So today was where the rubber met the road- literally and figuratively. While not my main race for the season, the Tri-4-Fun series provided me with an opportunity to see how I was doing vs/ a couple of months ago. I had competed in the first Tri-4-fun in the series (they do three every summer) back in June, about a week after I started training with the ELF. Now, 10 weeks later I was back for the last race in the series to gauge my progress. I was really looking forward to this event. First of all, it's about 3 miles from my house, so it's the home turf. Second- I had a good, if not spectacular day last time, but I knew I could make a pretty big improvement. Last time, I finished the 400m swim, 11 mile bike (LIES!!! it's only 9.5) and 3 mile run in 66 minutes. I thought that if I executed a good day, I could get under 60 minutes. That's a big time difference over a short course, but when I look back at my last race, I thought it was possible.
The day started out with me waking up 15 minutes prior to my alarm at about 4:30am. OK, I guess I was a little amped for this one. So after finishing up my packing and getting dressed, I headed out- even gave myself time for a morning cup of coffee! (As Dr. George Sheehan once opined-coffee gets me TO the starting line...) I arrived at 5:30 and it was still pitch black outside. Last time I arrived around 6 and felt a little rushed. I wanted to make sure I had time to warm up and get ready for the day. After getting myself set up, hitting the body marking, t-shirt pickup and saying hello to some friends, I was ready to go.
My strategy for this race was a little different than in the past. I've been feeling really good in the pool lately- better than I've ever felt in fact. Usually I start toward the back of the swim, as the chaos of the swim start kindof freaks me out a little bit. In the past, my lack of confidence in my swim has caused me to get intimidated and I usually just head for the back of the pack and pray to get to the bike.
Today, I decided to go for it. I finished my swim in just under 8 minutes last time, and I knew I had a better swim in me based on my recent work. Instead of the back of the pack, I was standing right at the front of the first wave when the gun went off. I took 3 steps and dove in and swam HARD. I figured if I could go hard for the first 50-100 and separate myself a little then I could just settle in and cruise. That strategy proved a little bit problematic. I was indeed separating myself from the back of the pack, but I was right in the thick of the chaos with all the lead swimmers. A funny thing happened though- my confidence was high so I didn't worry about all the people around me. I was thinking going into the swim that I could just find someone's feet and settle in behind them, but the water was churned up so much I was never able to do that. I was able to share space with a guy that couldn't have been more than 6 inches to my right. It was amazing- like being locked in mortal combat- neither would give an inch. Despite the close quarters, I forged ahead. Ultimately, he veered left a bit (or I veered right- more likely) and i ended up kindof crawling over him. I never would have done that before, but today, I felt strong and confident in the water, like I belonged there.
As I hit the second buoy and turned for home, I could see some people in front of me, but not that many, and I just pointed and went for the finish. I hit the beach and looked at my watch- 6:50! Not the six minutes I was hoping for, but a full minute faster than 2 months ago! For a 400m swim that's 15 seconds per 100 so I'll take it!
The first transition went pretty smoothly. I had been contemplating leaving my bike shoes on the pedals, but I hadn't practiced that, so I just put them on first, grabbed my helmet and off I went. Once I got onto the bike and headed up the hill that goes out of the park and onto the road, i realized I forgot to hit my lap button on my Garmin, so I quickly reached for my wrist. Here's where things went a little screwy. There's a lap button and a start/stop button on the face of the Garmin. They aren't particularly close together, but for whatever reason, I keep hitting the wrong button- especially when I'm a little rushed. Today was one of those days. I hit the wrong button, and I never got it right. I didn't just do it once either- I did it twice, so by that time, I had given up on knowing my splits, HR, etc, and decided to just go hard and see what happened.
