This past weekend I took my family down to Cambridge Maryland to be with me when I raced the AquaVelo race during the ChesapeakeMan festival of races. Along side the full Ironman distance race there is an option to swim 2.4 mile (the aqua option) or swim and bike (aqua velo option - the race I was doing). This was actually very first attempt at swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. The longest ride leading up to this race was about 80 miles on the rolling hills around my house and the longest swim I ever did was the 1.2 miles in half iron races. But I had no doubt going into this race that if I paced the event well I will finish in good position.
We left the house on Friday morning to make it down to the race venue in time to pickup the packet, check-in the bike, get groceries, and get some sleep before the long day.
We got to Cambridge around little after the time when the transition opened and after picking up the race packet we made our way to the transition. I checked the bike, made sure the new batteries in power meter work and took the bike for short spin up and down the road. Ian made sure my pedals worked so I can get through the whole 112 miles on the bike. Then I just dropped off the bike at my rack.
Ian had a blast with Dasa and Lada and he even went with me to check out the swim buoys that were already in the water ready for the morning swim. The swim did not look all that long - I guess I got used to the idea of longer swims. My only concern was the wind for both the swim and bike.
Then it was time to check out the swim to bike transition rack where we will put our bike gear. Ian actually tested my bike helmet and got very aero before we went to the hotel to get some late lunch.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful - trip to the hotel, lunch and pre-race meeting where we heard a bit about the course and how the day is planned out to unfold. Then it was time to mix my drinks for next day and get to bed. Surprisingly I slept well and got pretty solid 5.5 hours of sleep. Which is always good.
Next morning Dasa drove me to Cambridge to the race start, I setup my bike and got ready for the start. Wind picked up quite a bit from the day before which meant that both swim and bike will be interesting. Still I did not mind it at all - I did swim in this area before and was ready for pretty bad conditions. This seemed like a mild version of what I was expecting. Around 6 Dasa took off to catch some more ZZZs and make sure Ian is OK. I just went through my pre-race routine - walk the transition, take care of my business and suit up for the swim. I met with few friends from my local races, said hello and wished good luck in the long day ahead of us. Erica and Craig arrived as well as did my buddies Chris and Herb. Erica and Craig were doing the full iron distance race (Erica as part of relay with her sister Katie) and both Chris and Herb raced AquaVelo with me.
Shortly before 7am we were directed to the water which was very nice and generally warmer than the air outside - especially in the wetsuit. Few seconds after 7am the gun went off and we were under way. I took Erica's advice and made sure to start at the pace I expected to swim through the whole race. No sprinting from the crowd - I left that to other people. The swim is two loops of triangular course. First leg was easy as we swam with the current and wind, only towards the end of the leg the waves started to pick-up. They were more significant after turn buoy and even more significant on the way back. But I just found the right rhythm and kept sighting. It was pretty hard at times and I found myself swimming to the start buoy instead of the turn buoy. Luckily one of the kayakers yelled at me and I corrected my direction. I probably lost few minutes with this, but that made me sight even more on the second loop which was almost perfect. I swam the out leg pushing little more and had someone draft of off me - I did not mind someone drafting, but I was not happy with him touching my feet with every stroke. That was just not cool. I decided not to pay attention to it - since I'll probably shake him after the turn buoy - which actually happened. On the way back I kept sighting little more and swam to the right buoy before returning back to the water exit. I exited the water at 1:08:55 which is pretty good swim time for the conditions we were facing. I'm not sure what my place was after the swim, but by the first turnaround (10 miles) on the bike I was in 22nd place. But let's not get too much ahead.
Transition was pretty good - I ran on the wrong side of the rack, but did not lose much time with that. Then I was in changing tent taking off my wetsuit and putting on my helmet. I stuck my wetsuit to my transition bag, ran to my bike rack and was on my way. The transition was about 2:20, but I do not know for sure as my watch switched off about 3 minutes into the swim - I probably hit someone with my hand and stopped the watch. I did not really mind it as race takes the splits from the chip (luckily my chip did not die on the swim, but did on the bike).
I started my bike computer before crossing the mat to have proper time for the bike leg. I was aiming to complete the 112 miles in 5 hours and 15 minutes which meant about 21.5 - 21.7 mph through out. The course is pancake flat so this is very doable if the wind is not too strong. The plan was to take the first 20 miles easy as a warm-up to settle into the position, then bump up the power output a little and hold it for the first whole loop (up to about 64 miles) and then increase the effort and keep pushing to the finish. I did not have to run (well at least not in the race) so I could afford to push higher wattage than in the full race.
