I had my last race of the season yesterday, my first and only Sprint of the year. It was a great race, especially after what has been a pretty frustrating season. I had a little knee injury in May, bonked on an Oly in June, and then got pneumonia in July. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s been a BAD season, but it’s certainly been a season with more than its share of learning experiences. I needed to finish strong in order to set myself up mentally for the offseason, base training, and all the rest of it, and more to the point, it’s been awhile since I’ve felt like I really raced the way I wanted to race. After a full season of training, it was time to finally put it all together and get it right for a change.
Anyway, I woke up early yesterday and felt like garbage. I got up, made myself some coffee and oatmeal, and had a few minutes of wondering why on earth anyone would get up at 5am on a Sunday to go race, of all things. That said, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that feeling like crap was probably preferable to feeling good because on the days that I feel good, I tend to jump around, over warm-up, and generally try to burn off some of that nervous energy before the race even starts. Meanwhile, on the rough days, I’m more likely to play it cool, suffer a touch early, and then hit my stride just before mid-race. Yesterday was definitely more the later, so I wandered around my house and then around set-up and body marking in what could charitably be called a “zombie haze.” I ran just enough to warm-up and stretch then swam just enough to get a feel for the water, and then I basically sat on the beach and played with my toes until my heat came up. It wasn’t really the confidence-inspiring type of morning, but I just kept telling myself that I’d trained hard and had a good base behind me. All I had to do was be cool and wait for my moment. It was gonna be there.
Now look, I live in Connecticut, and that’s where this race took place. Technically it was still Summer yesterday, but when I woke up, it was a solid 45 degrees outside—and maybe 68 degrees in the Long Island Sound. I’ve sworn off wetsuits, so I knew it was gonna be COLD! And it was. I took my biking jacket out with me yesterday and was fully prepared to wear it after I got out of the water, figuring that if I wasn’t careful, I’d come out of the water blue. However, by the time the race actually started, it was 8am, and the sun was up. The air temp was up to maybe 65 degrees, and honestly, after I got over the initial shock of the water, it was a great temperature for racing.
I was in the 3rd heat. First they had young women, then they had guys 45 and older, and then they had guys, 35-45. They do this, I think, to try to keep the race from spreading out all over the course, but the net effect is that if you’re a decent swimmer, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get kicked in the face for damned-near the entire length of the swim. Fortunately, they started the heats 4 full minutes apart, and over a half-mile swim, that was a pretty big lead off. Eventually, the heat before mine took off, and I roused myself from my little spot on the beach. I gave myself a good shake, said a little prayer, and we were off. At least the waiting was over!
It took me maybe 50 yards to get out of the initial open-water scrum. It wasn’t too bad, but I think that a lot of folks took off fast, either because it was cold or because they were excited. Either way, it took a good while to get out into open water. Nonetheless, by the time I hit the first buoy, I was in the clear. I saw a couple of guys from my heat in front of me, and decided to let them go and just settle in. In the past, I’ve tried to race hard in the water out of sheer stubborn pride, but these days I’m trying to be a little smarter about it. So I just swam long and loose, holding whatever speed was available and waiting to shake off the morning’s lethargy. That finally happened after the second turn, and I sped up into the beach, coming out of the water strong and ready to really hit it on the bike.
Half-Mile Swim: 12:13.5. 1:23/100 yrds; 3/54 AG (Male 35-39)
T1 was okay. I wasn’t blue and opted to leave the biking jacket in my bag. By then, the sun was fully up, and it was maybe 70 degrees. My wet feet were wet and cold inside my biking shoes, and in fact, eventually my feet got numb, but it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t shivering or anything, and I definitely wasn’t overheating. I had to force myself to drink and stay on some kind of hydration schedule, but that wasn’t a big deal. It was definitely preferable to having to fight to stay hydrated.
Anyway, the bike course was a 7-mile loop, done twice. There were a pretty good number of sharp turns on it, but after some of the longer, more-mountainous races I’ve done this year, I knew I was ready to not only ride but to actually ride hard. I put it in gear, dropped down into the drops, and went as hard as I could for as long as I could. Bike handling in a Sprint can be a tricky affair—especially in a double-loop course when the slower folks go first—but I did my best to work the turns and just go like Hell. I was a little worried I wasn’t gonna leave myself a lot of “matches” for the last leg, but what choice did I have? I’m a good swimmer and a decent biker. Running not so much. So whatever I was going to do competitively, I had to do it in the first two legs. After that, I just hoped to hold on as best I could.
14.4-mile Bike: 41:06. 21 mph average; 12/54 AG
T2 was a non-event. I fumbled a bit with my shoes, but I don’t think I lost too, too much time. Before I knew it, I was out on the course, feet still numb and wondering how long it would take before I could feel them again. As it turns out, they thawed fairly quickly and didn’t affect my stride. No problem.
Now look, it’s been a wacky year of running for me. After the knee injury, I worked on shortening my stride and becoming a more efficient runner. But then I got pneumonia, and that put a crimp in my training for sure. I got my form back in the pool and on my bike easily enough, but running has been a struggle. So as I got out onto the course yesterday, my goal was just to hold my form together, run correctly, and slowly pick up the pace towards the end if I could. I’ve only had about two weeks of hard running training since I got sick—really just a pair of LSD runs and a trio of shorter fartleck/tempo runs in addition to a few other, form-type short runs—so I wasn’t at all sure how the race was going to go. On the other hand, I knew I’d put in two good legs already, and I knew that I had plenty of aerobic base, just not a lot of actual run training. I hoped that by doing it right and staying loose, everything would be okay.
In the event, my form held out. I was still strong as I turned into the 3rd mile, and wound up considerably faster than I was last year—in fact, faster than I’ve run in quite some time by pace. I’m usually an 8-and-a-half minute miler. Yesterday I was under an 8-minute pace for the first time in years! There must be something to that form thing after all.
I crossed the finish line feeling strong, a full SEVEN MINUTES faster than I was on this same course last year. I don’t do a LOT of Sprints, but this was a PR, with ease. My goal was to go somewhere around an hour-twenty. I did that and felt good doing it.
3.1-mile run: 24:03. 7:45 min/mile pace; 30/54 AG
Total Time: 1:20:24.9; 11/54 AG; 54/425 overall.
And that was it for my race and my season. I met my wife and kids, got some food, and spent the next hour or so on what has to have been the most powerful endorphin rush of my entire life. Honestly, it was like being on speed. A great way to end the season, I can tell you!
Next up… more run training. I’d like to keep working my form and just become a better runner in general. If I can go under 48-minutes for a 10K at some point before next season, I feel like I’ll be well-positioned for a better year of racing next year.