On Sunday morning I made the LONG drive to Sullivan, IL for my first triathlon of the year. I did this race two years ago just two days before surgery on my achilles tendon ended my 2010 season. I signed up last year wanting to get a race before Ironman St. George but my piriformus was bothering me so I scratched and the race director kindly deferred my entry to this year's event. The drive took about 3.5 hours counting a couple restroom stops. The race was scheduled to begin at 12:30 and I arrived at the venue at 11:15. I didn't waste any time getting ready to go as I quickly got my Zipp Tangente tires filled to 120 PSI and got my bike racked in transition. I then got my number and timing chip and headed out for a short 1 mile warm up jog. Following that I got on the bike and rode 1 loop of the 2 loop bike course. Then it was time to get the swim goggles out and head inside where the swim portion would take place. I knew fellow pro triathlete Jared Milam would be super tough competition. Jared beat me at Ironman Wisconsin and then went on to be one of the top American finishers at Ironman Wisconsin in a time of 8 hr. 47 minutes.
SWIM: One swimmer went in the water every 10 seconds. The swim was 400 meters. You would swim down one side of the lane and then come back the other side of the lane before ducking under the ropes into the next lane and continuing in this format until the end of the swim. I went in 10 seconds behind Jared and got into a good rhythm. 400 meters is so short it is a redline swim. I took breaths every 3 strokes until about 1/2 way in when I was getting tired and decided to switch to every 2 strokes. I did not pass anyone nor did I get passed. I got out of the water in 5:40 something and then had to run outside the pool area, down some steps, and around the corner before I crossed the timing mat with an official swim time of 5:59. This was the 11th fastest swim split of the day out of the 200 athletes participating. It was only 2 seconds faster than 2 years ago but at that time about all I was doing was swimming due to the achilles soreness. I know I need to improve and hope things will eventually click since I've been working so hard in the pool this year.
BIKE: I had a pretty rough transition by my standards. I normally have one of the top transitions in the race. I have a new Specialized aero helmet that is more narrow than my old aero helmet. The narrow part is great once I get it on but it takes a little more work to get it on. I had even practiced putting the thing on fast but struggled on race day. Then my bike got hung up on someone elses handlebars. I got out of there in a respectable time but knew I had time to make up on the leaders who started the swim ahead of me. The course is only 11.8 miles so I didn't have a lot of time to make up ground. The first stretch was about 2 miles with a nasty cross wind. I was riding my Zipp Sub-9 disc rear wheel combined with a Zipp 808 front and I could really feel the wind. Thankfully one of the nice things about my new Specialized Shiv is that is designed to handle crosswinds well and I thought it did just that considering my wheel selection. I could see Jared ahead of me by about 30 seconds and it took me about 3 miles before I started putting much of a dent into the gap. Just as we began our 2nd loop I caught up to him. It was a pretty dicey section as we were back in the spot with the nasty crosswind and to make things tougher there were riders on their first loop and the course was open to traffic so it was pretty congested. I decided to wait to make the pass until we turned off that road. Once we turned I made the pass and put in a big effort for the remaining 4 miles knowing he is a great runner and I may need a gap. I came off the bike behind 1 other runner, college teammate Chris Sweet. He was about 15 seconds ahead of me but started the swim about 2 minutes ahead of me so I was actually ahead of him but it was nice to have someone out in front on the run. My bike time was right around 27:00 for an average speed of 26.0 which I was thrilled with considering all the turns and how short the course was. I typically average faster in slightly longer races because the slowest part is the start and finish so the more ground between them gives riders more of a chance to go fast. It was the fastest bike split of the day despite the results showing some guy averaging 33 mph!!
RUN: My 2nd transition was better than my first but not perfect as I dropped my sunglesses and had to stop to pick them up. Out on the run I struggled a bit to get into a good rhythm which is expected in the first race of the year. This is the exact reason I do the early season races...to get the rust of the legs and get them race ready before the big ones come later in the summer. I passed Chris just before the mile mark and went through mile 1 just under 5:30. I had the GPS watch on and my current speed was getting better. I was down to about 5:15 pace current speed and I tried to hold that rhythm. I glanced back a couple times on the turns and knew Jared was gaining on me so I was going to have to work the entire 5k. I had hoped I would be able to shut it down half way into the run and save a little for next Friday's 5k at Simpson College. I ran hard to the finish and ended up winning the race in a time of 50:48. My 5k run split was 16:43 which was 2nd fastest to Jared's blazing 16:26!
After the race was over Chris, Jared, and myself got a nice 40 minute run in together where we talked about the upcoming race schedule and training. It was great running with them. Then Jared offered to watch me swim and see if he noticed anything with my stroke. I couldn't pass up that offer and it was well worth the time and very nice of him. We will see each other again at Kansas 70.3 in June. That will by my 1st pro race of the year. Congrats to everyone who raced in Sullivan. Complete results with splits can be found by clicking here.