Monday, August 29, 2011

Race Review - Maple Grove Olympic Triathlon

This was my first time at this race, and my second time doing this distance. The overall goal was to feel good about the distance, not feel like it had killed me, and secondly to do better - timewise - as I had done in the first Olympic. I figured that would actually be pretty easy since the first race was way hillier than this one.

A note about this event: It's actually three races at one venue at the same time. A sprint distance, an Olympic distance, and a new event called Tri-Star which is a triathlon with a very heavy bike focus, which is apparently popular in Europe, but this was the first US Tri-Star event.

The Training
In August I put 3-4 hours of training a week. We had a baby in the second week, and that dominated the rest of it. So really I'm thinking 3 - 4 hours is pretty decent, though it did make me wonder about my ability to handle this race at the pace I wanted to handle it.

Packet Pickup
Packet pickup was available the day before the race at the race site. I have two thoughts on this, one is that it's a good thing it wasn't raining or something. That would have sucked, mostly because of the second thought. The second thought is that you cannot drive right up to the race site because it's at a public park, and the parking lot is used for transition so you can't park there. The result is that you park (possibly) at a different entrance, or maybe at a school that is a few blocks away, and then trek to packet pickup. I dislike this - mainly because of all of the walking involved. But also because I have three little kids, and they didn't want to take the walk, so they ended up playing somewhere else.

The one plus side is that it gave me a chance to check out the transition area and try to figure out some of the questions I had about the race (like where the bike leg started, and which direction the run went.) I eventually did figure all of that out - this whole process took about 30 minutes. Actual packet pickup took about 2 minutes, the rest of the time was me walking around trying to find the transition area or figure it out.

After that we drove the bike course, I wondered what it looked like and from maps I had looked at I wondered what the intersections looked like.

Race Morning
I had a terrible time sleeping the night before, I think I got about 3.5 hours of sleep. I got up at 4:15, got dressed, remembered that I had forgotten my swim cap, had some breakfast and was out the door by 4:50. Originally my plan was to leave a little after 5, but sometime the night before I decided I wanted to be able to get to the transition area early enough to be able to decide where I wanted to put my bike instead of just getting stuck with whatever was left.

The transition area is split up by wave. I really like that. It gives you an assigned area, but also gives you a chance to see who you will be racing against. That setup also gives you a chance to gauge your position in your age group during the race by looking at what bikes are already in your area. Granted my wave didn't correspond to my age-group completely, but it was close enough. My age group is 30-34, and the wave handled 15-34, but the heat itself wasn't that large, and as far as I could tell there weren't any 15-year-olds :)

The transition are was very large, this was the largest race I had been a part of, there were 22 waves to handle about 1,000 people. I felt extremely fortunate to have my rack be right in the middle. My bike was about half way between the swim/run exit and the bike exit. It would not have been fun to tack another 400 yards of running every time I was in transition to get to the back and get my junk.

After getting transition setup and chipped, and marked, I had some time to just sit and watch the crowd, it's my favorite way to start a race, nice and relaxed. Although it's quite a bit more fun when someone else is there to chat with. This was my first race that I was competing "alone" as in I didn't personally know anyone in the race.

The Swim
There were three waves before me, Tri-Star pro, Tri-star age group (there were only about 100 tri-star competitors), and Olympic elite. Chris McCormick (Macca) was there doing the Tri-star race, it was sort of interesting to see that. The only time during the race I saw him was getting out the water, he was destroying the field of pros at that point.

A note about the course: Because there were three races going on, except for the run there were also three difference distances for everything (Tri-Star 1k, 100k, 10k. Sprint .25m, 13m, 3m. Olympic: 1.5k, 40k, 10k.) The swim course was a great example of how much this can suck. I can tell you for sure that nobody would be able to confidently tell you just by looking in the lake who was swimming where and in what direction they would be going. There were big orange buoys, little yellow ones, big yellow ones, and giant white ones. At the pre-race meeting they did a great job of describing the course, but in all seriousness they need to rethink the buoy setup for next year.

