Which way to the finish line!?

Saturday’s Tri For The Kids Olympic Triathlon in Rome, Ga. was a race I had signed up for last year. However, tornadoes devastated much of the Southern U.S. shortly before the race was to be held. Organizers made the right decision and canceled the 2011 race and deferred entries to this year.

Flash forward 12 months and I made the 90-minute drive to Rome excited to race in my first tri since Ironman Florida in November. Yes, it had been exactly SIX months since my last tri. In between, I had run several road races, including the Boston Marathon, but not a single tri.

First, I had to remember what to pack. Once I got everything organized, I was ready to get down to business.

This race was definitely “small town” with fewer than 100 competitors registered. This was a HUGE change of pace from the 2,600 people who lined up on the beach at Ironman Florida. The volunteers at packet pickup were very friendly and helpful. Turns out, some of those volunteers would also be racing.

SWIM:
The swim down the Etowah River (aka Etowah “rapids”) was fast… I mean, REALLY fast. A couple days before the race, the Army Corps of Engineers had released water from nearby Lake Allatoona producing a strong current. As soon as you hit the water, you were headed downstream. It was actually hard to make sure you didn’t drift off course. There were plenty of kayakers and canoes to keep you going in the right direction and make sure you were safe. However, a couple large trees in the river created some issues. One racer I know of slammed face-first into a tree and another guy was briefly caught up in some branches of a tree. Dangerous stuff. (After the race, I suggested to the race director that next year they should make sure to have a kayaker positioned by the large trees, if possible in future races.)

“After the third bridge, get to the right,” were the last words I heard as I entered the water. With the current so strong, if you missed the swim exit area, you would have to try to swim upstream to get out. That would be bad, to say the least.

While I have been swimming with some really fast people at Dynamo Multisport, I’m by no means a fast swimmer… except on this day. 13:38 for 1,500 meters is ridiculous. I had the 8th fastest swim time of the day, which is also ridiculous in its own right. (Truth is, I felt very comfortable on the swim and settled into a very nice, steady rhythm after the first 250 yards or so.)

SWIM EXIT:
Coming in to this race, I had battled two separate issues with my left leg. First, I had a nagging calf strain that just wouldn’t go away. Finally, a couple weeks ago it went away. Second, I had somehow developed a lower leg infection right before Boston. With the help of some serious antibiotics, that  finally went away, too. I was pumped to be racing without an injury for the first time in a long time.

Wrong.

As I reached the dock to exit the swim, the two male volunteers were obviously used to lifting much heavier guys out of the water. They yanked my 150-pound body up so hard that I SLAMMED my left thigh into the dock. HOLY CRAP that hurt. One of the other racers suffered a big cut on his knee when he was yanked out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for all of the volunteers, but I will make a mental note on my next “dock exit” to lift myself out.

My bruised thigh bothered me for the rest of the race. Two days later, it’s black and blue and still hurting. (Wow, what a sissy boy I am.)

T1:
After limping my way up the hill to get to bike transition, I have a bit of a hard time getting my wetsuit off, as usual.  Helmet on, sunglasses on, threw my Garmin 305 watch in the back pocket of my top (I planned to wear it for the run and wanted to save time in T2. I strapped it on my wrist as I rode.) My shoes were clipped in, with the left shoe latched to the rear wheel’s skewer with a rubber band. This kept my shoes from flopping around as I saddled up with a death-defying “flying mount.” It’s always a crowd-pleaser. T1 time: 1:45… blah.

BIKE:
My plan coming into the race (not knowing how my calf injury would hold up) was to hammer the bike and try to hold on for the run. This might not have been the smartest strategy, but that’s what I was going with.

The course was a good mixture of rolling hills with some harder-than-expected climbs. I had hoped to average about 23-24 mph, but there were more hills than I expected. (According to my Garmin, there was 543 feet of elevation gained over the 25 miles). In the end, I clocked a 22.5 mph average for a 1:06:40 bike split. Reached a high speed of 39.37 mph on Lap 4 (My Garmin 500 intervals are set for 5 miles each, so this was miles 15-20). My last lap (miles 20-25) was my fastest with a 23.5 mph average pace.  Other than the winning relay team, I had the fastest individual bike split of the day. That’s a first for me! Psyched.

For this race, I removed the water bottle holder on the Blue Triad SL frame and taped the Vittoria Pit Stop tubular tire sealant canister under my seat. I only carried one water bottle, mounted between the aero bars. My goal was to be as aero as possible. Next on my shopping list… my very own aero helmet. All the cool kids seem to have one.

While on the course, I scared several little children on the side of the road with my WOOOOOHOOOOOO! screams as I rode past, I made sure to “lick the lens” by sticking my tongue out (Gene Simmons-style) at the on-course photographer and gave a shout out to a few Army guys I saw out on a run.

