Literally. Despite the absolute worst transitions I’ve performed in years, they proved to be the difference between first and second place.
Bridget and I got to the transition area shortly after 5am, so we had time to ride one loop of the bike course and familiarize ourselves with the turns and speed bumps (there are six huge ones, as well as approximately one thousand potholes). Upon our return to the transition area I heard what sounded like a hybrid banshee/eagle/coyote howl, and immediately thought, “I didn’t know Nicole was racing?” She had maimed her foot practicing her bike dismounts just two days earlier (which resulted in a trip to the ER and crutches), but I should’ve known that a flesh wound wouldn’t keep her from the start line. She is my hero and embodies the phrase (in her eloquent words), “No excuses, just STFU and race!” And with that in mind, let’s get to the race.
My swim start could’ve been a bit more, um, graceful for sure. I was so concerned with starting my watch that I tripped and half-stumbled into the pool, which would be the first of four non-swimming, biking, nor running miscues of the day. The swim was relatively solid and uneventful, however. I passed a few people, had relatively decent turns, and was happy exiting the water under 6:30 (official time was 6:38 which included a run out of the pool, down some stairs, and into the transition area). Overall, I was twelve seconds ahead of myself in last year’s race.
T1 was smooth until I exited the transition area and attempted to get on my bike. I can usually mount my bike on the fly, but I pretty much botched it entirely today. Fortunately, I managed to stay on my bike after mounting it, even though I was teetering all over the place because I was moving so slowly and didn’t have my feet on my shoes which were attached to the pedals. It also took me an abnormally long time to get my dang feet into my shoes. Overall, a pretty terrible performance.
The bike course is tough because it is entirely flat and terribly paved, so not only are you grinding out a big gear the entire time, but you also have to be hyper-aware of the road conditions. There are some potholes that could easily cause a crash, let alone flat a tire. I managed to pass a few people on the first loop, though I still had no idea where I was in the overall race. By my estimates I was probably seventh or eighth on the course after the first loop. Coach Cane gave me a “nice job, Terry Moore” after completing the first loop, which meant I was riding well. In the past, I’ve always gotten a more concerned comment from Coach while on the bike. I checked my watch, and was in fact, riding faster than last year (approximately 40-45 seconds faster for the first loop). There was more traffic on the second loop, but by this point I knew where I needed to be cautious and where I could put my head down and hammer. As I finished the second loop, I reached down, unstrapped my shoes, slipped my feet out and prepared to dismount into T2.
And then I fell off of my bike. This was the third, and most costly locomotive mistake of the day for me. Without hesitation, I got up, grabbed my bike (fortunately neither of my shoes had become unclipped), and ran into transition. Overall bike time was 32:58 (a whopping 1:30 faster than last year, and this year’s time included a horrible mount and dismount). I managed to rack my bike, get my helmet off, get my running shoes on, grab my race belt, and get the hell out of transition quickly (51 seconds, 4 seconds slower than last year). I was pretty hot by this point and was happy to see a table full of water cups awaiting me as I ran out of transition. And then I missed grabbing ALL OF THE CUPS, mistake number four (I would’ve killed for a cup of water at that point).
As I began the run Coach Cane informed me that there were two guys ahead of me and that “you can catch them”. My legs had a different idea though. Last year, I had an out of body run at this race, clocking 16:49 for the 5k. My legs turned over very well and I was quite relaxed. This year was a different story. I struggled to find a rhythm between my legs and breathing, and was absolutely parched. I glanced at my watch at the first mile marker and saw that I was running 5:40s, considerably slower than last year. However, I knew that there was still a chance I could come from behind on the run. Fortunately there was a water station at mile 1 and I finally got some water in my mouth and on top of my head to cool off. Still though, there wasn’t a sign of either guy in front of me, and I knew that I was running out of real estate. Mile 1 to 2 seemed to take forever, and by the time I reached the mile 2 marker, I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t further along in the run and that I had still yet to see either of the competitors in front of me. Last year, I came from behind on the run and was able to reel in the leader early on. Not being able to see who you’re chasing makes doing so much more difficult since you can’t gauge your pace versus theirs, and also can’t figure out if you’re actually making up any ground at all.
Finally, I emerged from the twisting course and knew where I stood. There was one out-and-back left before the finish, and the leader was just about finishing the back as I was beginning the out (unfortunately, the out-and-back included running around the huge fountain that the bug in the Edgar suit crashes into in Men in Black after Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones shoot down his UFO, causing Mets outfielder, Bernard Gilkey, to become distracted and get hit in the head with a fly ball). I assumed that I needed to stay within a minute of the leader to contend for the overall win, but man is that fountain large! Nevertheless, I hit the gas with about 200 meters to go, knowing that I only had a few more seconds of pain. The two guys in front of me finished before me, and I was sure that I had lost the race.
My run (17:39) was considerably slower than last year, though overall, my time was 42 seconds faster (58:55 vs. 59:37), which was the result of a considerably faster bike this year. It’s very likely that the extra effort expended on the bike resulted in a slower run, but if it netted me around forty seconds, I’ll take it! Even though this is my seventh year racing triathlons, I’m still learning how to put three different disciplines together (along with, obviously, transitions) for the most effective overall race. While I always scrutinize my run times the most, you don’t win by having the fastest of any of the three individual disciplines. It’s the sum of the parts that matter. And those parts include transitions. Even though mine were abysmal today, they proved to be the difference. I won by twenty one seconds, even though my combined swim, bike, and run times were sixteen seconds slower than those of second place.
Oh, and Nicole won the women’s race, mangled foot and all. In fact, Citycoach was very well represented, with the ladies finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th overall, and all nine of us finishing in the top 40. Next up for me is a slightly longer race, Ironman Louisville. Good thing I have a few months before then to practice my transitions.