I didn't have any idea how I would place in my wave. Part of me was worried about my conditioning and worried that I would fade and then have people running over me. The other part of me reasoned that two weeks of weak training can't undo a summer's worth of training. So at first I lined up in the back, and then with a minute to go I moved to the front on the outside.

Probably contemplating where I should place myself
They sent us off, and everything just settled into place, there wasn't a ton of jostling, but there was the occasional guy who had decided to go out as hard as he could and zig-zag his way to the finish that needed to be navigated in the beginning.

As for the swim, it was pretty decent. Some guys really took off, and I never caught them, I think eventually they did stop pulling away so that was good. And there was another guy who was basically around the entire time. Though if I could have had a chance to talk to him afterwards I'd let him know if he can figure out how to swim straight he'd probably take 40 seconds off his time. The only real challenge for the swim was finding the finish line. When my wave started there were two small yellow buoys marking the exit, by the time I got back there were four more. At this point it's probably prudent to point out that they did have a huge arch, they just didn't blow it up, they ran out of time.

There's the guy I was with the whole time
And just like that he's gone

I felt ok coming out of the water, ran to transition took my time getting my stuff together to let me head settle and then hopped on the bike.
Waving to my family, a smile on my face must mean I'm doing ok :)
The Bike
I had overheard some guys talking about the course in transition where they said that the first half of the bike will feel slow, but not to sweat it because the second half will feel much faster. That actually helped a lot, because the first half did feel slow.

The course is a mix between rural highways and medium traffic residential areas. There are several controlled intersections and even a couple where you have to cross against traffic. The bike course is the highlight of this race, the course itself is nothing spectacular, the roads a variable - smooth and rough with rolling hills. What makes it the highlight is that it was so well put together. All of the intersections are controlled and controlled well. It was well marked, there were lots of volunteers, two water pickups, and even people just hanging out watching the race go by. If the rest of the event was like this it would be a must do event.

I was feeling ok on the bike. I only passed a couple of people, but spent most of the race getting passed. But when the race consists of roughly 400 people who mostly started behind you except for the elite group, I guess that's to be expected unless you're going to win it.

Rolling in to T2 - there's a guy right in front of me getting ready to get in my way :)

When I came into transition I was pretty disappointed, there were more people in my area than I was expecting, but I just did my thing and headed out.

The Run
The run was a two loop course that basically rounded the lake twice. The in the park run only lasts about half a mile, the rest of the time is outside of the park through neighborhoods. I wasn't feeling that awesome when I started, but I wasn't feeling terrible either. So I just focused on keeping my legs moving, and not slowing down too much.

Per normal for me, I was getting passed quite a bit. But I was doing my fair share of passing too. At this point in the race the sprint and Olympic distance racers were mixed in together. You could tell a sprinter from an Olympian based on the color of their number. So I knew when I was passing someone who had likely passed me on a bike, or when someone came blazing by who was only running a 5k.

There were only two distance markers, one on the first lap at mile 1, and one on the second lap at mile 4. Surprisingly you cannot see them both at the same time, but that's just because the second lap isn't an exact copy of the first lap. That played a little bit with my brain because I had forgotten to put my watch on after the bike so I didn't know how fast I was running, or how far we had gone. I put the misplaced watch out of my mind as fast as I could.

There were an odd number of water stops, maybe 5. Usually they are near distance markers, here they seemed sort of randomly placed. No matter, it was nice, and the people manning them were nice too. The only downside was that when I went through the second time they were starting to run out of water. Now I knew that I wasn't near the end of the field of racers, if they were out of water for me, what was going to happen for the rest of the people.

The best part of the run was the people who lived along it, there were many people out and cheering us on. It was great, some had music, some had water hoses out (thank you!) and some were telling us distances to the finish.

