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Friday, May 3, 2013

First Race of the Season - St. Anthony's Triathlon

                OK, I know I have not updated my blog in awhile. I have been busy and my blog has taken a back seat. I will explain everything that has been going on at a later time, but I have done my first race of the season and wanted to give a race report.
                This past Sunday I did the St. Anthony’s triathlon. This race is special to me as the first time I did the race I qualified for my professional license and the second time I did the race it was my first professional non draft race. It’s a well run race and one of my favorites.
                I did the home stay program again this year and St. Anthony’s Triathlon has one of the best I have ever been a part of. Well organized and always helpful. I was staying with a very nice lady by the name of Katy Kline. She has not done a triathlon herself, but when the large number of professionals signed up for the race, she had a friend on the local masters swim team that asked her and she volunteered.
                Race morning came and it was my normal routine, 3 hours up before race start, same old breakfast, and warm up. As I set up my transition I noticed that the wind was blowing hard across the bay. This was significant as they changed the swim start last year because they have had to change or cancel the swim in past years due to extremely dangerous conditions. It was moved up shore to where there is a natural reef that breaks up the waves. However, this only blocks the first party of the swim. Once you clear the reef you are in open water and must face the conditions.  I knew the swim would be choppy, but did not realize at the time how rough it would be.
                After my swim warm up we were pulled out of the water to get ready for the start. Then there was a moment of silence as they played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes to remember the events and victims in the Boston Marathon Bombing. I could not help but get a little bit choked up while listening. I do not understand why someone could target sporting events and innocent people. There are many events in life that sports has brought the world closer together, made people forget about their differences, overcome hate, bigotry, and all those things that rip this world apart.  Sports can bring people from all over the world together and make us realize that in the end, we are men, women, and humans. Are we really all that different? This race was not just an American race, but I was racing athletes from Germany, Canada, Mexico, Russia, the Czech Republic, and England. The Boston Marathon is the same, but bigger. I don’t understand the events in Boston or any others like it and I never will. 
                After the Amazing Grace finished we had the national anthem and it was now time to put us in the water. St. Antony’s used to be a beach start, but now we wade out into the water and start between two buoy’s. I did not know this and I was lucky that I worked on some deep water starts in the pool leading up to the race. As we lined up, many of the top swimmers were lining up to the far right. I wanted to try to get into a good position and swim on some fast feet, but did not want to fight too many people. Cleaner water would conserve a lot of energy and I could get a cleaner start and try to catch some feet later on in the swim so I positioned myself more in the middle until I saw 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Jan Frodeno and Ben Collins swim past and line up to the far left. I may not be the brightest bulb in the bunch, but I am not an idiot. Those guys are fast and there were less bodies by them, so I moved over and snuggled up shoulder to shoulder. Now that everyone was lined up it was now time to wait! They put us in the water a good 4 minutes before they were set to start the race and this was a mistake. If you have ever watched anin water pro start you will notice everyone creeps forward to try and get that little bit advantage. So when the right side moved forward a little bit, so did we. In fact, I could hear athletes on my side ask “what are they doing” in reference to the swimmers to the right as they kept moving forward. No one was really moving that fast, but with 4 minutes of time, everyone kept moving farther and farther forward until we were almost at the first sighting buoy 25 meters down the course.  You can imagine a glacier moving ever so slowly forward. You may not notice how far it moves just watching it, but give it time, and it will cover quite a bit of difference. This is what we were like. I could only imagine what everyone was thinking back on shore and no one was saying anything. Only thing I could think of was “this is going to be a fast swim time since we will only be swimming about 1400 meters by the time we start.” Finally someone in a kayak came up and informed the group they would not start us until we moved back behind the starting buoys. Everyone then swam ever so slowly back so that they would not give up their position and get stuck behind another swimmer before the start. After we were back to the starting buoy’s guess what happened? We started to creep again, ever so slowly, looking for that slight advantage. Now I was not an instigator, but I was for sure not going to start 6 inches behind anyone. It was a good thing they started us in the next 10 seconds otherwise we would have made it more than 3 feet past the buoys.
