This past Sunday I not only learned that Ludlow is in western Massachusetts, but I also trekked there for my first triathlon of 2012. I suppose that would make Ludlow my season opener, but I’ll do a race actually called the New England Season Opener in Hopkinton in two weeks. So I would call Ludlow the season opener if I could but I can’t so I won’t.
Opener or not, it was most definitely my first-ever triathlon with the swim leg taking place in a pool. The “pool swim tri” appears to be a springtime compromise between triathletes stir-crazy to race and the medical establishment eager to prevent hypothermia.
I have avoided “pool swims” in the casual way one might avoid, say, playing Quidditch with a vial of Ebola virus. We all know I’m no good at math but a simple formula guided my logic:
1 room-sized, rectangular vessel
+ 600,000 gallons chlorinated water
+ (300 stir-crazy triathletes x 4 flailing limbs each)
+ one exit leading to one timing mat
= Very Bad Idea x 300
I imagined pure pandemonium and pummeling that would normally result in assault and battery charges, had we not all signed away our rights upon registration. Perhaps this is why they call it the Sheriff’s Sprint Tri—to remind us to be orderly or else.
So I was delighted to find that…
Pool swims aren’t nearly as scary as they seem… It’s a credit to the organizers that this pool-swim thang was smooth swimming. Pre-race the father-daughter race-director duo of Wendy and Bill asked each triathlete how fast we thought we could swim 300 yards. I, naturally, had no idea…so I asked my coach; he said 5:20. Then I asked a friend; he said 5:10. Then I asked another friend; he said 5:14. So I once again invoked my math skills to average these three estimates, and that average became the time I gave to Wendy/Bill:
(5:20 + 5:10 + 5:14)
See. I really am mathematically gifted 🙂
Based on my professed 5:10, I was given bib #55 and ergo became the 55th triathlete to take to the water. This seemed a little aggressive, since the website said registration was “limited to 300” and I assumed it’d sell out (refer to the “stir-crazy triathletes” comment). Frankly I just couldn’t imagine how I could be better in the water than more than 2/3rds of the triathletes who would show. I mean, my coach is great but let’s face it, I am a bit of a “project” as far as the swim leg is concerned. But OK, I went with it and tried to look like I belonged as we snaked our way in numbered order around the pool deck of the Ludlow Y. Some poor soul was assigned to chirp GO! every 20 seconds to send another triathlete off; she did a great job. I got to watch as all the wicked good swimmers (that is, numbers 1-54) flip-turned their way through the six-lane pool. (We swam out and back in each lane, ducking under the lane line every 50 yards to get us to the race length of 300.)
It was big fun and not at all the free-for-all I had imagined. Actually, I never once was touched let alone mauled by another triathlete (unlike the mosh pit experience of some open-water swims). I was only passed once, by Number 56; he had also told Wendy and Bill that he could swim 300 yards in 5:10. (He was waaaay off. The results show he swam a 4:40! Go Julio Lujambio!)
I am sure inquiring minds want to know whose guess was closest to my actual time…The Coach, Friend #1 or Friend #2…drum roll, please…winner is….The Coach. Of course. My swim time was 5:19. But I finished the swim in less than that—at Ludlow they don’t break out transition times for you, so a little bit of transitioning is baked into every split.
T1 dilemma—brrrrrr. It was hovering around 46 degrees, which presented another challenge unique to the early-season tri: does one attempt to dry off before jumping on one’s bike? Does one at least cover one’s dripping wet body with an extra layer before straddling the saddle and attempting to reach 25 mph? I wasn’t ready to make that call pre-race, so I left a light cycling jersey on my tri mat in case I felt I needed it. Watching others struggle to get shirts on made up my mind: I’d rather freeze than sacrifice a few seconds (yes, I was issued a truly warped brain.) So off I went, barely dressed and dripping wet in the freezing cold, for a nice nine-mile bike ride (my mother would be so proud.) But hey—I was fast…again, they didn’t give us transition splits but my Garmin did, and according to it I T1-d in 44 seconds flat. (Eerily enough, my T2 would be exactly the same: 44 seconds. I am nothing if not consistent!)
pool swims make for long, lonely bike splits… OK, it wasn’t a long ride—a measly nine miles barely qualifies as a warm-up—but it sure was lonely. Cold and lonely. All that space between swimmers made for an oh-so-orderly swim but it strung us out at faraway intervals on the bike course. Before the Mile 1 marker I passed a clutch of racers who were apparently great swimmers but have yet to make friends with the bike; after that it was pretty darn dead. Somewhere between miles 2 and 3 I found myself humming The Eagles’ Desperado; while I love that song, it doesn’t exactly have what you’d call a race-pace beat. So I switched my inner MP3 to Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself, which seemed in the same “lonely” genre but more likely to produce a rockin’ bike split.
