Monday, October 1, 2007

Nation's Triathlon Recap

I wondered if this should go into my Runner's Ramblings series. I then decided that since I only did 1/3 of the tri it most assuredly should not. Throw in the fact that I know very little about my partner's legs and I could not possibly do the full race justice. But I am really proud of what we did on Saturday so I am most assuredly going to talk about it.

I first heard about the Nation's Tri by chance last year. In Philly to run my 46th marathon of the year I was also visiting my good friend law school, Heather. When we went to kill the afternoon at her friend's by watching the Ohio State -Michigan game, one of the other guests there was Chuck Brodsky. It ends up Chuck is the organizer of the Nation's Tri. Unfortunately last year, and I do not know the full story whatsoever, the swim portion of the race had to be canceled just a short period before the race was run and participants instead ran a 5k. In talking to Chuck I could tell that he was really excited about turning the race into a great world-class event.

In the months that followed I thought about the tri and possibly doing one in 2007 but being I did not even own a bike, let alone one I would want to race on, I did not do much more than think about it.

A little over a month ago I noticed in my running club's email that two of the guys in the club needed a swimmer to compete in the tri as part of a relay. As I have told many people, I am naturally a better swimmer than a runner but the chances and opportunities to swim are far less than they are to run (In fact, that is the reason I turned to running in the first place; when I get my book published you can read all about THAT in greater detail). So I inquired, found they were needing a swimmer, weren't exactly expecting to blow away the competition, and welcomed me aboard. Now all that lay ahead was 1.5k of swimming, 40k of cycling and a 10k run.

That in mind, I signed up for the local pool's membership and decided to get back into moderately good swimming shape. I found that the muscle memory was still there even though I have hardly swam at all since my last competitive swim meet at Penn State for the high school championships a full... *gulp*.. 13.5 years ago. (Dear god, I am OLD!) However, it was definitely crushing to see the times I was posting on the board as I swam my way through a relatively easy workout of 2 x (5 x 200 meters) on 3 minutes. But a few workouts in and I was feeling good. With a month left I felt I would be in great shape. And then life, as it so often does, intervened.

For the next three weeks, I did not swim one lap. Sure I ran and raced but I didn't even get within a chloriney whiff of the pool. Then I found that one of our teammates had his job taking him somewhere else on race day and we had to have a quick replacement. This did not bode too well.

Luckily, when I heard of his replacement, I knew that both of my teammates (can I say "teammates"?) would be giving their part of the relay their best. Which means I definitely had to as well, in spite of my severe lack of training. On top of that, I have only done one open water swim in my life and that was 4 years ago as part of another tri relay. However, that .6 of a mile swim was a full 1/3 less than the 1.5 k I would be doing in the Potomac.

At the last minute, even though I did not think the water temperature would bother me (projected temp was in the low 70s; the other tri relay I did had been 62 degrees and I had done that in a speedo; excuse the extra chunk...I was still losing weight) I decided to rent a wetsuit.

Perusing the local tri stores I struck upon a decent deal, shimmied my way into the suit and gasped at how friggin tight it was. "...supposed to be like this?" I squeaked. The ever-so-friendly attendant replied, "yes."

Time to go home and get a good night's rest.

When I straddled my bike (a recent birthday present) to ride to the start of the race (I had thought about running there but have never ridden down the monster hill that I always have to run to get home so decided to seize the opportunity) it was a perfect race day temperature of 58 degrees. Just beautiful. Too bad I was hopping in the water.

After finding a place to lock my bike slightly away from the crowds (I was using a chain that my mother had used on her bike some 25 years ago and besides being shocked I had recently found it in some boxes while cleaning, was wondering if it would be anything more than a laugh to today's wonderful chain-cutting thieves) I walked over to get my age and number marked onto me. As I was wearing a full-length wetsuit I was a little confused by why they wrote on my bicep and calf muscle but hey, I am the novice here.

Killing time until my teammates showed up (can I call them teammates?) I ran into multiple commenter here and newest friendly race combatant, CharlieM. I knew Charlie was doing the tri solo but didn't think I would run into him with 1,000 others milling around. We exchanged pleasantries and wished each other good luck.

Finally, I happened across my runner, Mike Proulx and my cyclist Zach Desmond. they seemed as relaxed as I was feeling so I thought all was good.

Soon the first swimmers were in the water and were off. I knew I had 40 minutes until my wave began so I tried to cool my heels a little bit. I was a little apprehensive. Unlike not feeling up to snuff for running if I had not done enough specific training, this was quite different. The swim would begin in the Potomac and swim upstream for about half a mile before turning around and coming back the way we just went.

I was a little nervous about swimming upstream, in a open water and in open water that everyone who heard I was swimming in it acted like I was jumping into a toxic sludge. ("The Potomac?! Hope you got your shots!")
Time came for me and my group to be in the on-deck circle and the announcer asked who might be leading the way. I smiled thinking that at one time it might have been me but definitely not this day. He jumped right on it: "That was a devilish grin. Keep a look out for this guy, swimmers". Um, no. But thanks for putting the bulls-eye on me.

