I had been telling people all summer that I was hanging up the swimming trunks on August 5th. After I finished the Copperman, I was done with triathlon.
Yeah. About that.
My father-in-law was really excited to see me race in a triathlon, so I signed up for one near their house in Metro Detroit. It was basically the last day of our summer vacation and our 12th wedding anniversary, so it seemed like a reasonable way to wrap things up. This is a very well-organized event at Island Lake State Recreation Area in Brighton. They have both Sprint and Olympic distances, and I quickly went for the Sprint. When you’re swimming 100 meters in about 2:22, you don’t sign up for a 1600-meter race. I don’t mind running 6.2 miles, but not after a death-defying swim and 24 miles on the bike.
When I packed for the tri, it had been routinely in the mid-80’s to 90 degrees in Detroit, so I didn’t even bother with arm warmers or a jacket or anything. Just the tri suit, thanks. As the weekend drew closer, I watched with horror as a cold front blew in, bringing early morning temperatures in the mid-50’s. When I’m racing cyclocross and it’s in the 50’s, I’m wearing arm warmers or a long-sleeve jersey! And you’re going to make me jump in a LAKE first?
It turns out that was probably the best thing that could have happened. Despite the cooler overnight temperatures, the water temperature had remained at 75 degrees. Swimming almost 20 minutes in that water sufficiently warmed me up for the bike and run legs. It took me 19:13 to finish the swim, which is right in line with my Copperman time for the same distance. The difference is only in how far away from the water the timing mat was. Just like in the Copperman, this was a barely competitive swim — 129th fastest of 280 athletes.
T1 was the same as always, except I actually remembered to turn the Garmin on before I sat down to put on my socks and shoes. It was ready to go once I got across the mount/dismount line. 2:15, about 10 seconds slower than last time. Again, this reflects a farther distance I had to run before crossing the timing mat.
The bike was awesome. Unlike the Yooper Sprint, I had my heart rate monitor on and unlike the Copperman, I knew I could let myself go a little harder. I let my average heart rate climb farther into the 160’s and otherwise just hammered. My legs responded well on the mild climbs and the Skratch Labs Hydration mix was going down easy. I didn’t bother with any food this time — I’m pretty sure a sprint triathlon is short enough you haven’t exhausted your body’s supply of glycogen and can replace enough calories through a low-calorie drink like Skratch. So after averaging about 20.4 mph, I rolled back in with a 35:43 on the bike. That’s the 12th best bike split, and I’m riding a cyclocross bike with cyclocross gearing and absolutely no aero anything. I’m pretty proud of that.
T2 was much faster this time around, even though I really struggled to tie my shoes (my hands are arms were still shaking pretty badly from the effort on the bike) and I actually remembered to grab my race number and belt. I was just snapping it on my waist as I ran out of the transition area and the volunteer ladies seemed to be smiling happily at me as I did it.
I have to say that the run here was the most pleasant of any triathlons I’ve done. Everywhere else we ran on roads, here we ran on the multi-use path that runs through Island Lake and the adjacent Kensington Metropark. The sun was shining, temperatures had gotten back up into the mid-60’s (at least) and the path was gently rolling. After what felt like forever, I saw the 1-mile sign and looked at my watch to see the damage. In fact, I had only been running for 7:22, which is the fastest mile I’ve run in competition. Mile 2 was 7:30. These are not blazing times for a “real” runner, but I look at them and see that I was feeling really good that day. 23:13 for the 5k. I would make a big deal out of the fact that’s 1:30 faster than my previous sprint tri, but that run was super hilly.
Final time: 1:21:46. 35th overall, 4th in my age bracket (by 20 lousy seconds). Considering I had swam exactly once in the past two weeks, run 3 times (for about 30 minutes each) and did two long, meandering bike rides, that seems like a great result to me.
On the way back to my in-laws, my wife asked me if I wanted to keep at triathlon to get that age-group podium. After a moment’s deliberation, I said no. Relative to other triathletes, I am a very good cyclist, a competent runner and a sub-par swimmer. Now you can point to the fact that I have only been swimming since May, and really what do you expect out of 3 months of training? I just don’t have a passion for swimming and I know that’s what I need to improve to be a more competitive triathlete.
Two last things to note: I had a chance before the race to pray with my father-in-law. It felt good to do that. I used to make a point of praying before my races — for strength, for the safety of all the athletes, that I would glorify God with my body. I had gotten away from that. I need to make it part of my pre-race routine again.
And finally, Element Events puts on a good show. The course was well-marked and well-staffed with volunteers. The transition area was very well laid out, even though it was really annoying to just sit around for more than an hour after I had finished to be able to get back in and get my junk. If you like to run, you might look into their insane “Third Coast Relay“, a 200-mile jaunt up Michigan’s western shore. (I won’t be there, to be sure. But it sounds like a cool idea.)
I have two last topics I want to write about regarding my summer as a triathlete and I hope to get to them soon. But tomorrow I get to go back to my first love: mountain bike racing.