Leon’s Fastest … Longest Triathlon
The start of another race season – another chance to test one’s physical and mental limits; to discover a little bit more about whom we are as endurance athletes; to taste the fruits of the hard, seemingly endless grind called off-season training. It’s time to have fun!
My season began with a nice Olympic distance race in Hammond, Indiana called Leon’s Fastest. It was the first of several races I hoped would get me to the bigger stage of triathlon racing at the USAT Age Group National Championship in Burlington, Vermont. To achieve that goal, I needed to finish in the top 10% of my age group in a USAT sponsored race. Leon’s race fit the bill. It was a popular race many years ago then fell on some hard times and vanished from the racing circuit. It was revived last year quite successfully and brought back this year again with not only age groupers but many elite amateurs competing to gain qualifying points to compete in larger competitions and championships. For me specifically, it was close, it was an Olympic distance race with a competitive field and a flat course and I had friends and a spouse (Maxine) also competing – a perfect match!
It was a beautiful day for a race – overcast skies, cool temps, light winds and warm water. It was the kind of day to really fly on the course. It was an 8am start with transition opening up at 6am. Maxine and I were there bright and early. Parking was located right next to the transition area – that’s always a bonus when you want to retreat from the crowds and stay relaxed after transition set-up. Set-up was a breeze as so many previous races and fellow athletes have taught me what works for me. As of late I am gaining greater and greater confidence in bringing less and less gear with me to transition. I am inspired by the pro and elite athletes who come into transition set-up with their bike, helmet and a little swim bag with the rest of their essentials and that’s it! I can remember when I needed a Sherpa to carry half my gear and I would royally honk off bike neighbors in transition with my mountain of unnecessary gear – but at least I didn’t bring a lawn chair or 5 gallon buckets. Bike was set with helmet, glasses, shoes and one bottle with Gatorade on board. Towel was set with shoes and race belt on the ground. With the smaller gear bag tucked away and my wetsuit and goggles in hand, I was ready to swim. It was 6:10 and I had an hour and fifty minutes till the start of the race…good, I worry sometimes that I don’t make enough time to use the port-o-john!
I spent most of my time before the start of the race sitting on a sidewalk and watching the transition area as I stretched out. Even in the throngs of the crowd, I found myself alone – the place I like to be before a race. In this quiet state, I could visualize my race goals. With each stretch of the quads and hamstrings, I could see myself in each of the disciplines of the race including coming in and going out of transition. I knew what I needed to do in order to achieve my goal of finishing in the top 10% of my age group. For me, everything sets up for the run – my strongest discipline. Get through the swim, short transition times, consistent power output on the bike and then hammer it on the run. That was as simple as I could make it so that I could repeat that to myself as I worked through the race.
After a little bit of a jog warm-up, a few well wishes to fellow ET racers, and a pit stop at the port-o-john, it was off to the swim. There were only 6 waves in this race – I was in wave 4. It was a treading water start. The swim course was 1800m and triangular. We were to swim counterclockwise going from buoy to buoy marked from the number twenty to one. It was a very straightforward swim from the blast of the bullhorn at the start to the walk up a boat ramp at the finish. Got an occasional grab of my ankles, but for the most part the swim was uneventful except for a 50 yard walk across a sandbar right before the end. Twenty-four minutes later, I was in the transition area peeling off the wetsuit, getting the helmet and glasses on and taking off for the mount line with my bike while doing my best to simulate a flying mount onto the bike in a slow, chaotic sort of way. I was on the bike course.
The course was for the most part flat. It took me into the local neighborhoods surrounding the Wolf Lake and then onto a local stretch of an 8-lane highway shut down for the triathlon. It was a two loop course. Given the overcast skies, cool temps and mild winds, all the riders were able to fly on this course. The first loop went by in a flash and as I started out on the second, I looked at my computer and realized that 14 miles had passed…the course was supposed to be 24.3 miles and I still had an entire second loop to do. Thinking there was a problem with my computer, I kept going until I reached the finish with 28.3 miles reading on my computer. The dismount line wasn’t clearly defined and I ended up only getting one foot out of a shoe thus having to run with one shoe on into transition. I was a little bummed about the one hour and 14 minute bike time, but I later learned the bike course was in fact by general consensus 3.5 miles long. Transition to run and out onto the course was quick.
Now I was in my element – the run. The course was straightforward – 3.1 miles out and 3.1 miles back. I was wearing new racing flats for the first time in a race and I had only recently broken them in. I was also running without socks. I am sure someone told me – maybe it was my coach – don’t try new things for the first time in a race…I am not sure, I am forgetful sometimes. Fortunately, the few blisters I got on my feet didn’t hold me back too much. The run for me is all about chasing “rabbits.” Instead of thinking about the whole 6.2 miles of the run, I look for fellow racers (rabbits) ahead of me and set a pace to catch and pass them, moving on to the next rabbit ahead. For me, it’s a focal point that keeps my mind from wandering into that nebulous area of race where your brain tries to convince you that it’s okay to walk. Soon enough, I chased down that final rabbit before the finish and after 38 minutes and 45 seconds, I was across the finish line shaking hands with Leon himself. I said thanks for a fun race and even as I was huffing and puffing, I reminded him of the overly long bike course which he apologized for.
My total time was 2:19:35, which was good enough for 35th overall out of 437 racers, 10th among non-elite racers, and 4th in my age group (51 triathletes). I reached my goal of qualifying for the National Championship…I was happy. Ate some bananas, bagels and drank some beer – my three favorite b’s of postrace nutrition…I was happy. Met up with Maxine (who had a tough race with a bike crash and major road rash but still finished well – I guess “Crash” no longer is my nickname alone!) We went and found the kids and headed out to enjoy the rest of what Sunday offered together…I was happy.
Addendum: Got a letter the next day from USAT congratulating me on a successful 2010 racing season. In fact, they gave me an Honorable Mention All American designation, which automatically qualified me for the 2011 National Championship and a twenty-dollar discount to boot! How cool is that?!
Congrats, Jeff, on a great race and qualifying for USAT Nationals! – Coach Joe