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Race Result

Racer: Steve Smith
Race: Columbia Triathlon
Date: Sunday, May 23, 2004
Location: Ellicott City, MD
Race Type: Triathlon - International Distance
Age Group: Male 30 - 34
Time: 2:05:59
Overall Place: 7
Comment: 2nd amateur on a hot day after a rough two weeks of work

Race Report:

Pre Race

The question was this: would I melt down?

Six weeks before Columbia I did a two-week run focus. Following that, two weeks of vacation, most of which I spent in the saddle. When I wasn't biking I was running, swimming, eating or sleeping. It was a great vacation.

The next two weeks? Six nights with less than 3 hours of sleep, two weak swim workouts, and too much stress at work. So, going into Columbia, my first triathlon of the year, I had a good base, peppered with some duathlon racing, but recent history wasn't in my favor. I know from experience that job stress can be just as debilitating to race performance as missing workouts, and I was contending with both over the two weeks before Columbia. To top it all off, I returned to the DC area the day before the race on a red-eye flight from California. After working for 12 days on the west coast, I'd have just enough time to catch a nap, check-in for the race, ride the run course, and exhale before toeing the start line on Sunday morning.

I'd attempted to catch the Saturday ride some 35 minutes after landing at Dulles, and I almost did. Fortunately for me, however, I just missed the group. I managed to have my last conversation with the childless Brady as he came into the Hunters Woods Parking Lot. We chatted a bit and I decided to follow his lead and ride a few laps of the Reston Tri course rather than trying to bridge up to the Saturday ride. Good thing too, because I was toast. I'd gotten some fitful sleep on the plane, but nothing substantial. One lap into the Reston Tri course I pulled the plug. I felt miserable.

I got home, took a nap, and felt much better. After dallying about for a bit, I put the bike in the car and drove to Columbia. There I got my race packet and a free massage at the expo before heading over to Centennial Lake. I'd ridden two loops of the bike course a month ago but hadn't seen the run course yet. This would be my first time racing Columbia and I wanted to see its vaunted hills with my own eyes. I fumbled around the first mile a few times before I figured out the first turn and then proceeded to ride the course. I was glad I did; that's a hilly course.

As I drove home from Centennial Lake Saturday night, I tried to settle on some goals. I'm due for a race melt-down of monumental proportions, but I didn't think Columbia would be the place, despite the heat of the day and the miserable two weeks leading into the race. I tend to like the heat, and I had some solid training four and six weeks earlier. I was pretty sure I could post one of the day's best bike splits, but outside of that I was unsure of how things would play out. I decided on a top-3 bike split and left it at that. I'd swum little in the last six weeks (but had some great swimming before that) and the hills & the heat would make the run too unpredictable. So, yeah, I thought, don't drown, hammer the bike, and then play my own private game of Survivor.

Wks Swim km/Bike mi/Run mi
6 10.5/137/64
5 1.8/101/66
4 19.8/388/59
3 5.6/493/27
2 0.0/154/25
1 2.5/33/5

Race Day
I woke up race morning and had to finish packing. Given my miserable ride the day before, I decided to throw the road bike into the car for a pre-race ride. In the past, I haven't been to concerned with a bike warm-up; however, I wanted to get in a short ride just to erase the feeling of misery that concluded my last bike ride. I should have realized that I was cutting things close when I left the house without making a cup of coffee. This would be the genisis of my Rookie Mistake for the day.

I parked just outside of the park and managed a 20-minute ride along 108 & Homewood. I was glad to have had some saddle time that felt good, but I was cutting things close. I had the road bike in the car by 6:20, giving me a scant 30 minutes or so to finalize TA and get to the swim start.

I'm not particular about my transition area, so I can get setup pretty quickly. I pulled a great spot, on the end of a rack next to an easy-to-find tree. I laid out my shoes and, for the first time, sprayed some baby powder into them. I fumbled around with a few other things that I usually take care of the night before, like pinning my race number to my race belt. I was just leaving transition when they started shoo-ing people out.

Down at the swim start, I slipped into my wetsuit. I'd hung around for the pre-race meeting on Saturday where they claimed the water temp was 72. At least that's what I thought they said. All I remember thinking is this: probably a long-sleeve day. Given the carnage produced by the cool conditions over the last two years, I never really considered wearing my short-sleeve wetsuit. But I did have it in my backpack, just in case.

