Sally and I did out last race of the season Sunday, the Westport Kiwanus Triathlon. The race is a short (very short) sprint held at beautiful Compo Beach in Westport, CT, and we've been doing it now off-and-on since 2007. Moreover, two years ago, this was Sally’s first open-water triathlon, and she’s been wanting to come back ever since.
I love triathlon and physical training in general, but ever since we took the family to Maine for vacation last month, I've been suffering from a severe lack of focus. Which is to say that lots of things have seemed more important than triathlon training lately, and at this point, after six full seasons of racing in a row, I'm not beating myself up about it. As an adult triathlete, I think it's important remember that you're ultimately only accountable to yourself. It's fine to have motivation and to push yourself to achieve your goals, but it’s silly to fake it and burn your desire out long-term when you're just not feeling it. And that's where I've been for the past month or so--just not feeling it.
On top of that, I've been nursing a little ankle injury since mid-June, and Sally's been nursing a sore foot. We'd both hoped to kind of rest, refocus, and then run theHartford Half-Marathon in the wake of our vacation, but the timing was tougher than we’d realized it would be and the injuries have lingered. I don't know how bad Sally's foot is, but she's had plantar fasciitis before, and I'm not looking for a recurrence after it took six months for her to heal last time. For me, well, I think I could have run through my ankle trouble--it feels like inflamed lateral tendons and a lingering calf strain rather than a stress fracture or something serious--but the week I took off from running up in Maine wasn’t enough to resolve the issue, and it's not worth risking a serious injury just for the sake of being a tough guy.
Anyway, I bring all of this up just to put this last race into perspective. The Westport Tri isn't a particularly challenging race, but it's fun, and it's about all I felt ready to tackle--physically and emotionally--at the end of a long season of training.
We had good weather yesterday, but it was cool. After a weird little heat wave last week, we awoke to temperatures in the mid-50s Sunday, though fortunately the water down at the beach was probably in the mid- to upper-70s. Meanwhile, I slept very poorly Friday night, and neither of us was particularly keen on getting up early Sunday morning, which meant that we were running late all day. But we did eventually get down to the beach, get transition set up, and start heading towards the start of the race. What we didn't do, however, was leave any time for warm ups--at all--which was a dumb way to start a super-duper sprint triathlon.
On the other hand, it was cold, and we stayed warm. That was nice, even if it wasn't necessarily great strategy.
The Westport Tri is weird. You walk a half mile down the beach, slide into the water along one of the jetties, and then swim a full half-mile parallel to the beach until you reach the other jetty. Then you're out and up into transition. No turns, it’s just a half-mile swum straight across. What’s weird about that is that beach curves, and the race organizers put a middle buoy about half-way through the course, but only about fifty yards offshore. So good strategy is to swim straight and ignore that middle buoy, but of course, that’s easier said that done. Sighting on a buoy half a mile away isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In any event, the walk down the beack did me some good. I wore flip-flops to keep the heat from leaching out of the bottoms of my feet, and I wore my old swimming parka from high school to keep the rest of me warm, and I felt good when we finally got set at the far jetty. I stretched a little, chatted with Sally, and generally waited with the rest of the folks while our race director gave an interminable set of instructions. Being a forty-year-old, I was in the second wave, so once the first wave was away, I slid out of my parka and into the water where I tried to loose up as much as I could quickly. That went surprisingly well, and when they finally sounded the horn to go, I felt really good--for about the first half of the half-mile swim. After that, the lack of warm-up had lactic acid building up in my arms and shoulders, but I’d been expecting that. I focused on holding my stroke together and keeping it long, and to be honest, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. I started catching swimmers from the first wave at about the ¾-mark, and then I reached that last buoy, turned hard, and swam the last fifteen feet to shore.
Half-Mile Swim: 11:05 (~1:25/100); 1/20 AG.
Eh. That's okay. I mean, it’s not bad, but I’ve been under 11:00 on this course.
The run up to Transition was short but rocky. I found my stuff quickly, but it was cold, and I felt all fumble-fingered. Plus, I decided to wear full-fingered gloves, and getting those on was a struggle.
I felt much slower than that, but that time isn’t too bad.
The thing that makes this race such a weird one is the bike course. It’s a mere 5.5-miles. So you have to go fast right from jump, but the air temperature was at most sixty degrees, and of course, you come out of the water wet. I saw a lot of people putting on jackets, but I personally settled for nothing more than my warmest short-sleeved jersey and the full-fingered gloves I mentioned earlier. And that was fine as far as it went, except that my thighs were cold.
