These types of triathlons involve the complete opposite strategy needed to complete an Ironman, a task I accomplished 41 days ago. A sprint triathlon, especially the ultra-shortened Sprint version presented on Saturday, is an all-out leave-nothing behind in around a hour of pushing out extreme performance. Additionally I have not been recovering well from Wisconsin, especially from a strange left foot injury I received playing Ultimate back in June. Still though, I was far from being hurt enough not to compete.
After being the absolute last person to leave work on Friday (for five straight weeks now) I rode home in the rain and went straight to pasta preparation mode, whipping up some of my quasi-famous spaghetti that had everything except meatballs. It was a cold rainy night and I was happy to finish watching Becket, an old movie from the 1960s that was surprisingly good. While it had the usual "made for movie" additions and skewness, Thomas Becket remains one of the most amazing people to have walked this earth, due to his firmness in what he believed.
I then started to assemble the gear and thread my Asics GEL-Foundation 8s with elastic laces, a feature I have not used in several years (with my focus on longer triathlons). Before going to bed I read the penultimate story in T.C. Boyle's excellent compendium of short stories, After the Plague. I did not sleep all that well, having a mildly disturbing "dream" about the negative ramifications of staying a cheap hotel in the middle of the woods and having to share a big room with about 10 people.
The alarm clock was not necessary this morning as I rose around 6AM. I left at 6:30 and had to stop at work to load all the maps I had been slaving on the previous day. The road was quite clear to the NOMAD Aquatic Center in Huntersville. The field we parked in had some mud, so I carried my precious Holman to the pavement.
After picking up my packet, I promptly left my numbers on the table upstairs and descended for bodymarking. About ten minutes later I couldn't find what I needed but thankfully it was still waiting for me. This would be my second triathlon without the use of socks. It was bloody cold out, but thankfully mostly clear and looking to be a good day! Before the start of the race I ambled around - the only person I really knew was Lamperski so I chatted a bit.
I have a very important etiquette question to pose to my gentle readers, but before you proceed with the next paragraph I would suggest that the gentlest of readers, such as Hogeboom, who get offended with "TMI" to jump ahead.
The aquatic center has a PA system. And naturally when it came time for the Star Spangled Banner to be sung they put it over the PA system. Here was my dilemma. I was on the can when the nice lady started to sing. Now, I am pretty familiar (and digusted by) the practice of those that talk on their cell phone while vacating their bowels. What should I have done? Stand and not disrepect my country? Or simply wait to flush? (there was a long line in the locker room). I noticed at least one other stall-dweller flushed during the song. I waited, then hopped out. Fortunately no photos exist to document my fervant patriotism.
The one thing I dislike about these pool swims is the long wait to start. Unlike Wisconsin where 2000 people start at once, every ten seconds a participant is released to snake their way to the other end of the pool. And I'm not a particularly strong pool swimmer (and I don't know how to flip-turn), so I usually have to wait. The first swimmer who started at 8:00 finished the 250 yards 2 minutes and 47 seconds later - very impressive! From there I had to wait until 8:42:20! I wandered around some more, then went upstairs and saw another friend from Ultimate. I was surprised to learn this was his first triathlon, and wished him well. By that time Julie had arrived, and as she predicted, her two companions had not made the trip.
Originally the plan was to compete using my normal swim trunks, but they are quite tight especially around the thighs and show a little more back than I'm comfortable with, so I did switch to my usual bike shorts, which I used just for the bike portion Ironman Wisconsin. I swam a few laps in the warmup pool then ambled over to the line. All the sudden 8:42:20 came up quite fast!
The distance is this competition was 250 yards. I have only one comparison, which was the Valdese Sprint Triathlon back in March of 2004. There I covered the distance (don't forget a portion of running to the timing mat is added, so it wouldn't necessarily be my actual swim time) in 5:05. No doubt this would be the part that would hurt the most, since the amount of effort needed for a marginally better time is great compared to the other disciplines.
"Blessed be the Maker and his Water, Blessed be the coming and the going of Him, May His passage cleanse the world." -- Liet Kynes
I quickly found out my bike shorts (which have been used to the point of sagging along the thighs and waist) were near "wardrobe malfunction" when jettisoning off each wall into the next lane. Good thing my shorts didn't come off! I ended up passing one woman and then found a strong man in front of me. We came out of the pool at the same time. I had 4:32 on my watch, an excellent 12% improvement. I officially ran over the mat at 4:47 while around the back of the facility. That put me at 155th overall from the 466 finishers. This was the only discipline where a sizable number of women (48) bested my time.
Both of transitions were particularly good, for T1 because I went without socks, my loose grey running top went on easy, and I didn't both to towel off (save stepping on the towel to help dry the feet). I went through with a 1:01 transition, which is quite impressive.
As I left some of the stronger bikers were already coming in. The ride featured some strong cold winds, something my body was not used to! I lost my bike number right away, and at the turn on to Ellenwood I was personally greeted by a volunteer who must have been Kevin (it's really hard for me to distinguish people when I'm on the job). If so, thanks Kevin for asking me to mind the turn!
