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Monday, August 24, 2009

Drowning in Tuscaloosa

Race report. USA Triathlon Olympic Distance Age Group Nationals. Tuscaloosa, AL. August 22, 2009. 1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run.

This race, on this day became a complete and utter travesty. USA Triathlon, you should be ashamed of yourselves for putting on this race the way you did! You put lives in danger! We are all lucky that nobody died out there.

Here's the story.

The swim was in the Black Warrior River. Apparently in years past the locks up river stopped the flow of water for the race so that there was no current. For some reason that didn't happen this year. The current was swift. I'm sure USAT knew this but subjected the field to the unsafe conditions anyway.

The swim course was a big ol' rectangle with a missing piece. Unbelievably the majority of the course was upstream! We started on a dock and swam with current a couple of hundred yards. Then it was across the river, then a 1000 yards slog upstream! The last 200 or so yards was cross current. The swim exit was at least 400 yards UP CURRENT. Gulp.

With a horn blast I was off. My start was good for a while until the outer swimmers collapsed in front of me and created a bit of a headache. I cleared that mess before the right hand turn. Across the river we went.

I was good across until I had to start going upstream.

Fuck! This sucks!

It didn't take long my wave to plow headlong into a group of swimmers that had started 3 minutes before us. It took even less time for me to completely mess up my race by forgetting what color swim cap I had on. My cap was GREEN. I decided that I needed to follow white caps. Smooth move ex-lax. That was really stupid and it was a mistake I would pay for all day.

It took me a while but eventually I figured out that my cap was green and I tried to get away from the white caps. It was, however, to late. I was mired in an endless pool and fighting to get out.

I wasn't supposed to do this race. I decided a couple of weeks ago to add it to the schedule. I've been preparing for Duathlons so I was doing very little swimming. In my mind I could gut out a 22 minute swim. As 22 minutes came and went so did my swimming ability. I was struggling to move forward in the current. My race was in deep trouble and I had a long way to go.

Finally the last buoy came and it was time to swim across the river. Almost on cue my foot and groin started to cramp.


Usually your feet move like fins. My right foot was locking up at a 90 degree angle. I was in danger of being swept down stream. With a herculean effort I fought my way though the current to the swim exit.

I was prepared for a 22-25 minute swim. This one took me 38. I was completely and utterly shattered. Plow on I must. Plow on I did. Onto the bike.

The bike course was up and down the entire way. It was 2 laps and there were 4 short sections on each lap that were flat. The rest was up or down hill. I was struggling on the first lap to keep my pace. The swim completely wiped me out. At one point at the top of a hill I actually stopped to see if my brakes were rubbing. They were not. I rode faster on the 2nd lap than the first.

My time for the 25 miles was just over an hour. My craps went away on the bike as I rode so that became a non-issue and I was ready for the run. How would I feel? Would I cramp? Would I walk or jog? I prayed that my legs wouldn't fail me and they did not. I knew before I got out of transition that I was going to have a good run.

And I did. I passed people the entire way and nobody made any effort to go with me. I didn't get passed once. 36:28 for 10k on a hot day was a pretty good time. Good enough for 7th fastest in my age group. The lone bright spot in an awful day.

My results? I was 24th out of 59 in the 35-39 age group. That's not a bad result considering this was the national championships. I missed out on being State Champion by just one place. I was the 2nd Floridian. My swim was 39th/56. What a disaster.

Who did others fare?

Dean Davis of Florida is 80 years old and took over 1 hour and 44 minutes to swim 1500 meters. Poor Sarah Ingersoll from California took 2 hours 54 minutes and 21 seconds! That's over 10 minutes per 100 yards. Go to the pool and swim down and back twice and see how long it takes. That's 10 minutes to go the length of a football field. (15 times!) Tom Plaut from North Carolina is 72 years old and it took him 2 hours 37 minutes and 30 seconds. Unbelievable.

The swim was a nightmare and it's my opinion that it was just plain unsafe. Can you image what would have happened if this wasn't the National Championships? These are the best people in the county. I'm still in shock from the whole experience.

For me it's not just sour grapes about not being a good swimmer. The course was just plain unfair and unsafe. I would have prepared differently if I knew I'd be in the water for 38 minutes. That's just my opinion.

I was 24th in my age group and there were 13 different states represented ahead of me. Clearly this race had a quality field. Somehow all these people managed to swim against the tide.

Roll tide roll...!?

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