Sunday morning’s alarm clock was set for 4:40 a.m. giving us enough time to get up, grab a nice, long, hot shower to loosen up the muscles – apply our body glide and hop into our triathlon race gear.
I would have time to toast a bagel, load the bike, cooler and transition bag and make my way over to Walter E. Long park for the start of the Couples Triathlon shortly after the transition area opened.
As I drifted off to sleep I was relaxed, feeling confident that my bike and run were in great shape heading into the event, even my swim had been coming along recently. No stress, no worries, just another race day ahead I told myself. No different than any other. So what if I was going to have to swim 60% further than I had at Jack’s or Lake Pflugerville. What was an extra 300 Meters ….
At 12:40 I was awakened by the sound of thunder rolling overhead and rain pounding on the bedroom windows.
Really? Another wet transition area to navigate and a sloppy run course like we had at the Rookie TRI at the same location earlier this spring. My streak of lousy race day weather seemed to be holding true to form for 2012.
I rolled over, shrugged it off with a “whatever” and went back to bed.
At the sound of the alarm I hopped out of bed, checked the weather station in the bathroom and saw that the overnight temperature had dropped to just under 70 degrees – but the humidity was hanging at 98%. Off to the shower.
After all the usual rituals of brushing, showering, dressing and packing the last few items into my cooler I loaded up the truck and backed out of the driveway at 5:20. On time to the very minute. It was going to be a good day I thought.
Pre-Race: The rain had moved off to the East and left us with a downright pretty nice July morning for Central Texas. There would be virtually no wind to deal with and no chance of rain showers until the late afternoon. They would return with a vengeance later in the day with more than 3 inches falling in most areas around Austin, but they would not be a factor for the race at all.
I rolled into the parking lot, grabbed my transition bag and cooler, my TRI bike and headed over to get body marked and find a spot in transition.
I got my race number “91” down both arms, across the tops of my knees and a “45” on my right calf – a gentle reminder that I was racing as a 45 year old still 16 days away from that milestone birthday.
For the Couples Triathlon I was partnered up with my friend Ed Cortez. We would be competing in the “Male Friends” category placing us with some of the more serious Austin Area Triathletes. Our rack space was closest to the bike out, bike in area – which was perfect in my opinion. Where you rack in a triathlon is basically all relative as you are either close to the swim entrance, the run exit or the bike exit. Every athlete has to navigate the same distances at one time or another, but the shorter distance that I need to cover in my bike shoes the better. I would much rather run in bare feet or my running flats than try to toe-run in my cycling shoes.
I found a spot on the end of the race, strapped on my headlamp and set-up my transition area in the dark about 20 minutes prior to sunrise.
Bike on the rack, helmet and cycling glasses on the bars, my bike shoes opened up fully with my socks rolled up and placed inside to be pulled on after coming in from the swim.
Just behind my cycling shoes I had my run flats, my running sunglasses and my race number belt on top. I pulled my frozen water bottle out of the cooler, placed it on the bike and got it started on the way to thawing out before we hit the bike course.
I got my swim cap and goggles ready and we were ready to rock as Ed arrived. We got Ed set-up next to me and we had about an hour or so to kill before the safety meeting. Everything was going very smoothly as I ran a rubber band through my left pedal to the front of my front tire to hold it in place for me to hop on at the mounting line and literally hit the ground “cycling” as quickly as possible. After a trip to the porta-potty it was go time.
The Swim: After the Star Spangled Banner I strapped on my goggles and decided to place my swim cap over them to hold them in place. This was going to be the most “competitive” group of swimmers I had raced with in a wave start. I was determined to not be too passive and swim out wide on Sunday. I wanted to swim close to the buoys and tangent the course which was going to require me to swim “in a crowd”. I wanted to guard against having my goggles knocked loose by an errant arm, leg or elbow.
As we entered the water I could feel the nerves building. Much more for me than a run event as I feel strong and confident in my race flats. But in the water I still feel like the rookie that I am. Cautious and wary – feelings I am trying my hardest to lose and turn into competitive fuel. It’s coming, but I am still a long way off.