This was one of the few courses where I had not done my homework and driven the 10.2 mile course. I had asked Lamperski and he had relayed some other comments, which actually turned out to be the reverse. It was NOT flat and the worst hills (IMHO) were in the first half, especially the monster shortly after the first mile that made me want to cry. I was still huffing badly trying to force my body into bike mode, but mostly it was not happening. To break my hour goal, I needed a consistent 20+ mph effort and this was NOT helping. Relatively speaking though, I was passing riders right and left. And let's also be clear this is not Ironman-grade talent. This race is in the TrySports Triathlon Development Series, many of these people are racing for the first time. It seemed very lonely out there compared to Wisconsin in terms of people on the course. There were some people cheering here and there, which was nice.
The highlight of my ride was known before I even started hammering the pedals. Right before Mile 4 the course comes south on Beard Road approaching the Conservancy's Ridge Road Nature Preserve (on the right). This is a rare upland depressional wetland where we have done salamander counts for many years. It was also the site of a memorable workday for some Queens University students back in September of 2005. My job was simply to assist the unmentionable UNCC grad student who was running the project, but she was totally late. In addition, some neighbor must have called the cops on me as I waited. So when the students came, the police showed up and I had to talk my way out of trepassing/being a crazy person. Apparently the neighbor saw me and thought I was a delusional crazy person. I do recall sitting there with my head down because I was tired! (I had ran the previous Wednesday and Thursday, swam Friday, and then gone for a walk with Bob and Jan Marx that evening). The timing made it embarrassing.
Back to 2008. I then knew the turn onto Ridge Road would be extremely sharp. It was then my lone nemesis, a guy I had started to play the leap-frog game (this happens when you get aligned with an evenly matched person but you have to obey the drafting rules) passed me for the final time and started to edge out an advantage I could not match. At the halfway mark I had lost seconds I would need. Then it was more suburban hell on Highland Creek Parkway. That was the lone person that passed me. It was just a struggle at that point, especially the frustration on Eastfield with the strong gusts. I could see the end far away, but also saw my hopes for a 30 minute split fade alongside the rural landscapes that once defined this part of Mecklenburg county. Nonetheless I came in at 30:59 (19.4 mph average), a time at the moment pissed me off but what I didn't realize then was the strength I showed in comparison. I came in 37th out of 463rd, bested only by ONE female.
Given that I set my laces last night and my plan to use them on part of my Wednesday industrial firestorm lunch run did not materialize, I was nervous about them slipping on. Another factor was that my feet were frozen from the ride! Getting around the back of the center was very tricky too, as there was quite a bit of mud from the previous night. That was the only complaint I had about the course. I went under one minute by a second for T2 - awesome!
I wasn't concentrated on that though, as a glance of 37:44 on my basic watch told me breaking one hour would not happen based on past performance. I would need to run a 22:15 (7:10 minute mile pace) 5K time. In my previous twelve triathlon 5K performances, my average time was 24:06 (7:46 mmp). My best was 22:29, so it would have to be a PR kind of day. The course was not suited to such an endeavor, a micro tour of Skybrook subdivision hell that featured a big depression shortly into the course and several more mini-rollercoasters further down. Still I clipped along a decent pace without the assistance of my Garmin Foreunner.
As on the bike, I was mostly passing people right and left - ony two of three determined males passed me. This was not just because I was a better runner, it has a lot to do (as with the bike) due to my misplacement at the swim start. The bib numbers correspond to participant's projected swim times. You can sort the swim rankings to easily see most people (including myself) over and underestimate their abilities. For example, I had bib 216, but finished 154th in the swim. On average, the field underestimated their abilities relative to the field by 26 slots. Those underestimated did so by an average of 90 places , and those that overestimated did so by 60 positions. I underestimated my swimming abilities so on the bike and run I go through the process of attempting to align myself with my true abilities relative to the strength of the field.
On the side portion that was done twice, I saw race organizer Scott Campbell a number of times and exchanged positive reinforcement. I also spied Lamperski out for a cool-down runner so I had to inquire. He and his companion told me (my pace) looked strong. That helped. After my last patented spin turn at Northgreen I headed south towards home. I knew by a look at my basic watch this was not going to happen, although I felt deep inside this was going to be a "better than average" 5K effort. Normally I come down the gate charging, but I really didn't this time, splitting this race with a 23:53 5K time. So yes, I did do better than average, but certainly not well enough to PR and slice in under an hour. 62 men and 14 women bested my 7:42 pace on the run.
So this was not the shortest triathlon I have finished; that award goes to the Valdese race as the bike course was only 9 miles (just awful mountainous hills that made Take Flight look like a joke). I averaged 15.5 miles per hour on that ride! If you assume the same pace for the additional mile my time would have be 1:09:17. So really an improvement of 12% by slicing off seven minutes and forty seconds.
In the end I didn't make my goal, but I would naturally later learn that I did quite well and should be proud of my accomplishment given my difficulties in recovering from Ironman Wisconsin and that I have not specifically trained for this particular race, most notably the discipline itself. In the male category I finished 34th. I was really stunned to learn only three woman bested me overall, and only Kelly's sister broke one hour.
Super thanks to Julie for cheering me on and providing the great photos!
And for the record, I'm glad I didn't flush.
Total Time 1:01:37
Male 34/269 [0.127]
M30-34 7/39 [0.179]
Overall 37/465 [0.080]
Male Swim 107/271 [0.395]
M30-34 19/39 [0.487]
Overall 155/466 [0.331]
Male Bike 36/269 [0.134]
M30-34 7/39 [0.179]
Overall 37/464 [0.080]
Male Run 62/267 [0.232]
M30-34 12/38 [0.316]
Overall 76/462 [0.163]