GA State 2005 Triathlon Championships, Sprint Distance
This was originally written as part of a "Wellness" series of articles in the Brasseler USA corporate newsletter, the company that I work for.
It had been a pretty good year of training. My worst finish so far had been 3rd. So I thought that I’d go to the State Championships and try my mettle against the big-city Atlanta boys.
The race adventure started with way too much pizza and beer late the night before. I’d pay for that later.
At a triathlon there is a “transition area” where you keep your cycling and running gear. After you get out of the water you have to run to the transition area, get your cycling gear on, grab your bike and run out and hop on your bike. The transition area mostly consists of bike racks. The racks are numbered so you know where to put your gear.
I spent some time carefully going over the critical parts of the course. You have to know exactly how the transition area works. Exactly where you will be leaving the water, exactly how you get to the transition area, the best way to get to your bike and get out of the transition area. Which way you turn to get out on the bike course, and all the same details about how to get off of your bike and start the run. And you have to jog the last 1/2mile of the run. This is all necessary because during the race, all thinking is going to stop. Not hardly a single brain cell is going to function once the starter’s gun goes off, so there’ll be no "during the race I’ll just figure it out”.
The last part of the run is especially critical. In that last mile you will be carefully metering out your last reserves. A hundred yards of confusion on the exact location of the finish is the difference between out-kicking the guy ahead of you, and pushing too hard too early and getting passed by a him and all his buddies.
Race time approached and the racks all filled up. I overheard the guys on my rack complaining about the lack of space. I noted that the rack next to us had more space so I stood there and considered being a good Samaritan and moving my bike and gear over to that other rack. Then one of the guys noted me. He looked to be over 40, so one of my competition. Perhaps one of the big-city guys that I was going to try to give a run for his money for GA’s first city. Big city guy noted my race number.
Big city guy (rather unpleasantly): “Hey, you are on the wrong rack. You need to move”.
Savannah boy: “Hmm” <god so much pizza>. I looked the situation over. Geez, he was right. Arriving early, perhaps still suffering the after-affects of beer and pizza, I’d somewhat racked my bike and gear in not quite the right place. I guess that settled it. I’d be moving my gear so they could get more space.
Big city guy with some edge in his voice: “If you move your bike, the rest of us will have more space”.
I looked at him, he looked at me. In general terms I always try to be polite and considerate. But boorish behavior really sticks in my craw.
Savannah boy: “That occurred to me”. But what I was really thinking was “friend, I don’t care how many of you Atlanta guys kick my butt, you I’m going to crush”. I moved my gear.
The swim was uneventful. I’m a lousy swimmer so it’s always a matter of damage control. If I can keep my swim losses down to a minimum, I’ll tear them up on the bike and then the run.
The trick in a short swim is getting around the first buoy. There’s always a big traffic jam on the inside and and it's one big wrestling match. With a bit of cleverness tho, you can start on the outside, swing wide at the first buoy and zip right past the chaos.
My swim-navigation also worked out ok. There are no lines painted on the bottom of lakes so if you aren’t careful, you end up swanning out on your own and the next thing you know you’re in the next county.
It’s always difficult to swim hard, and then race out of the water towards the bikes. It’s especially hard wearing a wetsuit. I lurched and stumbled out of the water and up the hill towards the bikes. I managed to put the bike gear on and jump on the bike without doing anything unusually stupid.
The ride course was hilly. Not ideal for someone who trains in the Savannah area. I kept the pressure on. Because I’m not a strong swimmer, there’s always folks that need passing on the bike. I pushed into the hills but then tried to go up them economically and not go too deep into oxygen debt. I pushed the descents aggressively, rocketed past folks and then applied pressure to maintain the momentum.
This summer I’d been working on improving my bike-run transition. My trick was, a couple hundred yards from the “get off your bike point”, I’d pull my feet out of my cycling shoes (the shoes are clipped to the pedals). Then I’d push hard right to the allowable point and vault off the bike and keep running. So far, this summer, it’d worked just dandy.
