3.14.2009

2009 Athens Triathlon

SWIM 300 METERS - BIKE 13.8 MILES - RUN 5 KILOMETERS

Well, it's been a strange week. I only worked out on Tuesday on the account of a crazy week at work. Still, I figured I should be more prepared for this triathlon than the other three I have done. Why? Well, because I actually spent time swimming, cycling and running - that's a novel idea. In particular I expected the swim to be my greatest improvement. Given that I had not done much all week, I thought I should have a decent amount of energy and basically be so antsy to move that I'm bouncing off the walls.

Last night, before the race, I was getting really jazzed up and doing my usual survey of YouTube videos to get myself psyched up, along with my usual Nike Courage video. One video in particular was a survey of Lance Armstrong highlights from his Tour De France dynasty. A rather famous scene is Lance colliding with a motorcyclist and crashing to the ground. He quickly gets back on his bike and climbs furiously up the hill, looking back over his shoulder at those he is leaving behind. Such a scene became all too familiar today.

My alarm went off at 4 AM. It was a 75 mile drive to Athens, TX and Google Maps had the trip time at an hour and a half. I ate a Cliff Bar (Chocolate Chip) and hopped in the car ready for the long drive. It was, of course, pitch black. On top of that, it was raining and the wind was howling. It had been raining for the three days pretty strong. It ended up only taking 75 minutes to get there, including a stop for gas. One item that I learned is to never affix your bike number to the bike if you plan on traveling with your bike attached to an external car mount. The race number had completely disintegrated on account of the wind and rain. Finally, I pulled into the Cain Center ready to rock. Below is the course map:


After I checked my gear into transition, I headed indoors. Thank goodness we all congregated in the Cain Center for a meeting prior to the race. I am accustomed to waiting outdoors, and the rain and 40 degree temperature were not exactly inviting. After a good thirty-minute pre-race meeting, we all made our way to the indoor 25 meter lap pool.

SWIM: 300 meters
This was the shortest swim I have ever had to do in a triathlon. Given that I actually have been training in the pool, I figured I would have a strong showing (for me) in the water. The thing is, it was just a lousy set-up. Having hundreds of people swim in a lane pool in a weave pattern is a recipe for chaos. There were traffic jams of swimmers everywhere you looked. Since five of the seven lanes were bi-directional, you had to swim head-on into other people to try and pass anyone. This was somewhat challenging.

As I waited for my turn to go, I was watching the other swimmers. I realized that I could hang with most of the early swimmers. We were seeded based upon the projected swim time that we entered when we registered for the race. Back then, I had little swim training so I put down a slow time (but I forget what). So, I was #233 of about 290 people. I asked if I could move up, but was denied. When it was my turn to go, my adrenaline was racing and I jumped into the water.

Unlike any previous triathlon I have competed in, I actually swam normal freestyle with my head underwater. I did not freak out when I put my face under. I stayed calm and collected and my stroke felt smooth and even. Immediately I caught the guy ahead of me and made my move to pass. When it was all said and done, I passed seven people over the course of 300 meters. I felt really good about this, particularly since it was so hard to pass people. The pile-up of people definitely slowed me down, and I expended unnecessary energy every time I had to stop and look up. I will need to work on my sighting for open water swims. When I climbed out of the pool, my watch read 00:06:01 - I felt pretty good about that.

TRANSITION #1
Disaster. That is how I would describe T1. Moving from the 82 degree pool water into the 40 degree wet outdoors was less than pleasant. When I reached my bike, I first put on my long sleeve shirt. The sleeves got caught because (1) I was wet from the pool and (2) the shirt was wet from sitting in the rain. Next, I put on my bike shoes followed by my race number belt (backwards). Putting on my bike gloves was where the real trouble started. It was just so difficult given how wet everything was. It took me so long to get them on and I was so frustrated. Once they were finally on, I went to put on my helmet. Note to self: never put on gloves before securing the helmet under my chin. It's a real challenge. After five seconds shy of four minutes, I left T1.

BIKE: 13.8 miles
The first five minutes or so were pretty cold. As I said, it was 40 degrees and wet out, and I was wet. With no wind, your bike speed effectively becomes the wind chill. In other words, the "feels like" temperature on the bike was in the 20's. Most of the road was really rough and bumpy. There were a few sections in which the shoulder surface changed to a nice smooth concrete, by that was not the norm. Between the surface and the wind, it was a real struggle at times on the bike. There were a few long, gradual, slow climbs. At times, my speed dipped down to 12mph. The fastest I was able to go was 30.5mph into a downhill headwind. My legs were getting really tired and my heart was thumping heavily the entire ride.

