Bring on week three! Yep, this is the third of six weeks where I will be competing in a race...luckily, the schedule was somewhat front loaded with Florida Ironman 70.3 and then the Columbia Triathlon, so this week brought a welcome change...a two mile open water swim in Lake Audubon in Reston, Virginia. Yes...after the swim, I could stop racing and be done for the day ... what a nice treat! So, let's do it.
The wife and I did this race last year as a lead-up to our 4.4mi open water swim in The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. This year, our training has been somewhat more balanced in the early season, largely due to the triathlons we did to start this year off, so neither of us were in as good of swimming shape as last year. However, this race is close by (about an hour drive for us), it's cheap, and the race course itself is almost perfect. The course is two loops (each one being a mile long) around a lake. So, you do not get any waves, chop, etc. It's quite nice. They also start you off in waves of around twenty folks, so it is not as crazy as most triathlon starts end up being. We really enjoyed this last year, so we opted to do it again this year. There are options for a one mile swim, a two mile swim, or you can do both...we decided to go for the two.
There are both wetsuit and non-wetsuit options and I chose the wetsuit option (the wife, as predicted, did not). We got to the lake, got ourselves ready and placed into our starting locations, and off we went, with the wife going off a few waves before me. My first loop around the lake felt great and I looked at my watch as I was passing where the finish line would be the next time around ... 30:22. This is a good time for a one mile swim and I was stoked that I may be able to get the whole thing done in under an hour. I pushed the second leg a bit more (or so I felt) and really gave it my all towards the end...and finished in 1:02:30 or so. Ugh. I'm not sure why the second mile felt so much faster and was really slower, so that is disappointing. But, that is still a decent time for me, especially considering the lack of swimming training I've put in recently. So, I'm OK with it.
The race went well and I'm very glad we did it. The organization was fine, with only two things I'd like to see them change in the future. First of all, around 200 people show up for the briefing right before the race and that consists of one guy with a megaphone. No one can hear him. No one could hear him last year. And this is important information about the course as it's not super well marked (more about that in a second) and there are some counterintuitive parts. They really need to invest in (or borrow) a better speaker system for this event. Second, and more importantly, the course needs reassurance buoys. Basically, they tell you what it looks like (if you can hear them) and then you swim from buoy to buoy, turning at each one. There are no buoys in the portions of the swim where you just go straight to make you realize you are on the correct course. With this course, some of the turns are quite far from each other, so it is very easy to second guess your sighting. It would be nice to see some buoys between the turn buoys to reassure you that you are on the right course. Almost all open water events I've swam in have these and I'm mystified why this one does not. This can really throw you off if you are not very good at sighting in open water, so keep that in mind if you are looking for an open water swimming event.
Here is an example. Looking at this picture, it is very easy to see where you are supposed to swim and you can look at any time and know very quickly that you are on the right path. None of this type of thing is present at this race.
Other than that, this race is very well run ... and you get lunch when you are done!
So, that's it. Week three of six completed.
Week two for my crazy six-races-in-six-weeks early season racing schedule. This week was the Columbia Triathlon, ( local blog magic -> hocoblogs@@@ ), a race with a very interesting and somewhat involved story. I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, and have spent my entire life here, now living in Elkridge, which is literally a stone's throw from Columbia. The Columbia Triathlon is where I got my start in racing triathlon, competing a few years ago as a relay with the wife and my sister as team Will Play for Gumbo (yes, based on the Jimmy Buffett song), where I did the bike leg. A year later and I do my first sprint triathlon and then race Columbia as my first Olympic. The Columbia Triathlon is recognized as one of the hardest Olympics in the business and greats such as Chris McCormack and Chrissie Wellington have raced in the past few years. This year, Andrew Yoder was in town and destroyed the course. The race is also one of less than a dozen that has been operating for over 28 years and the Race Director and head of the Columbia Triathlon Association is recognized as one of the most influential in the multisport world today. So, it's a storied race. And, come 22 May, it is where I am on race morning.
