I love this race, even though as the first tri of the season it produces more than its share of anxiety for everyone, rookies and veterans alike. But nobody organizes a race like Vigo and his TriColumbia crew, and the MMTC tent is like a family reunion. Thanks so much to Heather, Melissa, Rick, Chip and all the volunteers at the tent and the waterstop. And, who ordered the weather?
This is usually a C race that I train through. I use it to see where I need the most work before Eagleman and Placid. I planned to train through it again this year, but due to work, boys with mild concussions from spring hockey, other family matters like spousal travel and a 3-mile race on Wednesday, I missed a number of training sessions. The Wednesday race itself probably helped my leg turnover, but my training volume was cut 75% over the week so I had sort of a forced, disorganized taper. I did get three nights of 8-9 hours of sleep, after forcing the boys to bed at 8:30 p.m. each night before the race.
I didn’t make any of the goals for my splits except for T1, but my times were not far off. Overall, the race went better than expected, partly because of the forced taper, but largely due to one factor over which I can take no credit. I am the happy beneficiary of the “aging up” process. While I “aged” up to the top of the 50-54 age group, two guys (Tom McGee and Jeff Oxman) who regularly kick my butt at Columbia, “aged up” to the 55-59 AG. And, true to form, Tom raced a 2:15 with Jeff in second. (Sorry, Wade and Hector).
Walt Smith says it best: arrive at Centennial Park early and avoid the “wall of stress.” I take his advice, arrive early and then doze in a warm car until the sun comes up. Portapotty lines are short for awhile and there was no rush to set up transition. Particularly when my swim wave didn’t go off until almost 8 a.m. I lingered at the MMTC tent and talked to people I hadn’t seen in too long.
Swim: 25:39 (AG 18/112, avg pace 1:43/100)
I didn’t make my 2012 goal of breaking 25 minutes, but I’m getting there. Working with Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen and my masters swim group is helping.
For whatever reason (you analyze it), I line up in the front and try to hang with the real swimmers. Unfortunately, I’m a slow starter and usually end becoming an aquadoormat. This year was no different, except I was about thirty seconds faster. Progress comes in small increments sometimes.
I think I was on course, but with the bright sun, the jostling and the froth, I just followed the masses until the first turn. Shortly after the first turn, I found a new best friend: some guy swimming just a little faster than me, who could navigate well and who didn’t kick wildly. I spent the whole return leg on his toes, drafting my little heart out. If I’d only found him sooner, I might have made my goal. It’s kind of sad. He pulled away the last 100m and I never got to say “thank you.” So, thank you, whoever you are.
It is amazing how fast the swim goes when you get a good draft, not only because you’re going faster than you could on your own but also because time passes swiftly when you are concentrating on getting close to, but NOT touching, those dancing feet. Almost nothing ticks a 50-54 year old guy off more, and it usually results in either a kick to get away or a kick to your face.
Time to put the wetsuit away until Columbia next year, as I expect none of the rest of my races in 2012 to be wetsuit legal.
(Did that water taste nasty or what this year? Hope the parasites stay away!)
T1: 2:21 (AG 6/112)
I tell people to practice transitions. It’s time to take my own advice. I somehow missed my row by one, had to duck under the rack, and then fumbled getting the wet suit off my ankles. I’m with Adrian Matthews and Mike Barone. The bottom of my almost new Xterra Vortex wetsuit legs are history. They are way too long. Once I escaped the clutches of the wetsuit, T2 went like clockwork. My shoes were on the bike, so it was a fairly quick barefoot trek up the hill. (I find it faster to carry my bike on my shoulder and run, rather than to push it like a normal person).
Bike: 1:10:51 (AG 5/120, 21.2 mph avg)
The bike was uneventful (which I like), but I missed my goal of sub 1:10:00 again. Last year, I missed it by 20 seconds but then I dropped my chain twice and was stuck in the big ring the entire ride due to derailleur bracket failure. With my mechanical issues in order this year, and with a new comfy bike fit by Mike Stone, I hoped to do better. I’m running out of excuses, but I went even slower this year by 30 seconds. Next year, I’ll do have to do more than just hope.
