Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Best Of The US

This was an eventful trip in many ways but as far as a race goes, it was a bit of a disappointment. The race will come further down on this post.

Upon arrival to Phoenix, I got a text from Bruce Gennari (TIMEX athlete) letting me know that he was there and about to get something to eat. I knew I would not be able to connect with him, but it was nice to know he was there and ready to make a weekend of it.

I collected my bike and headed out to get on the Best Western shuttle, which I did. But ended getting on the wrong one…the one that went to the airport Best Western. Fortunately I did not leave the terminal and waited a bit longer. I stood there next to the curb in about 85 degree heat in the shade. Just like the weather I left in Spokane.

I got checked in to my hotel and waited for Chris Thomas (TIMEX rider) to get there. I got my bike all put together and put on the new front wheel that I got from Fitness Fanatics. Thanks Robin. It all went together fine and looked tough. I watched some educational shows, like I always do when I travel, and waited for Chris to get there. I was getting hungry and fortunately Chris was on his way and he wanted food too.

I met him in the lobby where we both introduced ourselves to another triathlete, Chris Fetter form Nevada. Chris and I both raced at the Rage in the Sage in Nevada in April. That is where he qualified. He was interested in getting some food too and he had a car. So he hauled Chris and I to eat at some fancy pub. It was cool to get to know Chris and hear about him and what he does and the connection he has to the PNW. He was supposed to be staying with Bruce…kind of funny…but ended up staying at our hotel instead. We all planned on getting up and going for a ride in the morning after our continental breakfast.

The morning came and off we went to get some grub. And guess who showed up for breakfast? Bruce. He spent a lot of time at our hotel. Much more than at his own. I think the people actually thought he was a guest since he was there each morning for breakfast and using the shuttle service. We also ran into Cindi Bannick (TIMEX rider) and her roommate Crystal who is originally form Belgium and racing for Georgia. As you can tell we were turning into quite a pack. We decided that morning to go for a ride and check out the run course. We left at about 9:00am and the sun was already out and making a statement. The high on Saturday was to be 92 degrees. We definitely did not want to hang out in that too long. So we rode around town, attempted to ride what we thought was the run course, and then headed back to the hotel to shower and get ready to drive the bike course and get something to eat.

We took 2 cars to drive this bike course that had 5 ‘out and backs’ (e.g. 180 degree turnarounds) as well as twenty 90 degree turns. We would do 2 laps of this supposedly totaling 27 miles. We would later find out that the race distance would be about 31-32 miles. This course was pretty complicated, but would probably make more sense once it was marked with cones and volunteers. But for the time being, it was very difficult to navigate. We finally finished the drive and decided to check in and then get some food.

After we walked all over a 1 block area looking for the ‘right’ place with 6 different ideas, we ended up back at the place we went last night. It was good, but I have to say I was getting tired of the place already.

We all decided it was about nap time and we needed to get the gear set up for the mandatory bike check in at 4:00pm. Having forgot my shoes at my last race, I decided that it would be pretty important to take a good inventory of what I was bringing this time. Some of the items that we got at this race were pretty cool. For numbers, they were actually temporary tattoos that we placed on ourselves. Knowing how complicated these ‘can’ be, I knew this was a good idea that was going to go bad. But what do I know, this was my first year. The race numbers and the numbers on the bike were pretty cool. They had the state flag on them with the state name. And the number that we each got corresponded with the order in which our state became a ‘state,’ or part of the union. Good thinking.
Chris and I got our bikes ready pretty quickly and were ready to go to the pre race meeting with everyone. This was a meeting for only the Best of the US athletes at a local Mexican restaurant. The race staff really tries to make this event very personal and makes each athlete feel ‘special.’ Jerry, the race promoter, knows every athlete by name and their results. His excitement for this race, and enthusiasm is honest and sincere which instills a lot of confidence that he has things well thought out. As we walked into the restaurant, Jerry welcomed us and put a pin on our shirt that was a BOUS pin. Then we sat and waited for the meeting to begin. We were told all about the course, when we would race, some complication, and some other neat aspects to this race. We then left there and headed out for an all athlete photo where we were given our state flag. This is where I found out that Tracy Orcutt, the woman representative form Washington, did not show up. That was kind of a bummer. This would mean that we (Washington) would not be eligible for a state award. Oh well. Not that I was there racing for Washington…but I was from Washington. We got the photo taken and now we were off to an Italian restaurant. I must state that the ASU was playing Oregon this weekend, so getting into any place was tough. So a group of 15 of us waited about 50 minutes to get in. A little long for me really, but we were there and it was a great group of people. As a matter of fact, the people that were in our group occupied 4 of the top 10 places in the men’s race. It was nice to get to know some people I have raced against quite a few times this year but have not had the time to actually have a conversation with.

After dinner, people were pretty excited to leave and get to bed. Chris and I were able to turn off the lights at about 8:45pm. That was a good feeling since we had a 6:30am race start, which would mean we would need to get up at about 4:00am. Morning would come fast.

