Friday, June 27, 2008

Medical Lake Trailblazer Triathlon

This is the first open water triathlon in the immediate Spokane area. I like this race for a few reasons.

1. It's close to home
2. The race starts at 1:00, yes 1:00
3. This is the one and only triathlon that the distances are 'exact same' from year to year because you swim across a lake. Granted, their measurement isn't exact, but it has been the same for over 25 years
4. You get a variety of people from veterans to first timers
5. They offer to haul you over to the start in the back of trucks (seriously)
6. They give you your award and t-shirt right when you cross the line
7. It's a fun low key race... that hurts.

Normally this race is 1 week prior to IM Cda so it's a great pre race effort. But this year it was the day before so it did not get as big a turnout as years past. But about 150 were still in attendance. I have raced this evet 2 times prior. The first time getting second to Tom Soderdahl (pro from Finland riding for TIMEX), and last year I was first. And this year the perennial favorite, Michael Bergquist, would not be racing since he would be doing IM Cda th next day. Michael literally lives on the course. His house is spitting distance from the start and he trains exclusively on this course. So he knows it well. So well that wherever he racks his bike... so do I, wherever he starts on the swim... so do I. Wherever he is, and whatever he does, is for a tactical advantage. But Michael wold not be racing so I would have to wing it.

This year was a little up in the air this year because my pre race preparations had been anything but decent leading up to this. Most the week's focus was on getting things ready for IM Cda which neither Jessi nor I were involved in, but would be spectating and be there the entire day. So periodically we would have to remind ourselves that we have a race to do on Saturday. In other words, mentally we were not really 'there.'

We rolled into the race site at about 11:30am (1.5 hours prior) and the transition area was practically full. Pretty amazing that people get here so early for such a small race. But I think that has to do with a 1:00pm start time... who isn't up by then. I was able to get a decent spot after talking with many people before even getting into transition. That's what I love about local races... you get to see so many familiar faces and connect with people. But this also consumes the time pretty quickly and therefore I find myself scrambling to get to the start.

I finally got my area set up and was able to get in a little warm up ride as well. When I got back, they were loading up the participants in the back of trucks and were ready to start heading over to the other side of the lake. I normally swim across the lake since it's about 400 meters... not too far. You can honestly make it over there faster swimming than in the back of a truck. I realized that I did not have a swim cap (normally given to us) so Michael went and grabbed me one from his house. He knows every second counts :)
Looks like a bunch of seals sunning themselves on the rocks

I then swam across the lake, which always feels pretty good and I was able to find some friendly faces at the start and we had about 10 minutes before the start. So the typical conversations started to happen and the surface humor was abundant. But it always helps before a race... it helps you feel like you are in this with a bunch of people just like you. There was a gal, Samantha, who is/was a NCAA record holder in the butterfly and free in this race so I figured I would not be the first to the ramp.

The gun, or something, went off and the race started. The swim start is spread all out. So not too deep but very wide. I took off and settled in quickly. I could see people to the right of me, since that is the side I breathe to. Since my eye sight is not all that good I was doing my best to go straight. I eventually could see where we exited and focused on that. I was first out and ran up the grassy hill and was out of my B70 suit quickly and on the road.
I settled in on my TTX and watched my watts. I really wanted them to stay at 100 the entire race :) (just thought I would throw that in for all you number people). The bike felt okay, but I did not feel strong on the bike. More like I was just out there 'doing it.' I did not see anyone and just wanted to maintain a consistent effort.

I came into T2 quickly and racked my bike.... actually Michael grabbed it for me and got it in the rack since my bike was a little too tall for the racks they had. I know, 'outside assistance,' but don't think I gained any time by it, only protected my bike from falling over and getting damaged.

I headed out on the slightly less than 3 mile run. It just goes around the lake. There was a guy in this race that can run a 15 minute 5k so I had to have a decent gap on him. When I came out of T2 herd someone say '20 seconds.' Crap! I must only have 20 seconds on 2nd place. Man, this is not good. I took off and quickly tried to get into a steady rhythm. I just never felt 'smooth.' Not that I ever do in a print race, but I just did not feel like I was going very fast. I never looked back because I did not want to know how close someone was. If it was Josh (the 15 min 5k guy), and he was 20 seconds back, he would catch me. He could have been 1 minute back and still would have caught me...maybe even 2 minutes.