Overall the run felt really good, after the first mile that seemed to drag on forever the rest went really fast. After a few miles I even picked a guy who I was catching very slowly as someone who would pull me to the end. The goal became to finish ahead of him. I caught him during one of his walk breaks, and yelled out "you have to keep running, I've been chasing you for four miles, you can do it!" I chatted with him, he had a GPS watch, so I asked him what his pace was. It was close to my goal pace, so I reasoned that meant I was doing better than planned. As I pulled away I gave him some encouragement and hoped I wouldn't see him again. I didn't.

The Finish
Remember when I said there were only two distance markers? Well really there were three - there was one about 100 yards from the end - it wasn't different than the others, just ... I don't even know what they were thinking.

The final chute
Nothing special to report about the finish, I had started picking up the pace around 4 miles and felt pretty good about that, so I was plenty tired. I didn't see a timer at the end, so I didn't really know how I had done. I met up with my wife and kids, and friend Sara and her kids. Grabbed a bite and sat around a little in the great afternoon weather.

Me and the new baby!
 The Results

Goal Actual
Swim 28:45 25:59
Bike 1:22:00 1:22:01
Run 54:30 53:48
Total 2:50 2:46:06

The swim – That's about 5 seconds per hundred faster than I anticipated. The night before the race the water temp was 81, the morning of it was 77... my guess is the water didn't really cool 5 degrees over night. So had the water temp stayed high I probably would have fared better in the field, as it is 35th overall. As it was I was one of just a few people without a wetsuit, so I think I did alright :)
The bike – Right on target; turns out the course is really 42 km, so that speed is really 19.2. Still pretty decent.

The run – Two races in a row where I hit the run goal. I didn't walk at all and was able to "feel it" and hit the speed I was shooting for without relying on the Garmin.

Overall I did pretty well, the race felt good, and while it's hard to tell how well I actually did (the posted results look a little funny - like the overall results show my AG place at 16/28, the AG results say 17/30.) It looks like I lost the most places on the bike which is sort of disappointing.

Closing Comments
I'm happy with my performance on this race - I'm not all that happy with this race as an event, but I do feel like I turned in a solid performance.

There's nothing special about this race, and actually because of the lack of polish, the only reason I would do this race again is if it fits nicely with my other plans. This year this race fell on the same weekend as two other races, if that happens again next year this race will not win that battle.

It's things like a difficult to understand swim course, not being done setting up before the swim started, and never having time to finish. Running out of water on the run course was pretty lame. It was hard to hear the announcers. And despite what I had read about this race previously, it's not actually spectator friendly.

The hill where everything is allows you to see transition, but not the bike exit/entrance. You can watch the swim, but not quickly move from there to a swim entrance for cheering. It's basically just an area to hang out and not watch the race, in fact from the common area you cannot watch any part of the race but the swim. I also dislike not being able to park near the event. I'd chalk this all up to venue, this venue cannot really support this event.

Again, thanks again to my wife. She braved three kids and a jogging stroller all piled onto a school bus to come cheer me on. You're awesome! Also thanks to my friends Tony and Sara who came out early to see me. Tony even snapped of the pictures from above.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Race Preview - Maple Grove Olympic Triathlon

This will be my second Olympic distance triathlon, and the last triathlon of the season for me. I'm not quite sure what to make of this race, it's longer than the sprints I usually do, and my training has fallen off for a variety of reasons, including having a new baby last week. On the other hand I just had a personal best in the last race I did, and I have been having a great summer overall for training.

Race Info
The race in in Maple Grove, it's about an hour north of where we live. So I'll be trucking it up there the morning of. I'm sure it will remind me of the tris of last year in FL where we always seemed to be getting up in the middle of the night :)

The swim is a little backwards triangle - the odd thing about this triangle though is that it's "backwards" from right to left. So instead of doing right turns we'll be doing left turns. I don't think it matters, but maybe. I'm sure this race will be wetsuit legal in the eyes of USAT, but I will be forgoing the wetsuit. Since I don't own one it's seems almost like an extension of race fees to rent one. We'll see how I do over 1500m without the aid of the suit :)

The bike is a 26 mile sort of figure eight. It's not really a figure eight, because you don't ever cross the path of other riders in the sense that a figure eight would cause. But the course does go through the same intersection twice on opposite corners. While I haven't actually seen the course, I did plop it into Google Earth and did a pretty junky flyover, and take a peek at the elevation profile. The course looks pretty flat with not too many turns.