I ended up waking up a bunch of times, but I felt like I got some good sleep as well. We hit the continental breakfast with some of the other athletes and were off to the race course. We were pretty close to the race venue so we arrived promptly at 5:15...plenty of time to get the wheels pumped up and transition area set up. And maybe even a warm up. New concept for me. At this time in the morning, it’s still very dark which made getting things in the right place and seeing exactly what pressure your tires were really at. Though it was dark, I loved the idea that we would be on the course before the sun came up. The only downside of all this is that I only brought tinted goggles which made it difficult to see the buoys. But who really sights off those anyway? I would not lead since Bruce was there as well as some other legit swimmers. I just needed to follow the splashing.

I went for a quick run with Chris and Chris and made one last stop at the port potty. I got on my B70 Helix and headed to the swim start in a very murky reservoir. I actually did a little warm up swim too… all these new things :). The national anthem was sung, and all of a sudden we had 2 minutes to go. The nerves started flying and people were getting really excited and pushing close to the front. I felt like I was getting squished, so I made my way to the front and possibly a little across the line. The countdown began and more eeking forward occurred. Then it was go time. I was worried about the start of this race because it was the most competitive field I have ever raced in. All the people there had won a race in their own state that was a qualifier for this race. So just about everyone thought they had a legitimate chance of winning this thing…and it all starts with the swim. I took off fast with fast turnover and moving at a good clip. I got clear of most the chaos and found myself with about 5 in front and a couple around. With 86 people in this race, I knew I was near the front and now I would just need to make sure I did not get sucked up and blown out. The first turn came pretty quickly. But I could see someone moving off the front. I knew that was Bruce and he would lead the swim. The second buoy came pretty quickly too which also meant we were on our way back. There was a bit of bumping and kicking, but all unintentional I would think. I could not see any of the turn buoys because of all the splashing and my tinted goggles. But I knew I was on track. Most the guys I was with seemed to swim straight. Then we made the final turn and I was on my way to the exit steps which were pretty easy to see. I started to think about the bike and what I needed to do. That seems to relax me a bit for some reason. I don’t think I slow down too much, but it helps me to set up for that. I got to the stairs and got up them quickly. This is the same swim reservoir and steps that they use for IM Arizona. I got out and eventually found out I swam a 11:04 for 1000 meters…ya right. In other words, the course was short…real short. Now many people would think that this is not necessarily a bad thing. This is a bad thing. Not because good swimmers don’t get an advantage, but it ends up making the bike really congested and creates ‘packs, ‘ a little foreshadowing? I think I was 10th out of the swim, but was 5th onto the bike.
My transition was quick and I wanted to get on my bike fast. I passed 3 guys in the first 500 meters and there was one guy out front. After about 2 miles I could tell it was my fellow TIMEX teammate, Bruce Gennari. I looked behind me to see what was going on and it seemed like some guys were trying to close on me or ride the same pace. This was a VERY technical course, as I said before. I wanted to put some time on these guys by riding this course aggressively, but smart. You can take some risks in these corners, but you could not be stupid. I attacked out of every corner trying to put a little time on these guys through each one. After about 3 miles I was 10 seconds behind Bruce. At about mile 5 I took the lead. I was watching my power to make sure I was not pushing too hard. After the first turn around I could tell I was putting time into the field, but also saw that there was a pretty big group behind an initial 4 that were chasing me ‘legally.’ After about 15 miles, the group was one big pack. Not a strung out group, but a pack. Like 3 abreast, 1 foot off one another’s wheels…a pack. This resembled something from the Tour de France. No kidding. The first few times I saw this, it really took the wind out of my sails. I thought about giving up and sitting in like the rest of them. But what good would that do me? I know I would regret it, and many of these guys are flat out better runners than me. So though I could be in the group with them, they would still run away from me. So I kept at it and was trying to take some splits on them. At times it seemed like they were closing, but not fast. Then all of a sudden I had a 50 second lead. I knew it would take a solid effort by the group to close that and I did not think anyone would really want to risk it. So I plodded away and figured I was getting some good exposure for TIMEX and Trek. Not to mention I enjoy leading the bike. I was hoping that Bruce and Chris were benefiting form the others chasing me and that they would have some rested legs for the run too.

