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.

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