Today I raced the Berkshire Bank Y Athlon in Pittsfield, MA. I signed up for this as a tuneup to my last tri of the season, the Pumpkinman Sprint on Sept. 11. I haven't done a triathlon since mid-July, largely because of vacation and work travel, so it seemed like a good idea to shake off the cobwebs. I also remembered that Lake Onota is a beautiful spot, and it didn't disappoint.
This is a small, local sprint triathlon, so I knew (depending on who showed up) I might have a chance to win. My goals for this race were 1) to try to win it if at all possible, and 2) whatever happened, to go hard on the bike. I have a tendency to hold back on the bike a little bit because I'm worried about the run, and my last few races I've worn a HRM and still had trouble, for one reasons or another (illness, dead legs, general wussiness) getting my HR up to where it should be and keeping it there. So I gave myself permission today to not worry about the run at all and just get my HR where it should be on the bike and try to suffer a little there.
The Swim: The women and relays went off 4 minutes after the men. I started at the front and tried to start out stronger than I usually do, and I still watched what looked like 10 or 20 of my wavemates leave me in their collective wake. I am usually pretty bad at seeing what's going on around me in the swim, because I tend to focus more on basics like not swimming perpendicular to the race course, not whacking into people, and not thinking about that scene from Harry Potter with all the zombie-like inferi floating up from the bottom of the lake. So today for kicks I tried to assess how I was doing while I settled into a rhythm that I hoped was "strong but controlled." Problem was, they gave the same yellow caps to both waves, so by midway through the swim I had no idea--I was just somewhere in a sea of yellow-headed people. But based on the start of the swim, where I felt like the proverbial person on the platform of the train station with the trains zooming past me, I figured I was somewhere like 10th or 20th in my wave. I'm going to spoil the punchline here and say that in fact I was something like 5th or 6th woman out of the water, based on how many women I passed on the bike and run. So this means one of three things:
1) All the fast people who left me in their wake were on relays.
2) All the fast people who left me in their wake had a much slower T1 than I did.
3) All the fast people who left me in their wake slowed down, while I was cagey and negative split the swim, passing them in the sea of stragglers from the first wave.
I'd love to believe it's #3, but at best it's probably some combination of those things. I'll know better when I see the actual results. But it's much more fun to draw conclusions without the actual data, obviously.
One final note on the swim: It was cool this morning (50's before the race), so I was happy to have a full wetstuit on while I waited for the start after warming up in the water. The water was plenty warm--barely legal, in fact--and in hindsight, I think I would go with the sleeveless wetsuit. I haven't swum in the long-sleeved version for awhile, and it makes my arms really tired on the recovery part of the stroke. Re-reading that, I sound sort of pathetic, because if I can't pull against my own wetsuit, this does not bode well for my stroke. But there you have it--I think my wetsuit is stronger than I am. So unless the water is actually really freaking cold, I am going with the sleeveless one from now on.
T1: As is often the case, many racers stood up and walked pretty early in the water. (I know this is technically still part of the swim, but I thought the swim part was long enough already.) I think people just want to be done with the swim, whether or not the swim is done with them. I did my best to keep swimming until I couldn't swim any more, but when I started banging into walkers' legs, I stood up and then found out why my coach always tells me to swim as long as possible. We were several yards from shore, and it was ridiculously hard to run in water that deep. Plus, while Lake Onota is beautiful from a distance, up close it's actually kind of weedy. I ran into transition and got out with the cow bike rather uneventfully.
