A tale of two races (Part I)

The original plan for the year was to do the Patriot Half Iron race as prep for Ironman Lake Placid. Knowing the time it takes to train for an Ironman, my original intent was to take the rest of the year off from racing after Lake Placid.

However, after an unexpected and disappointing Ironman result I was compelled to redeem myself and signed up for the Great Pumpkin Challenge. The challenge consists of a sprint distance on Saturday followed by a half iron distance on Sunday. While I finished both races, they were two very different experiences.

The Sprint
My training for the two weeks leading up to race weekend was a little spotty. Work and pool closings have kept my schedule a little tough to manage. So, I really wasn’t sure what to expect on race day. My plan for the Saturday race was to go comfortably hard and push it a little if I was feeling really good.

The Swim
The swim was 1/3 of a mile and the way others in my age group were looking to jump the gun I figured it was going to be a fast one. One of the biggest benefits of going through an Ironman mass start swim with 2,400 other racers is that I feel completely comfortable getting to the front and mixing it up to try and move into clean water. I did just that and found that I was able to find a clear line quickly. I saw some other swimmers on either side of me for the first 50 yards or so and then I just saw what I thought was another racer from my age group about 20 yards up ahead. I was feeling good so I pushed it a bit hoping to try and catch up to them. I thought it would be kind of nice to be 2nd or 3rd out of the water.

I never caught that person in front of me but chasing them down helped me nail a good time. I would later find out that the racer in front of me was one of the Elites and I was actually the first swimmer out of the water in my age group! I’ve only been swimming since I took up triathlon six years ago so I was super excited to have such a good result.

The Bike
I’ve ridden the bike course a couple of times prior to race day so I was comfortable where I could push and where to back off some. Starting in the 2nd wave behind the elites, and being first out of the water I was able to keep track of who in my age group was passing me (For those that don’t know, the age of each racer is written on their calf prior to the start). I was feeling pretty good and was surprised to only see 2 others in my age group passed me during the bike. I was even more surprised to catch up to 2 of the female elite racers that started 1 minute ahead of me. Either they were having a really bad day or mine was going better than I thought.

The Run
As I roll into T-2 I’m still feeling really good and it hits me that I’m currently in 3rd place in my age group! I’ve never been in this position before! I’m used to finishing maybe in the top third or top half of a race but getting on the podium hasn’t ever been on my radar. Now, I’m starting a three mile run in 3rd place but I have no idea how far back anyone else in my age group is. Because the age is written on the back of the calf so you don’t know if your losing a position until someone has already passed you.

Even though I’m pretty lean right now from my Ironman training schedule, I’m a larger than average for a triathlete at 190 pounds, which has always been a disadvantage on the run. But, I kept to my plan of going comfortably hard until the 1 1/2 mile mark when I heard footsteps behind me and saw a “35” on the back of the calf of the racer who just passed me. Dang, he’s in my 35 – 39 age group! I was feeling good but started to have an internal dilemma. Do I try and keep up and hope I don’t over do it before the half-ironman I would be doing is less than 24 hours???

My competitive juices temporarily ruled the day and I picked up the pace to stay with him as long as I could, which ended up being until the 2 1/2 mile mark when I looked at my heart rate monitor and realized that I was pushing the red zone. My more sensible side took over I backed off a bit but it was enough to lose contact. One more person from my age group before crossing the line at a sub 7 minute/mile pace and about 2 minutes faster than last year’s time. This was good enough for 5th place out of 45 in my age group and 27th out of 433.

For now I’ll just say that the Sunday half ironman the next day was a physically and emotionally exhausting experience. So, in order to do it justice I’m going to tackle that one tomorrow because right now I’m going to have a Guinness, eat more food and hopefully fall asleep on the couch.

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