The real excitement, however, (other than this sweet, sweet blog post) was in the form of a half distance race in sunny Venice, FL on Sunday. This is a race I competed but didn't complete last year and I was hoping to redeem myself this time around. With the spate of cold weather we've been having in Charlotte the three of us were really excited about the prospect of a sunny, warm weekend on the Gulf.
Ross, Jenny and myself all packed up our rented minivan and headed south on Friday morning. The prospect of a long drive does not intimidate me, I actually love driving to races and/or vacation destinations (although those two have basically been one and the same thing for the past several years). Road trippin' is a great American past-time that has been mostly abandoned by the modern traveler. Jet-setting around the country is a far cry from what Murrkans were imagining back in the early days of the Interstate system. It could also be that I can't afford to fly all over the place...but that's neither here nor there.
|Automatic doors, stow n' go seating; you name it this bad boy HAD it|
We made it to Florida in time to pick up our packets and race numbers before heading to get something to eat at Bonefish Grill. We were planning on going to see Thor: the Dark World that evening but unfortunately the service at Bonefish left something to be desired so we missed out on that opportunity. We did not falter, however, and took it in stride as we always do and we slept on it, pondering the Saturday possibilities in our dreams.
We woke up on Saturday and headed over to the race site to get our official stuff finished. We ran a wee bit, biked a wee bit, and swam a wee bit. We also took a wee few pictures of the absolutely gorgeous coastline.
|Anybody who says the Gulf isn't pretty obviously doesn't really know the Gulf|
We all attended our mandatory meetings, where the head ref really harped on the CPSC helmet sticker rule after last week's debacle in Panama City. The only amusing part of the meeting was when the head ref asked if anyone had read or heard about the incident and every person in the room turned to look at Andrew Starykowicz. My guess is that yes, he'd done some reading about the incident...
|Making sure my helmet still fits and lamenting not being #1 this weekend|
Race morning came bright and early and we all loaded up the van (again) and headed over to the race site. We were a bit later than planned but were only phased by this when we saw the line to get parking was very, very long and moving quite slowly (but steadily). By the time we finally got parked it was 6:20 or so (pros started at 7:00 and 7:02) and we knew we were going to have to hustle. We got all the gear out of the van and Jenny and I started pumping up our tires (Ross had already dropped off his bike the night before). I was placing the pump head on my front valve when I heard the dreaded "pssssssssssss" sound and all the air vacated my tube. Fantastic. I quickly grabbed the stuff to install a new tube (luckily, Jenny had plumber's tape so I could re-install the valve extender on the new tube) and began that process. Ross was helping Jenny pump up her rear tire and as he placed the pump head on hers the entire valve core pulled out and all the air came with it. FANTASTIC. We told Ross to go ahead and get over to transition as it was 6:30ish at this point. Jenny started doing her tube change as I was finishing mine. We were basically ready to head to transition at about 6:37 I believe (transition closes at 6:45) and we made it over but were, literally, the ONLY pros still getting stuff ready. I made sure everything was laid out correctly (but hurriedly) and put on my swim skin (wetsuit legal for AG'ers, non wetsuit legal for pros) and headed over to make sure Jenny was ready. We started walking to swim start at roughly 6:50. Not ideal. Nonetheless, we made it to our respective starts ok and I got in a brief, 20 stroke warm up in the water.
|Contemplating strategy, photo credits to David Laskey|
The swim course was a slightly odd design. We basically went from the beach straight out to a buoy and turned left 45 degrees to head out to a further buoy, turned right and headed down a long stretch before making a sharp right turn and heading "inwards" then making a final left turn to head back towards the beach.