Onto the floating deck we went and into the murky water. I immediately bobbed to the top. Holy mackeral people are not kidding about how buoyant these wetsuits are! This was going to be fun!

As more swimmers piled into the river, the sculling of arms and kicking of legs began. Being one who VERY MUCH likes his personal space I could tell this was not going to be the case today. I pushed as close to the front as I felt was necessary given my relatively low expectations and waited for the gun. A siren blasted and away we went.

There is not a great deal to tell about the swim. I felt some tightness in my adductor muscle in my left leg (which is the muscle which has been bothering me for a year now) but I knew how to remedy that. Swimming long-distance in high school I was acutely aware how to stave off cramps, stitches and their ilk in the middle of a race. Soon thereafter the pain was gone and I settled in. The water was mostly brown but did not smell much or taste too bad. The water temp was fine and the wetsuit made me feel extremely comfortable.

I have never been one who alternates sides to which I breathe in swimming but today I decided to try it. The main reason I did was because I found I was listing to the right ever-so-slightly and I wanted to swim as straight as possible. So with my alternate breathing and a little bit of sighting (I think that is what it is called) I found I was swimming perfectly straight. Many times I saw others around me swimming in zig-zag patterns and felt sorry for all the extra distance they were swimming.

As we neared the turn around I noticed I was passing a great deal of swimmers. I was confused as I felt I had gone out pretty fast and didn't think too many people had been in front of me to begin with. Then I saw the different colored-caps and realized we were catching waves that had started in front of us. This only empowered me to swim harder and faster.

Turning around the buoy, I began to head for home. Unfortunately, my goggles were a little fogged and heading directly into the rising sun made everything a blur. I swam a few strokes and then decided it was going to be too much of a hassle to try and continue as such. So, I stopped for a second, took my goggles off of my head and dipped them in the water. Presto Changeo I could see again.

The rest of the swim felt great and not taxing at all. I was unsure how hard to push. I had only swam this long once before in my life without stopping and that was when we had done a timed 3,000 meter (which is just shy of 2 miles). However, that had been in a pool, with flipturns and clear water. Before too long I saw that starting platform and knew we were close to the end. Tons of people were swimming all over the place and I had to crawl over a few legs to get where I needed to be.

Up the slippery stairs out of the Potomac and 300 yards later to the transition area where Zach awaited me and I was done for the day. Zach was gone within seconds and I was feeling good. I had no idea what my time was (forgot to put on a watch) but thought I had done my team well.

I did not like the layout of the course. The swim was fine but while the bike made two loops through the transition area, the run then went off on a 10k jaunt that ended quite a ways off from where the rest of the action happened (see below).

I hear this was done to have the Capitol Building as a majestic backdrop and for that purpose it worked. But for purposes of getting around it definitely put a crimp in any plans. Luckily for me, I was able to go to my friend Anne's place of work and shower at her place. That is where I learned for the first time of the rubbed raw neck that I had. (Only afterward did a triathlete friend say: "Did you not put Bodyglide on your neck?)

By the time I had ridden across the city on my bike, grabbed this quick shower and headed back towards the finish, I was lucky enough to see Proulx striding down the final stretch of Pennsylvania Ave before he hit the turnaround to head home. I yelled for him and saw him pass by again just a few seconds later passing runners left and right.

As it turns out, our team did great. With a 3rd place overall finish in the relay competition (out of 45 teams) I think we were all quite pleased. While the final results were a little hard to decipher I could see that I was the 4th relay person out of the water. Zach then made up 16 seconds on that 3rd place team before Proulx crushed them by 11 minutes in the 10k. My time for the 1.5k swim was a rather respectable 22:19.

Charlie finished 38th (out of 128) in the 35-39 division in just his second tri with an overall time 2:30:28. Kudos to him.

All in all I am quite pleased (although I will remember the Bodyglide next time). If I can just garner some interest from sponsors to help defray the cost of a bike, I think I could give this tri stuff a real good run. But next up for me is the Steamtown Marathon this weekend. While everyone else is trying to set their PR in Chicago I will be in Scranton, PA with Dwight, Pam and Jim.


CharlieM said...

22:19 with a pit stop to clean the goggles...Wowsers, you were booking. I felt like I was going fast at 29:00...maybe I need to find a downhill swim (Great Falls?) bikes, I rented a racing bike, and I think I am definitely hooked on this sport after just 2 races. I'm going to sell my house and car, and buy the top of the line tri bike...One thing's for sure: walk breaks certainly seem silly in the swim/bike legs...better just forget about that strategy. Good luck at Steamtown, I think this is the week for sub 2:55.

1L said...

Nice job, Dane and team. A 3rd place finish is awesome.

And you are not old - when I started swimming again this summer, it had been 27 yrs since I had been in the pool to swim laps - I am the one that is old. The muslce memory does come back, but I have had to relearn my stroke since what they taught back then is not what they teach now. I agree with CharlieM - 22:19 is definitely smokin.

Good luck this weekend at Steamtown. You know if you take walk breaks, I am sure you will break my PR ;). Couldn't resist.