For an Olympic distance tri, I don’t think there are many courses harder, or more satisfying, than Columbia.
I use CT as an early season test to identify where I need to work harder. Eagleman is just around the corner from CT and Lake Placid Ironman follows shortly thereafter in July. I do a “cut back” week for CT instead of a taper, but I still race it as hard as I can. Like last year, I missed each of my goal splits, but I had a good race overall. More importantly, I know where I need to focus for the next six weeks: swim technique, OWS, bike intervals, and more (and longer) bricks.
Despite the torrential rain, pre-race went fairly smoothly. Up at 3 a.m. to eat (bagel, banana, coffee and accelerade), left Bethesda at 4 a.m., and in the lot by 4:45 a.m. We stayed put in the car and I sipped coffee until about 6 a.m. After that, I stop drinking fluids until 20 minutes before the gun. I’ve learned this approach leaves me with adequate hydration and I never need a pitstop during the race.
As I had hoped, in the car we stayed dry and by 6:30 the rain tapered off. After Lake Placid 2008, I think I’ve learned to accept the weather conditions fairly well but I still prefer to keep dry as long as possible and to have dry feet (I blister badly – a sad lesson from Florida 70.3 in 2007). We were so lucky weatherwise Sunday: how about Sadj’s CT race years ago (48 degrees in the rain) or Karen Smyer’s race in Nashville on Sunday (97 degrees)? Our weather was a bit treacherous on the bike, but perfect for running.
At 6:30, I quickly set up transition, pumped a tire and put one bottle on the bike. I have become a transition minimalist. For the bike, I set out only shoes, helmet and glasses; for the run, only shoes and socks. But I compromised a little simplicity for dryness this year, putting my bike shoes and running shoes in separate plastic bags. (I used the transition bags they give you at Ironman races; save them, they work great). Transitions went well, they were still fairly fast and my feet stayed pretty dry.
Swim: 27:21 (16/72 AG).
The swim drives me crazy. This year, I thought I’d cracked the code. I read every word out of the swimming e-mails from Steve Levickas, Melissa Vess and others; I took Clay Britt’s clinic, got videotaped; spent time with a great coach recommended by Linda Giampalmo; swam 3-4 times a week; and even bought a new wet suit. My times were dropping substantially, and I was convinced I’d finally figured it out. Swam a 1500m time trial a week earlier in about 25 minutes. I was confident I could go sub 25 on Sunday. My days of giving up 4-5 minutes on the swim were over. Or so I thought.
Sunday, I was faster than last year, but only by 15 seconds. I think it was mainly a mental lapse. My muscles haven’t fully memorized the correct techniques (apparently), and I relapsed into my old flawed form – dropping the elbows, not swimming from my core. After the gun, I think I focused too much on trying to find a good draft and avoiding the nautical wrestlers. (I never did find any good feet to follow). It wasn’t until about halfway through that I realized my hips were low, my elbows were high, and I was swimming the same old flawed way. I adjusted things, but didn't make up enough time to matter. Back to the pool and, more importantly, time for some OWS. Improvement is a slow process.
T1: 2:20 (1/72 AG).
Can’t complaint about T1. My new wetsuit hung up on my feet, but I guess not for long. Shoes on (no socks) and up the hill, concentrating on not slipping. Bob Bartolo said he was right next to me as I went up the hill. Never saw him, never heard him. In the zone, I guess.
Bike: 1:13:39 (4/72 AG) (20.7 mph avg).
This bike course is hard. None of the climbs seem so difficult when considered alone, but it must be the combination of all of them. The course was slick, but the car traffic seemed light and people were generally keeping to the right. My goal was to break 1:10 or at least a 21 mph average. Couldn’t do it. The legs complained, telling me I need more intervals and lactate threshold rides. The climbs were fine, probably because of the mountain rides we’ve been doing. For hydration, I took one bottle of accelerade.
The MMTC cheering support on the course was great, particularly the circle where Linda and Aldona were stationed. Any truth to the rumor that they almost got arrested for disturbing the peace?
T2: 1:28 (5/72 AG).
This should have been faster, but like others have mentioned, I was careful going down that muddy hill. It was recipe for a back injury. Or a You Tube video.
Run: 41:09 (1/72 AG) (6:38 min/mile avg).
Once again, I was shooting for sub-40 on this course. I’d run a 36:30 10K split earlier in the spring in the first half of the National Half Marathon, so I thought I had a good shot this year. But triathlon running is different and, once more, I seemed to have forgotten about Columbia’s hills, until they rose up to greet me again. I knew my swim and bike times were slower than I’d planned, and that I needed a good run to make up for it. The legs felt tired coming off the bike (note to self: more bricks, you fool), but they responded OK anyway. More importantly, I kept my concentration and “stayed in the box,” focusing only on the mile I was in. After mile 4, I tried to pick up the pace and, according to the guy who finished just behind me on the podium, I blew past him about then. It’s a good feeling to pass people in your age group, but I was racing in the blind – almost literally. I simplified T2 so much, I didn’t even bother to put on my glasses. I never saw anyone in my age group on the run. Didn’t make my goal of sub 40, but I was two seconds faster than last year.
Since the two real fast old guys from Ottawa didn’t show up this year (2:13 and 2:18 last year), I finished second by about 3.5 minutes. You guessed it, I gave up about 4 minutes to the winner on the swim. Interestingly, I was third on the podium, but they adjusted the results post-race to give me second. The guy who was first on the podium had a 2 minute swim, 1:22 bike and 50 minute run. I’m not sure whether he was related to Rose Ruiz or had a bad chip, but he’s no longer on the charts.
What made Sunday special wasn’t the race results though, it was the people. I love going to the MMTC tent to see old friends and meet new members. What a tent! Thanks to everyone at the tent, particularly Sandi, and a special shout out to Sadj, who makes us all feel as if we are #1. It is so clear that our club members genuinely care about each other and it’s what makes this club special, even if we can’t send funny e-mails anymore. Sunday was also special for me because my 8 year old was there (being watched by my 25 year old son), and his little voice was one of the few that penetrated my concentration on the bike and run. He’s the real runner in our family. Watch for him in about 10 years.
See you at Eagleman.