It was pretty hot and humid so I was actually looking forward to the one aid station on the backside of the run. I could see where it was set up and my body was already anticipating the water. As I approached it, I saw that it was a couple water jugs and a stack of cups. What!? You have got to be kidding. am supposed to stop and fill up my own cup. My thirst got worse because I knew I was not going to stop. Only about 1.5 miles to go... I could make it. I finally made the final turn and could see the finish line about 400 meters down the road. I kept truckin' and with about 100 to go, I looked back just in case there was someone that was 20 yards back. You get passed in the last few yards unexpectedly, you never let it happen again. And yes, it has happened once, only once.
Love the picture of Emma and Linda off my left shoulder

I crossed the line first, but felt more like a 5th place performance. I defended my Founder's Day title. Now I can let it go. I will still race this race, but you only have to defend once. After that it's just bonuses in my opinion. Think about it, everyone talks about the defending champion and wondering if they will repeat. After they do, it's not a surprise. Just a thought.

I stayed and cheered in the rest of the athletes. I think I was literally the last person the leave. You know how it is... you get to chatting with people and next thing you know it's 4:00pm. But then again it started at 1:00.
A shout out to Jessi who had a great race on what we have found out to be a more severe injury in her lower back than we had first suspected. This race probably did not help that, but 2nd place overall is a nice accomplishment too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blue Lake Club Championships

Hailed as one of the Pacific Northwest’s favorites and the Tri Northwest Club Championships, I had to attend. It was a crazy week leading up to this race. With school ending and grades needing to be in, there were some long nights and the training this week was sub par. We had a home stay coming when we came back from Finland to race IM Cda, and had people coming to look at our home that was listed. Emma had a dance recital on Saturday night in Spokane which was over at about 9:00pm. The race was in Portland, OR on Sunday at 8:00am. So doing the math, we had to drive 6 hours, sleep about 3 hours, and race like we were ready. Kind of a tall order really. But we made it. We were fortunate enough to have some good friends in Natalie and Greg Gallagher join us in this adventure. They watched Emma’s recital as well. Everything said, ‘this is probably is not a good week.’ But I had just come off of a disappointing experience at ITU Worlds and wanted to get a race in.

So, now the race. With a field of over 450 participants, it’s a pretty big race. They have a self proclaimed ‘elite’ field, but it’s basically part of the age group results with an ideal transition spot and they get to start first with a field of 20. My wave started 1 minute behind and my transition spot was pretty good. So I decided not to switch my division and thought it would be nice to ‘chase’ than be chased. Knowing that I was hypothetically 1 minute behind the favorites on the bike would make me want to chase them down.

So after getting my B70 Helix on and heading down to the water, I was kind of excited to get a swim in. I HAD been swimming pretty well, but did not get to test that out at ITU Worlds. I had a crappy swim here last year and was hoping to go a bit faster. The elite wave took off and we were next. The countdown started and next thing you knew, it was ‘go time.’ I started fast and found some clear water right away. There was a guy swimming faster that came up next to me and I got on his feet… and then he swam away. Darn it! But after that, I had open water until I started swimming through the elite wave. There were men and women in this field, so I had not clue who I was passing. I was feeling solid and had a good turnover. As I rounded the last buoy and was heading for home, I felt good.

I got out and headed for my bike quickly getting out of my suit and running up the short hill. I got to my bike and glanced over to see that a couple elites were in there transitioning as well, but the rest must be out on the bike. I quickly passed one of the elites and was on the hunt for the rest. At the first turnaround I took a split on the lead guy and started looking for some of the guys that I normally gage my placement by… but I did not see them. After I rounded the turnaround, I started seeing who was behind me. The guys that I was worried about were actually behind me. I passed them in the swim. Wow, the swim went better than I thought. Now I needed to put some time on them. There were still a few guys up the road, but there was also a duathlon going on and it was hard to tell who was doing what. All I knew was that if there was someone in front, I needed to catch them and put time on them. I caught everyone but the lead guy. I just could not close on him. I was thinking that it was the guy who swam away from me and he was just having a great day. The bike went okay for me. I seemed to put out a decent amount of power and I felt very comfortable on my Trek TTX. But I did have some moments that I just felt like I was fading. Nothing horrible, but I did not feel like I had in past races. It might have been a mental thing knowing that someone was ahead of me, or it could have been the lack of sleep that I figured would start to play a part later I this race.

