I signed up for the race Friday morning- I wanted to make sure that doing the race wasn't going to cause problems with the rest of the family- workout plans, a party we had to go to later in the day, and so on. I don't really look forward to Olympic races because they are not really geared to my skill set. Comparing the distances, it's 75% of a half-ironman swim, with less than half the bike or run.
That's not to say that the distance isn't fair. There is no such thing as an 'unfair distance'. There are just distances and courses that favour one athlete over another, although I think some courses promote fairness on the course more than others.
After the meltdown I'd had in the water a week and an half ago, Margit didn't want me to go. But I was in the pool Monday through Thursday, amassing what for me was a titanic 7000 yards swimming. I also was getting in the runs and rides. This is my training time and that means training through a race like Health Net- I'd gotten back to back 50+ mile days on the bike going into the race as I get read for the Fairfield Marathon and the longer triathlons I know are in my future. I love having days off in June.
I got to the race early, found myself racked near another late entry (I assume), Peter Daly, who is in great shape and racing really well.
I was in the water early, a little after 6:30. It was cold, and I could smell something in it that promised a sinus infection later in the day, but I got really comfortable and was confident that I could easily take this swim on. I got out and back in a few more times as the race start neared, trying to stay warmed up, keep my googles from fogging, and so on.
At the same time, i was trying to think my way through the difference between warming up and racing in the water. The calm, placid, if slow work ethic when I swim alone is difficult to maintain in a race.
But as the women got in first and started, my pulse was down low, I felt good. We were counted into the water one at a time and were joking the way guys do right before a race. And then we were off, starting from a stand in waist deep water. I was surprised to find I only had to walk a few steps then I could start swimming and catching water. Great. No one was clawing their way over my back, hitting me.
Then about 250 yards into the swim, I started losing my happy thoughts. I did start getting jostled and the buoys were hard to see. I had to lift my head up to sight and I could see guys pulling away and...
That was it. My heart-rate shot up to about 175. I tried putting my head down and turning to breath every four strokes, but I didn't. I had to lift my head up to get any water and this leads to me choking on the water because I'm still trying to swim, because deep down inside me there's some part of me that just can't accept giving up, which is not a good thing. And then even that snapped and I had the thought that the side of the lake was right over there and I should just get out before I got hurt.
I hate moments like this. I hate writing about moments like this. But hey, it's what really happened.
But I'd already been through this drill. There's the first open water swim of the season, and there's the first race of the season, and they suck, but you get over it.
I put my head back in the water and took my normal strokes and turned my head on every fourth one and eventually, I started to breath again when I did it, because I had no choice. It probably lasted all of 30 seconds, but it easily cost me a minute in lost time before I really settled down and hit my 'stride'. Then I was around the far buoys and headed on the long swim across the river- there really needs to be some intermediate buoys...
My hands and feet got cold. I kept swimming. I swallowed a little water once on the way back to the middle buoy, but other than that it was unremarkable. I made the first of the two left-hand buoys on the course and then started for the last buoy.
That buoy was a very long way away. You can tell me the course is a GPSed .9 miles. I won't buy it. The course seems to have been about 1.1 miles long. After you turn at the last buoy it's just back to shore and there are people everyone. Again, I'd put an intermediate 'back' buoy in the water- the swim back was spread out like an ironman swim. there were people everywhere.
I crawled out of the drink at about 35 minutes, based on the clock reading '40 something'. I had an end rack, which was great, because I hate my wetsuit (or anyone else's, and that's happened) covering up my running shoes or food.
My transition was not great. I'm still learning how to get my new time trial helmet over my mellon, and socks. Are socks actually designed to go over your feet ? Yeah, I guess they are but maybe not wet feet in a hurry. But my feet were cold. I needed the socks.
Then I was off.
Despite the fact that my entire team did this race last year, I knew absolutely nothing about the course. This is where the intelligent me and the rock-headed athlete just don't interface- at all. I will actually go to a race I know nothing about, in fact, go to a race and not even know, except in general terms, what the distances are. Maybe that's why I like halves and ironmans. Not much guesswork. I had no idea how far I was riding, what the terrain was. I don't know the first thing about Shelton, or rather I didn't...
I did know the start of the bike course was a climb because I'd driven straight down into the park. I was not ready for the right -hand turn that- surprise, led to more climbing.
And more climbing.
Then you climb.
No, I'm serious. You just start this long, slow climb after climbing your ass up out of the park and don't get me wrong. I love to climb. I do. If you look in my 'suitcase' of skills, there are two things in it- climbing, and Elite bicycles putting me on a good bike. And I was passing people by the dozen, even though I had to admit early defeat to the course and shift into low gear. I used to think 'granny gear' meant the small chain ring, but it felt more like survival gear. I had my cadence up in the 80s, but I was only going 12 mph at one point.
