definitely chilly, but after getting in (with my wetsuit, finally) it didn't feel that bad. It has been months since I've worn that thing and man, it felt great. I was just sitting on top of the water. The start line was non-existent, I think we were supposed to stay close to the dock we had jumped in from, but people kept moving up and out towards the course. It was a super aggressive start, lots of kicking and hitting, which I think is funny considering how slow most of them swam.
Swim - 31:30, 4th
It was a two loop, rectangular course, and after the 2nd loop we would swim past where we started and around another buoy, and in from there. I felt really, really comfortable, like I wasn't even swimming. After the first 200m or so, the small-ish field of just over 100 men spread out and I was just out there. I've still been having problems with my goggles filling with water, so for a while I just swam with my eyes closed and I was swimming the straightest lines I've ever swam. I stopped about midway through the first lap and emptied them, then resumed swimming. Around the 2nd buoy we ran into the thickest patch of seagrass I've ever swam in. I kept my strokes shallow, basically sculling along the water and kicking a bit harder to get through it. It seemed to work, but I felt bad for the poorer swimmers - that's the type of tangling sea plants that drown people, I know that much (I said something to the RD after the race about it). On the second loop I started to pass people still on their first lap and picked it up a little bit in the last couple of minutes. I caught another guy that had started with me, we inadvertently swam past the finish, and had to turn around, and came out of the water together.
His girlfriend told us (him) that he was in 2nd (I thought that's what she said) so I was pretty surprised to hear that. We ran up together to the transition area, which was about 175m of running to the bike, where I then took the time to put on my socks (my long cycling ones) and my SICK new LG jersey. This one was a gift from cousin Emily and Bryan for my birthday, it's super light, full zip, awesome. As I did at Louisville, and plan to do at Arizona, I will be racing with a jersey from now on to a) allow me to keep my stuff in my pockets and b) keep my arms and lower back from getting burned.
T1 - 2:37
As I looked at results later, it appears as if there was one kid up ahead pretty far (28:58) and then another guy slotted in between 1st and me and the other guy (30:47). If that's the case, I must have passed that 2nd guy in transition because when I got out onto the bike, I only had one person ahead of me.
Bike - 2:30:42, 2nd
I've only ever been to southern MD one time, when I did Triathlantic's LaPlata Duathlon in 2002. I remember literally nothing of that race, not even how I got there with my bike (because I was in college, and my car didn't have a bike rack, and I honestly forget how I used to fit it in the small car). Actually, I remember it was cold, because it was in March. But as far as the terrain, I just figured it was like the Eastern Shore - flat. I could not have been more wrong.
The initial climb out of the park was a tough 3/4 of a mile hill, then you made a right onto some Native American-named road (where the run would be later) and it was just down and up, and up and down. The climbs were long. The first few miles were harder than I anticipated them to be, and it was pretty chilly (temp was in the mid 50s, but a lot of shade as we rolled through more state parks). I could see the flashing lights of a police car ahead and figured that must be the lead vehicle, so I targeted that and made quick work of picking him up. It took nearly 28 minutes to go just 10 miles, which should give some indication of how challenging this course is as at Eagleman I would blow through 10 miles in 24 minutes no problem.
I was hoping that the road would flatten out, but it never did. At points it was actually annoying because the uphills were steep enough that you either needed to stand and power over them, or you were going to shred your legs in the 53x so I'd have to hop down to the 39x. Constant up and down. Around mile 17 I think I finally got passed, by what appeared to be (and later confirmed) quite a strong cyclist. I welcomed the sight of company, and was content with letting him set the pace for a while. He had a ton of weight on me, and I didn't expect that he'd be too quick on his feet later. I kept him at a manageable distance for a while, and at one point during another series of hills, had nearly caught back up to him, but when the road flattened out his power was too much for me to attempt to match without going into the red. I let him go and when I saw Alyssa at mile 45, she said he had +1:15 on me.
