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Race Result

Racer: Steve Smith
Race: USAT National Age Group Championship
Date: Saturday, October 4, 2003
Location: Various, --
Race Type: Triathlon - International Distance
Age Group: Male 30 - 34
Time: 2:00:17
Overall Place: 25
Age Group Place: 9
Comment: No luck at Nats, again: s/21:57 b/58:07, r/36:52

Race Report:

Short Version

Had a lousy swim (21:57) followed by a great bike (58:07, despite a notable mechanical) and finished with a decent run (36:52) to finish 25th OA and 9th in my age group. A fairly solid showing for an extremely competitive event raced under perfect weather conditions. A moderately scenic race; I didn't stay in Shreveport, so I cannot speak to the host city (other than to say the roads are utterly confusing).

This was a B-event for me and I feel like I executed at about 92%-99%-95% (s-b-r) on fitness somewhere around 95%. I went down to play with the fast kids and scope out the course for next year, when this will be one of my A races (The event is the weekend before the Reston Triathlon next year).

The water was incredibly silty and the swim was *rough*. The bike got a little clogged at times and I was surprised more penalties were not issued; the bike course was flat, straight, windless and fast, excepting the five or so hairpin turn-arounds. The run is almost perfectly flat amongst nice, tree-covered neighborhoods, with a little bit of a squeeze/hill/slow-down in the woods outside of T2. Otherwise, a flat & fast run. Ran into, or rather with, Eric Sorensen for a bit and saw fellow RAT Mike Smith at the finish line.

Long Version

Pre Race

I'd hemmed & hawed about going to Nationals this year. New Zealand is cramping my travel budget for the year (decade) and I am not in A-race fitness (but I'm getting close). Still, it's fun to race with a lot of talented folks and, I decided, it would be a good preview for next year if I choose to take the 2004 Nationals more seriously.

For me a B-race mentality means workouts as scheduled thru Thursday, but otherwise race the event as hard as possible with a bit of rest in the legs. After swimming Thursday morning, I worked at home for a bit (waiting for a UPS delivery) and decided to sneak in a bike ride (on the unpacked road bike) before my 5:30 p.m. flight. It was *windy* out, but beautiful, and I wrapped up the 30-mile ride before I left for the airport.

Friday morning I re-assembled my bike, lubed the chain, and snapped the rear-derailleur cable when I went to test the shifting. Argghh. Not a huge deal, but I wanted to be riding & relaxing, not chasing down mechanics & waiting in line. It was 8:30, and I called Bicycle Sports in Shreveport, expecting to leave a message. Nope, someone answered the phone and told me to come on down.

Short story: Bicycle Sports was able to get me onto my bike in very little time. They are an excellent resource for this race, located next to two different points of the bike course. I left the store and headed out for a 40-minute ride on the course and then drove into the middle of the run course for a run of 25 minutes. I hit the pre-race meeting (yawn) and left my bike in the transition area for its mandatory over-night stay. I didn't bother covering anything, but I did pull my arm pads in case it rained.

Never eating a "meal," I foraged on food all day Friday: I drank a lot of Gatorade, added a few V8s, and nibbled on various snacks, including some McDonald's french fries. I wasn't too hungry at the end of the day, but I found a Fazoli's (sp?) that does fast-food Italian. A small pasta & marinara topped off the fuel tank quite nicely. Of course, I topped the night off with some custard, from the store right across the street from my hotel. It was meant to be.

I misjudged travel time to the race site and arrived with less than 10 minutes to setup. I'm not too particular about my transition stuff, however, and was easily setup in 5 minutes. Besides, at a race of this caliber, there's just too much attitude walking around before the race and the less exposure to that, the better.

I was in the second-to-last wave, at 8:41. The first wave went off at 7:00, so I had a lot of time before I would start my warm-up. I watched the first few waves go out and come in to get a feel for transition issues. Finally, around 8:00, I went for a 20-minute easy run, peppered with a few strides. I was racked two bikes down from local Eric Sorenson and on the other side of John Reback, definitely the favorite for the M30-34 age group, and a likely contender for the overall title (in a nice touch, they label the racks with your name & number). Reback was riding an easily identifiable amber/gold disc wheel, so I'd keep an eye out for him.