The run is two loops, sort of. The first loop is the sprint loop, and the second loop is almost the same course with a little jaunt in a different direction for a bit.

Course Map Note-

Picture of the course


So here's the deal - I find these two things ridiculous. Because this isn't my first rodeo I know the picture is suggesting that there are two courses in one picture, and because one overlaps the other, but only for part of it, and that piece seems to come after the start, I can assume there are two laps. But what's really confusing is when I try to put the words with the picture. Seriously, what is the deal with 8, A, B, C, 5? Hopefully the course is better marked, I'm sure it will be.

Swim .9 miles28:451:40 per 100 yards
Bike 26 miles1:22:0019 miles/hour
Run 6.2 miles54:308:45 mins/mile

Last year was the first year for this event, and while I've looked at the results, it's hard to gauge how well I'd have done in that event since the times vary drastically from what I normally see. So I'm not going to try to figure out ahead of time how well these times might fare against the competition.

1:40 is ten seconds slower than the goal from the last race which I pretty much hit. The difference is that I'm swimming three times further. That time is also five full minutes slower than my first Olympic race, but that was with a wetsuit. I guess some of it is that when I got in the pool last the yards just didn't melt away like I wanted them too, so I'm a little worried about stamina.

I put the bike pace at 19, I'm pretty sure that's doable for me and still have some steam left for the run. I actually really want to make it slower, but since I did so well in the last race I'll say that I can hold 19.

For the run, I'm actually feeling pretty good going into the race. The last couple of runs have been pretty good for me, and assuming I don't have any problems with cramps I should be able to pull this one off. I now know that I can usually go harder than my brain says during the race I should be able to push to this if I start to fall off pace.

I put another 4 minutes of transition in there, that's probably pretty realistic. We'll see, I'm going to try to focus a little more on the transition than the last few races. I'm not going to say I'm going to get down to two minutes, but hopefully it's not much more than 3.

Closing Comments
It's the last race of the year, and the second Olympic. I'm hoping to hit it pretty hard, and go out with a bang. After this race I'm taking a bunch of time off. After basically 17 months of 4-6 a day workouts I'm ready for a break.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Race Review - Lakefront Days Triathlon

This was my second time doing this race, two years ago it was my first triathlon. My overall goal was to do better than the first time, but a secondary goal was to move away from being a mid-pack racer. I have higher goals than that :)

The Training
In July I put 6-8 hours of training a week. Time wise the focus was biking, swimming then running. While I'm not quite sticking to the plan I hatched in May, the training is paying off, even if it sort of feels like it's on autopilot.

Packet Pickup
This is the second triathlon I've been a part of where someone else is allowed to pick up your packet, the first one was also this race two years ago. It feels funny, but at the same time I'm not too sure why USAT has that rule. So having my wife stop and pick up packets when she has time during the day is nice.

Race Morning
One of the great things about races in MN over FL is that they start later. The first wave of this race left at 8, and since we live about two miles from the course we left the house a little before seven and had plenty of time to get there and get prepped.

Getting ready to head into transition
 This event had a 300 person cap and so, except for the elite people, the transition area was a free for all. This has a up-side and a downside. The upside is that you can choose where you go, I've not picked up on any pros or cons to bike placement in transition, so we just found some open spots and settled in. A downside is that the rows aren't labeled by bib number, so if you get a little out of whack during the race it may take a little longer to find your spot. Thankfully, some people are more aware of the downside than I am and bring things to mark their row. People in our row tied a red bandana to the end of the row, and someone else drew a large pink arrow on the ground, it was very helpful.

A note about body marking - in all the races I can remember the markers they use are marginally painful, and leave the number marked in there so well you still have it faintly on your arm after a few days. Not at this race, the marker was nice and soft (and the girl who did it had some fantastic hand writing, it looked like she had stenciled it in there) and in the shower I was able to get it all off.

