I did a race last week—the new Amica Ocean Beach 19.7 triathlon in New London, CT. I didn’t realize this before the race, but apparently Amica is an insurance company that has, for whatever reason, decided to sponsor a series of sprint-distance races around the country. There’s one in Texas and a few others around in other places, and now we have one in northeastern Connecticut as well. No doubt they were hoping to lure some of the tri-types from NYC with the race’s location, but although there’s a convenient ferry to New London from Long Island, New London itself is a helluva long drive from the City, and it didn’t look like the inaugural race sold out. Moreover, when I looked at the results, most of the participants had been locals. Which doesn’t mean that this was a slow race. I mean, as with any Sprint, there were quite a few newbies and maybe even some first-timers, but from looking around, it seemed to me that most of the crew were experienced triathletes. For example, I saw more actual tri-bikes than road bikes at the race and very few mountain/trail bikes. Usually your triathlon first-timers show up on bikes with fat tires.
For me, the race was a kind of a midseason checkpoint. I’ve been mostly healthy this season, and I’ve been training hard, and so I really wanted to see kind of where I am in terms of my personal fitness versus past years. How much has a mostly full season of training without issue helped me? How much have I been hampered by my groin pull from back in the Spring? These were the questions I was looking to answer.
Pre-race was about what you’d expect. I didn’t sleep real well the night before—I was keyed up for the race, plus we had a HUGE thunderstorm at around 1am—but I got enough sleep that I didn’t think it would affect me too much. At any rate, I packed up my stuff the night before, laid out my clothes and some food for the hour-plus drive up to the race, set my alarm, and then got up around 4:30am. It took me maybe fifteen minutes to get dressed, get my bike loaded, gas up the car, and then get out on the road. I got to the race-site at a quarter-to-six, parked my car, registered, set up in transition, and then went about starting my pre-race routine. I stretched, talked to some of the folks, got in the water, and basically did my thing. I also had a gu about 20 minutes before the race to try to buffer my blood glucose. Finally, the race started a little after 7am. I was in the 2nd heat of swimmers, the 1st large heat after the 10-man “elite” group set out.
I swam pretty well. The air was maybe 80 degrees, and the water was 71. Perfect conditions, at least for me. There was a slight tide running inward with swells of maybe 8”-12” once we got out away from shore. It didn’t bother me much, but it served to break up the pack in the open water, so that by the time we hit the turn-around buoy, there was only one swimmer ahead of me from my heat. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite hold his draft at a comfortable pace, so I had to let him go. Still I managed to come out of the water second. Folks were cheering and ringing cowbells. I felt like I must be going pretty fast. Life was good.
Swim: ½-mile, 12:12. 2/21 AG, 14/293 Overall.
It was a short run over loose sand into transition. I rinsed off my feet, threw on my shoes, helmet, and race-belt, decided to go without my cycling jersey, and grabbed my bike out of the rack. I don’t wear a wetsuit, so that wasn’t an issue. Soon I was on my way. Unfortunately, the wooden deck was slick as all Hell as I tried to run out to the street, so I ended up walking. Still, I almost fell—twice.
The biggest problem I have going from the swim to the bike is that my heart rate out of the swim is usually quite a bit higher than I’d like it to be on the bike. But you hate to come out of the water in the lead and then slow down while you’re getting your heart back under control. So I tried to settle in as best I could, but I kept pushing, knowing that the course was supposed to be mostly flat and that I’d put in a good swim and felt good doing it. In the event, most of the ride was false-flats, maybe a 2% rise or descent, with a couple of more substantial hills and one actual climb—about 175 feet over about half-mile of riding. If my math works out, that’s a short climb at a 5.6% gradient. Anyway, I spent about 75% of the ride in the drops (I don’t have aero-bars), and I tried to work the little climbs as best I could to try to keep my speed up. Still, the ride wasn’t easy by any means. All those false-flats were wearing, and there were a LOT of very sharp turns, and sixteen miles, though not long, is a long way to try to ride FAST. It took me maybe ten miles to really settle into the ride, by which time it was almost over. And I’d been passed by a goodly number of better riders riding better bikes. Maybe I’d have caught some of them back on a longer ride, but who knows?
Bike: 16.1 miles, 48:40, average 19.2 mph (from my bike computer). 9/21 AG, 88/293 Overall.
I came into T-2, and it was getting HOT. We’d had 90+ degree temperatures throughout the week leading up to the race, and on that particular morning, it was already maybe 85-degrees with high humidity and full, blazing sun. I switched out my shoes, stripped off my gloves, was glad to have decided to go without a shirt, and finally took a long last pull on my Gatorade bottle. And then I was off. My stomach was full of Gatorade and water, but I knew it would pass, and in the meantime, I wasn’t going to go down with dehydration. After an hour of racing, that was an important consideration.
T2: 1:20. Looking at some of the other times, that’s not fast. But it’s not terrible, either.
Ah, the run. My nemesis. I’d been running okay before I got hurt back in the Spring, but since then, I’ve not been at all smooth or fast, and I’ve only lately started to feel even decent with my stride. On top of that, it was already hot, and there was almost not shade whatsoever. Looking at some of the times, it seems like I’m not the only one who suffered out there. Still, it was at least very flat. Thank God.
The first water station was maybe a half-mile out from Transition, which was unfortunate because at that point, I didn’t really feel like I needed water. Still, it was hot, and I was afraid not to take it. So I threw some water down and made the lump in my stomach worse. It would eventually take me maybe fifteen minutes to get rid of that feeling, by which time I was almost back to the water station again. Ugh. But it was HOT, so it probably didn’t matter. I was breathing okay, and I didn’t feel like I was overworking, but at the same time, I couldn’t get anything like acceleration going. So I just ambled along, trying to keep my stride smooth and steady, working away the miles and waiting to either feel like I could start picking it up or simply finish strong, whichever came first. If it’d been a full 10K, it would have been miserable, but fortunately, this race wasn’t that long. I still started feeling like I was going to overheat after a couple of miles, but there was nothing to do for that except to keep doing what I’d been doing—going slow and steady. After what felt like at least a half-hour, I finally got back to the water station. From there, it was a short slog to the finish, but I still didn’t have any acceleration. I finished as hard as I could and was very glad to be done.
Run: 3.1 miles, 27:14, average 8:47/mile. 13/21 AG, 152/293 Overall.
And that right there ought to tell you how punishing the heat was during the run. When a damned-near 9-minute pace is middle-of-the-pack, that’s pretty slow, especially when a full third of the bikers were averaging faster than 20 mph. I don’t think I was at all the worst sufferer on the day by any means.
In any event, I grabbed a bottle of water and headed straight down to the beach. The water was beautiful, and I spent at least ten minutes trying to get my body temperature back under control. After that, I felt better. I ran myself under a hose to rinse off, changed clothes, grabbed a banana and a couple of bagels, and then headed home—where I promptly cut the grass. After that, I was dead to the world and even fell asleep on the couch with my girls watching Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.
Life is good. My next race is the Litchfield Hills Olympic Tri, also sponsored by the Hartford Marathon Association. It’s in late August, and they have free beer. Hopefully, it’ll be a little cooler by then, too.