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Race Result

Racer: Steve Smith
Race: USAT National Age Group Championship
Date: Saturday, September 18, 2004
Location: Various, --
Race Type: Triathlon - International Distance
Age Group: Male 30 - 34
Time: 2:02:08
Overall Place: 19
Age Group Place: 6
Comment: Nats luck continues to escape me: 22:43 /58:43/37:11 p/2:00

Race Report:

My first crack at this race report reflected my first impressions about my performance ... mixed. I couldn't quite peg why I couldn't wrap this race up in a nice little package.

Yeah, well, I'm in Shreveport and, if you're ever in Shreveport, there's some awful nice riding down here. So I'm half-way into a longish ride I found on the local bike club when I realized where I screwed up my race ... The reason would be obvious to a coach, if I had one, but being self-coached I open myself to this kind of mistake.

100% exhaustion at 9.9997km of the run
Qualify for 2005 Worlds in Honolulu

You see, my first goal was to push myself to my absolute limit. But my second goal was to qualify for 2005 worlds. The problem should be obvious: these goals can be mutually exclusive. Pushing to my absolute max carries risks, risk of exploding, melting (literally in the Shreveport heat). Racing to qualify is, or can be, tactical. Anyway, I learned my lesson: Make sure my goals are in harmony.

:::: Draft Before The Realization ::::

Well, that was fun ... and HOT. While I "finished" 3rd in my age group and 11th overall, I mis-racked my bike and received a 2:00 penalty. So that dropped me down to 6th in my age group and 19th overall. I had a solid race on all fronts, and finished 1:10 outside of second place (and no where near first :) The race for 2-10 was REALLY tight, no more than 8 seconds seperating each spot. The first real break in the finishers was between Gennari's 10th and my 11th(30s) and then Reback in 12th (23s). Well, with an asterisk of course.

I felt well-rested and ready to race at the start. I race well on the flats and in the heat, and I had plenty of time to checkout the course. I had no race-day issues (minus, obviously, the penalty). No cramps, no puking, no mechanicals, no course issues, no packs, no nutritional issues or anything else. On the flip-side, I didn't make my number-one goal; I finished with some reserve. I don't know if this was a tactical error or a smart race decision. I missed a number of my other goals, some that were unrealistic and some that I should have hit.

Pre-race setup was clean and I walked up to the swim start before jogging the 1-mile back to transition for one last look at the swim/transition exits. Our wave was a combined wave, M30-39, which I liked because many of the race favorites would be in the same wave (six of the top ten at day's end). At 84-degrees wetsuits were illegal (not even optional) and I was hot even without one. The swim start was rough and I missed the added padding of a wetsuit. Still, I had a strong start and was out of the washing machine after about 30 seconds.

After that I picked up a drafter (or two?) and swam down river looking to become a draftee. I saw a few packs and tried to bridge up, but it wasn't meant to be. I exited the swim right behind John Reback, defending M30-34 (and overall) national champion. Last year he was two minutes ahead of me in the swim, and I never saw him (I had a miserable swim last year). My swim time was 22:43 for the course, which they said was at least 1575 meters, if not longer. The fastest time of the day was 19:03 (but the fastest time in the top 25 was 19:36), so my goal to go within 1:45 of the day's fastest split was a pipe dream; 2:30 was much more realistic. Anyway, I got ahead of Reback on the other side of the mount line, but that wouldn't be the last I saw of him.

Thirty-six guys broke 22" on this long course, 24 @21:xx, 7 @20:xx, 5 @19:xx. The fastest time in the top 25 was Bruce Gennari's 19:36, at 10th place overall, and the fastest time was 19:03.

Out on the bike course, I had a good ride. This year's ride was much less congested than last year's ride. My ride of 58:43 wasn't even close to the fastest bike split of the day (1st 55:04) ... not even in my age group. Twenty-six guys would break 60: 11 @59:xx, 10 @58:xx, 2 @57:xx, 2 @56:xx, and 1 went 55:04 (the OA winner). I don't think I could have biked sub-56 on this course, but breaking 57 was a realistic goal for me. One guy blew by me like I was riding a trainer. I was going 27 mph at the time. In reviewing the results, this had to be Clay Mosley, with a 26" swim and 56:08 bike, the second fast bike of the day. Damn impressive. One other guy passed me about half-way into the ride. This was Brian Bich and we would swap places three or four times during the race and leave T2 together.

