Sweet 16 Sprint
Sunday, September 9, 2007
11th Place of 264
2nd Place in Age Group M35-39
Splits (Time/Rank of 264)
Swim: 9:46 / 84
T1: 2:08 / 98
Bike: 32:04 (22.1 mph) / 8
T2: 1:05 / 137
Run: 19:13 (6:11 min/mile) / 10
Finish: 1:04:18 / 11
After a humorous e-mail exchange a few weeks earlier between running buddy LRR, MegaBrooke, and myself, I decided to register for the Sweet 16, a Sprint triathlon at Hopkinton State Park. Mega tried to get me to wear a pink birthday suit in honor of my new-found idol Spenser Smith, a man capable and confident enough to wear a pink Tri-suit in a race and make it look good. I told her I didn’t have pink; she said she could find me something. To that I said that I needed to be able to average OVER 23 mph on the bike on a very tough course before I would do that. Although I talked myself out of an embarrassment I knew I’d never live down, she did get me excited about the race.
Although no Spenser Smith, I was fit enough on the bike and run to go all out the entire way. And with the Sweet 16 being a first year event, I was hopeful it would be a dinky triathlon that would result in an equally dinky field. With this in mind, I was curious how high I could place in the overall standings.
I was curious, that is, until race morning when I arrived at race site. There in Transition, only a rack over, were two of the biggest guns around: Tony Delogue, winner of IMLP ’03, and Dean Phillips, a stallion who wins all local triathlons he enters. They, I knew, would duke it out for the top two slots.
So even before the race began, I was already two notches down in the overall standings. On top of that was the realization as I looked upon the bikes in Transition that this little triathlon wasn’t so itty, nor was it bitty. With the 300 slots for bikes nearly all filled, I was now erasing from my mind thoughts of a Top 10 finish. But it didn’t mean I wouldn’t try any less.
After passing good luck wishes back and forth with LRR and Gator Girl, MegaBrooke, the Muffin Queen, TheProFromDover, and Kathi and even Rhonda, Sheldon’s dear sister, who was, believe it or not, on the phone with him only a minute earlier, it was time to head to the water for the swim start.
After a quick splash around in the waters where the Swim was to take place, I climbed out of the rock-infested waters and instantly came upon LRR. We laughed at how short the Sprint distance seemed, especially after just coming off training for Timberman, a half Iron distance triathlon. I asked him his goals: “Go hard.” He asked me mine: “Same, go hard. It’s too short not to.” That prompted him to dispense worldly coaching advice: “Start out hard, go harder in the middle, and then kick it home at the end.” Thanks coach. That’s what I would do.
Thirty seven years of age on race day afforded me a slot in the first wave among Elites and Males up to and including age 39. I was excited to be in the first wave since it would allow me later in the race to best see where I was in the overall standings, minus the faster guys in the age groups 40 and over who started a few minutes later.
Finally, a horn sounded to start the race. Having positioned myself toward the front right, I was able to start swimming right away. Although there was the ceremonial bump and grind, I found clean water before it could graduate to thrash and splash.
Before long, I rounded the first turn buoy and pushed on. I was putting out great enough effort where I had to keep alternating stroke counts per breath. At several points I had to purposely slow my stroke rate down to get my breathing under control, but as soon as I thought I had enough oxygen in my lungs, I resumed pushing hard.
After what felt a lot longer than 10 minutes, I finally climbed out of the water in 9:46, and just as I did I noticed a familiar youthful face manning the exit chute. It was LRR’s youngest son. I ran over for a high-five and then jogged onward. I was feeling pretty good about my swim because, as I noticed, this was the first triathlon I’ve done where there were few people getting out of the water with me. In fact, the entire carpeted path up the beach into Transition was empty. I knew there were at least 10 to 20 solid swimmers ahead of me, but at least I was leading the middle of the packers.
Summary: I felt good about the swim. I think it was on the long side of .25 miles. I went hard and stayed hard and felt in control the entire way. A highlight was getting out of the water with not a single person in front of me. Mind you, the fast swimmers were already long gone from the water, but it felt good to be among the leaders of the middle of the pack. Because that shows that I am getting faster.
Swim Time: 9:46 / 84 of 264
Transition from Swim to Bike was quick enough. I tried my best to keep focused. On with the bike gear and out, it was a blur.
Summary: T1 was quick enough, even with the long run from the water. I wish I were faster. But I’m not. Maybe I’ll work on this some more. Or maybe not. I’m inspired more by gaining fitness in other areas. I figure if I do these things often enough I’ll get it just from experience.
T1 Time: 2:08 / 98 of 264
The bike course was a single loop rolling course that went out of Hopkinton State Park, through Ashland, and traversed backwards the beginning few miles of the Boston Marathon route, through the center of downtown Hopkinton, and back to the park via Route 85.
The course was on the challenging side, and although it wasn’t a fast course, it wasn’t slow either. No one hill would take you down, though the long gradual up into the center of Hopkinton made for tough cycling much like, taken the other way, makes the start of the Boston Marathon very fast.
Clipped into my bike and now rolling, I was greeted with a half mile climb to get away from Transition and eventually out of the park. Dotted along the tree-lined hill were other athletes. I dug deep with the confidence of a good climber and got to work passing right away. Strong swimmers, I told myself of my prey… weak bikers. They were mine.
Now out of the park, I geared up and up and pushed as hard as I could without grinding too badly in too high a gear. I stayed on top of the gear and, before long, was out in the clear, with only one rider far up the road and no one behind me. Riding by myself for much of the ride, I wondered just how far up front I was. As I passed spectators, I wished they would tell me my position. Instead, I pretended I was in second place and the guy up ahead was leading the race. I knew this wasn’t so, but I knew the game would push me more and make me dig even deeper than my deepest.
