Thursday, September 29, 2011

Race the River Triathlon... here we go.

This year I was able to race in another one of my favorite races, Race the River Triathlon. It is a sprint in Couer d Alene as well. This year it would be the host of the PNW Region’s Sprint Championships. I have raced this race in 2008 and 2009 and won it both times. But 2011 would mark a return to my first Sprint race in 2 years. I was a tad nervous, but I figured it would all come back. Since I was the last one to win the race returning, I would be donning the “stripe,” otherwise known as #1. This is a great compliment in any race, but it also is a bit of a target and burden.

One aspect that I was not too sure about being back was my fitness. It’s easy to reflect back on what you once had and have delusions that you still have the same fitness. Based on my limited training (about 5 weeks) since our precious Owen was born, I figured I had a solid base carrying over from Oceanside, but my speed (which is essential for Sprints) was pretty limited. The field at Race the River was maxed out at 850, and some of the elite athletes were rolling off some big events. Brian Hadley was 4th professional at IM Cda, Derek Garcia who qualified for Kona at St. George, was just coming off a near victory over Brian…missing by a mere 2 seconds the week prior in a sprint event. Both have been having great seasons so far. Then there was a smattering of others that could easily pull off a great race as well. But I felt I had a small advantage since I was familiar with the course and the bike was pretty technical. And, you gotta do your ‘first race’ eventually.

The race itself was a bit of chaotic for me. I arrived about 1.5 hours before that start and I felt like I had never set up a transition area before. I was just moving stuff around not really thinking about what I needed. It was weird… I have done a ton of these races. Must be the old age. It’s just a part of not doing a race in over a year. I think this goes to show you that if you only race once or twice a year, your transitions will never be all that fast…relatively.

The race started with a ½ mile down river swim. I think the total swim time, with about 1 minute of running to T1, was about 9 minutes. I was feeling out of sync, but we were moving FAST. The problem with current aided swims is it allows weaker swimmers to stay close since relative time in the water is less. My shoulder was feeling a little stiff, and achy, but nothing too terrible; just not comfortable.

I ended up 2nd out of the water, quickly transitioned, and was in the lead on the bike in about 10 yards. I never felt I settled in to the bike, but I rode the 3 laps hard. I had 5 seconds, then 15, and then a 30 second lead on my nearest competitor. I had a quick T2 and started the run.

I cannot say I felt very good from the start of the run. But I plodded along. Derek Garcia caught me at about 2 miles of the 3.1 mile run. Then, shortly after, Brian Hadley passed me at 2.5 miles. They really did not make much distance after they went by. But I was in 4th gear and just cruisin’. I just did not feel like I had a 5th gear. Derek went on to win, with Brian close behind and me about 30 seconds off the winning time in 3rd. Brian and Derek really battled hard against one another and it was an amazing finish.

I cannot complain really. Got to keep perspective and look at the positives. I knew going in that I did not have the races or the training that is needed to challenge for the win in a race like this. As I reflected back on the race though, I was really happy to be able to be ‘in’ the race. But my next race would be Cda Triathlon…2x the distance…in 3 weeks. I love the Oly distance, but questioned if I would be fit for it? I knew the competition would be deeper, and the course tougher.

Hats off to Derek, Brian, and Nate Birdsall. They have been racing strong all year in a variety of distances and showed today their level of fitness and speed. Just glad they were still at the finish line when I crossed.

Here is an amazing video by Dave Erickson (www.swimbikerunvideos.com). He has a ton more on there as well.

A big thank you the Christine and Curt and all their volunteer staff that made this event another great one. The first year I did this race I thought, “Yes, this is what a race should be like.” Four years later, I am still saying the same thing. Check them out at www.racetheriver.com and sign up early…it WILL fill.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Titanium Man

With a name like Titanium Man, you got to figure it’s better than any Ironman. I am still on the lookout for Diamond Man. That will be a hard race and probably very expensive.