I figured lining up on the right would be smart [for me] as I didn't really want to get involved in the escapades of the left hand turn buoy. The pack broke apart relatively quickly and it seemed like I was leading the trailing group (if you could call a group 3-4 people). Once we got to the long straight stretch I was pretty much by myself. I meandered along thinking happy thoughts and roughly 2/3 of the way to the third buoy I was passed on the left by someone in a pink cap. I did not expect to be caught by the ladies (2 minutes back) as soon as this (if at all) so I quickly assumed I was having a crap swim. I could tell it wasn't Jenny so I wasn't quite as annoyed as I could have been (although I was hoping she'd have the fastest female swim time) and continued on my semi-merry ways.
Shortly thereafter, however, I was breathing to my left (as I am wont to do) and I noticed a very tell-tale image over my left shoulder. There is no other way to describe it so a picture will have to suffice:
I knew immediately who that arm belonged to and I was both excited for her but dismayed for myself. I may or may not have made an audible noise that turned into bubble as my face re-entered the water. She took a breath to the left then came up beside me and took a breath to the right. I can only imagine her feelings of satisfaction upon realizing who the lone male swimmer was she was coming up on rather expeditiously.
I'm used to getting left behind by girls though; some might call it a habit. Once she passed then a trio of Kessler, Goss and Wassner passed me on the right. I half-heartedly attempted to stay on the third's feet but did not and once the last turn buoy came and went I was back to being by my lonesome. I exited the water knowing I had probably had a good, but not great swim. Only upon looking at the results later did I know my time, which is actually a personal best in a non-wetsuit swim that seemed "slow" when looking at the times post-race.
I ran up the beach and across the timing mat, trying to look cool for all the paparazzi.
|Exiting the swim all alone, photo credits David Laskey|
I had a fairly quick transition but could have been quicker; it was a fairly long run to my bike from the swim exit.
|Professional transition area|
I had similar watt goals to those of Williamsburg and Carolina Half. This course was extremely flat but relatively windy and lots of turnarounds.
So the course was fast, but not fast like last year (in my opinion, and minus the insane wind conditions of last year). I headed out on the bike and my first goal was simply to catch Jenny. That took a decent amount of time. I was holding watts that were on the very low end of my range for the race. I was moving along relatively quickly though so took solace in being the most aero guy out on the course. When I caught up to Jenny I passed along side of her and let her know of my frustration with being out-pro'd so heavily. She laughed at me.
I continued on and for the next 30+ minutes tracked down the leading group of ladies. I passed them and carried onwards. It just needs to be said that some of these ladies (one in particular) seemed to have no clue of how to ride a bike in a straight line. It was absurd. One of the best triathletes in the world and can't ride the bike in a straight line. I may not be as good as you at triathlon-ing lady, but best believe that I can ride my bike straighter and more predictably. Most of the women were also all over their bike. I pride myself on being very efficient and wasting little to no energy with side to side movements. I don't put out a whole lot of power so it's not as difficult but if you look at someone like Luke Mckenzie (who IS putting out massive amounts of power) he is rock steady throughout his pedal stroke. Learn from the best, don't be like the rest.
Honestly, I hate writing about the bike portion of the race. Nothing exciting happens. Maybe if I rode in the pack like the lead group of, oh I dunno, 15 dudes...it would've been more exciting. But it wasn't. I saw Matt Wisthoff at each turnaround and could tell I was making up a little bit of time on him so that was, literally, the most exciting thing I dealt with on the bike ride. I stayed aero as much as I could, I kept taking in calories, and I tried to not agonize over the fact that my legs felt flat, weak, and completely unable to put out strong watts. In my head I knew I had felt the exact same at Carolina Half but had managed a good run afterwards so I took solace in my attempt to rationalize feeling like crap.
We all do what we must. I passed a couple of guys and got passed by a guy so I moved up one overall spot from my swim position and entered T2 hoping I had some running legs.
|Returning to transition|
I assembled my run self and remarked to some watching spectators that I was pretty much putting on a clinic for them (after fumbling with one of my shoes); they laughed and wished me well on my run.
