I might actually be getting back into a rhythm of racing every other week or so.
Hammerfest is a great race- my wife Margit is one of the organizers and she works very hard on the race. But the race has been a difficult one for me. It's the week after the Firmman Half-Ironman, so I've come into the race frequently still in recovery mode. I've also struggled with the swim almost every year- I can usually count on having my worst swim of the season there- blinded by the morning sun and crushed early by the competition on the long slog out to the first buoy.
I spent last night working on the race's website and went to bed around 12:15 AM. I'm not sure what time you should go to bed the night before a race, but I'm pretty sure it's not 12:15 AM. Between then and when I got up I snagged maybe 4 hours of sleep, so by this morning I was really wondering if if today was really a good idea. Certainly after having such a good swim at Bridgeport, the thought of being exhausted, still from whatever respiratory infection I'd had, and jumping into the sound, well, I didn't want to have my usual Hammerfest swim today, because my next triathlon will probably be IM Florida and I wanted to go in confident.
I dropped Ian off with Margit and started prepping for the race- setting up my transition area, followed by standing in line for the bathroom, listening to 3 Doors Down.
The water was stunningly flat and then I got some great news- the swim was going to be clockwise this year, because the ramp the athletes usually run up at the end of the swim had been smashed by the hurricane. So instead of a long swim out to a far away buoy followed by a turn into a blinding sun, we'd be going out to a very short buoy, maybe 100 meters, and then turning to the far bout with the sun at our backs. Granted, the second buoy was far out and the swim was going to be 6/10 of a mile at least, but that first near buoy was going to be huge. We were second wave and as usual when I am not in the first wave, I completely ignored the first wave after about a minute and started to focus on what I needed to do. I did notice some of the 1st wave men walking practically out to the first buoy.
Then it was our turn. I started swimming right away. A lot of the guys around me were walking, but I was getting comfortable in the water, staying relaxed, and unlike when we go out on an angle to a far away buoy, I was not losing ground to the walkers. Now, when everyone started swimming there was a moment where it was a big mix with a lot of swimmers and I got a little skittish, but it didn't last. I made the first buoy easily and started straight towards the second one. Meanwhile most of the wave was swimming in an arc off to my left- I was psyched because I knew I had a better line than they did, which was odd. It's not like me to pick a superior line anywhere but in the grocery store.
The swim out to the far buoy was unremarkable, which is how I like it. While I'd be faster if I was in someone's draft, the knowledge no one was going to kick me in the head was much better. I turned that buoy and sighting the next one was a little harder but I was still inside almost everyone else and very happy about that. I was halfway to the buoy when I realised I had to cough up so phlegm and that's exactly what I did. I had to skip a beat breathing, but it was worth it. I felt like I was swimming really well for me, and before long I'd made it to the 3rd buoy and turned. That was the hardest part of the swim. I saw people in front of me but they were spread out all over the water. I thought I saw the buoy on shore and aimed for it, but it was a real crap shoot whether I was actually going in that direction. I'd asked Margit to make the second wave green caps, because they are easy to follow in the water. I had to cough up some more phlegm on the way in but it was really one of the most low-stress swims I've had, and although I haven't see the splits yet I think I had a good time.
Margit told me I looked like I was working too hard though.
So I went into the race thinking I shouldn't even be out there. I came out of the swim in the mix with the other green caps thinking the opposite, that I had a shot. I knew though, the bike was going to be a challenge. I had snapped off one of my aerobats riding a week earlier and had just made some additional adjustments to the new ones Saturday that I would only be testing out in the race. I had a fair transition, but my feet were cold enough that I did something I rarely do- put socks on. So my first transition was probably slow.
I know this bike course better than any other course I race, with IMLP coming a distant second. I time trial it, in both directions, maybe 10-12 times a year. But the two loops are completely different. I like the first loop the best because you are competing with people in your wave and the one in front of you and you can make sense of what is going on. I got out of the box quickly and wasted no time passing people. My new aero bars were set up with aggressive time trailing in mind, and that was a good decision. The lack of sleep was not. My hamstrings were shredded, and I could tell as I struggled to find the right gear. Also, as usual, I was breathing hard. Still i was making up ground. Not a single cyclist who came out of the water today passed me on the bike, unlike Bridgeport. And for the most part I was able to ride down everyone in front of me.
