“I’ll never do Devilman again. I hate that stupid duck pond”. These were my thoughts as I wrapped up the glum conclusion of the 2013 edition of the Devilman sprint triathlon. For the umpteenth time in a row I had had a rotten swim with severe swim panic and an inability to swim normally. The result was being nearly the last of my wave out of the water and arriving in transition exhausted, dejected, and with most competitors already out on their bikes.
Water panic is an on-going issue with me that anyone who has regularly read this blog is already familiar with. I had assumed that the dark, muddy water of Cedarville Town Lake was a contributing factor. However, in 2014 I went to Bassman instead and had the same issues in a crystal clear, clean pine barrens lake. So it wasn’t the water. Bassman had been a bit of a debacle organization-wise so I thought I’d return to the much-better-run Devilman to kick off the 2015 triathlon season. The ~25 mile sprint is a great race to get going with being a bit longer than a normal sprint but not quite Olympic distance.
The spring of 2015 has been a cold one and even Race Director Neil Semmel’s typically optimistic thermometer would not be able to warm the water temperature up to anything other than chilly. Fortunately, on Saturday I was also able to take advantage of round one of Mid-Atlantic Multisport’s open water swim series at Marsh Creek State Park. This was truly helpful to prepare to race the following day. It was a calm, clear Saturday morning and Bill Hauser cheerily announced that the water temperature in Marsh Creek lake was “almost 60 degrees”! Yummy. That morning swim answered a lot of questions I had about cold water and my favorite sleeveless wetsuit. It also got me ready for Devilman’s comparatively warm water. (Which reminds me . . I have a men’s size 10 full-sleeve wet suit for sale).
The first triathlon of the season is always a bit of a bother preparation-wise. Summer time racing gear that was put away needs to be remembered and found. The efficient packing system of the last race of the season gives way to the throw-it-in-just-in-case mentality. These moments make one long for the simplicity of running-only events. Eventually I got the necessities tracked down and packed as well as a few things I probably didn’t need. Packing done, I turned in a bit early in preparation for an early departure on Sunday.
After somewhat of a restless night of sleep I headed for South Jersey from Reading, PA around 4:00am. It is always funny stopping at a Wawa for coffee early on a weekend morning. The clientele is an odd mix of runners (or triathletes), fisherman or hunters, and night owls returning to the roost after a night of clubbing. The commingling of lycra, camouflage, and cocktail dresses around the coffee counter makes for some awkward, non-comprehending nods.
The trip South and East was uneventful. I knew the way well. As a fisherman growing up in South Jersey I could navigate the back roads of the Delaware Bay shore with my eyes closed if needed. I’d driven over Cedarville Lake hundreds of times to go fishing in nearby Fortescue. I arrived around 6:00am and headed for packet pick-up. I had beaten the rush but was surprised to discover that Neil had switched from the traditional Sharpie body marking to the now-popular temporary tattoos. There was a cluster of half-naked athletes standing around bins of water sponging on the evil little stickers. At a glance it looked like a very inappropriate ritual.
I have to digress to a pet peeve for a moment. I understand the whole body marking thing is part of triathlon tradition but these days do we really need it? What problem is it solving? I sort of get the age/gender marking on the calf. It supposedly allows athletes to know who they are competing against on the course. But typically these days there are multiple events going on at once so this often does little or no good. Also, unless you happen to start right next to your competitor chances are you won’t even see them on the course. And really, we’ve been running marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, etc for years with no idea who is in our age group. As far as bib number stamped everywhere I suppose it is important to be able to identify the any bodies fished out of the lake but we all have timing chips on and it behooves all athletes to wear something like a RoadId so first responders can get your critical information quickly rather than having to find the race director to cross-match a bib or name.
I think body marking it probably something that can go the way of the Dodo without having any adverse affect on the race. If we must have it, at least go back to the basic sharpie. it was quick, simple, and effective. Just let athletes mark themselves. We probably don’t need to occupy 15 volunteers to do what we can all do ourselves.
Anyway, after getting my professional looking (and nearly permanent) body marking tattoos applied, I rooted through the remainder of the packet and found a) a pink swim cap b) a black tech shirt. Uh Neil, buddy, we gotta talk. I took my feminine swim cap, and hot tech shirt and headed back to the car to assemble the implements of war.
