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The difference a swimsuit can make plus local races

If you wondered how much a difference a swimsuit can make, you only need to look at the case of Paul Biedermann.

Never heard of him? Neither had anyone else really until the German swimmer beat out Michael Phelps in the 200 meters at the World Championships in Rome last week.

Biedermann was wearing one of the new 100 percent polyurethane Arena suits while Phelps stuck with the last year's LZR Racer by Speedo.

Phelps' suit caused all the ruckus at the Olympics last year. Ever since, other swimsuit manufacturers have worked to improve upon that Speed technology. And FINA, the governing body of international swimming, approved the new suits which, to the ears of a novice, sound more like a wet suit than a swimsuit.

World records are falling and the sport is facing a serious image problem. Did you watch the United States National Championships at all on NBC earlier this month? During one of the races, a swimmer was going for a world record and fell short.

There was a loud, distinctive, disappointed "Aww" from the crowd.

Fans may be starting to want to see only world records, not just good races.

And there is more than just world records at stake but the fairness in the sport. As the guys at the Science of Sport blog explain, there is a problem with the distribution of the new technology. Swimmers are tied to endorsement deals with swimsuit companies. It really is the only way they make money. This is vastly different than say, cycling, where sponsorship opportunities range from helmets, jerseys, bikes to nutrition.

Technology affects sports across the board from equipment issues to the actual game (consider the advent of instant replay or the addition of media timeouts).

But reeling in the technology for swimming, or making it more accessible to all swimmers is something that needs to happen. Or else world records will be meaningless and only those from "rich" countries will be able to compete at an elite level.

Local races

Looking ahead at August, there are several area triathlons with opportunities to race, volunteer or just try out the sport.

This Saturday is the Wilson Wet & Wild Triathlon which features a sprint distance tri with a 600 meter swim, 20 mile bike and 4-mile trail run. For non-swimmers, there also is a duathlon. The event also features the Master Guru Kid's Tri for children ages 3-12. That includes a 60-meter beach entrance swim, a 1.5-mile bike ride through Tuscarora State Park and a half-mile run on grass through the park.

Next Saturday, Aug. 8, is the Riverside Federal Credit Union Summer Sizzler at Beaver Island State Park. This event is popular with first-time triathletes with a 400-meter swim that is mostly shallow, a 17K bike and a 3K run. This race also features the areas only Formula 1 race where competitors do the course twice. A duathlon with a 3K run, 17K bike and 3K run also is available as is a Kid's Tri with a 25 meter swim, 3K bike and 1K run.

And speaking of kids and triathlon, the Buffalo Triathlon Club will host a free youth triathlon clinic on Aug. 23 at the soon-to-be-opened Tri Spot Multi-Sports store on Transit Road in Williamsville. The clinic, for kids ages 8-15, will be held from 8 a.m. to noon with instruction in swimming, biking, running and transition. Athletes must have their own bike and helmet and should also bring a swimsuit and sneakers. Lunch follows at no charge. Parents can register online at at

Finally, for those who like to go off-road, the Xterra race will be held Sunday, Aug. 16 at Holiday Valley. The Xterra Distance race has a 1500 meter swim, 17 mile mountain bike ride and 5-mile trail run while the Sport Distance has a 750 meter swim, 10 mile mountain bike and 2 mile trail run. There also is a duathlon and a 1-mile kids race.

Lessons from Lake Placid

The run course at Ironman Lake Placid has two hills at the end of the loop.

It's a cruel joke for runners in general and at the end of a 12 or 16 hour day of triathlon competition, it can be just plain mean.

And it's one of the best spots to watch and learn what the Ironman is all about.

A group from the Buffalo Triathlon Club set up their cheering shop there for most of Sunday evening. It's known in local circles as "Rich Clark Hill." Clark, who is part of the race management team Score-This!!! and from Niagara Falls, has been known to sit there with a megaphone on race day. This year, other commitments kept him from coming.

But the enthusiasm even without the megaphones was still there.

Throughout the course of the evening some people ran well up the hill and made the turn to the final hill before reaching the Olympic Oval and the finish line.

Others shuffled up.

Others walked.

Some walked then started to run as the reached the top.

