I'm going to Budapest for the ITU Age Group World Championships in September 2010!
So that's the bottom line. If you want more details, read on....
I got to transition really early- like 5:15. The first wave didn't start until 7, and I went at 8:09. I didn't want to have a parking problem, and I was up anyway. Since the bike was already there and we weren't allowed to take it out, there really wasn't much to do.
When the first wave went off, it soon became VERY clear that a current had miraculously appeared overnight. One bit of evidence was watching a dead and bloated catfish float by. Why was it dead? (Later, a local told me there are water moccasins. Yikes.) As I heard later, they released water from the dam above, perhaps due to the recent rain. I need to buy those guys a beer. The swim was an elongated rectangle, parallel to the shore, starting in the middle, going clockwise, and ending at the "corner" upstream. Note I said upstream. The story of the day was the current. The first four waves went off for the 50+ AGs. When they went around the second corner and proceeded to try to swim upstream, they nearly stopped. I don't mean slowed down, I mean stopped. I had to look hard to see if they were moving at all. Apparently, some 20 swimmers dropped out.
Coming from Maine, and being very familiar with currents, it was easy to come up with a strategy. The current should be stronger in the middle, and the swim would be longer (go a bit easier). I started to the right, closer to the middle of the river. We were crammed in there like sardines. I was able to clear the group fairly easily. At the first buoy, I made a wild guess that I was somewhere between 5th and 8th in my wave. I took the buoy tight and immediately angled 20 degrees to the right, allowing the current to correct my course. With the change in direction, I could feel just how strong the current was. I also noticed everyone else swept far wide of the buoy. As I approached the second corner, from a 90 degree angle, everyone else was already swimming upstream because they swam a "bow" shape. Then things got tricky. I wanted to go left to get in lighter current, but there was a huge pile up to my left. It took about two minutes of swimming over and around people to get over there. The next leg took FOREVER......This was the long leg of the rectangle, parallel to the shore where the older folks stopped. I probably didn't get far enough left, but I don't think anyone was further left. Grind, grind, grind. Finally the last corner came and it was the reverse of the second leg. I went wide around the buoy and only turned 70 degrees, again, allowing for the current to correct. Everyone else got swept onto the buoy, then started their "bow" track. At the exit, I came in straight, and the others were nearly swimming straight upstream to get out. The watch read 28 minutes. Twenty-eight! For a"one mile" swim! I was 8 minutes slower than last year. I would guess my better training helped by at least one minute, the lack of wetsuit hurt by two minutes, and the current added about seven. The day was starting out just fine. It was also interesting to note that only about 10% of swimmers wore a skin suit.
Out on the bike, we started with a short out-and-back. The entire course was on a divided (50 mph) parkway with three 180 degree turns on each lap. At the first 180, I saw an older biker flat on his back on one side, and a pedestrian on his back the other, both with neck braces on. Turns out the racer had a broken femur. In general, I worked the flats near threshold, up hills 20-30 watts over, and rested as much as possible going down. At the end of one lap I checked my averages: low watts but an average speed of 23.6 or so. Great. Just do it again, not being afraid to really be aggressive on the hills. And I did. I found myself just below threshold on the flats going 26-27. What a great feeling. The course was very crowded on the first lap, as I expected. It was completely closed to traffic, so we were three abreast at times. I'll say it was very difficult to completely avoid technical drafting, but I didn't see any serious offenders. With about 1 mile to go, I got a small cramp in my right hip area, something that never happens. I should have known that was a sign of things to come. I came in at about 1:01, very pleased, even though it was about 1/2 mile short.
Then everything came apart. Even before I got out of T2, I realized it was really hot and I was sapped. My legs didn't feel strained like they do when I push the pace out of T2, I was just tired all over. The steepest hill came near mile 1. After seeing how slow I and others were "running," I decided to go with an up-tempo walk.
Yes, walk. In a 10K. I friggin' walked! Never happened before, and I sure hope it never happens again. I knew I was beat up, I'm sure my heart rate was high, and I wanted to conserve. I probably walked 1/2 of the hill. About a mile later came hill number two. Same thing. I walked the top half. Hill number three, walk. In total, I probably walked 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Oh yeah, that includes a few paces of walking at a couple of the water stops.
There were no mile markers out there. But by the time I came down the third hill, still feeling sapped, I know I was more than half way. That helped me pick it up just a touch. To me, it felt like I went from 8:30s to 8:20s. Seriously, it felt that slow. Due to my reconnaissance, I knew about where mile 5 was. That's when I started thinking about the unseen 39 year olds. I picked it up a touch. Half way from there, another small pick up. Then I stayed as strong as I could to the finish.
As it turns out, I went 43:31, a 7:02 average. Frankly, I'm stunned. That means that outside of walking, I ran somewhere around a 6:40 pace.
Swim 28:36- 107th
T1 1:59- best in AG was 1:18
Bike 1:01:08, 123rd- USAT says I averaged 24.4, I say 23.4. Either way, good.
T2 1:06- best in AG was 0:45
Run- 43:41- 381st- 7:02/mi
Overall 2:16:29- OA 156/1070, AG 19/77
Given my state for a good 90 minutes after the finish, I know I put all I had into the race. I had zero appetite, was so hot I filled my shorts with ice three times, and had a tight throat that I get when dehydrated and can't breathe.
Finally I went over to get my results. 2:16, 19th place. OK, I have a shot. Remember for Worlds qualifying, I had to remove any 44 year olds that beat me, and add in 39 year olds. Finally I saw a list. Four 44 year olds beat me.
AND NO 39 YEAR OLDS. That puts me in 15th. 18 qualify. I DID IT.
I called Christine and cried. I could hardly talk. Think about how you feel when you watch Kona on TV, or the national anthem at the Olympics. This was my moment. I'm sure my physical state affected my mental state, even well after the race, but I was completely choked up. I went against some of the best in the country in my age group, and did well enough to wear the USA uniform next year.
Oh yeah, it'll have my name on my ass. I'm a NOAD.