North Shore Triathlon
S 1.5K, B 40K, R 10K (Olympic Distance)
September 14, 2008
Results: Time (Place OA)
Swim: 28:16 (20) – Harbor ocean swim, rough waters.
Bike + T1 + T2: 1:09:56 (6) – Bike fast with rolling hills.
Run: *31:45 (3) – Run rolling hills.
Finish: 2:09:53 – 3rd Place Overall.
*Most athletes ran off run course and finished about a mile short while some went even longer. I was about a mile short.
I should have known better. I really should have known something like this could happen at the North Shore Triathlon, a low key Olympic distance triathlon known locally for shoddy race management.
With a relatively low entry fee, including a rare race-day sign up, I supposed you could chalk up the multiple mishaps to “You get what you pay for.” I should have known better, and as fault of my own I also should have studied the course map. But I didn’t. And it cost me.
After returning from Holland to compete at Worlds, I had my eye on this race. It being Olympic distance was appealing, for I knew it was short compared to what I was used, and I knew I could hammer the whole way. I eyed the race because, looking at results of past years, I knew I could place high in the overall standings, and even more tempting was that if I had a great race and if no other race horses showed up I could possibly… win the race… or come in Top-5 overall. It all depended who showed up. And since you have to be in it to win it, I decided to be in it… to win it.
And there was more to it. A part of me needed to do this race to tell me where my head was to see if I had it in me to extend my season with Halfmax, the Long Course National Championship for which I have already qualified and registered, a little over a month away.
As so race morning, as rain fell from the sky, the North Shore Triathlon was started by the race director with a crackling shout, “Go!”
The swim was an inverted triangle in the salt water of Beverly Harbor. The course went out against an angled tidal current to a buoy to the far right, then hard left directly into the tide, and finally back home with the tide.
This swim really showed me how far I’ve come with comfort in open water, because if this race were only a year earlier, I would have suffered greatly in the waves and pulling tide. Even with a putrid salt water taste in my mouth, I fought on knowing I would punch through the swirl of the ocean. And although I was not efficient, although I had to resort to breathing to only the right side for the whole length to the first buoy and on to the second, segments all against the tide, I stayed in control, kept moving forward, and instead of fighting the water, I worked with it to find a semblance of rhythm.
I finally reached the last buoy, turned left, and headed for shore with the tide at the back, pushing me home. It was then when I was able to settle into a comfortable bilateral breathing pattern and quickened my pace.
Time: 28:16 (20)
Summary: I’m pleased with the swim, being it in the wavy ocean. And I learned something about how rough waters affect my form, because after the race my bike rack mate would tell me, “I was on your heals until the final turn buoy, and then you just took off.” I don’t know what it is. Although I can now survive rough waters, it seems the tougher the conditions the more my form goes to pot, and seemingly more than others; when this happens my speed goes down and I lose a lot of time. But with smooth water, I’m good to settle in for the speed I have within. It probably has to do with my normal swim form of bilateral breathing but in choppy waters having to breath only to my comfortable side.
Now out of the water, I made the long run to Transition, got changed, and was off. Good thing times for T1 and T2 were included in the bike split because, looking back now, I honestly don’t need to know how pathetically slow I was in getting set and out.
Finally I was pushing my bike to the bike mount line. Just as I tried to get on my bike, a volunteer pointed down the short hill to another area. I assumed that was the bike mount line – not where I was. So down the hill I went, cobbling along in my cleats, and just as I reached bottom and restarted my mount, I heard a voice. “Hey,” a volunteer nearby called, “you were supposed to get on your bike up there.” She was pointing 100 yards behind me, back up the hill by Transition, back where the other volunteer told me to come down here. Just then two racers whizzed by me, both on their bikes.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be just the beginning of many race organization mishaps to come.
The bike was fun and thankfully mishap free.
With a rolling hills course in and around the town of Beverly, including a technical first two miles with quick turns and multiple switchback zigzags, twice over railroad tracks, and with a return stretch along a busy Main Street with local churchgoers leaving prayer sessions, I slapped the bike into big gear and got the party started.
My goal was simple: All out. I wanted to ride hard, gear up when I could, and just to be sure I was in the biggest gear possible for the ultimate hammer, I’d gear up once more and, if I could not get on top of the gear by pushing hard for a few seconds, I’d gear back down. And so that’s what I did over the entire two loops of the course.
Passing rider after rider until I could pass no more, I pushed and pushed until by the last 10K I was riding all by myself. I had no idea what place I was in but knew it had to be Top 10. I was just too fast to be anywhere else.
Rolling into Transition, with a 40K bike split of roughly 1:04, good for about 23+ mph, I was very pleased to see the race leaders – they were just now coming out of Transition and getting onto the run course. Their lead, although only several minutes, and my odds to catch them looked to be steep, especially seeing them with solid run paces. A few I knew I’d catch, but what about the others?
In, bike gear off, running shoes on, grab visor to protect eyes from the still pouring rain, and I was out, probably somewhere toward the top of the lead ten – maybe 8 or 9th place. But probably still slower than my competitors. Dang.
Time (T1 + Bike + T2): 1:09:52 (6)
Summary: The rocked the bike course with a complete, utter hammer. It felt good, I felt good… the whole thing was good. Even with those steeper rolling hills at the end of the loop, I was able to keep steady and push the entire way.
The run is usually fun for me. But this run, this run was marked with craziness, and it wasn’t long before it started.
