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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Race Report: Loveland Lake-to-Lake Triathlon

As the name of the race suggests, the race was in Loveland.  This required a bit of a drive to get there with ample time to take care of all pre-race necessities.  In turn, this required getting up ungodly early for a weekend: 3:50AM...for a race...why am I doing triathlon again?

I carpooled up with my friend Oier who was also doing the race and needed a ride.  I don't think we gave ourselves enough time.  We had to park on the far East side of the high school that served as the staging point for the race and walk clear to the far West side with our gear just to get into the line to get into transition.  We split up because he had to use the bathroom, and I was getting a little anxious.  I probably waited in line for 10 minutes or so before being able to get into the transition area and my heart sank: nearly every rack looked full.  Standing there and pondering my next move, I noticed that the first rack (right by the bike in/out) contained only 7 bikes and they allow 8.  So, I'm standing there staring at the rack figuring out how to squeeze in without pissing anyone off when a woman standing there asked if I wanted to rack there.  I was like HELL YES and racked my bike immediately.

Unfortunately, as with most racks in transition, when I have the 20oz water bottles in the cage behind my seat, the bike doesn't fit under the bar.  A time saving tip is to load your bike in facing out (so it hangs by the seat) so you can pop it off and go.  So, the bottles when on the ground on my transition towel.  Turns out, 2 16oz bottles would have been sufficient, but you never know and better safe than sorry.  I set up my spot with everything where I liked it and with 25 minutes until my wave started, I figured I had plenty of time to get a good swim warmup in.  I was wrong.

I walked the ~1/4 mile from transition to the swim start (and yes, you have to run back as part of your swim after you exit the water) and while I was wiggling into my wetsuit I heard someone with a megaphone telling swimmers to get out of the water.  Wetsuit on, I ignored that and went in the water anyway, but not wanting to be THAT GUY didn't stray too far from the shore and managed to get in about 2-3 minutes of something that would normally resemble a swim warmup were it not a race.

They started the Elites and 35-39 M/F age groups all together and as the first wave - beach start.  If you've never seen a beach start for a triathlon, picture a huge crowd of people (for Ironman it's over 2000) all running into the water racing to be first because it's easier to let people pass you at the swim start than to try and pass people.  The water becomes a churning mess of legs and arms and it's all you can do to not get kicked or hit (or god forbid, have your goggles knocked off).

The horn went off and so were we.  I was in the second row behind the Elites but it didn't matter.  There were arms and legs everywhere.  I did manage to keep my goggles on though - so that was good.  The first leg was a short, probably 75m dog leg straight out from shore before a 90-degree turn to the left and out into the lake.  I'm not sure if the folks who put on this race just don't have enough buoys or chose not to use them but the 800m leg out only had 2 buoys and the second was for our next left turn.  The back stretch of the swim also had only two buoys while the finishing leg had more however maybe they ran out because still several hundred meters from shore, there was nothing left to sight on so I just followed the swimmers in front of me hoping they knew something I didn't.  I finally saw two small yellow things on the shore that I guessed marked the swim exit and headed in that direction.  I was right and finally got out of the water.

I ran up a 100 feet or so and then stopped to take off my wetsuit as I didn't want to be running in it for 400m.  I think this was a good idea for me at least since the legs on my wetsuit are 5mil.  Running into transition I found my primo racking spot and promptly screwed everything up.  I took my bike off the rack to put the water bottles in before I had put on my shoes, helmet, or glasses so I had to lay my bike down while I did all that.  Getting everything taken care of I was off.

To describe the bike course as hilly would be a gross understatement.  Immediately after exiting the HS parking lot and turning West, the rollers essentially started and my legs felt terrible.  My thoughts turned to only having 5 days off between races and what I did during those 5 days.  I wondered if I'd be able to even finish the bike.  Thankfully, the road leveled out and I felt better.  Within the first 3 miles and before leaving the town, there was a fairly technical series of turns whereby the road swept right before curving back to the left followed by a rather hard left.  This section was also on a down hill so I was carrying some speed when I hit the hard left and everythign would have been fine except I started pedaling too soon and as my left foot came down the pedal struck the road making that god awful sound that no cyclist ever wants to hear - especially in a crit.  Thankfully I didn't go down and as I recovered I shook my head knowing how stupid and lucky I just was.