Through the center of Hopkinton near mile 8, I had passed another two riders and was now on the tail of another. I almost passed him on the final hill before town, but as soon as we hit the down hill section, he pulled ahead by 50 yards. From there until we entered back into the park for the completion of the bike, I kept him at that distance. He must’ve picked up pace because I was pushing hard the entire time and never once fell off pace. I’m guessing that I served as a kick in the butt for him when I caught him and nearly passed on the hill a few miles earlier.
Summary: I was very pleased with my bike split, and even more so after seeing the results. On a challenging course I averaged 22.1 mph for the 8th fastest bike split of the day. Considering there were 3 elites, I am very happy. This split alone shows my work on the bike is paying off. Where I used to be a strong runner, average biker, and crappy swimmer, I can now say I am a strong runner and perhaps even stronger biker. More on that in the Run Summery.
Bike Time: 32:04 (22.1 mph) / 8
Transition from Bike to Run was quick enough. I was business only. Off with the bike gear, on with running shoes and race belt, a quick mouthful of Gatorade and I was off.
Summary: Looking at the results, if I had my competitors Transition times, I would have come in 9th Place overall instead of 11th. On Transition only. Yeah, I really need to work those.
T2 Time: 1:05 / 137
I say it all the time, but it really is true: I love to run. I really do.
Only this run was quite different. And not for the single loop and rather hilly run course with a long half mile hill out of Transition. And not because after hammering the bike I still had run in my legs.
This run was different because I was so far up front that there were no pedestrian runners to pass, as is quite common when I get off in one of the later waves, as I spend the rest of the race passing people at an alarming rate. Having started in wave one, and having already worked past the weaker bikers, it was all race all the time. I knew that I would have to work to catch any of the runners ahead of me, and since I could only see one, already way up the hill leading out of the Transition area, I had work to do.
Now on my horse and working the hill, my legs felt pretty good. I willed them to go faster as I shortened my stride in attempts to not blow my legs on the hill. That’s when I recognized the rabbit ahead of me as the very guy on the bike who I had caught on the hill but then picked back up to pace. I locked in and kept working.
Just at the top of the hill was a mile out and back section where I was able to see who was in front of me. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were very few. I was exerting too much energy to even think to count, or to remember faces. But I knew I was back in, maybe, 12th position. By then I was not gaining on the rabbit in front of me in spite pushing even harder on the run, and all the other guys were running with great stride. I was in awe – of them and my ability to be one of them.
Just after the turnaround at the end of the short out and back section, I passed two other runners before locking sight again on the rabbit, who now appeared to gain a bit on me. He must’ve been running very strong, I figured, so I would try my best to keep him in sight. But before I could attach an imaginary cord to him, I came upon another guy who appeared out of nowhere. After he looked back not once, not twice, but three times to see who was behind him and how far, I knew that within the next mile he was mine. The next time he looked back was when I decided to use punish him when he was at his mental weakest. I focused on breathing, getting in enough air, and running as efficiently as possible. Within a minute I took him, and as soon as I did, as if by design, a hill appeared where I knew I would break him. Break him I did. I heard labored breathing behind me as I punched on. That would be the last runner I would pass. There was nobody else around, and although the rabbit from the bike was still ahead of me, I couldn’t close the gap, and I knew by then that I wouldn’t, mainly because the gap had barely changed since this scamper through the forest started.
Streaming along a dam, from which I could see all the way to the finish, there was only one other athlete. It was my rabbit. I knew then and there that, without seeing many other runners, I was pretty far up front. Maybe, just maybe, I could finish Top 10. There couldn’t be more than 10 in front of me, and since nobody from the later waves caught me, I was feeling good about my chances.
As I zipped down the final pathway toward the finish line, I gave both of LRR’s kids a high five and punched on, even picking up pace straight through the finish line.
Summary: The run was special. It was really cool being so far up front that you’re wondering where everybody is and how many athletes are ahead of you. Never did I think about age group; instead – and this is the wild part – I focused only on first place. Although I knew I would not come close to winning the race, I figure if I focus on doing the very best I can, the age group mess will sort itself out. Best was that I completed the 5K course in 19:13, amounting to a 6:11 min/mile, and good for the 10th fastest run on the day. This was eye opening more for the bike than it was the run because my bike was the 8th fastest on the day, which taken together means that on this day I had a stronger bike (8) as compared to my run (10). That gives me immense pride. Especially because I know I am only getting stronger on the bike.
Run Time: 19:13 (6:11 min/mile) / 10
Post race was fun. Hanging out with LRR and Gator Girl and their kids, meeting TheProFromDover again and again and even again, and swapping war stories with MegaGirl, Muffin Queen, Kathi and a host of others was fun.
After cheering in the final finishers, results were finally posted. Although I didn’t get a Top 10 finish, I was very, very pleased coming in 11th place overall of 264 finishers and several more DNF’s. Finish time of 1:04 was good for 2nd place in my age group. For that I was rewarded with a medal.
Finish: 1:04:18 / 11
Summary: I should do more of “the short stuff.” But one very important lesson I learned is that I’m definitely not wearing pink. I must get much faster on the bike AND the swim before I can do that. Then I’ll change my name to Spenser Smith and compete in the Pro & Elite division. And then I’ll get my pink tushie to go faster than all those hooligans laughing at my pink outfit. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.