Swim starts to the right of the dock.
Elite folks take off, probably about 12 of them, smooth toward the first orange buoy off yonder. Then the announcer tells us to go ahead and get ready. I clamber over the slippery rocks up to the front left side. I'm on the inside of the buoys and know that I should head even farther left as our folks will most likely run me over if I don't stay away from the pack of 60+ swimmers. So I wait. It's too late to turn back, and I wouldn't have turned back even if given the chance. Having thought out this whole dilemma of 'not being able to swim' and the fact that this particular sprint tri has a 1/2 mile swim as opposed to most that are only 1/4 mile. I determine that I'm just going to go at my own pace and do the best I can at the swim. The real time to get serious will be the bike and run.
So the announcer yells GO!
...You may be wondering what I did with that wedding band that was very likely going to be lost into the abyss if left on my finger. Well left with no pockets, no way to get ahold of the family, and no time left. I remembered an article I had read about someone losing his goggles in the melee of an ironman. He had recognized that under the swim cap is the safest place for many things, as you never hear about a swim cap getting kicked off someone's head! So I quickly stuff the wedding band under the cap up on the very top of my head. I'm sure if anyone was paying attention they would have thought it was a pretty funny sight!...
As I begin my freestyle crawl stroke in Lake Washington for the 2010 Kirkland Sprint Trathlon, the form feels smooth. I breathe bilaterally every 3 strokes, and am actually enjoying the sight of seaweed passing by below. Then I'm done. Tapped out of breathe. All of maybe 100 yards in I flip over onto my back, never again to catch my breath enough to make a solid go of the freestyle stroke again. ARG! Ok, so realizing that skulling on my back is extremely slow and also taxes the legs too much, I flip over to a side stroke on the left side. At this point I'm beginning to run short on my bag of tricks for swimming. In the pool the only thing I practiced was freestyle and skulling on my back. So this is actually a fallback from childhood, next stop would be doggy paddle or a pair of water wings.
As I round the first buoy (of 5) I'm feeling totally spent in the water. There's a nice straight line of 4 buoys to go around and I'm wishing it was over already. So it was time to battle the mental demons already! Ok. So I begin to do a reality check. "Where are you right now?" In the water talking to myself and barely staying afloat... at the Kirkland Triathlon... "What have you been training for this whole time?" This Triathlon, the bike and run legs. "What is something nice to focus on?" [thanking God for things, edited out]. Ok mental is done, now to thing about the physical. Since I'm either doing the side stroke on the left side, or a sloppy backstroke, I'm beginning to feel some fatigue in the right hip area, and my left kneecap. So I swap to right sidestroke. The only problem is the the right side is completely inefficient and I may as well be on my back.
So round and round I go swapping between strokes, seeing all my fellow red caps go past... but not ALL of them!
Towards the end I don't even have the mind to flip over and freestyle in. "Why bother" I think at the time, just try to relax and enjoy this... (note the guy in front of me slipping on a rock, I'm about to trip over)
Exuberant to be getting onto dry land, I stand as quickly as possible and slip slide my way up to shore. Up past the crowds, oh and I hear cowbell coming as I climb out! My wife and kiddos are there, and so are the mom-in-law and dad-in-law. Big smile never left my face from that moment on. If only I could bottle that for the ENTIRE swim.
Since I had just practiced T1 at home I begin by unzipping the wetsuit immediately pulling the arms out, and run toward the pre-memorized position of the bike rack in transition. To my relief the wedding band is still there safe and sound under the latex swim cap. Both cap and goggle come off with one swipe. I drop the ring cap and goggles in my duffle bag zippered pouch, and rip off the wetsuit at the same time. Dry a foot, put on sock and cycling shoe, dry another foot put on other cycling shoe. Put on race belt, ooops. Forgot to put on jersey first. Move the belt, and ripppp, race number falls off the belt. Reattach number and learn lesson (don't snug the number up to the belt, leave some slack in the little elastic bands that hold the number in place.
Glasses, Helmet, grab the bike and go. Buckle helmet on the way to mounting area. Hop on the bike and roll! On the way out, I rip the gel off and stuff it in the jersey pocket next to my Bike MS handkerchief.
One other person is immediately in front of me, and one behind. The Hammer Espresso Gel tasted GREAT, and washed down with Bannana Nuun, hit the spot. The one in front is not in my age group (age is marked on our right calves) but he's got more expensive gear than I do, so he's marked. He's wearing a fancy time trial helmet, and has aerobars on his carbon fiber frame. I'm old school steel frame (of course) and spent around $430 less on my helmet. So he must pay for having nicer gear, not jealousy, just a whole lot of fun! He falls away in the first mile or so of flats.
My secret weapon is the massive amounts of hills that Campy and I have done between training for Davis, and just a couple weeks prior doing some Cougar Mountain hill repeats. That was an incredible workout with multiple double digit gradients! So my strategy is to match speed or just a little bit heavy in the flats, with very heavy pumping on the hills. I will stay seated as long as the heartrate will allow, and my speed remains high. Once the speed drops or the heartrate gets out of control, it's time to stand and muscle through.
The first few hills in Kirkland fly by. There's one fellow with tatoos on both arms that I begin to play cat and mouse with, and will for the rest of the ride. He's not in the age group either, but was a lot of fun to race against. Note: I saw him later after the race, really nice guy. I'm sure we'll be running into each other at events alot. Yet another Tri friend made.
