Today was Leon’s World’s Fastest Triathlon, an Olympic-distance race in Hammond, Indiana (30mins from downtown Chicago).
Well-Fit had a huge group of athletes racing, so it promised to be a fun day. With lots of friends from our team as well as other familiar faces in the Chicago tri scene, it also had a good deal of friendly competition at stake.
I was in the last wave, composed of everyone 34 and under. Positioning myself on the first row to the left for our in-water start, I planned to avoid most of the messy churn behind me. At the horn I sprinted hard for a few hundred yards. Probably too hard, as I was really feeling short of breath…for me I have a fine line between “all out” and “swim hard,” and I think I pushed it a bit too much. I eased off the gas a bit and tried to settle at a race effort (threshold), but was still hurting, so I eased off for maybe 20 strokes to recollect myself. That seemed to help a lot, though I was passed by a fair amount of caps in my wave. Not knowing who was in my age group or younger wasn’t ideal, but I focused on my stroke and breathing. I felt better and steadily passed people, maintaining a threshold/solid effort the rest of the way.
Swim times were pretty fast so I’m not sure if there was a bit of current or the course was a bit short, but my time was 21:12. Fastest Olympic swim split so far for me and regardless of distance, I’d later learn it put me 3rd in my AG to that point.
After a stumbly transition (not my finest), I hit the bike course. This is a flat and fast bike course, with some wind, so I basically went hard right from the get-go. It’s 2 loops totaling 24.8 miles (if accurate). I immediately was passing people left and right, really pushing the power and feeling good. I saw lots of friends and some teammates who’d either started earlier or beaten me out of the water, exchanging greetings with each. The first loop I could tell I was making very good progress as it was approximately 30:30 on my bike computer when pressed the lap button. I then started the second lap, passing more racers including some more friends that had started one to two waves ahead of me (so making up 8 minutes minimum).
On a stretch of Cline Ave you do two out-and-backs. Near the first turnaround in lap 2, going just over 29mph, I heard a loud pop and my rear wheel started to rattle loudly. I looked down and saw I had a flat, my first on these wheels and tubular tires. I made a steady but quick stop on the side of the road, dismounted and before even looking at the wheel and tire, pulled the can of Pit Stop sealant off my bike to use. Upon inspecting the tire, a large screw had punctured through the tread and back out of the sidewall of the tire…a really bad flat. I hoped desperately that somehow the sealant would close the tube even though the tire now had 2 punctures. I was at the 17.1 mile mark and 40:50 into the bike, so even on a low pressure tire I could still get back to T2 with a solid time. Aside from some difficulty trying to use the sealant on the disc wheel (need to research the ideal way to do this), including cutting my hand on the valve stem opening, I found that the sealant was doing nothing. I figured I’d give a CO2 canister a chance, hoping I could get the tire partially inflated to ride it a while. My heart sank as the air went in but right back out the huge hole in the sidewall. As racers whizzed by me, I had to collect myself and wrap my mind around the fact that my day was done…my first ever DNF at a triathlon. No spare tubular tire with me, which I’d planned to do only for half and full Ironman racing.
I walked maybe 1/2 a mile back down the side of the road, trying to hide my frustration and giving a weak smile as many people passing me asked if I was okay. A service cart pulled up next to me just as another racer appeared, also having fallen victim to a bad flat. I offered to wait while they drove her and her bike back to transition.
While waiting, I saw another athlete off to the side of the road working on a flat. He’d been there a while so I hopped the median, darted across a gap in bike traffic and offered to help. He was indeed struggling with changing the tube on his front wheel and welcomed my help. It took a couple minutes to undo where he had it, get the tube seated and the tire back on, but I got the new tube into the tire, tire onto the wheel and watched and helped as he reinflated it. Success. I chatted him up during the process and his name was David Estrada. A fellow Chicago triathlete, he’d done a few tri’s before including one half-IM. He had attempted IM Louisville in 2011 but with disastrous results. David crashed around mild 20 of the bike at Louisville, fracturing 2 vertebrae and requiring surgery. He was just now getting back to racing and would be trying for redemption at Ironman Louisville 2012. I mentioned I’d be there too and would make sure to find him and wish him well. As he put the wheel back into his front fork, he thanked me several times and said he really owed me. While my heart was still very down over my race ending prematurely and my stomach was in knots, I told him that if I couldn’t continue that I felt good making sure someone else could do so.
And it was true…my spirit was and remains pretty down several hours later. Although this was my 3rd tri this year, I have a half-iron race in 2 weeks and my main goal is IM Louisville, this was still a race where I was looking forward to performing well. With lots of friends, it was to be a good measuring stick for me as well as a gauge of my fitness. I had a very solid swim, after which I was on a great pace on the bike. Looking at my AG and the overall results later on, that pace would have put me at the top of my age group by a few minutes at T2, with one of the better bike splits of the overall race. But, coulda woulda shoulda. If it didn’t happen it doesn’t count, so I’m left to examine my swim and my short bike, looking for areas of improvement or progress.
- I went out a bit too hard on the swim.
- T1 was slow and sloppy for me.
- I recovered from the swim start to have a strng overall effort and time on the swim, 3rd fastest in my AG and right on par with the guys I want to swim with, speedwise.
- Through 17 miles on the bike I averaged over 25mph, including some 90 and 180-degree turns, as well as two long stretches with headwinds.
- I set a new power record for myself…normalized power was 296 watts for the 40:50 of ride time, with a VI of 1.02, so it was smooth, consistent power (not spiky like on the hills of Galena)…this bodes well for long-course triathlons later this summer.
- I got to help another athlete be able to continue and ultimately finish his race (I didn’t see him afterward, but I checked the results online). It felt really good knowing that I helped someone else have a better day and ending than my own.
- Finally, Well-Fit’s impressive and inspiring performances earned many age group wins and podiums, as well as the Women’s Team title. Had I finished well we might have placed better in the Co Ed Team division too (we were 2nd), but who knows. I’m still extremely proud to be a part of the great community that is Well-Fit.
Overall, I’ve got a kind of empty feeling…just not satisfied with that ending. However I will take my experience as just that, stow it in the memory banks and use it moving forward. There’s nowhere to go but up.