Even on my warm-up out and back 20 miles I moved-up few positions and at the turnaround I was about 10-12 minutes down on the leaders and in about 22nd place which was a good position this early in the race. On the way out we were really moving - with little power output we were all doing comfortable 26 mph - it was after turnaround that we had to fight the wind and the speed immediately dropped to 21 mph with higher power output - even in perfect aero position. Poor guys that were already tired at that point and were stretching out or rode upright like sails. I did not know where I was relative to the AquaVelo folks and while my goal was to finish in the top 10 I knew the best way to reach that goal is to stick to the race plan. And I did. I had no interest in chasing people or fighting for position. I got into the few packs - well we all rode legally, but you have 2-4 guys constantly trading places and pacing off of each other. That makes the miles fly by like nothing. The wind seemed quite OK on the first 20-30 miles, but when we turned to the marshes it seemed to beat at us from all directions. At times I had to come out of aero to grab my handlebars to keep the bike from running off the road. According to some people there were wind gusts of 20 mph at times and pretty constant wind of 10mph. I was actually very happy to be done with the first loop and I was not disappointed missing to see my family as I finished the loop about 10 minutes faster than planned.
As I started the second loop of the remaining 48 miles things started to get uncomfortable - it was tough to find comfortable position on the seat, aero was not comfortable either. But I knew if I wanted to be fast I had to stay aero as much as possible so I forced myself stick in aero position and only stretched from time to time. The worst part of the second loop were miles 70-80 - that is the gray area of the race. You are not close to finish to start counting down the miles and mind can play games with you. I was determined to keep pushing especially after being passed by fellow AquaVelo competitor that probably stopped for special needs bag (I did not as I treated special needs bag as bag for case something went wrong on loop 1 - I was good after loop 1 so I just blew by the special needs area). Shortly after being passed I saw that there was another AquaVelo competitor ahead. So I stuck close to the guy that passed me and we caught up to Herb. It was good to see fellow EnMu athlete and we exchanged few pleasantries as we traded places. We pushed each other quite nicely for the next about 7-10 miles and completely lost contact with the man that brought us together. I kept my pace going and after few miles I checked if Herb is still behind me and found he was falling back a little. I just stuck to my plan and as I was getting close to mile 90 I opened up the pace even more. Now the goal was to break 5 hours mark. It was entirely possible to do it since I still had time to get to the finish with about 30-40 seconds to spare. So I concentrated on pushing hard, staying aero and keeping my back relaxed with regular stretching every few miles. I blew past few competitors that were finishing their first loop and encouraged most of them to keep pushing to the finish. The cutoff was still some 4 hours away so they had plenty of time to finish the bike leg. I rolled past the last aid station, took water and kept pushing. It was only few miles to the finish. I was almost like in a dream - you may know the out of body experience when everything just seems going well and you do not even notice the effort you are putting out on the bike - fluid state. This stuck with me all the way to the finish. I was actually little sad that the day is done for me. I did indeed get my sub-5 hours bike split - with about 25 seconds to spare (not sure of the exact time from the chip as it died on me, but my bike computer shows clearly that I stopped moving my bike before 5 hours were over on the bike.
After I finished I was greeted by my family and the race director who handed me 5th overall award for the AquaVelo - great I like being 5th more than being 10th. It will have prominent place in my library next to all the other AG and overall awards from the past few years of racing. I was genuinely pleased with the result.
And well then it was time to tie on my shoes and go for a nice jog with new found friends - David who finished before me and his wife who were doing transition run as well.
The run did not go all that well - first mile was fine, then I got some GI issues and then my head started to spin - I seriously did not fuel for run after bike and it was time to get back to the finish line and get some food before collapsing. Pizza did me good and I was ready to go for some serious meal. We packed my stuff and headed over to next town over to get some pasta and meat - carbs and protein is always good after races. I felt like a pig - I ate everything I saw. No wonder I burned some 4500 - 5000 calories in the race so I needed to refuel. Since then I kind of toned down my eating, but I seem to be in this pig out mode since the weekend.
It was great to spend the afternoon with my family, have quite dinner and then just chill in our hotel room. My legs were hurting like hell on the day of the race, but they got better on Sunday and I had almost no residual soreness on Monday. I love AquaVelo races - I was less beat up than after half iron race. And as usual here are few pictures showing the blast Ian had at the race - he was so happy the whole weekend. It was great watching him - and he actually slept from 4pm on Sunday all the way to 8am on Monday. So in a way he had his race as well.