Monday, June 13, 2011

Race Review - Trinona

This was my first international distance triathlon and I went in feeling pretty prepared. My overall goal was to take it out steady on the swim, take the bike normal till the big hill, and then keep speed up for the rest of the bike, and finish out on the run without feeling like death.

The Training
This month I put about 260 miles on the bike, 62 miles on my shoes, and about 10 miles in the water. The focus has been the bike, I know the bike leg has the most room for easy improvement, plus I knew the big hill was coming up.

Packet Pickup
Picking up the packets was fine, it was in a bank which was sort of funny. They also had a little expo going on - which was kind of neat for this size race. The whole experience was pretty painless.

After packet pickup we took a quick spin by the course, I hadn't seen a international distance swim course all laid out - I was ... surprised by how long it looked. Then we just hit the hill. The hill is big, and the car didn't do it justice.

Race Morning
The night before, like ever night-before-the-race I had trouble falling asleep. I was putting the final touches on what my race plans were. I woke up without the alarm about five minutes early, got dressed, ate some cereal and popped out my door right at the same time my sister did.

My brother-in-law got out of bed at the crack of dawn to drive us down to the course, which was great. We made our way to the transition area - which was the most confusing transition area I've ever seen. At the entrance the guy asked if we knew how to use the bike timing chip.

Side bar: For this race they do special timing and contest to see how long it takes you to climb the big hill. In order to do that they give you two timing chips. One that you put on your leg, and another that you fasten to your bike. Here's the catch, they don't tell you how to fasten the second chip, they tell you it's in there and what it's for, but there are no instructions other than that. Apparently you need to already know, or just trust someone will eventually tell you. That was my bet, my sister didn't like that and used a zip tie to attach it to her handlebars. These particular chips actually attached to your wheel via the skewer.

Anyway, we got there with plenty of time, got our stuff set up, milled around for a bit, chatted with people about different stuff, and then made our way for the big meeting. The transition area closed at 7:00 and the mandatory group meeting started at the same time.

So - I'll frame the morning like this. It was about 50 degrees, we got to the race at 6:15ish, had to leave transition by 7 my wave went at 8:15 and my sister's left at 8:20.

The Swim
My sister and my kids
before the swim.
She got in the water - I did not

The swim went surprisingly well. I knew I had enough training to handle it, but I haven't swum that many consecutive meters for probably 15 years, so I was a little weary. My typical approach is go out hard, break away from the bulk of the group and then settle in for the mid/end of the leg. I figured if I took it out too fast I would burn all my reserves too fast to finish well, so the new plan was to go out near the end of the pack and just see where I ended up.

The water was COLD. 68 was the official temp, and it wasn't by any stretch warm. I was wearing a full wetsuit, so really it didn't seem to that bad, but my hands and head felt the cold immediately. But, head down and away I went.

It's hard to figure the lengths of the three legs of the swim, it was probably 400 meters out - 700 across and another 400 back to the finish. The second leg looked very long, but didn't actually seem to take too long.

Interesting point on this lake - and maybe all lakes, I don't really know. But this lake gets mowed, and apparently they had tried to mow it before the race, but I can tell you they missed some spots. I'd be swimming along, and then suddenly be eating weeds for 10 or 15 meters. They were all the way to the surface, it got the point where I started to see them on the surface when I'd be sighting. At least I wasn't surprised about it then I guess :)

There were only about 30 people in my wave and over except for probably the first hundred meters was I never really near anyone. By the time I got to the first turn I could only see one or two guys ahead of me. Now I'm pretty sure I can swim straight and many people apparently cannot, so when I can't see anyone it usually means they are off to one side or the other and I will see them dip in right before a turn. About half way down the second leg I figured I was going too fast to sustain it, but I couldn't figure out how to slow myself down without feeling like I was taking it easy, so I stuck with it. When I was approaching the second and final turn I could see the lead boat, that meant that I was actually pretty close to the front, and perhaps meant that the reason I couldn't see anyone was because they were behind me.

Climbing out of the water I felt totally disoriented, I had taken the swim a little too hard and my body's response to that is to get dizzy. I did hear someone say that there were only 4 people in front of me, or maybe he was talking to someone else. The goal at that point was to get the wetsuit off and stop the spinning.

The Bike
The bike course was a little out and back followed by a big hill and then 14 mile loop. They had warned us that the out and back would maybe be busy, but to try to not bunch up. Maybe because they started us 45 minutes after the first wave, or maybe because most people just pass me on the bike, it didn't seem congested to me.

The plan was to get up to a comfortable pace for the first out and back, take in some water and a couple of gu-chomps and then save some energy for the hill.

