Lake San Antonio, CA -- The Wildflower Long Course Triathlon -- May 1, 2010
Someone screeched "3,2,1, Go" into a loudspeaker and I went. Into the maelstrom I paddled, trying to implement my most recent swim lessons while still moving towards the first buoy.
Over the last month, I had learned that my swim stroke suffered from a lot of deficiencies. And so I had a few more swim-thoughts than usual. Roughly they were: "reach long, reach wide, head steady, stay long and streamline, catch early, breathe early, touch the toes on the kick, chest down, butt up."
Needless to say, I was only getting about half of it done at any one time, and from stroke to stroke what I was doing right and wrong was a complete mystery.
Nevertheless, I was happy that on the out-leg of the swim, I was moving in a straightish line and that I was at least making an effort to focus on form despite the frigid water temperature.
On the way back to shore, I had every intention of executing a perfect swim stroke.
But then the duct tape patching my wetsuit floated free and a stream of freezing water worked its way into my underarm, down my side and into my private parts, distracting me from everything but getting back to shore.
This is the type of adversity that makes men hard. Or not, if you'll excuse the pun.
Heading towards the last turn for the dock, I couldn't wait to check my new Garmin GPS watch for my swim split. Unfortunately, the GPS couldn't stop me from pile-driving into the last buoy and accidentally striking the lap button on my watch, screwing up the menu and preventing me from seeing my swim time.
Nevertheless, in my mind, I had had the swim of my life. In matter of fact, it would turn out that I swam a little over 34 minutes, which was a few seconds slower this year than last year. Still some work to do, apparently.
Fortunately, I didn't know it yet.
Excited by my illusory swim prowess, I couldn't wait to get into transition where I would test my latest invention: The Steve Kukta Compression Sock System ("SKCSS") (TM) Patent Pending.
The SKCSS (TM) Patent Pending, is a breakthrough invention in the latest compressive race gear that I developed just for me.
For those frequent readers of my race reports, you are aware that I normally enter T1 and dance around like a wounded stork trying to pull on tight, knee-high compreesion socks over wet feet for roughly a minute and a half.
However, my invention had the potential to dramatically speed my transition to the bike. It's Tah Dah! -- a compression sock cut in two at the ankle (which Laura seam-taped to keep the parts from fraying). I wore the top part like a calf sleeve under my wetsuit so I could just slip on the sock-part when I got to the bike. Voila, a full compression sock that shortens transition by over a minute.
And it would have. If only I could have found my bike.
Yes, the bike racks were numbered, but the "odd numbers on one side, even on the other side system" was too much math for my foggy brain -- which I blame on two nights of sleeping in the back of a freezing car and being forced to occasionally make nature calls in the woods.
To make T1 worse, after I found my bike and briskly installed the SKCSS (TM) Patent Pending socks, I got so excited I forgot to put on my helmet as I raced towards the bike exit.
Remarkably, I hadn't noticed my helmet dangling off my aero bars, bouncing off my front wheel until I was nearly at the mount line. Figuring I would be disqualified if I didn't immediately put on my helmet, I slammed on the brakes, causing the surprised gentleman who had been tail-gating me to plow into me from the rear. This made him angry.
I apologized, put on my helmet, and still managed to exit transition 10 seconds faster than last year -- a vindication for all the labor Laura put into constructing the SKCSS (TM) Patent Pending.
Helmet on, I hopped on my bike, caught the angry man, apologized again and then tore off in search of a bike leg to match my "amazing" swim.
The legs felt good, not great. But as a sign that I continue to get stronger on the bike, I tore up the first hill at mile 2 with my heart rate well within normal limits, but my watts easily above 300. And when you weigh 135 pounds and start in one of the last waves, this makes for the kind of climb where you spend a lot of time saying "on your left, please".
In fact, in the first 25 miles the score was: Passed by Steve: Too many to count. People passing Steve: 0.
And because the wave starts at this race were mostly chronological by age, I was busying myself by noting the mile marker when I started passing each successive younger age group. I saw my buddy Neal Fraser representing the men's 40-44 at about mile 7 and by mile 25 I was passing a lot of the men's 30-34 age group and was looking for a calf with an age between 25 and 29.
And there it was, "27".
I did a double-take. That's some bad handwriting. The "2" looked an awful lot like a "5".
But it seemed impossible. The 50 and over guys started in a wave at least 5 to 10 minutes later than me. And if I had had a swim in the 32 minute range, it would have taken at least a 27 minute swim for this guy to be ahead of me, even assuming he could ride at my speed.
But as preposterous as that seemed, as I pulled up alongside there was no doubt that the guy I had just caught was no 27 year old. He was a seriously impressive 57 year old.
Impressed though I was (and now questioning what sort of swim I must have had), I set about the business of putting this man behind me.
He had other ideas.
Like the pro he used to be, the (unknown to me) famous Dean Harper (a top 10 finisher at IM Hawaii in the 80's), settled himself a legal distance behind me and stuck there like glue. At mile 35, as I sat up to pee, he even casually rode up beside me, complimented me on my pace and mentioned that he was planning to hang on at a legal distance -- which he did with remarkable skill right up to the the foot of Nasty Grade at mile 42.
