Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Challenge New Albany Half

Alright, let's get this out of the way first. As of the beginning of last week I had absolutely zero desire to race a half distance triathlon. I was disappointed in myself after Stumpy Creek and the thought of trying to go fast for 4+ hours held little appeal.

That being said, I had the great good fortune to already have booked time with two great travelling buddies: Jenny Leiser and Sylvain Lefebvre (Seal-van for reference, don't try the last name unless you're French).  So even while I was contemplating heading to the bustling metropolis of Columbus, OH but not racing I knew that those two funny buddies could make widdwe james feew wike wacing...

So with the rental van under my protective wing we loaded up the bad boy and headed out on Friday (a bit later than planned but that was entirely my fault, sorta) for the 7 hour drive north. The drive was mostly uneventful, except for the HUGE traffic issue at the border of Virginia and West Virginia.  We waited in stopped traffic for a while and using the Waze App discovered that there was something going on in the tunnel up ahead and that traffic was basically stopped for 4-5 miles before the tunnel on the northbound side of I-77.  Traffic advanced slowly every once in a while and we discovered it was because the cops were routing traffic down an off-ramp but then everyone just got back on the interstate.

It was only the second time off the interstate that every seemed to be trying to find an alternate route (while still getting back on 77).  The issue was that the tunnel is basically the ONLY way to get north/south via an interstate. We listened to the radio (an AM station, no less; how resourceful!) and discovered that the northbound side (where the accident had occurred) was potentially going to be closed for a few days. At this point we decided to go east and then northwest, wayyyy out of our way but it would get us across the border and back on 77 north of the tunnel.  So we drove over an hour just to get about 7 miles directly north on I-77.

Ugh. Could've been worse though.  We didn't make it to Columbus until 1:30am (should've been there by 8:30pm) so no early wake up call was set.

Saturday we took care of the usual pre-race stuff (ride, run and swim - the water was cold - rack your bike, pick up your packet, attend the meeting, eat dinner).

Being #1 was kinda cool
Race morning dawned bright and early (3:30am wake up call) due to the necessity of being done with T2 setup at 5:00am to catch the shuttle to Swim/T1. We set everything up quickly despite some quick re-routing on the way into New Albany High School due to some construction and got in the shuttle buses.

Once we were out at the swim start we didn't actually have all that much time to get set up so some of it felt pretty rushed.  I had realized the night before that I had completely forgotten my normal race kit and the only piece of triathlon apparel I had brought with me were my ICE Racing tri shorts. No swim skin, no one piece, no nothin'. "Luckily" it was wetsuit legal for the AGers so Sylvain was kind enough to let me borrow his Kiwami tri suit for the swim.

The swim would be a beach start with one right turn, two left turns, a long stretch, two more left turns and then one last right turn (picture: rectangle).  The pros lined up and the race was ready.

Swim - 26:33 (15th)

The swim start was a relative surprise to the pro male field it seemed.  There was a lot of talking and then someone on a loudspeaker started a countdown from "10" and the game was afoot. I heard a lot of "Oh s*it!" when the countdown started (quite possibly including my own exclamation of said words) but the goggles were down and wits were ready at the sound of the horn.

The course, at the start anyway, was a bit ridiculous. They had told a young lifeguard (girl) to basically stand about 20 meters off the beach and be the first "buoy" for all fields.  Little did she know what 20+ pro men going around her as a buoy would be like (guess they didn't sell her on the idea by showing her any video of what dudes going around a buoy looks like...)

I lined up on the left so I wouldn't have to take an inside line on the first "buoy" and got on some feet immediately.

The pro men's field was basically composed of two groups of athletes: "Tier 1" and "Tier 2." If any pro male that raced there reads this an is offended you know it's true. The Starykowicz/Limkemann/Griffin trio is as good a half-distance group as any at a regular 70.3 (for the most part) and then there is the rest.  I am not even in the "rest" as it were. So there's that.

Consequently, I was able to sit on feet the entire swim as there were no "tweeners" to pull the swim pack apart.  Despite this semi-logical rationalization of the swim itself I was extremely pleased to emerge roughly in the middle of a pro men's swim pack. It may have been a one-off and it may never happen again but it felt pretty good to not come out of the water by myself, ESPECIALLY in a non-wetsuit swim.

T1 - 1:04

My T1 was not my greatest as I got to my bike about 2nd out of our group of 5-7 but was last or second to last out.  Ooops.

This map does not show the terrible pavement, surprise!

Bike - 2:18:58 (12th)

The first ladies had just gotta on their bikes as I also got on mine and I was both happy and sad to not see Jenny among them (happy because she always catches me; sad because that means she didn't swim as well as she could have). I motored past and got in the group of dudes, excited to see how a group of seven or so pro dudes navigates the bike course under the stagger rule.

Well, the answer is: curiously.

The stagger rule is very strange. I understand completely its intent but it is very difficult to follow at times which makes it difficult to know what one should do given that a stagger or draft penalty is purely a judgement call of the official.  So, being at the back, I watched guys weaving all over the place to try and stagger appropriately.

