Watching Monday night football/playoff baseball it's interesting to think about the differences between endurance sports and our more popular sports. There was a commercial a few years ago that included the buzzword "boom!". The point was that most sporting events come down to a moment where an athlete makes a play that goes off like a bomb and changes everything.
Endurance sporting events aren't usually like that. It's more like a bag of liquid that drains at a particular rate - and if you misjudge how quickly it's draining you're in big trouble. Once the bag is drained you can tough it out - but you aren't going to stay on pace.
On Sunday I was dealing with a brand new bag. I was competing in a half ironman triathlon minus the swim - so really a duathlon. Regardless of how much better I was feeling because I wasn't going to have to face my nemesis of an open water swim it was still a new event for me.
The bike start and the run start were in two different locations - so I made my way in the pre-dawn hours with all of the other participants in school buses. Without the swim the plan was to allow the pro's to head out every 30 seconds, followed by a 2 minute gap, and then the age groupers to march out one by one.
My number was 548 - out of 2000 which wasn't so bad. Still it took about an hour before I felt I was free of traffic. The first 3 miles was an out and back in the English style system - which was used because we were taking a left out of the start. Which makes sense because otherwise you would have to wait for a gap to turn left. What people didn't seem to understand was that in the English left system you are supposed to ride on the far left unless you are passing - in which case you should pass on the right (close the middle).
Those first 3-4 miles were a cluster@#%. There are several rules while cycling - one of the most important are that you have to stay 4 bike lengths behind the person in front of you unless you're passing them otherwise you are "drafting". Since there was no swim we were all much closer than normal. The judges are on motorcycles - I saw one of them in the first few miles - and they were giving out penalties a plenty. If you're given a penalty you have to sit out in a penalty tent for a specified amount of time before you start going again. I felt lucky not to get a penalty - not that I wasn't passing people - but with how congested it was it was very difficult to be following the rules.
I felt really strong through the first 25-30 miles - but by 35 miles the hills started. Even on the long steady downhills it felt like the headwind was strong enough that you couldn't get much momentum. There was one guy who I was going back and forth with on the bike - I was in front when the judge passed me. We were on another part of the course where we were doing an English left and people were still riding on the right side of the left lane. I saw her sidle up along one guy who was off to the right - then there was a cluster of bikes. Apparently she was giving a penalty to someone in that cluster who was arguing with her - so she staying along side this person who was soft pedaling. The effect was that two of us came up on them with no way of getting around without passing the motorcycle on the left which we were sure would get us a penalty. So we slowed down until she finally moved on - which was of course exactly the same time that the guy whom I had been trading places blew by me.
Eventually I passed him again - but around 40 miles three strong cyclists passed me. I decided not to try to keep up - which I think was the right decision because they obviously were stronger than I was and I would have had little left for the run if I tried to stay on them.
I had only one mechanical when I dropped my chain on a hill. Luckily it wasn't too hard to get it back on - although it's odd to have grease on your hand during a run.
The run started out a little oddly - I wasn't quite sure where the run started (which I always seem to have problems with in triathlons) so I didn't get my watch on a mile mark until after I had run a mile. The first mile I had a watch on was 5:57 - which was pretty good since I wanted to average 6 minute miles and the first half of the 13.1 miles was mostly uphill.
I actually surprised myself for the first 6 miles - I thought I would have a harder time staying at 6 minute pace. But, by the 8 mile mark I wasn't feeling so good. At 8.5 there was one of the few uphills coming back down towards town - it hurt bad. From then on I never really felt the same. I managed to stay under 6:40 pace for the last 4 miles - but even that was a struggle.
I ended up placing much better than I anticipated. At first they said I was 3rd in my age group - and then at the awards ceremony they said I was 2nd. I'm not sure if there was an error in the initial results or if someone was disqualified - but I'll take it either way.
I did qualify for the 70.3 world championships as an age grouper, but I had already registered for Ironman Wisconsin which is in the same month as the 70.3 WC Las Vegas in September 2012. Plus, I knew that the only reason I placed so high was that the swim had been canceled. Realistically if I had participated in the 70.3 championship I would have been smoked - I might have even finished last in my age group. Either way - I feel good about my choice.
I enjoyed the experienced. It made me more excited that I had signed up for a full Ironman next September in Wisconsin. However - I had been a little excited that I wasn't going to turn 35 next year and thus going to be in an older age category. But then I looked at the results and realized that I would have finished worse in the 35-39 age category than the 30-34 age category. What sport gets more competitive after you turn 35?! I don't get it.