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.

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