Monday, August 16, 2010

The monkey on my back

I train with my friend Ron just about all the time now, even though I moved and he didn't and now he is - or, I guess, I am - an hour and a half away. See, Ron and I are similar in ability, or at least similar enough, which is only a tiny part of it. The larger point is that, at some point, Ron earned a reputation as a kicker, the kind of guy who will hang off your shoulder and punch past you at the finish line. So now, every hard workout, every speed session I do, I picture Ron lurking, waiting to pounce, and there's no letting up, because with his kick, I cannot afford to learn to coast across the finish line.

I just got back from two triathlons in two days in Luray, Virginia. Let me elaborate: Two wonderful, challenging and highly recommended races in two thoroughly enjoyable days. Ron wasn't there, but of course, he was.

Saturday was the international-distance race (1500-meter swim, 40K bike, 10K run). I was 70th overall, out of somewhere in the mid-700s, and 12th in my age group. Not too bad, really -- this was a tough course and a really popular race for DC-area triathletes. And DC is a most fertile ground for very good athletes. And my part of the race came down to not two, but three of us fending off -- and being -- Ron-style finish line surgers. And all of us were in the same damn age group. I passed one guy with about a tenth of a mile to go. He was having none of that, but hung on my shoulder while I tried to wear him down until he had no real kick left. While we were doing that, some other guy comes out of nowhere and turns it into a finale a trois of sorts. The results showed our times as 2:37:25, 2:37:26 and 2:37:27, but it was a photo finish. The results show me in the middle. I comforted myself with, well, at least I'm doing the double, but the guy who won the photo finish Saturday not only raced the sprint with me on Sunday but won our age group in that one. But I at least made the podium, coming in third a minute and a half later, finishing the 750M/17mi/5K in 1:32:25. Cool.

It was a great race, well worth the trip. The course was tough. The swim was beautiful, in a reservoir nestled between mountains. No neoprene training wheels to keep me horizontal, though -- water temp was 84. The bike course was described as "rolling," which on race sites tells you about as much as "medium spicy" does at a Thai restaurant. It could be anything, and this "rolling" course rolled a lot. It had a few climbs steep enough to put me not only in the small chainring but in my lowest cogs as well, and corresponding 45-50 mph downhills, always an attention-getter when you start in a late wave and get to weave your way through a wide range of bike handlers. The speed is an estimate. I don't race with a speedometer, specifically because of courses like this one that was a lot of false flats and headwinds that make you look at your numbers and push too hard ("I should be going faster than this!") and subsequently die on the run -- which this run was more than happy to encourage on its own. The run didn't have any flats at all. It was an out-and-back 5K route that featured a nice (I'm guessing) 10% climb just past the turnaround. So times for this course weren't fast -- which is in a lot of ways a sign of a good race, right?

Lots of fun. Here's the results, if you like:

Next up: I'm racing the Chicago Triathlon with something like 9,000 of my closest friends on Aug. 29. The plan was to enjoy a bit of a smackdown with my friend and Trizophrenia forewordist Peter Sagal, but that won't be happening this year. Check out his blog and get the details, but let's just say I wasn't the only one to have a bad week and fall behind on the blog schedule. He was riding his bike and was hit by a car. He'll be OK, but hardly in racing form by Chicago Tri weekend.