Saturday, July 9, 2016

Four races, four bikes

After a fairly quiet April, the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of racing..
May started off with the ITU Richmond Continental Cup, a draft-legal sprint. I couldn’t help but notice the inherent stuffiness and germane statements and questions in the race briefing the day before, with lots of apparent sizing up of competition. I was lucky enough to stay with the Fishers, with their two little ones making me feel extra-welcome upon arrival:

I got out into relatively clean water the first 200m or so of the swim, but then the bottleneck occurred as the field was forced down into the spaces between pilings in a footbridge over the lake, and it just continued from there. got absolutely beat up including some kicks to the face and head, but managed to hold into what felt like a decent spot in the water, about a minute down to the lead.
Look! Other people around me!
I came scary close to overcooking the first few turns, riding through a couple of other guys while trying to ride up to the next group, which I did just barely do. Once I got into the group, which was the third on the road and contained some guys with WTS finishes to their names, I tried to get to work, perhaps a bit too much. In hindsight, I should have worked the little gaps around corners that I created a bit more and burned up their legs, but oh well. The group strung out just enough on the third lap that some gaps formed, and I was too absent minded to close it before it was too late. I rode the last 8km of the way in a duo, mostly for pride to stay ahead of the next group on the road.
Big groups and downhill 180s aren't super fun.

I got off the bike and had, for me, a decent run, but still the slowest in the field. But there’s improvement to be had, and positives to take away from at least the first half of the race.
This is what the slowest run of the day looks like.
Next was XTERRA Oak Mountain, in Pelham, Alabama. It was the first U.S. stop on the revised Pan American Tour, so I expected the field would be a lot deeper than Argentina.The Oak Mountain mountain bike course is pretty amazing, and my quote on XTERRA’s Facebook page and in a couple of media outlets is exactly how I feel about it: it rewards both the power athlete and the technically skilled athlete in different places. I made the drive down to Alabama spread out over a couple of days. I was able to get some good pre-riding in on the course, including fellow Virginian Greg Schott trying to teach me how to ride Blood Rock, which I got in practice but wimped out on race day.
In the race itself, my relative slow start almost killed me, with an absolute scramble on my part about 150m into the swim to surge to hold onto Karsten Madsen and Branden Rakita. I held on, but Mauricio Mendez managed to get away from us by the first buoy, while Kieran McPherson was on my feet for most of the first lap.
Between-lap shuffle. Still clinging onto my ankle-length, non-textile swim skin for these races as long as it's allowed.
I fumbled a bit in T1 as I am still trying to source one of the last pairs on earth of size 48 Specialized Trivent Terras, so I was in my normal mountain bike shoes. I rode my race as best I could, trying to stay smooth through the technical sections and hammer the power sections as best I could, staying in the money at least until the top of the climb. It was by far a better ride than when I raced here four years ago (though the back half of the course was a little different then), and then backed up by a much faster run. I finished in 8th again, but MUCH closer to the front of the race, and definitely in a tighter field than Argentina.
As always, too far upright on my bike.

Next was time for some upside down riding for a race that I’ve wanted to do since moving to Virginia Beach, but it has never panned out. I raced the the Breezy Point Triathlon a nice, low-key sprint. The race may not have the same clout it once did, but that doesn’t make it any less special to me, seeing as the Hampton Roads region has been my home for four years and this is our only true  “local” triathlon left. I spent the majority of the day before helping set up, including laying out transition in the morning and then running packet pickup in the afternoon, taking a break from the latter to give a transition clinic at one point, where I’d like to think my tips helped set some new PRs!
"To practice transitions, you want to participate extra in your company picnic dizzy bat race."
Race morning came, and I found myself fighting to stay on feet again, this time of standout junior swimmer Chris Lloyd. There was no chance I was coming around him at all, especially on the last stretch of the swim mostly into the current. We got out of the water together, started to leave transition together until he put a bit of time in me as I missed jumping onto my bike. It took almost a mile to catch up to him, and I knew he could ride well, having even beaten me in a cyclocross race or two in the past, so I gave some words of encouragement to come along. I was definitely a little cautious on the course’s several turns once I realized the lead I had, combined with the fact that I hadn't ridden a TT bike much at all in training. I got off the bike with a lead that I’m not sure what it was, but I wanted to keep running strong. I kept it relatively controlled most of the run though, quickly finding that the oppressive humidity and overcooked bike leg were working against having a much faster run split. It felt great to take the win at the hometown race, serving as great prep for running laps around another Navy base a few weeks later!

Last in this stretch was my favorite race every year, Armed Forces Championships, especially now that it had gone back to Naval Base Ventura County after a one-year hiatus in Indiana. For those reading this who see pictures and wonder why I am wearing Navy gear, it's because the Coast Guard lacks its own sports program, so we compete for the Navy in all of the other military sports championships, not just triathlon. Although this race was draft-legal like the ITU Richmond race, I was actually on a different bike because my own road bike had gotten stolen the weekend before and I was borrowing a bike for the race. It'll all work out though, thanks to a solid renters' insurance policy.
The race itself unfolded like I've been dreaming it would for me since I first did it in 2013. I exited the water for the beach run between the two laps of the swim just back of teammate Kyle Hooker and another athlete we didn't recognize, who turned out to be Army athlete Matt Schiller. I put in a huge dig on that run and getting back out through the surf for the second lap, just latching on again for most of the second lap before they pulled back away. I made it out of T1 and saw only Kyle up the road, so I made sure to hit the gas pretty hard so that Matt either wouldn't come with us, or he'd have to work pretty hard to get there. I made it to Kyle, and then we just traded pulls for the next 50-odd minutes. The highest time gap we saw was 1:20, but it's never easy to give the leaders perfectly accurate splits, and most of the information we got was that it was around a minute most of the ride, which is also about what it was when we got off the bike.

Just a team ride, that's all.

Kyle got away from me quickly on the run as expected, but I made it to the first turnaround on the run and saw the chase wasn't as close as I would have thought. I felt good enough, and it was something of a "well, I can't screw this up now!" I did get passed by a few athletes from the chase, namely two Canadians and two Army athletes, finishing 6th in the race, 4th for our Armed Forces Championship. It was definitely my best performance at this race, probably any that I can really think of, but that was tempered a bit by our team coming up short and losing out on the individual podium within the last 2 miles of the race. Nevertheless, from a process and progress standpoint, this was a huge result for me.

Had to dig pretty deep on that run, and I honestly don't remember a whole lot from it.

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