Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Forwards and Backwards Racing: Smithfield Sprint and Chasing Chicken

In now my 8th year of racing triathlons, I had yet to race a pool swim. It's a little unusual, but a lot of people I know actually did their first race in a pool, as they tend to be either early season races and/or marketed towards beginners. So, instead I did 2 of them on the same weekend, but at this point it was about a month ago because I've been awful about writing this.
The weekend started off with the Smithfield Sprint, a more traditional type of pool swim sprint, with a time trial start; athletes beginning every 15 seconds and swimming a snake-style swim. Beforehand I got a quick little throwback to the old days of swim meet warm-ups by jumping into a crowded lane with people I didn't know and just kind of going. I actually kind of liked it. As far as the start goes, it was really kind of weird to just start on my own rather than have the rush of a gun/horn going off and having to totally sprint off the start. I was absolutely terrible at the shallow-end turns, which is where you went from one lane to the next, because I was trying to flipturn counter clockwise in either 3 or 3.5 feet of water. Despite having a decent swim background, I never really had good flipturns and they've only gotten sloppier as I've gotten farther removed from being a swimmer, so add that with the awkward factor of trying to go the opposite way and under the lane line with my height and you have me missing the wall and/or hitting the bottom of the pool a few times, nearly pulling a Greg Louganis and bashing my head/back on the ground. I got out onto the bike course and wasn't really sure where I was place-wise. It didn't matter a whole lot because of the time trial start, so I just kind of went. It was certainly a nice relief compared to draft legal racing that I didn't have to hammer out of the gate to get up with a group. I thought I was riding soft enough to still have run legs left, but that didn't pan out. I was kind of in no-man's land the whole ride, but it was over fairly quickly being only 10 miles.
Coming into T2, Meredith the excellent photographer got this shot despite her 3+ year old iPhone
I got off the bike and learned I was second into T2, but again that meant nothing. Over time I realized I was gradually picking up a tiny bit of ground on the first runner, but I knew there were others behind me who started after me and would probably pick up even more ground. I didn't exactly feel the best on the run, despite my plan to ride a little easier. It actually felt pretty terrible, but I was running at least a little faster than I did both days in Florida. I did end up getting passed once and never quite caught the other runner, but after everything shook out with the TT start I ended up 4th overall, which wasn't bad at all for a completely un-tapered race with a fairly competitive field. I came in with an 18:16 5k, which isn't exactly blazing, but it mostly got the job done. I'm still trying to figure out why there's such a huge disparity with my open running versus running off the bike, but I haven't quite nailed that down yet.
Heading out, not sure what to expect
The positive thing about the TT start was that I got to watch Meredith's entire race! She didn't start for quite some time after I even finished, and I was really happy to get to see it because she's been so supportive of me.
Aside from that, it was a fun day being out for the first local race of the season, seeing a few people I hadn't seen in quite some time.
It was a tough job juggling food, iPhone camera, and trying to run around to various parts of the course to see Meredith all while sort of cooling down.
Recovery consisted of the incredible Beach Cruiser Bar Crawl around Shore Drive, including a few prologue-efforts on the Froggies-Smokehouse and Smokehouse-Back Deck stages, although I lost due to navigational and mechanical errors on both stages, forcing me to abandon the race like a Schleck. I'd like to think that riding 800W on a beach cruiser through neighborhoods served as openers for the next day.
Speaking of the next day, that involved Chasing Chicken, this year a reverse sprint up in Richmond. I figured I would give it a shot, despite being a smaller race, as I knew a few local pros tended to show up most years. Not that I need that all the time, but it would be a good measuring tool. Also, I always wanted to give a reverse race a shot. I did the one multiple times through at Tri, Tri Again last year, but never on the road or at a sprint distance. Being in Richmond, it also meant a VERY early wake up call. It was also somewhat unseasonably cold, with temps somewhere in the 40s, so I was glad it was a reverse tri. I got everything set up before realizing I didn't have rubber bands to rig up my shoes to the pedals. Never fear though, I had electrical tape, which is just as efficient, right? More on that in a minute.
The name of the race owes to the fact that a man in a chicken suit got a 10 minute head start on the rest of us. So the gun went off and it was kind of like a running race, but fortunately three local pros, Nick Brodnicki, Eric Limkemann, and John Kenny were all there and I was just trying to see if and how I could stay with them. The run started off fairly humane, and after a quarter mile I was surprised to find I was still with the guys. We were clicking off about 5:25-5:30 pace which, while I know I've done, I wasn't sure I would be able to do given that I had raced the day before and run slower at that. We stretched out and came back together a few times depending on hills, who was feeling strong, etc, including the one quick time I took the lead on a downhill where somebody happened to be taking pictures. I 100% for sure swear I did not take the lead just so I could be in front. It was at the end of the downhill and I had longer legs than the other three guys...or something like that.
Nice long downhill stride there to take the lead. Not for the photo op. I absolutely swear. I'd rather be in last place in every picture but the finish line than this
John sort of attacked with about 1km to go and strung us all out after we all agreed "no wrong turns, no crashing," while Eric hung back to save up for the bike just a bit, but we still ended up all coming into transition within a few seconds of each other. 
I'm in third, behind John and Nick. That's the closest I was to Nick for the rest of the day.
Coming into transition is where the disaster started. It was kind of a weird layout from normal with run in and bike out on the same side, closer to where those three guys were racked, whereas I was at the other end nearest to bike in and swim out, so my T1 had a much longer run, while their T2 had a longer run than mine, so it was all fair. Nevertheless, it caused some confusion as John started to take a wrong turn. Then, as all four of us went out, I heard the announcer say something about the spectacle of watching a flying mount and how quick it would be. Then Nick got on his bike right in front of me and fell. I thought to myself "ouch, that sucks, glad that's not me." Took another step, hopped up on my bike and the next thing I know I was looking at the pavement. I'm still not 100% sure what happened, but part of me thinks it had to do with the electrical tape on my shoes not giving when I jump on the way I expect rubber bands to. Just a second later, Eric jumped on his bike and then realized he had a flat...so none of the four of us managed to get transition just right.