The wife and I arrived in our truck around 5.45am, which is a little later than we are used to arriving at this race. Based on last week's Florida Ironman 70.3 race, we both had hesitated a bit about racing Columbia but I had recovered quickly and felt fine, so we decided to do it. However, I was fully prepared for a crappy race due to the much longer race I had just completed with a minimal amount of recovery time (plus, amount of training completed between Florida and Columbia = ZERO). However, this morning seemed inviting. First of all, it was sunny and just a bit warm, which is a sharp departure from the raining, cloudy, windy, stormy, mornings that are ALWAYS what set Columbia apart. This is the first morning I can remember in recent history for this race with good weather. I got to my transition area and, amazingly, the three people to my right had chosen not to race and the space was empty so me and the guy four bikes down had a huge amount of space to set up in. Awesome sauce. I got bodymarked by my good friend Gwyn who opted not to race as she did a different 70.3 race last week (and hates the Columbia course :)). I then got all my gear in place, inflated the tires in the bikes, and walked over to the start, just missing the start for the pros and the amateur elites (including the best cycling instructor in the world). A little waiting and then off for the swim, this time with me a full wave before the wife and no where near the end like it was at Florida last week.
The swim started off with heading directly towards the sun. This is the downside of the unusually nice weather we had for this race. The first buoy was directly under the big ball of stellar fusion, so we all headed directly to the sun. My wave of 30-34yo men was very competitive and there was a lot of pulling, grabbing, etc, going on...more than I can remember from any previous race (this reminded me of when, a few years ago, the ITU circuit was in DC and the wife and I raced the amateur version of that race where the swim was in the Potomac River and the swim environment was very cutthroat like this). This cleared up as we approached the first turn buoy but it was still worse than usual. It took me about 800m into the 1500m swim to get my rhythm going, which did not help. Luckily, the water was cool (probably in the low 70s) and felt great...with my wetsuit on. :) I finished with a time of 27:38, which is decent for me but a full minute slower than last year. Got out of the water, had a horribly slow transition time, and headed out on the bike.
Now, I said that Columbia is a hard course. It is hard because of the hills. Howard County, Maryland, is hilly. VERY hilly. The bike course is unrelenting with the hills. Some hills are very gradual but are long as all hell and some are short but extremely steep. Columbia has one hill where you go downhill right to a T-intersection, make a hard left turn so you get very slow, and then start a very steep and very long climb...this one is brutal. So, yeah, it's hilly...if you are a good hill rider, you'll love the Columbia course. If not, you will hate it. So, while much shorter than Florida was last week, this course is much more difficult. I spent more of my time out of aero to better control the bike and the headwind that poped up on the (very small number of) flat portions did not help either. I also have something of a mental issue with this course, as I wrecked on my very first ride on it (at the Columbia Triathlon where I competed as a relay a few years ago) and have been very hesitant on that downhill every since. Nevertheless, I felt pretty good on the bike and found some portions I could really push out. I also did pretty good with the bad downhill, relaxing off my brakes a little more than I usually do. I ended up finishing the bike leg in 1:28, which is almost ten minutes faster than last year. Nice! A decent T2 and I was out on the run.
The run continues with the hilly theme that the bike set up. The initial three miles are all around Centennial Park and are mostly flat with a few hills...including one right when you start. Here, you run about 0.25mi and then make an almost U-turn to run up a steep and long hill. My friend Gwyn was waiting at the bottom and running up with people as they started the hill...this was an awesome break from the nothingness in my head and a wonderful service she provided. It is fortunate that her day to do hill repeats coincided with the race. :) When you turn out of the park around mile three, things get hilly. And by hilly, I mean crazy hilly. The run through the neighborhoods is crazy hilly and challenging and, at this point, things were getting very hot. I was able to push through it and get myself back into the park with a good time...energy levels were falling rapidly but I was still moving at a good clip. I ran up Gatorade Hill, which is the last, and hardest, climb on the run course, and back around the lake. A short mile later and I was done...with a 56:16 on the 10K run, which is a good time for the run leg of a triathlon for me. Hot, tired, and exhausted, the race was over.
Overall, I finished in 2:59:17, beating the 3hr mark by a whopping 43 seconds. This is pretty impressive for me, as my previous best time on this course was 3:06:26, from last year. Columbia is a very hilly course and that is not the type of course I typically excel at, as I am able to do much better on a flat bike course, and my running is about even between flat and hilly courses. Between that and the previous week's 70.3, I'm extremely proud of and happy with that time. Setting a PR on a difficult course, after a small amount of rest from a major race, is an awesome feeling.
So, there you have it. Columbia is my hometown race and I have a lot of memories and feelings for it. I was interviewed by the local Patch newspaper about this race and here is what I had to say.