With the athletes' names printed on their bib numbers, spectators could yell out their names and offer encouragement.

And while the group is there to help encourage the runners, it is impossible to not feel touched as a spectator.

The athletes came in all shapes and sizes. People who looked extremely fit and athletic were struggling at the end of a long day. People who were carrying a few extra pounds were making excellent time. And people whom if you saw on the street you would never equate with the word "Ironman" were getting through and enjoying the endurance race, one step at a time.

The athletes themselves were appreciative of the support of the crowd. Many of them started running to the finish at that point. Many waved, gave a thumbs-up or actually cheered the crowd.

Friends and family members would come over to the group and ask to cheer for specific person.

For that time, they felt like rock stars.

It's one of the lessons of Lake Placid: Never underestimate the power of a kind word to a stranger ... or a friend.

There are other lessons along the way from a day of spectating.

It began with the swim where the gentleman to miss the swim cutoff was a native of Lake Placid. He completed the Ironman the year before but suffered a stroke this year. He still wanted to do the Ironman swim, despite the fact he has very limited use of his right arm.

The lesson: Success and failure are how we choose to define them.

Other lessons:

You can never say "good job," "nice ride," and "stay strong" too much or to too many people.

The phrase "you're almost there," is never appropriate in any race of any kind unless the finish line is less than a mile away.

When in doubt, cheer for the club name on the jersey because we're all a part of something bigger.

There is nothing wrong with having your eyes well up with emotion when watching people come out of the swim.

It never hurts to pack a folding chair and extra snacks.

There is an athlete in all of us. It just depends how we choose to treat her.

So you want to be an Ironman

LAKE PLACID -- The line began around 5 a.m. That's when people started standing outside the local high school in order to plunk down over $500 for the right to be part of Ironman Lake Placid 2010.

The Ironman race is a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2 mile run. The Lake Placid course is known for a relatively calm water swim but a hilly bike and run that makes for a long and difficult day.

Yet the race slots will likely sell out on site in a few hours.

If you think you want try your hand at Ironman, there are a few things you should know.

"A bad reason to sign up for Ironman would be to try and be competitive against someone else," said triathlon coach Doug Bush based in Ellicottville. "It's not like racing a 5K or a 10K or a half marathon where you can push yourself. You're out there for an extended period of time and really just racing against yourself. Another bad reason would be to have a specific time goal. You have no idea what the race is going to throw at you."

"The bad reasons are pretty common -- to lose weight or to spite people," said tri coach Mary Eggers. "The good reasons are to see what you're made of. "

"It's a lifestyle sport and as long as you take the proper amount of recovery and don't overtrain, it's really a healthy lifestyle," Bush said.

And a note about Laurie from yesterday's blog. Her day ended early as she missed the cutoff time for the first bike loop by just a few minutes.

But she has already signed up for next year to take care of unfinished business.

The journey to the Ironman start line

LAKE PLACID -- It's Ironman morning and by 4:30 a.m. athletes and spectators were already milling about the village and the Olympic Oval.

Transition opened at 5 a.m. with body marking and special needs bags (food and clothes that the athletes pack themselves to be given out at different points of the bike and run).

It's already an electric atmosphere.

Every athlete have a story to tell, a journey that brought them here. For Laurie Kennedy, today is as much about getting to the start line as it is about trying to get through to the finish.

Laurie, whom I met last year through the Buffalo Triathlon Club, began doing tris last summer. She started with a series of sprints then came to Lake Placid last July to watch the Ironman.

She was taken with the atmosphere, with the sense of accomplishment, with the struggling for a goal, so on Monday morning, she signed up.

Her training was going really well until one day in mid-April. Laurie had just finished a 70-mile bike ride and was a mile from where she parked when she was hit by a car backing out of a driveway.

Nothing was broken, but she suffered numerous injuries including severe disc damage in her neck, a torn tendon and a concussion.

She lost nearly three months of training and was ready to pull out of the Ironman.

But something kept drawing Laurie back to the idea of racing.

And she decided to give it a go.

