I’m making a pretty huge snafu (I think that’s a word) by posting this race report out of chronological order—a first for this blog—but I wrote this a few weeks ago so I might as well share it. Because it doesn’t count if you don’t tell someone about it, publicly.
There’s not always a home course advantage when it comes to triathlon. Knowledge isn’t always power. For example, knowing what lies ahead might be a disadvantage in some scenarios; if you’re suffering and you know exactly how long a climb is, there isn’t any room for hope that the top might be right around the corner. Another detractor of racing at home is the lack of preparation that getting to the race takes. There isn’t as much weight behind finishing, or at least finishing strong, when you live three miles from the middle of the run course. That’s what happened last year—I was on an extremely off day and I just pulled the plug five miles into the bike leg. I probably extended my life by five years since the air quality index was 190 that day, so I’m not complaining.
Anyways, I vowed to at least finish the damn race today. If nothing else, it would be a good training day for Embrunman in nine days time.
After a very average swim, during which I almost had to stop and breaststroke at 200 meters because I was so out of breath (thought: it should be called breathstroke), I entered T1 a few seconds behind Tripp Hipple. He darted away into the distance as I staggered up the dock like a dumbfound walrus realizing I could somehow, despite physics, stand and balance on two feet. If I hadn’t been so slow through transition, Tripp and I would have made a good fighting force on the bike. But I found myself alone by the time I was on my bike, in 19th place or so.
At the first turnaround, maybe three miles into the bike, it appeared that I was four minutes behind the leaders. Not a great start to the day. I’d lost almost a full minute catching my breath. (Still haven’t found it). But four minutes wasn’t un-closeable. I was somewhat confident I could still catch everyone up the road. It took a while for my legs to recover from dragging lifelessly two feet below the surface of the water for the past half hour (shouldn’t they have been fully rested?), but I eventually began passing people. At the top of Neva Road I heard I was 2:45 down. Or maybe 3:45. I wasn’t sure. But it was less than four minutes.
There was no pacing to be done. I just went pretty much as hard as I could, incapable of putting in a sharp effort to catch the lead group, but diesel enough to keep plugging along.
By the top of Hygiene—roughly two-thirds of the way through the bike—I’d inched my way through the field and the gap to the leaders was down to 1:15. The group of five included Hoffman, Metzler, Hipple, and two ITU guys I didn’t know: Andrie and Sharpe. The catch was imminent, but it didn’t appear that I’d be coming off the bike with any sort of sizable gap—a bit of a problem because I only started running four weeks ago due to a knee injury from earlier this summer (the reason I didn’t attempt to finish Oregon 70.3).
I ended up with about a 50 second lead off the bike (Tripp was right there with me but he had to serve a five minute penalty) and I set out on the run with the rest of those guys breathing down my neck. As usual, the first few miles of the run were dominated by chest cramps and near-hyperventilation from asthma. I looked at my watch with dread at the near-walking pace I was setting. It wasn’t much faster than my goal marathon pace for Embrun coming up next week. Andrie passed me. Then Sharpe. Then Metzler. I tried to use each of them, but my legs and my head weren’t the problem. My lungs just wouldn’t cooperate.
My breathing issues didn’t fade until mile seven, at which point I was already down to 6th place. Then, all of a sudden, I found that I could draw in and expel air again. I picked up the pace and held onto 6th, unintentionally negative-splitting the hell out of the half marathon (first 7 miles were 6:30 minutes/mile and the last 6 miles were 6:05 minutes/mile).
While I was hoping for a podium (and secretly a win), I’m pretty content with how the race went. My bike fitness is pretty good right now, especially for longer stuff, and I think my legs will be able to handle a slow marathon next week in France. Looking at past results, a strong ride backed up by a three-hour marathon would put me on the podium.
More importantly than what this race means for Embrunman, it felt good to just be in the mix again, and have some type of impact on the race. It’s been a while.