Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Race Recap: Redemption at the Cayuga Lake Triathlon, NY

Coming into transition at the end of the 40k bike at the 2009 Cayuga Lake Triathlon

The rumble of thunder woke me from my sleep around 5:30am on Sunday morning, August 2. My alarm was set to go off in a few minutes anyway, but all I could think was, Great, there goes the swim leg. Later that morning, I was racing in the Olympic distance Cayuga Lake Triathlon, outside of Ithaca, New York in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of the state. Kelli, Marin and I were in town for her dad's 70th birthday, which we celebrated the previous afternoon. With the race the same weekend, I couldn't resist giving it a go - after all, it was in Kelli's hometown, and our shared stomping grounds from our college days. I was also looking for redemption - after a somewhat disappointing race the Xterra Mountain Cup in Beaver Creek, Colorado, I was looking to get my summer racing back on track.

Unlike the Xterra race series, which is off-road, the Cayuga Lake Tri is a traditional on-road triathlon, with a 1.5k swim, 40k bike, and 10k run. Thankfully, the early clap of thunder never repeated itself, and at 8:00am, the race began as scheduled. (If lightning and thunder continued, race organizers would have been forced to cancel the swim and shift to a biathlon format, with only a bike and run.) I was in the first wave of swimmers - Men 30 to 49 - who set off into the water on an out-and-back swim.

Though the lightning and thunder stayed away, stormy weather clamped down over the race, and we swam into a headwind and rough, choppy waves. The strongest swimmers seemed unfazed by this fact, but most of us - including me - had a hard time finding our least for the first 750 meters until we could make a 180-degree turn around a giant yellow buoy and head for shore with the wind and waves at our back. I had hoped to do the swim in sub-28 minutes, improving upon my personal best time from the Beaver Creek race. Instead, I came out of the water in 34 minutes, a minute or two slower than my time at Buffalo Creek earlier this season. It wasn't what I hoped for, but it was a relatively small time deficit I knew I could make up for on the bike.

Biking is typically my strongest leg of the triathlon. I'm competent in three disciplines, but if you forced me to choose a forte, this is it. However, the overwhelming majority of my biking is on a mountain bike, even more so this year when I've been focusing almost exclusively on the Xterra races. What this meant was that I didn't have a good sense for how fast I could crank out the 40k on the hilly bike course that went up Cayuga Lake to Sheldrake Point and back down to Taughannock State Park.

I did know, on the other hand, that I had a great machine underneath me. Leading up to the race, I contacted Glenn Swan, an accomplished cyclist (read: multiple national and masters championships), uber-friendly guy, and super knowledgeable founder/owner of Swan Cycles (607.277.0495) in Ithaca. Glenn set me up with a Fuji Aloha TT/tri bike for the race, which was a joy to ride. This bike is FAST.

Coming out of the water a little later than I had wanted meant that I had a fair number of racers ahead of me when I began the bike. This, in many ways, is how I like to race - I can set my sights on someone ahead of me, reel them in, and pass them. Then, I set my sights on the next target. One by one, I ticked off riders and improved my position. By now, a cold, steady rain was falling. Other than the slick road conditions, which made us all wary on the course's few tight turns, these were good race conditions for me. I much prefer cold and wet to hot and sunny. In the intense heat, my body tends to shut down, as was painfully obvious at Beaver Creek.

Without a good gauge for just how fast I thought I'd ride, I conservatively estimated sub 1:30, and hoped for sub 1:15. Instead, I cranked out the bike leg of the race in 1:11, turning in the 5th fastest bike split for my age group, and the 32nd fastest bike split out of 191 racers overall. Sweet.

The 10k run was a gorgeous 2-lap route up to the base of Taughannock Falls - at 215 feet it's the tallest in New York State - and back to the finish area along the shores of Cayuga Lake. As I set out on the run, I suddenly heard a large crowd of people cheering my name. Much of the family in town for my father in law's birthday - brothers and sisters in law, nieces, nephews - came out to watch me race. It was just the motivational boost I needed. My legs were feeling heavy, probably because I had given so much on the bike.

When I came around for my second lap, they were all lined up alongside the corral, and I ran down the line giving high fives to everyone. Another lap later, and I was crossing the finish line. My total time was 2:41:38 - good enough for 6th in my age group, and 56/191 overall, just outside the top 25%. Amazingly in my age group, places 1 through 6 were separated by just 13.5 minutes, and places 4-6 by less than 6 minutes. If I could have given just a little more on the run - just 30 seconds or so per mile - or completely the swim just a smidgen faster, I could have been in contention for a podium finish in my age group.

All in all, it was a race defined by one word: redemption. My spirits are lifted, I'm feeling motivated, and I'm eagerly anticipating the next race, which is unbelievably less than two weeks away: the Xterra BOLT in Nebraska. The race season continues...

For a few extra pictures from the Cayuga Lake Triathlon, check out my website here.

- Pete

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