After the 2012 Triathlon season, I decided I liked the sport enough to go “all in”. I upgraded to a real TT/Tri bike, got swim coaching with Erica Sheckler of Endurance Multisport and planned the 2013 campaign. Race 1, as it has been the last 2 years was New Jersey Devilman. The NJD sprint was my first tri ever 2 years ago, and last year I did the half-lite in preparation for a 1/2 Ironman. This year I had been scheduled to do the half-lite again but changed it to the sprint at the last moment.
One change for this year was that Piranha Sports offered the opportunity to do a practice swim along with early packet pick-up on Saturday. Given my past struggles with the swim at this race, I grabbed on to this as quick as I could. I’d be staying at Dad’s just a few miles North of there anyway so it made sense. I was hoping extra time in the water before hand would help me shake the panic that has plagued me in this dark, cold swim each of the last two years.
Let’s back up to this past fall and winter for a moment. “The plan” was to do my last marathon for a while at Philadelphia and then wrap marathoning up with a neat little bow and then get serious about getting faster at triathlon. Part of that getting serious stuff was to learn how to swim a lot better. I could get through the distances but, even when not panicked and swimming normally my form wasn’t so efficient. This worked out well, because my Philly training and racing led to a serious bout of tendonitis in my right ankle. No worries. The plan was swimming and biking all winter with enough running to keep in running shape. Then a late winter cold led to breathing problems and a diagnosis of asthma. But I pressed on. Training, and training for a new season with high hopes.
Suddenly, race week was upon me. I had been slowly setting my new bike up for racing and the plan had been to work on starting with my new tri shoes pre-clipped. There were a 1/2 dozen other things I wanted to do before my first race but then it was race weekend and there was no more time. Time to make due.
The afternoon of Saturday May 4th, found me at the race grounds in Cedarville, NJ. A quaint little farming/fishing community along the Delaware Bay. The area is struggling economically and I hope my fellow racers patronize what local businesses they can find. But it was a beautiful, bug free afternoon which was drastically different from the humid, gnatty affair last year. I quickly got my race packet, grabbed my wetsuit & goggles, and headed for the practice swim. They were offering a safety seminar for first-timers but gave people the chance to skip it and get in the water. I was looking for a calm, relaxing confidence building swim with as much water time as I could get so I counted myself among the swimmers and headed for the start. I pulled on the sleeves of my wetsuit, grabbed the strap for the zipper and pulled. Poing! Suddenly I was holding a zipper in my hand. That’s not good. I spent a frantic 30-40 minutes performing zipper surgery with the help of another racer who was not swimming that day. He had a multi-tool and we were able to get things back together. A tooth had actually pulled from one side and we were forced to pull a tooth from the other side to get both back on. (I’ll be e-mailing Orca VERY soon to voice my displeasure.) So, I got my wetsuit on as the last of the practice wave was heading back for the dock. So much for my calm, cool relaxed swim. My heart was beating 800 bpm as I scurried down the dock and into the water. That freakin’ muddy, dark, cold water. Though not nearly as cold as years past. I managed one loop about 150 yards out and back and was just starting to relax when I arrived back at the dock. I would have like to have gone again but time was up. Hmmm. Not an auspicious start to the season.
The next morning I was able to not arrive at the crack of dawn since I had my packet already. Just needed to setup Transition, grab my chip, and get body marked. I took my bike off the rack and stared at the empty aero bottle holder on the front. Damn. My bottle was sitting neatly by the front door where I “couldn’t possibly walk out without it”.
So after borrowing a water bottle, I headed for transition meeting Susanne & Sean Vanzijl along the way. Susanne and Sean are some of the coolest people I know and I always consider myself lucky to count them among my friends. And did I mention Susanne is awesomely fast? There was a time when calling a woman fast meant something completely different. In this case, it is a fantastic compliment. I am in awe of her times. Sean isn’t a slouch either. But we got caught up, and setup and then it was time to race.
Oh, the most notable difference today over the past two years? It was FREAKIN’ cold at the start. It was cloudy and there was a hard East wind blowing. It was mid 40s and the idea of jumping in a pond for a swim was the last thing on our minds. It was hard to look around swim start and find much enthusiasm. Sweats and jackets stayed on until the last possible moment and the full sleeve suit felt awfully good once it was carefully zipped up by a fellow racer. There was the opportunity to warm-up on the swim but with the chilly temps, few took advantage of it. With the cold and wind, there was not a bug to be found though. That was a plus after last year.
While waiting for the start I heard my name “Pete Githens! Pete Githens!”. I looked around to see my work mate Larry. I called he and his wife over and introduced them to Sean & Susanne and explained Larry, who is a really fast runner, finished Boston about 30 minutes before the excitement began.
Learning from the past, as soon as the wave before us went, i hustled up to the ramp. I’m not sure what takes people so long to get in the water. I picture guys dipping their toes in to see if it is cold. One of the volunteers smartly let us use the “out” ramp since the lead wave was going to be a while coming around. I was shocked to see the guy in front of me with a snorkel. When did they get USAT approved? I found out later from Larry’s wife Marian that Snorkel Man did not finish.