Like last year, this was a very fast course, with two small rises and four sharp 180-degree turn-arounds. There seemed to be far fewer bunches of riders this year; I'm not sure why, but most people seemed to agree. Perhaps the hurricane kept more people away than I realized (I heard there were only 1,000 athletes). My ride was about 30s slower than last year, when I had a mechanical?! I definitely felt a LOT faster this year, and I don't know if the course was slower because of the new transition area, if the heat affected me, or what. I hate it when they slightly change courses :) In the end, I happy with my effort & execution, but a little bewildered by my time. Hopefully it was just a fluke; we'll find out in Kansas next weekend.

Anyway, as Brian & I left T2, his wife shouted he was in sixth place, about a minute back (in our wave). I led the run for the first mile before Brian moved up a tad and introduced himself. We chatted for a bit and then he dropped me. After the race he would say, "You started out fast." And I though, uh, no, you just hit the gas! I was a bit bummed; we'd been feeding off of each other's energy since mid-way thru the bike.

As Brian trotted off I kept my spirits up. My HR was jacked pretty high. In my Friday pre-race run, my HR was WAY high for my given effort (it was 95-degrees and noon, so there was no mystery why). As I ran after Brian, I wondered if I could afford to push any faster. Given the heat, I didn't want to push my luck. As I hit the second mile, I was able to quicken things a little, keeping my turn-over a bit higher than the first mile.

Somewhere around mile three John Reback came up behind me. John's brother David yelled out as we passed him and a couple of other folks cheered him on, so I knew it was him. Besides, I was expecting him as he's a strong runner. Throughout the run, only Brian passed me and I apparently passed a few folks from our wave. I was surprised, however, that he didn't pass me. And a few minutes later I was still surprised.

As we moved out of the neighborhoods and into the shadeless main road, I was feeling better. Reback seemed to be breathing hard and I was breathing steady & strong. I decided to throw a quick push to see how he would respond. I got a dozen meters or so ahead pretty quickly, but Reback came back quickly. I'm not sure why I didn't just hold my quicker pace. I don't know whether I *had* to or whether I *decided* to, given the heat (and my high HR). It'd be nice to say "I did this" or "I chose that," but, honestly, I have no recollection of making a decision either way. If I made a tactical mistake, it was right there. Or maybe it was in not following Brian at mile one. That seemed, at the time, like an impossibility, but who knows. [Note: Here my conflicted goals are obvious:)]

Anyway, Reback & I ran the last two miles together, me just ahead of him. As we made the final turn, I saw Brian up ahead, not as far as I thought he would be, but way out of reach. We moved down into the last half-mile and I started to push the pace. Up the last, small incline and into a full sprint, I finished strong, not sure if Reback was anywhere close.

As I threw on the brakes to avoid colliding with volunteers I wondered. I wondered where all that energy came from and whether or not I could have spent it more wisely. Unfortunately, and this is the beauty of racing, I will never know the answer to that.

Thirty-five guys would break 38:00: 18 @37:xx, 14 @36:xx, 1 @35:15, a 34:43, and a 34:52. The 35:15, by *43-year-old* Michael Smith was the fastest time in the top-25 at 7th place (barely, the fastest split was 26th OA).

All in all, this year's race, in the same town, on mostly the same bike course (transition was in a different location) but with different swim and run venues, was a great improvement over last year's race. The swim, in particular, was immensely better than the mud-pit from last year. The bike was less congested for some reason, and the run, while a little more exposed to the sun, was less complicated and still shaded in quite a few spots. The course was well marked and officials were everywhere. The post race food was decent, including some red beans & rice. My first thought was "In this heat?" but the idea grew on me and it was really tasty!

