||Sunday, May 22, 2005
||Ellicott City, MD
||Triathlon - International Distance
||Male 35 - 39
||25 / 1227
|Age Group Place:
||3 / 167
||Slower = Better? It sure is.
COLUMBIA (MD) TRIATHLON
May 22, 2005 / Partly Cloudy - 61F - Northeast wind 7 mph
(Temps 15-20 degrees cooler than 2004)
THIS RACE REPORT, AND RACER, ARE SUPPORTED BY:
Eric Hodska Training (www.hodska.com)
Team Crank Sports (www.cranksports.com)
The U.S. Navy and its Capital Region Triathlon Team (www.navy.mil)
RATS and friends of RATS just like you (www.trirats.net)
Same as 2004...except there were more swim buoys this time! Water temperature 68F. (8 degrees cooler than 2004)
Costs: Entry Fee (military discount) $74. A $4 increase from 2004.
Benefits (participation): White T-shirt (worse than the shirt from 2004), a nice tote bag (better than the running hat from 2004), water bottle (just changed the year from 2004), a replacement LIVESTRONG wristband (you CAN wear one out if you wear it long and hard enough), standard post-race water/bagel/fruit fare. No beer. No pizza. Pewter finisher's medal...if you finished early (sounds like they ran out before the end of the day).
Benefits (awards): Clear (plexiglass?) trophy depicting an oversized logo of the race, plus a Best Of The U.S. Triathletes Virginia qualifier medal.
Charity tie-in: The Columbia Triathlon Association actively supports several local charities, among them: The ARC of Howard County, for developmentally affected youth and adults, The Special Olympics of Maryland, Howard County, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, The American Heart Foundation and several other very worthwhile causes. CTA also administers the Judy Flannery Memorial Fund that provides financial support to Masters women in triathlon and duathlon who aspire to race in both National and World Championship events, and administers the Jerry Kenny USAT Senior Fund to help and assist Senior Triathletes seeking to participate in events where cost may be a prohibiting factor.
Even though the venerable Columbia Triathlon has been in existence for many years, it always seems to be a little different from year to year. Of course, I’ve only got two data points for comparison. Yet, I’ve heard the stories about the history (the race hosted AG Nationals once), course changes, and varying degrees of weather…with the growth of the sport bringing larger numbers of racers along with improvements in race amenities.
One thing, though, remains Columbia’s signature element throughout its years: Its difficulty. You can say plenty of good things about the quality of the production and the popularity of the event…but you’re more apt to remember, long into the future, the struggle to climb all of those hills, especially if you have to throw in some heat, wind, and/or moisture. So, while we may hand out nice crystal baubles to those who master her the fastest, the real competition at this event is between the competitor and the course, and Ms. Columbia always has the upper hand.
It was with that prevailing notion in my mind on race morning. Yes, I definitely had personal goals…matching or beating my time from 2004, top five and possible top one of the 35-39 age group, plus top five and possible top two overall from Virginia. None of that could occur, however, unless I gave Ms. Columbia the reverence and respect that she deserved. This was going to be something completely different from the pancake flat rage-exes that St. Anthony’s and White Lake were.
Plus, I was definitely in a different physical condition than I was at White Lake two weeks earlier. The Base Realignment and Closure recommendations were released to the public on the Friday after White Lake, meaning that I had a very hectic work week performing all of the last-minute crisis action tasking that always seems to pop up with the presentation of any important project. I had a big training day on Saturday, the day after The List hit The World…but it sucked all the remaining energy out of me. The following day was the one where I casually toured the Columbia course, because I had not the strength to do anything more than a casual tour. I was somewhat encouraged by riding the bike course without much difficulty (~1h35m), but the death march on the run course (~1h02m) wasn't encouraging at all.
The following week, the one before the race, was definitely for recovery. I was clearly "on the edge" of overtraining and/or injuring something. The office was now busy answering the first of many inquiries from Congress and commissioners about our BRAC recommendations. As the week progressed, each day was one where I felt “Thank goodness that today wasn’t race day.” It wasn’t until I had a great swim practice on Friday evening, after work, that I began to feel that I’d be physically “peaked” for Sunday. After some good sleep, eats, and a little bit of exercise just to keep the blood moving, I felt as good before the start of a race as any other this season.
SWIM (21:20 [+1:03 from 2004])
The swim almost always seems to set the tone for my entire race.
The M35-39ers drew wave #3, which was 25 minutes behind the start of the previous wave. This meant (1) essentially open water and (2) a contested, crowded start.
Starting slightly right of center, I "allowed" myself to get bumped out further to the right until, after about a minute, I saw a beautiful sight...Not only was I abreast of the leader, but I was also on the preferred line rounding the first point of land, with the buoys to the first turn in a perfect line straight in front. It didn't get any better than that!
