Pilot Error

I raced at the San Dimas Turkey Tri yesterday, where I personally played the role of turkey.  I misunderstood a turn sign at the end of the first bike course loop, dropped from fourth place in my age group to fifth, and lost out on another chance to qualify for the Age Group National Championships -- by one place. I have a good reason though, I swear.


None other than Chris McCormack participated in the Turkey Tri.  And he rode up right behind me and then rocketed past.  All event racing tactics went out the window.  Like the dog from "Up" who sees a squirrel, I pretty much lost all sense of rational thought and wanted to chase Macca as far as I could handle.  You know, just to see where I stood.

Here's the problem: He was finishing the second loop on the bike course and I was starting my second loop.  Here's the other problem: Macca turned right toward the finisher's chute, which is about 1/3 mile down a road that obscures the transition area.  I followed him until I banked left and saw the finisher's chute and realized what I had done.  All I could exclaim was "Shit!" in front of rows of fans cheering for Macca as he dashed into T2.  I knew the race was over for me in that moment -- and ultimately it was.

I should have known sooner that I had made a wrong turn because I was the only person behind Macca.

This is the only time in my life I'll be able to write that in a race.  So even if I screwed up, I'll savor it just for a moment.

Until I remember that finishing fifth out of 39 guys instead of fourth kept me from my goal of racing in Vermont next August at the USAT National Championships.  I can't believe I did that, except I can.  Moreover, I still made a few "rookie" mistakes that hopefully others can avoid in the future.  Including:

-- ALWAYS drive the course before a race.  This is something I typically always do, except for this race.  Because of the 1 hour drive and the Thanksgiving weekend, I didn't want to go to the race site the day prior to scope things out.  I paid the price.


-- Keep practicing bi-lateral breathing when swimming. I've pretty much abandoned turning my head to the left when breathing in the water.  This is fine when the buoys for a race are on the right side and you can see them.  But when they're on your left and there aren't many to spot, you can spend way more time than necessary looking up out of the water to see where you should be heading.  My race pace (in my spanking new Rocket Science Carbon 2011 wetsuit!) was 1:46 but should have been closer to 1:42 were it not for frequent peek breaks.

-- Never take a race for granted. The premise of the San Dimas Turkey Tri is to give seasoned tri-vets and novices a chance to burn some holiday calories off in a festive way.  There are fun gimmicks like pumpkin pie for every finisher along with a medal that doubles as a bottle opener.  So the race course should be flat and fast, right?  Accessible at the very least.  Well, not exactly.  The San Dimas Bonelli Park bike course features rolling hills, sharp corners, rough pavement, and an annoying little headwind.  The run course, while scenic, is hilly -- especially at the beginning.  Throughout the bike ride (when I wasn't making wrong turns) and run, I kept thinking, "Damn, this course ain't what I expected!"  That's really not something you want to be thinking on race day and is totally avoidable (see mistake #1 above).

Despite this miscues, I am grateful for my finish and the race.  I did some things right too, such as a 1:58 T1 (2nd fastest in age group) and 1:05 T2 (third fastest in age group).  I also lived my own advice too from my last blog and smiled more during the race -- even pausing to high-five Steph in the finisher's chute before crossing the line.  Heck, I high-fived Macca as he approached the run finish and I was beginning my 4.5 mile jaunt.  Speaking of my run, despite the unexpectedly hilly course, I was pleased with my 7:18 pace.  I think I can drop down into the high 6:40s on a flatter course.  That's my goal for this weekend's HITS Triathlon Series race in Palm Springs.

My other goal is not to self destruct due to pilot error.  I've had enough of that by now.