She registered for next year, because she will have unfinished business. Still trying to regain some of her fitness and after losing nearly three months of training, Laurie is content with seeing exactly what she can do today. Finishing is still the goal, but the setbacks she suffered over the last few months mean that a DNF is something she's made peace with. Which is why she registered for next year's race -- for another shot at a complete year of training and preparation.

The fact that Laurie is at the start line is inspirational. She was hit by a car just three months ago and yet, she wants to give a grueling day a try. She wants to see what she can do, not only physically but mentally and emotionally.

So many would rather just pack it in.

The triumph is getting to the start line.

And those who get there, regardless of what the day brings, already have something to celebrate.

Check back here for updates during the day and check out the live Twitter feed for continuous updates and photos at

Ironman tips from the pros

LAKE PLACID -- Among the 2,200 or so competitors for Sunday's Ironman Lake Placid are a smattering of professionals. There are 17 pro women and 24 pro men entered in the 11th IMLP.

Friday, several participated in a panel and press conference discussing their sport, their stories and their game plans.

For example, Petr Vanbrousek races around 14 Ironman events a year and places in the top 10 in many of them.

What's the key to his consistency and longevity?

"I never studied it, it's just a mix of things," he said. "Part of it is mental. When I put my bike away I forget about tri. There's the physical side of good genetics and I was a rower for 11 years and keep up with weightlifting so none of the races break me down. Plus I don't like training."

That garnered some laughs but it's true. When someone in the audience asked about how the pros plan their three-week taper, Vanbrousek responded this way:

"Weekend one, I do an Ironman. The second weekend, a half-Ironman. The third weekend an Ironman."

He was only partially kidding.

What about the weather and nutrition?

For Kim Loeffler the weather will dictate what she consumes.

"When it's colder, you're shivering and burning more calories because of that," Loeffler said. "So when it's colder, I eat more solids. When it's hot, I do more sports drinks and gels. When you're sweating it's hard to absorb solids. I have two plans for race day and pay attention to my body."

And she decided not to listen to the weather forecast anymore but to be prepared for anything with the gear in her special needs bag, which all athletes get at certain points on the bike and run course.

"Last year I made the mistake of listening to the weatherman," she said. "And the weatherman said it was going to be in the upper 70s with the chance of a shower or two. I learned my lesson."

Last year, temperatures for the race were cool and a cold, heavy rain fell the entire day.

"I'll have arm warmers and a vest in my special needs bag," Loeffler said. "Everybody handles cold differently but at least it's there. And you can always toss it away at an aid station if you need. Better to be safe than sorry."

Follow updates throughout the day as Journey to the Finish Line takes to Twitter at

There's something about Lake Placid

LAKE PLACID -- People who come to Ironman Lake Placid speak about the energy.

On Friday, it was already noticeable.

Cyclists and runners were all over the village and surrounding area taking in the Ironman course. Some will be racing on Sunday and were out for a low-key workout. Others were in town as support crew members or mere visitors, out to experience part of the course before the area shuts down for Ironman weekend.

Around 2,000 participants will descend on the tiny village this weekend, along with their family and friends.

The "M-dot" logo of the trademarked "Ironman" is everywhere in this town. And if you're not in town for the Ironman, then you definitely have no idea what hit you.

The Olympic Oval -- used as the outdoor speed skating rink for the 1932 and 1980 Olympics adjacent to the hockey complex -- is Ironman village, where athletes register for the race and vendor ply their wares in the annual race expo. On Sunday, it will turn into one massive transition area and host the finish line. On Monday, it will become the spot where future dreams begin as hundreds of people will line up for the right to sign up for the 2010 race.

Check back here for more blog posts throughout the weekend and follow the event on my Twitter page, including updates and photos from the festivities.

Swimming for a cause with Carly's Crossing

The water was calm, the sun was out and everyone had wished they could jump into the water for a bit of a swim.

Yesterday was the official kick off press conference for Carly's Crossing. The event is celebrating its seventh year as an open water swim fundraiser for Carly's Club which benefits pediatric cancer patients and research at Roswell Park.

This year's event will be held on Sunday, Aug. 16 at Gallagher Beach, near the NFTA Small Boat Harbor on Fuhrmann Boulevard.

