This racing season has been a whirlwind of learning opportunities for me. And, as you have probably already experienced, 'learning opportunities' is code for 'I suck'. I know it but I am still enjoying myself.
There were 2 main learning experiences here, each with it's own caustic problems. First, my bike was broke. This happened sometime on my Thursday century ride. I noticed that my front derailleur was not shifting as snappily as I am used. On Friday, I sat down with the bike to try and resolve said shifting issue. The derailleur hanger had corrupted itself down the middle. Bummer.
Bummer because it was Friday night and I'm a loser with no plans for anything more than work on my bike. Bummer because all of the shops were already closed. Bummer because the race was on Saturday.
"Why not just use your other bike?" asked the Wife.
"Hahahahahahah," I responded. My other bike is a road bike. This is a triathlon bike. My other bike is made of aluminum. This is made of carbon. Carbon! The other bike has a working front derailleur. Did I mention that this was a carbon tri-bike? I will not be riding my road bike. That bike is strictly reserved for emergency purposes. The tri-bike was still ride-able. I had a decision to make:
Shall I place the chain in the big ring or the little ring? Each choice had its merits. The big ring allows you to go faster. BUT, it sucks at slow speeds and on hills. The small ring allows you to spin easier when the going gets tough. BUT, it is the slower ring. As I debated the options, the bike decided for me. It utterly refused to stay in the big ring. Small ring it is.
As usual, I show up to the race and get into transition just as the announcer is making last call. Last call means that you have about 5 minutes before you get kicked out. I am used to this sort of stress and decide that the amount of vigor spent setting things up is akin to warming up. I place everything where I want it and grab my wetsuit.
For once (seriously only happens for this specific race), I was in the early swim wave. There was an Elite Wave scheduled 2 minutes before mine. Not only was I the last one out of transition, but I was also the last one into the swim coral, to which I arrived as the elites were starting their swim. My gun was not going to fire for another 2 minutes so I had plenty of time. Standing in knee deep water, it was apparent to me that today's race was going to be warm. Bang. The gun goes off and I reserve my weather related contemplation until later.
The swim was a box-shaped course. For Olympic distance racers, including me, we had to travel around twice. I swam out medium hard and searched for feet. I found a likely candidate and followed him around the course. He did well. I kept following.
Making the turn from the first loop to the second loop was just short of torture. The swim buoys were clear enough. The frontal path was parallel to the shore and right on top of a sandbar. The water was just over your knees. This is no-mans-land for swimming. It is too deep to run in. Not deep enough to swim in. We had to plow through the water. I semi-ran, semi-dolphin dived. I got really, really hot.
I was able to stay with the same dude that drug me around the first time. We had the additional obstacle of swimmers in the later Oly and the early Sprint waves to keep us awake. Again, the guy did well. So well, in fact, that he was the first in our age group and 4th place overall. I was the second place guy in the AG and 10th overall.
Wait. How is that possible? I was on his feet the whole time. I'll tell you how... They don't stop taking your swim time in this race until you enter the transition area, or about 200 yards away from the beach. I decided that, since I have troubles getting out of my wetsuit, to stop in the semi-knee deep water to remove my suit (seriously, it helps a lot). He kept running. I, also, am a pansy and do not run very fast out of the swim.
The Transition 1
my first triathlon of this season had a ridiculously slow T1 time. That race prompted me to post T1 tips. I was determined to have a better transition, if only to prove what I was talking about. How'd I do? My T1 time was a plush 49 seconds or 4th fastest T1 in the race. I'd call that not bad.
I leave the transition area, bike in hand, getting ready to start the ride. Remember, I had done a 100 mile ride just about 36 hours ago and I did not have any big gears. It was time to practice my cadence drills. Cadence is exactly the same as rpm and I have my Garmin set up to show my cadence. After I mounted my bike, I got myself up to speed, I glanced down at my Garmin. Not there. It seems that I would leave my beloved master at home in the charger. (Aside: When I got back, it was happily humming along at 100% juice and not in the least bit upset that I left it behind. That device is so awesome it's smug. End Aside.)
One thing I did notice on the ride was the absence of my liquids. They were there at the beginning of the ride. But, by about mile 20 (out of 24), I was completely void of juice. It was a shame as I remember really wanting a drink.
The Transition 2
I jumped off the bike as was again determined to not have a bad transition. Soon, I'll post on how to make a good T2. Since I do not practice without socks, I do not race without socks. One sock, the left one, did not obey as well as it could have. Everything else went well. I made it out of T2 in 1:02 (damn sock), which was 35th overall.
I started the run. It was getting hot and humid outside as it is prone to do in mid July in the great Northeast. I started running at a pace I believed to be conservative. But, the Garmin was still at home, refusing to make the trip on my behalf, so I really had no idea.
Much to the credit of the race, there was plenty of water on the course. For a 5k, they had 4 water stops. It was at the first one that I made my second big learning experience: I only took one cup of water. Remember that I was already thirsty coming off the bike. A smart triathlete would have taken in a couple of drinks. Not the Banter. Nope. He took in just one 4 ounce cup of aqua per station for the first 5k. This mistake manifested itself at mile 3.5.
At mile 3.5, I had taken in about 3 cups of water and struggled to get the 3rd one down. I was hot. I was tired. I was sore. I was sweating profusely. And, much to my chagrin, I was walking. Shortly after I started walking, something really spectacular happened. I was offered water by one of the racers. She ran by, asked if I was okay, and started to unclip one of her Fuel Belt water bottles. I didn't take the bottle. Didn't need it. I simply wanted to give my recently gulped fluid a chance to make it out of my gut. I eventually started running again. This woman is a much better athlete than I in many aspects. I walked for a short while longer.
My overall place for the race was 40th. When all was said and done, I was happy to survive. To be frank, I was primed for a DNF. I was sincerely ready to give up. But, I had dropped out of a race once before. Exactly once. Having already experienced the personal anguish and internal humility of giving up, I kept going. This race didn't kill me. I'm not sure if I am stronger.