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Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: Lake Placid Triathlon
Date: Saturday, June 15, 2002
Location: Lake Placid, NY
Race Type: Triathlon - International Distance
Age Group: Male 25 - 29
Time: 2:31:15
Overall Place: 240 / 458
Age Group Place: 36 / 44
Comment: Cold, rainy and a generally miserable day

Race Report:

(Note: Why do these things always sound so miserable? I don't mean for it to sound that bad. Really, I don't! I enjoy myself quite a bit, and despite the adversity --- or maybe BECAUSE of the adversity --- I feel great satisfaction from having completed a challenge, whatever that challenge may be. For those of you whom I haven't met, I'm not some twisted, masochistic sick-o. I'm just a boy with a bike, looking for a good time.)

(Oh, and by the way, it REALLY WAS that bad.)

I was going to do Columbia this year, but it filled up before I signed up. I was going to do Spud this year, but it, too, filled up before I signed up. Ho hum, that's what I get for being lazy. Still, I wanted to do at least one tri before my Ironman race this year. So after getting shut out of Spud, I started looking around for other races that weekend. Lo and behold, what should I find, but the Lake Placid Triathlon --- an olympic distance race in Lake Placid, NY, the very weekend I wanted to race! Not only was it the weekend that I wanted to race, and in the same venue as Ironman USA, but it was on Saturday the 15 of June, my birthday. Clearly, greater forces were at work here. I couldn't NOT sign up.

Now, before going on, I should point out several facts that would end up playing a great role in my race:

1) Less than a month before the race, Lake Placid was still experiencing significant snow storms.

2) I have what might euphemistically be called a "runners build." That is, I lack the natural insulation that a true clydesdale might have in abundance. Further, when I'm cold, I loose almost all power in my legs. (I MUCH prefer 90s and high humidity to the cold.)

3) This race is
a) pretty well removed from any major population centers, and
b) a qualifier for world short-course championships.
That means that aside from a small minority of participants who (like me) were just looking for a pleasant race, pretty much everyone at this race was a short-course stud who traveled to this race specifically to race hard.

Realizing all of that, I knew that I should be prepared to be beaten like a rented mule.

Well, race morning came along, and with it, a victory for the Weather Channel, which had been predicting a miserable day. Fifty degrees. Rain.


Oh well, nowhere to go but forward. I set up my transition area. They closed the transition area at 6:45 am. The first wave went off at 7:00 am. My wave was scheduled for 8:20 am. So in case I had any hopes of putting together a reasonable race, I had an hour and a half of shivering in the cold rain to extinguish any such ideas.

Before my wave started, I decided to take a couple minutes to "warm up" for the swim. Of course, in this case, "warming up" meant "making sure my arms were completely numb." (By the way, did you know that if the water is cold enough, you can actually get an ice-cream headache by simply dunking your head? You see, that's why triathlon is so great! In what other sport could you learn such useful facts?) I couldn't decide whether I was colder in the water or out of the water, so after I decided that warming up was a futile endeavor, I just stood around in elbow deep water until it was time to line up for my start.

Now, in most races, at the start it is clear that there is a range of swimming abilities by looking at the lineup at the start. The best swimmers are elbowing each other to be as close to the starting line as possible, and less ambitious swimmers seed themselves farther back. Today, EVERYONE in my wave was crowding the starting line, except for me (I usually try to seed myself in the middle), and two clearly apprehensive guys behind me.

The first few minutes of the race were fine. We ran into the water, white and frothy from the charge of the zealous triathletes. Out to the first buoy, instinct drove me. But as the pack spread out, and as the effort became more measured and steady, I realized that the cold had already taken a toll on me. The rush of the water in and out of my ears caused a shooting pain, and while my arms weren't totally numb, I was relying more on muscle memory than concentration on good form to move me through the heavy water. (A full wetsuit, a full wetsuit... My kingdom for a full wetsuit!)

About three quarters of the way through the swim, I realized that I couldn't see anyone ahead of me. A quick glance back revealed that I was leading the slow pack. Everyone else was so far ahead, that we had no hope of catching them. After exiting the swim, the run to T1 was about 400 meters. After about 100 meters, as the blood was rushing back to my bare feet, I realized that the thin indoor/outdoor carpeting that lined the way was not sufficient to soften the blow of foot-on-concrete. Though it hurt, I decided that if I was going to do anything noteworthy in this race, it was going to be while running, so I should take the fullest advantage of every opportunity that might present itself.

The one or two people I passed between the swim and transition probably passed me in the transition area as I fumbled with my arm-warmers. Though thoroughly soaked, I decided that I'd be better off with something on my arms than without. Unfortunately, wet arm warmers do not slide on too easily. So after a disastrously long transition, I was on my bike. Immediately, it was clear that my worst fears were well-founded. I just couldn't turn the pedals over. My legs just wouldn't do what they were supposed to do. And that was the whole ride. From the first mile, it was just a matter of puttering along toward T2. The only noteworthy event on the ride happened in the first five miles when I tried to shift, and I couldn't. At first I thought something was wrong with my bike. Then I realized that as I pushed the lever to shift gears, my fingers folded like an accordion. I thought, "maybe if I concentrate, on keeping my fingers stiff, I'll be able to shift." That was no use. I couldn't move any finger on either hand beyond the knuckle. Thus, every time I needed to shift, it became an event requiring an entire arm to reach around to the level, and to push the lever with my full hand.

Of course, a little foresight would make it clear that T2 was going to be problematic, to say the least. At that point, I had no foresight. I stood at my transition spot, having gotten my bike shoes off, staring at my running shoes, thinking, "It just can't ever be easy, can it?" As if I were a player in someone's triathlon nightmare, I fumbled with my shoes for an eternity, trying to secure my feet in them, trying to work with fingers that would not cooperate.

Somehow, I eventually escaped. I was finally running. It was time to try to salvage what I could of the race. The first time I passed someone in my age group, I felt a huge relief: I could be sure I was no longer last. Though the weather ensured that I was in no condition to anything well on this day, at least the inability to ride hard saved my legs a little for the run. I pushed through to the finish line, thinking only of mylar blankets and warm pierogies (this race was sponsored by Mrs. T's, after all).

After all was said and done, I would have to say that I had a thoroughly craptacular race. My run was okay, and the bike was about as terrible as I expected. The swim was the biggest disappointment for me. I've never tried to swim hard in water that cold. I knew what happens to me on the bike when I'm cold, but I didn't realize that a similar thing would happen in the swim. Even on a bad day, I would have expected to be two or three minutes faster in the swim. Oh well, I suppose that's what learning experiences are all about. And hey, after this race, I have nowhere to go but up!