Monday, June 22, 2009

Race Report: Wisconsin Triterium

As my propensity of all things OCD on race day is boundless, I was the first person in transition. The race organizers were finishing up set-up, and the registration volunteers had just settled in. I grabbed my stuff (race number 28), found my rack (3rd rack from the end, closest to bike in/bike out - good spot), and braced Vapor up on the rack, the machine ready to rock. Plugged in the iPod and casually went about setting up with my usual surgical precision, alone in his own zone cold and he don't care.

The day was all about execution. A common theme, especially the last two seasons; I used to get so nervous on race day. Like, sick-to-my-stomach nervous. Race day was always some adventure, some epic foray into the unknown. This made for interesting personal growth, I guess, but looking back to '05 or '06, sheesh, how exhausting. Race day is hard enough, y'know? This race was just an opportunity to see where I was in the world on the way to another Ironman. It's a good barometer because this is the third time racing it, so comparisons are more generally valuable as a meter of progress. I had no idea what to expect from the swim, I expected a stronger bike, and, tough as the run course is, I expected a stronger run. Expectations pretty firmly rooted in what my training to this point would indicate.

I also had a lot of new gear to put through the paces, starting with my wetsuit. I've had 2 Orca suits since 2004, and both have left me with such terrible chafing around my neck that I'd spend a week after races looking like a strangulation victim. I have a new 2XU C:1 wetsuit with an adjustable neck, which felt good in my single open-water training swim, but today I'd really get a sense for its fit and performance. At 8:02, my wave headed into the water for the start (I'm the last guy in.)

Unlike most races, this one isn't a beach start - you start in the water. It takes place in a rock quarry, and you swim around the quarry, then actually get out of the water, run around a tree, and run back in for another two loops. The quarry is a nice, small park, and the running in and out is kind of quirky and fun. It makes for lots of fun for friends and spectators, who usually are relegated to watching a swimcap bob around in the distance on raceday.

I found my pace right away - nothing too strong, something I'd call "ambitious but controlled". The biggest unknown for me in the water was how it would go with some changes I've been making to my stroke. This offseason I did some reading, and closely watched some video of Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps, trying to understand a "good" stroke from a natural swimmer - which I am not. I've had pretty limited time in the pool so far this season, but I've been spending that time really trying to improve my catch and pull - my arm under water has, in past seasons, been quite straight. This season I've been working hard on bending my arm more 90 degrees, keeping my elbow high. It's becoming more and more natural, and it's felt faster - but I wasn't sure if that was just a hopeful feeling, or had some basis in reality.

One of the first things I noticed about racing with the new stroke was how much straighter I was going. I generally have to lift my head and sight frequently to correct my zig-zag line, but I found everytime I lifted my head I was pretty much head right where I wanted to be. As the race went on I got more confident just settling into my stroke and trusting it. Here's me breathing about to put my arm in, and I gots to say, my technique in this picture looks pretty on point. I can't say that's ever been an accurate description of my sloshing about in the water before.

When I popped out of the water at the end of the first lap, a glance at my watch said I was just under 8 minutes. For the second on third laps there's more water to swim in, as you go from the beach - whereas in the start you're a hundred yards or more out into the water. As I went around the second lap, I though anything around 10 minutes for the lap should be reasonable - anything much slower and I'd know I went out too fast and was getting tired. When I loped around the tree at the end of lap 2, I was right around 18 minutes - right on schedule.

I have never in my life swam 1500 meters in under 30 minutes. This last lap was fun because knowing sub 30 was possible gave me something to chase. Well, "focus on"...I was careful not to get myself in a "chase" mode, but I was intentional about maintaining great technique, and tried to push just a bit. I came out of the water in 28:56, a full five minutes faster than last year, and four minutes faster than my best on this course, in 2005.

Wow, well if that doesn't light a fire nothing will, and I trotted the several hundred yards into Transition feeling like so far, so good. Here I am giving my peeps a fist pump (and, by the way, looking like I'm about 60 years old. What's with my face? Also, you can get a sense for a jaunt up to Transition - the quarry is back there across the parking lot, over the fence, then across some grass, then across the beach. Good times.)

Into T1, strip off the wetsuit, throw on the gofast hat, shoes and glasses and gone in 2:03.