I initially was way over the watts I felt I could manage for 2+ hours but they pretty quickly dropped down, although EVERY SINGLE ONE of the pro guys in that group rode the hills twice as hard as they rode the flats.  So I'd have to pump out 300+ to get up the hill but then be sitting on the flat sections at less than 220 watts. It was extremely frustrating and it's a really bad way to race long-course bike splits.  But that's seemingly the way EVERYBODY does it, not just these pros.

Be that as it may, that's how it was rolling along when Adam Otstot came up to me (as I was hanging out at the back of the group).  He said "What's up" and proceeded to move through the entire group on an uphill.  Adam, being a D1 collegiate XC runner at a very competitive XC school (my alma mater) has a bike/run that is very competitive.  So to see him moving through the field this "early" in the race was pretty cool (knowing he had the bike/run to potentially catch the top 5).

That being said, his little maneuver had the effect of "blowing apart" the group as guys went with his pace and guys did not (I did not).  This meant that the middle third of the bike course was pretty boring.  I passed a guy who got a stand-down penalty then later on he came past with Steve Rosinski following soon thereafter. I caught back up to Ryan Bates and rode with him for a while before I decided to get back up to the watts I wanted to be at (they had been falling slowly).  The last stretch of road was finally a smooth one and it was quite flat and fast so it was actually pretty fun with storm clouds rolling by (very windy) under dark skies. Felt pretty epic. I caught up to another USPro Tri guy coming into T2 (which was one of the most ridiculous transition entrances I have ever seen) and managed somehow to pop off a shoe upon dismount, which elicited this reaction:

As I needed to turn around and pick it up. Oh well, rules are RULES! I love rules.

T2 - 0:54

My T2 was speedier than my T1, but not by much. Let's just call this whole "racing" thing a general "work in progress" and move onwards towards the run.

"Bike for show, transition slow, run for dough" - me.

Run - 1:21:32 (9th)

Thomas Wood was not far ahead of me and I set about getting into a controlled rhythm but unfortunately almost immediately dropped my gel flask. As much as I love not eating gels, I figured I should probably pick it up. I ALMOST grabbed it as it was bouncing around which would've been pretty sweet but I had to pick it up after it hit the curb.

I managed my effort level well and got to the only out-back of the two looped course and turned around to see Derek much sooner than I anticipated (i.e. "hoped") and Brad Williams soon thereafter. Hoping I would put some time back into them on the run I continued on my merry way. The first lap passed relatively uneventfully except for by the end of it I had moved maybe 7-10 seconds ahead of Tom Wood. I felt pretty good still and by the second time through the turnaround I had made a fair amount of ground up on both Brad and Derek.  Hoping for the best I carried on around the golf course with nary a worry in mind.

Unfortunately for me, my lack of run volume (at least, that's what I'm going with) started catching up with me after 8 miles.  From that point on, it was kind of a struggle to keep rolling at what felt like a decent pace. Mike Caizzo eventually passed me and while I had been catching Barrett Brandon pretty regularly he now was so far ahead that he might as well have been on the moon and equally reachable.  Tom Wood finished stronger than I did and passed me as well in the last mile.  So, in spite of giving away several minutes over the last 8k of the run I still managed to hold on to a solid overall run time and come in just under 4:10 on what I felt was a fairly challenging overall course.

OA - 4:09:04 (14th)

Lonely finish line once everybody is gone :(

I was pleased with this race, partially because I had such low expectations of myself after Stumpy last week but also because it was just a good race. I beat some people that have beaten me before and I swam with a group. Regardless of who composed that group it was still a group and there was still swimming involved, neither of which I am as familiar with as I should be. A sub 4:10 on a non-wetsuit course with a rolling/slow bike is pretty good and I am happy. Even though "good" for me means 14th and a failure to come within 8% of the winner's time (thanks Eric L) - which is what it would take to requalify for my pro card - it is another step in the right direction, which is being consistent.

It is somewhat ironic that I did not re-qualify for my pro card at this race (and haven't yet, actually) BUT I likely would've won the elite amateur race (who also got to wear wetsuits) and would've qualified for my pro card that way.  Oh well.

The best part of the trip, however, was yet to come. Jenny got the idea to drive to Cedar Point Amusement park on Monday, spend the day there and drive back Monday night/Tuesday morning, which may or may not be the greatest idea she's ever had.

With that plan in mind, we woke up on Monday and headed north to Sandusky, OH to experience some sweet roller coasters.  Arriving at about 12 we proceeded to make the "most" of the next 7 hours.  I am unsure of how many rides we did, but the only "big" one we missed out on was the Top Fuel Drag one (0-120mph in 4 seconds) due to the line simply being ridiculous. The weather cooperated quite wonderfully and despite eating a gross funnel cake (shame on you Cedar Point) nobody threw up (although I may have peed my pants a little bit with excitement a couple of times).

This one may have actually been my favorite

The "Gatekeeper" climbs into the clouds

I think this is the oldest roller coaster in the US, it was ROUGH (in a good way)

There was a LOT of this for Gatekeeper and Millenium Force; next time buy Fast Lane!

Millenium Force climbs into the sun

The drive back was long and boring but uneventful and all in all it was a great weekend.  Sometimes it's really nice to just get away.  We triathletes seem to require a race sandwiched in the middle, however...

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