I'm a little late on this delivery. Things have been getting busier as I get ready for the fall quarter and have only had a few minutes here and there to put my thoughts down on my first very competitive triathlon. In May I raced the St. George Half Ironman in Utah. I finished seventh in my age group in a time of 4:30, and received a roll-down slot to participate in the world championship in September. A bit on how this world championship came about. The Ironman brand (fondly known as M-Dot), is owned by World Triathlon Corporation. They are the company that owns Ironman Hawaii (Kona) -- the first ironman and the one everyone asks you if you've done not knowing that qualifying for that race requires you to be in the top 1 percent (unless you're 75 then it's just last man standing) -- and have a lock on the long-distance triathlon market. To qualify for Ironman Hawaii, competitors have to race in one of 50 or so ironmans around the world placing in the top few people in their age group. It's highly competitive in the men's 25-49 age ranges, but then dwindles somewhat after that. Kona has become so popular -- indeed an obsession -- that the brand has prospered and expanded it's course offerings around the -- but primarily rich -- world. The same logic has since been applied to the half ironman distance to great success; so I found myself heading to Canada in early September as I was unsure whether I would have such an opportunity again in my 30s to race at such a high-caliber event. It is sort of like doing Boston for the first time, except harder to get into.
In late August, I made my way from Seattle (where I had been staying during the summer) to Washington, D.C., for a political science conference. From there, I headed up to Rochester, NY, to stay with my buddy John Brach. I stayed in Rochester for a few days during my taper, then Brach and I drove up to Mont Tremblant, Canada, by way of Ottawa. I was quite impressed with Ottawa, as it is a capital city and situated at the confluence of two rivers. Brach and I stayed in a hostel that was the former jail of Ottawa.
Since Ironman Coeur d'Alene my training had been less structured than during the first part of the year. Part of this was due to the fact I was staying in Seattle and traveling much of the time so I did not have my usual bike trainer and gym, etc. Because my IMCDA bike split was not where I wanted it to be, I focused most strongly on that leading up to Worlds. In addition, my running legs really only had two weeks of semi-serious training before I had to begin my world's taper, so I knew I might not have a fantastic run. Thus, to make up lost-time in my traditionally strongest discipline, I had to make up time on the bike.
I arrived in Tremblant on Friday and immediately was struck by the seriousness of the event. In fact, it seemed almost Olympics-esque. Tons of triathlon people running around and riding their bikes all looking very serious in their triathlon outfits; almost comical really. Brach and I grabbed a campsite fairly close to Tremblant, then went up to the village to check-in for the race. My buddy Dylan met up with us there, as he had just arrived from Vermont. That night we bullshitted around the campfire and hit the sack early as the next day would be full of logistics. Saturday came and I got in my requisite workouts, and handled all the bike and bag drop-off stuff. I fired off a fast 30 minute bike workout and could tell my bike was strong. However, my short transition run was a bit slow and painful -- not a good sign. Finally, I swam a short part of the course. Coming out of the water I talked to a woman entering about water temps, etc. Then I watched her dive in and start swimming -- she had a great stroke and swam with ease. Turned out she was the winner the following day, Daniella Ryf. But such is the world of triathlon -- you see the top professionals in the world training and running around just like everyone else.
Race morning arrived and I awoke at 4:45 as the race started a little after 8am, an unusually late but welcome start. The pro men and women waves composed the first and second waves, followed by blocs of age-groupers. I got to see the men and women start -- it was quite a site as fighter jets flew over and a loud cannon roared. My age group was then first to go and I actually started right up near the front and in the middle as I was into the corral before many others. I thought perhaps this was the worst place to be for me, as I am by no means a fast swimmer for my age group. But I figured all the tussling might help my speed. Fuck it. The gun banged and once again all hell broke loose, bodies flying everywhere, over the top, etc., for the first 400 meters. Then things settled down, but hanging a right onto the first turn buoy I could tell I was towards the latter half of the group. Nonetheless I got some good drafting in and came out of the water at 32 minutes, which was my fastest time to date. However, this put me in 150th place in my age group -- definitely in the bottom third (but I expected this)...And a dose of humble pie!
The transition run to the tent was about 300-400 meters as we had to run down a sidewalk, cross a street, then up another long driveway into the tent. In the tent you have to find your transition bag with your helmet and glasses , put those on and put your wetsuit in the bag. From there we ran to our bikes and headed out onto the course. The ordeal took a little over four minutes, which was actually, from what I could tell, one of the faster transitions. I was definitely moving the whole time and passing lots of people throughout T-1 to make up for "lost" time.