The water was silty, murky, dark, and shallow. I'd almost left my wetsuit at home when I heard the water temp was 84-degrees. No way, I thought, will it drop 6-degrees in three days. Wrong. Given the lake is incredibly shallow (5-feet at its deepest) and very small (probably 1500m x 250m) it was quite capable of dropping **13** degrees, to a temperature of 71-degrees, in three days.

How dark? Literally, I could not see my hand in front of my face. I put the palm of my left hand at the bridge of my nose, fingers extending perpendicular to my head. I put my right palm at the end of my left hand. Couldn't see it, not until I brought my right hand to about my second knuckle.

With a quick warm-up, I got on the front of the pack and the gun went off.


I started off strong for about 100m and, thinking I'd cleared the washing machine, settled into a 1500m pace (or so I thought). Within a few seconds, I was back in the mixing bowl. I got stuck in a fairly large pack, and couldn't get ahead. It wasn't too brutal in this pack, but I couldn't breathe without swalling water splashed by the people swimming next to me. Every breathe was a drink of silt. Immediately I started thinking about (1/2)IM-Utah, where I gutted out a 60-minute swim in rough, silty water, and found myself with GI issues for the rest of the day.

Finally, I broke free of the pack, but I think it was because I took a severe inside track on the clockwise course (it was a triangle course with legs of 500m 800m 300m). On the first leg I had to adjust a bit to the outside of the first buoy, but sighted well.

The second leg however, I was tracking well inside of the buoys I was to keep on my right. I was constantly shifting to my left. I couldn't get into a rhythm, and I couldn't swim straight, and I with all these thoughts in my head, I just didn't think to swim HARD.

I finally turned the last turn and made my way to the ramp. The bottom of Champion lake is covered in about two feet of silty mud, so I made a decision to swim right to the swim exit. They had a covered ramp there, but I had some minor troubles get up it. Shoulda practiced that on Friday.

Basically, I swam like a wimp and paid for it. Sighting was an issue, but more importantly I just didn't push the pace. I was taken out of the swim mentally when I was stuck in the washing machine, sucking down silty lake water.

It's a looooong run into transition and I had an equally looooong run back to get to my bike. Reback & Sorenson and a lot of other folk's bikes were gone when I arrived. I felt like I spent too much time in T1 but, yet again, the splits proved my perceptions wrong. I sat on the ground to strip my suit, put on my shoes, and then I was off. There's a small grade after the mount line and, yet again, I passed a number of guys dorking with their shoes. In earlier waves I saw at least two people knock their shoes off their pedals as they ran to the mount line. My strategy is to gain as much momentum pushing the bike and then leap onto the bike well past the mount line (for some reason, many people choose to stop right at the line).


Basically, I lit up the bike course. This was the first race of the year where I felt like I executed the bike to my current fitness level. I felt strong, fast, and fierce. Finishing in 58:07, I posted the 11th fastest bike split of the day, only 0:40 off the second fastest split (the fastest split was 56:04, posted, I'm guessing, by some uber-biker/neo-triathlete given his 30 swim and 42 run). And, much to my amusement, I did it with a 0:20 stop on the side of the road and entirely without the use of my large chainring.

Yup, 25.6 mph entirely in my 39/11 and 39/12.

About 1-mile into the bike, when all systems were "go" I flipped the front-derailleur shifter only to hear/feel the now familiar "snap" of a derailleur cable. WTF?!?!?!! I thought, I fixed that ... it took a second for me to realize it was the front derailleur cable, not the rear. I cursed myself for not asking the mechanics to change it as well. I'd had the thought after I left the store, but waved it off as paranoia.

I pulled off to the side of the road, hoping to figure out a way to permanently set the chain in my big chainring (53). Unable to think clearly, I just gave up, hopped on the bike, and pedaled like mad in my small chainring. (In retrospect, I should have never stopped, but I feel like I took an appropriate amount of time to assess the situation, attempt a solution, and make a decision. Even though it felt longer, I would say I lost 0:20 to the pit stop. Probably more, but 0:20 is what I'm comfortable claiming.)