The Bike: I did pretty well (pat, pat) at keeping my HR where I wanted it. The course has a lot of turns, a lot of rollers, no huge climbs, but also no long flat sections. (It also had some raised manhole covers that almost took me out on a passing-before-the-turn situation, but I won't dwell on that.) I kind of liked it, because there was always something to think about, but I don't think it was particularly fast. (And I have no actual data on that, because I managed to start my bike computer and then apparently to stop it 4.2 seconds later, which tells me nothing except that I spent 4.2 seconds with my right hand near the bike computer instead of on the aerobars.) I passed maybe 2 or 3 women and a few men, and only one man passed me, but I spent a lot of time riding by myself without even being able to see anyone in front of me. The whole time I kept thinking, "Where did all the fast women go?" I kept pushing myself, thinking I would see one around the next corner, but nothing. Like most people I probably do better when I have people to pass or to go back and forth with, but it was also nice to have the road to myself. The bike course was 2 loops, so the 2nd time around I knew what to expect (although I was working hard enough that my slightly-oxygen-starved-brain wasn't sure exactly what order to expect them in, i.e. "Is that big pothole after this hill or the next one?" Answer--ouch--this one).
I think I'm happy with my bike. I tend to hedge my bets until I see actual race splits, but I felt like I stayed pretty focused and worked harder than I have in other races this year. Also I had no mechanical issues like loose brake anchor bolts causing the rear wheel to rub against the brake for most of the ride. Just as a "for instance." And for only the 2nd time in a race, I managed to get out of my shoes while still on the bike with no mishaps. It was a little more exciting this time because I hadn't scouted the bike course ahead of time, so I didn't know exactly where the dismount line was until I was about 50 yards away from it. But I do it at my house in much less distance than that, so I was good to go.
T2: Uneventful again, and I think relatively quick, since I only had one pair of shoes to deal with.
The Run: I felt good on the run. It was a funny out and back and out and back again course, mostly along a paved (flat) path along the lakefront, which was great for seeing where you were in the race. Plus I'd actually run most of it for my warmup, so I knew where I was going (novel, I know). There was one short, very steep hill at the far end of the out and back--you went up the hill (I have no idea how long it was, but long enough that you--or should I say I--couldn't just charge recklessly up it), did a short circular loop (like 50 yards) in the woods, then went back down the hill. I am usually a good downhill runner, and this hill was steep enough that I actually had trouble running down it efficiently. So it was a hill, but it was fine, and I just took it easy going up, accelerated at the top, then came down as fast as I could.
On the run I could see, once the dust settled, 3 women ahead of me. The first one was flying--I watched her coming down that hill on my first loop and had to remind myself to stop watching her and run. She was FLYING, her ponytail streaming out behind her--and then I realized that her ponytail was DRY. And she was wearing running shorts. As was the next woman behind her. So I figured they were in relays--but still, I couldn't be sure, so I kept pushing to see if I could make up ground on them. I don't think I did (again, the results will tell me), but along the way I found another woman about halfway through the run, and she had the wet hair and tri suit to show she was in my race. I passed her, saying "good job," and she said something nice back. (I talked to her after the race, and she was just as friendly then.) And then I just kept trying to push, trying to pick off as many of the men ahead of me as possible. Nothing against them, obviously--they were just a trick to keep my pace up. And as usual, many of them offered encouragement as I went by, which I always think is awesome.
And yes, it turns out those two women were in relays, because I ended up as the first woman overall. I got an enormous plaque, which is kind of hilarious to me, because where exactly would I put that? But my kids think it is very impressive.
Final thoughts: I'm not going to go into the whole song and dance of "I only won because it was such a small race," because that sounds like false modesty, and it's also boring. (As opposed to the details of my run, which are fascinating.) But I will say this: it was good for me to go into a race with the goal of winning it and work to make that happen. It's a different mindset to say "I'm going to try to pass every woman ahead of me after the swim" than to say "I'm going to race as hard as I can and see what happens." The first one is trickier for me--it's a lot riskier to admit you're trying for something you may not achieve, and it also signs you up for more suffering, since you don't have the option of talking yourself into believing that the pace you're currently holding is as fast as you can go--you have to constantly see if you can do more.
And on a less weighty note, I estimate that about 75% of the songs played at the race today (heavily 80's-influenced) are songs I actually have on my iPhone. Which suggests one of three things:
1) Whoever was responsible for the music has excellent taste.
2) I could do that job.
3) My musical preferences are cheesier than I like to think they are.
Toss-up between #2 and #3, is my guess.