Monday, May 08, 2006

Race Report: Chain of Lakes Triathlon (Sprint Distance)

Preface: My usual verbosity precedes the actual race footage, so if you want to skip all the fun story behind the story stuff, just click here and go right to the race report. And, as usual, check out the race photos over on the right side of the page!

The Friday before race day was a hectic one. I usually like to end my day-before-the-race a little early, get everything "on my list" done, and then put in my headphones with my iPod and pack my transition bag. Just relax - no real thinking or visualizing or anything, but time "in the zone". When I have that opportunity, my transition planning and race day packing is generally impeccable. But I'm launching an important project at work, and life in general kept me busy through every day last week, including Friday. Cap to that the hour I spent with ebay trying to work out how my account got hijacked (goooood times), and I was a little frazzled, rather than relaxed, when I finally wrapped up to go pack up.

The Chain of Lakes triathlon is in Alexandria, which is about 2 hours from where I live. Some friends came along (Amy had a work retreat, so she couldn't join us), and we stayed at my friend Mike's parents' beautiful home - which added about an hour to the travel time. I was chatting with Mike about 2 hours in when I realized I'd forgotten my number belt - the belt I attach my race number to, so that in transition I just clip the belt around my waist and go. The alternative to this is...I don't know. Wearing a t-shirt with the number clipped to it (and so taking the time to put on a t-shirt while in transition) or, even worse, stopping to pin my number to my tri suit in transition. Uh, no. So Mike and I got to brainstorming about what I could use for an impromptu belt. I was having visions involving bicycle tubes and velcro when Mike suggested we just stop and buy some shorts and cut off the shorts, leaving only the waist band. Brilliant! It would mean stepping into the belt in transition, rather than running while clipping it on, but it was a great solution. So, we stopped at Wal-Mart in Alexandria and, while looking, decided boxer shorts with a simple elastic band, rather than a big bunchy athletic shorts band, worked better. Hilarity ensued, then, when the most appropriate choice were some "Euro" boxer-briefs that advertised "with molded pouch", requiring me to traipse around Wal-Mart with goofy ass underwear in tow. Not easily embarrassed, I didn't care...but we all found it funny. Also funny when purchasing said item - "Is that all for you today?" "Yep, just the single pair of Euro man panties, thanks." Good times.

The weather for Saturday morning called for 60 some degrees, lots of sunshine, and a 10mph wind from the SSW. A beautiful day for racing.

I woke up at 5:35 and jumped in the shower before heading down to breakfast. The swim leg for this race is in a pool, with locker rooms nearby, and because of the limited number of lanes we go in waves. Knowing this, I knew it'd be at least an hour from the "start" of the race until I got in the water. In keeping with my season-long goal of working on my race-day nervous energy, I kept it relaxed while eating and getting organized. I'm happy to report no sick stomach as maybe I'm mentally toughening up a bit. It also meant I didn't put on my superhero outfit yet - I could do that when I got there. I threw on a hooded blue Jordan sweatshirt with "23" embroidered on the sleeve and headed out the door for the 45 minute drive to the race site.

About 30 minutes in, while chatting with Mike, I promptly remembered that I hadn't remembered my Boost - part of my breakfast. Dammit. Because I wouldn't be racing until somewhere around 10am, and transition opened at 7am, and so we left at 6am, I brought my Oatmeal and thermos of hot water with me to eat when we got there (wanting, as usual, to eat 3 hours before the race), which I usually follow with some Boost. Another symptom of a frazzled mind - not a great way to approach a race. There is no room for carelessness in triathlon. On the one hand, part of the point of first-race-of-the-season is to work out kinks like that. On the other hand, it's just unacceptable. I need to make a list and be diligent from now on, and remove myself from distractions that might be confusing my already hectic mind. Ultimately, I decided to forgo the Boost - it was at most going to be 90 minutes of racing, not requiring a large surge of carbs and calories. Besides, I stopped at Caribou for my Turtle Mocha caffeine hit, and that provided any additional calories I needed. So while it turned out unimportant, it's the act of forgetting it that is unacceptable. I need to clean it up.