The very best bike split of the day was 22:33 and belongs to M 34-39 Paul Mikuszewski, who finished 2nd place overall. At 25:04, my ride lasted two minutes and 31 seconds longer than his, earning me the 14th best bike split du jour and putting me nine freaking seconds behind top female cyclist Jill Herrick’s 24:51. (In the event that name is ringing a bell, yes, she has appeared in this blog before and yes, she freaking beat me then, too.) I did come across some racers after that initial clutch, and by that I mean three. #56 was there most of the way, he of the epic swim. While he swam faster, I T’d and reached the road faster. He quickly became the only rider to pass me during this race. I thought that meant he and I would play the you-catch-me-then-I’ll-catch-you game, but that wasn’t to be. He was too damned strong. He maddeningly hung out a few pool lengths ahead of me until a very nasty descent followed by a sharp right turn. He handled it beautifully. I handled it safely. Net-net: he was gone until the very end, when he overshot the final turn (more on that in a second) and had to do a U-turn.
For the .000001 percent of you who are truly interested, you can see the full race results on the FIRM website (click on the “results” button in the lefthand column)
One more bike course observation: tri volunteers could learn a thing or two from Al Capone. No, I don’t think ya’ll should become crime bosses, contract nasty cases of neurosyphillis and do hard time at Alcatraz. I do, however, think you should bark your turn commands on the bike split (GO STRAIGHT! or TURN RIGHT!) like Al famously urged Chicagoans to vote: EARLY and OFTEN.
I beseech you: yell at us before you think we’re within earshot. Keep yelling til we’re gone. It might feel silly but we’ll appreciate it. I almost missed two turns because the volunteers were stone-mute. I actually had to ask for directions once. Kid you not. And I wasn’t alone; bib #56 should have beaten me by a full minute but I ended up besting him by nine seconds on this split because he didn’t get word soon enough, overshot the final right and had to backtrack. (It is a shame, Julio, because you totally rocked that course. I am really sorry this happened to you.)
OK, one MORE bike course observation, then I will move on—promise. I mentioned that I saw two others on the course as well; one was nondescript and not even that much fun to pass. Roadkill. The other was a chick wearing pink—I spotted her from literally a mile away and gobbled her up like a great big ol’ box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. I’ve never been very girly-girlish and this is further proof to me that I should just say no to pink—especially on race day. It sure does make for a pretty target, so all you other girls can keep on wearing it, thankyouveddymuch! 🙂
And then we ran. And it was lonely too. But I ran fast and post-race my coach gave me an “A” for my run file. I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that “A” made me rather school-girl giddy and ready to run even faster 🙂
Pet Peeve Du Race: No Shows. I will complain about this only once and then I will let it go. Wait, I think I take that back. I think I reserve the right to complain about this in the future. Yes, on second thought, I totally-completely-wholly reserve the right to complain about this as often as I’d like.
Those of you who have gone to races with me know I have a “thing” about staying around for awards ceremonies. Not only do I think I should stay but I think you should, too—regardless of whether either of us have placed. (Yes, I stay for the credits after movies, too.) Hungry daughters and thirsty friends wanting to hit the pub for a recovery lager have moaned about this, but it doesn’t change a thing: we leave only after the last award is presented.
I have heard all sorts of excuses: I have to pick up my kids from (piano lessons, soccer practice, the airport, juvenile hall). I have to do the (grocery shopping, lawn mowing, barbqueing). OK I won but my time sucked and I am embarrassed about it. My dog hates it when I’m gone so long.
None of those cut it for me and here’s why: sometimes it’s just not all about you. The people who “podium” owe it to three groups:
1. all the other athletes who podium (every race is some athlete’s first time on that damned thing)
2. all the athletes who don’t (some stick around to gawk at all the “good people” and get motivated)
3. the race organizers (they bought you a freaking gift. True, that gift may have cost $1.95. But it is still a gift and they went out of their way for you. Show up and accept it and thank them, for crying out loud.)
When you don’t win, consider yourself an extra. Every good show needs supportive extras. It’s just the right thing to do, people.
In my mind, there are only two valid reasons to not attend the awards ceremony: 1). you have yet to finish and we rudely started without you (that’s a subject for another day) or 2). you and/or a loved one were carted away via ambulance. Yes, I am that kind of hard-ass about this. Nuff said.
I know this is not the Tour De France. I know we are all adults and this is a goofy ritual. Still, it is our goofy ritual. Heck, I happen to think the whole swim leg thang is goofy, but I still do it. So I will keep swimming and you will start staying for the awards. Got it? Good. I am glad we had this little talk.
So, that’s a wrap on Ludlow. I was 2nd in my age group, the 8th female overall and the 30th triathlete overall when you add in those super-speedy boy-types. More importantly, I had a blast. We can now move on and officially open the season in Hopkinton.
As always, go forth and enjoy your day. Remember to channel Al when you’re volunteering, wear pink when you’re my bike competitor and stick around when you “podium”, people!