: Hills - I'm still not used to hills, I swear it feels like I'm constantly climbing hills, big hills, little hills, false flats, whatever. Where are the downhill pieces :)

So the big deal with this race - the differentiator if you will - is that in the middle of the bike is a 1.1 mile climb with an average of 9.5% grade. I had underestimated this hill. I had figured at least I'd be able to just put it in the granny gear and eventually just grind my way to the top. Uhh, nope, that didn't work. This hill got immediately hard, in the first 30 seconds I was in the granny gear and going about as slow as I thought I could go maybe six or seven miles. There were times I had to stand up just to keep my legs moving. I finally had to get off and walk for a bit, my legs were shot, I stood up to crank a little and I kid you not I could not move my legs in the right direction. It made me feel a little better that there were at least two other people in front of me walking too. I didn't walk the whole way up, I actually have no idea how far I walked, but I did get back on and climb up the last little bit.

After the big hill the hills got significantly smaller, but it still seemed like a steady climb for the next seven or so miles, and then the fun part. A huge downhill - this hill alone probably brought my average speed up .3 miles/hour. I was going 30 mph+ for at least two miles.

When I got to transition - again I was a little disoriented - not like after the swim, but I just found the entire transition area confusing.

A word about this transition area. There were two openings like any transition I've ever seen. One was for bike-in/out the other for swim-in/run out. They were right next to each other separated by maybe 20 feet. The racks went all the way from the entrances to the back, so if you had your bike near the swim entrance, you had to run your bike all the way to the back of transition, around a turn and back to the bike out. It was basically horseshoe shaped - and sort of silly.

The Run
The run was an out and back around a lake, nothing too special. Most of the run was well shaded, and even though it was not hot, it was nice to not be baking in the sun.

The run was basically uneventful, I felt OK for most of it. But I did stop a couple of times because of some weird pain in my back. It's hard to describe, it felt like a cramping muscle - sort of - except I couldn't figure out what muscle it might be. Not in my lower back, and not in my shoulders, just below my shoulder blades. It was annoying, and I thought if I could get rid of it I would be happier. Eventually it did go away, and I ran probably all but 45 seconds of it.

The Finish
The smile doesn't do much for the
death warmed over look
The finish was fun, I had been accelerating during the 10k and came in running the fastest I had run all day. I'm starting to wonder if maybe I need to be taking the run a little harder...

A neat little thing this group did was that they would restring the finish line tape and let people run through it. I'm sure not everyone got to run through it, but I did and it was cool.

I grabbed a teeny cup of water, got my medal, and went and got my splits. Eventually I helped myself to a pulled pork sandwich and some salad. I was expecting bagels, fruit and pastries, so it took me a while to get used to the idea of eating basically a meal. It was good though, so while I think I would have preferred something a little less heavy, I'll take what I can get :)

The Results

The swim – I have no real feel for how good or bad this time is. Clearly I beat my goal, 23:11 puts me around 1:25/hundred meters which is very fast for me these days, and to sustain it for 1500 meters would be surprising. I'll say that swimming in a wetsuit feels like cheating, you feel like you're cutting through the water with hardly any effort. Having said all of that, that time put me 19th overall and 5th in my age group, so I'm going to say that all my recent swimming has paid off.

The bike – Again I came in under my goal time. I missed the goal of making it up the hill on the wheels the entire time, but 17.8 mph is pretty decent considering I walked some of it and the fastes ANYONE went up that hill was 10 mph average. Again I'll chalk this up to the bike training I've been doing.

The run – My goal was nine minute miles, and I missed that. My pace was roughly 9:18. I know I started out too fast, and had to slow myself down, and then I threw some walks in there to help figure out what was going on with my back, but when you look at the splits I basically accelerated throughout the leg, finishing the last mile under nine minutes.

Closing Comments
Overall I'm happy with my results. This was my first international distance, and I probably didn't choose to easiest course to break myself in on, but I knew the hill would be hard, and it was and the rest was just trusting in the training. At no time did I wonder if I would know what to do next, I just kept swimming, kept pedeling and kept running and the rest just happened. Of course I would love to be placing better, my time puts me just on the slow side of the average time, and both the run and the bike are contributing to that. I will continue to focus on the bike leg, my goal is going to be to hopefully get to 20mph average by the end of the season.

The event organizers for this race are pretty good at hype, they have cool videos, they have schwag you can buy, they have neat awards, and givaways. Overall though, I don't think it lives up to the hype. It's the little things like, not telling you how to put your chip on, or not communicating at all. Seriously, if you're not a fan of thier facebook page you would basically show up clueless. The cool giveaways are really sort of games, so it's not like the HED wheels they were giving away were available to everyone, apparently there was some sort of game involved, and unless you finished faster than me you didn't know what the game was. Of course those are little things, and if that's all I can complain about, then I think I'm in good shape. Would I do this race again, the hill is a big draw. It beat me this year, and that means that I still have a lot of work to do on hills and stamina. Perhaps next year I will be ready, and will want another run at it. We'll see :)

A special thanks to my sister and her family for making the trip. It's great to see them, and I really like racing with my sister. While our times aren't the same, I think we're roughly the same skill level and it's fun to see that. I also get a kick out of seeing people I know on the course.

