Yesterday was my final race before Ironman Wisconsin and the first triathlon I've ever repeated. It's amazing how different my experiences were and I'm not sure if it's due to changes in the race or changes in myself.
Overall I'm incredibly happy with how I did. I was aiming for a PR and had set some aggressive goals for each portion of the race. I fell slightly short of my swim goal, pretty short of my bike goal, but absolutely killed my run goal, so in the end I set a seven-minute PR. Not a bad day.
I woke up 3:30 and was planning to arrive at transition around 5 or 5:15. It started pouring rain so I decided to go as late as possible. It closed at 5:45 and I walked in at 5:35. Yes, it was a little tight, but I had prepared meticulously and felt idle time standing around in the rain would not get me off to a good start to the day so I chose to go late and make it quick. I'm glad I did. I've finally done this enough that I don't need to be there for an hour overthinking things. I got set up and started the long walk to the swim start.
My goal for the swim was to gain even more experience dealing with contact in preparation for Wisconsin. I got to the swim start a little late due to the race start being delayed and the times all being off as a result. I had my wetsuit down to my waist and my goggles around my neck and saw that my wave was on the barge. I zipped my wetsuit as I walked onto the barge and realized I'd zipped my goggles in there. I pulled them out, put them on and jumped in the water. Last year I sat on the barge until the gun went off to avoid getting pushed into the pile of women clinging to a rope in the strong Hudson current. This year I was in the pile and it was crazy. I had my hands on a girl's back and tried to push away to no avail. We backstroked a little and went nowhere. I knew the start was going to be crowded.
The gun went off and everyone started flailing but no one was really swimming. I was right in the middle and had nowhere to go so I just started to move forward. I felt like I was climbing over a carpet of people. I wasn't being malicious or aggressive, but the Hudson was demanding we move south and the only way to get there was to break out of the crowd. It was really rough, a lot of grabbing and kicking, but I held my own and felt pretty confident. It only took a minute or so to find some space and really get moving. I could tell my HR was racing so I focused on calming it down.
Near the exit ramp my hand hit something and I realized it was the mucky silt on the bottom of the river. Either they moved the swim exit in much closer to the seawall or water levels were significantly down because this didn't happen last year. It was disgusting to say the least. I could feel silt hitting my face as the women in front of me tried to stroke through it. You can't stand up in this stuff or you'll sink to your calves so I used shallow, easy strokes until the lifeguards at the exit ramp could lift me out. Those guys may be the best volunteers in the entire race.
I thought I swam really strong but my time was slower than last week's race in the Hudson and fell short of my goal. But I was a little faster than last year and I exited the water with a smile so I can't complain.
Goal Time: 21:30
Actual Time: 22:35
2008 Time: 23:01
This is where the race really got challenging. The course was really crowded and fairly risky due to blatant violation of rules and poor bike handling by many riders. I don't know if people were new to the sport and didn't know USAT rules or if they just didn't care, but there was a high level of drafting occurring as well as several pairs of women riding side by side chatting and blocking the course, causing faster riders to make tight and dangerous passes. A lot of people were getting bent out of shape over athletes announcing "left" or "on your left" as they passed thinking it was a nasty plea for them to move over rather than it being a courtesy to let fellow riders know they were coming by at high speed.
I've never experienced this type of attitude or disregard for rules in a race before so I was quite surprised. Athletes were slinging profanity at one another and the general tone was just negative. Before I even made it to the course, a girl wasn't paying any attention to where she was going on the way out of T1 and ended up slamming into my bike from the side, taking it down and nearly knocking me down with it. I was not pleased at all. If she had been running along side me and lost her balance or some other unavoidable occurrence it would have been one thing. But to be chatting with friends and literally not looking at anyone around her is another. When I grumbled over it she said "wow, you're in such a big hurry." Why yes, yes I was in a big hurry because last I checked it was a race and you generally run to exit T1. I shouted back as much and she called me a very colorful name. It was by far the most low class indivivual I have ever encountered in this sport.
The course was also wet and slick with large puddles in several places. A lot of riders swerved to avoid the puddles causing a few close calls. I had a couple brushes with accidents myself, one from someone swerving left without looking and another as a woman seemed to be daydreaming and almost missed the sharp left turn to take us back to transition. She sharply turned into me and I am not sure I how stayed upright.
I rode as fast as I could after a very slow start that involved actually waiting in line to mount my bike coming out of T1 and the slow navigation along the Hudson before getting on the actual course. My average was high nearly the entire ride and my HR was spot on. I felt great. My legs were a little tired from Saturday's ride but nothing serious. I thought I was on track to either meet or exceed my goal, but the end was slow just as the beginning was and by the time I finally made it to T2 I was four minutes off my goal. It was still an improvement over last year though so I'll take it. I was just pleased to have made it off the bike unscathed after the unpleasant conditions throughout much of the ride.
Goal Time: 1:22:00
Actual Time: 1:26:28
2008 Time: 1:27:31
If I were harboring any lingering disappointment over my swim and bike times, it melted away when I discovered my run time. I wasn't feeling particularly speedy and my legs were heavy so I guessed I was doing an 8.5 minute mile or so. I didn't start capturing my splits until Mile 3 and realized I was hitting a sub-8 pace. I thought perhaps the beginning was slow and I was gradually speeding up. I saw my friend Jonah around Mile 3, he was on a bike as a volunteer course marshall. He came and rode up a nasty hill with me giving me a nice diversion. I was able to chat for a bit, then lost all ability to speak, yet he continued to ride until I made it to the top. The 4-mile marker was right there and I knew if I could just suck it up for 16 more minutes I'd be done and well within my overall goal time.
My pace stayed consistent but I desperately wanted to speed it up so I picked a woman ahead of me who appeared to be running really strong and tried as hard as I could to catch her. We were in lock step for almost a mile with her about 20 yards ahead of me. But as we came into the final stretch I finally passed her. I felt incredibly strong coming into the finish and knew I had done the best I was capable of that day.
The run was my greatest improvement over last year and it was also a 10K PR for me by almost three-minutes. I was elated when I discovered this. I'm sometimes frustrated by my minimal improvements on the bike, but my coach said today that my bike endurance is paying off by allowing me to use the run fitness I'm building to fly. If being slower on the bike means having better than expected runs, I can live with that.
Goal Time: 49:00
Actual Time: 46:44
2008 Time: 50:29
This race was a final chance for me to practice transitions and go through the motions of putting together the three sports back to back. It was meant to be a fun day and it lived up to expectations. I likely will not do this race again due to the massive crowding that makes the course difficult to truly race. I think it was ideal for my first season because my goal was simply to finish and have fun. And I did. I can't do it next year anyway due to Ironman Lake Placid, so I'll revisit it in 2011 and decide then. For now it will always hold a special place in my heart since it's really where it all began and I am so happy with where it has taken me.
Total Time: 2:44:40
2008 Time: 2:51:21