We arrived at the race site just before 7am, and wondered what happened to our lovely weather report. It was dark and gloomy, and there was at least a 15-17mph wind, sometimes gusting and always freaking biting cold, hurling obscenities at us all. What the hell? With no sunshine to warm it up and the heavy wind, setting up in transition was more precarious than I'd anticipated the day before. I wore gloves, and had to set some items - like my goofy ass improvised Euro Manties Number Belt - under my shoes so it wouldn't blow away. This wind would SUCK on the bike, and this cold would definitely affect performance. Nothing to be done about it, but it was a little discouraging. For the 3rd year in a row the weather for this race sucked, and while we were setting up triathletes chatted about the weather, and made jokes with hidden truths to calm their own nerves.

I found a spot for my bike just near the end, where I liked to be - I prefer to arrive at races the minute transition opens so I can, if possible, choose my bike location, but mostly I just like the time to get acclimated to race day. I love race day. I set Ol' Blue up on the tarmac and dropped my bag to go get body marked - where they write your number in permanent marker on your arm/leg/hand - and pick up my race packet. I'd return to fully set up transition afterwards. Besides, at this point I needed to head indoors - it was cold as hell out here.

My first indication of the kind of day I'd have came in picking up my packet with my number in it. I looked at the outside of the envelope and saw I'd be in Wave 7 for the swim...and then checked for my race number inside the envelope. Remember the Jordan hoody I told you I wore with number 23 emblazoned on the sleeve? Right. My assigned number for the race was also 23. Beautiful. I told my buddy Mike they might as well scrawl JORDAN across my back because it's playoff time baby and I plan to deliver. Aaaah yeeeah. I don't believe in coincidences, though we laughed at it and took a picture of the 23 marked on my hand just below the 23 embroidered on my sleeve. Then I chose to let it give me just a bit of an edge - an expectation I'd place on myself to live up to it. I don't care if that sounds a little silly, on race day you find meaning where there can be, and you let it give you an edge if you can. I did.

I went outside - still blustery and cold as hell - to set up transition, throwing on my iPod (All-American Rejects, thanks very much.) I did as I usually do in transition - set up my stuff while reviewing the day's plan. I've never "raced" before. I was mentioning this to my friends, and indicated this last week on the blog, but every race I've ever done has had some ulterior intention. Usually this race is the "first-race-of-the-season". I come in with low expectations, just working out the kinks, finding my stride, kick starting whatever little bit of training I've been doing. Mid-season races have been explorations in strategies or tweaks for the end-of-season "A" race...but have never just been about the day itself, the race itself. Similar to how the Earth Day Half Marathon wasn't about running a Half Marathon - it was about assessing strategies and unearthing potential trouble spots to focus on in the weeks to come. My Half IM coming up in June is the same way - a "trial run" to see where I am, how I am, and where to go from there. But today, this day, I was actually going to race. That doesn't mean my objective on the day was defined by the performance of those around me and my performance in relationship to them, but it meant I was going to go all out. I was going to compete as hard as I could against myself, and part of what defined that competition was my place in the field. It was a short race, and it would require a huge expenditure of energy in a short burst. My heart rate would be high the whole day, and I wouldn't be holding anything back. No energy reserves "for later" - there was no later in this race. Here and now. Kicking ass every instant was the objective of the day. I knew my training had me up to it. Could I execute when it came time?

About 8:15, all set up, I went back into the pool to warm up a bit before taking a quick spin on my bike to make sure I was in the starting gear I wanted to be in. When I came back out, I assessed Ol' Blue. A Fighter Jet on the tarmac (FYI: Sometimes Ol' Blue is organic, much like a mighty steed. Sometimes Ol' Blue is a machine that talks to my mind. And sometimes, usually only at certain races, Ol' Blue is a Fighter Jet. You're just going to have to cope with the mixed metaphors the same way I do. Blame the ADD, that's what I do). Brand new blue Continental 4000 racing tires. My Rolf Vigor racing wheels, fast as hell and ready to fly. Even a carbon fiber bottle cage. That's right, a carbon fiber bottlecage. Because even your bottle cage can be a tad too heavy. Shed of the 4 bottles, air pump, 3 extra cages, extra tire, headlight and tail light that usually weigh it down in long training rides. Freshly cleaned from last weekend's battle with road grime. Shining and gleaming and ready to fly. I jumped on, clipped in, and headed down the road for a quick spin. I looked down at my speedometer, which told me I was clipping at 22mph with hardly any effort.