On hand to introduce this year's swim were Jeannine and Sean McNamara. Jeannine is swimming for the second straight year in honor of her younger brother, Sean, who is entering his second year of remission after being diagnosed with cancer at age 13.

"Two years ago, my brother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Carly's Club was just great in helping us meet other families who were going through the same thing," Jeannine said. "He's been in remission for two years and I wanted to give back to people who helped us so much. Last year was my first time swimming Carly's Crossing and I back this year."

Sean celebrated the second anniversary of his remission last week.

"The event is so inspirational to the families and the patients," said Joe Zwierzchowski, founder of Carly's Crossing. "It really means so much to everyone."

There are three different events on Aug. 16 for two different open water distances. There morning kicks off with a timed 1-mile swim (for those who are a bit competitive), followed by the "non-competitive" 1-mile swim and then a 600-yard non-competitive swim. Swimmers in the "non-competitive" events swim in groups of four, are accompanied by a kayak and can proceed at their own pace.

Frankly, if you can swim you can do this event.

"I don't hesitate to say this is the safest open water swim you can do," Zwierzchowski said.

The water features around 50 kayaks plus lifeguards on surfboards plus underwater divers and support from the Buffalo Police Department and Erie County Sheriffs Department. And if a swimmer gets tired, a kayak will help bring the swimmer to shore -- there is no pressure to finish the course.

"If you were a swimmer but haven't been in the water in a few years, get in the pool a few times and sign up to join us," Zwierzchowski said.

From personal experience, this is a fantastic event for open water swimming. Fully supported and swimming with friends, the 1-mile non-competitive swim was actually enjoyable for me at last year's Carly's Crossing. It was my first try at the event and at the time the longest distance I ever went in the water. Upon a successful finish, my confidence in swimming and in open water got a huge boost.

There are times when a great training day and a great fundraising cause coincide. It rarely happens with open water -- and it's an opportunity too good to pass up.

To sign up for the event or to donate to a registered swimmer visit

On another note, the Journey to the Finish Line blog is en route to Lake Placid to take in the craziness that is Ironman weekend. Follow updates here and on Twitter.

Who will Lance inspire?

The bad news for fans of Lance Armstrong is that his chances of winning this year's Tour de France are pretty slim. 

The young Spanish rider, Alberto Contador, has the overall lead and clearly is the strongest rider in the race. On the brutal climbs in the Alps Contador accelerated. He actually had a kick and went faster while everyone else was trying to hold tempo (and for the record, average cyclists like myself would be desperately trying not to roll backwards while on a mountain like that, assuming, that is, I could even get on my pedals to begin with). And Armstrong has said as much -- that Contador is the strongest rider in the field and his teammate and he will support him through to Paris.

Ah, but the good news for Lance Armstrong fans.

He's not finished just yet.

Armstrong told reporters on Tuesday that he was 100 percent sure he would return to the 2010 Tour.

And, as noted on his Twitter page, Armstrong also said that a big announcement would be coming on Thursday involving the announcement of a new American partner for next year's team.

If watching Contador doesn't inspire you during the final week of the Tour, Armstrong certainly does.

Which leaves me wondering: Who exactly is being inspired by Armstrong?

The other day, my mom called with a few Tour de France questions one of which was: "Do any women ride in the Tour?"

It's a question I wondered, too.

From what I can tell through online searches, there is no official "rule" that prohibits women from being a Tour de France rider. 

Then again, there is no such rule that bans women from playing in the NBA, NFL or NHL. We just haven't seen it happen.

There is women's professional cycling and many of the big name teams also have a women's version. And while they don't ride in a three-week long test of endurance, the women do have their own "Tour de France" of sorts, called the "Grande Boucle Feminine." British rider Emma Pooley won this year's race back in June.

But I can't help but wonder if some talented young girl is watching Lance Armstrong and the increased coverage and interest in cycling in the United States and is inspired to ride the Tour de France some day.

Yes, I know that there are arguments as to why women will never ride the Tour de France with the men and I concede that many of them make sense.

But that doesn't mean there isn't an exception out there. That somewhere, a little girl is inspired and talented and gifted and hard-working and will have preparation meet opportunity in order to ride the race one day with the boys.

