Monday, August 31, 2015

Racing the Clock

This past weekend I was up in Maine for the Challenge Maine Olympic distance triathlon. I was up at this venue in 2012, but a longer distance race.  I wanted to go back and try my hand at a shorter distance there.  Challenge puts on a great event and I wanted to go back. Lucky for me it fit into my schedule this year.  I wanted to see if I could beat my best olympic distance time that I set last year.

The swim for this race can be a little more challenging than most races I do as it's an ocean swim. Most races I've done have a lake swim or are protected parts of open water. I didn't do too much ocean swimming this year except the Fire Island 1 Mile swim and then a swim in the bay a few weeks back with Danielle.  I studied some video on how to enter/exit an ocean swim with surf. The race would take place during low tide, but I had to contend with a surf going out and in.  The race organizers had a practice the day before the race so I went down to try my skills out.  Also, I wanted to get used to colder waters. Most of my swims lately have been around the 80 degree mark, but this would be in the mid 60s.

The Saturday practice went well and I felt confident about the swim for Sunday.  I was concerned that my swim time would be longer than originally predicted.  I added 5 minutes to the time that Danielle guesstimated I would finish in.  She concurred that it could be a tougher swim so the extra time was fairly accurate.

On Sunday morning, I went to transition to put air in my bike tires and setup my space. Once that was done, I went back to my hotel room which was near the start. I relaxed for a while, then put on the wetsuit and went to the start. We were put into a coral and then sent to the start line etched in the sand. I was so prepared for the start. Or so I thought.

 Beach swim start

When the announcer said "GO!!" I jogged towards the water. I knew sprinting would leave me out of breath. When I hit the water and began to dolphin dive to get through the low tide, I noticed the water seemed much colder. I suddenly had trouble breathing. I realized the cold water was a shock to my system. I tried to relax and do some tarzan-style swimming (head up out of the water).  It wasn't helping. I was exhaling, but felt like nothing was coming out.  I would look ahead and the buoy seemed so far out. I kept thinking "I can't believe my race might be over and I didn't even make the first buoy."  I just kept breathing slowly and making forward progress via the tarzan swim. I kept telling myself to stop being such a f*cking coward and swim. Finally I was able to get my face back into the water and then I knew I was back in the game and I had to make up time if I wanted that PR.

I rounded the first buoy like I was shot out of a canon. My strokes were long and powerful.  Suddenly I was passing a boatload of people. I was thinking "wow, when did I become a swimmer?!?!"  I kept moving forward and swimming around people. I had 3 buoys to swim past before I make the final turn back in. I was there in no time. I rounded the last turn buoy and made my way back in.  While sighting I realized I was stuck in an area of surf where I was being held in place due to the shifting water.  I just dug in deep and pulled hard. Then I started making some forward progress. I knew the swells would be coming and I had to catch them just right to makeup some time. I wound up missing the first one, but I knew once I felt a surge in the water to increase my stroke/pull and ride the wave. Once I knew I was at the top of it I put both arms out in front and rode the wave in.  I did this a few times until I hit the shallow water and did some more dolphin diving.

When I was able to stand up I looked at my watch and realized I smoked the swim, despite the hyperventilating due to the cold shock. I came in 4 minutes faster than the original predicted time and 11 min faster than the predicted time with the rough surf.  Good thing as I would need all the time I could get since I had a 1/4 mile barefoot run to transition.

I got the wetsuit off at the beach, tucked it under my arm and ran like a bat out of hell down the road. I rounded the corner and down the next block to transition. The plus side of all that running was the sand was knocked off my feet.

I quickly changed into my bike stuff and headed out for the ride. My goal was to hammer the bike as hard as I could with no regard for the run. Danielle told me to just go for it and see what happens.  So I followed her direction.  The course starts uphill so I hammered it up and started the ride.  The bike course is rolling with a few hills. It's a net uphill for the 1st half and a net downhill for the 2nd. I knew I could make up time as the ride went on. I never bothered looking at my power meter.  I was going purely by feel today.  Occasionally I looked down to see the mileage, but that was it. 

The winds were light and I knew that would only help me on this course. The road conditions were fairly decent. No major potholes or rough patches. Before I knew it I was at the loop for the turnaround. I knew I had to put the hammer down now as I lost time on the 1st half.  I kept pushing my pace.  I needed the 2nd half to be ~6 minutes faster than my 1st half. I was doing a lot of 'race math' on the bike.  I needed a PR in this race. It was a "PR or ER" effort now.

 Approaching the bike dismount

As I made my way back to transition, I was a little worried about my run legs. They felt a little tired from the effort. I can't lie, I was unsure about the run.  I got off the bike and realized I only made up 4 minutes of the 6 I needed.  Crap.  I tried to make quick work in transition as I knew I had to really run hard to pull off a PR.

I changed shoes and grabbed my race belt and hat and bolted for the "Run Out" arch to get going. the clock wasn't going to stop ticking. I took a look at my watch and started with the 'run math' and what I had to run each mile in to get a PR.  And that's when I noticed something.  My legs were moving and didn't feel heavy at the start. Wait...what?!?!  How did this happen? I grabbed a quick cup of water, took a sip to wet my mouth, then bolted. I made my way down the road and out of town. I passed a couple of people early in the run.

I was about a mile in when I stepped down on some uneven pavement and felt a loud SNAP in my foot.  I saw stars and felt nauseous.  It sounded like I broke my foot. This was the foot I had an injection in earlier this year for neuroma-like pain. I was still battling some numbness/hot spots on occasion so I try to watch where I step when I run.  Not this time. This time I stepped right down and thought my season was over. I kept going, in denial, convincing myself that it was just my imagination.  I didn't feel much after 1/2 mile from the misstep. Phew. I also noticed that the hot spot in my foot was gone. I still played it safe and watched my step. But a minefield was coming up - The Trail Section.

I knew I wouldn't be on the trail for long so I watched my steps carefully. I did land on one or two small rocks and didn't notice any pain. Thank goodness as I still had 3.2 miles to run.  That snap in my foot must have been old scar tissue breaking.

I hit the turnaround and made my way back out to the road. I looked at my watch and saw that I was still doing well on time, but had no wiggle room for slowing down. I got more aggressive as I wanted to give myself as much cushion as I could in case my foot went south.  I ran harder and faster over the last 2.5 miles. I had the run course etched in my head and anticipated each turn and where I had to be to make the tangents. 

Ahead of me was the final turn before a long straightaway (3/4 mile) until the finish line. I was so focused on the time, I couldn't let up. I approached the finish chute and saw the Wingman. I gave him my customary "fist pump" and finished strong. I stopped my watch and saw that I shaved over 2 minutes off my previous Olympic triathlon PR. I also killed the run.  I averaged over a minute faster per mile over the last 3 miles compared to the 1st 3.  I was getting stronger as the race went on. I felt like I could have run longer, but was glad I didn't have to.

Both feet off the ground, I was flying.....

I put in a ton of work preparing for the 2nd half of the season. I've been getting stronger and faster and have one more race to unleash my fury on - Augusta 70.3 at the end of September.  I didn't have that great of a 1st half season so for me it's important to turn this ship around and end strong.

As always, I don't do all this alone.  Thanks to my Wingman for always supporting me; Danielle for providing me with an awesome training plan and not losing faith in me with things didn't look great this spring/early summer; and a new edition to my team, Steve Tria, who has helped me develop my strength and my bring out my inner "Cleaner".

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