I eventually came into T2 in second place. I thought I was about 1 minute down and blazed through T2. I started out on the run trying to get into a good pace, but I also could see that there were guys coming in to T2 behind me. Mostly elites that I was actually 1 minute more ahead of… nice thing to have in the bank :). As I was approaching the first mile I was closing fast on the 1st place guy… he was running pretty slow for how fast he rode. As I approached him, I gave him some words of encouragement and realized he was pretty much done. I later found out that he was a duathlete, so I was chasing someone that was not even in my same race. So the short of it is that I started 1 minute behind the elite wave and rode through them all in the first 2 miles of the bike and now I was trying to maintain that lead on the run.

I had some pretty good runners behind me and at the turnaround I would have an idea how far back they really were. The first person I saw was Ben Greenfield. I was about 1:04 ahead at the turn… plus the 1 minute he started ahead so really over 2 minutes up. I knew that would be tough to close, and really, unless I totally fell apart, it would not happen. With less than 3 miles to go I was feeling it though, but was still moving along fine. At this point though I wanted to be the first to finish. I did not want to get passed. After a few more ups and downs and turns, I was within a half a mile, and then the finish was in sight. I crossed first, and about 50 seconds back was Ben. I thought we got 1-2, but the guy who swam so fast in my wave snuck into the 2nd spot so Ben ended up 3rd.
It was a pretty good race. I had some stomach issues, but nothing that ruined my race. This is a pretty non technical course, so I really don’t have too much of an advantage. The bike is straight out, flat, and pretty fast. The run is similar with more turns and a few ups and downs. So I felt I performed well. I don’t know if the lack of sleep played a role, or if a stressful week did, but a win is a win and I felt like I was able to stay in the race and not get frustrated. Some redemption from ITU Worlds, and my swim is coming along. I was a little disappointed in my run, but everyone seemed to run a little slower.
The club I raced for, Tri Fusion (www.tri-fusion.com) I believe was again named Club Champions for the second year in a row. Pretty cool.

So, there you have it, two races in a row in anything but ideal conditions. But you race them anyway and make 'no excuses… play like a champion.’

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

ITU World Championships

Sorry for taking so long on this, but I was waiting for the 'official' results which after almost 3 weeks, we are all still waiting. So here is what I have, without official results:

Vancouver Canada… a great place to visit and a place that made me feel like I was in a foreign town… a little foreign anyway. We rolled in and got set up in a suite at the Sandman Hotel which was about 1 mile from the race venue at Stanley Park. The race was on Saturday and this was going to be the big ITU World Championships. The stage was set and countries form around the world were here to race. It was great to see athletes form around he world, even the elites like Greg Bennett and Vanessa Fernadez. All the phenomenal short course people were there. But I was more focused on my age group race that was slated for a 9:35am Saturday.

The days leading up were cool (40s-50s) and very wet… that means rain. I rode the course in the rain and knew it would be pretty interesting. The bike course consisted of a 10k course that we would do 4 times. Lots of turns and the road surface was somewhat similar to roads on the south hill of Spokane, i.e. bumpy/patchy. I really did not know how in the world they would get that many athletes on the same course without some congestion. But that was the course and that’s the one that I would be racing on.

At 5:30am my phone rang. Who the heck would be calling on race morning at 5:30am? It was Mark, and he had driven all night to come and watch the race. How cool was that? I know he came up to support me but also be there for Jessi and Emma too during this crazy time. That’s one long drive for a 2 hour race, but he’s one good friend too.

Race morning did not disappoint. It was cool, but dry. However, the wind that picked up race day morning was nothing but amazing. It made 2007 IM Cda swim seem like calm water… seriously. Remember, this was in the Pacific.

It was cold and I was at the race site 1 1⁄2 hours before my race start. I wish I would have been wearing more clothes because it was just too long to be in that cool weather. I have to say a big thank you to Jessi, Mark and Emma for bearing this weather too and not complaining. They just wanted to make sure that I had what I needed. I know they were cold, but they wanted me to be comfortable.

