Karen Smyers once said to me: “You usually get the race you deserve, not the one you’re hoping for.” I understood her to mean that, except for things you can’t control like injuries, illness and weather, you get out of a race what you put into your training.
I think she’s right. And I paid the price this year for skimping on my saddle time, turning in a bike split over five minutes slower than 2012.
Even though my performance fell short of my expectations, I love this race. Vigo left his organizational mark, and the CTA continues to improve a race that I thought was close to perfect already. The rain pretty much held off, the roads were good (compared to Lake Placid at least), and the weather was perfect for running.
The best part is the MMTC tent, both before and after the race. I look forward to seeing people I only see a few times a year. It’s good to put new faces to e-mail addresses, and to catch up with old friends. The tent is place to calm your nerves before the race and to recover afterwards and congratulate people on their accomplishments. Seeing Hector finish despite a severe knee injury and a bike crash was impressive. A number of our teammates did their first Olympic.
Some of the times turned in by MMTC racers are scary fast: Steve Levickas’s 2:17; and Pat Sheridan’s 2:20 with a PR by 41 minutes. My sincere thanks to the volunteers who manned the tent, who “pulled” us up Gatorade Hill, and who showed up everywhere else along the way.
It was also a privilege to be in Vigo’s wave, which included the paratriathletes. When I complain about a slow race or a short-term injury, they make me take a step back and think about how lucky I am. And how courageous they are.
Pre-race for Columbia was an experiment, and an experiment that I plan not to repeat. It proved what I’ve been saying lately about stress: the week before a race, do whatever you can to reduce stress and rest. I didn’t do that for Columbia this year, and it probably contributed to my slower times.
Immediately after the ACLI Challenge (a 3 mile race) on Wednesday, I had to hop a plane for Miami to interview key witnesses from Argentina in an investigation that has been heating up. It’s been stressful, and I spent two long days trying to extract truthful facts the way a dentist extracts teeth. Sleep wasn’t abundant, and I never got another workout in until the race. I got home about midnight on Friday (the important sleep night before the race), and I slept poorly. Again probably stress-related.
Packet pick-up was delightful (nice change of location, CTA), and bike check went smoothly. Up at 2 a.m. Sunday to eat, and I was back at Centennial Park about 4:45 a.m., tucked nicely in a warm car in a good parking spot. (I follow Wade Gaasch’s advice on de-stressing by arriving early). Transition set up was easy. T1 and T2 stuff were bagged in Ironman bags to stay dry, the bike was in good shape, and I only had to check my tires and add my one water bottle of Nuun (cola flavor with caffeine).
For some reason, I felt more nerves this year than I can ever remember at a triathlon, except maybe for Kona and Beijing. I had a wave of nausea just before my swim wave, but walked back to the tent and grabbed a Tums out of my tri bag. That seemed to do the trick. I also switched goggles, grabbing a new spare pair in the bag after noticing the pair I brought had a frayed strap.
Swim: 27:42 (avg pace 1:41/100)
This was my first race with the 55-59 year olds, so I started in wave 4: Vigo, Deano and the rest of the 55+ guys all the way up! What a difference old age makes. Almost no violence. I can confidently say I suffered no intentional assaults all throughout the swim.
The sighting seemed easy, the water temperature was comfortable, and Centennial Lake seemed to taste less like ducks and their excrement this year. I even found a draft for a short while, the water seemed clear enough to follow him easily, but the guy couldn’t navigate so I let him go on his crooked way.
I felt comfortable throughout the swim, concentrating mainly on a long glide leading into a high elbow catch. I seemed to pick up the pace in the final few hundred meters, catching a few of the dark green caps. However, my time was two minutes slower than last year. I heard people say they felt the course was longer this year, not that it matters since we all swim the same course.
It was great to see Bob and Sadj at the swim exit, and I’m particularly grateful to Michele Bull who untangled my wet suit cord as I went by on the way to transition.
T1 was about 30 seconds longer this year, which I attribute to the drizzle. When it’s dry, I put my shoes on the bike (secured with rubber bands) and then slide the feet in while I pedal away after mounting. When it’s not, I put my shoes on in transition. I find the cleats give me better traction up the hill. It may slow me down a little, but it prevents a slip and fall. (We 55+ guys think about stuff like that).
So, all my bike stuff (shoes, socks, glasses, belt and helmet) were inside an Ironman transition bag where they stayed dry but were quickly accessible. I’ll take a few extra seconds in T1 to start out dry and get up the hill safely.