My strategy for the bike was to take the first mile or so at a high cadence and a smaller gear to get my legs going, then hit it hard and see what i could do. I was passed by a couple of $15,000 bikes initially, but i stuck to my plan, hit mile 2 and went up to my big ring. From here I started to really crank, and passed 5-10 guys pretty quickly. Right before I hit the turnaround, I passed another rider, but once I made the turn and looked ahead, there was NO ONE ahead of me. Now I knew there was a lead group out there in the distance, but there wasn't a soul between me and them from what I could see. I guess I had to go find 'em!!
I wasn't feeling great at this point, but my speed was solid and I was hanging in around 22pmh with some wind in my face. I figured that if I was going to have any shot at breaking 60, I need to get it going, so I put my head down and pushed through the pain in my legs, picking my speed up a couple of clicks and getting my legs cranking. It was about this point that my cat and mouse game with another rider resurfaced. He had passed me out of the transition and i had re-passed as I came out of the first big turn. There's a pretty short but steep hill that kind of pops up out of nowhere. I knew where it was and I was ready for it, but for some reason, I just didn't have the legs to sprint up the hill, so my nemesis got me right at the top and passed me. The chase was on!! We hit the downhill stretch together and I was right with him coming into the final big turn and passed the only other rider that either of us had seen for 2 miles. Here was decision time for me. Part of me really wanted to chase this guy down and get him on the bike. My better angels told me to get ready for transition. I listened- loosened up my shoes and had my feet out of the shoes coming into the transition. I think this helped me get through the transition a lot faster, as I was able to grab my flats and get out on the run. And who did I see coming out of the transition chute? You guessed it, Mr. Hill guy- about 15 yards in front of me. Time to go to work.
Right at that moment, I saw something else- my wife and two children cheering me on! That was really what I needed right then. I waved and said hi to the kids and then looked ahead to Mr. Hill Guy- OK let's go. I picked up my turnover and caught him in about 10 steps. He hung with me for about three strides and then I was gone. I never saw him again.
At this point, I'm a little concerned that I might have blown my doors off in the first quarter mile, but without my Garmin set up right, I had nothing to go off but feel, so I figured- it's going to hurt, just go and hang on as long as possible. I have to say that I really didn't have a clue as to my time at this point. My watch read around 40 minutes and I didn't know if I was 2 minutes, 5 minutes or 10 minutes off from the real time. Screw it- who cares? Just run dummy.
The first mile or so was tough. The course takes you up on the top of a levy and it's a pretty good climb up to it, but once there, it's just rolling trails. I had one guy initially trot by me like I was standing still, but I was also making a couple of early passes, so i was holding my own. The course does a figure 8 basically, so you end up seeing a lot of people twice, but I was really running by myself for the most part. There just weren't a lot of people ahead of me and a LOT of people behind me. I think this spurred my confidence and let me find that extra gear I needed. Coming into the last hill I saw a guy I knew I could catch so I went after him on the downhill coming into the parking lot and caught up to him right at the bottom of the hill. From there, it was one more turn and into the finish chute.
Now at this point, I still have no clue where I'm at time wise. I'd pretty much abandoned my sub 60 minute goal and figured if I could come in between 61-63 I'd be content with that, but I really had no clue and was just focused on finishing strong. Once I hit the straightaway I decided to just go as hard as I could so I got the lead out and picked up the pace. Coming down last couple hundred meters I saw the family cheering me on again and then I looked up at the clock- it was at 59 minutes and change! I could still do it!!! That's when I found my last gear and hammered home to the finish line- in a time of 59:38. Mission accomplished!
I was absolutely thrilled. I'd done the work and the work paid off! I've been feeling really good in my workouts lately, and it was great to have them pay off in a race setting. I think the best part about it was that I was able to overcome some adversity during the day and push through it. My Garmin wasn't dialed in, my swim wasn't quite what I wanted coming out of it (I'm happy with the result, but at the time was hoping for more) but through it all I stayed focused on my goal and worked through the physical discomfort and had a strong race.
Just a couple more weeks until Pacific Grove! This was a great tuneup and and I'm excited to see what I can do at the Olympic distance.