Sunday, July 11, 2010

Black Fly Tri

I competed in another area triathlon today - the Black Fly Tri. This was no small feat, considering that Hilary and I have managed to put in all of about 5 training sessions in the 4 weeks since King Pine. Sadly, Hilary herself could not make it. By cruel quirks of scheduling, she was tied to the ED overnight Saturday. However, she was able to pull herself away (after suturing a man's arm for three hours after its unfortunate encounter with a plate glass window) to take over the Brynna watch at 5:30 this morning. That gave me just enough time to drive up north to the Waterville Valley ski community in time to compete.

The course has some interesting idiosyncrasies. For one, the water venue is tiny: a dammed up pond measuring maybe 100 x 200 meters. Fitting a 1/4-mile swim course into this is tricky, and requires more or less making a full circuit of the perimeter. However, because it lacks a large area for waves of swimmers to start from, and because the swim course is the water equivalent of single-track, the Black Fly is an individual start. That means that the whole field lines up by bib number and gets sent off, one at a time, at 5-10 second intervals.

I hadn't done an individual start race before. The immediate consequence is that the pack gets stretched way out, and there is no good way of knowing where you are in terms of others' net time. There is no opportunity, as with group starts, to mark the person in front of you and pass them with the knowledge that you've moved up in the standings (moving up from a 10th place finish to 9th!). You aren't really racing against people - just against the clock. On the course, passing is still passing - it gives you a sense that you are moving faster than at least some people, but it still doesn't mean much.

Having a relatively high bib number, I got to stand in line for nearly a half hour, while the other 9/10 of the field started, before crossing the timing pad and tiptoeing into the rocky culvert that was the swim start. Ah well, the wait gave me enough time to down a bottle of water - I was feeling a little dry at the start. It is also good because although I thought I'd left myself enough time when I left the house, I was scrambling during the national anthem to finish putting my stuff together in transition.

On the other hand, standing around in a wetsuit, even stripped to the waist, in the increasing sun of a summer's day is no fun. I was a little ambivalent about the wetsuit - an email from the race director earlier this week indicated the water temperature was 72 - a full 20 degrees warmer than this event last year!. But 72 is warm enough that I could reasonably swim without the wetsuit, thus saving some time in transition. But the wetsuit ensured that I wouldn't experience the first shock of the water, and a good wetsuit will make you more buoyant in the water, and generally faster.

So I opted to wear the suit. As I have already mentioned, the water course was tight, and as I'm a reasonably swift swimmer, I passed a lot of people. But it was difficult with the close confines. Plus, because the course wasn't just a straight shot, it required a lot more interruption to my stroke to sight my way to the next buoy. I had a pretty good swim, more or less my usual speed. Not bad for four weeks of slacking!

Onto the bike! In my haste to get my transition area put together this morning, I managed to not fill my water bottle for the bike leg. Thankfully, I don't think this cost me, but it did make me nervous. This bike course is a bit long for a sprint distance - 15 miles. It was chosen largely because there aren't any good long loops from the Waterville ski area, and the best turn around spot for an out-and-back was 7.5 miles away. This course is definitely not flat: more or less all downhill on the out, uphill on the back. So while I was feeling great cruising at 26 mph going out, I struggled to manage 14 on the way back, for an average of just 17.7 mph. Once again, owing largely to my late start, I ended up passing a whole lot of folks.

In order to speed up my second transition time, I attempted a trick that many of the more experienced triathletes do. With a few hundred yards to go, you unstrap your bike shoes, which are clipped to your pedals, and pull your feet out, pedaling the rest of the way on top of your shoes. The time you lose during this maneuver by not pedaling full out is more than made up for by the fact that you are in motion when the shoes come off, rather than standing still in transition taking them off. Many experienced triathletes do the opposite maneuver, too: starting the bike leg barefoot, with the shoes already clipped into the pedals, and strapping yourself in once you have some momentum.

Probably I should have practiced it a bit more. When I lifted my foot off my right shoe, it flopped back, got caught on the pavement, and popped right off the pedal! I didn't want to stop to retrieve it, so I kept going the last 50 yards, hoping I could find it after the race. When I pulled my left foot off while dismounting, the same thing happened! This time I was already stopped, so I did pick up the shoe and keep going. In the meantime, a race volunteer was kind enough to catch up to me and toss me the lost shoe. This crazy dismount maneuver probably did save me some time, maybe 30 seconds, but it could well have been a disaster.

The run goes along various streets through this ski condo community. I can't really say much about it. I do not really enjoy running - I find it a lot more grueling than swimming or biking, especially when you're already an hour into a race. Nevertheless, I seem to be getting more comfortable with it. I did not have the leaden- and jelly-legged feeling today that I usually feel when coming off the bike. I still managed to pass some people on the course, and ultimately managed a 7:30-pace across the 3.5-mile course. I'd call that a decent day for me.

And, once again, I had the support of some familiar faces from Capital Multisport. It was a small crew for the sprint today - a larger crowd competed in the international distance yesterday during heavy rain. There was also a bicycle time trial event on Friday evening. Do all three - as 100 competitors this weekend did - and you get to compete for the Lord of the Flies trophy. Considering my respectable-but-far-from-the-rankings finish today, I'd say I'm a long way off from that kind of punishment.

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