Even though the race briefing was to be careful on the wet roads, I've done this ride many many times for training and feel very confident. So as we rip on down and over the bridge across 405, I begin to really feel the legs light up (in a good way). Speed picks up and for most sections I'm able to keep it between 22 and 23 mph. Downhills are WAY faster, and climbs are still very aggressive. HR remains pretty much pegged between 170-173 the entire time. Looking back, I could have gone lactic (175+) a few more times and shaved some time off the split. I nurse the gel one more time and wash it down with Nuun, deciding to save the last shot for post race, or perhaps T2 if needed before the run.
Finally we arrive at the goods, the hill going up past Lake Washington Technical College on NE 132nd is the toughest climb of the day. 100+ feet of climbing in 1 mile. I opt to stay seated to conserve energy then unleash once it starts to get really steep. Unfortunately, I misjudge when that is and remain seated for a bit too long. So when I finally do pop up into a standing climb my HR is a bit high and it's hard to get a good tempo. Regardless many folks fall back, and I once again realize that smile is still there from earlier in the event.
Up to the top, then bomb down the backside of NE 70th back towards our finish. In this section I clock in at just under 40 mph. Which on dry roads is no problem at all (with no traffic). However it is wet and rainy so I tap the brakes here and there on the sharper corners, as well as give a safe distance between painted lines and tar stripes (aka road snakes). I hover in the left wheel lane as this seems the safest place to ride, and there's only 1 person in front of me. So far 1 person has passed me the entire time, and he is nowhere to be seen. As we come down past Houghton market, I eyeball the Starbucks (of course), but don't have time to enjoy the aroma of fresh coffee. The entire road is plastered with warning signs about the race, there's Police officers at most every uncontrolled intersection, probably 6-8 officers total. Then there's volunteers on the less busy residential side streets.
Regardless of all the warnings, as we whip through town at roughly 38 mph on wet roads sure enough 2 pedestrians are in the crosswalk, look right at us coming, and one of the two tries to make a brake for it across (an older heavy set woman). I don't even bother hitting the brakes as I know that if I did at that speed it could be messy, and my stopping distance is welllll beyond the crosswalk. So just whip out the Campy horn. "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!" The pedestrian get's the point and scurries a bit faster through the crosswalk, ducking her head. What was she thinking? That could have been seriously catastrophic for both of us!
The rest of the ride goes smooth, and I barrel along the flat portions, passing the fellow in front of me... before coming to the bike finish. Dismount and run in. Again the family and friends cheering! Again, huge smile.
This time I run quickly back to the rack, again using the lampost as a guide to find my spot (handy tip from something I read earlier in the year). I strip the helmet and glasses, as well as jersey, swap shoes, and am off. I make the last minute decision to bring the gel, so end up stuffing it in the back of my shorts.
By the time the bike was put back on the rack my knees were already starting to groan. I think the cold from the water and wind as well as the constant side stroke on one side has done it's damage. Although I'm achy, there's no serious pain anywhere. So out the gate, and up the first hill we run.
...I remember that the course description points out that the hills for the bike portion are moderate-heavy. But it also says "mostly flat" run. It's interesting because I wouldn't describe it as mostly flat at all. As compared to the Tolt-Pipeline, which is a great area to train for running, it's flat. As compared to all the hills on the swim, it was pretty intense!...
By this point it was time to make a game changing decision. Do I go easier on the run than I had hoped in order to save a potential injury to the knees and my complaining hip, or do I go flatout and see how far training has taken me. It actually did take a minute for me to weigh this one out, and I chose to push through the pain. This is the last big race of the year, and if I did get injured I'd have plenty of time to rest and recuperate before some November plans.
As we run away, I'm seeing more of my age group folks falling away. It's amazing as I hear the run is the great equalizer for many athletes. We can be moderately out of shape and still really move during the swim and bike. But when it comes to running, the lighter you are, it makes a huge difference. But as they say it also depends on the motor!
So I set my cadence at 92 and run, run, run. Doing alot of training on the treadmill has paid off bigtime as I know exactly what 90 cadence feels like and my upper body is much more relaxed. It will be fun to take this running technique out on marathon distances to see how it holds up.
On the way up, I see a buddy and cheer him on, and look for other folks that I know. By the time the first water station arrives, I'm ready! Even though I've been drinking plenty on the bike, I down almost the entire cup of water at our nearly halfway mark. Then push hard as we get back to mostly downhills. The downhills scared me. Being that the knees were already achy, tired, and cold I was very concerned about all the downhill pounding that they may get. So for the first couple minutes I took it easy to see if there was any pain. Since nothing showed up, I opened the throttle and started to sprint the last mile and a half. Lonnnnng strides, same cadence. This is the effecient way to do it, as Joe Friel describes. Also, whenever you get to see the elite runners from Kenya go, they almost always have huge strides with the same cadence 92-96 per minute. So I open up the stride, and every so often look over my shoulder.
As I head back to the finish, I'm encouraging and yelling to all the runners heading UP the hill. "Go for it!" "You can do it!" "This is the last of it, go!". Of course inadvertently I'm really pumping myself up with enthusiasm and energy! I'll have to remember that trick for later, longer distances.
Round the corner into Carrillon point, and there's a friend shouting, there's the family cowbelling, and it's time to finish. Sprint as soon as I can see the finish line....
Here's the placement for my agegroup (30-34)
Bike: 8th of 64
Run: 8th of 64
Swim: 59th of 64!
Goal: Top 10 in bike and run for age group, done.
Now to put on some water wings and hit the pool!