First, a little background. Since I last wrote in this blog a few months ago, I have begun competing in triathlons. My first tri was in early June, less than a week after my swim tutor and I completed my swim stroke. Thus, understandably, of the 303 competitors in that first sprint, I was the 298th athlete to exit water that day. I had the fourth-fastest bike and the second-fastest run, and as a result, I finished second in the beginner division. I was satisfied with that. In fact, not being the last swimmer and being one of the fastest cyclists and runners was exactly my goal. Check.
I then competed in an Olympic tri a month later, but it did not go well. I had a mechanical issue with my bike which cost me several minutes and destroyed me mentally. My coach and I then decided to enter a second Olympic tri in August, and it went significantly better. This time, I finished around the middle of the pack in the swim, and again near the top of the bike and run. That was good enough for sixth in my age group--an improvement.
The goal is Ironman Cozumel on November 27th, and to that end, I competed in my first half-iron distance triathlon this past weekend. My wife, my coach, and I selected the Cedar Point Half Rev in Sandusky, OH, and my wife and I went up there on Friday morning. We prepared for the race on Saturday, and we competed on Sunday. My wife did the full 140.6 distance.
My first goal was to go roughly the same pace as I plan to go in my full-distance triathlon this fall. That would mean finishing around five hours. I figured that I could probably run a bit faster, though, so I was thinking that 4:50 was a worthwhile goal. I figured that would put me in the top five of my age group and top thirty of the race, but I wasn't too bogged down in placings. Most importantly, I wanted to experience the longer race as a means of determining my readiness for Cozumel.
My wife started about 90 minutes before me, so I wished her a happy start and headed back to our hotel room for a little while. During that time, I basically sat and dreaded the swim. Even though I have spent a lot of time in the pool lately and I was confident about the distance, Lake Erie made me nervous. I did the practice swim the day before, and the water was so murky that I couldn't even see my hands and arms in front of me. No exaggeration. I was also wearing a wetsuit for the first time, which on the one hand gave me more confidence, but on the other, felt like something uncertain that could possibly go wrong.
My race began at about 8:40. After trudging through some sludge and into the water, I began swimming. The water was just as murky as it had been the day before. Whenever I put my head down, I might as well have had my eyes closed. As a result, I was constantly running into people and people were constantly running into me. It was a battle the entire time. We were still running into each other as late as the last couple hundred meters. I ended up about three or four minutes faster than I thought, though, between the wet suit and the unintended drafting. My swim split was about 41:35. I was the 221st person out of the water, and around 40th in my age group. I was middle of the pack, basically, which is perfectly fine for someone who learned to swim three months ago.
I was excited to hop on the bike and make up some time. I transitioned quickly (about 2:30), and hopped on. Having finished the swim where I did meant that I had a lot of traffic to navigate in the first half of the bike. That has been the case in every triathlon I've done so far, so I didn't mind. In fact, it's kinda fun passing folks who are going about five to eight miles per hour slower than me. It's a bit dangerous, perhaps, but I'm confident in my bike handling given my history with bike racing.
During the bike, I moved up about 200 spots, but I was also passing people from previous waves and folks from the 140.6. It wasn't until the last 15 miles or so that I had open road. I started out a bit harder since I had to surge a lot and pass people and stuff, but it didn't affect me too much in the long run. The course was mostly flat, but there were a couple of rolling hills, a bit of stiff wind, some rough pavement, cars, and two or three steep kickers. I finished the bike in 2:22 (23.6 mph), which was the eighth fastest bike split of the day. I came into T2 in nineteenth place overall and third in my age group.
I knew that I had the ability to catch a lot of people on the run given my history as a runner. After transitioning in about 1:30, I was thinking that the first mile would be between 6:40 and 7:00. It was 6:10. I was feeling very relaxed and well within myself, though, so I didn't worry about it. I also have a lot of faith in my "running instincts"--that I am very good at perceiving how hard a particular effort should be, so I was confident that I was putting in the right effort. I actually thought that the mile marker might be off, because I just didn't think that a 6:10 off the bike should feel that easy. When I did the second mile in 6:14, I began to think that averaging around 6:20 was possible. That's what I kept in my mind the entire run. Even though I lost my running splits--my battery died in my watch about two hours after the run--most of the miles through the downtown Sandusky neighborhoods were between 6:05 and 6:20, depending on the aid stations. (I was speed-walking through them.) My fastest mile was mile eight or nine, a 5:54. That was around the time that I started to push, and I didn't have any aid stations in that mile. From that point on, I was under 6:10 for each mile, but I quit paying as much attention to each mile split.
As I had expected, I was chasing down a lot of people on the run. The fact that there were some out-and-backs on the run course helped me to pick out folks in front of me that I could run down.
Just past mile eleven, I felt a little twinge of a cramp in one of my calves, and I almost panicked. Fortunately, it held off, and I was able to catch a couple of other people, including the leader of my age group. I had no idea who he was at the time, and no idea where I stood in the race or in my age group, but that's just as well. I was just intent on catching people. The leader of the age group still had about 100 yards on me with a quarter-mile to go, and he didn't see me coming. I went past him with about 200 feet left in the race, just before entering the final chute. My run was 1:21:03, and was actually the fastest run of the day by about 3:00. I finished 5th overall.
Overall, the race was a good confidence builder. Even my transitions and nutrition were good. If I have a race in Cozumel like I did this past weekend, I feel like I'll be able to swim about 1:20, bike 5:00, and run close to 3:05. That would be sweet--around 9:30. That would put me in the running for a Kona spot. I'm not going to start planning for it yet, though. I'm going to keep my goal around 10:00 (1:30, 5:00, and 3:20), which would be like 30th in my age group in Cozumel. We'll see.
One last word about Rev 3, since I know that folks are really into the whole Rev 3 vs. WTC thing. Rev 3 did a great job of organizing and pulling off the race. Rev 3 is not the spectacle that Ironman is, but by the same token, it feels much less rigid. When my wife finished the full 140.6--in a thirty-minute PR and third in her age group!!--we were able to run across the line together. That was fun and very special. In addition, I sensed that they are more thoughtful. When there was a bunch of muck on the shore near the swim start on Saturday, they brought out bulldozers and cleared a lot of it. They provided ART therapists for the athletes before the race. At the post-race meal, they let families eat, too. At midnight, pros and amateurs together danced and waved glow sticks for the final finishers. In general, I felt less like a nameless amateur who was finishing a race and more like a respected athlete who was seeking a quality experience.
I also thought that Rev 3 handled the fact that the race fell on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 well. They mentioned it, had a moment of silence, and offered athletes the option of finishing with a flag (which, given how close my race was, I did not do). Given how politicized 9/11 remembrances have become over the past decade, I appreciated the fact that the importance of 9/11 was recognized, but I wasn't forced to take part in some nationalistic exercise.
I'm going to try to stay on top of my blog a bit more in the coming weeks as I begin the build toward Cozumel. I'm open to any advice as I continue to quickly step it up!