This bike course is tough. It's a great training route for Ironman, because it's very similar - mostly hills, with a few heartbreakers, and some sections in between to settle in and cruise, but they don't last long before you have to make a turn or climb another hill. For the Olympic distance, you head out, do two loops through a particularly sinister section, then head back in. I wasn't going to worry about the hills - they were going to suck, and as long as I was careful not to try and power my way up and blow my quads, the top would come soon enough. On the flats I wanted to have a very low RPE - just let the course come without chasing anything or anybody. On the descents I wanted to rest my legs whenever practical. I also wanted to keep a close eye on nutrition and hydration. I've been training exclusively with Infinit Nutrition so far this season, and here was my first gameday test. Infinit lets you go online and concoct your own custom brew, based on your personal requirements. I know what my caloric, carb, and sodium intake needs to be per hour, and up to this season I've reached all of that with a mix of Gatorade, Gu, and Clif bars on the bike. It's worked, but it's become a pain in the ass - a swig of Gatorade every 15 minutes, a Gu at the top of every hour, an 8th of a Clif bar every half hour. I'd have to pack all kinds of food into my pockets for every training ride - for the Racine 70.3 last year I actually had to find the perfect five pocket tri-top just so I could haul my crap around. The Infinit has been flawless. I mix a concentrated bottle, and that's it. Period. I've had Infinit and water on my bike - no gels, no shots, no Clif bars, not even (though I haven't had a crazy hot training day yet) electrolyte tabs. I tweaked my "flavor" setting for my Infinit way down, so I'm not overwhelmed with sweetness, and I've had no GI issues, or funky Gatorade-mouth issues, or anything.

Anyway, remember that last year my quads blew up on the run, I was thoughtful to make sure I was taking 2-3 good swigs of Infinit every 20 minutes on the bike, chasing with water and tossing back more water every 10 minutes or so.

The hills were tough, as I knew they would be. On the loop, there are two back to back hills that rival anything at IMWI (though, of course, there are more of such hills on the IMWI course, not to mention 112 miles long instead of just 25). I wondered if, racing with my wheel cover on my rear wheel for the first time, if it would feel like I was hauling extra weight, and was happy to discover that there was no noticeable difference. The full aero rig seemed to really kick in on the flats, or anytime I got to cruise - there was hardly any wind, and I found I could pretty effortlessly cruise at 23-26mph. I was also happy to find that, while they sucked, the hills weren't that bad. Some cats were walking up the worst of them, or I'd pass riders that were obviously in full on suffering. I never suffered, not once. I never prayed to Jesus that he strike me down because I can't possibly reach the top of this thing, I never cursed my friend RobbyB because he's a transportation engineer (or something) and so therefore I hold him personally responsible for any road-related curiosities I encounter. I just did my thing, and really enjoyed the ride.

I came into T2 in 1:23:44 for an average speed of around 18.5mph, about 4 minutes ahead of last year's speed. I was happy to take whatever I would get from the bike course - it's just not the kind of course where an intentionally low rate of perceived effort is going to give you 20mph or anything. To average 18.5mph knowing that I was taking it easy all day was another really positive milestone in the race. So far I was racing precisely to plan, executing flawlessly, and my numbers were across the board faster than ever before without any remarkably harder "effort" to account for that - just solid training leading to a solid race. Just what you want.

Into T2, on with my shoes, grab my hat and a water bottle and out on the run in 44 seconds.

This run course is crazy. It was designed by hateful people who hate triathletes and want for them to have bad dreams at night. Okay, well, that's probably not true. It's 3 laps of about 2 miles, which on paper doesn't sound too tough. The first mile of each lap is pretty much entirely uphill. You leave Transition to a deceiving incline, something that says, "meh, not so bad", then you arrive at, seriously, just a joke of a hill. Steep and long and awful. At the top of the hill is a cone to turn around - now you get to stress your legs in a whole new way by flying down what you just climbed. At the bottom of the hill, then, is a long slow burn that takes you uphill for the rest of that mile and into the next. Then there's finally some relief, and the last mile is a steady decline that, while it doesn't make up for the misery, at least gives you something to look forward to. When you reach the end of the loop, then, you run through a few hundred yards of grass, which doesn't offer relief from the asphalt, it only offers something sand-like to have to trudge through before you begin the next lap on that deceiving incline that, by the second lap, is kind of snickering at you, and by the third lap is pointing and laughing like Nelson.