After getting transition setup and chipped, and marked, we had some time to just sit and watch the crowd, it's my favorite way to start a race, nice and relaxed.

The Swim
There were three waves before me, elites, young men, young women. Since the swim start and exit are right next to each other it gave me a chance to see how fast the elites were coming in. I suspected the fastest swim times would come from that group. Since the heats left every three minutes it was fairly easy to estimate their times as they were coming out. The first elite swimmer exited the water just over 6 minutes.

My sister-in-law was in the heat just before mine. We had joked a little that I might pass her in the water, she had said the swim would take her 20 minutes. At that speed I would expect to pass her in the first 50-100 yards. I was going to keep my eye out so I could give her a thumbs up as I cruised by.

My daughter had just yelled at me "Put on your swimming hat!"
Since I was pretty sure I was going to place high in the swim, and I could see congestion during the swim toward the inside of the course I took position on outside, but in front. The gun went off and I think I got out fast enough to avoid any of the churn. I settled into a pretty decent pace in the first 100 or so yards. There was a guy closer to the middle near me, and after a bit I saw a guy who had popped out to a big early lead - no worries though, I now know people fade quickly, and while this is not a long swim, I would likely catch him before the end. At the turn around point we were catching the people from the wave before us, and much to my surprise it was not little sister. She had grossly underestimated her capabilities. She had been worried about being the slowest, and I was sure at that point she knew people were behind her and that was making her feed good. About 100 yards later I did pass her. I flipped over on my back and waved until she came up for air. I made a little smile and off I went. There was some pretty heavy congestion near the end, but I just swam through it. I never did catch that guy, but I did significantly close the gap, he ended up 2 seconds faster than me (though overall I made up that time :)

Smiling out of the water - that's a good sign
 I felt good coming out of the water, ran to transition and hopped on the bike.

The Bike
The plan was to push myself comfortably hard, use my knowledge of the course to know where it's easy to pick up speed and when it's best to conserve a little energy.

The course is on rural highways, and the main benefit to being in the race is that there are enough other people on the road that I don't feel compelled to stay as close as I can to the shoulder which makes the ride much more comfortable. Overall I am really happy about the ride, I had my watch with me so I knew how fast I was going, but I didn't know average speed or elapsed time, which is probably good. I just like having the rough indication of how much effort I'm putting out to get to a desirable speed.

I was feeling great on the bike. I was passing many more people than were passing me, and I was able to race my own race. A guy passed me in the first three miles, and about three miles later I passed him back - he just faded. As I rolled by he said "way to hold a good pace" I didn't see him again. Speaking of passing that guy, I noticed someone trying to pass me at the same time but then filed in behind me. That turkey stayed in my shadow for like 6 miles, as we were coming up to the second to last turn he called out "we're almost there, I've just been trying to keep up." It irked me a little, when I let up a little to get my legs ready to run and take some water he smoothed on by and we rolled into transition at the same time.

Note on drafting: Drafting isn't allowed, but I saw a lot of it. There was the guy behind me, which I couldn't really see, but he was definitely camping back there. We passed a kid who was right on the back tire of someone else. When I passed him I picked up the pace to avoid forming a little train with a Jeremy locomotive. It was surprising, I've never really noticed it, and before this summer wouldn't have known why people did it, but now I know that it's a huge advantage. It's much easier to cruise behind someone who is blocking the wind for you.

When I came into transition I knew I was in good shape overall, I knew I was doing a lot better than anticipated. It was basically empty, so there weren't that many people in front of me. Considering how many people started in front of me that was a good thing.

The Run
The run was a nice little jaunt around the lake. Some little hills, two water stops, and a mix of sun and shade. For all triathlons I think the run is the part I have the least invested in. I never seem to be able to do it as fast as I want or without stopping.

After a little confusion on my part about making sure I had all my stuff I wanted on the run I took off. Empty transition had given me a good morale boost. When I glanced down to see my pace it said seven even, so I backed off a little. My goal for this race was 8:30, and from the past I know that means not leaving it all out there in the first half and steadily slowing down. It was also about this time my calves started to cramp.