I’ve mentioned it before but I love the pre-race festivities. Not the official stuff the race does but the palaver among the athletes, tales of past events, nervous excitement, greeting old friends and familiar faces, and watching people go through their rituals. While I was getting things to together I heard my name and saw my good friend and co-worker Larry Filtz. He had his bike and gear and was heading for packet pick-up.
I managed to get my transition area setup with only one return trip to the car for my albuterol inhaler. I took the opportunity to polish off my pre-race dose of orange GenerationUCan and return the shaker bottle to the car. During the walk I also noticed two different athletes with prosthetic legs, and one wheel chair bound athlete who had no use at all of her legs. Hmmm. What were those excuses for a bad race again?
I made my way to the swim start, donned my sleeveless wet suit and dove into the chilly, dark water of Cedarville Town Lake. I was bound and determined to get a good warm-up in. I spent a few minutes with my face in the water just adjusting to the air-sucking cold. After a bit I swam a way offshore, turned and came back. I climbed out of the water a few minutes before the start. My goggles were sealed well and I decided to leave them on to not take chances on leakage.
Around 8:00am, about 80 pink-swim-cap clad men shuffled down the ramp and into the murky lake. The term “lake” is a bit generous here. You should really be thinking of an over-sized duck pond. I have learned to get in early to both warm-up and avoid the inevitable line of men who, for some reason, aren’t willing to move quickly into the water. I did notice a couple of folks in nothing but a speedo. The good news is, with the 60 degree water the speedo was gonna fit better before the swim was over.
Amazingly, we were all in the water and ready to go a minute or so before the start. I lingered around trying to pick a good start location and wound up near the outer buoy toward the back of the pack. I knew at some point the demons would rear their head and that I would have to deal with them. I decided to relax and handle things as they came up.
Suddenly, we were off! I plowed into a sea of thrashing arms and legs sighting frequently to find a clear place to swim but just as often feeling rubber with my hands and feet I was bumped and buffeted by arms and legs After suffering several hard hits to the head something funny happened. I didn’t panic. In fact, it occurred to me that this is what the start is supposed to be like . . . and it’s kinda fun! I felt myself smiling. That was a first. I was quickly at the first buoy. The focus on better swimming techniques over the winter was clearly paying dividends. Now head toward the firetruck. Again I was surprised how quickly I closed on the second turn buoy. There were two occasions that I paddled head-up for a moment to get my bearings and assure myself things were okay. I attribute this mostly to a winter of pool swimming and not doing flip turns and just not being used to being head-down in the water for so long. At no point did I feel fear or get my usual inner voice telling me “you can’t do this”. As I rounded the second buoy and headed toward the sun my swim stroke got stronger. The chaos had died and I had room to swim. I focused on my entry, catch, and pull and keeping a high elbow. Around turn 3 and back to shore. That last leg was really strong. I have never come out of the water at Devilman even remotely close to my wave. Now I was solidly in the middle of it. I was good with that.
Cedarville Town lake is a shallow, muddy affair with soft mud near shore. As I stoop up near the ramp, my left toe hit something sharp. At first I didn’t think much of it but then thought I’d better check to make sure I didn’t get a severe cut. I stopped on the way out and looked. No visible blood. Good. Off to transition. Usually coming out of the water, I am mentally and physically exhausted from panic and huge energy expenditure of trying to swim with my face out of the water. Today I felt good. I ran by many competitors on the way to T1.
Swim Time: 13:40 (I am VERY happy with this.)
In T1 I ripped off the wet suit, threw on my sun glasses and helmet, sprayed down quickly with Neutrogena wet skin sun screen, grabbed Betty and took off up the hill toward the road and mount area.
I had setup my Garmin 310XT in multisport mode on the bike before the start. I don’t use it in the water. I had remembered to go through and configure the screens I wanted the day before. There was a moment of alarm when I first turned it on before the race when it came up to a screen resembling Space Invaders (for those of you old enough to remember that). Fortunately, a quick off/on got it back where it was supposed to be. As I took off on the bike and hit start it was apparent I had forgotten to calibrate the power meter and was not getting a power reading. Oh well, this is not the worst race for that to happen. It is a flat bike course with no wind so going by speed and perceived effort would have to do.
I quickly settled into a rhythm on the bike. There are a couple quick turns and then a fairly easy and flat out and back. I was somewhere in the middle of the field, but rode most of the bike on my own passing a few duathletes now and then. I got passed by a few other triathletes but felt pretty good about it because I knew I had beaten them on the swim. I also knew I would see a few of them again on the run.