Run - 1:21:50 (up to 17th)
Luckily I didn't forget anything like at Carolina Half so made my way out onto the run course feeling confident about that. I slowed myself down gradually over the first mile but still clicked off a fast split of just under 6. In my head I was hoping to average sub 6's for the run but knew that I wasn't going to kill myself to do it, knowing what was to come the next week in training. I was basically going into the run knowing I wasn't going to make myself suffer unduly.
The first three miles basically ended up being a 6 minute average and out to mile 4 (which was the end of one "out" section of the loop we did twice) was slightly uphill and into a headwind and at that point I decided to back it down a notch. I wanted to run comfortably and maintain pace in the rising temperatures. So to the end of the first loop I scaled back the effort level and comfortably managed 6:10s. I continued taking in gel and water at each aid station, knowing I couldn't let myself get dehydrated and delay recovery.
Through mile 9 my mile splits were:
5:57, 6:02, 6:06, 6:08, 6:10, 6:08, 6:11, 6:10, 6:10.
Pretty much a model of consistency and I felt like I was pretty comfortable at that effort level. I figured it would slow a bit as the fatigue level and the heat level increased but wasn't too worried about it. I had managed to pass a couple of guys on the run and was nearing the last turnaround point and saw Matt up ahead of me. I managed to catch him just after the turnaround point (just after mile 10) and had put some distance between us when all of a sudden just after mile 11 I rolled my right ankle badly on the edge of the sidewalk. Somehow, I had cut the tangent and stopped paying attention to my footfalls at the same time. I have a bad history of rolling my ankles the past several years and this one came at a very inopportune time.
My right ankle rolled, I jumped up and exclaimed in disgust at myself and pain (it hurt pretty bad) and gingerly tried continuing my stride. I limped/ran to the next aid station (which was soon as it was just after the mile 11 marker I believe) and walked through it, grabbing some water. The volunteers, assuming I was suffering from cramps, offered me a banana. Unfortunately that was going to do nothing to solve my ankle problems so I declined.
Matt had re-passed me along with some other people I had recently passed and had put some ground into me. I started running again but was unable to have a strong push-off with my right foot the rest of the run. Luckily, I still managed a decent pace with the last mile being the only exception. I was drained from the race and the mental anxiety of injuring myself in such a stupid, frustrating (and painful) way basically impeded my finishing stamina. I came around to the finish chute and saw the timer reading a hair under 4:09 and gave a nice little jog to finish in a hair under 4:09, which was a new personal best.
OA - 4:08:45 - 17th pro (18th OA) (not chicked!)
Overall, I would have to say that I was pleased with this race. It is always tough when you are comparing yourselves against people who are, quite literally, among the best in the world. I have gotten to be very good. I have worked very hard for three years while sacrificing much of a life outside of triathlon. That is my choice and I welcomed the opportunity. I would challenge almost anybody I know to a race and feel confident about my chances. But when you go and race against the best in the world you are bound to not win. By no means did I expect to win, but to go 4:08 on a fairly tough, windy, non-wetsuit legal course (yes, it was flat...but flat is not always easy) and come in 17th pro is pretty staggering. I remember just a couple of years ago where a 4:03 netted 6th place OA at Eagleman 70.3 against some of the better triathletes of the time.
This does not depress me, it merely reinforces the fact that people are REALLY FAST. It's like of racing a bunch of me's that are way better than me. There are no weaknesses, unless it is in the swim.
But all in all, it was a fantastic weekend. It was great to spend time with Ross and Jenny. It was really amusing to travel ALL the way to Florida and come within a minute of Wisthoff. Ross traveled all the way to Florida to finish within a couple of minutes of Sylvain. Jenny went all that way to finally have someone to race against (#fastestgirlintheseveralstatessurroundingncproblems).
It was great lounging around post-race, taking pictures of great sunsets, and getting to eat a gigantic pizza for dinner.
Less than three weeks remain until IM Cozumel. Mentally, I am ready. Physically, I will be ready.
|Dramatic shot of capturing the shot|
|Unfortunately I contained nothing in this pic to show scale. It was huge. It got #smashed|