                After the gun went off the star, the left side was fairly clean. I noticed I was stroke for stroke with Frodeno and Collins. I watched them so that when they made their move I could try and daft off of them as long as possible. It was clean swimming with a little bit of chop for about 50 meters until the right side pack and the left side pack came together and chaos erupted. Only thing I could see was whitewater, legs, and arms flailing all over the place. I sighted but could not see anything so I just followed the feet in front of me. Bodies started crashing together as we fought for position, not wanting to be pushed to the back of the pack. I stayed alert, paying attention in case someone was not simply bumping into me, but wrapping their fingers around my ankle or arm, trying to pull me back and propel them forward (this to me is poor sportsmanship). And then it happened.  I felt a hand come down on my right shoulder and felt fingers starting to dig in and I could feel the start of the tug to pull me back. Little did this individual know, a new part of my job is to act as an active drowning victim. My job is to make it as hard as possible for the rescuer to save me, fight them off, drag them to the bottom of the pool, and exhaust them as they fight with me in the water. In simple terms, I knew how to react, how to fight him off. I quickly shortened my stroke on the right side, grab his forearm, and ripped his grip free from my shoulder. I must have caught him by surprise because instead of trying to continue to swim next to me he got as much distance between us as possible. From that point on I did not have to deal with any intentional grabbing, but I would soon have to deal with the elements.
                There is a natural reef in the water that runs almost parallel the first 750 meters of the swim that breaks up any waves coming across the bay. After you clear the reef, you take a left out to open water to swim what can be best described as a box. It is out here that you are exposed.  As soon as we turned left, Poseidon decided to unleash his wrath. It was so bad that I would later find out that the swim was shortened for everyone but the Pros.  I would sight and I never saw a buoy, only a wall of water. One time I sighted at the top of the buoy and I took 2 strokes in open air until I came crashing back down in the water. Another wave knocked someone on to my right side, trapping my arm under them and I had to take 3 strokes with my left arm only until I could free my arm. I almost had thaught cross my mind that “this sucks,” but I wiped it away and instead told myself, “this is actually fun,” knowing that I could not control the environment or what was happening, but I could control how I react to it. And so I charged forward. Finally I hit the first turn buoy and then the second, which turned us back to shore. The waves felt big enough that I actually contemplated trying to body surf my way in.
                The swim exit is at a wall with some stairs placed in the water for us to climb. This was problematic as the waves would crash against the wall and come right back out at us. I could feel my feet being lifted behind me and as soon the wave passed I could then feel another one coming right at me, lifting and pushing me back, making the last 25 meters quite possibly the hardest part of the entire swim. Finally I reached forward and I could feel the steel of the steps under my fingers. I lifted my body up and out of the water and ran to transition, coughing up some salt water on the way. As I ran through transition I could see several of the favorites mounting their bikes. I knew I was about a minute down. Not a bad swim against this deep field.
                I was quickly on my bike and settled into my aero position. I have not put in the time on the bike that I have wanted to, so I knew I needed to ride smart and stay strong. As I rode I caught a couple of racers, but was also passed by a couple of the super bikers. I let the super bikers go as I knew if I tried to stay with them I would bonk half way through the bike and would not be able to run. I stuck to my plan and passed a couple of more riders. I did not feel my best, but I felt I was riding well for where my condition was at. In the last 5 miles of the course I tried to pick it up and push another gear as I knew there were some fast runners behind me and if I did not put enough distance on them in the bike, they could reel me back in on the run.
                I hit the second transition, dismounted my bike, and my legs felt like rubber. I kept them moving as I ran to my racking position and hoped they would feel better once I was on the run. Shoes on, helmet off, grab the race belt, and I was now sprinting out of transition. I like to make this fast as it gets my legs moving, wakes them up, and I can settle into my pace once I am out of transition. I could see two runners in front of me and my focused narrowed in on their backs. “Catch them” I told myself! “Quick relaxed feet, pump your arms” I reminded my body as I pushed forward. Around the 1.5 mile mark I caught the first runner and tried to focus on the second runner. I could not see him. He must have been running a faster pace. So I then focused on one mile at a time. I was not feeling my best, like I could really push it like in other races, but I told myself to dig deep and kept going. At the turn around I counted out the places and I was in 30th  place. On the way back I could see the fast runners looking quite hungry and thinking I was dinner, so it was time to dig a little deeper. In the last mile I was caught by one of the runners and another was charging up my back. I could not stay with the guy who passed me, but I decided then and there I was not going to get caught by the guy behind me. One last push, one last drive, dig a little deeper, forget the pain and run hard. It worked as I made the last turn and entered the finishing shoot. I crossed the finish in 31st place with a new personal record for the course and a personal record for a 10K off the bike (34:54) and extremely happy with my results from the first race of the season and the deepest field I have ever been a part of.
                Looking back at the race I am extremely happy with my results and splits. The rough swim naturally slowed everyone down and even though I did not feel like I had that extra gear in the bike and run, I still had great splits which let me know my conditioning is in a good spot and it gives me motivation to continue to train for the next race and the rest of the season. I looked back at past results and this field has gotten so deep that 3 years ago I would have finished in the 14-16th place range.  Looking at the overall race results I also know that I need to improve my bike split. Although I was fast (25+mph), these guys are really fast and I need to close the gap.