This race took place on Sept 3rd just a 2.5 hour drive from Spokane. A group of us (Natalie, Greg, Dave, Melissa, and myself) loaded up the Excursion at 4:45am and headed down to a race that started at 9:00am. I appreciate the later start when I am driving, but prefer an earlier start when I am in the same town. The drive was full of adult humor and tri talk. We were all eating our breakfasts and trying to think of what this race would be like. This would also be my last race as a sub 40 year old.
A little background on this race…it is only $35 and is chip timed by Milliseconds. It is a down current swim with a different location for each transition. The start is also in another spot. Logistically this seems like a bit of a headache if you were to drive down there by yourself. But it was actually set up very well. The bike you would think is flat, but it’s not. It is a very honest course with lots of turns, intersections and hills. The run, however, is flat. The field limit is 225 people, and yes, it sells out. I have signed up for this race on 2 other occasions but had never raced it because it is so close to the start of school. And, with it being only $35, it’s easy to walk away from. Times are typically right near 2 hours and a few pros (Michael Gordon) have seen 1:57 ish. I never understood why times have not been faster on a course with a current aided swim and what I thought was a flat(er) bike and run. Maybe there were long transitions? Regardless, I was about to find out.
Lets get to the race. I saw Chris Zylak and his fiancĂ© Meg before the race as we were all walking to the swim start. He gave me some pointers about the start and the exit. With a current aided swim, it is easy to overshoot the exit if you are too far in the channel, where the best current is. So there is a balance between going out too far to get an advantage and then having to swim back in, to being in too close and not getting enough current. I lined up as far out as most and thought it was good enough. I was on the start line but everyone else seemed so far behind as they swam against the current to stay in place. They gave a countdown and off we went. I took off quickly and did not see anyone for the first 100 meters on either side. For some reason this alarmed me so I actually stopped, turned around to see that the race had actually started and I was going the right way…I was. Swimming in the Orca 3.8 feels so effortless. When you know a swim is supposed to be ‘fast’ you are always looking for the finish. I think I started looking after about 500 yards. Unfortunately this makes the swim seem long and like it’s never going to end. There was one guy further out in the channel than me that was a bit ahead of me, and then there was another guy kind of next to me. I could see the exit and angled in. I ended up coming out of the water 3rd, on the heals of 2nd. My swim time was 15:55 for the 1500 meters. I started pulling off my wetsuit as I started T1. At this race you needed to ‘bag’ your T1 items so they could bring them back to the finish. For the first time in 3 years, I was going to put on socks for an Oly race. My feet were a little beat up from a training run where I forgot my socks and my feet suffered from that a bit. I did not want this race to push back my training so I took the extra 10-20 seconds (dang that sounds like a lot) to roll them on. I then threw on my Rudy Project Wingspan, grabbed the Orbea, and was off.
Upon exiting T1, I asked the volunteer how many individuals were out on the course? He said 2, and I was 3rd. Okay, I could see the one in front, but not 1st. I started going to work watching my power and shifting flawlessly with my Shimano Di2…love that. After settling a bit, I took some splits on 2nd and could see that he went from 20 seconds to 30 seconds ahead…darn. Then later he was at almost 50 seconds. What the heck? We are not even at the turnaround and I am getting gapped big time. We finally came to the turnaround (which was actually more than half way) and I could see that I was closing on both 1st and 2nd a bit, but they were still up the road a bit. When the came by me I could see that they had shoe covers and short sleeved skin suits. Hmmm, I figured these guys must not be individuals…they were on teams, thank God. That would explain why, and how, they were putting time on me so quickly at the start. They were fresh at the start of the bike, I was not. As we headed back towards T2 I was closing on them and could actually see them both. I wasn’t sure if I would catch them before the finish, but might. I kept hammering along and feeling solid. As I entered an intersection a volunteer directed me straight through when I was supposed to turn. Fortunately I looked back at her and she indicated I needed to turn. So I slowed to a stop and flipped a U turn and was back on track. Probably lost about 20 seconds, nothing too crazy other than a steady tempo. I was frustrated, but at the same time, I am a huge advocate that racers need to know the course…I did not and relied on being directed. I normally will drive the course the day prior, but since we drove down, I did not have time.

I rolled into T2 in 3rd, just behind the 2 teams ahead. I was handed a transition bag, and realized it was not mine. Funny part was, they gave me bag #6…I was #242. How could they make such a huge error? They did not, I did. I never took the sticker off my helmet from the Priest Lake Triathlon a couple weeks prior so that was what they called out…doh! I tossed bag #6 and they scrambled to give me the right bag. I transitioned into my K-Swiss K’ruzz racing flats and was off. These shoes make you feel like you are flying regardless of speed…love these shoes! I could see the teams down the road and started to take splits. I was reeling them in and passed the first team at mile #1…then started to close on the first team who was a tall guy with a decent pace. I was watching my TIMEX Global Trainer and knew my pace, and average pace, were solid. But I was closing consistently. I passed him at mile 2.5 and was actually hoping he would run with me for a bit…he didn’t. I hit the turnaround and was heading back. I took a split to see where 2nd was. Around every corner I was looking. And each time, I did not see anyone. Then he came. The perennial favorite, and Team USA member, Ryan Brown appeared. He has been in the top 2 of this race for at least the past 5 years and has won it the past 2 or 3. He is a local and is quite fast. I have only raced against him once a couple years ago. But, according to my split, I had over 4 minutes on him. I knew I was in a good spot. I felt great on the run feeling like my turnover was quick and I felt light. I was staying in control, yet knew I needed to pay attention to breathing and how my legs were feeling. I started to see some familiar faces from my club, Tri Fusion. Scott Allen was in 3rd and then Greg Gallagher who was in 5th. Both looked good and I was excited to see where they finish.
I finally rounded the last bend and could see the finish at the top of a 400 meter hill. I kept it steady and crossed in 1:53:17. So going quite a bit faster than 2:00 was capable. Even as a 39 year old, I think if you knew this course, were efficient with transitions, you could go sub 1:50. But that will be for another race.
There were a few casualties in this race though. Natalie got a flat just 3 miles into the bike, and Dave was hit by a car on the bike while in the top 15 at mile 18. Dave ended up running his bike in and finishing the race.
So I was finally able to race the elusive Titanium Man triathlon. It was a great day and I have to say it will be a race that I would like to come back to. Now that I know the course a bit better, I can race it smarter...maybe not faster though.
The only thing missing from this race was my family. I have done a few races this year without hearing Emma and Jessi cheering. Hearing their voices always brings a smile to my face. But, racing and training, and scheduling our entire lives around triathlon is not a real priority for us. That’s not to say that we don’t support one another, just saying that this was not a race that was of utmost importance. Triathlon or not, life carries on. It’s nice to be able for us to take care of needs and not feel like we are ‘missing’ something.