I did the Woodruff Family YMCA Y-Tri last weekend, and it was my first race in several years. I still haven’t decided if it’s the start of a comeback or a one-off, but at a minimum, I suppose I’m now honor-bound to do the Woodruff Y’s other seasonal race, August’s Charles Island Sprint Triathlon. If I can come up with one more race, I suppose that would make this the start of an official comeback.
The Y-Tri is a short sprint, and although I feel like I have to defend myself for saying this, it’s exactly my favorite kind of race. I typically train for Olympic distance triathlons because those training distances really suit me—two to three thousand yard swims, twenty-five- to fifty-mile bike rides, and six- to nine-mile runs. As a racer however, I function best as a kind of later-day mid-distance specialist. I’ll be forty-three next week, and yeah, that makes it easier to longer, slower. However, I once specialized in the 200 butterfly, and with that background, my best thing remains hard uptempo work at the end of short-but-grueling races to a strong finish.
This describes the Y-Tri perfectly—300 yards swimming, 11-miles cycling, and 2.4-miles running.
I should mention that it’s been awhile since I trained for triathlon in any organized fashion. I spent some time last fall contemplating a solo swim across Long Island Sound, but although I got up to doing long workouts of around 7500 yards in the pool, I didn’t feel like my body adapted particularly well. It’s one thing to train like that when you’re nineteen. It’s something else entirely to try to do it as a fortysomething professional with a wife, kids, and career. I started developing shoulder pain after a little more than a month of heavy swimming, and then I got sick—twice. By the time my daughter Hannah asked me for help with her performance in gymnastics, I was all too ready hit the gym and do something else entirely.
I’ve been mostly focused on weightlifting since about mid-December, with a secondary emphasis on running three times per week. I’m up about five pounds with noticeably less body fat, and I’ve shaved maybe half-a-minute per mile off my average running pace since last summer. That stuff is great. However, those gains have come at the cost of pool time and cycling, and I’ve been struggling with long runs over seven miles. I like the way that my body looks and feels right now, but as a would-be triathlete, I am nowhere near ready to go long.
Part of me feels like this is cheating, and part of me is just happy not to have to spend so much damned time on my bicycle and in the pool. Regardless, I’m not looking to change my routine. I’ve been swimming some, and I’ve been riding my daily bike-commute, but I wouldn’t train this way if I was planning to enter a race like the Pat Griskus Olympic Triathlon.
I managed to swim twice last week because of a quirk in my schedule, which is somewhat unusual of late. My second swim was Saturday, and as that was the day before the race, I decided to do some yoga first. I’ve been stiff in the water for months, but the yoga helped more than I would have dared hope. I swam better than I have in quite some time and resolved to do the same thing before the race the next day. I therefore got to the Y early Sunday morning, got myself checked in and set up in transition quickly, and then headed for a quiet corner of the pool deck. I spent twenty-five minutes working through a simple warm-up routine, so that by the time the pool opened, I was ready. I hit the water at about 8:35, swam for fifteen minutes, and then got out. In spite of everything, I felt fast and loose. I headed to the starting line feeling cautiously optimistic.
My daughter Hannah sang the National Anthem, and she sounded terrific.
My plan for the day was to start slow and work my way into the race over time, accelerating at the halfway mark to finish strong. I’d entered a swimming seed time of 3:40 for the 300-yard pool swim, which unfortunately put me first. However, I told myself that I wanted to take it easy and therefore agreed to let the youngest person in the race go in front of me—the sole entrant in the female 16-19 age group category. This is important because most pool-swim triathlons typically have echeloned starts according to seed times. We went off at 15-second intervals according to seed times and snaked our way through the pool, back and forth until we’d done a fifty in each lane, for a total of three hundred yards. I went second with the idea that I would just draft if I caught the girl in front of me.
She’s sixteen; I’m almost forty-three. It didn’t seem like a super-relevant concern.
She pushed off, and then I pushed off fifteen seconds later. I felt great—again fast but loose as I had in warm-ups. I caught the girl in front of me at the 125-yard mark and settled in to draft but quickly realized that doing so was going to cost me something like half-a-minute overall. I therefore turned hard at the 150-yard mark and pushed off wide, going to maximum effort to pass quicky. After that, my so-called plan was out-the-window, but what can you do?