It was going to be a good day.

I repositioned Ol' Blue on the Flight Deck and headed back in, ready to change into my Orca Elite tri suit and have a quick warmup in the pool, encouraged by how great those 2 minutes on my bike felt. I entered the pool for warm up precisely 20 pounds lighter than when this blog was started, some 14 pounds lighter than this time last year, some 4 pounds lighter than last year's peak race weight, and about 9 pounds away from Ironman goal weight. I swam a few lengths and felt sleek in the water, fast. For once I was in shape to approach this race with diligence. I felt good.

It was going to be a good day.

With a few minutes to go before the start, I was relaxing in the bleachers with my friends when a woman walked by, clipping on her heart rate monitor. I didn't intend to wear mine for this race (its feedback information unimportant in today's race - I knew I'd be high all day), but it gave me the idea - I could use my HRM for a race belt! That way I could clip it onto my waist while running, instead of stepping into the elastic band in transition, saving me precious seconds. Brilliant! So I ran out to my transition area and made the swap. Still cold as hell and overcast and way more windy than we'd anticipated.

The race finally started at 9am, with me happily positioned in the bleachers, watching the swimmers in Wave 1 start. If you figure somewhere around 12 minutes per wave, and I was in Wave 7...well, I had some time. My friends and I examined swim strokes and looked for the best ones and assessed where the weak ones needed improving. It wasn't to be critical - as I said last week, this race is often the first race ever for many people, and sometimes that's reflected in their swim stroke. I have deep respect for everybody out there, regardless of technique or ability, because I know what it is inside them that gets them out there on a Saturday morning when so much of the rest of the world is sleeping or eating Krispy Kreme, and I applaud them each. Still, it was fun to watch the really great swimmers - so effortless and smooth. I pointed out all the things they were doing right, and asked my friends to keep an eye on me to tell me how I compared. I was relaxed and enjoying myself, and really had no nerves at all.

It finally came time for my Wave to go hang in the on-deck hold. We corralled ourselves onto the bleachers and waited while the race organizer told us what lane we'd be in. We'd be grouped in our lane according to other competitors who indicated a similar expected finishing time to ours. 3 or more to a lane, and circle swim - meaning you follow the guy in front of you down the right side of the lane, then when you touch the wall you move over to the opposite side of the lane.

The wave in front of us mostly cleared out, we approached our lanes. All of us trying to be cool and calm, but still I was reminded of children being lined up for swimming lessons. The director told us we had 3 minutes, and we all jumped in to warm up a bit.

I was in a lane with Lanky Kid and Serious Dude. Lanky Kid was probably early 20's, tall and learn - a great swimmer's physique. Serious Dude was dark with beady eyes, and was busy taking strokes off the wall. We conferred - how fast did we each think we'd go? Last year I swam this in 10:14...and I didn't expect to do any better this year with my swim training being as intentionally back-burner as it's been so far. They each indicated 10:30, so I threw out 10:15 - mostly because last year both guys in my lane grossly overestimated themselves and started in front of me, leaving me to hang on the wall while precious seconds dripped by while I waited for them to get in front of me and then deal with them tangling up the lane all morning. I figured - let them go around me this year. So I suggested that I start, and they agreed. Serious Dude asked Lanky Kid what he thought he's overall time might be today. Lanky Kid thought around 1:25? (and hour and 25 minutes). So I said the same, and Serious Dude agreed that might be his time too. Finally we were down to the last 50 seconds. I wished them both good luck, ducked low in the water, and got focused.

No bullshit. Race like hell.

3....2....GO! I burst off the front wall in a dead sprint to the other side. 24 lengths required distance for the swim leg, and I intended to go as fast as I could. In training sometimes a single length can be boring and seem to go on forever - not in a race. There is so much to think about and calibrate and respond to and adjust that you're never just idling, and time flies. I touched the wall, where my friend Chad was holding a counting board in the water for me to keep track of my progress through the swim. I catapulted to the other side, examining where my lane mates were - Lanky Kid, who took off just after me, was right on my tail, with Serious Dude right after him. 3 competent swimmers today - should make for a fast and drama free swim.

