OK, that's a little hyperbolic, because I've only been doing triathlons for 3 years, and I've only done sprints and olympic distance races, mostly in New England. But I have a new BFF of a triathlon, and it's the Pumpkinman sprint.
It didn't hurt that I had what was probably my best race of the season, and it certainly didn't hurt that it was a day like this:
(You can't quite tell from the photo, but it was in the 60's or maybe low 70's, and dry.)
But really, this is an amazing race. I had read a little about it, and then I realized the race director was a woman I had met at a couple local triathlons last year. She was friendly and competitive, two qualities I can relate to, and I had a feeling she would put on a great race. And indeed, she does, which is probably why she won NE race director of the year last year. The race is both competitive--an elite wave, good competition, a crack team of volunteers--and fun. Fun as in pumpkin men and other festive decorations; all kinds of cool awards including for local athletes and splits; and a gorgeous venue. Plus very good post-race food, including this:
Yes, I took a picture of my post-race whoopie pie. It was awesome. And because these are a Pennsylvania Dutch thing (or so wikipedia says), I consider myself an expert, having grown up on the outskirts of Amish country. But enough about that--onto the race report.
The Swim: This was a 1/3-mile swim, in a nice lake that was kind of silty, which I like because you can't see all the weird stuff on the bottom. I was in the 6th wave, which meant among other things that by the time we got lined up on the beach, they had stopped playing "Smoke on the Water" and had moved onto Pink. I met blogger Donna, who did a nice Christine-from-Seinfeld dance routine before we got all serious in the last 30 seconds before the start.
I felt a lot more crowded than I have in other races this season--I bumped into a few people, and 2/3 of the way through I found myself playing Luke Skywalker to a trash compacter room made up of two other swimmers from my wave. I couldn't figure out any way out of that one but to slow up and let them pull ahead, so I did. But it was basically fine, and I felt good. My split has me at a decent pace for me if you believe the course length. I never believe swim course lengths, but this race director seems like the type to get it right, so I'm buying it.
T1: Pumpkinman is famous for its Powderhouse hill climb, which is a monstrous grassy hill up to T1. They give a prize for the fastest split (M and F) up this hill. Suffice it to say I was not in contention for the prize. But it was a hoot. Here it is after the race:
It looks (and feels) even steeper in person.
The Bike: This course is a hard one--I'm saying that based not just on my personal experience, but on the times posted by other people. I had taken the time to drive it the night before when I went to early check-in, and I'm glad I did. No huge climbs, but a lot of little rollers, and a lot of winding stuff, turns, and rough road. The night before I was all full of bravado, telling myself as I drove the course in my Honda with the cow bike bouncing on the back, "I won't have to use my small chain ring at all!" In the harsh light of day, with my butt actually on the bike, I did in fact use my small chain ring on occasion, but definitely less than I normally do. Because I knew virtually all the hills were quite short, I was a lot more aggressive about standing and climbing hard than I normally am, knowing I wasn't about to crush my legs and then turn the corner to see a wall of hill.
My HR stayed consistently higher than it did during my last race, which was a good thing, given my previously discussed tendency to lollygag on the bike. I was passed early on by one woman; I kept her in my sights for awhile then lost her. I think I was passed by 1 man--most of the men's waves went off before me. I had one great pass that I have to attribute to the bike--I had come up on two women, passed them, got passed back by first one then the other at the end of one of the longer climbs, and then we came to a downhill. And here's where the fancy bike and race wheels paid off, because I just flew past them on a downhill and got enough momentum to get up the next roller fast, and I never saw them again. I sometimes feel cheesy for having "bought myself some speed," but whatever--that is one fast cow.
One scary thing during the bike--a guy crashed on this wooden bridge, and by the time I went by he was lying on the ground with an EMT over him and another volunteer directing us around him, and the ambulance just up the road. But I found out today that he was fine, which is a huge relief. I also saw 4 or 5 riders by the side of the road with flats, and each time I said a little thank you to the biking gods for not sending me off with them, although once I saw the aftermath of that crash, a flat didn't seem like such a disaster after all. Yikes.
T2: Not much to report--got shoes off on the bike without embarrassing myself and headed out on the run.
The run: I felt pretty great--just kept my cadence up, and I had a lot of people in front of me to pass, which kept me going during that painful middle section where my mind sometimes wanders. I passed (I think) the woman who'd passed me on the bike, plus a few others, and I just tried to pass hard and keep going (with a "good job" when possible, and I don't think anyone didn't say something nice back. Triathletes are ridiculously gracious competitors.) To be honest, I didn't have a smashing kick--I was just kind of beat, and I sort of wish I'd rocketed down the long grassy downhill to the finish. But it was still an awesome finish--you do a loop around the outside of transition, then across to the grass and down this big hill with a lot of spectators. I learned later that the 1st place guy had held off 2nd place by 3 seconds, which must have been an awesome finish to watch.
Overall: I was totally thrilled to see on the results (which got posted I think before my HR settled down out of Zone 4--have I mentioned that this is a capable race director?) that I was 3rd in my age group. At the awards ceremony, I found out that this was actually good for 3rd overall in the amateur (non-elite) division--in other words, the top 3 places were all in my age group. So yeah, we 40-44 year olds are pretty damn fast. And as another unexpected bonus, I got an additional award for the fastest run split by an amateur woman, which I snagged by a whopping 3 seconds.
But for me the best part about my race was the bike. While I was in no danger of winning fastest bike split, for the first time I was what I would call "in the mix" on the bike. I am used to being kind of midpack on both the bike and the swim and then moving up a lot on the run, and certainly that was still true to some extent. But there were a couple women ahead of me with slightly slower bike splits than mine, and my time was sort of in the same solar system as many of them. Normally I've been a couple to a few minutes back of everyone ahead of me on the bike, so it's great to see that margin coming down. In case you're wondering, I think "midpack" would still be an accurate description of my swim, but I'll take it for now.
I had a great time at this race, even though I didn't really go there knowing anyone. (A friend who lives up there had planned to do it with me but bailed at the last minute. In his defense, he has a crazy work life, and he felt bad enough to buy me a nice dinner the night before, so I forgave him.) I did run into the two guys who fitted me for and sold me the cow bike--one of them was the aforementioned winner with the 3-second margin, and the other placed in his age group. They are very nice about the cow bike, which I think struck them as seriously odd when I first told them what I wanted, and I have to confess I was pathetically relieved that I pulled off a respectable race in their presence. In general I'm always amazed at how friendly triathletes are--I met nice people in the food line, in transition (the woman who turned out to beat me for 2nd place by less than a minute was the same person who zipped up my wetsuit for me), and even in the portapotty line. So all in all it was a big warm and fuzzy experience (except for the traffic on 495, but I won't spoil a sunny blog post by discussing that, or why the state of NH feels the need to charge you every 2 minutes for driving on their highway), and if I can pull it off, I'm going back next year.