My swim training has not been going. Not "not going well"... just not going at all. I'd so much rather run with my friends than swim, and with my neighborhood pool closing and the very inconvenient Duke pool hours, I have only been in the water 4 times this month. Coupled with my already less than impressive swim skills, I was pretty nervous going into this. Fortunately, the plan was just to race at or around my goal paces for next week, so there wasn't a ton of pressure, other than to not drown.
I made the hour drive out to Ramseur, arrived just after 7 am, picked up my packet, set up transition, went through the porta-potty line, and then it was time for pre-race instructions. Fortunately, the water was the calmest of any open water swim I've done and the weather was perfect (60s and cloudy), which helped my nerves a bit.
The swim is a two lap loop, and the men went out 4 minutes before the women. The race was small to begin with, and with the men starting in a separate wave and a number of people going with the run-bike-run duathlon option, the women's swim start was not hectic at all. I started to the back and off to the outside, waited a few seconds after the horn, and then was off. Before we even made it to the first buoy, I was all by myself. While this is good in terms of comfort level, it is discouraging to think about the entire field being so far ahead already. I just reminded myself that this was a training exercise, focused on some of the tips that Alison gave me earlier in the week, and tried to keep my energy expenditures to a minimum. About half way through the first lap, I passed a couple of men, and felt a little better because I wouldn't be the very last person out of the water. The swim seemed to take forever, and based on conversations with some other athletes after the race, I think it was a little long. Nonetheless, I was not thrilled to get to my bike and see that over 40 minutes had passed already... which is a really long time, even for me! On a positive note, it was easy to find my bike and I had plenty of space to get out of my wetsuit and put on my bike gear!
The other nice thing about being a slow swimmer is that the entire field is in front of you, providing a great opportunity to chase people down. Early into the bike leg, I passed quite a few women and even some men, and for the most part was feeling pretty strong. The bike course was an out and back on country roads, with few turns and some moderate hills. Other than quite a bit of gravelly asphalt, being chased by a dog, and a hydration bottle malfunction, the ride went pretty well. The goal was to stay in the 18-19mph range, which is my target for Augusta (I would need to average 18.7 to get in under 3 hours). At one hour, I had gone 18.6 miles, so I was pleased with my pacing. It wasn't exactly leisurely but other than a few climbs, I never really felt like I went outside of my comfort zone. That said, I was ready to be done by the end and next week I'll still have 30 miles to go, so I am not sure if that goal is reasonable and we'll see what happens...
The second transition went pretty well, and I headed out on the run. At the Raleigh race, it took me nearly two hours to finish the run, so in Augusta I would be thrilled with anything around an 8-minute mile. If everything goes perfectly, I'd love to average something in the 7:50s, so I tried to stick to that pace. The first half mile went by in about 3:40, so I really worked to make myself slow down, which is pretty strange for a race, but I'm hoping it will pay off next week. Due to some last-minute course changes, the run was a strange double out and back which included a total of 4 U-turns. It was hard to tell if the people coming toward me were on their first or second lap, so despite doubling back on the field multiple times, I really had no idea where I was in the standings. But everyone seemed to be working hard and I felt like I was just beyond a jog, so I figured they had to be ahead of me. That, and knowing that I have to run 12 miles tomorrow, made it easier to stick to my pace plan, and I ran most of the miles in the 7:45-7:50 range. Once I could see the finish line, I picked it up a bit and finished in 2:42-something. Not a great time, but not far off the plan and I felt great, so I was pleased.
After changing and loading up all my gear, I headed back to the finish area thinking that even though I didn't have a great time, it was a small race so I may have won an age group award. I checked the posted results and was shocked to see my name at the top of the page in the overall winners list! Somehow I'd passed all but one of the women to finish second overall. It didn't make my time faster, but was certainly a nice surprise. And as icing on the cake (or pie, as it turned out), there were cash prizes for the top three overall as well as a beautiful apple pie from the orchard down the street! The orchard had also provided the age group awards (apple crisp for 1st, apple sauce for 2nd, and apple butter for 3rd), and I would definitely consider this race again solely because of that :)