A much more special thanks to my wife, she's a great supporter and honestly without that support I would not be able to race. It's also great fun to hear her and the kids yelling at me at transition and the finish.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Race Preview - Trinona

I heard about this race when we were still living in FL around the time of the Ironman world championships were being televised. They had a little commercial, and the cool factor of the commercial added to the idea that I went to college in this town made it a done deal. The next decision was sprint or Olympic, the main point was that the Olympic distance has a "back-breaking ascent for a little more than a mile." In fact the 1.2-mile stretch of road was featured as one of Bicycling Magazine’s "Top 100 Climbs in the U.S." with an average grade of 9.5%. Eventually I decided that while I was having fun with sprint distances, the hill was calling me, so my first Olympic is going to be a doozy.

Since being in MN I have focused a lot on bike training. Getting more miles in, trying not to avoid hills, and just bring my overall confidence up. My current state is that I am ready for the race, I'm not going to win, but I will do as well as I can.

Race Info
The race is in Winona MN, where I went to college. I have roller bladed the run course, and driven the big hill several times. I know the lake well, but I've never seen anyone swimming in it. I am looking forward to being there and giving it what I've got.

The swim is a triangle in a lake - the one reservation I have is water temperature. I am used to swimming in bath like ocean water for triathlons, but this will be in near 70 degree lake water. No salt is nice, but the cold... well historically I don't hold body heat well, so I have a wetsuit. It's also a much longer distance, from about 400 yards to 1,500 meters. I'm ready for it, I have been good about getting the time in the pool to wake up my long dormant swimming muscles.

The bike starts with a 9 mile out and back, and then heads up the bluffs for the big climb. After that there's about 6.5 flat miles, 1.25 miles down the bluffs and then about 7 back to t2. The first part of the course has rolling hills, and the last part is relatively flat.

The run course is around the swimming lake, well ... not quite around, it's 3 miles out and then turn around and come back, and if memory serves there is no shade. So, not super exciting, but at least it will be flat.

Since this is my first event at this distance, and my first race with a bike leg that has any real hills I'm going to shoot from the hip.

Swim26:251:40 per 100 yards
Bike1:3216.5 miles/hour
Run55:459:00 mins/mile

2:58 puts me firmly in the middle of the pack, but very close to the bottom of my age group, if not last. Those guys are just super fast, > 20 mph bike splits, and sub 8:00 miles on the run to get in the middle of the age group, which also puts you in the top 25% of the entire group. So I'll just do my race and see where I land.

My swimming is in a good place, and while I have not tried a full 1,500 meters straight, a 1:40 pace should feel comfortable for me even in the mix of a mass start, though I wouldn't be surprised to find out (though I won't ever really know) that I will take it out too fast, 1:18 - 1:20 for the first few hundred or so.

I put the bike pace at 16.5, I really have no idea what to expect. If the hill kills me it might really impact my pace, but if it doesn't then the relatively flat second half should help me out a bunch. I did a bike last night with hardly any wind and just some rollers and ended up around 18.5 average over 26 miles. If that happens, that's 10 minutes difference.

I put the run a little aggressive, the last few runs I have done have hit that pretty easily, and actually the last few bricks I have done actually have positively impacted my overall run pace. So we'll see how that pans out.

I put another 5 minutes of transition in there, I'm currently planning on wearing a wetsuit which will take a while to peel off, so this time might actually be accurate.

Closing Comments
I'm feeling pretty good coming into the race, my bike conditioning has improved a lot, I have put some full distance brick workouts on the books, and put at least a couple of rides in that are longer than the race distance. I'm also enjoying the "feeling" of this race, the race director has put a lot of effort to make it feel like an event and not just a race. Having the FL family come up and visit and another race with by big sister just adds to the fun.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

May Training Notes

This month my totals look like this

Swim 16,000 yards 6 hours
Bike 266 miles 15:40 hours
Run 61.5 miles 9:18 hours

The month marks the beginning of actually doing some swimming training. I started swimming with a group three times a week, and the results of that show in the total yardage. We average between 2,000 and 3,000 yards a morning, and my stamina and overall speed is coming along.

I've spent the most time biking, I'm trying to bring my overall speed up and I figure more time riding is the first step. If my memory serves me right, and I'd not be surprised to find out it's not, before I moved back to MN my mid-week rides would top out around 11 miles and I had just started doing longer weekend rides. I'm liking the group I've hooked up with, we do somewhere between 20 and 30 miles twice a week together, and then I try to get out one other time on the weekend, usually as part of a run/bike brick.

It looks like it's working - for May my average speed has been creeping up
Granted not all rides are over the same distance or same routes, but as an average I don't think it's super misleading.

I've tried to remember what the dip in that graph is from, I think it's a factor of the group ride. Our group can get pretty big, and we are supposed to average between 16-18. Most days it's close to 18, but some days the diversity of the group drives down the overall pace as we aim to not leave people behind. I was hesitant to make the jump to the next level, because they average 20+ and will not wait around if you can't keep up. But now there's an intermediate which will try to average 18-20 and will try not to drop people.

My goal with the running is to just keep the mileage up and try to stay close to the same speed. I am by no means a fast runner, but compared to where I was two years ago it's the difference, literally, between walking and jogging. So if I can bring my bike speed up three to five miles per hour by just getting more miles in, I'll be happy to put running into maintenance mode for now.