I came into T2 fast dodging a few pedestrians along the way. I dismounted and quickly got on my Zoot shoes. I was off and running and knew I had a bit of a gap but did not know how much. Later I found out I was about 1 minute ahead. I was running okay but that 1st mile is always tough. I knew I put a little more out there on the bike than I normally would…but I was good with that. I ran through the first aid station and got poor service, as expected. When you are the first person, you never know what you might get…or not get. As I blew through the first one and missed a couple cups, I actually heard one of the volunteers say, “I guess they are not going to stop.” I don’t blame them. I know they are doing their best, but it’s just another hurdle you get to deal with. I made it to mile 1 still leading. I think I made it about 1.5 miles before I was passed by 4 guys that are amazing runners. Fortunately, one of them was Chris, my fellow TIMEX teammate. So that felt good. He is a phenomenal runner, so I knew he would do well. After they passed me, they seemed to slow down a bit. But not to my speed. Chris later told me that they were running so friggin’ fast, that he knew someone, maybe even him, was going to blow up. I would suspect they were at about a 5:15 mile for the first mile. But once the carrot was caught (me) it seemed like they settled in. I was not feeling great and got passed by a few more. I just kept plodding along and getting to the aid stations. There was one turnaround and I was able to see how far up the front was and how close the people behind were. At about that time Bruce passed me and gave me a little push…literally. He looked like he had a good pace going, but he was in sight the rest of the way after about the 4.5 mile point. I had no clue what place I was in. Definitely not the top 10, but somewhere in the teens. But there were people close behind and people close in front. I wasn’t sure if I was running from people, or trying to catch people. Regardless, we were crossing the final bridge and I was running with a guy from Delaware who said we had about a mile to go. I wasn’t too sure how accurate he was, but it sounded good to me. We eventually were back running along the water and headed to the finish. We crossed the 6 mile mark so I figured we had a half mile to go. A solid 3 minute effort was all I needed to do. So I picked it up and caught up to Delaware and encouraged him on to one final effort. But I did not seem to get a response. I could see I was closing on Bruce, but did not think I would be able to close that gap with 300 meters to go. But it looked like he was in a tough spot and I closed it to be running next to him. This race has a big slip ‘n slide at the end that I told him we could slide down together and he thought that would be cool. We rounded the corner together and crossed the line together but missed the slip ‘n slide. But the best part of it all…we were done. It was a frustrating day for both of us. He is an amazing swimmer that was unable to get the gap he needed, or normally is capable of, because the swim was so short. I worked hard on the bike and had a good gap, but was run down fairly quickly by guys that were drafting. But the highlight, Bruce was first out of the swim and I was first off the bike. Everything would have been perfect if Chris would have been first across the line. So it’s all his fault :). Na, just kidding. He ran so well, but the guy who won ran just a little better. He had a great day, on the run.
I ended up finding out from the official that they were aware of the pack and had actually written up a bunch of violations, but then did not submit them because there were so many people involved and she felt the course made it difficult for the packs to separate. What? Are you kidding me? It’s a non-draft legal race, but all of a sudden it turns out to be okay? Just wish I would have known. They could have told me that since I was off the front bustin’ my ass for 27 miles. Whoops, that wasn’t right, it was actually 31-32 miles. Slightly off. So I was hanging out there for 31 miles. Oh well. I had a great ride and my power average was higher in this race than it’s been in any race I have done. And there were a lot of coasting into corners. So I know I rode well. I can go home and know that.

Obviously a lot of frustration from this race, much like ITU Worlds in Vancouver. But it all boils down to this. If the USAT cannot get courses that can facilitate a ‘fair’ race, people are simply going to stop coming to them. Clearwater is a perfect example. I thought the USAT National course in Portland was great. It was challenging enough to break things up and I did not see any drafting there and I did not hear any complaints either. I think most athletes would agree, but for some reason race directors don’t think about this. A lot of people have stopped going to ITU or USAT championship events because they simply are not fair, and the race officials do not enforce their own rules. It’s sad and I hope more attention is paid to this in the future. These races cost too much, and people train too hard, not to be treated to an honest race. Enough said.

After we all licked our wounds, and people shared their view of the pack on the bike course, we decided to head back and get some lunch. We went to another sports bar and ate outside and shared more stories and talked about what’s up for the rest of the year. Chris Fetter (from Nevada) decided to head out. He had to drive 5 hours home. I hope we all cross paths with him in the future. After eating some strawberry shortcake (that is what I ordered) we headed back to the hotel to pack the bikes and get ready for our departure. But before we did, Bruce and I still needed to hit the In and Out burger joint. I had never been there and he said it’s a must do. So we went and got our orders to go. I ordered the ‘Double Double’ with sautéed onions with fries, soda and a chocolate milkshake. Bruce ordered a couple burgers fries and a soda. We took them back to the hotel and ate it all there while watching “Goodwill Hunting” and “Patch Adams.” Nice way to end the trip really. We both jumped on the Best Western shuttle to the airport. Again, Bruce was not even a guest here but took advantage of all of its offerings.

And now I am on the plane.

On a HUGE side note, that I thought I would put at the end, while I was down at this race Jessi ended up getting in a bad bike accident on a ride with the club out north on Sunday. I have not even seen her yet, but apparently a deer (a buck with antlers) ran out in front of her and she ended up going over the bars and hitting her head pretty hard. She was taken by ambulance on a backboard and in a c-collar to the hospital. She suffered a pretty solid concussion ruining her helmet. She also got some road rash on her lower back. She is doing okay now, but I have to say a huge thank you to all the friends and family that were there for her while I could not be. When I heard about this I was pretty freaked out, but I started to hear all the people who were there and all the people that were helping out with everything. So a big thank you to Greg, Ken, Steve, Tiffany, Natalie, Tim Swanson, Nate, Tricia, Steve W., Eric, Linda, Mom, Dad, Tim Seppa, and probably a host of others. Though I wish I could have been there, I knew she was in amazing hands with all of you. What great friends and family we have. I really appreciate all of your support.