Yesterday marked the first big race of the season, and what I'll call the first big race of my triathlon career. This race is the first time I have come into a major race with fitness that would put me in contention for an age group podium. It was a day of lessons learned and goods and others, and I'll examine a couple of those. My goal for this race was a top 5 finish, and to go under 4:30.
First, coming off the Tucson camp and my work with Gerry Rodrigues, I felt very confident that I would be able to swim with the front pack of men and put up a time that would help me achieve my sub-4:30 goal. I felt like this time would be in the 26-27 low timeframe. My split was a 28:14, but I came out of the water in the front pack, because I was the front pack. Unfortunately because the swim start is so narrow, m30-34 started in 3 separate waves, with the last of them starting 6 min behind me. Apparently, all the faster swimmers in the race have last names R-S, because I dropped the entire filed within about 200m. I got to use exactly none of the open water skills I worked on with Gerry, except sighting. As has been the case in previous races, I have an issue with pacing when it comes to swimming by myself. I was putting out what I felt was a solid, measured effort, but in the end, some fast feet and others around will be what it takes for me to put up the kind of split that I desire. The swim was really uneventful, and minus some choppy water at the turn, was pretty straightforward.
I cruised into T1 well ahead of everyone else, and got out on the bike passing hordes of 40-44 men. This made the first few sections of turning and narrow roads a little challenging, but once I was beyond the section behind the exchange, I was able to open up the throttles and settle into a good pace. My goal for the bike was to split a 2:25, and as dictated by my coach, to not let anyone ride away from me. I got busy doing just that. The first person to pass me was a 23 yr old who seemed to be riding pretty hard, so I decided to get busy conserving and jump into his (legal) draft. Cruising up the bike path we had a pretty significant tailwind, and we were passing a lot of riders on a very narrow stretch of path. This was frustrating at times, because I definitely had to slow down and hit the brakes on more than one occasion in the name of safety.
As anyone who has done the race will tell you, this race does not start until mile 30 of the bike. I split a 59 or so for the first 25 miles, putting me well on pace for my goal. Once you make the turn onto Camp Pendleton, the course is a series of challenging climbs, and false flats, combined with a ripping headwind. At about mile 35 there is a pretty good mile long climb, and that is right where I was caught by the first 30 yr old I had seen all day. The guy I had been riding with and I both jumped on his wheel and were now a pack of 3. We stuck with way for another 10 miles or so. Unfortunately on what turned out to be the last large hill of the day, the two of them were putting out more than I wanted to expend at the time and were able to drop me. On the ensuing descent, I quickly caught my original buddy, but the guy in my age group was gone. This was not disastrous, as there was only about 10 miles left, but I was not happy. Additionally, the other guy had apparently wasted himself early, and was now unable to keep it up. I had to make the decision to go by myself, and it was into a pretty significant headwind. With no one around to benefit from, I went alone the rest of the way back to T2.
A couple of notes on the bike. I was extremely happy with my setup, which I felt was very clean and minimized crap hanging off my bike. My nutrition plan was to go with two bottles of concentrated nutrition, and then once one was empty, grab a water at an aid station. Unfortunately, very early in the race, I hit a bump on a screaming descent going over 40, and my bottle-between-the-bars bounced right out of the cage (Immutable Law of Tri). Down to 1 bottle of nutrition, but not the end of the world. I just drank that in fourths instead of thirds, and then took a GU that I was planning on using for the run. I additionally drank one bottle of water and a few sips of gatorade at one aid station. Nutrition felt great going into T2, and sitting in what I thought was a strong position (2nd) for the run. I split a 2:30:03, again just slower than I would have liked, but understandable due to the strong winds, which made many bike splits a hair slower than previous years.
I went out on the first loop and was really feeling good. I did the first couple of miles close to my 6:25 goal pace, but a few hills and another headwind cause my run to fluctuate between 6:30 and 6:50 for the first loop. I actually picked it up at mile 5 and was really starting to feel good, but at the turnaround and heading back into the wind, I went into the pain cave. Miles 9 and 10 were rough, but I met a guy in a navy kit who will be racing next weekend, and I just did my best to stay with him. I hit the last turnaround, got some nutrition and a tailwind, and stepped up my pace again, finishing strong in a 1:29:30. This was within 5 minutes of my Carlsbad open half time, so I felt like this was about as good as I could hope for.
Having HT at the aid station was very motivating, but he was the first to inform me that I was in 8th. What happened to 2nd??? This is where the tactical part of racing comes in, and why split AG waves are not cool. I had two or three guys pass me on the run, both setting blazing 1:18 and 1:20 splits respectively, who I tried to stay with, but quickly realized that wasn't happening. So what happened? Well, with the split waves, guys finished faster than me but started 6 min back for faster overall times. Very frustrating, but you can't race guys you can't see. It seems there was a good group from the last wave who all rode 2:25ish, and I wish that I could have been involved with a pack like that, but there is certainly no use whining over things over which I have no control. I had a solid race, and felt very strong throughout. There is plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking to be had, wishing I'd swam faster, wishing I'd made the effort to stay with the guy on the last hill (he got 3rd and a roll-down Kona slot btw), and just wishing I could run sub-1:25, but in the end, it was a consistent effort that speaks well for my fitness. No errors in pacing, just a few subtleties that made the difference between 5th and 9th. I have to be happy with that result, and I feel that it foreshadows good things to come at St. George. If I can maintain as consistent an effort there, I have no doubt I will be on that podium accepting my Kona slot. Of course, between now and then, there is the matter of the Armed Forces Championships...
A great day of racing was capped by a delicious meal of food provided by my pal Matt and his lady, Trish. The bonus was a tie between the rooftop view of La Jolla and the fact that I got to share it with my purplepatch friends who put up some amazing results as well. A big shoutout to Jess Smith, was not only took 2nd in w30-34, but who was the 2nd amatuer overall, after leading 67 of 70.3 miles.