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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.

Progress.

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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