Two misfortunes occurred on the bike. First, at the turn around point, I crashed really hard. I had my turn nicely planned out and was moving in for a good inside move. At the last second, I recalled reading in the rules that you were not to cross a solid yellow line for any reason. I tried to move outside to avoid the line. The instant I did that I knew I was going to crash. The angle became to steep and bike brakes and rain don't mesh well together. My back wheel fishtailed to my right and then before I knew it I was hurled off the right of my bike onto the rough pavement and into a curb. Instantly my right elbow, hip and shoulder blade were hurting. It took me a second to regain mental composure, but then I hopped back on. Somehow, my chain moved from the big to the small chain ring on the crash. I had to mess with my gears for second to get things back in order. Thankfully, no major damage to the bike. Once back on, I was staring at a long climbing hill.

The crash really fueled me. Up until that point, not a soul had come close to passing me at any point in the entire race. When I fell, several people that I had previously passed were now passing me. I darted up the hill like I had been preparing for this very moment. Instantly I recalled the Lance Armstrong video I had watched and felt it was fate. I absolutely flew by everyone up that hill and went on a tear the rest of the way.

And then I made a wrong turn. Thankfully, a cop quickly alerted me that I was heading in the wrong direction. After I thanked him, I turned around and went back to the actual course. This second misfortune fueled my motivation even more. At that point, there were only two or three miles left in the race. I tore them up, passing several more people before dismounting at T2. Considering a bad fall and a wrong turn, I was fairly pleased with a time of 00:46:28 and an average speed of 17.8mph.

TRANSITION #2
For the first time ever, I did not experience the horrible "brick leg" sensation when I dismounted my bike. My legs felt pretty decent. Thankfully, I did not waste as much time in this transition as I did in the first. My gloves were the first thing to go followed by my bike shoes. At the same time, I laced on my Newtons. When I stood up, I exchanged my helmet for a hat and then turned my race number belt around so that my number faced the front. Total time in T2 was 00:01:23.

RUN: 5 kilometers
The first 100 meters of the run were slightly concerning. My calves were really firing in my Newtons. I was worried I was going to pull a calf muscle. Thankfully, that pain quickly vanished and did not return. It was not before long that I was yelling at myself for not removing my long sleeve shirt. I was wearing my KiWAMi Trinergy suit and had planned all along to remove the long sleeve Regatta Sport shirt for the run, but I forgot. I figured I would just leave it on, but about five seconds later I was overheating. I took it off and tied it around my waist which actually did not annoy me like I thought it would.

By this point in the run, I was feeling awesome. I was gliding over the pavement in my Newtons, springing lightly off my forefoot. I was cruising past lots of people. I received a couple remarks from those I passed about some nasty looking cuts. I had forgotten about my crash and wondered how messed up I was. I pressed onwards, only taking one tiny sip of water at the lone aid station. For the last mile, I really dialed it up a notch hoping to break 01:20:00 for my total course time. By my quick calculations, I was averaging just over 7:00 min/mile which was far better than the +8:00 min/mile I was expecting. The last 100 meters was an all-out sprint. I completed the run in 00:22:12 which equals a 7:07 min/mile pace. My total course time was 01:20:02 - are you kidding me? If only I had not crashed...or made a wrong turn on the bike course.

METRICS
Time: 01:20:02
Distance: 17.09 miles
Ascent: 600 feet
Average Temperature: 62 degrees

SUMMARY
I feel really good about my performance. It was a solid effort. I have a long way to go, but I can leave this race saying I performed better than expected in each segment of the race. This was the first race that not a single person at any point in the race passed me and stayed ahead of me. And the only time anyone passed me was when I crashed and made a wrong turn on the bike. In both of those situations, I came back to soundly sail by my passers. No one ever challenged me. It was a pure race against myself. Of course, this doesn't mean I won. In the end, I finished 50th out of about 290 people, 48th in my gender.

The key takeaways from this race are as follows: practice sighting in the water, practice transitions, spend more time on the bike and spend more time in my Newtons.

As a side note, some manufacturer really needs to develop a legitimate triathlon/multisport watch with heart rate and a running/cycling computer and GPS. I am frustrated that I can only use my Polar S625X for it's timer feature during a triathlon. Heart rate won't work in the pool and I'm not going to screw around waiting to pair it in transition. Because of the way my watch works, I can't just turn on foot pod and have it sync with my watch. Garmin may have the closest thing, but it's too cumbersome and not all the way there yet.

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