Pan Am Champs 2001 - ITU Points race

AKA, You are biting off more than you can chew

Marty pretends to run to the finish of the Dannon Duathlon

Today, for the first time, I raced against an international field in an ITU points race. It was the Pan American Championships in Clermont, FL. This was my fourth race ever in the professional category. As most of you know, I have a pro license, but it's not my job. I'm a full-time working guy just like most of you, trying to make enough scratch during the week to buy my toys and have some fun on the weekends.

Here is a short version of how I did: I swam pretty well, biked really well, and ran not so well. Read on if you want all the gory, boring details.

Today's race was a criterium style, draft-legal bike format. It consisted of a one lap swim, a two lap bike, and a four lap run. The race didn't start until 12:30 PM, and as luck would have it, this weekend the Weather Gods decided it would be hot and sunny.

Hot and sunny. Yeeha.

Now, the Coca Cola races go off at 7 or 8 AM, and you all know that even those races can get very hot in the dead of summer. So imagine going all out from 12:30 until around 2:30 in the afternoon with the Sun frying your back and face. My hats are off to all the professionals who can race and train in those kinds of conditions. Me, I'm stuck in an office 40 hours a week with air conditioners beating down on me at 72 degrees. Life is tough!

As usual, I went into the race just hoping to have a good day, do my best, and see how I compared to some of the best Olympic distance triathletes in the world.

I've got a bit of work to do, at the very least. The winning man came in at around 1:51 flat, while my time was a 2:01.49. Now, a 2:01 is pretty good at almost any Olympic distance venue, except when you're racing against world ranked competition. These guys are very tough, and very competitive.

Oh, and ladies, the winning lady also beat me by about 45 seconds. Ever hear of a woman named Carol Montgomery from Canada? She's not too shabby, I discovered today, as she ran past me on my last lap.

Anyway, I got to the race site with Laurie Hug, a professional woman from Pennsylvania who I know from my days of racing down the Jersey shore. She's a great swimmer and a solid triathlete, and she led the women's field out of the swim. We got to our racks and went to set our stuff up.

At most triathlons you will see plenty of athletic, super-fit people walking around. I've got to tell you, the people setting up at the racks next to me today all looked like they had just walked out of a fitness magazine. There was maybe 10 percent body fat total on the professionals around me, and I had at least 7 of it! Superlean, cut, and looking very serious for the most part. You know me, I was looking to joke around a bit, but not at this race.

Anyway, I get bodymarked, jump on my bike, and head out for the warm up. I run into another pro woman on the road, a girl (now a lady) who I used to swim against in high school down in Miami. Always interesting how life turns out - she's now one of the fastest women triathletes in the world (Gina Derks-Gardner). After I warm up on the bike and back at the racks, I see one of my teammates (Shawn Saathoff) from Pinecrest Swimming setting up his bike and shoes. I also see a few of the other people I've met over the past couple years, and everyone is pretty relaxed and friendly, so the mood is not too serious.

I go for a short run, then head back into transition, drink some more water, do a once over on my bike and helmet, wish a couple more people luck, grab my goggles and cap, and head to the swim start. The swim is where I usually shine, but against this field I didn't know how I would fair. I've been training mostly for IM California in May, which means longer, slower swimming, as compared to fast mile or half-mile training. But hey, I did swim distance in college, so I should be able to at least hang, I figure.

I jump into Lake Minneola, and it's cool but not freezing, a welcome relief from the heat of the Sun. Warm up for a bit, say Good luck to a couple more people. Then we line up, they introduce the top ten men (I wasn't one of them, heh heh), and before you know it, we're off.

Now, one of the keys to getting out ahead in the swim is called dolphin diving. You run until you can't run anymore, and then jump forward, drag your body along the bottom with your arms, then push off with your legs, and repeat the process until it's too deep to do it anymore. I'm good at it, and got out ahead of my area. We had lined up across about 100 yards, so I could see there were a few people pushing forward in spots. I swam pretty strong for the first 400 yards, near the front, then started to fade and had to tuck into a group. I had hoped to come out near the front in the swim, but it wasn't in me today.

Anyway, I stayed with the first pack until about 300 yards to go, when they surged ahead. I didn't have much juice left in me at that point and swam with what I had until it was time to run out. I ran out in about 18:30, which put me back about 30 seconds from the leaders. Not bad, but not great. Run into the transition, grab the glasses, throw on the helmet and buckle up, grab the bike, run it out, jump on and you're off!

I could write a separate article about the tactics, teamwork, workmanship or lack thereof all about the bike portion of this draft legal race, but I won't. Instead, I'll sum it up for you. Some people are willing to work hard on the bike because they want to do well, while others want to sit on in the bike because they are planning to outrun all the people who worked hard on the bike. Then, you have team or country tactics come into play. People from the same country will work hard together but won't work hard to help out someone else from another country, and that makes sense, especially at a race like this.

Other considerations are the pack you wind up in and the course. If you wind up in a pack made up of strong cyclists while you are weak, you may have to drop out (from that pack) because their pace is too much for you to even stay with (or if you stay with them, you may run like doggy doodie). If you wind up in a pack where YOU are the strongest cyclist, you may wind up pulling 4 or 5 athletes around the course. If the course is hilly, like today was, you need to know when people may attack the hills so you don't get dropped, and when to save your energy so you are ready for the hills.

Suffice it to say it's interesting and somewhat exciting, but much different from the sprint races we all enjoy. In the non-drafting races, it's you and your machine against everyone else, no teamwork, no drafting, just brute strength, talent, and training against the terrain.

My brief moment of glory today came near the end of the bike portion of the race. A five-man break had gotten away earlier, and I was leading a chase pack of about 20 men up a hill for about 30 seconds. So technically, for 30 seconds, I was in 6th place!! Yeehaa!! That's the end of the story!! I was in 6th place at the PanAmerican Championship race!!

Oh yeah, and then we got off the bikes and I had to run a 10k, but that's not important because…

I was in 5th place for 30 seconds!! Yeehhaaeee!!! Wooohoooo!!! Hot Diggitty Dog!!

See you on the beach at Key Biscayne for the Coca-Cola season opener! Train safe and remember to have some fun, because life is too strange to take seriously.

Marty Gaal Who was in 5th place for 30 seconds!

PS: Thanks to all the Central Florida racers and Coca-Cola regulars who were cheering for me today. I really do appreciate it and it is awesome to see everyone out there.