My high stroke-rate, though, was starting to have unintended consequences. Directional control was going well to the first turn, but my speed was starting to drop off a little, and I ended up slightly behind the swim leader at the first turn. As the arms continued to work hard, I was starting to get unbalanced in the power output department, and started drifting outside (right) of every successive buoy. A second swimmer passed me during one of my outward drifts, but I was still doing "well" despite falling back from the leader.
Only near the end did my technique and navigation start getting better. The leaders weren't too far in front, and I was fortunate enough to have a nice jump on just about everyone else. So, if the swim was to set the tone for the day, the message I got was "You'll have a great day, but it'll be tough!"
[Although my swim time was slower this year, I believe that this year's swim course was much more closer to 1500m than last year's, when my official time was much faster than all the olys that I raced that season.]
T1 (1:39 [-0:18])
One of the unwelcome changes this year at Columbia was that the bike racking was not pre-assigned by race number. I discovered this at 6:30pm the prior evening to see that all three of my wave's assigned racks were fairly congested. I did manage, however, to find a place near the main aisle on the rack closest to the water where I could establish a homestead...albeit with a tight squeeze. It was as good of a spot as there was for this age group, who had its assigned racks at the back end of the transition area, adjacent to the bike exit.
My only hiccup in T1 was a struggle to get the wetsuit off at the left ankle, where the timing chip was. I tried to get that leg off first, which was a mistake...better to get the easier, non-chipped leg done first, then do the chipped leg. The rest of the transition was golden, and my spirits brightened quickly as I saw that I would beat the swim leaders to the bike course.
BIKE (1:07:52 [+1:54])
Now, it was time to try to escape.
A very quick look at my watch to see the number “24”, but I’d worry about the math later. My strategy was simple…go hard and get lost.
All seemed well early. I was passing a number of Wave #2 racers, and saw Stv right behind the leaders as I raced down the hill from Glenelg School. At this point, I was 17 minutes into the bike. The HR was where I wanted it. I did feel the need, after sprinting to the head of the wave, to start chugging down gel early and often. This took a little bit of work since I had filled up my gel flask the previous day and had it sit in the fridge overnight. It took quite a few squeezes to get a good quantity out since the gel wasn’t up to room temperature.
I was still moving well…at least I felt so. Being the wave leader at hyperspeed meant that I was yelling “PASSING!!!!” quite a bit to the Wave #2 racers. A quick look behind me at the Big Barn turn revealed an open road. At the next tight turn onto Green Bridge Road, my rear (disk) wheel hit something small, and I heard a weird noise. I paused to see if my rear tire would implode, but it did not…and thus I had my only equipment scare of the day.
It wasn’t until I got to the 15-mile mark, just past The Crossroads, that I was able to assess my progress against the clock. The news wasn’t great. I was on pace for about a 1h09m bike ride that would give me a finish time estimate of 2:17-2:18. Ouch. I was under 2:12 last year! Am I riding that slow??? I knew that I had given up a minute in the swim, but gee whiz??? The flip side is that I’m feeling fine and I’m well in front. Maybe the course is playing a little “long” today.
My estimate was a little conservative. Miles 15-20 are the fastest on the course. I ended up a net 4+ minutes behind Stv at the base of the Glenelg School hill…still chugging big squeezes of gel. The road behind still appears clear. After throttling back a couple percent to set up for the run, I return to Centennial Park after 1:08 with the AG lead…but wondering if I have left the door open.
T2 (0:41 [-0:01])
Nearly flawless. I was in my running shoes instantly...so fast that I was nearly two steps away when I remembered that I should turn back and grab a gel packet.
[I strongly believe that there is a timing issue related to the pad at the exit to T2, as if it wasn't calibrated correctly with the rest of the timing system. My official T2 time here was physically impossible (given that it was faster than last year's when I had THE perfect T2 transition spot) and that my run split was longer than my watch time by about 15-20 seconds. It's probably more closer to reality for everyone to take 15-20 seconds off of the run times and add it to the T2 times.]
RUN (42:31 [-0:30])
It was finally time to answer my big mystery of every race…what kind of running legs do I have?
They were enough to impress some 50-something lady as I passed her across the T2 mat, who remarked “Gee, I wish I could run like that!” My assessment, though, was a bit more tempered. They felt better than I expected them to be after the abuse of the hills on the bike…but nothing like the fleet feet I had at White Lake. Last year, I felt like my feet were out of control in the opening miles…this time they were still at the mercy of the slopes, but I had better control of them. I came through the second mile in 13:10ish, and feeling good about it.
So, here we are again at the Infamous Third Mile, the one where the fantasies always end and get replaced by the reality of triathlon in the form of speedy runners going by. Half my brain is rehearsing “the speech”…the kind words that I impart as a salute upon the first person to complete his pursuit of me. Surely, I have left the opportunity available to be caught after the bike ride. The other half of my brain, though, is thinking good thoughts. Not only am I running better than last year, I took the lead earlier and, having now left the park, have held onto the lead later. (Where else would you rather be, Dan...Second?!?!?) I’m going slower, but I’m having a better race. How do I make sense of that???
