This year I did the Houston Olympic Distance Triathlon earlier today. An Olympic Distance Triathlon is a 1500 meter swim (.93 miles), a 40K bike (24.85 miles) and a 10K run (6.2 miles). I went into today's race determined to set a new PR for this distance (3:06:14 last April). I knew going into this race that I should have the ability to make these goals, at least on a good day, but the truth is that I was having a few doubts about my ability to put such a race together--however I wasn't about to let my doubts keep my from trying. Here is my report of the good and the bad from this race.
I went into this race day morning knowing the weather would not be at its best, and that was the way it turned out. A warm and muggy morning later became quite windy during the bike and run parts of the triathlon, and the run was under a hot and sunny late morning sky. All that said, it is one of those days that you can always have in south Texas and was not that far out of normal, even for early Fall. Race check-in went well. I arrived early since this race did not have assigned spots within the transition area, but rather assigned you to a general area for your whole swim wave starting group and you selected your specific spot. I was early enough to select a prime spot that was at the far end of the rack but as near to the bike exit and entry point as possible. After that I set up my area as I desired and left to meet at the OutRival Racing team tent with friends and then walked out to the swim start area.
Swim - Since the sprint races began first I had to wait for all of those swim waves to start and then they began to start with the Olympic swim waves, and mine was in the middle of those. Therefore, although the races began at 7:00 am, I waited almost an hour before my race started. There was a break between the sprint and Olympic swim waves starts, and I used that time to get in a short warmup swim. Unfortunately, I stepped on something under the water and felt sometthing hard under my foot and almost instantly remembered the Clear Lake Olympic Triathlon 2 years ago where I ended up with 2 slices into the sole of my foot before the race began. Fortunately, this did not feel that bad and I even forgot to check my foot after exiting the water. I did discover after the race that i had a large scratch mark and sever spots were slitly cut, but this never bothered me during the race and i never thought about afterwards during the race.The swim was a two loop swim where we exited the water and ran a few yards back near the swim start and swam a second loop. I had never done a race with this style of swim before and looked forward to trying it. Eventually my race started and I went off with my group. It was a fairly tight group for the first 100 meters or so before we started to spread out. I had a lot of jostling off and on for a good amount of the time but thought I was swimming pretty well and stayed generally on a pretty decent line with the course. I exited the first loop just under 18 minutes, when I was expecting in the 15-16 minute range. I told myself I would apply a bit more effort this loop and dove back in the water. I did concentrate on a stronger stroke this time around, although there was also a lot more traffic with other swimmers. I was seeing a lot of colored caps not matching my wave as all sorts of swim waves were now mixed together. In a way it was a mess or swimmers, but it was also a glorious mess in its own way. I exited the water and hit the timing mat at 36:24.2--several minutes more than the time I had hoped to have in the low 30 minute range or faster-- and began the long (quarter mile plus) run back to the transition area.
T1 - It was a good long run to the transition area and I used the time to wonder how I had such a slower than expected swim and griping how my sub-3:00 goal was likely gone but determined to stay on the goal of a new PR. I was surprised to see o many bikes still in the transition are near my bike and only then started to realize that even though my swim time was slower than I expected, i was still out ahead of most of the swim wave. I concentrated on being quick and deliberate in transition and moved fairly quickly about my business leaving in a slightly faster than expected 5:02.6, even if I was slowed by a minor issue with my bike shoes..
Bike - The bike was basically a big square roughly around the blocks that housed the community college hosting the event, with a separate long out and back along one side. The wind was fairly strong and my speed range from the mid to upper teens to the low to mid 20's depending on the wind and the direction I was heading. However, I also noticed as I went on I was getting stronger. I finished my front mounted bottle early in my second loop and was glad I had packed an extra bottle in the main bottle holder on the bike frame as I seemed to be thirstier and needing extra nutrition today, and I wonder if that might have been related to my pushing harder than normal or if it was due to the tougher than expected weather conditions. In any case I was prepared for it and as I pushed my pace a bit a also took in some extra food calories as I biked the last few miles with the wind. Finally, I came around the last turn and headed back to transition feeling strong and trying not to go too hard at the end. I finished the bike in 1:14:41.9, which was 19.3 mph over the distance. I was surprised by this strong ride and looked forward to keeping going.
T2 - I was back in and out of transition in 1:13.3, which really surprised me as fast given how far I had to run with the bike. As I left transition I noticed that if I could just improve slightly on my April 10K 1:03:21 run time (I later worked it out to a 43 second improvement needed) I still had a chance to get under 3 hours.
Run - I could feel the sun and could feel it getting hot as I ran, but I also committed to myself that I was going for broke to hit that goal today. I hit the ground running hard and ran that first mile around 8:35. I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up that pace, but also knew that I didn't have to. I turned in a second mile around 9:15 and decided to try to hold that pace. I also started, at the Mile 2 aid station, walking a bit at the aid station. I walked 20-30 seconds at Mile 2 and then decided to walk a minute at each of the remaining aid stations. Mile 3 came and went, my body wanted a break and I told it to keep going. Miles 3 and 4 were tough as we left a residential area and ran towards the college football stadium. As we got to the stadium, we ran along one side of the field, then we ran up the ramps to the top of the stadium, then we crossed over to the other side through an internal passageway, then we ran back down the stadium ramps, and finally we ran along the other side of the field and back out the stadium. It might not have been easy to run through the stadium, but it was a bit of fun and was certainly different. Running away from the stadium brought us to Mile 5 and during that last walk break I gathered my mental strength to push myself forward to finish strong. I knew the last few miles had slowed me a bit with the walk breaks included but I also knew I was still looking as getting under 3 hours. Then I made that final push and it hurt, and I ran, and I wanted to slow down, and I ran, and I wanted a short break, and I ran, and I ran, and I ran. Finally I turned the corner and saw the finish line ahead of me. I really thought I was going as fast as I could move, though somehow as soon as I hit the start of the finish chute I found a new gear and sprinted out the end. I ran that last mile in just under 9 minutes. and finished the run in 1:00:50.2. I originally thought I had gotten the run under an hour but had unknowingly hit the lap button on my watch during the run and had "lost almost 2 minutes".
In any case, I knew my total time, and my watch quite clearly showed 2:58:12, and I later found out that the official finish time was 2:58:12.3. Yes, I had made my goal of getting under 3 hours!!
I am really proud of what I accomplished today, not because I broke a 3 hour time goal. Goals like that can sometimes depend on events beyond my control. I have more pride in things that may not be so evident as a finish time number. I put out a hard, sustained effort and kept with it and saw the results of it work out. I finished in the top half of my age group for only the second time, and more than that, I finished with each event finishing in the top half of the field (something I had not yet done)--out of the 48 in my age group, my swim ranked 18, Transition 1 ranked 20th, bike ranked 24th, transition 2 ranked 10th, and my run ranked 17th, for 20th in my age group. I also saw that my efforts and my struggles, while personal, can affect others in a positive way, and that sometimes they might even help be an example for those who I would never guess would ever take anything from it, sometimes even other athletes I know who are far more talented than I ever will be and sometimes for those who wish they were able to do some of the things that I have been blessed enough to be able to do.