In the middle of the 3rd length I settled down from my initial burst and tried to find my rhythm. Feeling "relaxed" was not a top priority - this was a sprint - but my form needed to be sound and my rhythm solid. But the strategy was not about saving any energy; strange to be in an environment where I'm not even pacing myself, since so much of my training is so disciplined to that effect. Each time I touched the wall I could take a quick glance on my lane mates. Lanky Kid was literally right behind me, and keeping pace. We were making some time on Serious Dude - he was about half a length back.

Soon I could feel Lanky Kid touching my toes, swimming in my draft. I figured that was good for him - I was pulling him along and he was able to conserve a bit of energy that way. It was a motivator for me - if I started to feel him on my ankles or calves, I'd know he was gaining and we'd need to allow somehow for him to pass me. A few more lengths and, as soon as I'd pass Serious Dude coming the opposite direction, I'd cruise over to the opposite side of the lane so Lanky Kid could pass me if he wanted to. Somewhere around length 15 or so, he did, slingshotting right by.

Now it was my turn to draft off of him, and I was happy for the opportunity. I stayed on his toes for the rest of the race, feeling the turbulence from his kick with each of my strokes. I was able, when breathing on my right side, to have a quick glance at the race clock and assess my time. By 20 lengths in, I knew I was having a good swim; which by the day's definitions meant I wasn't giving up a lot of time, and was somewhere in the ballpark of last year's swim. I considered any gain on last year's time unexpected gravy, and anticipated 15 seconds or so possibly slower just due to my training regimen so for this season.

In seemingly no time I touched the wall for the last time and sprinted to the other side. I hoisted myself out of the water, the pool noises and cheers muted through my ear plugs. The first swim of the season was over, and I felt good. My heart rate was very high, but that was expected. I ran out the doors of the pool and across the timing mats, marking the official end of the swim leg, and glanced at my watch for my time:

2004: 11:19
2005: 10:14
2006: 10:11

Running out the doors of the pool I was greeted with the unexpected; Light! Sunshine! Warmth! Somewhere in the mix the Wind and the Rain and the Cold decided they had other things to do than torment me another day, and suddenly it was the beautiful morning we were promised. It was still breezy, with a steady SSW wind that was heavier than 10mph - but the gusts were gone and it was no longer biting.

I passed Lanky Kid heading into the transition area, and told him "Good race!" and he agreed with our head to head swim match. I approached where Ol' Blue was impatiently waiting for me and systematically prepared for the bike. Helmet on, glasses on, socks on, shoes on, unrack the bike and go. I crossed the timing mat and headed out on the bike course.

Transition 1 TIME
2004: Unrecorded (they weren't using timing chips then...)
2005: 1:29
2006: :55

The goal for the day on the bike: Stupid fast. I'd sprinted only twice in training, and thought I could manage between 21 and 22mph on the bike in an ideal situation. The strong SSW wind meant less than a mile of the course would have a tailwind - most of it would be head on or a strong crosswind. My heart was pounding and I was breathing hard, though not uncomfortably. Would I be able to push the bike as hard as I wanted to?

I knew in 2 minutes the answer was not just yes, but hell yes. I cruised to 25mph in moments. Slowed to make the first right turn onto a longer stretch, and got to pedaling. The wind was coming from my left now, and the course was mostly flat with some long ascents and not many descents. I found a rhythm at 90rpm - I wanted to go fast, but I was no longer the gear masher I'd been last year, my hundreds of miles on long rides already this year defining a new, far more efficient and powerful cadence. I blew by fellow bikers - some competitors with road bikes or tri bikes, and some just participants with mountain bikes. I tried to settle in and see if my heart rate couldn't come down a bit while I precariously put on my arm warmers that I'd thrown on the bike at the last minute before the race started. A glance at my speedometer told me I was in good shape - 23mph. Soon we turned right again, heading this time right into the wind.

A combination of my revised bike fitting, which allows for far more power and a more aerodynamic bike position, a better understanding of how to race a bike, a lighter engine (me!), stronger legs and better gear made Ol' Blue and me a wind cheating organism. We were heading into the wind, but slowed only to 18mph. I approached some of the long climbs (more like "inclines" - they were hardly climbs...) and passed rider upon rider upon rider who was slowed by the wind and road. My heart rate was still high, and I knew it would affect digestion - I took a swig of Gatorade, as planned, and just held on. A short while on this stretch and we pulled left onto a 3 or 4 mile paved trail.