Well, me and my long-sleeved wetsuit jumped into the water with only 5 or so minutes before my wave start. Bad idea. If there's one part of the pre-race warmup that I don't like to ignore (when possible) it is the swim warmup. As soon as I hit the water I immediately regretted leaving my backpack, with the short-sleeved top to my two-piece wetsuit, just a tad too far away for an immediate change. I treaded water and figured I'd be fine, figured it was better to be a little warm than to risk a late start as I changed tops.

I paddled back & forth. They gave us a three minute warning. About five minutes later they gave us a 1 minute warming. Treading water there I saw Matt Cooke. Well, I thought, maybe a top four bike split. Matt wasn't in the start list, even though I'd heard he'd be racing. I wished Matt luck and wondered if he could run down Reid for the win. I'd be too far back to watch that finish ... and I started to wonder about the guys I'd be racing. There were a lot of fast kids here. In addition to Reid and Cooke, the field included other pros like Justin Thomas (of Xterra fame), OJ Keller, Todd Wiley, and Travis Kuhl. I figured all these guys were well out of my reach. On the next rung of the ladder were pros Marek Dvorak and Ryan Jones, in addition to Christopher Martin, Brock Butler, and xxx. Aside from Marek, I'd beaten each of these guys at some point or another and they had all beaten me in the 2003 season. Then there was Anthony Van Lierop, who I have gone up against a number of times and never beaten. Anthony is strong swim/biker, and I've measured my swim against him over the last two years. I was curious to see how I would measure up this year and, more importantly, see if I could finally get ahead of him in the results.

The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and they finally started our wave

The Swim
One of the most miserable swims of my life. Hot. Terribly hot. Not only was I hot from swimming, but the sun started cooking me in my very black wetsuit. I was miserably hot after 200 meters of swimming. After the race, I would marvel at my average HR for the swim (176, max 180) as compared to my average HR for the run (168, max 177). And the hills on the run are real heart breakers. In fact, my highest HR of the day, 183, came just seconds after getting out of the water.

The swim started out okay. One nice thing about the open wave is that it's relatively uncrowded. And, even better, the people there are pretty fast swimmers for the most part, so there's no one trying to swim over me. I found a small pack, maybe the second pack, I don't know, and followed them. Given my late arrival I had very little idea of the swim course. On top of that, the sun was directly above the first bouy. I followed my feet (with someone playing toe-tag behind me) to the first bouy before I had to let them go. I was just too hot. I couldn't believe it. And the sun. Misery.

After the short section to the second turn, I found myself alone. I wasn't sure what happen to the guy tagging my toes, but I found a rhythm that felt okay and proceeded to melt myself. After about 15 minutes, I had to consciously reduce my effort in order to cool myself down. Miserable, I had no idea how much further it was to the end (I didn't realize the swim exit remained hidden until late in the swim).

Two guys swam by me. Maybe I was towing them earlier, maybe they just caught me after I slowed down, but I pulled in behind them and drafted for a bit. I started to feel a little better, able to keep my same speed with even less effort. We made the final turn toward the swim exit, and I cheered to myself.

Up the ramp and off with wetsuit ... almost. One of the arms on my wetsuit particularly set on not moving. I wrestled with it as I ran to my bike and finally got it off. One of the legs on my wetsuit caused me a bit of grief too. Right now, I am thinking I'm not a big fan of this wetsuit thing. But I collect myself, shove me feet into my cycling shoes, slap on my lid and sunglasses, and make for the exit.

As far as my time of 20:06 (26th OA), it wasn't terrible ... in fact, as compared to my state of mind as I exited the water, it was excellent.

Hill. Big hill out of transition. Wow, that hurt WAY more than it should have.

The Bike

I push the bike to get a running start ... I jump on, clip in, and pass a tall lanky dude with zero body fat and "Thomas" splayed across his ass. Justin Thomas, I figure. The only think I know about Justin Thomas before the race is that he was third at the XTerra world championships and approximately 6'0" and 145-lbs. At the time I heard this, I figured he was a swim/runner. However, not knowing my swim split at the time, I'm unsure what his presence means for my swim time. What I do know for sure is that I'm still reeling from the heat of the swim. It takes me at least 10 minutes to get my brain to the point where I can start thinking about things other than being so miserable.

[to be continued ...]