Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shooting the Gap

I arrived back home early this morning (the 12:30am type of early) after a quick little jaunt to Illinios/Indiana/Ohio for the Giant Eagle Triathlon in Columbus. This race caught my eye after the Battle at Midway (aka BAM, one of my all-time favorite local Utah races) was sadly cancelled this year and I was left looking for an alternative Olympic-distance event in late July. HFP Racing did a nice job assembling some great corporate support (Giant Eagle, Muscle Milk) and put together a weekend-long multi-sport festival which included a strong professional field in Sunday's race. It was kind of fun to "step down" in distance and test myself against some really speedy short-course specialists at this point of the season when most people are pretty fit.

Unfortunately I was coming down with a bug and never really felt great at any point of the race, but I was able to squeak into the money with a 7th-place finish in a respectable time of 2:01:59. It was a FAST course with the top five ladies all breaking the 2-hour mark; in retrospect I'm pleased to have been in the same zip code on an off day. My swim was horrendous, probably one of the worst open water swims I've ever had. The water was a steamy 84.9 degrees which is bad news for me; I'm not sure if it's having a lot of surface area from being tall, growing up doing 6am swim practices in an unheated outdoor pool, or if I just plain run hot in the water...but I am a much happier clam swimming in cold water.

Whatever the case, it was hot and I swam poorly. This made me mad so I started off the bike like a bat out of hell. The first section of the course was on some nice smooth rolling roads in the area just south of Alum Creek State Park, before continuing onto "The Main Drag" (Hwy. 23/High Street) for a straight shot south into downtown Columbus. It's neat doing a point-to-point course into a big city and I have to hand it to the local police department and race volunteers for doing a great job directing traffic at the intersections. There was, however, a glitch in between the intersections. While the far right-hand lane was coned off for the race the entire way down Hwy. 23, there were still some cars parked in that lane once we got closer to the downtown area. It was feasible to ride to the very left of the coned-off lane to squeeze by the parked cars, or if it was a really tight fit you could even swing outside of the cones into the left lane and still be relatively safe. The real problem occurred when a city bus stopped in the left-hand lane directly beside a car that was parked in the right-hand/bike course lane to let passengers off...at exactly the moment when I was barreling through at 24 miles-per-hour. My choices were to a) slam on my brakes, b) swing suddenly out around the bus on the left-hand side into on-coming traffic, or c) try to shoot the gap between the car and the bus. I wasn't sure exactly who/what was behind me so I made the split-second decision to stay in my lane and try to zip between the two vehicles before the bus door actually opened and people started getting off. I almost made it. No one was hurt and I didn't have to come to a complete stop, but I'm certain that if the bus passengers were not fully awake as they started climbing off the bus they surely were jolted to attention by my yelling! Nothing profane, just a string of loud "heads-up-heads-up-heads-ups"!

Once I got past that obstacle the rest of the ride was uneventful. T2 and the finish line area were in a really pretty grassy square called McFerson Commons in the Arena District. I hopped off the bike with two other girls hot on my heels so I took off hard on the run to see if I could drop them. The first one caught me about a mile in and I wasn't able to match her speed, but when the second girl pulled up beside me I pushed the pace and really raced her for a solid mile on the backstretch of the first loop. It felt good to have the mental and physical strength to be able to do that. Eventually I cracked though and she opened up a gap that remained pretty constant until the finish line.

This race was a good reminder that there are always going to be things beyond your control; it’s a matter of preparing for the more constant variables and then keeping a cool head when faced with unexpected mishaps. I can do things in training to prepare more effectively for swimming faster in warm water and for improving my ability to hang tough in a duel on the run. The bus/car incident, on the other hand, was one of those random things that you don’t ever imagine being an issue during a race. Sure, the event company could have posted “No Parking” signs the night before the race and then towed away any stray cars that were there race morning. But the fact of the matter is that they didn’t and I had to decide how to react in one of those weird perfect storm situations…and then carry on with the task at hand.

Overall it was a fun little trip to the Midwest despite having a sub-par performance. I flew into Chicago, took the Orange Line train downtown, hopped on the South Shore Train bound for South Bend, and then met my mom at the train station for the 40 minute drive to Elkhart. It was a dry run of the same travel arrangements that I’ll follow in 5 weeks when I head back to the Midwest for the REV3 Cedar Point race. It was great having my mom and brother out supporting me, as well as my dear friend Courtney and her 9-yr-old daughter Lucy. Lou---you did a great job blowing the vuvzela!

Thanks to Shannon Kurek and the HFP Racing crew for organizing this event; to Ryan and Jill Cantzler for their awesome hospitality in absentia; to Mom, Adam, Courtney and Lucy for coming out to cheer; to Nicki and Megan for the tasty post-race banquet; to Albert for tending the garden and taking care of the dogs; and to PowerBar, BlueSeventy, Rudy Project, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center for their continued support.

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