Chasing Abu

© Luke McKenzie 2011

Abu Dhabi International Triathlon
3km-S / 200km-B / 20km-R
Abu Dhabi, UAE
12 Mar 2011
This post is an homage to a classic 90’s film, “Chasing Amy.” The IMDB entry for it sums it nicely, “Holden and Banky are comic book artists. Everything’s going good for them until they meet Alyssa, also a comic book artist. Holden falls for her, but his hopes are crushed when he finds out she’s a lesbian.” As you might imagine, romantically pursuing someone who prefers members of the opposite sex is rather futile. Likewise, trying to catch up after putting yourself down five minutes on the best field outside of Kona within the first 40ish minutes of the race is equally hopeless. If you combine really strong winds, the typically randomness of early season fitness, a very long and hotly contested bike ride, and temperatures in the high 90s, you might get lucky enough to get the equivalent of a phone number on a napkin. In my case, that worked out to 11th, otherwise known as Simon Whitfield’s “two first places,” which Hamish Carter correctly identified as “loser math.”
So, knowing where I ended up – the first spot to not get paid and some 10 minutes behind the winner – you might wonder how I got there. The short answer is, I don’t know. I mean, I know in the play-by-play, box-score type meaning of the question, but what I don’t know is the rather existentialist sense of the question. I swam poorly. Really poorly. I was over three minutes slower than last year, when I was in the meat of the second pack, and well back of guys like that I regularly swim in close proximity to even as recently as in Arizona last year. And since then, my swimming has only improved. But on the day, Jill said she could see my turnover wasn’t crisp. And I just got gapped easily and early. And from there, I did my best to minimize the damage, which was a bit like putting a bandaid on a bullet hole. I had some good talks with Coach K afterwards, but ultimately, it may just be a mystery. Some days, things don’t go 100%, and as much as you can make educated (or even not so educated) guesses about what went wrong, the reality is that we’ll never know for certain. I do know what we’re going to try to correct it, especially since this swim is the closest approximation of the swim in Kona (except it’s a beach start, which I’m not quite as good at as deep water) and that making this sort of mistake is simply unacceptable in big races these days.
As much as I might have wished for it to simply have been an overall off day that I could have chalked up to some greater illness/mystery/etc., it wasn’t. Once I got rolling out on the bike, I felt great. I was, in retrospect, even a bit conservative, but knowing how these races go, I knew there was no way I could quickly close a 5min+ gap with a big effort, so I decided that I’d be as patient as possible and see how close I could get. If the leaders fell apart, then a surge in the last 40km would be a much better investment than in the first 40km. However, I ended up closing some time, but not nearly enough, and it ended up being an extremely even paced ride, simply because a surge was never going to pay any sort of real dividends. Surges are good for breaking the elastic, but when there is no elastic to break, the risk/reward is pretty poor. If I had it to do over again, I think my fitness was better than I gave myself credit for, and I think I could have managed to ride quite a bit stronger over the entire ride, which might have put me at the back end of the leaders by T2 instead of 3min off the back of the trailing folks by T2.
On the run, I again think I was a bit conservative, but it’s also easy to feel that way when it’s 60F and sitting on the couch typing instead of running in 98F on tired legs. I did my best to be very even, since the gaps to put myself even close to the meat of the race were large. When you are 3min behind Craig Alexander, it’s hard to feel like a really good run is going to close much time. He’s the best runner in the sport. Even just holding the gap (he had the fastest run) would have been great, but he was too far ahead to even key off of. I had to rely, unfortunately, on the hope that other guys would blow to pieces. Many, many of them did. But just enough held on to keep me from even a modest paycheck for this race, something which always irks me. It’s hard to feel very professional if you don’t get paid.
Disappointingly, it was a great training day. This was only a problem because it was the biggest race on my calendar, and the second biggest race in the world for long course triathletes. However, I think it gave me some good lessons and some good direction about some thoughts I had been having with regards to my swimming. I was swimming fast, but perhaps not “strong.” I’m sure that’ll make perfect sense to the triathletes out there, and maybe not very much to those who are not. It also gave me some really good confidence on the bike, and reasonable confidence on the run. It was probably my best bike ride in a very long time, which was great because it was really entirely solo, and yet I rode strong enough that if Abu Dhabi had more hills than two small overpasses, I think it could have been a very different race. When it’s flat and windy, being 155lbs is not in your favor. This race is about watts, not watts:kilos. And the run was another reinforcement that I’m actually now a good runner. Not yet a great runner, but a good runner, something which for a long time, I wasn’t. So it’s nice to know I don’t have to win races on the bike. Now just to make sure I don’t lose them on the swim.
So some good lessons learned. Lessons which I’d rather have learned in a race where first place was $5,000 instead of $50,000, but sometimes (often, really) that’s the way things are. It’s the big races where you really get the chance to learn something about your racing. At the smaller races, mistakes are not exposed quite so dramatically.
Thanks to everyone out there who cheered. And congratulations to all finishers. I’ll be back. Both in the literal sense of ADIT 2012, and also the more figurative sense of not swimming like a manatee in the next race.

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