I'm not saying she'll win anything at all. But she would finish the race which, if you're not privy to the cycling world, is no small feat.

And perhaps while the story of a woman who is strong enough to attempt that barrier will be classified as a news "oddity" it may just help spawn more sponsorship and opportunity for women's cycling.

Because when you put your story out there, you never know what you may inspire.

Race report: Musselman Aquabike

GENEVA -- After I came out of Saturday's pre-race meeting my mother asked me a question.

"You're not doing a half Ironman tomorrow are you?"

Trademark infringement aside, I told her I was doing what's called the '"Aquabike" where I will do the same swim and bike course just not the run.

"But you're not doing a half Ironman, right?"

Yes, at times the sport can get confusing. In fact, after the race, there were a few other Aquabikers in my transition area and we chatted and congratulated each other.

"Did you find that when you tell people what you're doing they say, 'What?'," one woman asked.

Indeed. But we discovered that we both were using the event for the same reason -- as training for a September half Ironman.

And while there is work to do in the next two months, I'm in a better position than I thought.

My first worry: The swim.

In sprint and intermediate distance races there are no cutoff times but in half Iron and Iron distance races you have a certain amount of time to finish each leg of the triathlon. I noticed that most half Iron (70.3) distance races tend to have the swim cutoff time calculated from the time of the last wave start. In other words, if you're in the first or second group of people to start the swim you get extra time to finish. Not exactly fair but better than a mass start.

The cutoff for Muskoka is an hour and 10 minutes after the final wave goes off. So my goal was to swim the 1.2 miles in under an hour.

I was in the third swim wave, which began at 7:08. The cutoff for Musselman was 8:40. That offered me relief from the start. I knew I could make the cutoff.

That doesn't mean there weren't nerves bouncing around before the start. Chatting with some of the other women in my wave came the discovery that no matter how good a swimmer you are, or how good a triathlete you are, there are nerves before the start. If not, we decided, then something's a bit off. 

Another women commented on the big orange buoys which mark the swim course and how the mere sight of them raises her heart rate.

"I came here to watch my boyfriend do the mini-Mussel yesterday," she said. "I wasn't even racing and I saw the buoys and my heart rate jumped. If you had big orange buoys at an amusement park you could pick out all the triathletes -- they're the ones who would have a look of terror on their face."

Humor. It's the best way to start a race. I'm convinced.

We waded in a few feet of water and when the horn went off others took off swimming. I was one of the ones who walked a bit. It helped keep me calm. Then, deep breath, put my head down and .... just ... start ... swimming.

On the move between the first and second buoy I spotted a kayak coming over to me. I stopped.

"You need to go that way," she said.

I had been drifting to my left and apparently sighting the wrong buoy. But I wasn't that far off course. And, frankly, that made me laugh a bit, too. Head back down. Keep swimming.

At the second buoy the course turned to the left to cross the lake and head over the channel that would take us through to the boat launch and the end of the swim course. At this buoy I noticed a lot of people with their heads up. I then saw people waving their arms and yelling "help" trying to get the attention of a canoe or jet ski. A woman was floating on her back and others were helping her stay up. She was in trouble.

I stopped for a moment to lend my voice to the "help" chorus. A kayak started paddling over to offer assistance and I continued swimming.

The lake had a steady stream of rolling current. Not quite waves but not flat either. I played with the current and the waves. I counted to five and would look up to sight. Sometimes I varied my count -- three, nine, 10. Other times I found myself singing the Our Lady Peace tune "All You Did Was Save My Life." It wasn't apropos of anything but it was good tune. And frankly, it's still stuck in my head.

A few times I got clobbered by swimmers in other waves. I just kept going. Only once did I really need to stop, when some guy came up behind me and used both his hands to push my feet down. Um, what the heck was that?

For for the first time on the swim I experienced anger.

But at this point, I was on the final 750 meters -- the same part of the course I swam the day before.

I knew I was going to do it. And I still saw enough people in the water to know I was in no danger of missing the cutoff.

I kicked up my swim in the final 100 meters, climbed out of the boat launch and looked at my watch: 56 minutes.


On to the bike where I could basically do whatever I wanted. With no run afterward, there was nothing I needed to conserve. This was completely a workout and practice.

