I woke up Saturday morning at 4am and for once, I was actually one of the early arrivals at the race. I had everything well planned out by the time the race started, except I had forgotten my running visor and race belt. F&*k! It's always something. In the coastal cities where incomes are higher and there is greater external and societal pressure for beauty, triathletes are more numerous and consequently better (that's as far as I'll go with my sociological analysis in this forum). Not so in the Inland Empire, which is why I was pleasantly surprised by the crop of triathletes that showed up. There were at least 20 youngish fit guys like myself, so I figured the race would be competitive.
I strapped on my wetsuit and went down to the lake -- the lake at which I do my open-water swimming so I am very familiar with the terrain. Fortunately, the water was actually quite pleasant as I did a brief warm-up to get the muscles and arms moving. My arms were a bit sore from a longer swim set I had done on Thursday so I made sure to stretch them out. I lined up in the second row and went nuts when the gun blasted. I tried drafting some but after the first 200 meters the crowd thinned out quite completely and I thought I was up towards the front. But as I neared the first turn buoy I caught a glimpse of a small crowd ahead of me, so I realized I was losing "water" on the lead pack. The course was two loops, and I exited at 25 minutes +, after having to swim through the slow sprint triathletes on the second lap. This put me in the fastest 30 percent, not exactly brilliant. I guess I was hoping for a 24 minute swim, but essentially this time put me out of contention for the victory, as a few swimmers exited at 18-19 minutes a 6-7 minute advantage.
The transition was up a long beach, then across some grass to a parking lot. My total transition was just over 3 minutes (3rd overall) as I booked it hard up the hill. My heart rate was about to explode but fortunately one of my previous coaches had me do workouts where I'd run right after swimming, so I recalled that muscle memory.
For the first time I had my bike shoes already attached to my pedals so I jumped on my bike and took off. It took me a little while to get my shoes strapped in correctly, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Running in bike shoes not only looks moronic but it's inefficient. By the time I actually got moving I looked down and my watch said 30 minutes. Right away, I knew I would not get within 4-5 minutes of 2 hours, which had been my goal. No bother I took off and attacked the initial climb out of the park. Going up the hill out of Lake Perris I passed several sprint triathletes and perhaps a few other olympic participants who were faster in the water. Reaching the top of the hill I pushed hard over the crest to gather speed for the descent. As I picked up pace I got a few quick drinks in then got back into aero position to take full advantage of the speed. I looked down at my speedometer and I was nearing 40 miles an hour. Normally that scares the shit out of me but my adrenaline and race mentality were in high alert and I was surprised by any lack of fear.
Upon exiting the park there is a long straightaway with a slight downward grade, as such I was able to keep the pace above 27 mph the whole way. Then, turning right onto Ramona Expressway a slight wind hits you but I was still able to keep the pace around 26-27 mph, just where I wanted it. During this time I passed several people who in comparison seemed as though they were barely moving. Turning right onto Perris Blvd the grade shifts to slightly uphill. Nevertheless I don't think the pace once dropped below 24mph during this section with the exception of the few moments around the turns. I just eyed my heart-rate and cadence (pedal rotations per minute) monitor, which I had just added as a new tool. My strategy was to keep the cadence above 90 and below 100, and make sure heart rate does not get higher than 160 beats per minute as that would indicate I had exceeded my lactate threshold. When the cadence approaches 98 or higher I downshifted into a harder gear; likewise when the cadence went below 92 I would shift into an easier gear. This approach worked quite well as my power remained fairly consistent throughout the bike split (around 280 watts). The other benefit of more data is that you stay distracted from the lung, leg, and back pain that emerges throughout the course of a race. I have to say, this new tool is a nice addition, and I'm starting to feel really great about my biking.
T-2 was fast as I had already taken my shoes off whilst on the bike. Indeed, the transition was my fastest to date. I had seen a guy just ahead of me on the bike who I had been trying to catch. He exited transition just before me and I figured I'd catch him within the first half mile, as I'm almost always a better runner than people who come off the bike with me. This was not the case as he pulled away over the course of the first mile. What a stud I thought. To make matters worse, my right calf was tight, my feet were numb, and I couldn't get a heart-rate read on my watch. Somehow the water or something had messed up the reading for the watch (but not the bike computer). Weird, I thought, I better run the old fashioned way -- balls fucking out! This is the strategy anyhow with an olympic triathlon.
So here I am with the best bike and run splits but ended up in 4th. Looks like I need to figure out a way to improve my swim if I really want to obtain my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships. To be sure, the olympic distance is most favorable to strong swimmers, but still, my swim disadvantage has never been so clearly articulated to me. But it's one step at a time, as I've worked hard on my bike over the past year (mainly increased intensity in long rides and shorter interval sessions on my relatively new bike trainer); once that's where I want it, I'll dedicate more time and effort to improving my swim.