Monday, March 3, 2014

Clermont Draft Legal Challenge: Double the racing, quadruple the pain

Every year at this point, it's become an annual pilgrimage for short course triathletes to go down to Central Florida in early March, whether that's pros in the Pan American Cup or us hope-to-be-pros in the Elite Development Race. This was my third time coming here to do this race, with less than stellar results the last two years (2012) (2013). I hadn't been this excited to race in a very long time, as I ended last year on such a high note particularly with respect to my running, and my training had gone exceptionally well throughout the winter. I didn't quite hit what I wanted to do in the race, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm still progressing very well, and it's become very, very, very clear what needs to happen (spoiler alert: the answer is run faster).

I stupidly thought it would be a great idea to drive down to Clermont. Why I didn't learn this lesson better last year, I don't know. I left work Wednesday with something between sleet and rain falling in Norfolk, and I made it down to Charleston to stay with Dave Endean, teammate and friend from USCGA a year behind me. It was good to see him, as I hadn't seen him since I was out in Tempe for Collegiate Nationals last year. The next day was a whole lot more driving, making it into Clermont mid-afternoon, with enough time for a little ride to make sure everything was working with the bike, as well as a swim. The swim was a bit terrifying though, as Lake Louisa State Park was a veritable ghost town, so I was the only one on the beach, wearing nothing but a speedo and goggles, about to go swim, when I heard an alligator growl off in the distance. I collected myself and eventually got in.
The most exciting thing of the day before the race, Friday, was picking Meredith up at the airport because I got to have the number 1 superfan/sherpa there all weekend. Other than that, the day was uneventful with the standard day-before-race goings-on.
Saturday morning I was feeling pretty ready to go. The start was a little delayed because of an accident in the women's race resulting in an athlete having to be airlifted, so we all stood around and shivered mostly. I had a jacket on, but with water that was seemingly 68.01 degrees, it was less than pleasant.
Visibly cold lining up for the start
I lined up towards the right because it was shallower, so I got some very good dolphin diving at the start. However, my lack of top-end sprint speed quickly caught up to me and I got absolutely clobbered for the first 200m before everybody else settled in and I was able to claw my way back up through the group like I usually do in the swim. I exited the water in 15th according to the results, right back of a small group of guys that included fellow bigger guy, Mike Pelechaty. While I'd like to think I'm pretty quick in the transition area itself, my transition in Clermont always suffers because it's a 300m run from the water's edge, and that's even after 100-200m of a dolphin dive/high step mix.
Only maybe the halfway point of T1...
I got into the group with Mike and a few others early, and while I thought we did a decent job working together, there was just too much disparity within the group. There was one guy way off the front, but then there was another group not far up the road about the same size as ours, but we couldn't really make a dent in them. I don't mind having passengers in the group that much, especially if I can tell they're hurting because it's unlikely that they'll matter on the run. However, the trouble we were having was that we had riders who were impeding us almost, by either taking too long or slow of pulls, leaving gaps, that sort of thing. Ultimately, we got swallowed up by a huge group at the turnaround for lap 3. At that point, I decided my work was done, so I just went to the back to hang out, drink some water, and try to catch my breath before the run, while Mike asked the couple of Canadians in the field what their thoughts were on Trailer Park Boys and Justin Bieber before nearly getting himself dropped at the turnaround because he wasn't totally paying attention. People went a little nuts on the back half of the last lap including an adorable attack from two USNA mids, but nothing stuck, so I was content to just hang out. I was a little terrified coming into T2 with a group of 20+, as I've never seen that before in an EDR, but to my knowledge nobody died.
When our group was still small, heading out for the second lap.
I headed out onto the run, watching the little boys go and run off, putting 15 seconds on me before we were even clear of the main spectator area near transition, but I tried to build into it rather than go out like Usain Bolt and then come back in at a JV girls' cross country pace. I did run down a couple of guys who got out of T2 earlier than me and I believe one or two from the pack in front of me, but for the most part I was really just trying to stay in the top 20 once I realized that's approximately where I was at the turnaround, and I saw some quick runners from packs behind me on their way. I didn't quite hold on, ended up coming in 22nd for the day, but I was reasonably content. While an 18:44 5k is by no means blazing, the times all seemed a little slow and I've historically run very poorly in these draft legal races, so I'll get there, I know it. With one race down, it was time to recover and get ready for round two.
Part of recovery involved eating at an "Italian restaurant" that Meredith and I are ashamed to have selected for dinner with coach Mace, Steve Mantell and his dad. You would think the New Jerseyan and the New Yorker would have had more discerning tastes for Italian food, but we were adamant against chains, but we probably would have been better off at Olive Garden. Steve and Mace, we're sorry. Urban Spoon lied to us.
The next morning was much, much lower key. The air was a little warmer, and so was the water.
No visible symptoms of mild hypothermia today!
I lined up more towards the left this time, in deeper water. This way, I didn't have to get absolutely clobbered. I held onto Mike a lot longer than expected as didn't have to reenact any scenes from The Guardian, so it was a pretty good swim. I exited the water again with Mike and a few others just in sight and I got out and killed it, not even getting into my shoes until the turnaround, where I was finally sure I was into the group of 5 or 6.
Halfway through T1 again
Starting my guess would be lap 2 based on Mike and the guy in green behind me still being there. This was a kind of tricky section, but you can see our bike handling kind of sucks in early March.
It was kind of similar to the day before, except we gradually got caught by two other smaller groups rather than one giant group. I didn't give up working entirely this time, but I still tried to let the runners battle it out among each other on the bike. From past experience I knew that trying to do too much to chase down those in front of us could leave me in serious trouble for the run, so that was my best strategy to play. Obviously I would have liked to chase down the group up the road from me and I would have liked to have a bigger head start on the groups behind me, but in a lot of ways that wasn't really an option. I was again terrified by dismounting with 20 of my closest friends, especially once Mace yelled at me that I lost a shoe, but I figured my personal safety of not being an upstream swimming salmon was worth a :10 penalty.