I was doing a good job getting in my calories, opting for some Clif Shot gels. 3x Vanilla ones in the first half, 3x Chocolate ones in the back half. I don't think I like them that much. Actually, I don't think I like eating anything. I'd rather just eat hot dogs and Snickers bars. Gu-type products just have too much sugar for me. But, I had to eat, so I was doing it every 22 minutes or so. And I was only drinking water, which seemed to be a good plan. Question for anyone who has this problem: I now have one of the water bottle cages that goes in between the aero bars and since the stupid Deer Park bottles are contoured like Coke bottles now, they are not sitting in the cage well. I'm not sure if I need a different cage, or just have to not use those Deer Park bottles (kind of tough when that's what they hand out).
When I got into transition and saw that it had taken me over 2:30 to ride that course, which is an average speed of under 22.5mph, I couldn't believe it. In my few half iron races, I've ridden 2:28 (EM08, when I got off my bike for a few minutes to alleviate seizing legs), 2:23 (Prov08, on what wasn't a super fast course), 2:18 (EM09), 2:46 (Hunterdon10, on my road bike, challenging course but also wasn't in the same kind of shape), 2:16 (EM11). I made sure to not over-exert myself in this race, because that wasn't my plan on this day, but still, I was very surprised to have ridden that slow. The guy who passed me rode 2:25/6 he said, and he rode 2:13 at EM this year.
T2 - 1:18
I rode into transition and the leader had just started the run. I racked the bike, took off the jersey and put on my shoes. Since I'm still trying a few new things, I did the same as I did at Louisville and put on my Adidas Bostons and tied them up (I'm not sure that I'm feeling elastic laces right now). I grabbed my number belt, put that on, and then grabbed this white singlet I was going to run in and threw that on as I was running. They gave me a time deficit of 3 minutes but also made note of my better looking running form and so the chase was on.
Run - 1:31:03, 4th
The run began the same way the bike had, with a climb up and out of the park. It was hard, and I didn't want to be breathing hard that early. Unfortunately, with hills, you don't have much choice I suppose. I made it to the top and hit the mile in 6:35. I was disappointed it was that slow, but in hindsight it was definitely a hard mile. Alyssa was waiting at the top and I could see the leader in the distance, and I was gobbling up his lead like Ed gobbles C's (side note: Ed, my roommate, ran a 2:36:45 at Chicago Marathon on Sunday in his first marathon, so our house had a good weekend). Mile 2 was a 6:32 and as I could see his lead evaporating, I picked it up a little bit to catch him right after the mile 3 mark (6:20). The mile markers seemed fairly accurate, although there were a couple that seemed a few seconds longer or shorter than I thought they would be - but it all evened out.
I was running a minute per mile faster than he was and as I hit the turnaround at around 3.4ish miles, I was already 40 seconds clear in the lead. I knew he wasn't going to be able to come back from that, and I counted 8 minutes back to third. Holy shit. I looked at how that guy was running, and it wasn't fast enough to catch me. Another couple minutes to the next set of folks, so this race was, barring unforeseen circumstance, in the bag. I kept the effort even in that first lap, running up and down and feeling strong still. As we approached the entrance to the park again, we made a left onto a single track trail for about 3/4 of a mile which was a nice diversion - except for the kid on the lead bike, which sounded like it was going to fall apart on the rocks.
There was a very steep downhill back into the park, which my knee was not fond of. I hobbled down that and made it around for the end of my first loop, and then had to climb back up and out. This was tougher the second time around. I wouldn't say it was as steep as the nasty climb in Providence, but it was as long. I got back out on the road and at this point my ass was hurting - like the top of the hamstring/piriformis on both sides. It wasn't not very comfortable, and I figured it was from riding the TT bike, which I hadn't touched since Louisville (6 weeks?).