Down by Linden Avenue I thought there was some wind, but I cam around the POYCC and pushed hard up the hill and really felt like I was having a good first loop. Then I came up on a guy in his 50s and after a little bit of work, I passed him. I kind of felt like he was riding in the middle of the road, but I'm picky, so whatever. I thought that would be the end of it. After all, this guy had started in the wave behind me, out swam me, and my job was to bury him along with everyone else I passed. I was passing a lot of guys with 20s and 30s on their calves and that was making me feel good- guys that were 3 minutes ahead of me and I was already passing them on the first loop...then the guy with the 50-somthing on his calf passed me. This would go on for the rest of the ride. My hamstrings never stopped hurting, or feeling spent is maybe a better term, but I just kept the turnover up and tried my best to really keep passing people. There was some traffic on the course and I had to do a few dodgy things along the way. As I went by the Armory I established a better angle on the turn and go in front of the 50 something. Then he passed me again....
The second loop of the bike is different then the first. A lot of other athletes have fed out onto the course so you are interacting with 1st lap riders, trying to maintain your sight on second loop riders. It's a tremendous challenge to stay focused while still outputting your best cycling. I was mostly affected, however, by the continual back and forth with this older guy. I was getting really annoyed. I just do not want to cheat, not under any circumstance. But I was having to slow down after being passed, and it was costing me time. I passed him going up the hill past the POYCC, really powering up the hill. It's a downhill on the other side and as I went down to the bottom I went to go wide to avoid the manhole cover in the road, only I couldn't because the 50-something, in the middle of the road, was passing me. Now I was really annoyed.Again, my problem, probably, but when you go to move somewhere and someone is in your way it's aggravating. I actually fought a little here, but I had to let the pass happen. Then I waited. I passed him again after the stop sign, I think.
He passed me again.
This whole time I was passing other guys in their 40s, as well as 20s and 30s. This was the big moment on the bike. We came to the 3-way intersection before the middle school and I used stopped traffic to outmaneuver my shadow. That only lasted a short while and he passed me again.
I relaxed and settled back. Pounding the crap out of my legs was not going to help me, I didn't want to cheat, so I dropped off a bit. I started thinking about having a good run. I kept passing other people in my age group. Still, the opportunity to pass him would come one more time. I'd noticed some hesitation in tight spots, so I took him at the left-hand turn at the armory. It was a good pass, but thirty second later he passed me, and then another guy I had just passed passed me.
That was it, I was done. I rode into transition behind both guys. I'd had a good battle with this 50-something but now I was ready to run after a top-ten bike.
As is tradition in the Hammerfest, my feet were numb when I came into transition. I wedged my shoes onto my feet, put one cliff shot in my singlet and tore open the other one and started taking small amounts from it. As a rule, I take an entire shot at once, but I didn't think that was the right move, so I started milking it, and I found that worked a lot better. I started out, getting by several people that had ridden in ahead of me leaving transition. There were plenty of guys right in front of me, and I started picking them off. When I run, there's none of the emotion that fuels the way I ride the bike. On the run, when I catch someone, I expect to drop them and that's it, it's not arrogance, it's just math. There's not the drama and speed of the bike. I was passing mostly guys in their 30s and 20s, but there were some 40-somthings. I was disappointed to get down to Bayberry and hook a right- the out and back at the end of the road was not in use, so I had a short run to make my catches. I saw Dick Korby and ran him down and then as we were way out there in the back a kid yelled 'Hey, you're Ian's dad.' Not how I expected to be defined on the race course, but it's true. There are a few short hills in the back of the course and I felt like I was making good time catching people.
I saw Scott Roth coming out of the loop you can see Branford Point from, so I that gave me a good idea where in the mix I was. I rounded that loop and bore down on two guys in front of me and the next thing I knew, taking occasional small portions of my cliff shot, I was back on the main road and headed back to the Owenego. I had four guys in front of me and the third one had grey hair. I'm at that age where a guy with grey hair might be in my age group, or worse, older, and either way, they have to be caught. I reeled in the first two and was on the final short downhill before the short uphill that leads back into the finish and that was where I passed the grey-haired guy. On his leg was a 48 and I knew that I had to catch him. Once I was in front of him I just turned up the run half a notch and took it home.
Not my best stuff- only top-10 on the bike, but I was 16th individual overall, 3rd in my AG instead of my usual 4th.
I'll take it.