Saturday, June 7, 2008

My First Duathlon?

This morning I awoke at about 4:15 am to begin my journey to what was supposed to be my first TRIathlon of the 2008 season. Actually, I was awakened sometime in the 3 o'clock hour to the sound of heavy rain and thunder. Not a total surprise - it had been forecast all week. However, what was happening at my home in St. Joseph was irrelevant. The race was 90 miles to the southwest at Lake Shelbyville. I checked the weather radar. Lake Shelbyville was on the southern edge of a massive red, yellow, and green blob. Maybe things would be alright by the 8 am scheduled start. I loaded up my gear, along with a rain poncho and several trash bags, and headed to Champaign to pick up co-worker Kelley Wegeng. This was to be her first TRIathlon. Ever.

First we had to work through about 50 miles of totally drenched interstate 57. Once we headed west from Mattoon, Illinois, the dark gray skies lightened a bit. Things were looking more promising. But once we arrived and started setting up our gear in the transition area, the skies opened up. I was glad to have the poncho for myself and the trash bags for my bike seat and transition tub, which contained my bike helmet, running shoes, sunglasses(?), and other sorts of multisport necessities.

I was changed into race clothes and set to go when the pre-race meeting rolled around at 7:45. Tony Garrett and his fine crew of organizers at Mattoon Beach Multisport announced that there would be no swimming due to the lightning in the area. We were all disappointed for sure, but it was the right call. The good news was that a break in the weather was on the way and things were looking good for the scheduled start. The swim leg would be replaced with a 1-mile run, which for most folks, would take roughly the same time as the 400m swim that was not to be. This was about an even swap for me as well, at least as far as time goes. However, it was probably to the detriment of my overall competitiveness. I am not the greatest runner. The nice thing about swimming in a triathlon, is that if you relax, especially the lower body, you can save a lot of leg power for the bike and run.

I had no idea how I should pace myself for a 1-mile run, but there wasn't much time for contemplation. The event was very lightly attended, with only about 48 age-group competitors. Some arrived at the race only to leave, discouraged by the weather. Others no doubt didn't bother getting out of bed. Central Illinois is not exactly a triathlon hotbed, but some folks did come from as far as my great hometown of St. Louis. Anyway, the horn sounded and we set off on the opening run leg in a mass start. I started to work my way forward, but the true runners in the field set a very fast pace. Not being a true runner, and recognizing that this was just a prelude to the "real" race, I stayed with a small pack about a third of the way down the field.

I finished the opening run in a shade over 7 minutes and was relieved to be getting on my bike, and starting a TRIathlon rhythm. The bike is by far my favorite part and having invested in new equipment this year, I was excited to finally race on it. (See the bike post.) The rain had mostly subsided, with just an occasional drizzle, but the pavement was very wet with standing water in places, so it was important to pay attention. I started up my GPS-powered bike computer, which includes a cadence meter that I heavily depend on. I always try to maintain about 90-100 pedal revolutions per minute, which can be tricky with changing grade, winds, and road surface, without the instant feedback the computer affords. It proved it's worth right out of the gate. Because the transition area was down by the beach and lake, it was at the lowest elevation on the course. After an initial, obvious, climb out of the start, the next mile or so was on a "false flat" or a very slight uphill grade that can lull a rider into thinking he is on a flat. Looking down at my cadence, I saw that I was pushing in the 80s, so I dropped it back a gear, upped the revolutions, and saved my fast-twitch muscles for the end of the race.

I was mostly able to hold my bike speed in the 21-25 mph range - a bit faster on the way out with a mild tailwind and a bit slower on the way back. The original (unofficial) race results generously show my pace as 23.5 mph, based on a 10-mile bike leg. My GPS computer recorded only 9.13 miles on course, which was corroborated by my car odometer. The revised results show a 21.9 mph average, which I'll gladly take on a crummy day. At least the winds were not punishing as they often can be in these here parts. I felt good and like I could have gone harder, but I needed to save some for the run.

I passed a BUNCH of people on the bike, which felt great. But I reminded myself that we all started in one wave, and that I was only in position to pass people who RAN faster than me, and that we were all going to have to run again - next time 3 miles instead of 1. Chances were good that I would be seeing a few of those people again from the opposite perspective. I was passed by one guy on the bike with about a mile to go, but I marked him back to the transition.

Now for the (not so) fun part. Triathlon is a sport that mostly belongs to the runners. Even though the bike is typically half or more of the total race time, the good runners always finish strong and an athlete's ranking in the run split is usually a good predictor of his finishing place in the overall race. I just try to hang on through the suffering. The run course was composed of 3 out-and-backs in a hub-and-spoke sort of configuration. The transition area was at the end of one spoke. I saw plenty of really fast guys coming the other way down each of the spokes. To my surprise, I was only passed by a couple people on the run, but to my embarrassment, they were both older than me. The fastest female in the race was pacing me the whole way. I pulled away from her on my finishing kick to avoid being "chicked." The term, which comes from my USSA Masters Ski Racing circles, refers to the condition of being bested by a woman on the field of play. It happens to me a LOT on skis, and usually at the hands of one or two in triathlon, but the really fast girls must have sat this one out.

With relief in sight, the finish line unfolded in front of the lake at the bottom of the small hill. Some of these courses include a finishing circuit around the parking lot or something to round out the advertised distance. I feared this would be the same, and I guess I wasn't paying enough attention to the pre-race instructions. So when I crossed the timing pad at the line, out of breath, I asked the officials and small cadre of observers if I was done. They thought that was quite humorous, or perhaps pitiful. Were they laughing with me, or AT me?

I then made the rounds to check the numbers on the calves of those who had finished before. Those magic numbers reveal the ages of their bearers. So far, so good. Everyone was either older or younger. But there was one mysterious guy with just an "8" on his leg, the first digit obscured by a knee brace. He looked older than me, so I assumed he must be 48. Having dodged a chicking, I was in for a different kind of disappointment. Not only was the hidden number a "3", the guy finished a scant 35.15 seconds ahead of me. THAT will teach me to assume other people are old. I might have dug deeper to catch him at the finish, had I known he was the competition. It gets worse. He beat me by 43.5 seconds in T2! (That's the second, or bike-run transition in tri lingo.) I took a moment to grab a shot of energy gel and chase it with water during T2... and there went the race for first place in my age group. We were stride for stride through T1 and I beat him on the bike. Next time, I'll suck down the gel on the bike or at the start of the run. Live and learn.

When the dust settled, I wound up 11th overall and 6th overall on the bike, which is "the good". Running is "the bad" and transitions are "the ugly", especially in short races such as this. I will have plenty to work on this summer. Here are the results by age-group and overall.

My next race will be July 5. I will be raising money for an important charity on that one - more details to come. That will be followed two weeks later with my first "international" distance triathlon, which should entail about 2 1/2 hours of grinding it out.


1 comment:

Anne said...

Hi Scott! Congrats on your strong finish! I'm sure you'll continue to improve over the course of the summer, too!