Pedaled like mad indeed. I quickly found that the issue was not as horrible as I'd imagined. I'd recently put on a 11-21 rear cog, specifically for this race. I'm naturally a high-cadence rider, and while I was spinning 115 or so (I usually average around 105; unfortunately, I forgot to properly set my bike computer after my warm-up run, so I have no bike data), I still had some bite in the pedals. Usually. I was getting significant chain rub against the front derailleur when in the 11, so I didn't use it unless I had to. In all, there was about 5:00 of riding where I really pined for more gears (not including passes), and less than 1:00 where I cursed my 39 in complete frustration.

I was passing people regularly, but every now & then someone would retake me, briefly (usually a rare occurrence, but this is Nationals). I realized I was getting caught on false-flat downhills with a tailwind (damn 39!). This actually became a problem as I would pass some loose "packs" of riders fairly easily, only to see them again in a few miles. Once the false-flat ended, I would speed by them again and go for the next group. I'm sure I pissed off a few guys as I re-took a lot of folks, but I didn't have the time to explain.

Anyway, I had a blast on the bike. I guess I could be pissed; instead, I relished the challenge and came away with an experience I will always remember (ah, B races :). In the end, my best, objective estimate of "What If" would be 0:50 faster (0:15 pitstop and 0:35 race). I would couch that estimate with an absolute minimum of 0:40 and maximum of 1:40. Personally, I think it was probably more like 1:15, but time always seems expanded in the heat of the race, so I defer to the conservative estimate.


T2 was uneventful. As I was heading out I saw Eric Sorensen coming in on the bike. Eric's a great runner, and I hoped to hold him off for at least the first half of the run. But as soon as I hit the woods, I realized something was wrong. My gut was in knots. I'm not exactly sure why, but the leading theory is that the silty lake water was starting to take its toll. At this point, some tall dude with M30-34 markings on his leg goes blowing by. I tried to speed up, but couldn't. He eventually finished 3rd in the AG with a 34:53. Soon after someone else in my age group went running by, with a little less of a doppler affect. I couldn't hang onto him either.

The first mile was rough, and slow, for me, at 6:15-ish. Eric caught me around mile 1.5 & we exchanged a few words. I told him I had a belly full of lake water that wasn't sitting well. "Tough it out!" he said.

Some things are so obvious, but still need to be heard. This was Nationals. I'd come to race & suffer & put out my best. I literally tightened every muscle in my abdomen and forced myself to keep my pace. I was grinding my teeth & my whole body was tight, but I toughed it out. Then, around mile 2.5, I realized I was much more relaxed and in very little pain. Thanks Eric!

Speaking of which, Eric was still 50m ahead of me, as was the second guy who'd passed me. I caught them both around mile 3.5. Eric & I ran for a bit, then traded spots here and there. At one point, we were running side-by-side again when I turned to him and said, "Hell, we coulda stayed home and done this!" I laughed at the thought of flying 1000 miles to battle the guy next door all the way to the finish line. Eric had pulled ahead of me again before he pulled up with a massive calf cramp. I wished him luck (Tough it out didn't seem appropriate; I've had those cramps, and toughness is useless) and targeted the next guy up. I passed one or two more folks in my age group when, around mile 5, the eventual 8th place finisher in my age group (and 24th OA) came trucking by. This time, however, I could respond. He got about 30m ahead of me and I held him there and slowly pulled him a bit closer until we hit the woods on the return. He ended up 9 seconds ahead of me, with a 35:14 run split.

In retrospect, I didn't execute the run as well as I could have. I did the best I could for the first 2.5 miles; I am satisfied with my run there. However, once the gut pain disappeared, I didn't take the opportunity to replace the void with hard-effort pain. Good pain. FAST pain. It wasn't until the 8th place finisher went smoking by that I realized I was lollygagging. Well, not quite lollygagging, but I wasn't racing all out.


In the end, I came with away with some great race experience. While I tend to focus on a lot of external details about the race--course, competition, etc--I tend not to get too stressed out about the race, how I will do, or any of that. By and large, I think this is a fine approach for me. However, in doing so, I am noticing that I don't focus on the essentials during the race. It's entirely possible to be laid-back about the race and it's results, while being fierce, focused, and determined during the race.

I believe Reback is racing the half-GFT as well, where I'll have more time to recoup the swim deficit. I'm looking forward to having someone in my AG to go up against, and it should be a great race! Reback (and the whole family, including his AG brother and father and pro sister) will also be at World's in New Zealand. And that my friends, will be another story.