We watched some of the swim and watched the more ‘mature’ women age groups tackling the swim that was shortened to a 1000 meter swim (from a 1500 meter) because of the waves. I was not too excited about that, but again, it’s just the way it goes. Before I headed over to the race start, I was notified that all the starts had been pushed back 1 hour. Crap. That totally messes up your nutritional plan. Not to mention, what happens in an hour? What else will be changed? There were definitely people hypothesizing. One theory was that they were just buying time to figure things out. Other thought they were going to cancel the race and hold it tomorrow morning. I was having flashbacks of the USAT Natz in 2005 in Kansas City, MO, when they cancelled the race because of rain. Not a good feeling.

As my race time was getting closer, I started to head over to the swim start which was about 3⁄4 of a mile from transition. On the way, I ran into some guys in my age group from Team USA that said that the race has been changed. They have cancelled the swim altogether, and now it would be a duathlon in the format of a 3k 40k 10k. My jaw dropped. I could kick the dirt, throw my hands up, yell and scream, but nothing would change. Again, it was what it was. Just like in Treasure Island when they cancelled the swim because of an oil slick, you have to look at what this race ‘looks’ like now. How you can be best prepared for it. You don’t have time to piss and moan. Along with the change in race, they also slid back all start times from 1 hour back to 1 1⁄2 hours back. Since it was so cold, Jessi and Emma went back to the hotel room to get some arm warmers for me. Mind you that the hotel was 1.5 miles away and they were walking. I also needed to think about what I was going to do for nutrition since I was sitting in the cold for an extra hour and a half. It really changes the dynamics of things.

On a side note, I have to say that this was a pathetic decision made by the ITU… just like in Kansas City when USAT made a similar decision they regretted. Because people were not prepared for a swim, it negatively impacted the rest of the age groups. Call it sour grapes, or a negative attitude, but hear me out. They canceled the swim because athletes ‘claimed’ they were suffering from hypothermia. Folks, the water temp did not drop from what was stated in information that was sent to the athletes 6 months prior to the race. We all knew it was going to be a cool swim. It’s the friggin’ northern Pacific in June. And the swim was now 1000 meters. You don’t get hypothermia in 10 minutes in 56 degree water when you are wearing full wetsuits… you just don’t. Do you get cold? Probably. But not hypothermic. I guarantee that if they would have started the male or female age groups in the 20-40 year age groups, the race would have gone on. I think some people’s pride got cold and needed a scapegoat. All of the women/men that ended up doing the whole course said that the water was cool, but not horrible. Nothing different from Oceanside or any other race using the Pacific. This isn’t an everyday triathlon. This is the World Championships. The people racing should be seasoned athletes prepared for all conditions. Argh! I think people got cooler on the bike than on the swim. Okay, there is my rant.

As I sat there with Mark, we hung out with some other TIMEX guys, Ian Ray and Chris Thomas. Two stellar guys that are great athletes. It’s always nice in these situations to kibitz with other people. I think it also dropped down the walls a bit from athletes from other countries. We all now had something to complain about or joke about. We were all triathletes… not duathletes. So we were all a little on our heels and everyone was trying to figure out all the logistics.

Eventually my time was coming, and like every other race, I found myself scrambling 10 minutes prior to my race start with clothes, bathroom, etc. Even with 1 1⁄2 hours of extra prep time, I was still rushed.

I quickly cruised over to the start where many people were waiting for the start of the 35-39 year old age group. Team USA quickly found each other and started making small talk… typical scenario in the ‘pre race’ environment. I was able to find Emma and Jessi on the sideline and give them both a kiss.

Soon the gun went off and we were underway for the first 3k. It started off pretty fast but people were not too aggressive as to where they wanted to be other than this guy from Ireland who was literally grabbing people’s shoulders and pushing people to the side so he could get through. It was literally way too much… he was being an ass and was an embarrassment to their triathlon federation. Other than that, people found the pace they were comfortable running. Ironically, the guy from Ireland was panting like an overweight dog after about 1000 meters and seemed like he was running in reverse. I wish I would have gotten his number to see where he finished, but why waste the time. As we approached the turnaround, things were in a straight line and people were where they were going to be. I made a few more passes and closed in on a few more in the front. I ended up coming in about 30 seconds behind 1st and was 13th into T1. I came out of T1 and started the bike in 7th. So I guess I had a pretty good T1 and a fast mount. But then again, the difference between 8 places was about 8 seconds. Every second counts :)