The roads were dry and clean, the traffic was light, and people were generally staying to the right but, in all honesty, my bike training has been relatively light and I knew it. Except for a couple of trips to the mountains, most of my training miles have been commuting miles, not the quality interval sessions or long, punishing tempo rides I’ve done in the past.
Hydration on the bike was simple: one 20oz bottle of Accelerade with sips every 10 minutes. The bike finish went like planned: I slipped my feet out of the shoes on 108, coasted down and went into T1 with about 3-4 other guys in my AG.
T2: 00:49 (T1/112)
Nothing to do but put on the shoes and socks. I’m almost a sockless convert, but I fear blisters more than I dread the scorn of Mike Barone. I only needed 2-4 more seconds for the socks, but if I knew the finish would be so close, I might have skipped the socks. I won’t relinquish my socks in a half or full Ironman, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll try the Barone sockless approach for my next Olympic distance race.
Run: 41:17 (6:40 avg, AG 1/112)
I love this run course, but sometimes it doesn’t love you back. I found the run to be very hard this year. Maybe it was the heat, maybe I need more bricks, I know I need better bike legs, and maybe it was the 3-mile race at about 6:00 min pace on Wednesday. Whatever it was, my legs required a lot of encouragement. My time was 17 seconds faster than last year, but once again, I missed my goal to run sub-40.
This is the first time I have ever raced without my Garmin. I always fumble to get it on in T2 and I’m on this simplification kick now. I also decided to go without it after the Boston marathon debacle (where one pin came loose and it flopped on my wrist for 23 or so miles). Besides I only use it to stop me from starting out too quickly and at Columbia my race plan was to push as hard as I could from the beginning to the end (goal pace of sub 6:30). The mile markers were good enough to monitor my pace for the first four or so miles. But shortly after mile 5, someone else drove my pace.
This year, like every year, I expected it would take a good run to be on the podium. I knew I was going to have to suffer, and I accepted it early. Deep breathing, and focusing on form and relaxing puts me in the zone when I run, and it helps me put the pain on the shelf. I try to stay in the moment, concentrating on making my next mile split. (I apologize for not responding to shout-outs when I’m in the zone).
The run is always a mystery at Columbia, because it’s hard to be sure who is in front of you (particularly now that Tom McGee and Jeff Oxman have aged up. Guys like Tom and Jeff are my worst nightmare: swimmers who can bike and run. I always KNEW they were in front of me.) With no out-and-backs on the bike, you race almost blind at Columbia. I left 3-4 guys behind in transition with a quick T2, and I passed 2-3 more in the first couple of miles. After that it seemed there was no one for a very long time.
Then on Old Annapolis Road at about mile 5, I came upon a calf blaring “51”. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was Jimmy Railey, who took third to my fourth last year. Since I’d caught him, I thought maybe he was fading. I took a couple of deep breaths and surged past him. Jimmy responded immediately. For at least the next half mile I could hear his footsteps right behind me, even during the ascent up that I think is Gatorade Hill. We were both suffering, but I was able to stay loose and maintain deep belly breathing (something I didn’t do in the last half of mile of the 3-miler Wednesday where I faded badly).
I decided if Jimmy was going to catch me, he’d have to pay for it in pain. I’m not sure where I started to pull away, but by the time I made it to the dam, I couldn’t hear his footsteps or his breathing anymore. The last .2 mile up the hill and to the finish was excruciating; I was afraid to look over my shoulder for fear of slowing down. I crossed that beautiful finish line, putting twenty seconds on Jimmy. The third place finisher, Greg Nelson, was only five seconds behind Jimmy. Somewhere, Jimmy and I had passed him during our duel.
Columbia was fun this year. But I suffered on the course like a lot of us did. My conditioning is not where I want it to be for Eagleman or where I need it to be for Placid, but I have time. My run is OK, but the swimming and cycling are well behind schedule.
And Columbia became a qualifier for the 5150 nationals (Hy Vee triathlon) in Des Moines, Iowa, in September. I'm thinking about squeezing it in between Placid and the long course Nationals. (Des Moines is my hometown). If anyone else is interested, I'll find you a free place to stay.
One thing Columbia showed me this year is the value of rest. Despite issues with my bike conditioning, I came in fairly well rested with the forced taper. Columbia gave back. This is the first time in five attempts I’ve won the age group and had a Columbia PR by 2.5 minutes. Rest is underrated.