Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Know the Course

USAT Rule 3.4- It is the participant's responsibility to know the course.
USAT Rule 5.3- (Cycling Conduct) The sole responsibility of knowing and following the prescribed cycling course rests with each participant
USAT Rule 6.2- (Running Conduct) The responsibility of knowing and following the prescribed course rests with each participant.
USAT Rule 9.6- (Race Marshals) Race Marshals will be assigned to the swim, cycle, and run portions of the event and to the transition areas and will follow all instructions of the Head Referee. Race Marshals shall have jurisdiction over all persons in their respective areas of assignment.

Recent Events
Odd that the USAT feels the need to be redundant in its rules. Even more odd is that knowledge of the course is completely left off of swimming. I guess the USAT people feel that getting lost in a large, open body of water marked with brightly colored buoys doesn't need to be addressed.

Yet, recently it happened during a race in Texas. A few of the pros were out in front when a jet ski pulled up in front of the swimmers and told the racers to go in a different direction. Many of the racers obeyed as the jet ski guy seemed to be acting in an official capacity. Only one of the swimmers disobeyed. Andy Potts went the right direction while the unfortunate others followed the instructions of the jet ski guy. The other swimmers tacked on an extra 200 meters. Andy won the race by a mere 18 seconds over Hunter Kemper. Basically, the jet ski guy screwed over Hunter and cost him the win and some money.

Or did Hunter screw over himself? That's the big question. When you go back to the rules, it seems Andy was the only one who got it right. He knew the course. The jet ski guy was a volunteer and not a race marshal. That is a tough call to make mid-race. Hunter and the others guessed wrong. In this case, it literally paid to know the course.

My Application of the Rules
It goes without saying that I'm not the greatest athlete in any sense of the word. I hide behind this knowledge come race time preparation and knowing the course. I do take a moment to look at the race maps for both the bike and run. Most of the races are in unfamiliar locales, making this a futile venture. I really depend on the guys in front to have a better knowledge of the course than I. Then, it's simply a matter of follow-the-leader in it's most basic application. Maybe one day I'll get good enough to be the guy in front. Then I'll be forced to rely on my remedial brain power to remember the course or to trust the course markings and volunteers, which can be risky business. Just ask Hunter.

I have a second layer of arrogance applied to my knowledge of the courses. I mostly do the local races year after year. The courses remain relatively unchanged. Not only do I count on the guys in front to have a working knowledge of the course... Not only do I count on the course to be well marked... Not only do I count on the volunteers to know their stuff... But I also count on my shoddy memory to help guide me. That's 4 layers of sketchiness which has not led me astray in the past.

Then came A Tri in the Buff. I did this Olympic Distance event and everything was going better than expected. As ritual dictated, I looked over the course maps posted on the internet. Nothing seemed out of place. I vaguely listened to race instructions while I set up my gear in transition. After hearing the same instructions over and over, you tend to lose the ability to fully focus on the words.

As I lined up for the swim start, I looked around and saw the buoys. I counted them out and noted the colors. I was in the 2nd wave so there was bound to be someone ahead of me, guiding the way. True to the word, the swim went off perfectly.

Same went on the bike. As foretold, there were people out in front. I was able to follow a small group (2) of riders around the first lap. They were better than me but I managed to keep them in sight. The course was well marked and the volunteers knew their stuff. By the time the second lap had arrived, the 2 dudes have successfully smoked me. But, having already done it once, my knowledge of the course was rock solid. No problems there.

Starting the run, there were streams of people. Many of them were doing the sprint distance to my olympic distance. The 2 courses are exactly the same with one exception: sprinters did one lap and exited into the finish chute. Olys did 2.

My memory did not fail me on the course. I hit the first lap, battled a guy named Dave, and by the second lap, I was running alone. I had passed several runners in route, but by the last 200 yards I was a 1-man machine. I had build a sizable lead on Dave, but since this was a wave start, I knew I was also racing for time. Guys in the later waves are speedy and they started minutes behind. Their deficit is subtracted from their overall time. I still had to run hard.

The Benefits of Relationships
The last turn before the chute was nearly a u-turn. We came around a building, passed the finisher's chute, edged a fence, and made a sharp right hand turn. There were green cones marking the way in, or so I thought. In practice, the green cones were meant to be barricades screaming "Don't go here!" Well, I don't really speak cone, ignored their orders and dashed right through the middle. I was heading directly towards the announcers table, which was a good 3 feet west of the finisher's chute and chip mat.

Luckily, I have developed a relationship with the announcer. She is an amazing triathlete, coach, nurse, mom, and, in this case, savior. She recognized my guffaw and screamed my name, "No Banter. Go the other way!" Saved my race she did. Thanks to Mary Eggers. Here is a link to her blog: IronMamma. She's made from good stuff. Whereas I really want to go head to head in a race, I am grateful she was sitting with the announcers mic.

Did Eggers really save my race? Absolutely. When I look at the race results, there was a guy in a later wave that posted the exact same time as me. I guess that I beat him in the 10ths-100ths of seconds range. Should Mary been looking in another direction, been slower on her call out, or been accosted by countless other distractions beset upon a person in her position, I would not have turned around as quickly.

So, there I was sitting smack dab in the middle of a rule's violation: I didn't know the course. I counted on a non-race marshal to guide me into the finish. Unlike Hunter, my gamble paid off. Not in dollars, of course, but in satisfaction. Maybe next time I'll pay more attention, arrive to the race early, and review the course ahead of time. Which is just as likely as me actually winning the race. Translation: probably not gonna happen. Andy Potts I am not.

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