Again, not the most organized, but I've NEVER seen groups like this in an EDR. It's kind of cool, but for a weaker runner like me, it also makes the run even more important if races are coming together like this.
I like this picture because it shows how, even in my drops and the other guys on the hoods, I'm still much, much bigger than most of them. Sitting on Steve's wheel doesn't do much for me except make me work really hard because Steve rides really hard when he's on the front. Yes I left a small gap there, but we were entering a small chicane and were towards the back of the group here, so I was preparing for the yoyo effect.
Onto the run again, but this time I tried to go out a little harder and see what happens. Again I didn't quite have it, but I did pull in a few guys from my bike pack who went out even harder than I did, but again I got run down by quite a few, falling to 19th. At the end of the first lap of the run, I looked all over the penalty board, and while there were a lot of 2s on the board, there weren't three in a row so I figured I was good. I clawed my way back and caught one more guy at the start of the second lap but still got passed by a few more, just going farther and farther backwards. I triple checked the penalty board again before heading into the finish chute, where I was really glad I had nobody charging me at the finish.
All aboard the struggle bus...that goes for all three of us here, but this is less than 300m into the run
Again, I am fairly happy with my finish. It's nowhere near what I would like, as I was hoping to be running somewhere in the 17s and contending for at least a top 10, but it appears that's still a little ways off. Sure, I can improve on my top end swim speed to make it easier/possible to get into the lead group. I can get smarter and stronger on the bike to be able to get my group to move up without blowing up, but ultimately I need to run faster. Both days I got off the bike with people who ran their way into the top three, so it's not at all like it's impossible to get there from my swim and bike. I have a lot more room to grow on the run, so that's where I'll be focusing. 
On another note, Meredith is an absolute champ for driving back most of the way and just generally being there all weekend. She and Ashley, another trisherpa, even had their own awards ceremony. 
Winners for best support
Ready for a 13 hour drive? All right let's go.

So, in reflection, I could have done some things different. I tried similar strategies both days and it didn't really work. Maybe it would work better if I was stronger on the swim and/or bike, but the fact is I'm not, but I would be wasting time to try to play to that strategy. Rather instead, I can focus on the run and get there. I've been trying to do that for a couple of years now, and it's finally starting to happen not off the bike, so I can only hope and assume that it's just a matter of time before I'm able to run fast off a hard bike.

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