T1 wasn’t my major problem this year.
Bike: 1:16:08 (19.7 mph avg)
My major problem was the bike. I mean it was the bike’s motor. The bike performed perfectly. I thought the conditions were good. The roads were damp but not super slippery. (After the torrential rains at Lake Placid in 2008, it takes a flooded road to bother me). I experienced no problems with traffic, and the course (being in the 4th wave) was not crowded. I simply have no excuses for a slow time.
Turning onto 108, I passed a couple of my fellow old farts and settled into what I expected what would be a comfortably hard pace. But the quads weren’t comfortable, and it seemed I was working harder than normal. I hit the halfway point close to my goal (just under 35 minutes for a goal bike leg of 1:10:00), but I started to fade on or not long after Greenbridge.
I’d only been passing people, but got passed before Tridelphia by someone I assumed was not in my age group. I couldn’t read the calf etchings (“was that a 44?”) and he wasn’t wearing his number belt (which isn’t required on the bike for this race). He looked pretty young for an old fart, so I assumed he wasn’t. After I finished, I would learn I was wrong.
I faded on the trip back to Centennial, finishing with a PW (personal worst) of 1:16:08. In retrospect, it’s not surprising. I’ve been piling on the running mileage since September, focusing on marathons and ultras. Work has been demanding and I’ve had more family obligations. I’ve been cheating the bike. Something has to give and the bike takes the most time. It gave.
Cycling success is predominantly about volume. Shawn Young just proved what you can do by doubling your bike volume when he trained for Ironman Texas: he turned in a 5:10 bike split in 90+ temps and windy conditions. He's also a gutsy racer.
On the other hand, most of my bike training since January has consisted of a 12-mile commute to work 4 to 6 times a week. I’ve only done a handful of rides longer than 40 miles this year, and no tempo rides or pyramid work. Usually I’ve made two or three trips to the mountains by the time Columbia rolls around. This year, none.
Karen is right: I got the bike split I deserved.
T2 went as planned. There were not many bikes in transition. All the pro and elite bikes, but not many anywhere else. A good sign. I follow the Chip Warfel transition strategy: keep it simple. I had only shoes, dry socks and a gel, all nice and dry in an Ironman transition bag. Once again, I’ll give up a few seconds for dry socks (and I did, as I was about 20 seconds slower this year than last). Wet socks (or no socks) mean blisters for me. Blisters mean a slow (or slower) run. I took my one gel as I exited transition (a Second Surge chocolate with 100 mg caffeine) and washed it down with a cup of water.
Run: 41:46 (6:45 avg pace)
My legs felt heavy, but it always feels good to run coming off the bike. I planned to ease into the first hill, let gravity do its thing on the downhill side and then push the redline the entire rest of the way. I pushed but didn’t get the response I wanted. My goal pace was sub 6:30, and I felt I had the conditioning to go under 40 minutes with a good run. But like the bike, I was working harder than I should have been.
If you want to run well in a triathlon, you have to have strong bike legs. Weak bike legs mean you pay the price with tired run legs. I think that’s what the gurus mean when they say to sharpen your strengths in triathlon, work on your weaknesses.
The MMTC water stop at Gatorade Hill was great. It really means a lot to hear the shout outs from volunteers and other MMTC racers. I heard many. I hardly respond (I'm too busy belly breathing), but I hear you and it helps. Thanks.
Remember that “young guy” on the bike? All throughout the run there he was about 100-150 or so yards in front of me. We both passed several 55+ guys, who never responded, and we both got passed by some 35+ year olds, and we never responded. I should have been paying attention. I might have realized his non-response to the younger guys was related to him looking over his shoulder at me. I was too busy dealing with the pain of searing lungs and the frustration of unresponsive legs.
I crossed at about 2:29:35, my second slowest Columbia time ever, fifth in the age group, and 32 seconds behind that “young guy.” He turned out to be 59, a slower swimmer than me, but with a faster bike split and running about two seconds faster per mile. I’ll race smarter next time. I think I could have caught him.
I didn’t make my goals at Columbia this year, but I have a pretty good sense why. Focusing on run mileage was the plan, I have a good run base, and I’ve had good run results to start the year. But it’s time to turn back to multi-sport. Fortunately, I have time to make the training adjustments before the Lake Placid Ironman by getting to the mountains as well as adding pyramids and tempo bike workouts.
Next year, maybe I’ll focus on the bike. Triathlon is an experiment with a sample size of one. Sometimes experiments work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re not fun, but they’re always interesting.