I was impressed, but wasn't shocked that he couldn't hold my wheel up Nasty Grade, the small draft effect he was getting being dramatically minimized up a hill as unfriendly as this.
I sort of missed having Dean with me heading back to T2. In fact, looking at my power graph, it looks like I got a little bored or tired between mile 44 and 48.
But just when I was in cruise mode, a new threat showed up.
For the first time all day, someone passed me with bad intentions. And this guy was in my age group. Which meant I had probably passed him on Nasty Grade and he had chased me down heading back to the park. I think his name is Devashish Paul, a very good age group athlete.
And then things got really interesting. Just when I was contemplating whether to stick with Dev or try to drop him, who but the great Dean Harper came rolling through again!
I was really starting to root for this guy. Hell, I wanted to be him. This bike ride was getting to be a lot of fun.
Soon though, it became apparent that neither Dev nor Dean had any intention of pushing the pace back to T2. In fact, the pace seemed to slow down a bit, which, given my mediocre running ability, was definitely not in my plans. And so I pushed just a little harder and re-passed the guys for the final time, opening about a 30 second gap over the last 5 miles into T2.
This was a real breakthrough for me. Normally, I find myself bleeding power heading back into T2, but today, I actually increased my power for the last 15 minutes, with no real spike in my heart rate. Whooda thunk it?
Bike split: 2:42 and change, 5th in the AG on 212 Watts Normalized Power at 160 average heart rate.
I dismounted the bike and into transition, I ran. I spotted the rack with my number range on it and ran down the aisle like the wind.
About halfway down I realized that my bright pink towel was nowhere to be seen. Darn it. I was in the even number aisle again. Fortunately, since I was one of the first guys off the bike, there were hardly any bikes racked in the area and I was able to backtrack up the aisle and then duck under the rack to my station.
Nevertheless, my Three Stooges routine had cost me. Dev Paul had entered transition after me, but beat me out of T2 by about a second.
My legs felt pretty good running out of transition and I had some grand ideas about sticking with Dev who is a very good runner. But Wildflower gets annoyed when people aren't suffering to their full potential. And soon the series of small sharp uphills and equally abrupt downhills was getting painful.
As I chased Dev, even the running surface seemed to conspire to slow me down.
Stairs, dirt, asphalt, gravel on asphalt, gravel on dirt, broken concrete, boulders embeded in dirt surrounded by sand! Please, lord let the insanity end!
I tucked into survival mode and Dev ran away. Some day I hope to run like that, but on this day I just needed to find a rhythm that would let me finish this beast.
Despite it all, through mile 4, I held a 7:40'ish pace -- surprisingly strong for me. But the long hill up to mile 5 that I call the Dirt Wall, ended that piece of good news. I walked most of the hill (which is so steep that I actually passed a few people who were "running" it).
By mile 8, things had seemingly sorted themselves out. One speedy 50 year old passed me on the Dirt Wall, a flying 40 year old ran by, and a scrappy 40 year-old who saw the 44 on my calf and mistakenly thought that I was in his age group, waged a superhuman, one-way competition with me. He would kill himself to stay with me on the downhills where I run well and then fight valiantly to catch me on the uphills. Since I knew he wasn't in my age group, I just assumed that he was using me to pace him. I had no idea he was trying to beat me.
For my part, I was holding my own. I was passing a lot of folks who were getting beaten down by unrelenting run course.
I caught a panting 47 year-old in my age group who momentarily tried to match my pace at mile 6. Unfortunately for him, his panting annoyed me so much that I was able to find a little extra speed to get out of ear-shot. Mostly, though, I was continuing my march through younger and younger age groups. By mile 11, I was passing herds of 20-somethings who had formed small walking groups as they trudged up the hill known as the "pit".
I figured if the race lasted long enough, I'd soon be running through Kindergarteners toting lunch boxes.
And then, in sight of the last hill before mile 12, a guy in my age group, Craig Zelent, ran by. Figuring that I might have a shot at the top 20, I did a leg check and confirmed that I would not be picking up the pace to stay with him up that next hill.
But as is so often the case, once we got over that hill and the race headed down the steep hill to the finish, there I was again, back in the game. I found myself making up the 100 yards that separated us in leaps and bounds. I pulled ahead with a quarter mile to go and gave it the gas, hoping the downhill had hurt his legs more than it hurt mine.
No such luck. As soon as the road flattened out, Craig put in a huge effort and caught me. I tried to go with him, but the 200 yard dash wasn't exactly part of my Ironman training program.
My final run time was 1:43:09, the 9th fastest run in the age group at a 7:52 pace. My heart rate averaged 162 for the run.
My final stats included a 5:05:13 finishing time (a 12 minute PR over last year) and a 7th place finish in the age-group. This was far and away my best career result, not including my 5th at Ironman Cozumel 70.3 which was not so much a race as a heat stress test. Apparently, the older I get, the faster I get.
Which is nice, since I'm going to need to get a lot faster to catch the great 57 year-old Dean Harper.
Dean's blazing fast 27 minute swim proved too much for me to overcome as he finished in 5:04:08, winning the 55-59 age group by an impressive margin.
So just when you think you've seen it all, the goals continue to pile up. A 5 hour Wildflower at 57 years old seems like a good one, right? :) 13 years should be more than enough time to learn to swim fast.
Next up. Vineman.