Sunday, March 30, 2008

Snake River Sprint Tri

The first triathlon of the season looked to be a great test. The swim was a 500y TT on Friday with 12M bike and 2M run the following day in Hell's Gate State Park. The bike and run course are the same as the two duathlons they hold there annually. I'm defending in both of those, with the last one being two weeks ago. I've never done the triathlon, but decided to race because Ben Greenfield set the course record last year and would be racing this year as well. Despite being a biker's race, I thought there was an outside chance I'd be able to catch him on the short run. As usual, my plan of attack is based on a lot of math.

Unfortunately, a short-notice schedule change had me working the two nights before and the night after the race. In order to race, after my 13-hour night shift, I'd drive 2.5 hours to Lewiston on 4 hours sleep, swim 2 hours before the official swim start, then drive home. I'd have just enough time to grab a snack and head to work. Another 13-hour shift and I'd have just enough time to pack my race gear and drive back to Lewiston for the bike/run legs of the race. Uppon scraping myself off the pavement at the finish line, I'd pack my car and head home almost immediately. After unpacking and showering, I'd have time for a nearly 2-hour nap before heading to a 3rd consecutive 13-hour shift. In all, over a 61-hour period, I would have driven 10 hours, gone through two tanks of gas, and worked 39 hours while sleeping just 6 for a race that lasts less than 50 minutes. That's really not worth it to me.

I wanted to race, but the toll would be too great to be competitive against top competition and would put a strain on my wellness. Plus I'd stand a greater chance of falling asleep at work, which could end up in jail time or worse. My one chance was to see if the race director would allow me to swim at Fairchild and report in my time. Several others were interested in that option as well. We were thankful as we received word that he'd allow it. This was still going to be very difficult, but it wasn't completely out of the question.

We met up and did our swim TT. I've been doing quite a few of them lately along with several others, so it was nice to have it count for something. I pulled off a 5:48, which is :21 short of my best, but a pretty good result since I'm not in my top form. I tried to find motivation in catching other swimmers to make me work, but it would have been so much nicer to have people to race. I called the times in and was curious about the top time (Eric Molnar, 5:38) and Ben's time (6:13). With such a short swim, the gap was a little bigger than expected, but didn't seem like enough with a 12-mile ride against a much faster rider.

I joked about how worrying about the ride kept me up all night. On the other hand, I found myself thinking about it all night long. My math put me at mile 3.5 before I got caught on a normal day. Trouble was, this wasn't going to be a normal day. A wind/snow storm threatened, but I figured it would actually play to my advantage. I believed the roads would be dry, but we'd still have a 20 to 30 MPH tail wind on the 6-mile climb to the turn. If I could make my whole race about those 6 miles, then I could use a legal draft on anyone going downhill into the headwind. It was a good plan that put my mind at ease.

Race morning arrived with plenty of snow and ice on the ground. A troop who was driving us down got stuck, then lost and we nearly left without him. We changed our meeting place and he got lost again. I was extremely anxious because it would be a shame to miss the race after all the work and time that it takes to just get there. When we were finally on our way, it was too late under good conditions to get a good transition area. The drive was aggravatingly slow, but we were almost certain t get there with at least 15 minutes to spare. It turned out to be around a half hour.

My transition area was furthest from the bike start, which meant I had to run my bike further coming and going. That's lost time I couldn't afford to lose. I did a quick set-up, checked the gear and general transition area, grabbed my race packet and got situated with too little time to do a warm-up. That would have been really helpful on such a cold and windy day. The only thing colder than that Westerly wind was the shoulder of a few of my Tri-fusion team mates. Though I hadn't done anything wrong or slighted any of them, they weren't exactly happy I was able to make it. I suspected it had something to do with the swim, but decided to work that out later. I had a quick, but friendly chat with a few friendly team-mates and some of the troops who were able to come down the night before.

The race started at 10, but we were sent off according to our swim time. We wer all standing around in our bike gear, bumping the tail of our aero helmets every time we looked to one side or another. Finally, at 10:05:48, they called my name and I was 3rd to start. In a sprint triathlon, I'm usually first, but this was close enough. I wore my shoes, which slowed my run, but shaved time from T1 and early in the ride. Ben chose to go in socks, which added some relief in my stress over the time gap. Being completely situated to start the ride instead of putting the shoes on while riding, especially since we start on a hill, would net me about 5 seconds overall.