There was a police officer at one intersection and he was all 'you're almost at the top'. Liar. But finally I did crest the first long escape from the park and got on a downhill and there was Coach Troy in my head, doing a greatest hit riff from Hillacious, the Uphill Grind, and the virtual rides. 'You have to maintain your intensity when you crest. Hammer, hammer. Other people are recovering. Get that cadence up over 100rpm...'
And I did, because I was attacking the downhill. I mean, the next uphill. And the next, and the next.
This went on for a while. You went screaming down a hill- I was going 42.5 mph and not pedaling down the first really big downhill because I was sure there was a turn at the bottom- and then you were going uphill at 15 mph again. This just went on and on. I mostly just passed people, however, I got passed, and repassed, and got passed again, and repassed again, one guy in my age group who definitely had my number on the downhills, and a couple of younger guys.
But for the most part I was passing and outworking people on the downhills, pedaling when other people weren't- I hit 45 mph.
Then we went over the dam and that was where I passed Gary. I was also in the sites of three guys that were riding me down, and they caught me right before the turn off 34 back towards Shelton. I didn't like being passed, especially by one or more guys I'd already passed, so I countered, moved up into second of the five behind a guy in tights- is that legal, when you can't see his age- and was about to overtake him when-
I misssed a turn. Instead of sending us over the bridge they sent us under it. As everyone went by I had to pull a u-turn in front of a municipal bus. Was there enough time ? I thought maybe...
Then I was chasing. I was mad at myself and these guys were kind of grouped. So I attacked. As we turned back onto what would be a steady climb I gave it everything I had and passed all of them and I was really flying- 22-23 mph up a hill. I gapped all but the guy in the tights, who must have been on a team, and he got to the park entrance before me and then out descended me.
I almost didn't dismount soon enough and was slow getting off the bike but finally that too was over and then it was all good. I slipped on my Zoots, grabbed my Cliff Shots and started running along the beach.
I was a little discouraged. No one was right in front of me, someone was right behind me. I took a shot and then drank from the bottle I was carrying- Heed.
Then it was up onto the road and before I knew it, I was at the one mile mark. And there was Peter Daly. I was at 1 mile. If he was coming back in at mile 5 then I was 25 minutes behind him. That was devastating. I mean, with the swim, he probably had 9-10 minutes on me, which meant I'd have had to have lost 15 minutes, or what took me an hour took him 45 minutes. The math didn't make any sense. I was either having a dud of a race or there were two loops on the run.
Don't get me wrong- Peter's a great guy. He's racing phenomenally well, but that big a gap would have really meant I was racing poorly. I redoubled my effort. Except we were climbing steep hills. I started to question myself as I reached the apex of the hills. Was I still really racing hard ? Was I giving 100%. I have nightmares where I'm running a race and going so slow that I'm walking up the hills, and I was flashing back to that.
Then I crested, heard my respiration, and started bolting down the backside, and no, I wasn't holding back.
The turn-around was blissfully close after that on the only short flat section of the run. Then I was headed back, looking for the leaders coming back at me. I saw Gary Rodebaug headed out on the first run as I headed back.
The run is a junk-buster in both directions, with a super-aggressive climb up to get to the downhill that was a heart-busting uphill. Finally, I reached three miles and there was Steve Surprise cheering us on. I'd seen race leaders coming back at me, so I'd relaxed a lot. I turned gingerly at the cone, no sense cramping, and headed back. I think I took another shot, drank more Heed. There was a woman and a guy in red I was chasing, but there were also first-lappers in the way now. Near the same paex, one guy in a race kit was walking and I wanted to say 'No walking, it's a 10K' but who knows what brought him to that point so I just said 'Keep it up'. I caught the guy in red and headed down the hill.
Taking the cones at the turn around I was excited, because I was still passing people in my age group and other people from my wave. I bumped one woman going over the railroad tracks and she gave me a lot of grief, but she took that turn/bend way too wide and I just brushed her. I struggled up the hill and then down the long run back towards the finish.
I was chasing one guy, which became clear after we got to the cones. I asked Steve where I was going and he said straight to the finish. I kept chasing this last person, thinking yes, I can knock off one more person. At 5.9 miles I made the pass and then I just opened it up and gave it what I had.
It was Martin Cappiello, who is just having awesome races. He never stopped pushing me, which allowed me to slot in 4 seconds ahead of a guy from the wave after me.
I found Rob Barker and we ran a twenty-five minute warm-down, I checked the results and headed home.
I managed to scratch out an age-group win, but was 19th among the individual finishers. It was a decent first race for me, but I know I can do a lot better.