Date: Sunday, June 27, 2010

Distances: 1K Swim, 30K Bike, 10K Run

There was also a shorter “sprint” triathlon that started just after and finished at the same time as the International Triathlon.

I’ve gone back and forth on how much I like this race, and whether I’ll do it again or not. My wavering has made me think of what people look for in races, and how I can be very excited about some races and not others. In some ways I feel a bit snobbish, and definitely temperamental.

One thing I hear people talk about is “destination races”. This is where people choose a race based on its location, and then make a vacation out of doing the race. There can be something motivating about traveling to a race because it becomes a bigger deal than just getting up and running the same roads that you are familiar running. One destination race that comes to my mind is the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon (which hasn’t been run for a few years now). Not only was this a destination race, it was rather peculiar, adding to the attractiveness of the race. The race started in New York City and ended in Philadelphia. Anyway, San Diego is quite a nice destination, so I’m sure the San Diego International Triathlon drew some tourists in. I saw a lot of familiar faces though, so the race was definitely popular amongst the locals as well.

Race distance is another popular feature of a race. I remember hearing somebody tell me last year that they were excited because they had never done an international distance triathlon before. They may be hitting a new milestone, but the term “international distance” used to be the name for the now more popular “Olympic distance”. Prior to the race being a part of the Olympics, there was a push to develop a standard distance. The international distance was born, and was a 1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run. A little different than the SDIT, but I figured it wasn’t a very relevant point to an athlete that was excited about her achievement. I also heard something very similar at the Oceanside 70.3 this year. I was in the souvenir store line, and a lady behind me was telling me how excited she was because this was going to be her first Ironman, and she couldn’t wait to be and Ironman. It hadn’t occurred to me before this that people would see it that way, since I still saw it as a half-ironman. I thought it was odd, but then realized it is cool that something such as that could motivate someone to get off the couch and become an inspiration to her co-workers, friends and family. Heck, not even just motivating others, but doing something positive for herself and her health.

That kind of leads me into another reason why people choose certain races: brand names. KOZ races in San Diego are very popular, and sell out rather quickly. So do Ironman races. Some races have history behind them, and good reputations, so people are attracted to them. Races that have been going on for a while also become popular, possibly because people have seen them before and become inspired by them. There are a lot of iron-distance races, but everyone is attracted by the allure of Kona. Also, even though there are several iron-distance races that do not carry the Ironman label, the fields are generally very small. Many of the WTC races sell out a year ahead of the race. You certainly aren’t a better athlete or person if you complete the distance in a WTC event than in a non-WTC event, or even on your own.

Awards, possibility of qualifying for other events, and level of competition may also be attractive factors for some people, but since only a fraction of people get podium finishes it might be less of a factor. I suspect though that the possibility is something that drives many more people than actually achieve those goals.

I admit that all these things, and more, have made me interested in one race or another at times. The most liberating thing I did though was running a full marathon on my own after work. I just wore a camelbak and used my Garmin to track the mileage. This didn’t require the 6 months of rigorous training plan, the race packet pickup, the prerace meal and jitters. I just went and ran. There was no tee-shirt, no finish line, no cheering crowds, and no finisher’s medal. Although I am still interested in some of the things I mentioned above, for the most part I just enjoy getting out there and having a little competition to keep the pace fast.

I had previously registered for SDIT in the elite division. I wasn’t interested in doing the race until I did that, then I was excited because it eliminated some of my reservations. I’m not real crazy about the transition set up because some people definitely have a clear advantage depending on where their rack is. You could probably argue that about all triathlons, but this transition area doesn’t come close to the standards of most races. The elite wave has a great rack location though. The other thing I really don’t like is how tight the bike course is. Being a strong cyclist, I don’t like it when I see weak cyclist swerving around in front of me, or when I am trying to get around crowds. I haven’t run into anybody for a long time, and am not looking forward to it happening again. The bike course is rather tight in several areas, and when there are groups it can be incredibly tough to get by. I realize sometimes people think they are going fast because they are passing by someone, but it’s not unusual for me to rip by them at twice their speed with very little space between. I spend a lot of information yelling ahead when I see potential problems. Anyway, the elite wave doesn’t have that problem. Although there are two loops on the bike, their second loop is nowhere near as crowded as some of the later waves.

So, I’m not back in shape yet, and haven’t lost the weight yet, so I decided to pull out of the elite wave and race military division. I can write another 1,000 words on selecting a division to race in, but I’ll get to the actual race now.

I was having some motivation issues again in the morning. I tried keeping it to myself since I knew Molly was excited about the race. I watched the elite wave swim and transition to their bike, and got to see and think about where I should be. I didn’t do a warm up, and just went out for a good “workout”. The race got interesting for me because I kept passing someone from my wave on the flats and downhill, only to get passed on the climbs. I was surprised to see him again at the start of the run and we started off at 7 minute miles together. His name is Josh Dinen, and he was racing Clydesdale. He ended up winning the Clydesdale under 40 division with a time of 1:51:31. After running a couple miles with Josh I decided to pick it up a little. I was running about 6:50 pace when I saw one of the Navy chaplains ahead of me, Matt Berrens. I met Matt at the Armed Forces Triathlon three weeks ago. He wasn’t too far ahead of me, but was running fast enough that I had to pick up the pace to catch him. I caught him about a mile and a half later, and planned to cruise right behind him for about a mile, and then at mile 5.5 I would surge past and out run him. I don’t really have a kick, so I wouldn’t be able to wait much longer than that. He had slowed down quite a bit though, and I didn’t want to run that slow, so I moved as soon as I felt relaxed. He held onto me past my surge, so I had to pick it up more, and I lost him. I thought I was in the lead for the military at that point. I had also seen the other Navy chaplain there, Wayne Tomasek, but figured he was too far back to worry about. I kept the pace strong, and picked it up a bit for the last ¼ mile just to be sure Matt didn’t try to fly by me. I crossed the finish, and there was a young guy right ahead of me that was about to collapse. I helped him stay in the chute, not realizing he had won the military division, 1.0 sec ahead of me. I don’t have a strong kick, but if I had known he was in my division I would have most likely gone home with first. Lane Anderson finished with a time of 1:50:07, and I finished with 1:50:08. I saw the original results, and there was an actual 1.0 second difference. Lane was half my age, so someone suggested that I should at least get 2 seconds credit for that! And what about the chaplains? Wayne had caught Matt and passed him, but then was blocked by another racer. Matt took advantage of this and surged past to beat Wayne. There times were 1:50:25 and 1:50:28. This brings me to a final point I have about the elite division. You know where you stand in the race because you are in the first wave. The triathlon is a time trial, certainly, but there are racing tactics at play and knowing where you stand amongst your competitors can affect your performance, and the outcome. This race proved to be exciting even without that though, with the first 4 finishers in our division only having a 21 second spread.

I ended up having a great time at the race. I finished over 10 minutes slower than if I was in top shape, so my usual competitors crushed me. I still had fun though, and found some different competitors out there. It was a little humbling, and reminded me of how we each can find a challenge or competition that is right for us at the moment. There is definitely a big Ironman push in this sport, but definitely don’t think that Ironman is the essence of the sport. Trying to improve your times or splits in shorter races, or where you place overall or in your division are just a worthy goals as trying to complete a longer distance. If the allure of a fancy race or long distance helps you stay focused on staying fit, or improving your health then the investment is worth it.