Pigman triathlon is one of my favorite races every year. It’s a local race in Palo, IA (just NW of Cedar Rapids), although not so local for me as it’s a five-hour drive, but the vibe is perfect. Very much grassroots and laid back and this year was the 27th running of the event. The local support and volunteers are amazing and to top it off, the post-race refreshments and food is bar none. This year, Pigman was the USA Triathlon Iowa High School State Championships and had a collegiate division. This is my third year in a row racing the sprint distance race and I raced the long course event in 2015. The format is unique in that it’s a gender equalization race. So, the female elite wave starts 5:28 before the men’s elite wave, making it a race within a race and provides an interesting dynamic.
I started on the far rights side of a straight out and back course. The wind was blowing the buoys to our left on the way out, so I planned to just hug the buoy line. Within a few strokes, someone swam right over me, which wasn’t ideal. With this only being a 500-meter swim, I tried to keep the fast swimmers as close as possible and not even 20 meters into the race there was a gap because I had to slow to let the swimmer get realigned and swimming straight again. I just focused on myself and controlled what I could. At the half way point, there was a front group of four and then one other athlete off the back of them. I was feeling quite strong and decided to put in a hard minute of swimming to close that gap to the swimmer in front of me. The winds on the way back to the beach were causing a lot of chop in the water, something I’m not used to. I ended up closing the gap and exited the water right on 5th places feet. I’m happy with my swim, even though it was the slowest time of the three years I’ve raced. After talking to several others after the race, we all had slower times than previous years, so I suspect that the chop had something to do with that because the distance on my Garmin all three years are within a few yards of each other.
The run to transition is always tough at this race. Slight uphill on the beach turns into a decent uphill on grass to get to the parking lot where our bikes are, probably close to .25 mile in total from the water edge to get to our bikes. I quickly put on my helmet and grabbed my bike and took off running through transition, which is more uphill in the parking lot. I passed the guy who was just in front of me out of the water and had two others just 5-10 seconds in front of me. I had a good transition, the second fastest out of everyone racing.
As I headed downhill toward the dam, I slipped into my shoes and noticed the front four were not far ahead. I put in a hard effort to close that gap so I’d be with them as we exit the park. I ended up passing one guy in the park and another right after we got out. After a long downhill, I was sitting in third place overall with the front two just 5-10 seconds in front of me. I was quite surprised and very happy to already be in this position. I fully expected to have to chase the entire bike and try to catch them on the run. A strong cross tailwind (20 mph with gusts stronger) was nice early in the race, but I knew it’d be harder going into it from mile 5 to roughly mile 11. I ended up passing second place before the first U-turn, but after a slow turn he passed me right back so I just settled into third again as we headed into the wind. I was using both first and second place to gauge my effort and hopefully recover a bit since I put in a hard effort in the first five miles. Surprisingly, I saw my power drop but I was staying with them and my legs were feeling good. I kept telling myself to be patient and save it for the run. As we hit the bottom of the hill, something just clicked and I went for it. Like full on max effort went for it. I got to the top and looked back to see I had opened up a gap, so I kept the pressure on and figured it certainly wouldn’t hurt to enter T2 in the lead. At the second U-turn, I was still down 2:30 on the female leader, but had opened up a 20-25 second gap on second place in the men’s race. I put my head down and continued to push hard all the way to T2 in hopes of getting that 2:30 gap down to 2 minutes or under.
I was the first spot on the first rack in transition, so I didn’t have much time at all after the dismount line before racking my bike. I put on my shoes and noticed something funky in my left shoe. I figured my insole scrunched up even though I have them taped down. I debated if I should take off my shoe and fix it, which would allow the first female to gain more time and let the other men back into the race after opening up a lead on the bike, or just go run and hope that I can get through the 5k without any issues (blisters, weird pains from messed up insole, etc. (I do race next weekend at 70.3 Wisconsin, which was weighing on my mind as well)). I decided to just go run and hope it’d fix itself or I’d be ok. I grabbed my race belt and took off to run through transition. (Note: after the race I took off my shoe, turns out it was my print out receipt of my results from Kansas City Triathlon 3 weeks ago. Whoops. Maybe next time I’ll check my shoes before putting them in transition before a race. On the plus side, I had no blisters or issues while running.)
I didn’t feel very good straight out of transition, to which I blame biking way too hard. It wasn’t until I turned right to head down toward the dam that I started feeling good. Tailwind and downhill running is definitely nice when you haven’t found your running legs yet and your stride feels awkward. As I got down to the dam, I saw the lead female and knew that I would catch her. I went through the first mile in 5:19 and was feeling strong and felt I could manage this the rest of the way. I made the pass at 1.25 miles and was finally in the lead. At the U-turn at half way, I was able to get time checks back to the rest of the field and knew I would hold on to win as along as something crazy didn’t happen. Going back across the dam into the wind then uphill was not easy, but I just kept my form together and got through it. I turned left and headed down to the finish line and couldn’t believe I was about to finally win this race.
I’m beyond thrilled to finally take the win. This is my third straight year coming to this race and I’ve finished 2nd, 3rd, and now 1st, respectively. I love coming to race here and compete against a handful of professionals that sign up every year. It was also a very encouraging day for me. I had a good swim again and felt strong (same as Trizou and KC Triathlon (click on the link for a recap of those two races)), but I finally had a really good bike ride (something I wasn’t happy about at either Trizou or KC Triathlon). I made a big move on the bike and stayed in aero position despite 20+ mph winds, most of which were cross headwinds or cross tailwinds. This is a huge confidence boost and win for me because ever since my crash 3 years ago, I’ve lost a lot of my confidence and fearlessness on the bike, especially in windy conditions. I also think another huge factor for me making a big move on the bike and holding it is from the local group bike ride I have joined a few times this year called Tuesday Night Worlds. It’s aptly named as it’s on Tuesday nights and it is a very hard group ride where riders constantly attack and try to break away from the group. Naturally, I have been a part of those attacks even though they always fail. However, it has taught me how to make a huge move and go well above threshold and then try to settle in and hold that move for as long as possible with your legs screaming at you to just stop. Needless to say, I will definitely continue to join the TNW group ride throughout the summer.