The Grand Columbian triathlon is one of the last races in the season, the weather in Eastern Washington generally being more pleasant at this time of year than it is west of the Cascades (though this has been an anomalous year and Seattle is enjoying sun and record temperatures in late September). It’s my season closer event and my 3rd time participating. This time it had a special significance for me because I was returning to defend my age group victory in 2008, and also because I am most likely not doing any triathlons next year. Naturally I was motivated to do well.
The race always starts in Electric City, but the course has changed a little bit each year. 2007 the race was rerouted due to smoke from nearby forest fires; 2008 we did the ‘classic’ course, which had us biking across the Grand Coulee dam and running along the Columbia river; 2009 the bike course skipped the dam and the run looped around a nearby lake. I think I like this year’s edition best: the bike course retained the highlights (the steep climbs and awesome descents) and the run course was more interesting. Plus it was a single transition rather than a point to point race, which made things a lot simpler in terms of logistics. As in previous years we stayed at the Sky Deck Motel right next to the race venue, with a beautiful view of Banks Lake.
On race day the weather was overcast and a bit windy, but still pretty pleasant. The gun went off at 9am and we got underway on our 70.3 mile journey. The 1.2 mile swim went as well as I could expect, considering that I have been rather inconsistent in my swim training. As always, the first few 100 yards you feel like you can’t get enough air and there’s not enough space to swim with all the other competitors thrashing around you; but it soon sorted itself out and I settled in to a slow and steady pace that I maintained until I got back to shore. Fortunately I did not stub my toe on any rocks running out of the water – the water level was much lower than in previous years, so we had to run a bit further across the rock-strewn shallows.
Swim time: 33:39 – 62/194 overall
After a fairly smooth transition I was glad to hop on my bike. I felt confident in my bike fitness, based on my regular 33 mile commute and some pretty strenuous bike events not too long ago: the Seattle Randonneurs mountain populaire and the Co-Motion tandem bike race. Last year I experienced my one and only crash (knock on wood) on this course, so I was very careful overtaking and going around some of the turns. Fortunately, the pack of riders soon thinned out and I was pretty much on my own for the rest of the 56 mile bike ride.
Being a slow swimmer and fast biker I passed a lot of other racers on this section. I was only passed by one rider – number 162: a very fast biker (apparently a national track champion and 2nd fastest bike split overall) but a rather unsporting character. It didn’t help him in the end: I passed him fairly early on in the run, providing me with a rather pleasant feeling of vindication.
Bike time: 2:37:49 – 8th overall
The run is the moment of truth in any triathlon. This is where any deficiencies in your training or race execution will show up. The temperatures were rising and the course was quite challenging, incorporating 6 miles of gravel trail and a number of hills. I was not feeling sprightly, but still felt that I could sustain an acceptable pace without blowing up. Would it be good enough? It’s hard to know what position you are in mid-race. Is there somebody ahead that you still need to catch? Is somebody closing from behind? It certainly keeps you on edge and motivated to continue pushing the pace. In the end, I finished with a comfortable 4 minute margin over the next person in my age group, 8th place overall. Oh, and number 162 … not even in contention and trailing 12 minutes behind.
Run time: 1:37:24 – 8th overall
Total: 4:53:02 – 8th overall