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Swim, bike, run ... no sweat for first-time Otay Ranch triathlete Phillip Brents | Tue, Oct 25 2011 01:15 AM

Zack Hamner found his way into the world of competitive triathlon in a rather innocuous way. An all-league water polo player for Otay Ranch High School, Hamner suffered a shoulder injury his senior year that kept him from competing in the spring swim season. Instead, he opted to try his luck at track and field.

One thing led to another and … four months later, he finished third in his age division in his first triathlon.

“Because of the injury, I couldn’t swim and when I got into track, I found out how much I liked running,” he said. “When you do two of the sports competitively, competing in triathlons often follows.”

Hamner made the decision he wanted to compete in triathlons last spring and began training in June, but not with a specific target date in mind.

That kind of took care of itself when the inaugural Chula Vista Challenge sent out a call for registration.

The event, which took place Oct. 16, attracted 206 entrants, including those from as far away as Nevada, Arizona, Virginia, New York and Mexico. The course was entirely within the boundaries of the city of Chula Vista. In fact, one leg passed right in front of Otay Ranch High School.

Hamner, 18, was the youngest person to sign up.

He finished the Olympic-distance event — a 1,500-meter swim, 40K bike and 6.5-mile run — in two hours, 33 minutes and five seconds. The time placed him third in the 24-under men’s division and 23rd overall.

The numbers seem might seem impressive for anyone attempting a first-ever triathlon but Hamner feels he can do better.

“I was satisfied with my place-finish but not so much with my time,” he said. “I was hoping to finish in a sub 2:20.”

He came in 13 minutes slower than anticipated. But it’s a time standard obviously to build on for the Miramar College freshman.

Hamner would like to compete in a sprint-distance triathlon (750-meter swim, 20K bike and 5K run) before the calendar year is over. If he does better than expected, he envisions taking a shot at qualifying for the Junior Nationals, which has an under-20 age cut-off. He’d also one day like to compete in an ironman competition — a grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.

“Before I turn 26, I’d like to be the youngest person to win the Ironman world championship,” he said. “That’s what I’m training for.”

A three-year varsity letter-winner in water polo (as a goalie) and two-year letter-winner in swimming at ORHS, Hamner might seem like a natural for the swim portion of October’s Chula Vista Challenge.

The course started in the water off Bayside Park, just north of the Chula Vista boat marina. He completed the 1,500-meter swim in 24 minutes, 15.0 seconds — third in his age division behind Ensenada’s Julio Cesar Castaneda Rodarte (19:09.4) and San Fernando’s Jayson Rohletter (20:58.0).

“Everyone went out in waves and my wave was the fourth in the water,” Hamner said. “I kind of went a little slower than I wanted. The water was a little cold, and I had opted to not wear a wetsuit. But it wasn’t as choppy as I imagined it was going to be. For the first 500 meters or so, I was drafting close to the leader in my division.”

The Mustang alumnus ran into a bit of time trouble at the first transition point where competitors exchange their swim goggles for bike wear. Hamner took one-minute, 48 seconds to complete the transition. Rodarte, by comparison, took just 18.7 seconds.

“I misplaced my energy bar,” Hamner said. “I had to search the ground to find it. My transition time was well over what I wanted.”

Competitive triathletes generally wear a one-piece body suit through all three phases of an event. A wet suit is optional, and that takes time to take off. For the 40K bike leg, Hamner donned a crash helmet, sunglasses, socks and shoes.

The course went south, turned east on Main Street to Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre, then turned west to Brandywine where bikers encountered their first major hill. A stretch of undulating terrain took racers along Olympic Parkway to the second transition point at Salt Creek Recreation Center.

Hamner completed the bike phase in one hour, 21 minutes, 52.4 seconds.

“I was fine half-way up the first big hill, then I started to feel it,” he said. “That took something out of me.”

Hamner turned in the fastest time at the second transition point — 23.4 seconds — to make up some ground.

A series of short sharp hills greeted runners on a scenic route along the Lower Otay Reservoir and onto the U.S. Olympic Training Center. The finish line was back at the Salt Creek Rec Center.

Hamner turned in one of the faster 10K times in 44 minutes, 46.2 seconds.

“The first three miles were pretty flat,” he said. “Over the last three miles there were some short and sharp hills, that’s where it ate up the energy in my legs. I went out a little too fast, I was on a six-minute pace for the first 5K, under 19:00. My run ended up a little slower than I wanted.”

Derek Oskutis, 24, of Chula Vista (a U.S. Navy ensign and pro triathlete) was the overall winner of the Chula Vista Challenge with a time of 1:59.25. Rodarte, 22, the men’s 24-under division winner (and a national-caliber  triathlete in Mexico), was third in 2:11:39.8 behind San Diego’s Robert Skaggs, 45, in 2:10:51.5.

Hamner’s words of wisdom following his first crack at a triathlon: “I’m definitely going to do another one.”

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