Tri the Illini
This morning I raced my first triathlon of the season. It's only been three weeks since the Illinois marathon, but I have recovered fairly well. I got some good training in this past week and I was ready for a fast race. Two of my Wild Card Cycling teammates (Martin and Scott) also participated.
Tri the Illini is a sprint triathlon on the University of Illinois campus consisting of a 300 meter swim, 11 mile bike, and 3 mile run. I actually set myself a few goals for this race: finish in top 10, average over 22 mph on bike, run under 19 minutes. Fairly reasonable.
The swim took place in the indoor 50 meter pool at ARC. It's fairly common for early May triathlons to have a pool swim. As is typical for this type of race, each competitor starts individually, a predetermined time after the previous competitor. In this race the interval was 10 seconds.
The start order varies from race to race. In the Champaign Mini-Tri (the only other triathlon I've done with a pool swim) the start order is based on race registration order. This means the people in front of you and behind you could be going either much faster or much slower than you and there is typically lots of passing that has to occur. This morning's race ordered participants by estimated swim time. When you register, they ask you to estimate your 300 meter swim time and that time is used to order the participants. If everyone estimates correctly, very little passing will be required.
I estimated 4:15, which is fairly reasonable estimate for 300 yards (I normally swim 25 yard laps rather than 50 meter laps), but this swim was 300 meters, around 30 yards farther than 300 yards. Whoops. Hopefully not too many people will pass me.
Around seven minutes after the first competitor entered the water, I was the 42nd person to start. After 120 meters I caught up to the person ahead of me and began to pass her. Just then I noticed that she was actually in the process of passing the person who started ahead of her, and who was now directly in front of me. Fortunately at the next turn this guy realized two people were breathing down his neck and he made room for us to pass. Very sportsman-like.
I pulled a little ways ahead of these two in the last half of the swim, but not a whole lot farther. I slowed down a little, but nobody passed me. I exited the water around 4:40, almost exactly what my estimated time would have been had I converted from yards to meters. I had the 43rd fastest swim split, and the 42nd fastest estimate.
The first transition was fairly smooth. While running from the pool to the transition area, and then while running through the transition area to my bike I focused intensely on breathing easily to ensure my heart rate wouldn't be too high when I began the bike.
The competitors were quite spaced out on the bike course. I flew along in the early miles, passing many other cyclists. My speed ranged from 24-27 mph. I was having a good day. Around the half way point we turned into a headwind and I slowed considerably. I had trouble maintaining 20 mph for three or so miles. I really struggled through that part. We turned again, but the wind wasn't much better. Then came a long shallow uphill section. The last half of the bike course wasn't fast. I was still passing other people, though they were fewer and farther between.
I finished the last mile of the bike fairly strong and made my way back into the transition area. My average speed was around 21 mph and I ended up with the 18th fastest bike split. It was not as good as I hoping, but I was still having a pretty good day nonetheless. My second transition went fairly well. I started the run at a quick, but controlled pace. Again, I was passing a lot of people.
I passed the mile mark in 6:18, feeling great. At this point I really kicked it up a notch and started running like a man possessed. The runners were spread out enough I could only see a few at a time. But within minutes I would catch them, pass them, and set my sights on the next group.
I missed my two mile split, but it didn't matter. I couldn't have sped up and I wouldn't have slowed down.
I raced all the way across the line, finishing in 55:05. My run split was 17:51 (the same time I ran at Tuesday's fun run), with the last two miles at 11:33 (5:46 pace!). This is 45 seconds faster than I've ever run in a triathlon before, and it turned out to be the 7th fastest run split.
In a typical mass-start triathlon, you know your position when you finish (or very shortly thereafter). Since this race had staggered starts, I didn't know where I had finished... and I wouldn't know for quite some time.
I got some food & drink, and spent some time talking with Melissa, Scott, Martin, Melissa again. I stood around in the sun without a hat long enough to get sunburned on the top of my head. Finally they posted the results, which indicated I finished 10th overall, 2nd in my 30-34 age group. Martin came in 15th overall, 1st in his age group. Scott came in 22nd overall, 2nd in his age group. It was a pretty successful event for us.
I was thrilled with my performance, and I felt great the entire race. I passed two people during the swim, around 15-20 on the bike, and around 10-15 on the run. Not a single person passed me the entire race. That's never happened before.
Frankly, with today's performance I would have expected to finish with a higher placing than I did (top five, or possibly even top three) for a race this size (380-ish participants?). The race simply had much better competition than I was expecting. Not bad for an inaugural event! I'll also add that the 2009 Tri the Illini was incredibly well organized. Again, this isn't something I expected from a first year event.
Many thanks to Melissa for the wonderful photos.