To be honest, it’s an open question how much warming up on the bike would’ve helped. I wanted to try it, but with the weather and all the rest of it, it might not have made much difference. In any event, I decided to just stay in a gear I could manage easily and spin as fast as I could in order to get the blood flowing as quickly as possible. I feel like that was a good decision. In fact, I’ll probably do it every time I race from now on. I spun at maybe 110 rpm (or more!) for about the first two and a half miles, and despite the temperature and everything else, I felt pretty good on the bike by the time we hit mile three. That was something of a miracle.
The course itself is a single loop with several sharp turns, one sharply rolling section, and a ride through a golf course that is both windy and a little technical. So yeah, it’s only a 5.5-mile ride, but it’s five miles that keep you awake and alert. I enjoyed it tremendously. I also liked that I’d been in the second wave. Normally in a race like this, I swim off the front, and then I don’t see anybody all day except for those folks who’re so much faster than me that they blow by me on the bike at something like the speed of sound. This time, I passed people left and right, most high school-aged kids on mountain bikes who’d been there mostly for the swim. It was motivating to see them out on the course. Motivating because I was passing them and motivating because they’re the future of the sport, just getting their feet wet for the first time.
This is why I like this race.
But the bike was only 5.5-miles, and truthfully, it was over almost as soon as it had begun. In fact, I’ve been writing about it now for more time than I spent actually riding it on Sunday.
5.5-Mile Ride: 15:55 (~20.7 mph); 4/20 AG.
I’ll take that every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
I came into T-2, and there was my beautiful wife Sally, just getting her cycling shoes on. She seemed in good spirits, which is not a given after an open-water swim, and that made me happy, We said hello to each other, and then I was out of there.
Sally said after the fact that she should’ve just skipped the bike and run with me right then and there. That would’ve been awesome.
I headed out onto the road feeling very winded. I haven’t been running a lot, and… well, I don’t want to make it more than it is, but it took me a good half-mile or so to get my breathing under control and settle into the run. That’s not really unusual or anything, but I feel like I’d have managed it better if I’d been running more.
I wrote on Facebook earlier this week that I run like a particularly athletic walrus, and let me tell you, that is the literal truth. I started feeling like myself quickly enough, but even though I wanted to lean into the run and pick up the tempo, it just wasn’t there. And I knew that if I tried, I was just gonna blow a gasket and wind up slower for the effort. So I held my pace to a steady, athletic waddle, and folks passed me. There was nothing I could do about it.
The course winds out of the beach and onto one of the access roads, then wraps around, and comes back parellel to the beach along the line that we walked out to reach the swim start. Then you pass the Finish and continue out for maybe a half-mile until you reach a turnaround, at which point they dump you onto the beach--and loose sand--for the last half-mile. Last time we ran this race, that loose sand just killed me, but oddly enough, this was my second race on loose sand in the past month, and it didn’t bother me this time. Who knew you could train to run on sand?
I finished feeling strong, and there you have it.
Run: 16:46 (~7:37/mile); 11/20 AG.
That’s actually not terrible for me; it’s only terrible in comparison to what the real runners were doing out there.
Westport Kiwanus Triathlon: 46:06; 3/20 AG, 21/250 Overall.
I feel about that about like I felt about the swim--it’s not bad, but it’s not terrific, and I know I’ve been faster on this course before. Yeah, it’s nice to wind up on the podium, and yeah, little victories are worth celebrating, but I’m also aware of the reality that this race is run by a lot of very casual triathletes, and beating those guys is not necessarily some huge accomplishment. On the other hand, that’s certainly a respectable performance, and considering where my head’s been at lately, that’s reason enough to celebrate.
If you’re wondering, Sally was 24:10 in the swim, 19:26 on the bike, and 17:53 on the run. That made her 9/17 in her Age Group and 183/250 overall. So… not her best performance, but once she got out of the water, she was okay.
Now it’s the off-season, and job number one is healing up my ankle. I marked out six weeks on the calendar, so my next run will be November 1st. That’ll give me time to train a little for one Stratford’s Turkey Trots, so at least I’ve got that to look forward to. A friend of mine also convinced me to go to West Point’s Alumni Swim Meet this year, which means I’ve got a couple of weeks to get in the water and start doing some stroke work to be ready swim butterfly on the Class of ‘95 medley relay. I haven’t done any sustained stroke work since before graduation, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. Finally, Sally’s been after me to get in the gym and put some weight onto my shoulders and triceps--‘cause that’s the way she seems to like me--and a few other folks have been after me to attend their spin classes, and one of my friends wants some help with his freestyle this offseason, so all things considered, it looks like the offseason will be plenty busy, even without much running.