Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Sunday was the fifth year in a row I have raced at Superfrog. The race is the oldest half in the world and was started by now retired US Navy SEAL, Moki Martin. It takes place in Coronado and uses portions of the sacred training grounds used by the SEALs.
This year, in the 33rd edition, the current race director and retired SEAL, Mitch Hall, moved the course five miles south to the facility grounds, called the Elephant Cage, where SEALs perfect their hand to hand combat skills.
Every year I circle the Superfrog race date on my calendar. Where else do you have an opportunity to race with past, current, and soon-to-be SEALs on their own training ground? This year took on an extra special meaning as the race was held on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a special tribute was provided for all the Naval Special Warfare personnel killed in combat.
As much as I wanted this win (yes, I actually did cut out ice cream for the past two months) and trained to squeeze the most out of myself, one constant that you can't train to control is the competition you will face.
In the previous two years, I was very well prepared but ran up against tough competition in multiple Ironman winners Chris McDonald, Luke Bell and Jonas Colting. This year, it turned out multiple Ironman winner Joszef Major decided to use Superfrog as his pre-Kona hit out. Oh well. You still need to race the race to find out the winner, right! I was committed to leaving everything I had on the course.
The venue changed for the sixth time in the race's history and the swim leg started in the Pacific Ocean near Imperial Beach. After charging in to the 60-degree water, we faced a series of sets four to six feet high that forced us to show off our duck diving skills. This is one skill I am proficient at in the water and I found myself swimming in third place throughout the first lap. The return back to shore was substantially faster as you could time the sets, catch a wave, hold your breath and move your arms as fast as possible and let the waves take you in to shore.
The two looped swim was separated by a 100 meter run so spectators were able to see us run by with our tongues hanging down to our toes and then watch as we completed the most difficult task in triathlon: running back in to the water with your heart pounding to repeat the second lap! With around 300-meters to go, a familiar swim stroke passed me like I was treading water. It was Emily! She even smiled at me before she continued past, leaving me unable to jump in behind for a draft. She even caught a great wave (a first for her) that gave her a perfect end to her swim. I came in to shore a few seconds later.
The run up to the transition area was over soft sand and this was the first taste of what we would experience later during the run leg. Emily and I opted to leave a spare set of shoes at the start of the transition area as our bikes were racked a few hundred meters at the opposite end. The transition was on a rough surface and we made up for the time spent putting on shoes by not having to tip toe across the pebbles and chipped road. Looking at the results, our T1 times were nearly one minute faster than most other racers, so we made the right decision in putting on shoes.
The bike course is fairly straight forward but the initial mile to get onto the Strand Hwy was new. We rode over the same rough roads from transition and, for me, I displayed some fred-like riding technique. As I reached down to put my foot into my cycling shoe, I hit a crack in the road that jolted me forward towards the bike’s cockpit. Instinctually, I grabbed for the front brake, which sent me into a Robbie McEwen-like front wheelie! Luckily, I was able to catch myself, clicked back into the pedals and rode off with a surge of adrenaline. That was not a good start!
The bike consists of four out and back segments on the Strand and is simple on paper. However, applying consistent force to the pedals while riding in the same position and holding a constant tempo eventually wears the body down. The past few years I rode with a power meter and sat on a specific wattage reading – a range between 320 and 330 watts. That was an OK strategy but this year I decided to train with power but race off of feel.
Out on the Strand, there were four riders up ahead in the opening miles. I caught up to Emily and another guy within the first two miles but two other riders were a few minutes up the road. I recognized Karl Bordine, a former pro cyclist and current pro triathlete, as one of the riders with another rider trying to hang on (at a legal distance) to his wheel. Good luck! Karl is known as Killer Karl for good reason and I was hoping he was merely the bike leg in a relay. Sure enough, two laps later he yelled to me he was a relay rider. His bike split of 2hrs 1 min was the second fastest in race history, only behind Bjorn Andersson’s 1hr 58 mins set two years ago.
I moved into the lead at the 35-mile mark and decided to put in a surge to extend my bike lead. I saw Joszef Major, a 10-time Ironman winner and top 20 Kona finisher, a few minutes back and knew I would need some padding heading on to the run if I was going to hold him off.
I never felt great on the bike on Sunday but managed to bear down and get through the miles. Mentally, I divided the course up in to different sections: with/against the wind, to/from the Strand Bridge, to/from the tented canopy that marked the bike entrance for the Strand, and to/from the turnaround points. Setting small goals throughout the bike leg made it doable.
On the bumpy roads back to transition, I saw my mother-in-law, June, and my daughter Kaia and yelled “hello” to them. In that moment, there was a sharp turn in the road and I almost wiped out right in front of them! I found out after the race, Emily made the same mistake and nearly crashed in that spot too!
I transitioned onto the run quickly and we hit the soft sand and beach right away to kick off the half marathon run leg. Running off the bike is always tough, but hitting sand right away is a quad crusher. Two out and back sections in the first three miles on the beach were the only points to see where your competition was, and I saw Joszef and Max running a few minutes back at the three mile mark. I got a split a few miles later that Joszef was 1:50 behind at mile 5.
My plan was to maintain a steady tempo and then hit the beach hard in attempt to demoralize him that he wasn’t gaining any time on me. Instead, at the first turnaround on the second lap at mile 7 it was obvious he had cut my lead in half to under a minute. It took him another 3.5 miles to make the catch and as we entered the section of the course running through the Elephant Cage at mile 10.5 he made his pass. I attempted to respond to his pace but I was already at max effort. As he pulled away, I jokingly told him he should “let an American win today” as Joszef is from Hungary. After the race we laughed about that comment.
Over the final few miles, I kept him in sight and he hovered a few hundred meters ahead but I had to concentrate on holding myself together till the finish. With less than 400 meters to the line, I passed by Kaia again who was sleeping in her stroller and I was able to give her a kiss. She was a trooper hanging with Grandma out in the sun all morning!
The final straight away to the finish took us through a chute lined with the photos of fallen SEALs and NSW heroes who had died fighting for America’s freedom! I mustered a final sprint to the line to honor them and to leave nothing left on the course. Upon hitting the line, I was absolutely spent. I had given what my body had on the day. I was beaten by a better triathlete. I have another whole year now to consider how to go about moving up one place to get that elusive paddle.
Here is a breakdown of my splits:
1.2-mile swim - 26:49
T1 - 1:31
56-mile bike - 2:07:38
T2 - 1:12
13.1-mile run - 1:23:09
Finish time - 4:00:19
Winning time - 3:58:48
As is a common occurrence in our household, Emily took top honors and won her third Superfrog. I am extremely proud of her as it was only her second triathlon since she gave birth to Kaia ten months ago and she had not biked for over 30 minutes but two times in the last six months. She gets up every morning to swim with the 5:30 AM Master’s swim group at the YMCA and otherwise has to get creative to fit in training while taking care of Kaia. She is a tough woman and is a pro in coping with pain!
I haven’t thought too far ahead about what I will race next but I am excited to do some unstructured cyclocross riding and race in a fall cross country running series in San Diego.
One final shout out of thanks to race directors Moki Martin and Mitch Hall! These retired SEALs are top class individuals. If you would like to support the Naval Special Warfare Foundation which funds the families of fallen SEALs, please go to their website: www.superfrogtriathlon.com and donate today. They have indeed paid the ultimate sacrifice so we can have our freedom!