Tuesday, October 3, 2017

US National Aquathlon Championship Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 13th Edition 
151.7 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: US National Aquathlon Championship
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 70; sunny; nice

All and all this has been a decent year of racing even if it has not felt like it. In January, I won a
rugged trail race I was ill-equipped to run. In April, I broke my course record at the Salt Flats 50k (even though I ended up taking second overall.) And in spite of the fact I was attacked, suffered facial fractures and a broken thumb two months ago, I was still able to make it to the start of the US National Aquathlon Championships.

It is my personal policy that if a National Championship race, or something close to it, is within relatively close driving distance, even if you are going to suck at it, you should probably do it. This policy led me to taking on the US Mountain Running National Championship race two years ago even though I knew I would get destroyed (and I did.) As well as qualifying for U.S. National Snowshoe Championships having never worn snowshoes. Or qualifying for the Long Course Duathlon World Championship on just about your first ever duathlon attempt. So when it looked like I would get a chance to compete here, even though I was completely not in the shape I wanted to be in, I found myself driving to the start in the 5 o'clock hour even though my race didn't start until 8:30 am. Why? Because rules. (More specifically, we had to have our transition set up at 6:45 so we could have the mandatory meeting at 7 so the women could start at 7:15. Yay.)

There were a couple of quirks about this race which I was eager to find out how they would work and a few logistical issues I hoped would not be too much.  First was the start of the race. Beginning outside of a fence, it was a time trial start, meaning that like most races today, it would be done by chip timing. However, the race also had us 157 men filing through a door in the fence that was just about wide enough for one and half men, before taking a sharp right angle turn, stepping over some football shaped rocks lining the path, which itself was rather uneven, filled with gravel in some places and rooty and rocky in others.  It was, for all in tense and purposes, a trail run. None of that
appealed to me.

Running a quarter of a loop would put us at the top of the ramp and transition area, upon which we would then do three more loops before heading down to swim in the quarry.  Changing into out swim gear (including putting a swim cap on, while in motion, which I was not a fan of) we would walk onto a dock and get into the water.

A rather funky shaped out and back, followed by a loop around the interior of quarry would have us finishing the swim. Then two and three quarter loops before an acute angle turn over an uneven grass surface into the finisher chute.  Let's just say I was filled with repidation about how much could go wrong here. I could not have been more happy that I had done 5 aquathlons out here since April which at least allowed me to know the course. I pitied those who came from all over the country who might not have been too familiar with it. I wouldn't pity them during the race, however. Screw that. I came to race.

The women took off over an hour before the me.  I was envious as it was actually, dare I say, chilly? I watched for a bit before deciding to head off and kill an hour or so doing...well...not much. But being awake for a few hours at least allowed me to wake up and get the motor running a bit.  This would still not make up for the fact that I as participating in a sprint race and I am an endurance guy but at least I wouldn't being doing it first thing in the morning.  Plus, for the first time since May, I felt mildly, and I mean just barely, chilly.  That alone made me happy.

Before too long it was time to head to the starting scrum and slide in with a lot of people that were undoubtedly more trained than I was. I would give it my best.

Run One: 78th overall in 14:49  

I seeded myself a little ways back even though I hoped it would not mean I was weaving around people who did not properly position themselves.  It probably took me a full thirty seconds to get through the gate, stepping over a huge boulder before crossing the mat. My goal was to run within myself and save my energy for the swim and second run.  I may be out of shape and I may not be a sprinter but I just had a feeling that the race was long enough that my endurance might kick in a bit.

I recognized a few athletes from some of the other aquathlons who I routinely finished right around so I felt I was in the right spot.  Even after the first loop where they pulled away a bit, comfort was what I felt.  In hindsight, comfort in a short race is not good.  Comfort is good for distance.  In short races, your lungs should be burning and your muscles screaming. But to be perfectly honest, I did not have that in me today.  If I could run relatively hard I would still be happy. I figured that later on, if I saw someone in my age group, I could maybe ignite the inner fire. Those in my age group were all that mattered to me today.  Not overall place, not which woman had a faster time earlier in the day, none of that.

Not that it mattered much but the watch I have had for ages broke about a week before the race.  I was using a backup and the buttons weren't as intuitive as usual. As such, I messed up a lap or two but I felt I was doing well. My best friend Shannon had trekked up to the quarry after a ridiculously early morning run to cheer me on and I heard her above the crowds.  She had been running early in response to some women who had been attacked running in Austin. A group of people had decided to "Take Back The Trail" in solidarity to show that they would not be frightened. This whole thing reminded me of my own article called Running While Male.

