Who would have thought that they would have an excellent sprint triathlon in Socorro, NM. Socorro is one of those small towns (population 9000) that you pass while driving on an Interstate Highway (I-25 in this case) and you wonder why the town is there. Like most of these small towns, you'd find a nice community in Socorro if you took the time to stop and visit. Among other things, Socorro is the home of New Mexico Tech, and they have a very pleasant campus on the west side of town. Quite a few of my high school physics and chemistry students end up attending New Mexico Tech.
Socorro is about one hour south of Albuquerque and about two hours north of El Paso/Las Cruces, so they can draw on a fairly large number of potential triathletes. It's a four-hour drive from Clovis to Socorro. I was going to take a pass on the race this year because I didn't want to make that drive, but in the end I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do the race. A factor in my decision was that this race determines the Club Championship for the triathlon clubs in New Mexico. The New Mexico Outlaws had won this the past three years, and no other club had ever won it four years in a row.
They limit the race to about 320 participants and they sell out early every year. This year I got to Socorro early enough on the day prior to the race to do packet pick-up. Along with packet pick-up, they had a free spaghetti dinner and some of the locals playing live bluegrass/country music. I met a couple of guys from Taos, had a nice dinner, and then checked into the Econo Lodge for the night.
They moved the start of the race up to 7:00 AM this year. It was still pretty dark at 6:00 when they opened transition. There were also people doing their packet pick-up on race morning. I was thinking there was no way they would be able to start the race as scheduled. However, they got through the "pre-race briefing" quickly, everyone seemed to get their stuff set-up on time, and we headed over to the pool for the swim start.
Socorro has a nice 50-meter pool with eight lanes. They use chip timing, and the swim is a time trial start with about 5 seconds between swimmers. Some people thought that the swim was too crowded, but I've never had any problems there and I didn't have any problems this year. It's one-way traffic in each lane, and there's plenty of room to pass or to be passed. It is so much less crowded than a big race like Jay Benson where they do a run-bike-swim format. I think it's less crowded than even a small race like the Cotton Country Sprint that also uses the run-bike-swim format. And the amount of "body contact" at this swim doesn't begin to compare to the punching and kicking that takes place at a mass start open water swim.
The swim start order is based on the predicted times of the participants. I had predicted a 400-meter time of 7:52 which put me as the 127th starter. I could see some people in the water ahead of me who must have predicted a six-minute time but who looked like they were going to take more than ten minutes to breast stroke/back stroke/side stroke their way through the water. For myself, I exited the water in 7:48, but by the time I ran over the chip timer I ended up with a swim time of 7:53.
For some reason, I decided to wear my bib number on the bike. No big deal, but it took a few seconds standing in T-1 to get my race belt buckled. (It sure makes more sense to do this during T-2 while I'm running out of transition instead of simply standing at my bike.) Anyway, I headed out on the bike and was quickly passed by fellow Outlaw, Cody, who had started about 30 second behind me on the swim. Last year at this race, I had a really strong bike. I thought I was feeling pretty good this year. I was thinking, "Dang, Cody, when did you get so fast on the bike!" We leap frogged past each other for the first couple of miles before he dropped slightly off my pace. The 20K bike route goes out to two different turn-around points, and there are two north bound legs that are both about two miles long. We had a fairly strong head wind on these two legs, and I knew it was going to hurt my overall bike time. The part of the ride that I always remember is the downhill section that you ride after passing a guard shack about two miles after the second turn around point. It's not very steep, and there are just a couple of easy turns on it, but I'm always going as fast as I dare to ride on a bike unless a road is perfectly straight. I made it back to T-2 about 45 seconds slower than last year's race but at a still reasonably fast (for me) 21.6 mph average speed.
The 5K run starts out on a city street heading north. The first time I did this race, you eventually turned off the street and ran along the top of a dike that borders an irrigation ditch. The last two times they kept the run on city streets. This year, we were back to the run on top of the dike. Not a big deal to me one way or the other, but people seemed to like this run better. With about one mile to go, Patrick Hall caught up to me. He is one year younger than me and I "aged up" this year, so we are not in the same age group, but we're pretty close in ability to each other and pretty competitive in most races. I worked as hard as I could to stay in front of him, although I didn't know if he had started the swim before me or after me. I managed to finish just in front of him (or he kindly allowed me to cross the finish line first). My run time, 23:04, wasn't spectacular, but it was good for me in a swim-bike-run tri.
I registered with active.com for this race, and they sent me an e-mail to "review" the race. It was interesting to see what the other reviewers thought. Almost all of the comments were positive. No one seemed too upset about anything, but a couple of people had suggestions about changing some aspect of the race so that we wouldn't have to run "in the heat of the day." Gosh, most people were finished with the race and their 5K run before 10:00, and I don't think the temperature was above 80 degrees F by then. I can appreciate the wish to avoid running a marathon at noontime in 90 degree temperatures, but this wasn't bad at all. A couple of people commented on how long it took before the awards ceremony started. I thought they got started fairly quickly this year, they had accurate results, the awards were nice (jugs and glasses from a local brewery/restaurant) and everything was wrapped up before 11:30. I wish all races were as quick and organized about their awards ceremonies.
Overall, my time was about 45 seconds slower than last year (pretty much all from the bike leg) at 1:07:58, but it was fast enough to win my age group. We had a big gang of Outlaws there. Cody, John, and Miguel also won their groups, Michi, Mark, Debi, and Brian all ended up on their podiums, and we had plenty of other finishers. In the end, we had plenty of firepower at this race to successfully defend the State Club Championship again. Now we'll have to get ready for next year!