At the half way turnaround, I counted the bikes that passed me in the other direction. There was the lead guy (he was FLYIN!) from a relay team, then there was an Asian guy I saw earlier in the morning in the Transition area and next up was a guy named Brett from The Sport Factory, a tri club near my house. I met Brett for the first time before the race. He was a nice guy, but like me, he was 41. Looking around, I knew he would be my only AG competition and we would both likely be in the running for the overall podium, too.

Holy crap, I was in 3rd overall! (Yes, it was a small race, but 3rd is still 3rd)

After turning around, I started riding back towards the pack. I saw Brian (an All3Sports teammate) hot on my wheels. Uh oh, this is going to be a run to the finish… and my running form was in VERY bad shape.

The best part of the bike course was the last mile. When you turn on to Shorter Ave., they had the entire right lane coned off for the race… Knowing I was nearing the finish, I decided to drop the hammer and race the cars down the final stretch. A couple of little kids in car seats in the back of thair parents’ car were staring at me as I screamed “WOOOOOHOOOOO!” at them. If you can’t have fun, why race? Right?

The bike finish came up so fast, I almost forgot to unstrap from my shoes. Crossed the line, raced to my rack, hooked the bike on, slapped on the socks, running shoes and visor… and like a prom dress, I was off!  (This is the moment when something else hits me. This was going to be my very first run off the bike since IM Florida six months ago. Doh! Training is overrated…sort of)

T2: 36 seconds (Tied for 4th fastest. Much better than T1.)

RUN:
OUCH! Oh no, this is going to suck!

My dock-slammed quad was screaming at me every time my left foot hit the ground. Time to adjust the game plan. This was going to be a survival run. I was just happy to be racing again (yeah, sure… keep telling yourself that.)

“I wanna go FAAAAAST,” Brian yells Ricky Bobby-style as he passes me within the first mile of the run course.

I try to tell him about my dock mishap to let him know why I was moving at a snails pace. He pretended to listen (I think), but kept running away from me. I expected other people to pass me soon. When nobody else did, I realized that Brian was now in third. That was MY third place spot and I wanted it back! (Mile 1 was 7:34)

Screw this noise… pain is a state of mind.

I never let Brian out of my sight and slowly begin to reel him back. 7:30, 7:17, 6:58… When I caught up to him, I decided to mess with him a little and just run right behind him to see if he would ever turn around. Finally he did. This was a fun race, so I decided to run alongside Brian for awhile rather than drop him (I also didn’t want to make him feel bad for getting caught by an old guy like me. I’m a team player… remember that part for later)

In the distance, we both can see Brett. He’s coming back to us quicker than I had expected. A short distance later, Brett starts walking…

Screw you Brian, I’m taking off…

I catch Brett and quickly realize why he’s walking. WE’RE ALL LOST! There were no signs and no volunteers to point us in the right direction. (There was a mix up earlier in the run and we got pointed in the wrong direction by a volunteer.) Brett thinks we should go to the right through a parking lot and back to the trail along the river. Just then, a volunteer pulls up in a van and tells us to go straight. I wait with Brett as Brian takes off… Son of a %&*@$#!

We reach a MAJOR intersection with about 8 lanes of traffic. Crazy. Brian makes it across but Brett and I have to wait for the light to change. I actually had to hit the “push button to cross street” button. It was kind of funny… but not really.

“Wait for me,” I yell to Brian. (I never thought he would stop, but it was worth a try. He slows for a  brief second and then continues on.)

Damn, I knew I should have passed him when I had a chance.  That’s the last time I play Mr. Nice Guy. Haha.

After Brett and I cross the street, I try to chase Brian (my former friend) down, but he’s too far gone. The finish area is a nice long downhill road so I let it all hang out. When I cross the line, the only person I see is Brian. He’s first!

What the heck happened to the other guy? I’m second? Huh?

Brett crosses in third, then another guy comes across in 4th, then the original race leader comes flying around a corner on the OTHER SIDE of the finish line, crosses the line and slams a water bottle to the ground. He was MAD.

“I got lost!” (Yeah, welcome to the club buddy.)

“I’m never coming back here! I need to speak to the race director!”

He was fuming. I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, but I knew he deserved to be first. I also knew that sometimes these things happen and that’s just the way it is.

In the end, we all got together and spoke with the race directors and told them how the order should be. The other guy got first (rightfully so), Brian second and I was third.

(Premature photo shoot below. BTW, nice cell phone clipped to the waist Brian. Not very aero.)

RUN TIME: 45:39 (7:19/mile) 5th fastest run time overall

This run hurt, mostly because of my sore quad, but I’m pretty happy with it considering it had been 6 months since my last brick run and I had some serious leg issues to deal with between Ironman and now.

The winners all walked away with cool a hand-painted plate (pitured above at the the top.) A very nice touch.

While there were some issues with this race, I plan to return again next year. After all, I need a matching dish so my wife and I can dine together!

Race #1 of 2012 is in the books.

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