In some ways, it was back to normal for Collegiate National Qualifiers John McClellan and Alexis Vanbastalaer.
After all, this was McClellan's 19th career triathlon in his third year, his 15th sprint. Vanbastalaer was becoming accustomed to the normal ritual of early rising, outdoor racing of three events. Both saw an opportunity to race at a low budget triathlon in Shelbyville, KY, that would still count toward their 2012 USAT Age Group ranking.
However, this race was vastly different in two ways:
First, it was the first outdoor race of the 2012 year, and the wind-chill temperatures never went above freezing. It was the first of its kind for anyone in the club, the closest being the Tri-the-Illini back in early October (morning temperatures were in the 20s, but by the time the race started, it had reached 40).
Second, the race was backwards. Instead of swim-bike-run, as is universally the law for the sport, it was run-bike-swim. This also was a new experience for the club members, though expected to yield tremendous results: McClellan's strongest event is the swim, giving him the advantage over his competitors toward the end of the race, while Vanbastalaer's club renown running abilities should put her toward the front of the race early on.
The field held a few more than 60 racers, making the transition area laughably small. The organization was well-kept, however, and after dropping off their materials, the two triathletes bundled themselves in all the clothes they had brought with them.
After prerace instruction, the race coordinator moved the triathletes to the road where they would begin the run. The format was out and back over the rolling hills of the Clear Creek Park pathway. Vanbastalaer and McClellan stood in the middle of the pack, directly on the start line when the official "Go!" was announced.
McClellan started out fast, hoping to finally break his 20-minute 5k goal. He was 5th overall for the better part of the first mile, holding the pace he needed. Vanbastalaer fell behind, but not by far. At the turn around, she was 2nd overall for women.
McClellan marked a 9:50 at the turn around, but ended up finishing the leg 21 seconds shy of his goal. Vanbastalaer finished 4th fastest out of all women in the run with a 23:05. She overcame untied shoes, problems in the transition area with her helmet, clothing caught in bike gears, and the tremendously powerful wind on the 2 mile stretch that had to be done twice in the double loop bike course.
"Fiercest wind I've ever biked in," McClellan exclaimed after the race, "including Maumee's horrible [Lake Erie] lake effect wind. I almost got knocked over 3 times."
Still, the two had respectable bike times with 38:28 and 42:53. Then came the swim.
Having to strip down into their swimsuits from the transition area to a small distance away to the indoor pool, the racers were no longer affected by the freezing temperatures. However, with the pool temperatures topping 70 degrees by some estimates, the temperature change was a shock.
Both triathletes made up ground in the swim, McClellan passing enough people to rank 14th overall, while Vanbastalaer finished 30th, but less than two minutes away from the women's top 3. Both finished 2nd in their age group.
Most remarkably, while McClellan had his fastest sprint in his career by nearly 40 seconds, Vanbastalaer finished with PRs in all her events, beating her previous mark by 4 minutes. Coming right out of the offseason, it was a testament to how well they had worked, and gave a glimpse to what this season held for them.
Next up for these two? Nationals.