Sunday, May 15, 2011

Madness Indeed

The forecast for Sunday, May 15 called for pain. Rainy and cold conditions would smoother most of Illinois, and Effingham would not be spared. The evening before, Martin, beset with visions of hypothermia and pneumonia, and the possibility of only his buoyant wetsuit keeping him from sinking to the bottom of murky Lake Sara, cautioned that he might become a spectator to the suffering of the May Madness Sprint Triathlon. I only half-jokingly considered doing the entire race in my wetsuit. Any day that my furnace kicks on is not one that I would choose to ride dripping wet and wearing only a wafer-thin tri suit. In the end, Martin and I are both competitors (who both dropped $65 in non-refundable race fees), so we decided to harden the #$%* up!

The water temperature was a chilly 67 degrees Fahrenheit and the racers had the beach to themselves. With the air temperature locked on 49 degrees throughout the day, northwesterly winds of 13 mph, and a driving drizzle that replicated the effect of being hit repeatedly with a giant pin cushion, the swim, with the aid of 5 mm of neoprene, would be by far the most pleasant part of the race.

The racers, 73 strong, started in a single wave. Usually a group this size would be broken into several start waves to limit the duration of the full-contact portion of the swim to about a minute or less, but the nice thing about a single start wave is that you always know the score. Anyone ahead of you on the course is ahead of you in the race. It would add intrigue to the intra-team rivalry between Martin and I, since I am a little better in the swim, we are about the same on the bike, and he is a little better in the run - usually. As the countdown began, I asked Martin to kindly not pass me until a mile into the run.

Needless to say, it was a little crowded in the water. I only got really clobbered once: a forearm to the thick part of the top of my skull. I have done at least one tri with a fat lip, which is no fun. One key, I've learned, is to ease up a bit when the bubbles get really big. Swimming in a crowd never feels really fast, especially when you have to keep your head up, but being pulled along with the momentum of human-generated current is usually not as slow as it feels. Just avoid getting boxed in by a group of really slow swimmers and letting a gap open to the pack you should be swimming in - not at all unlike road racing on a bike. I managed to get in the clear after the first turn in the triangular course, but Martin felt trapped until the final turn.

I exited the water in 7th place, with Martin 40 seconds back in 12th. It was my first race in a wetsuit. I had, of course, tried it on for size, but had never actually gotten it wet. I had no trouble finding the zipper and pulling the top off my shoulders. Sitting next to my bike in transition, I pulled it down to my knees, but then hit massive snags mid-calf on both sides. As I flailed away, kicking and screaming, Martin pulled up. "This has to be my worst T1 ever", I offered to Martin and anyone else unfortunate enough to hear. "This is not really a day to be fast", Martin replied. Both of us kept our gear inside totes with lids to keep the rain out. Anyone tough enough to not care would surely put seconds into both of us in triathlon's "fourth discipline." We also packed full-fingered gloves for the bike, but both abandoned the idea of pulling them on over wet hands. I left T1 52 seconds ahead of Martin and would not see him again until the bike turnaround. Martin started the bike just 2 seconds behind rival Eric, a tall dude in Decatur's Spin City Cycle suit, whose efficiency in transition would prove pivotal.

The wind and rain were certainly nasty, but the northwesterly orientation was nearly ideal. The bike course was mostly out and back, with a westward "out". Martin opted for the rear disk and I went with Zipp 404s, front and back. We both made the right decision for our comfort level in the crosswinds. I thought about dropping the pressure in my tires for the wet conditions, but given that there were only two 90 degree turns and one turnaround, I left it up at about 110 psi. I thought most of the course was smooth asphalt, from what we saw on the drive in. However, the smooth tarmac gave way to oil and chip after a couple miles, and I felt myself bouncing over the uneven surface quite a bit. Know the course, dummy.

We both passed most of the faster swimmers on the bike, but two guys stayed out in front the whole way. I was third heading into the turnaround and Martin was fourth, with Eric close behind. They both passed me shortly after the turnaround, but I kept it close and the three of us would enter T2 with less than 9 seconds of separation. At the last race, I nipped Martin by 19 seconds on the bike, which I chalked up to my having a rear disk and his not having one. Today, the equipment, and the tables, were turned - 60 seconds advantage to Martin. But setup doesn't explain it all; Martin rode harder this time. (Bike Profile)

Martin paused to put socks on for the run, a challenging test of motor skills with fingers numbed by weather and his blazing ride. I nearly forgot my Garmin and dropped several seconds going back for it. (I should have left it; there is no need to monitor lactate threshold in a sprint race, but I like to look at splits.) Mr. Spin City wisely did not mess around and exited T2 first among us. I followed 17 seconds later, with Martin another 4.5 seconds back. I went out at about a 6:50/mile pace, but with nagging Achilles tendinits (and a near total 3 week hiatus from run training), that was all I could do. Martin steadily accelerated and passed me within about 1/4 mile. I shouted, "Spin City is 46 (years old - in Martin's age group) - go get him!" The gap steadily grew though and Martin brought it home in 4th, 35 seconds behind Eric. I finished 39 seconds later for 5th. (Run Profile)

Transitions were the difference, at least for Martin. He beat Eric by 40 seconds in the combined swim, bike, and run, but gave 75 seconds away in the two transitions. I spotted Eric 50 seconds in transitions, but lost 3rd by a larger margin. Still, maybe I could have found inspiration to run harder if the deficit had been surmountable.

The first and second place finishers were really solid in all three phases. Guys like that are hard to beat and your only chance is if they have a bad day. They didn't. (Full results)

We will both stretch the distance for our June triathlons, but go our separate ways. Martin, gearing up for a return to Ironman Louisville, will return to Lake Sara for the Cutting Edge Half Classic and I will likely head to Missouri for the Quartermax. It is only fitting we would split the early season duel for the "Wild Card Cup."

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