My transition was a nearly flawless 13.58 seconds and I was able to mount and clip in very quickly. Seconds into the ride I moved very quickly past the leader (Molnar) and was doing my best impression of Tyler Hamilton, which is to say I rode it like I stole it. I was a bit of an idiot and looked back every half mile or so to see how much my lead had shrunk and to gauge my effort to get to the turn first. To my surprise, it actually looked like I was pulling away! I was thrilled at 3.5 miles to see that I was very likely to hit the turn first. Getting to the top, the wind was a bit from the side and I was starting to wear down when the snow started blowing and ushering in a Christmas gift in March. The turn was .55 miles early! It was clearly marked and I asked twice just to make sure. At 24 MPH, there wasn't much time for chatting, which is why I didn't have a conversation about moving the turn out further. If Ben had been leading and decided to go further out, then I would have also in the name of fair play. However, I had no guarantee that if I went further out he would too. Getting beat is acceptable, but giving it away is not, so I turned around when they told me to.

Heading down the hill in first was an incredible relief. I fully expected that I may end up getting destroyed. With a very short run, catching someone is almost impossible. I wanted to be within 30 seconds starting the run, but would have given chase with as much as a minute to make up. I was so relieved that I barely noticed the wind and snow on the way down. Sprints are usually more about pain and suffering, but there was actually some time to enjoy this one. I still looked back every mile and all I saw was open road, so I eased up a bit. I've had some breathing and chest pain problems lately, which can be extremely painful when running hard while exhausted. I believed I could win this thing on rubber legs if I started the run tied for the lead, but it didn't appear I had to push that hard or suffer that much.

Heading into the park for T2, I took one last look and saw open road again. I was alone in the lead and heading into the run. I've only been passed twice on the run in several years when racing a tri. I've been outsplit plenty of times, but being passed is different. With nobody in sight, this thing was in the bag. I don't know how that happened against a much faster rider. Representing the blue and white of Air Force felt great. I zipped into the transition area and took a peak at the hill, but still didn't see any riders. The ride took me 27:53.58 (23.45 MPH), but would have been 30:42.45 for 12 miles. That's probably my best pace on this course. Rack the bike: check. Remove the helmet: check. Running shoes: check. As soon as I started running, I realized I hadn't sinched the new and unfamiliar shoes. I guess I was too excited during my 21.45 second T2. I bent over, sinched the shoes and the whole race changed. Out of absolutely nowhere, Ben went running past me! In the times I looked, I never saw him coming, let alone get right on my six. He could have stolen my watch and I wouldn't have known it. I've never been more surprised in my life. I think he came from that new "Jumper" movie.

I do my calculations constantly, checking and double checking to keep my mind busy enough to not think about all the pain it's putting my body through. This pass left me absolutely stunned. I started running with a blast of speed taking me right past him. He remarked that this was the first time we've raced. I agreed and continued on while trying to equilibrate. After a moment, I snapped back to reality and slowed myself down. The only reasons to run too hard are to make up a seemingly insurmountable gap or to achieve a particular time. Even if we biked the full 12 miles, we'd be on pace to smash the course record. All I really wanted to do at that point was win, so I put it on cruise control and slowly built the lead to a comfortable winning margin of 22 seconds from a 11:42.68 run of 2.03M. Normally I run 10:40 to 11:10, but it was enough to get the job done.

No sooner did we finish that I could tell that the victory and record were sour. I'd later learn that several believed I had an unfair advantage swimming elsewhere. I felt my integrity and ability were called into question and I was treated as if I had won unfairly. Swimming in open water, where currents, distances, waves and temperatures vary, can change swim times by a lot. Swimming in pools doesn't make that big of a difference. The pool was open for four hours of open swim to get that 500 whenever one is able. That alone means we wouldn't likely swim "against" each other. It was suggested that I should have taken the swim penalty since I didn't swim there. That penalty was a 21:19 swim. Instead of finishing in 46:00, I'd have a time of 1:01:31. Since the year 2000 I've won all but two sprint triathlons I've raced in this region. One I crashed and the other is another story. I'm not going to give anyone a victory, especially after all I did just to get there. My goal was to compete against one of the region's fastest guys in Ben Greenfield. The race was suited to his strength in the bike but in my category of sprint. I have to admit that it hurts my feelings that my wife and I weren't invited to eat pizza with the team. On the other hand, I had to cool off and rest up as much as possible before work.

We both performed much better as a result of the other. That's what I came for and was sorry we left there with something else on our mind. We've talked it over and things are going to be just fine. Ben even says he'll buy me a drink or let me sip from his with a second straw. Unfortunately I don't drink, which is probably a good thing. I'm far too competitive and would try to drink more of it than he would. Of course, Ben is competitive too. Whenever we face off again, I hope he makes me pay for that cold day in Lewiston.