Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pacific Grove 2010

About 10 days ago I raced in the Triathlon at Pacific Grove for the fifth time. I took 7th place there in 2009 and I was hoping to have another solid result in 2010 despite a somewhat stronger field.

PG is known for the kelp forest that you have to “swim” through. In fact, that swim leg is commonly referred to as the “kelp crawl.” The kelp can make or break your race, based on a mix of sighting, kelp-specific technique and pure dumb luck.

My swim fitness seemed to be very good in the pool and I hoped to be able to hang onto a fast group of swimmers. As it played out, I couldn’t do that. The kelp can be unforgiving, and I didn’t stay immediately behind the swimmer in front of me. INstead I swam side-by-side with another guy, sharing the draft, and found myself fighting a bit of extra kelp. The margin of error proved to be small with a rather talented group of swimmers, and 500m into the swim I found myself alone.

Things got a bit weird after that. I got tangled in the kelp here and there and took some “interesting” lines to try to avoid it… but I also got a bit demoralized, thinking that any chance of an in-the-money finish had just swam away from me. There is a lesson in there somewhere!

Dan MacKenzie caught up to me during the second lap, as I was swimming laterally across the course in an effort to avoid some kelp. I had made the silly decision to cut a tangent right through a giant kelp patch, then changed my mind. It was a weird swim for me.

Dan & I exited the water in 9th and 10th places but what we saw on the bike course made us believe that we were in 11th and 12th. They pay the top ten, so this is a rather critical difference! Apparently two juniors were riding with two of the elites and we didn’t get a good enough look at them to know the difference.

The bike course was four laps of an out-and-back with a *brutal* headwind on the way out, and a correspondingly rippin’ tailwind on the way back. We didn’t realize quite how strong the wind was and the first 5km were a struggle. I took less than my share of pulls as I felt super-weak whenever I was in front and figured I was doing more harm than good. We cruised during the second 5km and I finally found some legs. About 20km into the bike, we were caught by a group of three. The new bunch of five didn’t work all that well together. Two guys kept skipping pulls and one guy looked like he was about to crash at any moment – either into somebody else or all by himself! So I took a few extra pulls and felt like one of the strongest guys in the group. Coming out of the 25km turnaround, Kenny Rakestraw put in a solid effort and strung out our group. I was sitting second wheel and started feeling like the effort to just stay on his wheel was too much, so I pulled off and tried to go to the back of the group … only to find that there was no more group! The two guys who’d been skipping pulls were maybe 30m behind me and Dan was not even in sight! I sat up for a moment and then tucked in behind the other two … and was surprised to struggle to stay with them. Maybe I stayed with Kenny too long? Maybe I’m just weak? Somehow I got shed off the back and could only watch as the two pull-skippers eventually caught Rakestraw as I pedaled alone. It was amazing how quickly I went from comfortable and in-control to off-the-back. Maybe 3-5 minutes? Very discouraging.

I waited up for Dan and we rode the last lap together. The impetus was gone, however, and our lap split was 60-90 seconds slower than on all of the other laps. Ouch.

I came into this race with a lot of run fitness, too, arguably the best of my career. So I wanted to try for a new PR on the fast (and possibly short) PG run course. I’d run just over 34:00 there two years ago, so 33:30 sounded like an awesome goal. I pushed the pace right out of the gate and got a quick gap on Dan. He clawed his way back to me around 2km and took the lead for 30sec, but I thought he appeared to be struggling a bit (uphill and into the wind) so I made a bit of a countermove and got away again. I ended up holding a lead on him for the rest of the way and never came close to catching the bike threesome. I crossed the line with a 33:31 run split, which is a solid new PR for me. Can’t complain about that! But it would have been awesome to stay with that swim group or to stay with that bike group, as those three guys finished in 8th, 9th and 10th positions ahead of a fading new daddy, Kevin Everett.

So 12th place. Run PR. Moments of brilliance and moments of struggle on the bike.

After the race my host family, the Kintzes, took my friend Andrew Lockton and me to the famous Monterrey Aquarium. I’d never been in there before and was really looking forward to checking it out this year. (I thought it was kind of lame of me to have raced there four times without ever visiting the aquarium. It is practically on the course!)

This giant overhead tank was filled with sardines, mostly swimming in the same direction in a giant shimmering school.

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It is hard to capture the cool lighting effects with my camera, but if I turned off the flash then you sort of get a feel for it.

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Posing in front of the jellyfish:


Lots of jellyfish!

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This last guy is called a Bat Ray, as in “Nana nana nana nana Nana nana nana nana  BAT RAY!!”

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Mark Kintz took me surfing on Sunday morning before I headed off to the airport. A few harbor seals weren’t shy about swimming with us – I almost bumped into them a few times.

Next up: USAT Elite Nationals at the ITU Tuscaloosa Pan American Cup. One last chance to try and get some ITU points this year!!

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