Calf cramps have been sort of nagging me for about a month, I get them when I swim or bike hard and apparently when I run hard. I have been trying to make sure my diet is in a good place. Extra potassium and plenty of water. Since it's not terrible, and it's often at the end of a workout I'd say I've been doing well at keeping it under control. But I'll have to try harder to make sure I am good and hydrated and filled with vitamins before races.

The cramps faded before I could convince myself I needed to stop and stretch them out.

Overall I am very happy with the run, I got passed by some people but it wasn't terrible, and I even passed two people. I did not stop at all, and in the water stops instead of slowing to take a drink I just used the water to cool me down. I had made sure to hydrate extra on the bike to take away the thirst "reason" to slow down.

The Finish
At about the 2.5 mile mark a woman passed me, I had picked her to be the third person I would (re)pass since she wasn't rocketing along. When I started to pick up the pace for the last mile in she was pretty far ahead, and I figured I had missed my opportunity. About 1/2 mile from the end I realized (from shouts in the crowd) that she was actually the first woman finisher. I was closing in on her quickly, but I have to admit that knowing that I was coming in before all the other women was taking the sting of waiting too long to reel her in.

No smiles, but I was feeling good on the inside
The Results

The swim – This time is pretty decent, it's 5th overall, 2nd in my age group. I could probably hit it a little harder, but it's hard to say what impact that may have. Top 5 finish in the swim is decent, and the swim is such a small portion of overall time and place that I'm going to call this one good.

The bike – That time is significantly faster than my goal time. I had put my goal speed at 18 - that time puts my official speed at 19.8 - though my Garmin says the course is longer than they do. The Garmin says my speed was 20.1. There was no wind to speak of, and I think that plays a factor in overall speed, but overall that time as still top 50 which is pretty dang good.

The run – This is the first triathlon where I think I have hit my goal. I had chosen what I thought to be a pretty aggressive goal given my history of totally bonking on the run. But I stuck with it, gutted out the end and basically met my goal.

Overall I did much better than expected. 55/270 overall, 10/28 in my age group. I lost a lot of places on the run. If I can bring down my run time by five or six minutes then I will finally be a place where transition times are killing me. They are still significantly slower than people around me, but one thing at a time.

Closing Comments
This is by far my best race, I did much better than I thought I would and I felt pretty good doing it. There's still plenty of room for improvement but I'm not feeling like all my efforts are for naught.

There's nothing special about this race in terms of the race itself. But it is a much better race than it was two years ago. They added a rope down the middle of the swim course to keep people from crossing into oncoming traffic. They added finisher's medals and post race snacks. The workers were friendly, the announcer was lively and did a good job of not sounding like he was saying the same thing over and over (even though he was.) I will do this race again.

I had a great time racing with my sister-in-law, she's got a great attitude and did really well. She says she's excited to get better, and I hope I get to be part of that. It's fun to race with people you know, and it's really fun to see them get better. I also get a personal satisfaction of trying to match other people's improvements in my own improvements, it's like motivation by association. I wouldn't say it's a competition, but it does push me.

Again a 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, August 2, 2011

July Training Notes

This month my totals look like this

Swim32,500 yards9:45 hours
Bike287 miles15:40 hours
Run30 miles5:00 hours

I can honestly say I'm ready for a break. I think I've been going solid with 5-7 days a week for 14 months and it's starting to creep into my brain. I have to dig pretty deep to get up at 5, or rush through dinner to get in a long workout.

Swimming yardage jumped up even though time didn't really change that much. I'm just swimming faster.

Biking miles went up too, also without more time. Biking faster - I would have liked to pull this one up further, but I have not been sticking to plan overall. I feel like my bike endurance and speed has come a long way this summer so far though, so I'm happy about that.

I have a sneaking suspicion that putting running in maintenance mode is going to bite me on the last two races. Time will tell, but the last two times I went out I hit the wall HARD, especially on the last brick.