It might seem funny that I, an Ironman, a triathlon veteran now, would feel fear going into a sprint triathlon. It had been such a long time since I had raced. The thing that was really getting me though was that this would be my second wet suit/swim belt free race. It's a feeling I just might never get over.
but I do it anyways...
Friday night, I cleaned out my transition bag. I took out all the junk from Ironman Florida. There was an extra tire, 5 air canisters, two tubes of Body Glide, sunscreen, and my waist pouch. Just to be sure, I opened the waist pouch. Inside, I found two snacks of Fig Newtons still in their air proof baggies. I opted not to see if they were still fresh.
I thought about the race the next day and began to lay out what I needed. For the swim, a swim cap and goggles. For the bike, my tri suit, a helmet, and shoes. For the run, my hat and my Zoots. I couldn't believe how little there was. I felt like I was missing something. You don't need much for a sprint! To make sure, I checked what I had against a list in the back of one of my books. Yup! I had everything. My transition bag was noticeably lighter after I packed. To make me happy, I threw two towels and a change of clothes in there as well.
Sleep did not come easy Friday night. The boyz are night owls now that school is over, and they were Xboxing down the hall way. I had to ask Dee Dee to yell at them. I think I finally nodded off for good around 1 AM. The alarm went off at 4:30 AM. I hopped right out of bed and headed downstairs. I thought I would forgo the donuts this year for breakfast, and I tried oatmeal instead. Now, I like my oatmeal and all. When I make it at work, I eyeball the amount of water I put in it. Evidently, it comes out a little runny, and I like it that way. This morning, I measured it exactly. It was hot, and thick, and unappetizing, but I ate it anyways. I made myself some coffee to go, hit the bathroom, loaded the car and was out the door by 5 AM. I figured it would take 1.5 hours to get to High Falls State Park, south of Atlanta.
The drive down was peaceful. I come this way often for soccer tournaments. I arrived at the park at 6:20 AM. I drove past the main entrance to the park, over the falls, and made a left into the second parking area. The Ranger taking money for parking noticed the year pass I had purchased and let me through. Saved myself three bucks! I went right to my parking spot, unloaded the car, and made the trek back to the main area and transition. I propped Aerowyn up against a rail fence and made my way to body marking. A beautiful young lady, who would later sing the national anthem, wrote my numbers on my thighs, arms, and calf. She asked me:
Have you done a lot of these races?
I have done quite a few, I replied, but this is the first one in this series.
You seem very, very relaxed!, she said.
This made me smile. I WAS very relaxed.
I found my spot on the rack, which was unfortunately in the middle of the line. I did score an end position though. It took me all of five minutes to set up. I decided at the last minute to clip my bike shoes in the pedals. No flying start for me, but maybe a modified flying start :-) My transition area looked sparse with just a helmet, goggles, and swim cap lying there.
Then, I waited. I visited the port a potty two more times. You know Wes means business when he craps three times before a race! I went to look over the swim course. They changed it from a triangle to a square this year. It didn't look too bad.
At 7:15 AM, I went for a short run on the course. I did some pick ups to get the legs firing. I also wanted to test them a bit to see where they were from last weekend. The legs felt good. Not 100%, but real good. I walked back to my transition area and changed my Zoots for my swim cap and goggles. I went down to the water and stuck a toe in. Eight-one degrees felt good. I went for a quick swim out to the first 100 meter buoy. I did some 25 stroke max efforts to get the lungs stressed. I also wanted to get comfortable with the unknown depth of the water. I spent some time just floating, at peace with what was about to go down.
I made my way to the swim exit and climbed from the water. While I was walking to the back of the staging area, an old man came walking through the transition. When I say old, I mean really old. I looked at the back of his calf when he went by. There was an 88 written there. I decided at that point:
I am not afraid...
The national anthem was sung, the prayer given. The first wave of young bucks sprinkled with a few middle agers went off on schedule. It was time for my wave. I opted to seed myself to the right at the front of the pack. When the announcer said thirty seconds, another triathlete in a Blue Seventy speed suit joined me in the deep water. It seemed like that was the longest thirty seconds ever. The next thing I heard was "three seconds. go!", and we were off...
Over night, I had decided to change my swim strategy a bit and borrow some ideas from Ryan. I surged to the 100 meter buoy to give myself some open water. My friend in the speed suit was on my right shoulder. I know cause we bumped a few times. When I lifted my head to sight, I could see 8 to 9 yellow caps in front of me. WTH? I thought. These old guys are either fast or they are going to burn out soon. It's important to not get caught up with what everybody else was doing. I worked to find my rhythm. I began to breath hard. I did not want to get to the point where I felt like I couldn't breath, and thus, panic.
Three quarters of the way to the first swim buoy, I was comfortably uncomfortable. My nose tried to gunk up my oxygen intake a few times, but I fought it off. I passed a few yellow caps here, including my friend in the speed suit. As I neared the first turn buoy, I began to swim through the laggards from the previous wave. I cut the first buoy right on the mark and swam the seventy-five meters along the top of the box to the next turn buoy. I cut this buoy close too then swung out wide to find some open water. There were blue caps everywhere. I had to dodge a few doing breast stroke and cut between two that were swimming side by side. When I started the return route, I swam over the legs of one guy trying to get to the outside. I'm glad he didn't kick me. The water was churning with all the swimmers.
