Columbia Maryland is a beautiful place. I now know first hand as I finally made my way there for the 2012, and 29th edition of the Columbia Triathlon. Anyone who has followed the sport of triathlon, or been around it long enough knows about Columbia. The biggest reason, because it is hard! I mean silly hard. Which as it turns out is exactly how I like my courses.
I actually ended up at Columbia sort of by accident this year as I had been planning to go to Memphis in May and then on to DC later in the year on my quest to qualify for HyVee. However, when WTC cancelled DC they replaced it with Columbia and allotted more points to it than to MIM. This was a hard decision for me as I love MIM, my awesome home stay there, and the great time trial start. When it came down to it though, I had to do what was best for my qualifying and that meant headed up to Maryland instead for the bigger points race. The only issue was more points means a better field and this years Columbia field was stacked with good guys. Even Robert the race director commented that it was the best field his race had ever seen.
Race morning began normal enough, not much sleep the night before and a ridiculously early alarm at 4am. As I have said before these early races are the only reason I still wake up to swim at 5am once a week. My body just knows whats going on and knows how to go hard early in the day. After a quick hot shower and the standard oatmeal and First Endurance EFS breakfast I packed up the car and rolled over to the race site. I had an awesome home stay that was only a few minutes from the race and after parking the car headed out on the bike for a quick lil shake out of the legs. Post ride I got settled into transition and headed out for a jog. This race is notorious for rain and clouds but race day was supposed to be high 70’s and sunny, perfect racing weather.
After some final adjustments to my stuff in transition it was off to the swim start for a warm up before the gun. Luckily my friend Diaa, who happens to be the brother of one of my training mates Omar had come up to the race. I don’t know why but for some reason about half the time I forget to take off my wedding ring in transition and I end up scrambling to find someone I know to hold it for me during the race. Diaa also has a track record of only coming to races that I win, so I was happy to see him and got a lil extra pep in my step as I headed to the water.
Training since Knoxville had been going really well and I felt super strong on the bike and in the water the day before the race, and was feeling really confident waiting for the gun to go off. I love the saying “toeing the line,” but in actuality swimmers are more suited for in water starts and as the gun shot, I took off with a couple quick strokes an a wave of a kick. The odd thing about this swim was that due to the angle of the sun no one could really see where we were going, so instead of the normal free for all sprint it was a bit more leisurely of a start as no one really wanted to lead. About half way to the first buoy I jumped on the feet of a couple of the ITU boys that were there and we set off at a pretty good clip. Then once we rounded the first two turns and headed away from the sun we were able to open up a bit of a gap over the rest of the field. I was third out of the water and after a mediocre transition still 3rd as we jumped on the bikes.
Quickly though I was able to get my feet int the shoes and settle into a good rhythm as we headed up the first of many climbs. Now before I go on, people always ask me what my favorite type of course is on the bike, and I always have to think really hard. I train on lots of hills and hard climbs but we also ride flats, and I have been fortunate enough to win races on both types of courses. However, from now on it is going to be an easy answer, and that is I like my courses hard. I mean stupid, silly, up and down, sharp turns, fast descents, crazy hard. Which conveniently enough is exactly what Columbia gives you. The roads are in great condition and for the most part it is just a two lane country road, but this things gives you every possible type of terrain, with the exception of flat. There just isn’t much of that around. Anyway, back to the race.
I caught James and took over the lead about mile 4 on the bike and from there on absolutely flogged myself. With guys like Yoder and Collins in the field I knew the riding would be good, but when you have the opportunity to literally disappear down the road you have to take it so I tried to do as much damage as I could before they realized where I was. The plan worked and although I never saw them I knew I was riding well and hard, and was doing some damage. I was climbing like a banchee and harnessing my best Apex Coaching mojo on the descents. It is a bit of a joke about how poorly I am at descending compared to the pro cyclists I train with, so the whole race I just tried to think WWARCD, what would a real cyclist do. Post race I saw that I had hit 45 mph on a descent and I have to say I was pretty pleased with myself.
Coming into T2 I had no idea what kind of gap I had been able to establish but in the end it really didn’t matter, I had to run, and run well if I was going to stay out of reach of all the ITU runners trying to chase me down. I tried to stay calm coming out of transition, establish a good cadence and body position, and let the legs carry me, especially on the downhills. I would say I am good at going up, but like my cycling sometimes I struggle a bit going down. The one thing no one ever mentions about Columbia is the run, and how as hard as the ride is, the run is harder. There are some huge wall like climbs and some screaming descents on the run that challenge everything you have. The ONLY problem with being in the lead is you rarely know where the rest of the field is. No one is giving you gap splits and if you can’t see them you don’t know. I call it running scared, not that I am actually scared but more like “run like someone is chasing ya.”
With a half mile to go, and the finish in site I took a look over my shoulder and realized that I had done it. I had not only ridden full gas but run well enough to not get caught. As I neared the finish someone shouted that I had the record so I didn’t slow up on my way down the chute and finished as the second ever person under an hour and fifty minutes, and under Yoder’s record from last year.
My first ever course record! That alone is awesome, but considering it is a race that has been around for 29 years and been won by the likes of DeBoom, Lieto, Reed, and Tinley, I definitely take great pride in being the fastest ever on that course. I was feeling good going into the race and after dominating the field by 2 plus minutes it was a great confidence booster and a sign that my training plan is working well.
Now I have a few more days before heading to Austin, TX this weekend for CapTex on Memorial Day and that last of 4 races in 5 weeks. I think the body has one more good one in it in this stretch, and if nothing else the boys are gonna have to ride hard if they want a shot at the title!