I started the bike pretty aggressively and thought I would push the pace a bit. I was working hard and dodging people and potholes and hit the first hill at about 4 miles and thought that I was setting a pace that would be tough to follow. Nope, as I hit the hill, 4 guys came around me. What? Are you kidding me? I asked one of the Team USA guys (Jason Schott) if all these guys were just sitting on my wheel. He said, ‘yup.’ Great, I have been pulling these guys from Great Britain, Mexico and other places for the past miles. I thought I would let some of these other guys set the pace for a bit and maintain a ‘legal’ distance back. I wanted to see where these guys were riding… what kind of pace they were capable of. I settled in to their pace and felt that it was not what I would normally ride, but I did not want to go to the front and drag them along for 3 laps. In all honesty, I really did not feel any resentment to the Team USA guys (Jason and Chris) since they were setting the pace as well, but the guys from Mexico and Great Britain just sat on our wheels. It was really frustrating. Once we were into the 3rd lap we caught the leaders who were Craig Greenslit and Andriy Yasterbov. Andriy won IM Wisconsin as a pro and placed in the top 3 at many other IMs while riding for Team TIMEX the last few years. I was surprised to see him racing as an age grouper. Once we caught them, Andriy jumped on our wheels (literally) and sat there. I would not say that if I did not see it for myself or have pictures of it. Kind of frustrating to have a successful professional in the same race as amateurs and then have him sit on our wheels… and my wheel to boot. As we approached T2, and were about 3 miles out, Andriy passed us all and rode away. Craig said that was Andriy, a pro, and had been sitting on my wheel the last lap. What a disappointment. Regardless, we headed down the hill and were about into T2. I could see Andriy approaching the dismount and slowing down. I decided to maintain a little speed and get my feet out of my shoes. In doing so, I passed Andriy and was into T2 before, and incidentally, was first in my age group into T2… cool. There were a few more behind me and we all headed out. I was second out of T2, behind Andriy. And that would be the last I saw of him :).

I was in second and felt my running legs settling in. After about a lap, Craig passed me… then Jason… then Chris. So I was in 4th place at that point. I was running steady and Jason and Chris were not flying away, just running a bit faster. We had to run 3 laps of this course that had multiple out and backs. There were tons of people on this course and you never really knew where you were. People would pass you, but you did not know what lap they were on. Regardless, I was running hard and felt good about what I was doing. I FINALLY was on my 3rd lap and was heading for the finish. As people made the turn for their other laps, I went right on by and headed for the finish. It was great to see that blue carpet which indicated the finish. There were a couple of guys ahead of me, but as I got closer to them I could see that they were in an age group younger than me. When they saw me coming, they sped up in fear that I was in their age group… I wasn’t. In all actuality, I was actually 10 minutes ahead of them :).

I figured after all was said and done, I was in about 6th or 7th place. But after the ‘unofficial results’ were posted, I was in 9th. The results are/were all screwed up because some people only did 2 laps… like the guys who ran 22 minute 10ks and the one guy who ran an 11 minute 10k. That’s faster than people ride! I have combed over the results and splits time and time again, and after looking at them, and knowing where I was in the race and how it unfolded, I feel VERY confident about my assessment. When, and if, the ITU and their timing geniuses get things figured out, we might solve the mystery. Really, it’s not a big deal to me. More frustrating than anything else. To spend as much money as we had to, and to be racing at the World Championships, you would expect that the timing would be something that was dialed in…not a work in progress. This might have been the last ITU World Championships I go to. Thank goodness it was in Vancouver and I did not waste all this time and money going to Australia or Germany or Switzerland. I cannot imagine the frustration that is being felt by those other countries right now. To be a triathlete and to have traveled across the world to race a duathlon where the placing and timing was all screwed up would be too much.

For what was presented, I think I did fine. A little out of my element, but I think I made the best of what was. I could not really push things on the bike and get the gap I needed because of drafting, so I adjusted my plan and hoped that I would be able to run better off the bike. But instead I learned that I run the same even if I go hard on the bike.

Thanks to all the people that came to support me or were out on the course cheering my name. Also, thanks to all of you that were back at home, or anywhere else in the nation, sending texts, voicemails, and emails wishing me well. They were fuel for my soul. Also, a HUGE thanks to Mark for making the trek and the financial commitment to come join in on the fun. And, of course, Jessi and Emma who made this all possible. Without their support, I would be at home :). I love you all!