The water stops were spaced out a little too far. There was one at mile 1, then at mile 3, which you then hit a half mile later again, and then not again until that one at mile 1, then there was one at the beginning of the loop. As the temperature had begun to creep up into the mid/upper 70s, I could have probably used a little more water, especially when the volunteers were just young kids and I wasn't always getting a cup. So I made sure I kept the effort relaxed and didn't blow up. I counted a pretty big lead over 2nd and 3rd, so the last two miles were pretty fun. I got to chill out, stroll into the win. I've obviously never been in that position, particularly with such a big lead, so as I approached the finish line all I could do really was smile a little bit.
It was pretty cool. I crossed the line and felt fine, unlike every other half I've ever done where I'm pretty much wasted and can't move. I was able to eat and drink (COKE) right away, and besides some soreness from racing, didn't feel any worse than I would after any other race. I was psyched. 10 minutes later, the 2nd place guy came across, and a few minutes after that, 3rd. The first place woman came blazing through and it turns out she had a pretty awesome race, running a 1:31:30 or something half marathon split.
187 on a motherfu**ing race
In all my years racing, I've had some good bib numbers. My favorite is 13. Another favorite would be 69, as our friend Mike Nusbaum would agree. When I registered on Saturday morning, since I was one of the last ones to do so, I was 187. 187! Alyssa didn't really understand the significance at first, but, being a gangster rapper myself, I appreciated the number. Game recognize game. Ha. Anyway there were just about that many competitors on the day, with a shade over 100 of them being men. So not an enormous field, but certainly larger than the 60 person Hunterdon race I did last year.
But, as everyone out there knows, and as Vin Diesel says in The Fast and The Furious, "it doesn't matter whether you win by an inch or a mile, a win is a win."
The frustrating part of the day came when it was time for awards. I had finished at 12:40pm, and hours later they said awards would be at 2:30. Then it was ten more minutes, ten more minutes. We needed to get back. It was getting pretty hot and uncomfortable in the sun, and anybody who was going to be receiving awards was finished. Finally, around 3:30, they got it going. For my effort I was rewarded with a Maryland Tri Series visor and a pair of socks, and a plaque that is actually kind of neat. For my $200 supported training day, essentially, I'll take it!
When we arrived back in Baltimore, it was time to turn on the computer to watch the Kona coverage. Boy, what a race. It's hard to pick against those who have won the event before, so it probably came as no surprise that Alexander and Wellington re-earned their titles from 2009, but I still felt like it was a pretty open race this year, on both men's and women's sides. We even came up with a Fantasy game that myself, Z, Pat, Alyssa, Chicken Tender and David Lee played. If you want me to send you the scoring, let me know. It looked like a BLAZING fast day on the bike, as evidenced by Lieto missing the CR by 8 seconds and Julie Dibens rocking Karin Thuerig's time from last year by 4 minutes (Theurig was just 5 seconds slower than Dibens, too). Top AG bike split was an absurd 4:30. Then on the run, lots of moving and shaking. I've never seen someone run as fast as Mirinda Carfrae was in her last couple of miles. She and CW were so far down off the bike, but when you have 2:52 wheels in you, it almost never matters. The pair ran almost identical marathon splits, so Chrissie held her off - but you wouldn't have known that based on how Mirinda was SPRINTING down Ali'i Drive. End result: Course Record for Alexander, Chrissie a little off but apparently was swimming with a torn pectoral or something. Geez.
On the age group side, I knew quite a few people competing out there, and they all seemed to have banner days. PR bike splits, great runs in the heat, and great overall finishes. When I saw how each of them finished in the age group (30-34), I couldn't believe it. Alyssa goes, "sounds like about 20 dudes (the ones that finished faster than these guys) need to go pro." My thoughts on going pro are going to be finally written down this coming week I think.
For me, one day I hope to be there but who knows if and when that day will come. But I feel pretty good about the weekend it falls on, maybe I've channeled the spirit of Kona these past two years, but with a 2nd place finish last year on this weekend and a win this year, perhaps when I can get to the big island, it will work out pretty well.