I hit the wall and glanced at my watch. 3:40 exactly. That’s quite a bit faster than I intended but entirely respectable. Including the thirty-yard run to transition, I was 4:13, which was good for second overall. My buddy Ben snaked me on the run in from the pool!
|Coming out of the water. Man, have I gotten bald!|
Swim: 300-yard pool swim in 4:13; 2/66 overall.
That’s an average of 1:13/100 to the wall. Not too bad considering how little I’ve been swimming.
We’ve had decent weather this spring, but it was cold and windy on Sunday, and this hit me full-force in transition. I wound up wearing my warmest cycling jersey, a race belt, and full-fingered gloves, all of which made me slower in transition than I am at my best.
Also: I’m a little out of practice. I very nearly fell on my way out of T-1.
T-1: 1:27.6; 16/66 overall.
Yeah, that’s miserably slow.
So. Fifty-five degrees with twenty mile-per-hour crosswinds, and I was riding with wet hair. Yikes! My head actually hurt for the first five minutes, and then—mercifully—I dried up enough to be merely cold.
The Y-Tri’s bike course is an 11-mile two loop course. It’s mostly flat, but there’s one short climb towards the end, followed by a long, false-flat descent into the finish. The first three-quarters of that first loop was absolutely miserable. The wind gusted in my face, my legs felt cold and stiff, and my heartrate was ludicrously high from the closing half of my swim. I tried to catch my breath, but between the wind, the cold, and the effort I’d already expended, this was not easy. I finally decided to just hammer as hard as I could, keeping my tempo high, and hope to warm up over time. With those temperatures, there didn’t seem to be much hope of staying loose for the run, regardless.
My second lap felt better, but I don’t know if it was faster. Maybe my body adjusted. That’s the problem with these short triathlons—there’s not much margin for error. Instead, you have to come out of the gate at full power and just hope to hang on.
I felt better by the time I pulled into T-2. Despite tough conditions, I was having a good race.
|Sally took this shot as I left T-1.|
Bike: 11.2-mile bike ride in 35:08; 6/66 overall.
This works out to an average of just over 19 mph. Although I lost this race on the bike, I have to say that this was excellent considering the course conditions.
I didn’t notice the cold in T-2, but I also didn’t exactly fly through.
T-2: :46.6; 32/66 overall.
Again, that’s miserably slow. In fact, one could easily argue that I lost this race in transition.
Usually in triathlons, I come out of the water first, hold my own on the bike, and then get pelted by the real runners on the run. However, I’ve been run-focused now for the past five months, and it showed here. I struggled for the first half-mile or so with heavy legs, but by the end of the first ten minutes I was in the groove and accelerating, albeit slowly. My first mile was around 8:25/mile. I picked it up after that, and when we turned for home, I felt strong. I saw Hannah as I turned the last corner, and she paced me in at a hard sprint to the finish.
Run: 2.4-mile run in 19:26; 17/65 overall.
That works out to be an 8:05/mile average, which is very good by my personal running standards. Running will never be my best thing, but then again, I only really need to be able to hold a lead coming out of the water. 8:05/mile is usually good enough for that.
|My friend Alex won this race with a phenomenal bike leg. |
He averaged something like 25 mph!
2016 Woodruff Y-Tri: 1:01:01.9; 2/5 age group; 5/65 overall.
I was the third guy across the line, and for the next half hour or so, I was convinced that I’d gotten third overall and won my age group. The staggered start got me, though. My friend Alex wound up winning the age group, and overall I was fifth. Ugh! I put two minutes into Alex on the swim, but he absolutely owned the bike, taking back my two minutes and putting two more into me. I made up that two minutes over the course of the run, but alas, it wasn’t enough. In a one-hour race, I finished a little less than a full second behind.
|Screenshot of the Official Results|
I’m not sure what’s next.
The Charles Island Sprint is in August, and if I can ever get my shit together, I may finally do that half-marathon I’ve been talking about, too. I don’t want to do it just to get a t-shirt, though. If I can’t go out there, feel good, and run well—defined as going under and hour-fifty overall—then I’d rather just keep doing what I’m doing and work out on my own. So far, I don’t quite feel like I’m where I need to be, but I guess we’ll see how it goes as the season progresses.