On the way back in, I found myself really getting out of breath. I opted to slow down a little bit. I kept drifting off to the right and really didn't want to add any extra yardage to the swim. I managed to pick up the pace and swam to the swim exit. My finger tips didn't quite touch bottom when I opted to stand. I was surprised to find myself in knee deep water. I ran out the swim exit, crossed over the timing mat, and pressed the button on my watch. 11:36 it read. I was not happy with that number. I had expected to come in under ten minutes. Later, I would learn that nobody in my age group came in under ten minutes, and I had the fifth best swim time. I opted not to dwell on this number and headed into transition.
Originally, I planned to hustle through transition. I was so out of breath, I decided to walk fast. I threw on my helmet and race belt, grabbed Aerowyn and ran to the exit. I crossed the timing mat in 1:05, my fastest transition ever. I hopped on Aerowyn and began pedaling out of the park. I had until the park entrance to get my shoes on before I hit the first hill. I got the right foot in OK, but I had a little trouble getting the left foot situated. I tackled the first hill without the straps being set. Once I reached the crest, I got the tongues situated and strapped those babies down.
My heart rate was still pretty high. I kept my cadence high and my gear in a medium range. The bike route was pretty simple. It had five turns and consisted of mostly gentle rolling hills. After five to ten minutes, my HR settled down and I turned up the pace, switching to the big ring on Aerowyn. I remember at the three mile marker noting the burn in my thighs and thinking I still had 10 more miles to go. This race was a huge learning experience for me, and I needed to take risks. During Ironman training, when ever I felt that burn, I backed off. I usually had 4-5 hours left to ride. This day, I embraced it. The goal was to see how much of this burn I could take, and for how long.
One of the most important things on this bike ride I noticed was that I was not getting passed like crazy. There were a few that passed me early on, but I held most off them off for a while. I got passed by three or four chicas late in the ride, and I even passed quite a few riders myself. This was a welcome change, and I fed off that.
The second half of the course had a lot of nice down hill, and I took advantage of that. I put Aerowyn in her biggest gear and just motored down the slopes. The volunteers warned us to slow down as we reached the left hand turn back into the park. You did not want to run through that turn and go over the cliff and into the falls. The geese down there would not have been happy. I made the turn safely and took my feet out, pedaling on top of my shoes the rest of the way to transition. I hopped off my bike, crossed the timing mat in 40:50, ran Aerowyn to my transition area, got her all racked up, then proceeded to change for my run. Helmet off. Race belt turned around. I had a little trouble getting my Zoots on, but mostly because I was tired and out of breath. T2 went so fast, I almost regretted not having more time rest! I crossed the the timing mat in 0:54, another PR :-)
Exiting the transition area, I grabbed a cup of water and walked to drink it. I had decided not to carry water on the bike because it was so short. I don't think I'll make this decision next time. I took off running fast. My HR was very high, and my lungs were burning. Around the four minute mark, I stopped to walk. This course was rolling as well. There really wasn't anything long and steep. Just rollers with a few short steep hills to get the HR up. I caught my breath and took off running again, still not quite comfortable. At the six minute mark, I felt my legs and lungs come back, and I settled into a rhythm. Finally, I thought. I can race this run.
I crossed the first mile marker in 8:36, and I was so happy. I thought I had ruined my run time with the walk break. I ran to the second aide station and grabbed a glass of water. It was up hill to the turn around and then back down hill to the aide station again. I crossed the second mile marker in 8:34. Again, I was happy. I thought I could negative split the run.
The last mile proved tough. There was one short steep hill that just sapped my strength. I walked up a good bit of it before taking off running again. One more short break before the third mile marker, and I poured it on for the finish. The crowd in the finisher's area was enthusiastic, and I really enjoyed the support they gave. I picked up speed, sprinting to the finish, and crossed the line in 1:27:01, with a third mile of 8:38 and 0.1 miles at 0:52 respectively (5K=26:40).
My stomach was a little upset at the end of the race. I wondered if I had given enough, whether or not I had more. I walked around for a few minutes drinking water, then headed over to the food and ate a banana, half a bagel, and some cookies. I hung around for a few minutes to cheer in some triathletes, before heading back to transition to gather my things. I changed my clothes, grabbed Aerowyn and began the short walk back to the car. As I neared the entrance to the park, I noticed the ambulance and fire truck in the middle of the road. The paramedics were attending to a triathlete that was on the ground. My first thoughts were this guy had gotten hit by a car. I asked the volunteer what had happened. He didn't see it, but evidently, the guy was coming down the hill to the park, lost control of his handle bars (he was on a hybrid), and flipped over the handle bars. I visibly winced and hoped he was alright.
As I made my way back to the interstate to head home, I saw up ahead the flashing lights of the motor cycle behind the last rider in the race. My eyes teared up as the 88 year old man came riding by on his bike. I thanked God for giving me the strength and health to enjoy this beautiful day.