Being the very first wave of the event was pretty cool as we looked out on the pristine, glassy water of the lake where our strokes would be the first of the morning.
At the horn I let a dozen or so swimmers take off, then hit the buoy and took my first strokes out onto the lake. 20 or so strokes for 25 Open Water Meters, 4 X 25 Meters per hundred, 800 Meters Total, we were looking at 640 strokes back to the shore. Ad another 20 or so due to course adjustments and that should get us home. I found my rhythm quickly, searched for some clear water to swim and settled in.
The first 200 meters always feels clunky to me, trying to get my breathing, stroke, catch and pull coordinated and working smoothly. Sunday was no different as I did not find any type of groove until we were approaching the second buoy. But as I settled in the longer swim seemed to calm me down. Instead of searching for the turning point and thinking about heading back to shore – I just swam. Calm, cool, collected. I got shoved a few times, my right arm landed on the back of another swimmer a few times – but I just stayed the course.
At the first left turn which came about 275 meters into the swim I cut the buoy close, found my new bearing and swam on. I bumped with a swimmer to my right again, but did not slow – just keep pulling I told myself. The second straightaway had the sun behind and to the right of us. I could feel it warming me on my rotation out of the water to breath. I relaxed my face and stayed smooth. We hit the second triangular buoy which marked the 550 meter mark, further than I had ever swam in competition and I still felt fresh and solid. Because I am not yet at the point where I am pushing it in the water, for fear of blowing up out there, I was still very strong to this point and decided to pull harder a bit and try to make up some time on the swimmers ahead of us in the water.
The final leg of the course came quickly and as I pulled over the final 50 meters we were gaining a bit on the swimmers immediately ahead of us. My hands hit gravel and I popped out and tore off my cap and goggles.
800 Meters in the books. Time to move.
Transition 1: The run from the lake to transition at Decker is far. 1/4 mile long and of course uphill from the lake. Luckily we were the first group in the water, so the run out was not a muddy mess – yet – but finding your running legs after popping out of the water is a bit disorienting. Going from horizontal to vertical can through you off a bit. But by the time I reached the top of the hill I was running on my toes and picking off athletes. I found our rack with no trouble and got to work.
Water bottle on the feet to clear off the grass and dirt. One Sock, Two Socks, One Shoe, Two Shoes. Bike glasses, Helmet and I threw my run watch on quickly so I would not have to deal with that coming off of the bike.
Transition time 2:43. Solid given the run out distance.
The Bike: I ran to the mount line, hopped up and coasted as I snapped my feet into the waiting pedals. Having the rubber band holding them in place has proven to be a great help in getting underway quickly. I banked hard into the first turn exiting transition and put the hammer down. Woosh.
Having only our wave of athletes ahead of us and a couple of the top female competitors who had caught us on the swim after starting 4:00 minutes behind us (monster swimmers) – the bike course was much less crowded than I have been used to. Traditionally I have been starting in the 6th or 7th wave in the Male 45-49 age group. But on Sunday we had plenty of road to ride, but less competitors to chase ahead of us. I wondered if that would help or hurt us as we tried to push hard on the bike.
We flew through the opening mile of the course in 2:34 and got ready for some climbing. Only 11.2 miles the course sounds like a snap, but with more than 500 feet of climbing and sharp 90 degree turns leading into the larger climbs, the course is highly technical and difficult.
The next 4 miles came in 2:53, 2:38, 2:20 and 2:44. I approached the first and most difficult short-burst hill on the course, switched to the small front ring and dropped into a high gear for spinning as I banked the more than 90 degree turn. I stood on the pedals and started pushing. As I got to the meat of the hill I saw my partner Ed up ahead of me having put down a swim more than 2 minutes faster than me.
I encouraged Ed as I slid past him and he told me to “Go Get It”. Seeing him there could not have been more perfect entering into the tough middle of the course. I continued to climb, reached the top and powered down hill loading up for the next hill, less steep – but much longer. Navigating the next two miles of climbing we posted miles of 3:08 and 3:04, just a tick under 20 mph.