As I approached what I remembered as the last turn in the ride, I passed one more guy. Then I reached down and struggled to undo the velco straps on my cycling shoes, and pull my feet out. I wasn’t very graceful at it. My little tussle allowed the guy behind me to get back in front of me. He looked at me funny going by.
Able to get going again once I had my feet on top of my shoes, vs "in" my shoes, I pushed hard to accelerate after him and then passed him. But where was the ride finish? It wasn’t where I thought it was. I backed off because I was going into oxygen debt. He caught back up. We continued this way for another couple of minutes. I kept thinking that the finish line would be around the next turn. The finish line kept not being around the next turn.
I gasped at the other guy “where’s the bike-finish”. He said “not for another mile”. I said “Oops, <gasp gasp> I guess I took my shoes off <gasp> prematurely”. Between his own gasps, he managed to snicker at my stupidity. I rode the last part of the ride with bare feet. But my vault off my bike was pretty.
Once in my running shoes we headed into the woods. There were folks near enough in front of me to be targets, and near enough behind me to be threats. Me and Mr. “not for another mile”, headed after a guy 50m in front of us up the trail.
Then we hit the first hill.
Omigod it was straight up. The only hill within 100mi of Savannah is a bridge and there I was trying to run up a trail that seemed to go up a cliff. Vertically up a cliff. I was reduced to little 6” baby steps. Mr. “not for another mile” went up it like a deer and passed the guy ahead of us. Desperate to minimize how much time I was losing, I tried to press the pace as I crested the hill.
It was a tricky trail. On the hills the trail was full of treacherous roots, and the low-ground between hills had creeks and marshes. Knowing that I was in trouble going up, I pushed hard going down, flying over the treacherous footing, pretty much just hoping for the best. This was keeping me in contact with the guy that had remained in front of me.
On the downhills I’d race down like a maniac and pass the guy. But then he’d pick me back up while I was struggling with wheezing 6” baby steps going back up on the hill
In triathlons they mark your age and your race # on your arm and your calf with a big black marker. So you can tell, in the middle of the race if the other guy is in your age division. I needed to keep an eye out for guys over 40.
We hit the halfway point in the run. We were in a road now, going over rolling hills. I was even with that guy who’d started the run in front of me. Mr. “not for another mile” had opened up a lead, but I didn’t care too much because he was a youngster. I couldn’t see any age markings on the guy that I was running with so I thought that maybe he was on one of those relay teams of three people, where each do one event.
There was a guy a couple hundred yards ahead tho, that looked like he could be in my Masters (40 and over) division. I was still struggling on the uphills, but I was gaining some ground on the downhills.
With a mile to go we hit a gentle descent and I poured the coals on. I was really concerned about that guy up there being in my age division. And if I was to have a prayer of outkicking him, I needed to get up on his tail well before the finish. I pushed hard, digging deep into my reserves. I had to catch up to him and I had only a couple minutes to do it.
I left the unmarked guy behind and started closing up ground on the “maybe my age division guy” up ahead. I was really digging deeply into my reserves now, able to maintain the pace only on sheer meanness. I really wanted that guy. I knew that the whole race was going to be over in ~4min. A person can stand anything for 4 min.
I was starting to unravel. I was pretty much out of my reserves and I hadn’t quite got into kicking range. Heck, I’d burned through any reserves I could have used to outkick this guy, just trying to get in position to do it. I saw him turn for the finish. I wasn’t quite in position to kick, and really didn’t have anything left do to it with anyways. I made the turn and crossed the finish.
15min after the last person finished, they posted the race results. Wow! Now that was unexpected, I beat all the darn city guys, at least in Masters. That means I'm the Masters State Champion, woo hoo. So the guy that I’d been desperate to catch up to wasn’t in my age division after all. The guy that got 2nd place was….Uh oh, it was the unmarked guy. The guy that I didn’t pay any attention to. Whew! That was a near thing.
Now where’s that snotty guy back at the bike rack?