"Columbia is always a race that I have a hard decision about racing. It is the first Olympic-distance tri I ever did, but as I've grown and gained experience racing in triathlon, I've learned that it is not a course that fits my racing strengths well, with its extremely hilly composition. Nevertheless, I keep coming back to race due to the awesome experience, the hometown feel and national recognition that this race has, and the sheer inspiration I get from it. [Sunday] was no exception, and despite the mismatch between my triathlon strengths and the course, and my back-to-back weekends of racing (last weekend, my wife and I competed in Ironman Florida 70.3), I still finished strongly, and with a course personal record for Columbia. Columbia has given me a lot and, despite my lack of strengths in racing such hilly courses, I was very happy to be out there again, racing the course, and giving back to the Columbia Triathlon."
I think that about sums up my feelings. You can check out others' perspectives on this year's Columbia over at the Patch article (including, in addition to myself, the wife, the best cycling instructor in the world, and our good friend Tamir).
The season has started off with a bang. First, I had my first running race, the National Half Marathon, where I ran a kick-ass PR. Now, it is on to six races in six weeks, and the first is the longest and hardest. Yep, the wife and I traveled down to Orlando, Florida, for the Florida Ironman 70.3, half-Iron distance triathlon. This was only the second 70.3 triathlon we have done and our first Ironman-branded event. The event was held on Disney property, with the bulk of it at the Fort Wilderness location. This was a crazy hard race, and a great experience, so here we go!
For details on the non-race aspects of this trip, check out my Travel Log, where it is all documented.
We drove over to the Magic Kingdom and parked where they told us to, in the Grumpy/Dopey lots (gotta love the naming convention). We got on the shuttle buses and had a five-to-ten minute drive to the race location at Fort Wilderness. This was really a very short distance on the road and then just up the main drive of the property. We headed to registration around 11am and left our bikes in the truck, as bike check-in would not open until 1pm. We checked in and found the Ironman process very well organized and easy. The race shirts are decent (not the best, nor the worst, I've gotten) and the swag bag was about average as well. The Ironman Village, basically an expo so you can buy things, was decent but not huge...Ironman was the only vendor and you can get anything with a M-Dot on it, be that M-Dot red (140.6) or black (70.3). We bought a couple shirts. We then checked out the area, found the swim start, and then took the bus back to the parking lot to get our bikes. We rode them on the same path and got to check-in right away. The setup here was where you had an assigned rack but could take any available stall on that rack. Mine was ALL the way in the back which got me to the run-out very quickly but required a lot of running with my bike, as the bike-out was all the way on the other side. This open-racking plan was not ideal as the racks were crazy-crowded and people that got there later moved bikes to give themselves better spots (the wife grabbed an ideal end slot and then showed up to see her bike moved over and two others on the end)...I'm sorry but if you do that, you're a jackass. Anyway, we hung around for the briefing, which was helpful, and then walked back to the truck. We relaxed a bit, got ourselves a good Italian dinner (again, check out the Travel Log), and headed off to bed.
Up at 4am, drove to the same parking lot, and got off the bus...to pouring down rain and lots of lightening. Seriously? It is not supposed to rain in the mornings in Florida. And it did. Pouring and nasty. This reminded us of the Disney Marathon in 2010, where we ran in the coldest recorded temperature ever on that day. Crap. We set up our transition areas and huddled with the masses until the storm broke. They delayed the race about 20min and when they did start, the sky was beautiful and the weather was perfect. So that was good. They introduced the pros (Andy Potts!) and sent them off. Cin started before me and then I went a few waves later, in the absolute last wave. Ugh.
My swim went decent, considering. The water temps were in the mid 80s, so wetsuits were not allowed. I am dependent on my wetsuit, as my natural swimming form is less than ideal. Without it, I'm considerably slower. So the race starts and I eventually find my groove. I passed a number of people from earlier waves and did a really good job with sighting this time, something I usually struggle with. I ended up with a 43min swim time, which is actually pretty good for me. Without a wetsuit, this was great. :) I ran the long (~0.25mi) distance to T1 and got my bike stuff on quickly. I had left my stuff in my transition bag, so it was all dry, and this was a great choice. I grabbed my bike and off I went.
This is an awesome bike course. It is almost all flat and the "hilly" sections are nothing compared to Howard County. I spent a good 90% of the race in my aerobars and that was a good decision as there was a significant headwind for a good portion of the race. I only carried my two waterbottles and did one bottle swap about 40mi in to the course, which resulting in me drinking less that I should have, which is something I need to fix for next time. I used a couple of GU energy gels and they went down fine. I ended up with a 3:04 on the bike, averaging 18.2mph, which is really good for me, especially considering the headwind. I pulled into transition, racked my bike (into a different space as someone had grabbed the one I was on before...geez), and headed out on the run.