The bike race is usually the best part of any triathlon shorter than an ironman. This is because you really can race. I took in some drink, cracked a gel, and then began the charge onto the course. My heart rate was jacked up into the 160s and it stayed there for the first few miles down Monte Ryan -- the five miles or so before hitting the main section of the course. Of the years of racing half ironmans, I've steadily become more aggressive on the bike portion -- and today was no exception. Exiting Monte Ryan, the race truly began on highway 117 North. Hitting speeds of 26-28 mph on the flat, the ride was awesome. I kept my heart beat into the high 150s most of the way and was beginning to pass people. As I was coming down from a hill and going up another I made the mistake of shifting both gears at the same time and suddenly my chain fell off. I pulled over and it took me about a minute to fix the problem. During that time a huge pack of about forty riders passed me. Fucking A! No bother, I got moving again and hit the turnaround.
While my heartbeat was still pretty jacked, I felt I could hold the pace and kept gassing it on the way back into town. I began to pick the guys off who had passed me during my dropped chain episode, but during this time some of the younger more studlier guys started passing me. Nevertheless I was making ground clocking speeds into the mid 20s the whole time except during a five minute sustained climb in the middle of the highway. Exiting the freeway we made our way through the little down with lots of fans to the turn-around there and then bam, the wind hit me like a brick. This slowed the pace dramatically but I maintained about the same intensity level. Luckily, the wind only lasted a few miles as we turned back onto Monte Ryan the wind was mostly a non-issue as we made our way back to the resort. About this time a few guys (probably from the 35-39 year old age group) passed me, but I continued to chop along. My legs started feeling fatigued as, honestly, I hadn't gunned it this hard this long ever. But 56 miles ain't shit, so I knew I could handle it. The final tough stretch was a ladder up and around the side of a mountain and during this time the race got very congested. I tried to keep the effort strong but I knew my legs did not have a whole lot left. However, I kept my attitude as positive as possible because all I really cared about was having a solid bike split.
Finally, we hit the hill turnaround and the last four miles or so was mostly all downhill and fast as hell. It was very congested and somewhat dangerous as bikes were zooming both directions. I rolled into transition in 2:21 (about 23.7 mph), my best bike split by five minutes. I was very pleased with myself but as soon as I started running the pleasure was wiped clean. The theme of the run was, damn, a lot of people are passing me! This is unusual for me as I am almost always one of the fastest runners. But I maintained my pace on the two loop course and was on par for a 1:28:00 or so after the first lap. That would be acceptable given how little I had run during the summer, but my pace slowed the second lap. I started to feel some hamstring tightening and a few spasms, which, as any runner knows, is never a good sign. So I started to pop salt pills every few aide stations to stave off the inevitable cramping. My muscular endurance just was not there, as I simply had not -- or really been able to -- put in the solid run training the previous two months. It was interesting to hear some runners going by me who were clearly struggling in their breath much more than me. I kept fighting to the end, but I knew it was simply not my best effort. The best part of the run, however, was getting passed by all the pros. I saw Sebastiaan Kienle, Ben Hoffman, Jan Frodeno, Tim Don, and Jesse Thomas, not that any of you know who they are! In the end, I managed a 1:31:00 or so, so not a total bomb, but definitely not up to my capability -- which is probably in the low 1:20s range (in theory!).
The highlight though -- and easily the best thing I've seen at a triathlon: I was running down a hill within three miles of the finish, people going both ways, etc. I look up and there's a man squatted (still standing quite high) over some grass on the side of the road with his pants pulled down. It was obvious he was trying to squeeze one out. Wow, the dude couldn't even wait for an aide station. So that kept my spirits up for the final last haul, up through the village and into the final chute. I ended with an almost identical time as St. George, 4:30. While it was not my best race, given my strong bike performance and knowledge that I was not peaked, I concluded that I had a solid performance, and finished 360th or so among 2600 or so. A good outing as I build up towards Silverman in early October.
Many thanks to my buddies Brach and Dylan for providing the much needed fan support throughout the day and weekend. As crazy as it sounds, supporting someone at these events is actually quite exhausting, and they did it without complaint. In fact, I'm pretty sure they enjoyed themselves. I'm sure one day I'll come back to Tremblant or upstate NY where at least Brach will have the privilege of supporting me through a full ironman. Now that would be exhausting!
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.