Friday, September 7, 2012

Tale of 2.5 4th Places- Part 1

"Fourth seems like it would be nice, but it’s the worst place you can imagine ..."
-Taylor Phinney,
 American Olympic Cyclist
2012 London

This quote was taken shortly after Taylor finished 4th place in the road race in London. A few days later, he would go on to compete in the time trial. He finished 4th in that race as well. My last couple of races, I have put forth Phinney-esque performances. This post is the first in a 2.5-ology...

Part 1 of this story is set just outside of Buffalo, NY. Just up the river from Niagara Falls, there's a small island inaptly named Grand Island. Where the island's name falls short, the race's name makes up for it. Hosted dead in the middle of August, the Summer Sizzler, is labeled as a sprint distance triathlon. In reality, it is much shorter with a 400 yard swim, 11 mile bike, and 2.8 mile run. Concurrently, they run a Formula 1 race, which is the sprint tri done twice.

Since this was my first race coming off of what can be best described as an abysmal IMLP run, I had something to prove, if no one else but to myself. After taking a bit of time off to mend my ego and my right calf muscle, I was ready to race.

It hadn't dawned on me until race morning that I had no training in going fast. Ironman training is not about fast, it's about suffering at ridiculously slow speeds. Sprint tri racing, while not necessarily 'sprinting', is a completely different animal. I was obviously ready.

This was one of those races in which I had full plans on arriving early. Normally, I am a procrastinator. I had wanted to show up for the race to possibly warm-up. I was faced with an early morning wake up and a 90 minute drive. Arriving early was not in the cards. I set up in transition with the 2 minute warning sounding. Since I have done the set-up-in-no-time-flat drill many times before, I was up to this challenge.

When it comes to triathlon, I prioritize the swim start in the following order: Mass Start is better than Wave Start is better than Time Trial Start. This race was a TT swim start. They lined us up loosely by our race numbers in groups of 3. I made friends with 2 dudes who had trained a grand total of 35 minutes between them over the past 8 years. Just like me, they were ready.

Once the swim went off, I bid adieu to my pals and waded into the Niagara River. After about 50 yards, or 1/8 the total distance of the swim leg, the water became deep enough to take a stroke. There were 2 things abundantly clear at this moment- 1. Many people had opted to not swim freestyle. 2. Fresh water seaweeds were an obstacle. I slalomed my way through the pack and made my way to the beach sitting nicely in 13th place. Of course, I had no idea as this was a time trial start. The leaders could have been anywhere, including still on the beach. 

Since I was in transition roughly 6 minutes ago, finding my bike was no problem at all. Even though the water temps allowed for it, I opted to swim without a wetsuit. Since I know how to transition from swim to bike, I breezed through this section.

The bike is an out-and-back style course on a closed road. If you haven't had the chance, ride on a closed road. It's just like regular riding but without all of the hassle of automobiles. If you're lucky, you might see a race official on the course. The ride edged the River the entire way. I'm not sure how the river water flowed as the elevation change was about 12 inches over the 5.5 mile leg. The lack of hills were good to me. I posted the 3rd best time in the race and roughly a minute slower than the lead cyclist.

After dismounting my bike, I headed back into transition. In the past, I have excelled in T2. I headed down my row to rack my bike. The exact location is marked with my run shoes and socks. Only, these items were not there. Perhaps I choose the wrong row. I hopped over to the next isle. No Mizunos were waiting for me. Okay, stay calm. I jumped 2 rows in the other direction, still holding on to my bike. The Wave Riders were not making an appearance.

I decided to peruse my original row. Slowly. Slot by slot. Eureka! Apparently the person next to me needed to towel off after their swim. Contrary to popular belief, drying off with a bright orange beach towel is not that fast. My neighbor apparently didn't get the memo and, in his/ her hurry to finish the job, dropped their monstrosity of a cloth directly on top of my shoes. I found my kickers only after wading through 17 yards of fabric.

I finally located my runners, donned my socks, and rushed out of T2. This whole process took me 2 minutes and 12 seconds. That time was good enough for 199th place out of 214 total entrants. For comparison, the leader in T2 accomplished the task in 34 seconds flat. Thank you awesome transition neighbor!

Heading out on to the run course, I had 3 facts sitting in the back of my mind. First, I knew that my transition was as awful as you can get. Second, I knew that the course was short. Third, I am a sucky runner. I did the Banter version of hauling ass.

A good pace for me is 7:30 per mile. A great pace is 7:00. My Summer Sizzler pace? 6:49. I had no idea where that came from. My guess is that all of the time I took off to recover post IM worked to my advantage.

When all was said and done, I was in 4th place.

After obsessing about the towel situation, I poured through the posted results. Making up fantasy situations in which the towel was not covering my shoes and in which I had posted the 34 second T2, I wanted that podium (even if it was in my mind). Guess what? I was still firmly in 4th place. My 4th place finish was in the very large time gap between 3rd and 5th. I could have run a good pace or a great pace and still finished 4th. I could have spent an extra minute doing my makeup in transition and still been in 4th place. This was where I was, that was where I stayed. I shall not be moved.

Taylor, I feel your agony.

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