This race is always fun, but this year was the best since I started doing it in 2008: fantastic organization (thanks Vigo), great weather with dry roads (thanks Heather), a superb MMTC tent (thanks Marla and others), and tremendous support and encouragement by MMTC members (thanks everyone).
Am I glad the world didn't end on Saturday! (Thanks God).
I trained through this race, scheduling a cut-back week instead of a taper, mainly because I'm behind in my Ironman training due to an injury in January. Columbia Tri this year was a primarily a fitness test to identify the training soft spots and to test my recovery. The result? Progress, but there's serious work to be done before Lake Placid. I dropped about two minutes from my 2009 and 2010 times, and made the podium, but I missed all three of my split goals.
I learn at least one thing every race. This time, I learned a few things. First, I learned not to delay getting my bike in for a pre-season tune. I was planning to get it in after Columbia and before Eagleman. On Friday, I noticed it wasn't always shifting back from the small chain ring to the big ring. Saturday, before we left for Columbia, Tom Kish, my expert of choice, showed me why: the front derailleur bracket was pulling out from the frame. Off to the bike shop, but they didn't have the part (a rivnut) needed to anchor the bracket to the frame. Solution: take off the front derailleur and ride only in the big ring. No worries, I thought, this isn't the Catoctins. Little did I know that the front derailleur served a dual purpose. I'd learn about that second purpose about 5 miles into the bike leg during the race.
I arrived at Centennial at 4:40 a.m. on race day. I hate waiting in traffic. Early arrival guarantees no wait, convenient parking, and an opportunity to sleep a little once I arrive and prepare transition with no time pressure.
There were fewer port-a-potties at transition this year and the lines got very long, very fast. Solution: walk 5 minutes to the swim start; there were no lines there. Then back to transition to set up.
Swim: 26:07 (AG 20/120)
For a non-mass start swim, I found the start to be fairly violent. I took a kick to the face and an elbow to the nose, but the goggles stayed on. Some guy crawled up my back and some other guy thought I was in his water, giving me a "friendly shove." Things spread out after the first turn and I even found a good draft for a short while.
The swim went OK overall, but my goal was to be at 26 min or under. I just missed, but had a 90 second improvement over the past two years. (Thanks to advice from Missie and Steve Levickas, and coaching from Karen Smyers and Clay Britt). I wasn't too unhappy missing the goal by only a few seconds.
Among my stroke defects is a lousy pull. So this year I've been working on pointing my fingers to the bottom after the catch and keeping the elbows high. I’m trying to “reach over the barrel” rather than push the water down. I'm making progress, but I still end up chasing too many guys out of the water.
Bike: 1:10:20 (21.7 avg, AG 5/120) (split based on my Garmin – I apparently had chip failure).
It was great to have fast, dry roads and I found our fellow triathletes to be polite and rule-conscious (unlike the 70.3 championships in Clearwater). Traffic, however, was a pain: I was caught behind several cars, twice during those precious downhills.
The real pain came when my chain slipped off the big ring WHILE I WAS COASTING DOWNHILL. I had downshifted to smallest ring on my 11:23 rear cog where apparently the chain tension from the rear derailleur is at its minimum. When I hit a bump, the chain on the big ring (with no front derailleur to contain it) went flying. The front derailleur, I later confirmed, also helps keep the chain in place. For a fraction of a second while coasting downhill I considered trying to put it on, but listened to my better judgment for a change. A lost minute beats a crash any day.
The backside of this bike course, Triadelphia to Greenbridge, is super fast and I made good time until Linthicum's downhill when the chain flew off again. After that I didn't downshift for max power and I babied the chain and gears home without incident.
I missed my sub-1:10 goal but learned a bit about the risks of going sans front derailleur. It's possible, but not without unnecessary excitement and delay. Steve Levickas later told me about a similar experience he had.
My bike hydration consisted of about 20 oz of accelerade and nutrition from shots of accelgel every 10-15 min from a flask mounted on the bike.
Run: 41:44 (6:44 avg, AG 1/120) (Garmin-based time again).
I love the run. I know it will hurt, but I also know that whether or not I podium usually turns on the run.
This course is hard but fair. Like pain, the hills are your friend though, because the competition WILL slow down so you can catch them. Accept the pain, conquer the run demons, and count on the fact that most of the people we're chasing are losing the mental battle. I'm convinced that the run is 90 percent mental.
What truly helped the demon-wrestling this year were all the MMTC jerseys and the shout-outs from everywhere! Thanks Mike Matney for the good words before mile 3 and after mile 5. I saw a strong Sadj after mile 3, clearly winning the mental battle.
My goal pace was sub 6:30. I didn't make it, but it was more a hope than an expectation this year. I had missed my coach's splits in a run time trial the previous week. The back pain from my injury is gone, but my running fitness is not yet completely back from the February layoff. I’m getting closer though.
I was able to catch 4-5 guys in the age group, including last year's 50-54 AG winner at about mile 5, and squeeze onto the podium in 4th. The AG winner, Tom McGee from Ottawa, kicked all of our butts with a 2:11. (Wade, he's aging up next year. See if Kevin Perkins can have him held at the border.)
The race was a blast but by far best part of Sunday was seeing all the MMTC'ers out there and catching up post-race with old friends and meeting new ones. This Club is awesome. The race reports and results show not only how fast some people are (like Steves Levickas and Meininger, Ben and Suzie), but also how courageous and tenacious we are (confronting our personal demons on the swim, bike and run and/or overcoming injury).
Thanks to all for making this Club what it is.
And, final lesson of the race? Thanks to that engineer Rick Schofield for teaching me about eliminating drag with a simple razor.