By Ken Brown
The gun went off and my season started. Within a few strokes I had a pretty good left jab catch me square in the eye. It’s similar to the first good hit in football, where it rattles you and wakes you up pretty quickly.
I found the Red Hills Triathlon several years ago to be a great season opener. Held on the 1st Saturday of April, and being a sprint distance race (1/3 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 5K) it gives me a perfect opportunity to knock the rust off before getting into the meat of the season. Located just north of downtown Tallahassee, it was the perfect race for me to get a gauge on my current fitness. The swim is in a small alligator infested lake. The bike course is a basic square route that has you riding up and down some pretty challenging hills throughout Tallahassee. Once you dismount the bike, the run is a mix of asphalt and trail running. It makes for an interesting and different race than you’d expect in Florida.
This year my “A” race is the Florida 70.3 race in Haines City on May 20th. I have been training with one goal in mind - to qualify for World’s in 2012. My strength is sprint and Olympic distance races, so I’ve made some slight training adjustments to make sure I’m on my “A” game come May.
During the remainder of the swim I got into a nice rhythm and felt pretty good. I was in the 3rd wave behind the physically challenged athletes (there were two of them!) and M39 and under. Being a short swim, my goal was to get out as one of the first in the age group and then pound out the bike as hard as I could. I ended up getting gapped by about 10 meters by two athletes, and didn’t want to go too hard and start burning matches early into the race. I came out of the water 3rd, and hopped onto my P3.
Out onto the bike course I realized that my Quarq wasn’t measuring power. I train and race with power, so looking down at a blank screen had me concerned. At this point I knew there wasn’t much I could do but ride by feel. My coach, Jeremy Sipos, doesn’t use power and barely looks at speed, riding by feel. Before the race he told me to push hard, and then push harder. By the 1st mile I picked off the two swimmers ahead of me and was ready to mow down as many people as I could. One of the guys I rode by – Mark Sortino – is a friend of and an extremely talented athlete. He had outswam me, and he’s an outstanding runner. I needed to get some distance between us. At mile 9, I felt somebody passing me, and it was Mark. I knew at this point he wasn’t going anywhere; his cycling had gotten better. After trading spots a few times, I ended up putting a few seconds on him, but was that going to be enough? I entered into T3 in 4th place overall with a time of 40:15 after over 850 feet of climbing.
Onto the run I tried to jump into the lead immediately. Mark is a very gifted runner, and this course suits him perfectly. In trails and soft sand, I tend to get bogged down, whereas he lopes through the tough sections. After about ½ a mile, he pulled up next to me and broke me in half. I was able to hold off the other guys (albeit by a very slim margin) and finished in 2nd place overall.
I was pleased with the race. The conditions were great - cool and windy, which made for a tougher bike, and an easier run, which works nicely for my racing style. I feel like my swimming and cycling are where they need to be at this point, and my run has progressively gotten stronger.
Next up is a Tri the Parks race, John Tanner. This is the final tune-up before I give it a go at Florida 70.3.
A special shout out to the crew at Podium for always keeping my bike in tip top shape, and keeping me in line. A HUGE thank you to my coach and friend Jeremy Sipos. He has forced me to become a better cyclist just in order to hang onto his wheel. He’s also made me a better triathlete. To my wife Gina, and girls Lauren and Nicole. They make the largest sacrifice, in terms of time. I hope they see that hard work isn’t something “said,” it’s something “done”. Their support means everything. Full results from the Red Hills Triathlon can be found here.