Sprinting out of the gate with legs stiff from a hard bike, the first run course mishap was before I even got 25 yards in. With nobody immediately in front of me to chase, and not a single volunteer directing the way, I had no idea where to go. And so I came to a stop with hands out and up. If my confusion wasn’t obvious, I made it so: “Which way?” I asked. A volunteer, shaken from her daze, pointed toward a meandering path, and that’s where I went.
Up a long gradual hill, out of the park and away from race site, my legs finally loosened and, sure enough, I was hitting stride and feeling better and better and getting faster and faster.
By about a mile, I had already passed three other athletes and was approaching another. The course, or so it seemed, went out along what was the bike course and, we were sure, would go right at some point. Not knowing the course, I followed the guy in front until, when I passed, I ws the one leading the way.
Now about two miles in, still hammering away without anyone to follow, I came upon an intersection. I had remembered this intersection from the bike course because of the caution required due to railroad tracks. As I neared I spotted a familiar looking police officer directing traffic for bikers still on the course. And that’s when the officer made eye contact with me, and as if to confirm his sighting, made contact again. Right away I knew something was up. He waved his hand at me and said, “The run course doesn’t go this way. It’s back that way.” He was pointing behind me. “Go back about a mile and make a left on Cross Street.” I asked him if he was sure. “Yes,” he answered, “the course goes up Cross. Only the bike course comes this way.”
To that point I was running very strong and fast. I estimated, based on feel, I was doing, maybe, 6:20 minute miles. And because I was strong, and because I was so far up in the overall race, I decided to get back to course and even if I ran two extra miles (one out to the police officer plus one back), I wanted to see what I could do. And so back I went.
Immediately I came upon runners I had passed minutes earlier. As they pooled up, we gathered in the middle of the road, stopped, in the heat of a race, with our race numbers hanging around our waists, and we stood, with time marching on, and wonder where the hell the course went.
Wasting precious seconds, I decided rather quickly to trust word of the police officer, get back to plan, and hammer back to Cross Street and back on course – if that even was the course. I wanted my race. And so I pulled away.
Down the road I ran, left on Cross Street, and on and on, nobody in sight ahead of me and, after a peer back, nobody behind. And not a damn marking on the road. Nor a fan. Nor a volunteer. Just then a little old lady came driving by. I laughed at myself because I was probably way off course. Heck, at this rate I’d probably wind up at the church she was coming from.
After a mile of not seeing anything – not even a marking on the road – the road finally made a right hand turn. I decided that it was too soon to turn – course map, best I remember, didn’t have any turns on the back section – and so on I went.
Until a few hundred yards later when I came upon a guy out walking his dog. I slowed down. “Excuse me,” I asked, “have you seen any runners coming down this way? They’d be moving pretty fast and have numbers like this.” As I held up my number to show him, he shook his head side to side.
With that I took off, back to the turn, and followed that, still at about 6:20 minute miles or under. Within a half mile I came upon a familiar road. It was Rt. 127, which I knew lead back to race site, and which I knew to be on the return leg of the run course.
Just then another runner, coming from the complete opposite direction, running exactly my pace, came upon me. I guessed he was ahead of me by a position or two. He, I guessed, knew exactly where to go.
“Do you know,” my nearest competitor asked, “where we’re supposed to go?” Without waiting for a reply, he went on to say, “I’m way off course.” After I explained how I went astray, we decided to follow Rt. 127 back to race site.
Running stride for stride with a steady but increasing pace, we grunted back and forth at how the race management was the poorest we’d ever experienced. With that we decided not to get angry but instead to chalk up the experience as nothing more than a quality workout.
Finally we entered the park for the long run to the finish. We kicked it up, going stride for stride, and as soon as the road flattened after the downhill into the park, I took off for a clean finish.
And that’s when I saw two other guys already finished, one of which was commiserating on getting lost while the other said he was lucky because he was the leader and, as a result, at least had a lead vehicle to follow.
As more and more athletes finished, it was obvious most ran a mile shorter while a few ran longer, but the common theme was that nearly everybody went off course.
At the awards presentation, still not knowing what the hell was up, we all waited for an explanation, or even an apology, from the Race Director. But instead of all of that, the Race Director launched straight into awards.
First place overall was giving out. Then second. And finally, “Third place… Thor Kirleis.” I was surprised. I figured that even with the mishaps I was, maybe, 5th place, perhaps even 4th, but not Top-3. But still, I wasn’t sure, because who ran the proper distance, and what place was I in when I went astray, and who was ahead of me, and how far and how fast were they running? And because of that, I felt obligated to deny the award.
And so as I went up to turn down the 3rd Place trophy, I leaned in close to the Race Director and said quietly, “I can’t accept this. I did not complete the run course. I went off course. I could find my way back. By my estimation I was about a mile short. And I have no idea what place I was in at the time I went off.”
The Race Director seemed nervous. He shifted a bit, as if he had been caught with his zipper down in a nursing home full of old ladies. “I know,” he finally said. He paused again before adding, “It will make everything easier if you take it. Please, take it. You won it. It’s the best I can do.” There was genuine sadness in his eyes. I can only hope that this shoddy race management performance by him has finally set in, and maybe he’ll learn so that next time this doesn’t happen.
Either way, I did take home the 3rd Place Overall trophy. I am proud of it even though it has an asterisk affiliated with it. And I’m proud of it because I faired well enough on the swim, utterly hammered the bike, and ran very well.
All in all, it was a great quality workout.