Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mountaineer Triathlon (International Distance)

It's been a while since I've posted, but I've been keeping at it. Here's my most recent race report:

Mountaineer Triathlon (International) - July 1, 2007

I entered the Mountaineer Tri on a whim. I hadn't originally planned to be in the area, but a change in schedule had my wife and I visiting her parents in Fairmont (30 minutes to the south) that weekend. Since I'd just finished Eagleman a few weeks ago, the International distance option sounded just right.

I checked my bike in on Saturday afternoon after taking a short ride and run on the course. The race is centered on the "wharf district" of Morgantown. In the years since I went to school at West Virginia, Mo-town has diversified and gentrified quite a bit, with a lot of development and revitalization based around the riverfront. Former light industrial areas now sport high-rise hotels and condos, and a well-used bike path follows the river in place of the old rail line. Open real-estate is scarce in the wharf area, so the transition area occupied the ground floor of a parking garage. Space was at a premium, so I was glad to get there early and get a decent rack spot.

On Sunday an early fog lifted off of the river, and the sun came out bright and clear. Temperatures were forecast for the 70s. Perfect racing weather. After setting up my wife and I watched from the bike path as the first waves took off on the swim.

The swim started from a new boat dock. Each wave jumped in from the dock, paddled around for a few minutes waiting for the signal, then swam a long rectangular course that went first downstream, then turned, going back up river past the dock, and turned again to finish back at the dock. Since the International racers went last, we got to see the early waves take off, and cheer the pros as they returned just a few yards away from our starting point.

Finally it was my turn. Into the water and I positioned myself to the inside and fairly near the front. Let them pass me -- I'll avoid the traffic if I can.The horn blew, and we were off. I got around the first end of the rectangle in good shape, and started the long swim up river. The course headed directly upstream towards a navigation lock and dam, which the Army Corps of Engineers has kindly turned off, so there was virtually no current to swim against. As an old industrial river, the Mononghalea has a bit of a shady reputation, but the water was surprisingly clear -- much better than many of the lake swims I've done. Traffic got thicker as I turned for home and started to overtake slower swimmers, but I stayed close to the buoys and had a pretty clear path.

I gave it an extra burst as I reached the dock to get ahead of the other swimmers. A waiting hand grabbed my arm and yanked me onto the dock. I scrambled onto my feet and off I went.

Swim (1500 M) -- 29:08, 7/20 AG

The dock was a great place to start the swim from. Unfortunately it was almost 300 yards away from the transition area. I stripped my suit down and settled into a jog on the paved bike path. My right calf cramped slightly so I had to keep the speed down a bit, and a couple of people from my wave passed me by. As I got to my bike, I thanked the genius who invented Body Glide, as my suit came right off with no problems. After the long run, the rest of T1 went very quickly and I got out in good shape.

T1 --3:24, 4/20 AG

The mounting area was right outside the parking garage on a quaint brick street in the wharf district. A nice crowd had gathered to witness the madhouse of wobbling bicycles and traffic jams associated with us MOPer's. I ran over to the side away from the madness and took my time to clip in before setting off. A quick wave to my wife, and away I went.

I had some trepidation about the bike course. West Virginia can be hilly -- very hilly -- and I didn't know the course. I'd decided to adopt a strategy of riding hard, but always at high RPMs. Keep an eye on the cadence meter. If it dropped below 85, downshift. I figured it would be better to stress my lungs rather than my legs.

As the bike unfolded I got more and more confident. The route crossed over the Mon and then rolled along the river, giving us some surprisingly flat terrain. After about 6 or so miles we turned away from the river. As is usually the case in West Virginia, the road paralleled a creek and began rising slowly as we traced the stream back to it's source. Initially the rise was not very steep and I kept up a nice brisk pace, downshifting occasionally to keep my cadence high. Since the Half-IM field had started before the International I had plenty of riders to zero in on and overtake. They had to do the bike loop twice, while I had only one go-round -- I could afford to go harder.

The easy climbing ended and I got a good view of a long grade. No use being a hero -- my bike has a triple ring, and I'm not ashamed to say that "granny" is a good friend of mine. Sit up, downshift, and spin like a madman.

Finally up and over the top, the route settled into a short stretch of easy rolling terrain. After a very tight u-turn, I was on the way back. The return route merged onto an excellent two-lane highway and it was time to get cranking. I snuck a peak at my average speed -- 19 mph. That was good. I'd hoped to do the ride in 1:20 or better, and 19 would get the job done. I dug in with extra deternimation -- all downhill from here!

Or so I thought. The longest climb on the course kicked in. Not too steep, but steep enough and long enough to cause a little apprehension. The good and bad news was that you could see the entire climb from the bottom. Well, at least there wouldn't be any surprises. Sit up, downshift, and spin once more. Once again it helped that I had other riders to track down. I only had to do the climb once, while the riders doing the Half-IM had to measure their effort more carefully.

Over the top and it's party time! Nothing ahead but a straight downhill and smooth pavement. I geared up, cranked hard and tucked in for the downhill ride, letting off a few whoops as I zoomed downhill. As I turned back onto the side roads leading to the finish, the smooth pavement disappeared, and I got a good shaking from some very rough pavement. But soon the bridge back across the river appeared and the end was in sight. Another wave for my wife and a smile for the camera and I ducked off to the side for the dismount. Into the garage, shoes on, and back out into the sunshine for the run.

Bike (24.85 miles) -- 1:16:03, 7/20 AG.
T2 -- 1:08, 3/20 AG

As I jogged out of T2 I started to catch a leg cramp. Not this again -- leg cramps had really slowed me down at Eagleman. I shortened my stride a bit and concentrated on a short, quick turnover. Flex my toes, shake out the arms and neck -- relax. As I started down the riverside bike path a woman age grouper and I started working together and soon I had a good rhythm going.

After two miles the course turned and returned back up the path, going past the finish and continuing down the riverside trail. I tracked down and passed a fellow age-grouper and left him behind, but for the most part I was running alone. Since the bike path had quarter mile markers, it was easy to check my pace -- right on 8 min/mile -- good.

Soon the male pros began to appear, running past me as they started their run legs. I saw Andrew Hodges and held up five fingers for him -- 5th place. He looked strong, though (which he was -- he finished 2nd.)

At mile 5 the course turned towards the hills overlooking the river. The steepest hill on the course loomed in front of me. How steep? Ridiculously steep. Stupid steep. To add to the atmosphere, a spectator dressed as the devil waved a pitch fork at the runners. Shades of the TDF. I high-fived him as I shuffled slowly up the hill. Fortunately the leg cramps held off, and I turned towards the university campus and downtown Morgantown.

Only about a mile to go now. Through the WVU downtown campus -- strangely quiet on a summer Sunday morning, then descended through Morgantown's downtown streets -- also quiet. I overtook a woman age-grouper, then a 28 year old male as we turned to make the final push to the finish. The guy wouldn't have a 48 year old pass him, and found an extra kick when he saw the finish line. I had to let him go, but I turned it up best I could and gave the obligatory fist pumps when they called my name.


Run (6.5 miles) -- 52:17, 5/20 AG

Overall: 2:42:00, 6/20 AG, 49/180 overall. Probably my best overall race I've done. I was hoping for 2:45, so I hit my goal with room to spare. As it turns out, the run was 6.5, rather than 6.2 miles, so I'm even more happy with the time. I was especially pleased that my placings for each of the disciplines were very consistent, and that I had some excellent transition times. This year's half-IM training really paid off at this shorter distance.