I mounted the bike and took a gel on the way out of the park, washing it down with some water. Unfortunately I forgot to rest my bike computer, so my average speed and total miles were useless numbers to me. The course had markings every 10 miles and aid stations also about every 10 miles. I paced myself off that.

The first hour and 10 minutes were solid as I cranked through the first 20 miles. I ate an entire Clif Bar, drank some of my sports drink and some of my water. But later in the ride I started to get a stitch on my right side and while I wasn't in gastrointestinal distress I had a bit of an uncomfortable feeling in my belly. My initial thought is that I ate too much too soon.

At Mile 30 I practiced a water exchange, tossing away my water-only bottle and grabbing a sports bottle of water from the aid station workers. (Note: There are time penalties and disqualifications in triathlon, one of them for littering, however you are allowed to toss items at an aid station where the volunteers will clean up.)

Shortly after that was the "big descent" which was discussed in the pre-race meeting. Take it a bit slow because at the bottom of the hill is a sharp right hand turn. Over shoot it and you literally will end up in the lake.

My friend and fellow Buffalo Triathlon Club member Nick (who took second in his age group at the mini-mussel race) was volunteering at this corner. With flair he used the flag to turn riders to the right and offered encouragement as I flew by.

I was feeling good.

Then. Well, that next 10 miles seemed to take forever. There was one "climb" during this section, made difficult because the incline, which was short and tad steep, came off a turn. I went into granny gear and got up to the top. But then, the wind started to kick up and for the next eight miles it felt like a constant head wind. And while I'm not sure of the elevation profile at this part of the course, it felt like there may have been a few false flats. Nothing that's difficult, mind you. False flats mess with your head more than anything else because you wonder why you aren't going faster.

Then again, it could have been the wind.

I chatted with a woman, also from Buffalo, during this portion and asked her if it felt like it got windier or if I was just hallucinating.

No, she and the gentleman who just passed her discussed the same topic.

And back in transition with my new Aquabike friends also came confirmation that the wind picked up. "I thought either it was getting windy or I was bonking," one woman said. At least it wasn't just me.

When I hit Mile 40 I wanted to really crank the bike and see what I could do the final 16 miles. Ah, but there was a two or three mile stretch that went through a stretch of path that was paved but terribly uneven, bumpy and filled with potholes. I thought that hurt worse than any burn I feel on a climb. There was little chance to pick up speed in this section because of the road condition. But it had to end eventually.

And when it did, the hammer went down.

A really good ride for me would have meant finishing the 56 miles in three hours. That goal was gone. My next goal was 3:15, then anything under 3:30.

My final time: 3:19.24 for an average of 16.9 miles per hour.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in my bike time but after letting it digest a bit, I feel better about it. The conditions were windy and everyone was a tad slower on the bike than they otherwise would have been. Also, I did race the day before. And gave a pretty solid performance at that. Losing a bit of speed on the bike at the end of that weekend is not that big a surprise. Or anything to worry about.

Afterward at the post-race meal for athletes and volunteers, they were serving ice cream cones.

Chocolate-chocolate chip for me, please.

Sunday was National Ice Dream Day after all. And after nearly 77 miles of racing, a treat never tasted so good.

Race report: Mini-Mussel

GENEVA -- I started the day with specific tunes on my iPod.

There are different songs for different times. Often on my drive over to open water swim practice I'll listen to classical music. It calms me. I'll use it at other times, too, when I want to focus or relax.

Other times I'll listen to music designed to pump me up -- usually some amalgamation of songs from college basketball warm-up mixes and songs I don't readily admit in public I have on my playlist (see: "The Climb" by Hannah Montana).

But Saturday morning I picked songs that put me in a fun, easy frame of mind. I picked Great Big Sea and "Ordinary Day" because, well, I like it and the lyrics take the pressure off. I also added "Boom Shack A Lak" because it's just too silly and two tunes from the Canadian band Our Lady Peace because it put me back at concerts with my brother acting like we were 12 and 8.

Since I like to get to transition extremely early, there was a good hour to kill and so I used my camera phone to take photos and send them to friends. 

