Columbia Triathlon – 21/5/2006

I chose Columbia as my first triathlon for 2006. Located about 1 h north of D.C., it is the largest local triathlon and so quite a few people from my club (http://www.tricats.org/) would be participating. It is also known as a challenging race due to the hilly nature of the terrain so I was keen to see how I would do.

The day before the race I had to get my bicycle checked and drop it off in the transition area so we made a day of it. We attended church north of Washington and then continued on to Columbia. I also had a friend Lynn’s bike with me as she was graduating that day from university and didn’t want to worry about the bike.

After collecting the race pack we headed over to Centennial park which was where the race was located. It was a lovely park with a lake for the swim and paths around the lake which, I would learn, would be part of the run.

The TriCats had their tent in the parking area and our sponsor Big Wheel Bikes was tuning bikes. I had Lynn’s done and then mine checked. Fortunately nothing major with either one. We then dropped off the bikes in a very well organized transition area–each spot had a label with our number. After wandering about the park for a bit we had a picnic lunch before heading home.

It was an early start the following morning as we were on the road by 05:00. I wanted to be there for the start at 06:45, especially as I still had Lynn’s helmet and she was starting before 7 as opposed to my 7:35 start. It was a beautiful morning driving north so it was nice to know we would have good weather for the race.

After dropping off Lynn’s helmet I laid out my gear for the race and then wandered down to the start area. The first wave–elite and professionals–were already in the water and started almost immediately. With the sun coming up and the mist hanging over the water it was lovely.

There were a large number of participants and every 8 minutes or so there was a new wave. I couldn’t work out the rationale as they seemed to mix up different age groups and sexes. For example, some younger than me went ahead of me; others younger also afterwards.

It was soon my turn and I was floating in the cool water in my wet suit waiting to start. The water was quite murky having been churned up by some 1000 people. Not pleasant. Anyway, that was soon forgotten as we were off.

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Swim starts are always a bit grim, and this was no different. In fact, it was the worst start I’ve had in any race. I was kicked. I was elbowed. I was slapped. In fact, I found after the race a very nice scratch down my left cheek. And to think that I had positioned myself on the side to avoid the crowd! I would hate to imagine what would have happened had I been in the middle.

It took me about 10 mins to find ‘clear’ water away from most other swimmers (in other words, they had all swum away from me) and get into my own rhythm. I’ve learned to look frequently to ensure that I swim in a relatively straight line, but with the rising sun in my eyes it was challenging at times. Eventually I passed the end buoy and turned for home. I felt good on the swim, in spite of my relative lack of training, and just went along at a comfortable pace.

The only problem happened about 100 m from the end when looking up I swallowed a good volume of water. This was added to a drink I had before the race to leave a lump in my stomach for the rest of the race.

I exited the water (30 minutes time–my best! and 550/1000 in the swim) and ran to the transition area to grab my bike. It was hard to know where I stood in my age group since there were still a lot of bicycles there, but many had left. As I exited the transition Lis was there to cheer me on. I tossed her my cleat covers and was on my bike for my favourite leg of the triathlon.

The ride was very hilly, so I rather enjoyed it. A legacy of the time I rode 2500 miles along the Rocky Mountains I suppose. The scenery was lovely as we headed into the countryside around Columbia. One had to be careful passing other cyclists as the road was not closed, although the way some people rode you would have thought they were on a closed course. I saw that some people were penalized by the marshalls for this (you are supposed to stay to the right except when passing and then get back immediately after passing).

At mile 16 I caught up with someone in my age group. I asked him for his swim time–25 minutes. So it took me 16 miles on my bike to make up 5 minutes on the swim. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where I need to do more practice! It was a bit busy when I dismounted to run back to the transition area, but good old Lis was there cheering me on, and snapping photos!

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Soon I was back in the transition area (1:15 for the ride, 191/1000) pulling on my shoes and heading off on the run. We started off next to the lake and then had what seemed to be a very long and steep uphill section. Then it was down again to the lake, across the bridge, and on.

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I had been warned that it was a hilly course but I think that the organizers went overboard. I’m also probably a little paranoid as I’ve had four knee operations and the only time I’ve done it any major harm in recent years is in running up the hill at the Washington zoo.

The terrain in the park was rolling enough, but then there was a very long hill up to a road. At this point you see people running back in again so I thought–great, the hills are over. Oh no. They then take you through a residential area up and down, up and down, up and up and up … You get it. A bit much.

It was getting hot so I used my standard approach for runs in triathlons. At each drink station I get one, if not two, cups of water, and they go over my head. I usually take sips of gatorade, but not today. I really wasn’t in the mood to drink anything as my stomach had enough with the combination of lake water and cytomax from my bike ride.

The last section of the race was back in the park and I passed another Tricat on the downhill section. My running coaches have emphasized to us that we should use gravity to give us momentum and to increase the turnover rate on the downhill. It’s amazing how many people I manage to pass that way.

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Finally, it was back to the lake and the run home. There was a good crowd on the hill overlooking the finish chute cheering us on and I finished strong with a pace with 7:30 minutes/mile throughout the run (4:40 min/km). I placed 171/1000 for that segment for a 2:38 final time.

My coach Margie won the woman’s race, only 1 min off breaking the course record.Lis was there at the finish which is always nice. The TriCats had set up the club tent near the finish so it was good to catch up with friends. Triathlons being an individual sport, you mainly see them at the start and finish, as well as at club night.

A good day and a good race. With my ‘Mountains of Misery’ bike race the following week, and ‘Eagleman’ half-ironman two weeks after, I’ve a challenging month ahead of me! Nice to start the season on such a positive note. I can see why people like this race (in spite of the hilly run). It’s challenging but very satisfying. Must see if I can do better next year …

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