This past weekend, I was lucky to race at one of my favorite events, the Musselman Half-Iron, on lovely Seneca Lake. It’s the unofficial 70.3-mile championship of upstate NY, and it did not disappoint. It was my 4th time at the race, and in my previous 3 attempts, I’ve finished 5th (2009), 1st (2013), and 6th (2015).
Going in, I knew we had a strong field lined up, as the last 3 men’s champions were there (myself, Matt Curbeau, and Matt Migonis), and it’d likely take a course record to win the day.
After spending the weekend in the Hobart & William Smith dorm rooms (yes, you can rent dorm rooms for the weekend… it’s super convenient), and watching Lisa race the MiniMussel Sprint Tri on Saturday, I rolled to the race course on Sunday in a very calm mindset, ready to empty the tank. I’m at a point in my career where I’m done caring about what other people do. I just want to go out there, and find the best in myself.
The water temp was 73 deg F, which was perfect for my sleeveless blueSeventy Helix. With sleeveless, you get 99.5% of the speed benefits of a full-sleeve wetsuit, but you don’t overheat. I would have boiled like a lobster in that water if I was wearing a full-sleeve, and likely would have gone slower. I have a ton of confidence in my swimming right now, so I attacked hard. Matt Curbeau and Matt Migonis hung on my feet through the first 500 meters, but I was finally able to shake them with a “secondary surge”, and came out of the water about 30 seconds ahead of Migonis, and 60 seconds ahead of Curbeau. Unfortunately, my T1 was a bit slow, and I gave back about 15 seconds of that advantage to each of them…
Once out on the road, I locked into my goal power (310-320 watts), and was riding well. Both Matts caught up to me by mile 10, and we rode well together in a very loose paceline (spacing was about 30 meters). The leader out of T1 was professional open water swimmer (Shawn Parkhurst) who had a large gap on us out of the water, but we were confident that we could track him down on the road. Our group finally overtook him at about mile 15, and kept chugging along.
At roughly mile 20 is where I made my critical error. There’s a descent down to Cayuga Lake. Both of the Matts kept pushing hard on the descent, but I used it as a chance to stretch out my legs, and catch up on food. Before I knew it, they were out of sight, and I was alone in no-man’s land. I consistently ride descents too casually, and it costs me dearly every single time. I need to learn my lesson, and get more aggressive about descending.
Unfortunately, without a carrot in front of me to keep me focused, I reverted to my “default raceday mode”, i.e., “riding it like an Ironman”, and dropped down to 270-280 watts. This was tempting, of course, because it felt nice & easy, but it also ended up costing me the race…
It’s not the end of the world, or anything. It’s just that I expect more from myself. Everything about my training says that holding 310-320 watts for a half-iron should be manageable, as I’ve done long tempo workouts at much higher power. But time and again this season, I’ve taken “the easy way out”, and reverted to “Ironman power” (270-280 watts) about 45 minutes into the bike. The rest of the bike was fairly uneventful, as I was just doodling along, putting in effort, but not racing to my potential. And that’s what bugs me most: Not necessarily that I let the two Matts get away, but that I would have stayed with them if I had just executed my race plan, and extracted as much out of my legs as they were truly capable of giving. Strava file here: https://www.strava.com/activities/636860521
I came into T2 about 7-8 minutes behind the Matts, and 7-8 minutes ahead of 4th place. I was 100% solo for the entire run. Didn’t see anyone in front of me, or behind me, a single time. That’s a race day first for me, haha! Given that there was no “extrinsic motivation” from other athletes, I just reverted to running by HR, and paced it like a tempo run. Any time I felt like backing off, I just reminded myself that even though I wasn’t going to win, this was still a great opportunity to help me get ready for Vineman, on July 30. Strava file here: https://www.strava.com/activities/636862847 (it’s short because of 2 reasons: 1) my watch took a while to sync up with satellites, and 2) they cut about 0.1 miles from the run course, due to construction).
I finished up at 4:16:02. The winning time (4:04:47), was indeed was a course record for Matt Curbeau. And while it certainly would have been fun to win, as I said before, racing now is more about just me being my best. I had a “Good Day”, but both of the Matts had “Great Days”. Hats off to both of them. They’re great athletes, and executed better on the bike than I did. If neither of them had shown up, and I won the race by 15 minutes, would that have changed the quality of my performance? No, of course not. Just because they had great days, doesn’t change whether I did well or not. And even though I’m disappointed with a couple of choices I made on the bike, I do have to be somewhat pleased with the fact that I went 4 minutes faster than I’ve ever gone on this course.
As with every race, there are positives, and there are negatives. You buoy yourself with the positives, and learn from the negatives… My goal is to have a race that is 100% “positives”… Maybe one day, right?
Until next time…