Patrick: AG 1st, OA 21st, swim 30:49, bike 2:38:26, run 1:39:09, total 4:51:39
Wendy: AG 7th, OA 110th, swim 29:42, bike 2:04:53, run 1:21:52, total 4:03:17
This year, both Wendy and I participated in the Grand Columbian event, after I had competed in the half-iron distance for the first time last year. Wendy signed up for the Olympic, while I was going to try and defend my age group podium spot from 2007 in the half-iron distance. As we had done last year, we arrived on Friday and put up at the Skydeck Motel, right next to the swim start. The sun was shining, the waters of Banks Lake were warm, and most importantly: no forest fires this year. Perfect conditions for a great race. We spent the rest of the day Friday checking out the bike course, attending the pre-race pasta dinner, and setting up our bikes and transition bags.
Race day, we were able to ‘sleep in’ until 6am, since our events didn’t start until 9:30 and 10:30 respectively. I sure appreciated that. We were also happy to note that the wind had died down somewhat; it had been extremely windy all night long. Since most of the bike course is very exposed, up on the Columbia river plateau, wind can have a tremendous affect on your performance.
Altogether, there were about 250 participants in the half-iron, so the swim was not too crowded. It’s a triangular course and this year they had strung a line underwater between the buoys, which made it very easy to stay on track. There was some jostling on the first leg, but soon things had spaced out. The rest of the swim was quite relaxed and I focused on maintaining a steady rhythm and not expending too much energy early in the race. Occasionally I was able to catch a draft for a moment, but most of the time it seemed easier to just swim at my own pace. I don’t think I’m swimming much faster this year, but I do feel more comfortable in the water. I came out of the water in position 70 – which is good by my standards.
Transition went smoothly – I got my transition bag with my bike stuff without any fumbling and dashed off to the changing tent. I was quite dizzy for a minute as I sat down to put on my bike shoes; but it passed as quickly as it had set in. Then I was out on the road and ready to tackle the dreaded Almira Grade.
Just as I was turning the corner onto Almira Road I suffered my only mishap – my front wheel lost traction on some gravel in the turn and down I went. Luckily, I was going really slowly. I sustained barely a scratch; more importantly, my bike was fine and I hadn’t lost much fluid from my bike bottles either. Altogether the incident probably cost me 20-30 seconds; it was a good reminder to stay very attentive on the bike.
The adrenaline from the fall made the climb out of the Columbia valley seem really easy. I was surprised how quickly I reached the top of the grade and could settle down in my aerobars to attack the main part of the 56 mile course. There definitely was some wind up on the plateau; much of it was side wind, but at times we were also going into a decent head wind. The air was very clear and the view spectacular, during those brief moments that I could enjoy it. At this point, there were riders from the Olympic, half-iron, and iron distance event on the course. In spite of this, you rarely had more than a few riders in your view, and at times it was almost lonely. I certainly prefer that to the hair-raising traffic of Seafair Triathlon, which packed over 1500 bikes onto a 6 mile stretch of road.
The course was challenging and a lot more appealing to me than last year’s long, dreary slog along Banks Lake. You start with the climb up Almira; then come a long series of rollers, a screaming descent back down to Coulee City, and to top it all off, we actually rode across the Grand Coulee Dam itself (which is usually strictly off-limits). I averaged 21.2 mph – not bad considering the terrain and wind.
So much for the fun part of the race. A quick T2 – volunteers actually racked my bike for me, making me feel like a hot-shot athlete – and then I was out on the run. 13.1 miles of relentlessly flat, scorching gravel trail. Again, it’s a very scenic course along the river; but the cliff walls seemed to trap and reflect the heat, while shutting out any cooling wind. It was all I could do to keep up a steady pace and not think too much of the many miles still lying ahead. I had hoped the run would be easier this year, since it was flatter and had a more forgiving surface. But it sure didn’t feel that way.
Nobody had passed me on the bike, but now I had to let a few folks go by. I noted that none of them was in my AG, so I wasn’t going to blow my last reserves to counter-attack. I had no issues with heart rate and breathing, but my legs were feeling very, very tired. Also, during the second half of the run I could feel my body temperature rising, slowly but surely. The distance from one aid station to the next seemed to be getting longer and longer. I was elated when I finally saw the bridge again, that marked the last stretch up and out to the finish line. I’ve always had at least a little sprint left at the end, but this time – seeing that nobody was anywhere close behind me – I could not muster anything and just jogged into the finish chute. The relief of being able to stop running and sit down in the shade was incredible.
Wendy came across the line a few minutes after me. She was a bit dissatisfied with her time and placement; but then just hours previously she had had serious doubts whether she would be able to finish at all. I think we both put out a great effort that day, relative to our respective level of training. Of course, winning the 45-49 AG was the icing on the cake.