After some rollers and turns, I finally got to Glade Rd which I was going to be on for a while.  It's basically up hill for probably 5 miles with some sections steeper than others.  I'm not sure if it was my choice of wheels (I was using my disc) or the slight headwind, but I really struggled on this stretch.  At the end, there's a bit of a breather descent before making a right and beginning the long, slow climb up to the West side of Horsetooth.  The hill isn't terribly steep, but it's LONG.  Still, I did better on that hill than on Glade because it was at least steady and I'd done the climbs a few times before.  At the top, there's a long, screaming descent that wasn't too technical before transitioning right into the next monster hill that would take me to the overlook on the far South end of the lake.  That hill was much shorter and steeper than the previous, yet I found it easier still and tempoed my way up.  At the top there's another long, screaming descent with a fairly tight 180 at the bottom - sort of switchback like.  I only barely had to tap the brakes before hitting the final stretch of road that takes you around the side of the lake before peeling off back towards Ft. Collins.

At the very bottom, we make the normally dreaded right on to Taft Hill Rd.  This road usually sucks because there's almost always a headwind when I ride it and it's also at like mile 60 of long training rides from Boulder.  Today was different.  Not only did I not have 60 miles already in my legs, but we had a really nice tailwind which allowed me to absolutely fly over those huge, nasty rollers that go all the way South until you hit the outskirts of Loveland.  Additionally, they had block off the entire Southbound side of the road so we had zero cars to deal with.  It was rather nice.  A few more turns and I was on the last road essentially back to the HS only this time they had the entire left half of the road blocked off for the racers so we got to ride on the left side of the road and had two full lanes plus a bike lane to spread out.

I use that last term loosely because one drawback of being in the first wave is that there's not many people in front of you. I recall stretches where I would look forward and backward and not see another racer (let alone a car) whereas at last week's sprint (in which I was in the third wave) I was not only passing people on a frequent basis but I could always see other racers.

One final slight left and flying by the sculpture park before crossing the road and into the HS parking lot where I completely spaced out needing to unvelcro my shoes and get my feet out to save some time in T2 so I had to do a half-assed run in my cycling shoes (thankfully only a short distance) to my very close bike rack.  It was a very quick T2 for me (< 1 minute) I got my socks/shoes on, grabbed my visor and race number and was off.

By this time, the cloud cover that had graced us for the entire bike (most welcome) had vanished and the sun was starting to bake everything it could touch but I felt pretty good and found a pace that was comfortable and just stuck with it.  Learning from last week's race, I didn't try and pound a Gu at the run start to keep my stomach from seizing rather I waited until the first aid station before taking some water.  Just after mile two, I started seeing the Elites coming in, said hi to my friend Josh (who finished 3rd) when he passed.  Not much later, I saw Uli, Brandon and finally Oier coming back, a couple of miles ahead of me on the run.  I could see the turn around and was rather happy it had felt like it came so quickly.  I soon realized why.  The run out was downhill.  Very slight, but noticeable after you turned around.  Still, it didn't really affect me until close to mile 4 when I started to get hot.  The last two miles were a bit of a struggle.  I just remember forcing myself to keep running and as we neared the finish to not actually stop.

The finish is a bit cruel (as my sister puts it) as they make you go away from the finish line before going past it all the way back out to the road before swinging around again and following the path to the finishing banner.  The highlight of this last 1/2 mile stretch were that no one passed me and I actually managed to pass some one in my age group ON THE RUN!  I don't think I've ever done that in a race before my runs have almost always been less than stellar.  Finish line in sight and soaking wet, I dug deep, picked up the pace and finished.

The Data:

16/74 AG, 100th overall, 85th male. 715 finishers.

Swim:  26:38 (1:46/100m) - includes 1/4-mile run from beach to T1.
T1:    1:20
Bike:  1:23:18 (21.6 mph)
T2:    0:57
Run:   47:25 (7:38/mile)
Total: 2:39:39

Monday, June 21, 2010

Race Report: 5430 Sprint Triathlon

This was my first race of the season and the first in what's known as the age group of death:  M35-39.  This was evidenced by (according to the knowledge imparted upon us by the ever entertaining Barry Siff) the 160+ registrants for this age group, although only 147 started and finished.  The waves launched at 7:30 in 5-minute intervals.  My age group was so big it occupied multiple waves however I was in the first of the two waves (wave 3) scheduled to start at 7:45.

I went into this race with a sort of relaxed confidence knowing that while I hadn't done nearly all I wanted/needed to do to exert the high effort required for this race, I was still well prepared.  I was neither nervous nor did I have the usually half-assed night of sleep the night before going to bed early and sleeping relatively soundly until 3AM or so - much later than when I normally wake up on race nights.