This run was burtal. Simply brutal. The 13.1mi course was a three-loop deal and each loop had a mix of paved road with no shade, packed grass next to water with no shade, and paved road with some shade. My first loop went well. I walked through all four aid stations and consumed a lot of water and Ironman Perform (the IM-branded energy drink...tastes just like Gatorade). The aid stations on the run were awesome...best I've ever seen, fully stocked with all sorts of drink, snacks, gels, etc...awesome show by some awesome volunteers. On the second loop, I also did OK but ended up walking more after the aid stations. By the third loop, the heat set in and I ended up walking over half the loop. The just-about-90deg temperature, lack of shade, and packed grass path, added up to horrid conditions that took all of the energy (and water) out of me. When I got to the last aid station on that third loop, I somehow managed to run some more and made it in, running, slowly but still running, to the finish line. 2:30...not a good time for me, but with that heat, I'll take it! 13.1mi in brutal heat...complete. 70.3mi on a crazy day...complete.
I waited for the wife to finish and she came in looked about how I did, exhausted after a brutal run. Her swim was really good, her bike good as well, and her run just as brutal as mine. After done, we ate a good amount of the pizza they provided, drank a lot of water, and calmed our bodies down, before picking up our bikes and riding them back to the parking lot. We packed them up and headed out, sooooo happy to be done with this race.
Florida Ironman 70.3. This race was very hard. The rain at the beginning was annoying but not a minus to our race performance. The swim went fine, for a non-wetsuit one, and was very well marked and easy to follow. The bike went very well, and is a fast/flat course. The run was brutal, especially the section on the packed grass. All-in-all, the heat was killer, something that is apparently common at this race based on what I heard from the other competitors. The race was very well produced and this made our first experience with the Ironman brand very positive. I would recommend this race to anyone looking for a 70.3, especially those that are good on flat bike courses, as long as you can race well in the heat...you cannot escape it and it is a major factor here. Ironman...well done.
So, I'm not really sure how this happened. I knew that my triathlon season this year was front-loaded. I was prepared for that. But, when I went over my upcoming schedule today, I realized that in the next six weekends, I have a race scheduled for each and every one of them. Yep, six weeks, six races.
Now, in the off-season, I created two primary goals for myself and my training plan. First, I was going to ride the bike a lot more than I usually do, as my bike performance was the weak leg in my triathlon races last year. Second, I was going to improve my running with speedwork and modifications to my training plan to allow me to run a half-marathon in under 1:45. Goal #1 was accomplished with long hours on the trainer. Goal #2 was accomplished when I ran a 1:42 at the National Half-Marathon in March. I decided that National was going to be my A race this year and, because of that, I did not plan my season out in too much detail; I knew which races I liked from last year, the wife and I decided to do Florida Ironman 70.3 (that's the first of the six and is in only four days!), and I missed The North Face Endurance Challenge last year and wanted to do that one this time around. So, without realized it, I ended up signed up for six races in a row, with the first one being a 70.3. Whew.
Here's what I'm doing.
So, that's it. Six races in six weeks. At least it is a mix of different events and my real A race for the year is already done. Once I make it through these six weeks, I intend to take a week or so off. Then...on to planning the rest of the season. And let's not forgot about needing to ramp up at the end of the summer for a particularly Goofy race. :)
Until then, dear friends, I have four days until the Florida Ironman 70.3. I was good on the swim, until I realized it may very well not be wetsuit-legal and I love my wetsuit. The bike will be the true test, as the longest we've hit so far this year has been 40 miles. The run...I'm not worried about. So, we'll see how it goes. I want to finish and finish feeling good, and if I do that, I'll be very happy. Four days and counting...here we go!
As I previously wrote about, the wife and I had decided to do one of two major races at the end of the season. If we got in, we would do the New York City Marathon. If we did not, we would do the Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, where we would run a half-marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. Both events had their own appeal and I really did not feel strongly one way or the other about which one I would rather do. Well, the results are in and it looks like the wife and I will be competing in...
Yep, we did not get into the NYC Marathon, so we're doing the Goofy. Our first (and only up to this point), marathon was Disney in 2010 and now we are heading back in early 2012 to do it again, but this time we will have done the Half the day before. This is going to be interesting.
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