I got out onto the bike and could tell one of the other two guys was just up the road by about 15 seconds and I wasn't really sure if I was gaining or not. Sometimes on the rolling hills it seemed like I was, but other times it seemed stagnant. The curvier stretches of road I was, again, completely in no-man's land. I was also starting to get concerned about catching the chicken. Perhaps I would be able to chalk up not beating the pros as "well, they're supposed to beat me," but the chicken...I wanted to catch him. Somewhere around mile 8, up an incline on an overpass with a nasty crosswind, I finally did, and I felt bad for him. I know I was struggling, so I can only imagine wearing a chicken suit. Shortly after, I finished up the ride, got out of my shoes, struggled a bit to pull off the arm warmers, grabbed my goggles and down I ran barefoot about 1/4 mi to the pool. I briefly passed John on the way down to the pool, temporarily pulling into 2nd place. We saw Nick was about 100m in front of us, so there was no catching him. I felt like I was absolutely drowning in that water, although it did feel like a hot tub after riding in a tri suit, gloves, and arm warmers in mid-40s temperatures. My shallow-end flipturns weren't as bad as the day before, but they were still pretty atrocious. John caught me by the 50m mark of the swim and continued to motor away. I wasn't sure what it would be like with the slight wave starts they had, so I kept going hard even though I was pretty sure I was solidly into third place. After all that finished I was, and perhaps the worst part of the whole race was pulling myself onto the pool deck. I really just kind of flopped there across the timing mat.
I do have to say, it was nice doing a backwards race. It was great to get my weakness over with first, but at the same time, it showed me that I can run faster than I think. I ran a 17:22 to open and felt absolutely great doing it, great enough to go on to continue to ride and swim, whereas the day before I kind of died out running a minute slower. Anyway, despite that this is obnoxiously late of a race report, I figured it was still some sort of valuable information. It's nowhere near the level of Jordan Rapp (I apologize for those whom the humor is lost, but trust me, that's gold), but just as my racing needs to get into form, so does my writing apparently.

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