Race Report: Lake Padden Triathlon 2007
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Tjalling Ypma - 6/30/07
I last did this race in the year 2000, so it was interesting to see how it had developed over the intervening period. The most obvious changes are the introduction of chip-timing and the replacement of those unlamented wooden wheelracks with nasty exposed nails by the much improved pipe-constructed saddleracks. The number of competitors seems to have grown significantly, with about 270 in the competitive division and an astonishing 340 in the novice division this year. One thing that has not increased too much is the entry fee, which remains modest relative to many other events and still covers a nice technical t-shirt and the expensive timing system as well as the usual race support and good food.
The mass swim starts of the past have been replaced by wave starts, whose introduction is no doubt considerably eased by the chip-timing system. I liked the simple way in which it was done, with the first 60 or so over the timing mat constituting the first wave and being sent off onto the course before the next batch of 60 was allowed to cross the mat, and so on. The first wave was supposedly for the self-selected best swimmers; I chose to go in the second wave, with the two minutes between the waves being just enough time to get into the water and line up between the markers before the horn sounded and we were off.
The relatively small group of swimmers meant that there was little of the hand-to-hand combat that often mars swim starts. Lake Padden is essentially my backyard pool, since I live just across the road, so I was altogether comfortable churning straight across to the big yellow buoy just off-shore from the lakeside clearing that is my usual navigational marker. I expected a battle at the turn-around but remained unscathed until I ran headfirst into an errant swimmer who was approaching the buoy from the wrong side. I am always amazed by the inability of certain people to navigate in open water; do they swim with their eyes closed, or are they just incapable of swimming in a straight line ? Fortunately no harm was done, and I enjoyed swimming in the turbulence and draft of the swimmers around me, without having to fight them off, as we headed back to shore. I was working fairly hard though not sprinting, but that was good enough to put me near the head of the pack I had started in and also to catch several tail-enders of the first wave. Everything felt good as I swam right up to the orange cones marking the exit from the water in the rocky shallows, and I enjoyed the cheers of the crowd as I ran up to transition stripping off the wetsuit as I went. My swim time of exactly 12:00 was a very pleasant surprise to me, and I guess that I was about 50 places away from the sharp end of the race at this point.
My bike had been the first one in transition so I had the prize spot beside the bike exit. I had a smooth transition until I crossed the mats to mount the bike and found I had made the same amateurish error I had made at the Rainier duathlon in April: my chain was on the big ring - not a good idea when faced with an uphill start. I dealt with the problem by scooting up to the top of the short rise before mounting, but cursed myself mercilessly for this unforgivable bit of stupidity that probably cost me about 20 seconds. Fortunately the handful of folk who passed me as I made a fool of myself proved to be mediocre riders who I had re-passed well before I hit the first climb up Galbraith and started making up serious ground on the guys ahead. I was really surprised by how slowly most of the riders seemed to be taking that hill; I probably passed a dozen before we commenced the fast descent to Lake Samish. I flew down the first straight clear part but was very cautious in the shady twisted section near the bottom where the corners were still slick from the rain of the previous night. The wisdom of this approach was apparent on the return trip up the hill, when I saw several folk tending to a rider who had gone down and was evidently badly hurt. Luis and another young fellow passed me on this downhill stretch, and for most of the rest of the ride until the final climb we leap-frogged one another repeatedly.
The ride around the lake was somewhat frustrating, because I found myself in a small group of strong riders who either did not know or chose to ignore the rules of triathlon. Besides some obvious drafting – not exactly paceline stuff, but barely two bike-lengths apart – what really irritated me was that one guy would move to the center to pass but then keep riding next to the guy on his right instead of making a clean pass. Several times this forced me to ride in their draft as I tried to find a way to get past, and I had to resort to yelling at them to get out of the way. When I did get ahead they sat on my wheel until one of them passed me and the same scenario was set up again. Finally I had to pull right over the centerline and hammer to get ahead and even then they clung to my wheel until we hit the big climb out of the lake where I was finally able to drop the chief offenders.
The familiar climb went well although Luis came by again and I was also passed by a girl who was climbing impressively strongly. I dodged intersecting bike traffic at the turnoff onto Old Samish Way which forms a high-speed bike racetrack into Fairhaven, put my head down and cranked the big gears hard, passing Luis and several others as I rocketed northwards through the sweeping curves and gentle undulations. I made up more ground on the climbing girl as we cranked up the substantial hill at the end of Chuckanut Drive and then passed her in the somewhat chaotic traffic at the turn onto Fairhaven Parkway. A last high-speed dash over the flat terrain to the freeway brought me to the foot of the steepest and most notorious climb of the course, straight up the hill to 36th Street.
There was the welcome beginning of a Tour-de-France atmosphere on that climb, with a small number of locals and supporters cheering on the riders as they ground the granny gears up the testing climb. I am very familiar with the climb and it gave me no trouble, but Luis flew past me on the opening pitch and the climbing girl was not far behind. As I turned onto 36th the traffic volunteer, who had been counting riders, yelled ‘24’ at me. I was pleased to hear that I had clawed my way well into the lead pack, since I had started two minutes behind them, and that spurred me on to work still harder on the easier but relentless gradients that form the rest of the way back to the lake. Luis stayed in sight but out of reach as we labored up Samish Way and made the final sharp right-hand turn back into transition and the timing mats. My aim had been to cover those very hilly 21 miles in under an hour, so I was well pleased with a bike split of just over 58 minutes.
Apart from an uncooperative bike shoe buckle, and having to dig up a running shoe from the pile of stuff my rack neighbor Peter Moe had dumped on my kit in an obvious ploy to delay me and keep me from thrashing him, this transition was smooth and I set off on the run at a healthy pace, urged on by the cheers of friends calling my name. My legs felt fine but it took a while for my breathing to reach a comfortable rhythm. The run is usually a matter of survival for me, but this time I felt good and actually found myself catching up and passing several people while only two or three passed me. I just achieved my goal of making it through the first lap before the winner, Sam Alexander, crossed the line on his second lap; one of my abiding memories of this race in earlier years is the sound of Kelly Molaski’s rapid footsteps approaching me from behind as I am halfway through the first lap and she is heading for the finish, and I really wanted to avoid a repeat performance.
My second lap this time was something of a slalom course since I had to work my way through slower folk in later waves doing their first lap, but it was really helpful to have a succession of targets to aim for and it provided a welcome sense of achievement every time I passed somebody. I was going hard but not busting a gut, though proximity to the finish and the feeling that I still had plenty in the tank did prompt me to push a bit harder to try to catch a few more folk towards the end. My last potential victim just eluded my greedy grasp on my final sprint to the line, but I was delighted anyway because my finish time of 1:50:40 was well under the two hours I had considered a fairly ambitious goal. I was also pleased with my run split of 38:25, just under the 40 minutes I had hoped for, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had won my division by 19 seconds. In fact my analysis of the race splits revealed that this winning margin was largely due to my faster transition times; my competitor was actually a bit faster on both the bike and run.
Watching the novice race was really inspirational. I particularly salute the many folk who can barely swim but nevertheless flung themselves into the lake, eventually floundered their way back to shore, and then set off on that tough ride wearing tennis shoes on their mountain bikes. I was less happy to see the winners of that race riding P3s with Hed-3 wheels; there may have been a good reason for their presence in that particular race but they were certainly not novices and they didn’t seem to deserve the accolades they got.