Saturday, February 21, 2009

Flashback and "honorable mention"

The 2008 USA Triathlon rankings will be official soon.  Ironically, until yesterday, my best race from last year hadn't been loaded.  One of my goals in 2009 is to achieve "All American" status in my new age group.  I have never thought that I was capable of achieving "All American" or even "Honorable Mention" in my previous age group.  But, once the Tri4me results were loaded in, my ranking moved me up into the "Honorable Mention" category.  Goals are clearly relative.  When I got back into triathlons six years ago, my results were in the bottom third of my age group.  My goals were clearly just to do better each time.  In fact, my wife would joke about my new wheels and how they would save me a couple of minutes of time, for what?  So I could move from being 88th in my age group to 84th?  While she was right to an extent, I guess the lesson is that we all need to set goals and work to improve and achieve them.  Five years ago at the then named Ralphs Half Ironman (now the California 70.3), I placed 154/227 in my age group with a time of 6:08.  This year I hope to place in the top 10 with a time under 5 hours.  So much for getting older!

Anyway, my age group ranking for 2008 in the 45-49 year old age group presently stands at 531/7040, not bad for an asthmatic kid who never ran a mile until he was 32 years old.  I have to say, this is an unexpected bonus to 2008 that reinforces how I qualified for Long Course World's.  I've learned that even if your #1, you still have self doubts and you still have to work hard to achieve the goals you set for yourself.  In some ways it's really nice to continue to move up the ladder, I don't know how I'd actually handle being at the top!

So, back to my flashback to the Tri4me, the race that gave me my Honorable Mention.  It was last April and it was cold.  In fact, the weather report was calling for light snow.  I think it may have actually snowed during the run, but my face and hands were too numb to remember.  The swim was a 500 yard pool swim.  It was a small race and as I stood in line for the swim, I saw George Dallam.  George is one of the best in my age group and usually beats me in a sprint by at least a few minutes.  He's also an incredible individual (as I learned talking to him after the race and buying his book, Championship Triathlon Training, shortly thereafter) and just a nice guy!  Anyway, I immediately knew I wasn't going to win my age group, or so I thought.  

I had started taking swim lessons about month earlier and promised myself to really focus on keeping good form during the swim.  I started 10 seconds after George in the next lane and could see him lapping me towards the end of the swim, which meant he was already at least a minute ahead of me.  Nevertheless, I came out of the water in a little over 7 1/2 minutes, an excellent time for me, and actually felt pretty good.  It was close to 35 degrees outside and I had brought arm warmers to put on when I got out of the pool.  Forget about that idea!  As I ran to the bike transition, trying to put arm warmers on my wet arms didn't really pan out (just try to picture me trying to do this).  So, wearing just a one piece tri suit (2XU elite, a great suit by the way), I got on my bike and took off.  The bike course was a somewhat technical 4 loop course, it was cold and windy and I was trying out my new PowerTap Power meter.  I actually managed to keep my wattage between 200 and 220 watts, with a reasonable amount of time over 220 watts.  As I look back, I realize why I had to good race, this was one of my best bike efforts ever.  Maybe, I was able to focus in order to avoid thinking about the cold weather and the wind.  In fact, there were times I was lucky not to be blown off the sidewalk (yes, a sidewalk was part of the course).  Of course, there were plenty to opportunities to slow down with multiple turns and my normalized power was closer to 190 for the race.  

I came into the transition and quickly put on my running shoes and grabbed my gloves and took off.  Transitions are one of my strengths and it certainly helped as someone yelled that I was in second place and that the guy ahead of me was just about 30 seconds ahead.   This was cool!  I'd never been in this position before.  It didn't take more than 400m before I could see him and I just kept a steady pace and gradually reeled him in after about a mile or so.  That's when I realized that I'd caught George.  This is where one of the most interesting experiences I've ever had started to occur.  I could feel the adrenaline flowing and my confidence building, despite the probable wind chill temperature of 25 degrees.  My lips were numb, my hands were getting numb.  My toes had been numb (coming off the bike).  But none of that mattered.  As we approached a long gradual uphill part of the run course, George sped up.  Now, one has to picture this.  I'm about 5'10" and 150 lbs and George is probably 6'2 (no clue as to his weight, but certainly more than mine).  As he tried to push past me, all I can remember is laughing (inside, of course).  I thought to myself, "there's no way he can beat me going uphill".  And with that, I sped up and stayed in front of him and he backed off and didn't try again (until the end).  

One of the things I realized early in the run was that I had started 10 seconds after George, and I just needed to stay within 10 seconds of him to beat him.  I found out afterwards that he didn't realize this.  As we got to within about 100 yards of the finish, I sprinted ahead and he actually caught me right at the finish line.  But, I still had my 10 seconds!  So, I had won my age group, and beaten someone that I didn't think I could beat.  It turned out that I had not only one my age group, but in fact had come in second place overall in the race!  Granted, it was a small race, but you take your victories where you get them.  I remember that my lips were so numb at the finish that I couldn't even talk for several minutes.  That's also an interesting commentary.  I hate training in cold weather, but if it's race time, I put it out of my mind and go for it!

So, that's the flashback on how I got my Honorable Mention status in 2008.

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