A couple of random thoughts:

* I seem to have crappy luck when it comes to Nationals. Two years ago a truck hit me 10 days before the race and, probably as a result of that, I picked up a nasty sinus infection the night before the race. Last year I snapped my front derailleur cable in the fist mile of the bike, leaving me with only my 39 chainring. This year I racked my bike as I frequently do, hanging by one brake hood. By the time I finished the race, my bike was lying on the ground. (It was a good penalty; it could have seriously mucked with someone else's race.) Still, in all three years, I posted good results (OA/AG: 53/13, 25/9, 19/6--11/3 before penalty). But I've never nailed this race, and that is something I would like to do.

* Nutrition: pre-race dinner: Gnocchi & soy burgers with some ketchup, 1 PopTart. Breakfast: Coffee & 3 PopTarts, some water. Race: Two bottles of water, 1/2 bottle of Accelerade, 2 Endurolytes in T2, water at every aid station. Post-race: Endurox, fruit, red beans & rice. Post-post race: Lots of good cajun cookin.

* I initially grabbed my clear goggles, but just before my wave started the sun hit the water with a hell of a glare. I jogged back to my bag & grabbed my polarized Swedes. As I put them on the strap snapped. I kept my cool & simply tied them a new know, making them a little tighter. A tad too tight, but my wave would leave in less than 8 minutes. This is the second time I've had this happen before a race so, in the future, I will pro-actively change the bands on my Swedes.

* I previewed the course before the packet pick-up. Bad idea, 'cause the website course was slightly different from the final course. I was able to drive the correct run course before the race, so no harm.

* I need to be careful in transition, to make sure my shoes stay clipped to my bike in T2, be sure my bike is racked. A few seconds can be minutes, especially at this race where officials are everywhere.

* Finally, someone described the drafting rule as I thought it should be interpreted: You have 15 seconds to exit the draft zone AND, this is important, the *only* legal way to exit a draft zone is THRU THE FRONT! You cannot go into a draft zone, attempt to pass, and then bail and fall back. Even if you fall back in less than 15 seconds this is drafting.


8/18/04 -- (Goals modified)

In order of priority/likelihood:

100% exhaustion at 9.9997km of the run
Qualify for 2005 Worlds in Honolulu
Top three in my age group
WIthin 1:45 of fastest swim
Top three overall bike split
Top eight overall

Immediately after Lake Placid I thought there was no way I would have a shot at Nationals this year. However, I wanted to get through my two/three weeks of easy work and my first short-course event before examining my Nats goals. Right now, the overriding goal for Nats is to qualify for Worlds, so whatever I do, I cannot blow-up.

As for the other goals, I'll be curious to see what shakes out. I think I can take top three in my age group. My biking is uniformly faster this year: 2:00 better at NYC, 1:40 better at Lums. Those are significant numbers over 24.8 and 19.5 miles. Reston will be the true test. Last year at Nats I was only :40 off the day's second fastest split and you would have to go to the 9th place finisher to find someone who out split me by more than :25 on the bike (I was 25th). Oh yeah, I stopped for about :30 on the bike to examine my snapped front derailleur cable and rode the whole race in my 39 chain ring. So setting the fastest bike split this year is entirely possible. If I drop my bike split by 1:30 and my swim split by 1:30 (I had a miserable swim last year & I've got more swim fitness this year) I would be about a minute back from the overall winner from last year. Of course, the world is not static and the guys at the top are training just as hard as I am, if not harder. And the guys just behind me are capable of much bigger gains. All I can control is my own training, and I've done a pretty good job of that this year.

Nationals is a race big enough that I can assume a certain level of quality at the top of the field, so I feel okay making position goals. I think I sacraficed my chance to place in the top three at nationals at Lake Placid this year. Or, more specifically, in the taper before and recovery after Lake Placid. There just wasn't enough time to recover & properly build short-course fitness. However, if I uncork a great race--strong swim (w/in 1:45), 56-low bike, and a 35-mid 10k--I've got a shot. Those numbers aren't unrealistic, but they will require a nearly perfect race (well, 35-high is probably more realistic ... that could be the difference!).

7/13/04 -- Goals, in order of priority/likelihood:

100% exhaustion at 9.9997km of the run
Qualify for 2005 Worlds in Honolulu
Top three in my age group
Come within 2:30 of fastest swim
Top two overall bike split
Top three overall