The crosswind didn't touch us now, as the narrow trail was well sheltered. I could spend the next few miles uninfluenced by the elements, and knew that with the long stretch into the wind coming up - which was also the most technically difficult with several turns and climbs - that I should make up as much time as I could now. I got comfortable, gearing into an efficient but strong cadence. I glanced down and actually thought something might be wrong with my computers...was I really going 27mph? This stretch covered at least a quarter of the day's distance, so I wanted to make it good. In just a few minutes it was over, and I'd blown right through it. Everything was going precisely how I would have wanted it to.

We made a quick right, and then another and we were on the long 5 mile stretch with the wind right in our faces. It was on a wide open road with no shelter, so the wind could have its way with it. Between the wind, the traffic, and the winding, rolling road, it was a challenge. I was relegated to 18, 17, 16mph. I'd pedal back up to 18, 19, then fall back down on a climb to 16, 15, 14. I'd gear down to something easier so I could face the wind without blowing up my legs - I didn't want to sabotage the run pushing too hard against the wind. By now the field had spread out, and I could see riders far up in the distance and knew there were riders behind me, but I was mostly alone out there. Mile 10 came and I felt I was on pace for the strong performance I'd hoped for. I had planned to down a gel pack at this point, but knew I wouldn't keep it down - I was anaerobic, and digestion was not in the cards. I swigged Gatorade instead and hoped I had enough fuel for a 25 minute or faster run. Finally we approached the final turn at mile 12 - a mile (with a tailwind!) to go to the finish.

The last half mile is a complicated to-do list: Right foot out of shoe. Left foot out of shoe. Stop my watch, unclip it from my aerobars and grab it with my teeth so I can put it on for the run. All this while still maintaining pace and not falling over. Finally I tossed my right leg over the top tube and coasted into the timing mat, the bike leg finished.

2004: 46:06, 16mph
2005: 42:24, 18.4mph
2006: 36:08, 21.6mph

Stupid fast.

I headed into transition, re-racked Ol' Blue and shed my bike helmet. I threw on my running shoes and grabbed my hat and improvised number belt to attach while I was running. I was out of transition in no time.

2004: unrecorded
2005: :25
2006: :24

I still had my watch in my teeth while I started out the run, trying to multitask and get organized with all my gear while getting my legs out from under me. Would I have the juice to finish strong? I wasn't worried about fuel - a race this short doesn't require it. But I'm never this anaerobic for this long. Would I shut down a mile into the run? Could I maintain a fast pace? Under ideal conditions, I thought I could sustain somewhere around a 7:30 pace for 3 miles. The day so far had gone smashingly well - but it'd all be for nothing if I was relegated to walking half a mile and giving up 3 minutes that I'd fought so hard for on the bike.

Finally settled with all my gear on, I concentrated on good form with short strides and a quick cadence. As soon as I felt comfortable, I glanced at my watch - around an 8:10 pace. Okay...that's not great, but not bad, and I'll stay here a minute and settle in.

Out of nowhere Serious Dude passed me, clearly a very strong runner. "We're doing a lot better than 1:25!" he shouted, referring to our pre-race conversation about expected finishing times. "Looking good!" I shouted back to him, and wished him a good run. He shot away.

I took stock - my legs felt strong. My heart was pounding and I was developing a bit of a side ache. My lungs weren't burning or anything, but I was breathing hard. I figured I'd know in the next mile what was in store - if I could gain some time, I'd be good to go - if I started to dramatically slow down, I'd know I was screwed and that I was incapable of this level of sustained effort over an entire race. I wanted so badly to race how I thought I could race this. Could I?

The answer wasn't yes. It was hell yes.

By the first mile marker I was clocking in at a 7:50 pace. I knew I'd need to kickstart that if I was going to average 7:30ish for 3 miles. So I concentrated on my quick cadence - not pushing harder with my legs, but moving them faster. Soon I approached the halfway turnaround, with the aid station. Most runners were stopping to walk and drink for a bit, but I had no time for that today. No water, no walking. I turned around and checked my watch - clocking around 7:10. PERFECT. The wind was at my back now, and it was really just a sprint to the finish. Whatever I had left at this point, I threw in the burn pile.

