Sunday, June 26, 2005

Again with the Racing

Today I raced. In subpar shape after a spring and early summer of illness, business and generally sporadic training -- a friend described the phenomenon as "barely holding onto fitness" -- I went out and did the San Jose International Triathlon (1.25K swim, 40K bike, 10K run).

It had been since Half Vineman -- mid-summer last year -- that I raced. In the interim I did run a couple of marathons but for me that's not racing; that's called surviving. This race is just a couple miles from my parents' house, the house I grew up in, so I drove down yesterday evening and slept in one of those tiny kid beds in what used to be the room I shared with my brother Phil but is now Mom's sewing room. The birds woke me ten minutes before my 5:30 alarm was to go off. Good! A few extra minutes always come in handy on race morning, to be spent (as they were this morning, for example) standing in line at the portapotty, then jogging back to the car to retrieve the forgotten goggles.

In good time, there I was, in my wetsuit and my maroon swimming cap (marking me a male, 40-44), standing in a couple of inches of fetid Lake Almaden waters, waiting with my fellow tri tribe as the waves of age groups set off, separated by four minutes and practically catapulted forward by a booming cannon shot.

It occurred to me that I wasn't nervous. I wondered if this was a change from previous races, but -- customarily, not trusting my memory -- I couldn't be certain. I was dreading the swim, but that's par for the course. Mostly I was enjoying the scene and the scenery (lots of fit girls, people chattering about all the ailments that have held them back, that kind of thing), and speculating, to myself, about how I'd do. My thought: it wouldn’t be a bad showing if I finished 10 minutes slower than last year's 2:36, with most of the lost time coming on the bike.

We maroon caps finally got going and the swim in Lake Almaden featured many familiar elements -- thick green unappetizing water, guys swimming up your back, guys weaving back and forth in front of you and kicking you in the head (or, just as likely, me weaving and crashing into feet) and of course the indignity of the next group's leaders catching and leaving you in their wake. Despite all that, my level of distress remained low and I actually began to believe I was moving along OK. Not quickly, mind you, but better than usual. And sure enough, my time out of the water was 27 minutes, 23.3 seconds -- pretty awful, but about 90 seconds speedier than last year and 85th out of 134 in my age group. That's far and away my best swimming placement ever. Of course, I didn't know any of these facts at the time; it just seemed pretty good.

On the bike, we headed out of the park and turned south/southwest almost immediately, embarking on a flat, straight 13-mile stretch that would make up just over half the entire course. The marine intrusion was still howling up the valley and we were slogging right into it. Tough going, especially after we crested a little hill that takes you out of San Jose's development and into the farmlands between the city and Morgan Hill. I was down to 14.5 mph at a couple of points, and it was a bit discouraging. For awhile there, I thought I was looking at a horrid 1:30 ride, way off my 1:13 of last year. But of course, we enjoyed the benefits of this wind returning to the start/finish area on rolling McKean Road, just to the west over the first ridge of the Santa Teresa Hills (which front the Santa Cruz Mountains). Even with the wind pushing me along I worked hard, often cruising at 25, 26 mph, and I brought it in at 1:17:43.2 -- just four minutes off 2004. Not as bad as I feared -- but not nearly what it should be, ranking 100th in the age group.

Finally the run. I nearly matched my time from last year, finishing just seven seconds slower in 46:01.7, 34th best in the age group. And really, what was cool was that it felt, well, easy. I kept up a nice even pace (every mile was between 7:20 and 7:35) and was in control, just cruising.

So: swim not an embarrassment; sucky bike; great run. Add it up and you get an official time of 2 hours, 39 minutes and 0.1 seconds, 76th in the age group and 473rd out of 1100 finishers. Mediocre and, as always, utterly exhilarating.

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