Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hammerfest Triathlon

For a lot of people, Hammerfest is an end of season race. In a sense, it felt like one for me as well. After racing a half-ironman last week, and with ten weeks of training in front of me to prepare for Arizona, I wanted to just have a solid race today and then get down to business.

It was a cool morning. I was up early considering the race is about three miles from my house, because my son had woken up briefly. So I was pretty relaxed by the time I got to the race. And as I started setting up in transition, I didn't think that it was that cold until I took my shoes off and stood on the grass. Man, the ground was cold. Really cold.

The water was flat, but the tide was still out- even though low tide had been two hours earlier, the water was extremely low. It wasn't a question of whether you'd start out walking, but how far you'd walk.

I hate this. I'm short. It's not as easy for me to walk in the water as a taller guy. I prefer to swim anyway. You start walking and your heart rate goes up. Or mine does.

But this has happened before at Hammerfest and other races and what have I learned ? I start losing time early. Whatever. It is what it is. About 200 yards out I banged my hand on a rock. I just kept swimming and pretty soon I was in the mix with the other guys in the first wave. That was when I started hear a 'whump' 'whump' 'whump' in front of me.

I did everything I could to try and get away. I've been racing triathlons for about seven years and I have always feared getting kicked.I don't understand why people have to kick so hard, why they don't get how dangerous it is. It is you know ? There's a difference between using your legs to aid propulsion and thrashing with your feet. Or so I think. And this guy was swimming erratically, turning left and right. He turned in towards me and kicked me hard in the face.

And I was fine. I put my head up, missed a stroke to adjust my goggle and that was it.

There was no panic, no water in my goggles. Yeah, I got kicked. No big deal.

After we turned around the final buoy it was a long swim back. For me. Maybe not anyone else, but for me it was.

I exited the water and as soon as I got up off the beach I was struck again by how cold the ground was. This also has happened at Hammerfest and other early and late season races before. I cut my left foot twice but didn't feel it, and then I was on my bike, after a slightly slow transition getting off my wetsuit.

This is the course I time trial on all year, so I know every inch of the road.

It's a tale of two loops, this race. Even more so, finding myself in the first wave. I was working pretty much solely to pass people in the wave after me and in my own wave, and for the first half of the first lap, it was a series of straight passes with no one challenging me. I lost 3-4 minutes on some of the top finishers in the water and this was my big chance to get back into the race.

You can't relax in a sprint, you can't rest or reset yourself and it's worse when your swim is slow. I was on the nose of my saddle a lot, really pushing on the flats and mostly gentle grades.

I was moving up steadily, and then I passed two guys without shirts. One was in his fifties and the other one was in his late thirties and from my vantage point, the younger guy spent his entire ride drafting the older guy. This was in contrast to the 55 year old that I was back and forth with on the bike- we took turns passing each other, then dropping, then passing again. And even that was tough for me. I mean, I was having a really good bike in my opinion but some 55 year old guy was basically not letting me get away from him after I'd caught him- which meant that he'd already out swam me by 3 minutes.

I continued to move up on the second lap, when you're out there with people who are on their first lap. That creates some congestion. It's not, however, an excuse to latch onto a guy almost 20 years older than you and follow him like a shadow. Again, that's my perception of what happened with these other two riders. I'd make a pass and the next thing I knew I'd have three guys going by me, one who'd earned it, and...

Whatever. Truth is the drafting was nowhere near as bad as last year. It juts happened near me, that's all. As Steve said to me, I went by and there were three guys right behind me...

I had a good bike- 8th overall including relays if you eliminate the guy that only did one loop. He was on a hybrid with straight bars and he was headed back to transition at the same time as me. I told him he had to go out and do a second lap but he probably didn't even hear me and I'm sure in the excitement he just lost track. That's too bad, you hate to see that happen to someone.

My feet were numb when I dismounted. I took my helmet and discarded it less than gently on the ground and did the same with my shoes. After the race one of the race directors asked me if something was wrong and I just said I needed to put some things aside before I started the run. Which I did. I left any frustration with my bike and my wetsuit.

My left shoe went on without issue. But the right shoe ? I looked down and the smallest toe on my numbed foot was outside the shoe. The other toes were inside. My opponents were heading out on the course, I was losing time...

I shoved the foot into my shoe with my hand and started running. My feet were dead to me. This meant that I was getting zero giveback when I took a step. Have I mentioned how much my calves have been aching ?

When I started the run, I was pretty sure that I was going to frak my calves once and for all and it would be at least a week before I could get back to training for Arizona. Screw that. In for a penny, in for a pound. I was racing and I was damned if I was going to save anything. I had five guys in front of me that were in range. I passed one guy I didn't know, then I passed Max, who had just a great race, then I passed two more guys, including- ah, let's not go there.

As I neared the turn around, I saw what seemed like four Heat guys running together. Then I saw Scott. I hit the turn and he was in my sites now. Of course, he'd started a wave behind me and-

This story is starting to sound old. That's what happened to me at Firmman- I buried myself catching a guy from a later wave and nearly did myself in. But this wasn't an half. This was a sprint. Go hard or go home. My dead legs had me worried. It was a while before I could run hard enough that I felt like I was in aerobic deficit. I continued to push and as we wound our way around the back of the course, I closed Scott down, then passed him. Of course in a mile and an half I was never going to put three minutes on him or the other two fifty-somethings I'd passed.

I ran steady, my legs half-numb and half-soar, but in the end it was a good run, a fast run, and for a sprint seven days after a fairly decent half, I'll take 11th overall and second in my age group (thin competition do to other races not withstanding).

I'm satisfied that I at least gave it what I had.

Now, it's time to get serious about the task at hand.


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