One person in my age group that I expected to be a strong challenger was Espen Kateraas. Espen beat me last year at West Point and beat Stv this year at the Brandywine Du. So, I was a stunned when (1) the volunteers started to clap for me, and keep clapping after I went by, meaning that I suddenly had company, and (2) that company was NOT Espen. I briefly greeted my vanquisher in the usual friendly way, but decided to drop the full speech, still wondering who this guy was.
I came through the 5k mark in small change above 21 minutes. Before I can do the next finish estimate in my head, I’m joined alongside by yet another runner. Dang, the bubble sure burst fast today. This time, the vanquisher WAS Espen, and this now added some sense of normalcy in my mind regarding the assessment of the situation.
The remainder of the run played out without surprise. The two new leaders pulled away slowly but steadily, while I started looking behind me much more often for any more sudden pursuers to appear. I was also being chased by imagined Virginian ghosts as well from later waves. I knew that Mike Harlow (my biking buddy from Angels Race) and Chip Berry were racing behind me and capable of fast times.
Coming off the dam, though, I didn’t dwell upon any of that. It was time to enjoy the moment and be thankful that Ms. Columbia had found me worthy on this day. I made my last pass of the race upon the eventual winner of the Women’s 45-49 age group, paying her respects and compliments such as “You’re running great…it’s just a cruise to the finish.” Clearly weary of a late challenge to her age group title, her retort was something like “As long as you’re a guy, I don’t mind you saying that.” It made for a good laugh, and certainly altered my perspective…knocking things like times and ghosts out of the realm of high importance.
The spectators on the hillside make Columbia’s finish one of the better ones of this sport. It sort of makes you think that the people and the cheers are coming from all around, high and low. My welcoming reception, I have to say, was pleasantly strong and loud…and I didn’t mind taking the extra second to express my thanks, hence the official time of 2:14:01. I’m glad that they enjoyed the show. It was tough as promised, but still fun to put on.
After crossing the finish line, I was immediately greeted by a volunteer (probably from the medical staff) asking me “Are you feeling O.K.”?
First response: “Ohhhhh…Yeaaaa!”
Then: “Gee, it’s good to see you. I came a long way to get here…”
Briefly holding the lead in the M 35-39 race during the run was Todd Long, whom I had raced earlier in the year at St. Anthony’s. At that race, we were separated in different waves and he ended up only seconds behind me in the final results. Todd, Espen and myself are all doing Eagleman in what will be a stacked M 35-39 competition.
Also having great races in my age group were Sean Robbins and Trey Cassidy, who took fourth and fifth, respectively. Sean had a great run and had closed to within eye contact at the dam. They had both closed up enough so that I ended up in front of them only because of faster transition times. Both Sean and Trey were sixth last year in their respective age groups (Sean aged up this year), so congratulations to them.
This race always seems to have a bunch of DNFs or slow times due to flat tires or other mechanical problems. Even up at the front, I saw a number of people and bikes on the sides of the road.
If you want to compete for an age group award at Columbia, my best advice is to get in front of your wave by the end of the bike ride. Check the results. It is clearly much more easier to stay in the top five on the run than it is to run your way up into the top five. The run course is just too tough to make up time unless you’re a super runner. Steve Georgis did it the hard way…that should show just how good he is.
Ditto for Stv. I’m sure that his DNA is basically human. Athletically, though, he’s got something extraterrestrial into the mix. Evidently, the genetic makeup includes distinctive fishlike properties.
I’ll call out one other person…Sugarboy Sean Ward. My nominee for racer of the day. A diabetic finishing a triathlon is pretty special…moving up from 20-something place up to second in the M 30-34 in one year is otherworldly.
Lots of great stories and efforts out there…some tough luck stories as well. Remember, it takes a ton of guts to even get to the starting line. Even if you don’t finish, they can’t take the t-shirt, bag, and LIVESTRONG wristband away from you.
#3 triathlete from Virginia? Maybe on that day in that place (a park in Maryland, no less). Last September, I was annointed a similar title and daily carry around a briefcase with that title stitched onto it. But really, stand me next to Stv, Cascio, Fig Newton Boy, Brady (yea, Brady you're due), Mike Harlow, Daniel List, anyone with the last name of Orton, as well as unnamed others, and I feel that you'd get a better perspective on my place in the Virginia triathlon food chain...
...yet, after racing such a tough course, I was humbly honored to be standing and sharing the top of the mountain in both the age group awards and the BOTUS awards. I could easily have been replace by others, depending on who shows up, how everyone felt, how old I was, where I lived, or how fast the wind blew.
Finally, once the event was over, the tents packed up, and the gear back in the car, there was only one thing left to do to make the day truly complete. Fuddruckers. Tysons Corner. Bacon and Cheese. There was joy.
Thanks for reading and best wishes,