Having fun at this tri was something I took seriously.

But I also had a plan.

The fun theme kept me relaxed at the start of the swim. Granted, I still had nerves but that feeling of wanting to throw up ... not present.

The swim was 750 meters through a canal. The air horn went off to start my wave, I counted to five, did three breaststrokes and took off swimming freestyle.

Around the first buoy I ran into a bit of a traffic jam. There was a woman in front of me, on her back doing a double backstroke. She couldn't really see where she was going and I wanted to try and swing wide around her. At the same time, a woman came up and nailed me in my feet and calves. She apologized but still had problems getting out of the way. I pulled wide and got my rhythm back.

About three quarters of the way through the swim a man from the wave behind me was swimming sideways and crashed into me -- as I knocked him pretty good with my right arm as I was mid-stroke.

"Sorry," he said.

"No worries," I replied. "Are you OK?" After all, I whacked him kinda hard, despite the fact that he was the one who crashed into me.

"Yeah, thanks."

We started swimming side by side but again he started veering right into me. I pulled up and readjusted my course.

I kept swimming and once again, a race swim with no rest on a kayak.


I was out of the water in about 22 minutes and that was pleasing to me.

My real plan came on the bike where I had nutrition and pace goals.

At the start of the bike, I ate a gel. On the bike, the goal was to hold back. Yes. Hold back. My coach wanted me to average somewhere between 16 and 18 miles an hour.

"But I can go faster," I implored earlier in the week.

"I know you can," coach said. "But I want you to feel me holding you back. We need to save it for the run."

So I tuned my bike computer to average speed and kept that between 16-18. By halfway through the course my average speed was 17.7. I was still passing people, though I was getting passed by others which made me want to go faster. And I could have gone faster.

Save it for the run, I thought.

As I neared the end of the bike course I took my second gel. During the ride, I took a sip of water about every 10 minutes and halfway through had about a quarter of my sports drink.

OK. Now, let's see if holding back on the bike worked.

The goal for the run was to start easy with a high cadence. I didn't hit the button on my watch just right so I had no idea what my pace was once I got to the mile marker.

There's no doubt about it -- the run is hard.

But the key was a steady pace. Just keep running.

And I passed people. On the run. That hardly ever happens for me. There were plenty of people walking (and this is not a dig at people walking ... because there are plenty of times when I am one of them) and I was able to pass them. I passed people who were running. I was working hard and cursing at the turnaround which seemed much too far, but concentrated on keeping a steady pace.

The final mile I kicked it up a bit. Steady but strong. At the finish line I didn't have a sprint, but I felt strong.

The final report: a 9:19 pace. My 5K personal best is 9:02.

Holding back on the bike worked.

Overall, I felt strong and while I haven't done all the math, my paces were some of the best that I've had.

It's an ode to consistency in training and actually executing my race plan from nutrition to pacing goals.

Now, it's on to Sunday's Musselman. I will be doing what's known as the Aquabike race -- or the swim and bike portion of the regular half iron distance race. So Sunday morning is a 1.2 mile swim and a 56 mile bike. No run. That means I don't have to hold back on the bike.

And I get yet another chance to practice a long swim and nutrition on the bike.

For the record, this is the sixth year of the Musselman Triathlon in Geneva, named for the zebra mussels that inhabit Seneca Lake, and the town really does seem to embrace the event. Signs welcoming athletes are everywhere and the community seems pretty into making a whole weekend out of it, including an arts exhibit and music in the park.

And race director Jeff Henderson makes it even more fun.

A guy with a great sense of the sport, and sense of humor, he added some fine print to the tickets athletes got for parking and a pre-race pasta dinner.

The fine print on the meal ticket reads: Even though this is a picture of a zebra mussel, dinner will not include mussels. They are way too small and you would have to eat approximately 3,000 of them to fill up. Plus we'd have to get them out of the lake and then find some water to boil and then make a nice wine sauce and clean up.

The fine print on the parking pass reads: Void in Alaska and New Jersey. Many, many restrictions apply. Cannot be combined with Burger King Club card. Will not work in Massachusetts EZPass Network nor Hertz Gold Club. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

Yeah, this is the right place to mix fun into racing.

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