I passed a few runners and was passed by a few others that were having really strong runs, and we cheered each other on, encouraging the walkers that they could do it and the fast ones to go on and finish strong. Finally I made my last turn, half a mile to the finish shoot. Now the trail is hard packed dirt until about the last 300 yards, which is on grass before finally winding up on a sidewalk to the finish line. I hit the grass wanting a solid stride - it slows you right down, and it feels like running on a giant sponge. I ran hard into the finish line, knowing I had run the race I came for.

2004: 25:37, 9:10/mi pace
2005: 24:55, 8:19/mi pace
2006: 22:45, 7:35/mi pace

Stupid fast.

2004: 1:23:02
2005: 1:19:27
2006: 1:10:22

It truly could not have gone better. I think I swam, biked, and ran just as fast as I'm capable of, and was able to put that together in a race environment. For the 2nd time this season, my planning and strategies worked, and I was able to execute the plan accordingly. This is great news heading into the triathlon season with my eye always on the Ironman prize. A sprint triathlon of this distance and this kind of effort has little real world application to an Ironman event, but it's a great indicator of my fitness level at this stage in the season, and I feel really good about where I am. Most importantly, it's good to envision a "best possible scenario" and then achieve that - how often in life does that happen??? And certainly in triathlon - this is one of 2 races that have ever gone that way for me. I've avoided drama in each race this season. I'm right where I need to be with a month to go for the first meaningful race of the season - the Half IM in June. My weight is coming down, my fitness is strong and improving, and I am on target. A good feeling.

I took 8th place in my age group out of 39 participants, and 28th out of 165 total participants - easily my best finish ever (in '04 I wasn't in the top half, and in '05 I was 57th out of 155 total...and I've never been in the top half of my age group). It's useful to keep perspective - this is not an elite field by any stretch, but I'm still very pleased with my position amidst the masses. A top 10 age group finish! Pretty cool!

From here, I go back to the long, disciplined training. I'll start to focus on long fitness swims now, and my weekly rides will top 5 hours and stay there and above for pretty much the rest of the season. I'll continue to work on my running, injecting some more speed workouts to try and increase my overall speed for longer runs. My first Century ride (100 miles on the bike) should be coming up in the next few weeks, and over Memorial Day I'm heading to Madison to train on-course for the first time. With race season underway and Ironman about 4 months out, it starts to get pretty serious - with never more than 4 weeks between races, time really flies and each week of training become critical that the time is put in and goals are met. It's so rare for me, and I don't really want to say it out loud, but my whole approach appears to be working - so far, so good. I'm meeting and exceeding expectations, and feel on pace for the big goals. As summer approaches now I'll look for more training and racing opportunities in oppressive heat and humidity - something I don't handle well at all. If I can figure out ways to manage the elements, I'll have that much more of an edge going into September.

So - a great race! Shout outs to my friend Mike for driving and putting us up in his parents' amazing place, as well as being official photographer dude and always-on-point cheering guy. Thanks Chad for counting laps like nobody's business, and Krista for cheering me on. Races are always a lot more fun and meaningful when your friends can be there with you!


Michael Anderson said...

A most excellent race!! EXCELLENT!!

Todd said...

Kickin ass and takin names! Very impressive my friend...Happy Monday!

Patric said...

Dude, that is awesome to hear that you had a great race!! I had a smile on my face the whole time I read your blog knowing that your race day went exceedingly well! Congrats

Todd said...

PS, did you beat both Serious Guy and Lanky Kid?

Kylie said...

Awesome! Congrats! That sounds like a fun day =)

Anonymous said...

good job, I'm very proud of your awesome race!

Quest4Kona said...

GREAT job Chris! You are on your way! Nice job on the run...

Chaddy said...

I'm not sure if it took longer to run the race last weekend or for me to read the last post. I think you run faster than I read. Sweet race Tito!

Anonymous said...

Most impressive you are!! :) What a Kick A&^*(& Race!!! :) And I can definitely relate to the improvising. Have an awesome weekend!