I held 20+ mph for just about the entire ride. This is fast for me but it felt good. It occurred to me my best bike time previously on this course was around 1:10. I knew I was on my way to a good day. I was slightly worried that I was overcooking things without power data but I figured I’d let things play out. It is notable that I identified the bulk of my 14 bird species by song during the bike leg. I mentioned this is a multisport event right?
At mile 15 I fished the gel flask out of my bento box and downed a few swallows of GenerationUCan. I was feeling really good as a whole and I’m certain the UCan played a big part of that.
I raced back to town bypassing the turn for lap 2 for the Half-Lite and zoomed back toward dismount and transition. Again, I am typically pretty wiped out after the energy-sapping swim and bike but felt pretty spritely jogging back down the hill with my trusty steed. I will never figure out how the pros run holding on to just the seat though. Every time I try that the bike goes all over the place.
Bike: 1:02:48 (The official distance is listed as 20.5 but it more than one of us showed it as an even 21).
In T1 I re-racked Betty, remembered to remove my helmet, and grabbed my hat and race belt. I pulled on my Zoot tri shoes with quick laces, quickly sprayed on another dose of sunscreen and headed out on the run.
As I turned on Main Street I realized my legs felt good. It also suddenly occurred to me how beautiful a day we were having. At the moment it was probably mid-60s, with clear blue skies, and not a breath of wind. It was gorgeous weather and I felt strong. I caught up to and ran with a gentleman named Nigel. He was from the Brooklyn tri club. We ran side by side for the first 3/4 of a mile. I glanced several times at my Garmin and was running around a 7 minute pace. I tend to start out to fast and was waiting to settle into a good pace. But as I went along I realized the 7:00ish pace was feeling easy, my legs felt good, so why not go with it while I can? With that in mind I left Nigel behind and began picking off runners. I was running strong and did not get passed on the run. I was a little sad when I got to the turn and was wishing I had more time to enjoy this beautiful run. A longer run would also give me more time to move up through the field. I made the turn, declining the water and gatorade and passed a 1/2 dozen runners who had stopped to drink. I recognized several kits of folks that had passed me on the bike. I thought “Nice to see you again”.
I had hydrated well on the bike being sure to grab a few extra sips from my BTA bottle before dismounting. I had no need to grab fluid on the 4 mile run and again bypassed aid at the last station. There was only a mile to go and again I passed a couple folks who stopped to drink. I made my way back to Main street running easily and holding pace well under 7:00 min/mile now. Somewhere in here I saw Larry heading out on his run. I turned off Main and onto the school lane focusing on the next objective. I knew I would have a big PR for the course and that this would certainly be my best triathlon to date. I rounded the school and could see the finish. I had to navigate some soft sand but once past that it was a short sprint to the finish.
As I crossed the line I tried to look at the multitude of clocks and figure out what my time was. The nearest one I could see said Wave 1 and it was just under 2 hours. You would think that maybe I would have thought to stop my Garmin at this point but, in keeping with tradition didn’t even think about it. A group of us stood around staring at the results board for a while with a technical glitch hiding the times of finishers 20-50. Finally, after a fix by a Piranha Sports staffer, I saw my time: 1:49:19 and 29th place overall. Wow!!!! This is a significant PR and absolutely my best triathlon finish. I did not place in my age group. The 3rd place finisher was a full 10 minutes ahead of me. Larry finished a few minutes later to take 2nd in his age group.
I always try to look at a race to see where I can improve. Most days the answers are obvious. In this race, I felt pretty good about everything. On the swim, I’m not sure I could be much faster even if I had Marine Boy’s propeller shoes. On the bike, I may be able to pick up a minute or two here or there especially if I were willing to spend a whole lot of money on race wheels, an aero helmet, etc. The run was pretty solid. Overall, there isn’t much chance I could have picked up a full 10 minutes to get on the podium.
On a post-race note, I discovered when I got home that I did have a fairly deep cut in the crook of my big toe. Conveniently, I had a routine doctor visit scheduled and rewarded my solid race effort with a tetanus booster. Also, I could worry about dating myself with the Marine Boy and Space Invaders references but as it stands my age-group is still firmly tattooed on my right calf so there is nothing to hide.