Mile 8 allows the cyclists to take a little bite back out of the course and we crushed it in 2:18. Then the course takes a swing back at you along the TX 130 Frontage Road – a monster hill that the Decker Half-Marathon Course punishes runners on each winter. We slowed to 3:22/mile here and then powered over the top and got our revenge over mile 10 in 2:40.
Just Quadzilla remained – as I settled into the first 200 meters of the hill I picked out a few competitors and only looked at the back of their shirts. I never shifted my eyes from them, never looked at my bike computer, never looked at the hill itself. Only their backs, reeling in one after the other. The final climbing mile came in 3:34 as I stood on the pedals and made my way to the dismount.
Bike time 32:17 – 1 minute and 4 seconds faster than our effort on the same course at the Rookie Triathlon. 20.7 mph for the ride.
Transition 2: I ran the bike in after the dismount line. Slid the seat over the bar, took off my helmet and glasses and switched from my bike shoes to my race flats. I decided to tear off my triathlon top and run in just my shorts as the sun was fully overhead now and heating things up. I hit my water bottle for a final drink, grabbed my race number belt and started out to the run course.
The Run: I hit start on my run watch and settled onto the course. On my left the overall winner of the event Jamie Cleveland sped past me as he was racing with his wife (another professional triathlete) in the married division. I had held Jamie off until the run course which was a pretty big win. He was going to post a time under 1 hour in the event. Truly amazing.
The run course is a trail course at Decker, which makes it very challenging to post a fast 5k time. There are long high grass sections, rutted trails, loose large wood chips and a long hill to navigate. I decided to just run my maximum, sustainable “uncomfortable” pace shooting for something just under 20 minutes for the run.
The course was heating up so I tried to run under the cover of the trees the best I could. The first mile came in right at 6:20, which was where I was hoping to hold it for the duration of the run. Mile 2 would be a quick one with a downhill section, but the final mile would prove punishing with a long, tough hill to close things out.
I decided to make hay while I could and dropped my pace down to 6:05 over the second mile in the areas where I could push, but the pace felt dangerous over the loose footing at times. I tried to stay even, but needed to pack off slightly at times to make sure I didn’t wipe out.
At the beep mile 2 came in at 6:11. Not bad, but the heat and the course were starting to fight back a bit. The final mile started with a nice long downhill and sweeping turn – I backed off a bit to reload and try to run the final mile a bit more strategic than a usual 5K where you just fire away and hang on.
I saw “the hill” ahead with a few runners already walking. I lengthened my stride a bit and dug in at the bottom of the incline. Battle, battle, battle I thought as we picked our way to the top. I glanced down at my watch quickly and saw my pace at 6:50. I was surprised that it was still under 7:00 min./mile as it felt as if I was crawling, but finally we hit the top and started the final 1/4 mile to the finish.
I had passed the last of the competitors I was running near, so this would be a solo mission to the line to wrap things up. As I approached the race announcer was calling out all of the competitor’s names, something I really love about the Triathlon.
“From Austin, TX, running on the iRuniTRI Guys team – Joe Marruchella”.
The run came in spot on at 6:20 pace – 19 minutes 37 seconds.
A sub 20 Minute trail 5K at the end of a tough day of swimming and biking … I’ll take it.
Results: Team iRuniTri Guys finished with a time of 2:43:26 which was good enough for 12th place in the competitive Male Friends Division.
Joe Marruchella 1:16:35
Ed Cortez 1:26:51
Post Race: Looking back on the event, the number one thing is that our mission of “having fun” out there as a team was absolutely met. Ed and I had a blast on Sunday and have made plans to return next year again.
Individually I put together my best swim time per 100 Meters yet by a handful of seconds which bodes well for my half-ironman swim of 1.2 miles. I may not have sprinters speed in the water, but I can sustain my swim over distance and that will hopefully help us in the longer event. I know our bike and run will play a much bigger role when things stretch out to 56 miles on the bike and 13.1 on the run.
As it was we posted the 34th best swim time, 17th fastest bike and 3rd fastest run among the Male Friends Competitors. Clearly once on land we have a thing or two to say about how the race will play out – time to swim more often, longer and faster than we ever have.
The next finish line we cross we will be adding Ironman 70.3 finisher to our resume.