The Ukiah triathlon is one of my favorites. I say that about all the triathlons I've done, of course —except Auburn— but really, Ukiah is one of my favorites. This was our third time racing it. It's a long sprint: the usual half-mile swim and 5k run, but a 22-mile bike leg through what I'm told is the prettiest bike course around. It's a great first triathlon, in some pretty wine country, and it's just a short drive from some densely populated areas.
The problem with being a great first triathlon in a destination location within a short drive of population centers is that you get a LOT of first-time triathletes. If you're starting the swim back in the "guys old enough to know better" wave, you spend a lot of the swim dodging first-timers doing the breaststroke. Or backstroke. Or both simultaneously, although I had not previously considered whether this was even possible.
The water in Lake Mendocino offers three-foot visibility at best, so you don't get much advance warning when overtaking slow swimmers. But today I caught a good pair of feet early in the race that were swimming just a tad faster than I've have swam by myself. I followed them closely, and when they would suddenly dodge to one side I learned almost immediately to just do the same and figure out why later. I don't have official splits yet, but I think I did fairly well on the swim. It felt fast, but not tiring.
The bike course has some rollers through —I'm told— beautiful vineyards. That may be true... all I remember from any of the times I've done this race is that there's pavement, with some rollers, and there were people in front of me. This time, as always, most of those people were from the previous waves of young punks and relay teams, but one of them was a guy in my age group and we got into it early. He was short, stocky, and shaped vaguely like some variety of aquatic mammal; but despite this he tended to take lead on the uphill sections which should have given me advance notice that I was in trouble! We traded leads at least a half-dozen times throughout the bike leg, and generally stayed within a hundred yards of each other. I know I wouldn't have ridden as fast if he wasn't there! On the last slope up into T2 he stood up and dropped me, but I wasn't worried because I knew I could catch him on the run.
I was wrong. He was in sight at the start of my run, and I passed a half-dozen others in my efforts to reel him in, but he was still pulling away at the end. We talked after the race, and his comment was "Yeah, biking is my weakest leg, but I knew if I was anywhere near you at the start of the run I'd have you." Here he was, three inches shorter and maybe 50 pounds heavier than me, telling me with a straight face that he knew he could outrun me... and dang it he was right!
My previous best showing in this race was fourth in my age group: this year, with all the effort of trying to match this guy, I was a minute faster than my previous best time on the course, and ... fourth in my age group again. The race has gotten faster: last year I was slower and 15th overall: this year I finished 16-17th or so. (Official results aren't posted yet.) But a good race nevertheless, and I'm happy with my personal improvement.
Kristi also PR'd the course by about a minute, finishing 5th in her age group. Her comment: "I remember this course having a lot more hills, but it's really not that bad." This is her 8th —yes, EIGHTH— triathlon of the year; Obviously the training volume she's putting in every week works.
I highly recommend this triathlon for those dumb enough to race on back-to-back weekends — it's unfortunately always the weekend after Tin Man. If you can take off work the Monday after the race, there are some beautiful views and world-class wineries in the area. Check it out, it's a fun race.