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Tempe International Race Report

To say that the Tempe International was bittersweet would be a colossal understatement.  The potential for the greatest race to date, at a legitimately competitive event, was within my grasp.  I just needed an ounce of additional focus, energy, power, whatever, and it would have been mine…

For a little background, this race is the local Arizona “Club Championship” event.  While I do not belong to a local triathlon club, many of my friends do.  This race is one of, if not the, most competitive, local Arizona races, drawing the fastest of the fast.  For me, I wanted one last test before Boise 70.3 in June and I knew this would give me a great chance to gauge my fitness against some legit peers.

Pre-Race

The day started normally.  I awoke early, ate, and relaxed before leaving for transition.  Unfortunately, at the last minute before leaving my house, I decided to get a water bottle to sip while getting ready.  In doing so, I left my helmet at home and did not realize my error until getting out of my car at the race site.  So, I flew home, grabbed my helmet, and flew back, absolutely risking a speeding ticket.  I knew that I was only going to have about 10 minutes to prep everything before transition closed.

As I estimated, I arrived at transition with about 12 minutes before it closed.  As quickly as I could, I prepped my bike and set-up my station, finishing barely before transition closed.  I then wandered over to a port-a-john line and overheard someone say that the race start had been delayed.  Sigh… all my rushing was for naught.  To make matters worse, I get physically ready on a set schedule based on my wave start.  The delay would now render all that useless and wasted energy.  My pre-race fueling would also be wasted, while likely having an adverse effect on my racing nutrition.  Not exactly the “test” I was seeking.

After what seemed like an interminable delay (about 35 minutes), the first wave of pros started swimming.  That left me with 31 minutes until my day would begin.  I headed to the water’s edge, watched people start (and finish, in some cases) the swim, and waited for my wave’s starting call.

Swim

Having not done an olympic or international distance event in nearly two years, I truly had no clue what I could do.  I decided, since this race was not critical to me, that I would test myself a little and push harder than normal.  If that ruined my day, so be it.  I was willing to take that risk.

As usual, I “shoved” my way to the front line of my wave.  One thing that is great about a water start, since everyone is half-floating and half-treading, no one can tell when you are pushing them out of your way to get to the front.  I don’t particularly enjoy swimming over people, simply because it slows me.  I don’t care about the contact.  I don’t feel bad about dunking someone.  But, I don’t get mad when someone does it to me.  The reality is that the front line of a water start is always a physical, aggressive place.  If you are not prepared to handle it, don’t start there.

Once the gun sounded, I surged forward.  I gave myself about 100 yards to get acclimated and prepared.  Once I hit that mark, I let loose and swam aggressively.  The sight lines were great and the course was well marked.  The swim itself was rather unremarkable, other than I could feel my effort.  I just kept my mind focused on my form and breathing and pushed all pain and discomfort aside.

When I exited the water, I did a quick peek around for other age groupers.  Given that only my age group was lucky enough to get bright, banana yellow swim caps, we were easy to spot.  When I did not see any, I knew I had had a good swim.  My final swim time was 22:39, good enough for a close 2nd in my age group.  Very pleased with that.

T1,

Leaving water, all athletes ran up a short sandy beach, down a 50ish yard length of carpeted sidewalk, road, and gravel, and right up to a four section flight of stairs.  I knew this would be test #1 for the day.  Would people have the mental stamina to run that distance?  Would people THEN have the wherewithal to run up those stairs?  Would I?  This section was a great chance, in my mind, to make up a big chunk of time on those without a willingness to endure lactic acid.  Upon leaving the water, I ripped off my goggles and swim cap, began peeling down my wetsuit, and sprinted to my bike, ignoring the creeping burn in my legs.  Total T1 time: 1:10.

Bike

The bike was fairly unremarkable.  A simple, two-loop course.  Pretty mellow and pretty boring.  The coolest thing was feeling fast.  At many races, because I am part fish, I exit the water near the lead and promptly get treated rather rudely as cyclist after cyclist flies past me.  Thankfully, as my cycling skills have improved, this has happened less and less.  On this day, I was the aggressor.  Not only did I start and finish the bike second in my age group, but I passed dozens of other athletes.  One, in particular, was a buddy of mine.  Let’s just call him “Darren”.  He started the swim six minutes before I did and one of my small goals was to pass him on the bike.  That happened right around Mile 20 and I completely enjoyed it.  I have to admit, it felt pretty sweet…

T2

This was all about speed.  I did not wear socks and anticipated having a rocketing T2.  My mere 26 seconds made me proud.  Fastest in my age group and ninth overall, out of 382.

Run

And now, the race truly begins.  A two-loop course awaited.  The biggest issue I faced, other than certain pain, was the impact of the late start.  A late start meant extra heat.  While the day was not overly hot, the complete absence of clouds meant a fairly large amount of ambient heat would have accumulated.

Passing through the first aid station, I took two water and doused my back and face.  As soon as I tasted the water cascading down my face, I knew I had worked harder than I realized, meaning my body was much hotter than anticipated.  At each opportunity, I poured as much water as I could grab to try to keep my core as cool as possible.  Of course, when you are running around a 7:15 min/mile, keeping the core “cool” is not really possible.  I was just hoping to keep it cool enough to get me to the end.

The first loop seemed pretty easy.  I felt good, light, and fast and just focused on a good leg turnover, while monitoring my pace and heart rate.  As I neared the end of my first loop, my heart rate began to creep into the high 170s, meaning I was nearing the end of my speed.  With only three miles to go though, I was willing to push a little more and see what would happen.

As I started the second half of the run, I could feel my legs getting heavier and heavier.  The fourth mile of an olympic/international distance event is the black hole of energy.  You are too far from the start to have any remaining excitement or adrenaline, but too far from the end to “see the barn”.  It is truly an unpleasant mile that seems never-ending.  Getting past Mile 4 and finally reaching Mile 5 felt Herculean as there was nearly nothing remaining in my legs.  I tried to accelerate for the final mile but was struggling to maintain any rhythm.  With about half a mile remaining, an age grouper caught me and we ran side by side for about 200 yards.  He kicked to another gear, I told the legs to respond, and they said no.

Up to this point, the race had been exceptionally sweet.  My goal was a top 3 finish in my age group and, with a good race, I felt that was possible.  Had I known I was in second when he caught me, perhaps I would have found more energy, but I didn’t and when I went searching, I came up empty.  Much to my eternal chagrin, as he was passing me, a second age grouper flew past the both of us.  I could tell by his face that he was surprised and disappointed as I.  I took a small bit of solace from the fact that his body was as unwilling as mine to cat and mouse with the guy.  So, the bitter part now become clear.  I went from second in my age group nearly the entire race to fourth in the last few hundred meters of the run.  Am I pleased with how I did?  Sure, 4th (our of 44) in my age group and 27th (out of 382) is great.  But, I can’t help but feel disappointed at losing that podium spot at that point and in that fashion.  I feel I let myself down and didn’t live up to my standards.

So, instead of some inexpensive, little trinket, that I would have valued and cherished light-years more than the cost to buy it, I received the same “Finisher” medal that the 382nd finisher received.  Thus ended one extremely fun, and ultimately bittersweet, event!

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