Having packed the night before my morning was stress free and I left the house at my previously selected time of 5:45AM.  Getting to the Res was uneventful as was parking or finding a decent racking spot in transition.  I laid out my gear and went for a warm-up run around 6:25.  Getting back to transition, I double-checked all my gear but probably dallied a little too long and was ultimately, along with may others, ushered out of transition wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap in hand.  I took some care in putting on my wetsuit to make sure it was adjusted properly and there would be no tugging, air pockets, or bunches while swimming and took a quick dip for what was probably only a 100m warm-up - far too short for my liking - before I had to line up in my wave a full 15 minutes before my start time.  With the series now being owned by Ironman, everything is a process involving lines of some sort so the start was no different.  All athletes had to activate their timing chips by going over the timing mat prior to entering the staging area in the water.  This meant one could not just warm up until just before race time and simply duck under the ropes to get a good starting position.

I lined up on left which would give me a straight shot to the far turning buoy - had I actually done a halfway decent job of sighting on the way out.  I didn't and wound up zig-zagging a bit before finally getting on the right track.  Not sure how much time I lost doing this, but my swim split of 12:45 for the 750m indicated I swam a 1:42/100m pace which is somewhat slower than I can rip off in a pool and I was wearing a wetsuit.  Lesson learned for the next race:  don't forget to sight on the way out.  After the first turn, I remembered how to sight correctly and didn't have an issue coming in.

In the last 100m or so I started kicking to wake the legs up.  This also has the effect of spiking one's HR and of the three sports in triathlon, swimming has the lowest maximum heart rate meaning it's incredibly easy to red line it if you're not careful.  This probably is exacerbated as you stand up at the end of your swim, run through several feet of water and up a couple hundred feet of sand towards transition.  You may be able to train for this, but I'm not convinced it ever gets any easier.

Wetsuit came off quickly during the run up and in T1.  Everything was smooth save for knocking a water bottle over as I unracked my bike and instead of leaving it, wasted some valuable seconds picking it backup.  I say valuable because in a sprint, just like in a short TT or prologue in cycling, the times are (usually) close together and 7 seconds saved would have seen me move up 2 more spots in my age group standings.  T1 time was 1:13, not bad, but certainly room for some small improvements.

I had a little trouble at the mount line getting my right cleat in - some more valuable seconds lost - but was soon out on the bike and hammering.  One difficulty with the triathlons at the Res is that the bike course is all uphill for at least the first 5 miles.  It's not steep, but it's uphill and you can tell.  There was some obvious wind on the bike but not enough to make me feel like I was wasting a ton of energy.  There were, however, times when I caught myself just cruising rather than pushing the pace - more time lost.  I played leap frog with some guys in my age group but all in all, I was probably not passed by more than 6 riders total and not all were in my age group.  This was promising.

I came flying back into the Res, pulled my feet from my shoes and had a perfect running dismount losing no momentum and passing several more riders in the process.  Bike time:  45:01 for a 22.9mph average.  I forgot to unbuckle my helmet while running back to my rack so I wasted some more time having to do it there and struggled a little getting my socks on and square so I could just slip my shoes on and go.  I grabbed my race belt, a Gu, and my visor and was off.  T2 time:  1:17.

I pounded the Gu immediately and tried to wash it down with water but spilled more than I got in my mouth and had to run tasting chocolate for the first mile until I could get more water.  The Gu was a big mistake - not because of the Gu, but rather because of mixing it with my custom Infinit sport drink mix that I consumed on the bike.  Stomach cramps dogged me for almost two miles before subsiding into the realm of "ok, this is reasonably bearable."  I have no idea what my pace was at the time but I found something that was at the top end of comfortable that also felt.  As with the bike leg, not many people in my age group passed me but I never actually considered where this would lead me to place - I just focused on running, keeping my pace and doing my thing.  There was a slight headwind going out and while certain, I think it's also VERY slightly up hill.  Regardless, at the turn around, the change was noticeable and while I'm not sure if my pace changed, it definitely felt easier.  Soon, I was back on the paved road and cruising to the finish.  Approaching the corner, a quick glance back told me that no one was going to sneak by me in the last 100m.  Running down the finishing chute I was vaguely aware of the race announcer saying my name and something about last year's Ironman.  I cross the finish line and glanced at the clock.  Race time: 1:23:15 with no real idea on where I placed.

My wife met me at the finish and we milled about the finishing stretch waiting for my sister to finish.  I believe she was out on the run within 5 minutes of me finishing.

Finally, the results were posted and I saw what shocked the hell out of me:  in my first race in the age group of death, I landed a top-20.  I was over the moon.  And checking my stats from the last time I did this race in 2008, my time was actually 11 seconds.  But most importantly, the bike was faster by well over a minute and almost 1mph.

Final stats:  AG placing:  20/147, 130th overall.