Once in the water, I got used to the temp quickly. I swam a bit and got my face in the water. So far so good. GO! Okay . . I actually didn’t hear anyone say go but based on the sudden mass movement forward I assumed someone did so go I did. I got immediately into a strong freestyle stroke. I have practiced and practiced and practiced under Erica’s tutelage since Christmas. I have swam the Devilman Sprint Distance dozens of times since then. Physically I should be able to do this swim in about 12 minutes. Almost immediately I noted things were going well. I was handling the dark water, sighting, and dealing with being bombarded by arms and legs but continuing on and staying near the front of my age group. Then, as we neared the first buoy, disaster struck. Mmmpphh! I suddenly caught a foot in the mouth and gulped down a mouthful of muddy pond water. I gagged and came bolt upright coughing and gasping. I regained my breath coughed a bit more and resumed swimming. But confidence is fragile and the gagging had eroded mine. Suddenly, I was back where I was each of the last two years at this race. Wondering how to get out? Wondering why I did this? And I did what I always do. I mentally caved and reverted to a weak back/side stroke. I was moving steadily forward but very slowly. Every so often I’d flip over and make a few (really good) strokes forward but my claustrophobia would kick in with not being able to see anything and I needed daylight so back to side/back stroking. In years past I’ve been able to calm down and swim normally after a bit. Not today. It was really weak minded and bad.
But I rounded the third buoy and stroked more often and made it to shore thankful I backed out of the half and didn’t have to do that loop again. Demoralized once again by that STUPID muddy duck pond I headed off to transition. Swim time: 16:05.
T1 was slow. Partially because of the cold and numb fingers, and partially because it is just so hard to get back into race mode after you know you’ve taken yourself out of any contention you might have been in and you’ve already missed 2 race goals (not panic, swim under 15 minutes). I also took extra time to don a jacket and gloves for the ride. Not only was it cold but it was really windy. T1: 3:19
I hobbled/ran in my look shoes to the mount dismount area hopped on the bike and was off. This was the first race on my new Felt B10 and my first race using the aero position. With the wind it would be ideal.
I had a fitting at Cycles by Kyle before buying the bike and I think it fits pretty good. I think there may be a tweak here or there though. Overall it wasn’t bad but I’m glad I wasn’t doing the 40 mile ride today. I need to get a bit more time on the bike before racing longer.
I know about the whole Lululemon see-through Yoga pants debacle but I would like to recommend to my racing/riding friends to have a good friend check out your racing shorts in the aero position. I saw 3 pairs of see-throughs today. One pair was particularly showing looking more like black pantyhose than anything opaque. I tried to spot the number of the young lady sporting them as I went by so I could give her warning after the race. I figured it probably isn’t appropriate to yell “I can see through your shorts!” on the way by during a race. I didn’t get her number (not THAT number . . . I’m happily married), but if you are reading this and you were wearing black shorts and a cute black thong with a little gold lamé at the top, um . . your shorts were see through. And while the thong may not have added much in the warmth department, wearing it was a smart decision.
Other then see through shorts and the nearly constant cross wind, the bike was fun and more or less uneventful. I did count 7 song bird species along the way. (And I still think I should get a time deduction for that.) Bike 1:10:38. Goal was 1:05 . . but wow. That wind!
The jacket and gloves rocked for the bike. I was perfectly warm. At least I thought. Then I dismounted and discovered my feet were frozen ice cubes. If I thought hobbling up to bike mount in Look cleats and a wonky right ankle was slow, getting back to T2 with Look cleats, a wonky right ankle, and numb bricks for feet was even more of a challenge. But I made it, ditched the jacket, gloves & helmet and then tried to change from my bike shoes to my Zoot running shoes with the ibungies. Typically I just use my toes to force open the ibungees and pull the shoe on. But that requires me to move my toes and they wouldn’t move! Finally, I gave up, sat down and wedged the shoes on to my numb feet. I grabbed my hat & race belt with number and charged out of T2 in a slowish 2:28 mostly due to wrestling with cold feet.
The first mile plus of the run was more interesting then usual. Clomp, clomp, clomp went my icy feet. I felt pretty good but I kept having to look down to make sure I was running correctly. (Like on the bottoms of my feet!) I almost fell once in the grassy run out area, but as I went along my feet began to warm up and my pace dropped. I would have been perfectly happy to maintain a 7:30 pace. As it turned out my slowest mile was 7:09 and fastest was 7:01. I’ll take that. It is an out-and-back course and I saw Susanne and yelled in the first mile but she was pretty focused. I saw Larry at mile 2.5 and called out to him. With less then a mile to go the field was pretty strung out and I had one gentleman ahead of me. When I saw the 46 drawn on his right calf, I said “Ok . . if I beat him at least I’m not last in AG”. So I but the pedal down, cruised past and left him behind. I crossed the line in 29:44 but I show the course a tad long though I’m not sure where they started measuring.
Post race involved some recap with Susanne, Sean, Larry & others followed by a well-deserved lunch . . . oh and warm clothes.
Total Time: 2:02:15.
My final thoughts are that this will probably be the last year I use Devilman as my opening to the Tri season. Mentally, the pond has me beat. Despite different strategies I can’t get by the panic. I think a large part of it is due to the fact that I am quite claustrophobic. As in, I want to be cremated so there is no chance I can wake up in a small box 6′ underground. Yes, that claustrophobic! I’ve dealt with that at other races. (Really only 1.) But for the most part I have had good swims elsewhere including Eagleman last year where I really enjoyed the long swim. The swim is difficult for me, and I don’t need to make it mentally harder. I would rather move on to a different event than think about moving to Duathlon or making more drastic changes. My bike was okay. Still some work there but it is early in the year and my run was, in my opinion, pretty fantastic. It leads me to believe I can probably go a bit harder on the bike next time.