Starting the third loop I began to wonder about the transition.  We would have to run down a ramp
and put a swim cap and goggles on whilst moving. If you have ever seen swimmers, we fiddle with that stuff for minutes when we are standing still. I wasn't looking forward to trying to do it on the fly.  The third lap had me more or less standing pat pace wise with a few runners passing me and me passing a few . I literally had no idea where I was in the race but hoped the top 50.  Timewise I saw I finished this about midpack but it is entirely possible people ran it faster than I did who started after me. Another thing I didn't like about this time trail style of racing was not knowing who you were racing. Alas. Run fast and don't worry about others, my Dad would have said. Simple stuff.
Transition 1:  46th overall in 40 seconds

This wasn't too bad of a transition.  I was 46th overall but mere seconds separated the vast majority of us. For example, the 9th fastest guy was only ten seconds faster than me. Also, my dive from the dock was freaking He-Man epic. (If you got that reference: sweet.)  I hope someone got a picture.

Swim: 81st  overall  in 16:27   

Post-race finding out I was just midpack in the swim bothered me a bit. For the entirety of the portion in the water, all I was doing was passing people. Again, I know this means slower runners were making up time on me in the swim but man did I feel better than middle of the pack.

I didn't do the best job of navigating the swim and definitely swam less than a straight line.  Again, like the first run, I felt comfortable.  I should have, like the first run, pushed harder.  Granted this was only the second swim in 10 weeks and second since being attacked but just because I had pins in my thumb removed a month ago doesn't mean I don't expect more of myself.  Logic: I don't has it. It is entirely possible I would have swam harder if I had been up against better swimmers but I was lulled into false sense of effort by the number of people I was passing.

Soon I made the final turn around the buoy and was heading for the ramp out of the water.  Some kind volunteers stabilized me as I ran out and now it was time to find my shoes.

Transition 2: 55th overall in 51 seconds

Where are my shoes?!

I couldn't find my towel and gear even though I had wisely used an Archer Whore Island towel to
distinguish it from others.  What threw me was that when I laid it down in the dark, I had just done so in the first open space. I saw now that there were markings for each age group.  I knew mine wasn't in the right spot and I wasted way too much time trying to find my gear. When I finally did I was a little pissed. If I had just taken 40 seconds like before, I would have been 23rd fastest in this transition.

Run 2: 47th overall in 12:42  

My intention for this final run was to track down as many people in my age group as possible in order to do the best I could to place high in my age group. The problem was, as I finished the first loop, I still had not seen a single person in my age group for the entirety of the race.  Not a soul.. I saw none around me at the start,  I passed none in the run, none passed me, I didn't pass any in the swim and here I was again, all alone. (They write the ages of competitors on the calf muscle, in case you were curious how I knew the ages of people.)

As such, I began playing a cat and mouse game with a couple of guys who were not in my age group.  I couldn't rightly tell if they were on the same loop as me or one ahead but every time we would hit the flat, wide, top part of the loop I would pass them. When we went through the twisty, turny portion, or the uphill, they would pass me back.  At the very least we were pushing each other and this was keeping me from falling back.

On the final last bit of the course I passed a few runners who I thought might be in my age group but upon getting closer saw they weren't. (Again, it might not have mattered as they could have, in theory, started after me. Have I mentioned I hate this type of racing?)  Regardless, I gave it all I could at the end and crossed the finish in 45:32, just about 30 seconds slower than what I thought would be a decent time for me today.  Now I just had to wait a bit to see how I placed in my age group to find out if I qualified for the World Championships.

Now a little note about these qualifications.  I was fairly certain I was going to qualify.  Because I am relatively good at both running and swimming I had a fair chance. Also, in what I thought was very generous move, they took an exorbitant amount of participants in each age group. While this race is an automatic qualifier, there is apparently also a points system that US Triathlon uses for those who didn't race this particular race. If people who qualified here chose not to go to the World Championship race, others can sign up. This type of qualifying is something which has always been a bit distasteful for me about the world of multi-sport races.  Throw in my complete disdain for the bike and there are a couple of reasons that, while I am definitely a better athlete at multi-sport than running, it just doesn't appeal much to me.  I provide these caveats because I think they are necessary, especially in today's era of bragging about oneself when there is little to brag about.

So even though I was certain I had qualified, there was still a moment of pause as I entered in my bib number to see my result.  When it popped up that I not only had indeed qualified but was second overall in my age group, I was elated.  For five seconds. Then I realized I was one place out of being an age group national champion.  Damn it!

So I more than qualified.  Now I have to decide if I am going. The World championship race is 1000meter swim and a 5k.  A veritable sprint and something I will do nowhere near good enough to be happy. Why there isn't a few options for those of us who never had, even in our youth, fast twitch muscle fibers is beyond me. I salivate at the thought of a 1500m swim and a 15k.

But, I have never been to Denmark.  So....

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