I knew I'd be gauging my day by that awful hill on the second loop. If my quads held up through that hill, I knew my effort on the bike, and my hydration and nutrition, was on point, and that I'd ridden as well as I felt I did. If I blew up, then I'd know that I probably went too hard despite my best efforts. So I kept an eye towards waiting to see what would happen by that second loop as I started the run just trying to find a comfortable pace. I didn't worry about my speed, just comfort. I'd just let the rest come.

Two things I did to help create success: First, a trick I started last year in the heat in Racine, which was to put two sponges inside my trisuit on my chest. I had these wet and ready in T2, and then in every aid station I grabbed some water and just doused my chest, soaking the sponges. Brilliant. Keeps my core temperature so much more in control, and as the heat and humidity climbed I knew that would become important; so often for me it's not that my legs get tired, or even that I get dehydrated or something, it's just that I have such a tough time in heat, it can really derail my whole race. The second thing I did, new to me, was fill a running water bottle with Infinit to take with me through the first two loops. I've raced with Fuel belts before, but I don't love them - there's a lot to think about for me in getting the bottle out, getting a drink, fitting the bottle back in, keeping the belt from moving around. At this point in my "career" (ha!) and Ironman training, I'm really trying to simplify some of the moving pieces - the Infinit is an example. And while I don't think it's ideal to carry around a bottle when running, man it was so easy to just toss back a few chugs and get back to my life. It was so much easier than walking/slogging through an aid station to get a few sips while the rest of the drink went all over my face, and I could grab a sip when it suited me best. I think it helped me stay drama free throughout the run, and I'll continue with this, especially on hot days, at least for the first half of the run.

(by the way, peep the bottle in the right hand, the stride with my right foot down, left foot up... look familiar? I'm just sayin'... Becoming Ironman 2030?)

My first loop was uneventful - the hills sucked, the rest didn't, I was clocking in the mid-8's for a pace, which was just fine. My legs felt good, no crazy fatigue from the bike or anything. Hitting that first stretch of grass at the end of the loop was a bit of a demoralizer - you could just feel the humidity steaming up from the yard, and the ground just sucked in your momentum and you could feel the pace slow. I grabbed some water to resoak my sponges at the aid station, and hit the steady incline on my way to that awful second hill. People were already starting to walk around me as I hit the big hill, and I just put my head down and toughed it up. My quads didn't explode - my plan was continuing to perfect execution. I was careful not to just let fly on the descent of the big hill, and then hit the slow burn to take me up the next .6 mile or so. My pace was slowing now, into the 9's, but I wasn't worried about it - it's not the kind of run course where an attitude adjustment can get a guy like me running in the low 8's uphill. My goal all day was to stay in control of the run - I never wanted to find myself forced to walk, or into a death shuffle, or hating life and feeling dehydrated and miserable.

I tossed my bottle to my peeps at the end of the second loop, having hydrated enough to know I wasn't going to get anything more out of carrying the bottle around for the last 2 miles. I glanced at my watch and knew a PR was in reach as long as I didn't totally blow the last 2 miles - but again, I'd let it come, I wouldn't chase it. Again through the tough grass section, and now Nelson was laughing at me while I approached the big hill. I chose here to walk for about 30 yards to rest before the last big climb, but it wasn't a slow, please-somebody-stop-the-pain death shuffle, it was a funny power walk, like you see super serious marathon walkers do, all tossing of the arms and hips. I was going to walk as a matter of strategy, not survival.

Up the big stupid hill now for the last time, and I again power walked up a section of it, deciding it was better to leave myself some legs for the end of the loop. Finally on the descent, and this time I opened it up to a controlled fall - here's where I noticed that, while my new Nike Lunar Trainer racing flats had been great all day, they weren't much for drainage - my feet were pretty water-logged and feeling heavy after all the water dousing I'd been doing all day.

I hit the slow burn hill for the last time, and again went into a few short segments of power walk. My mind was wanting to get in my way as the top of this last long hill seemed so far away, and I said it out loud a few times, there is no spoon to get myself back on point. Finally to the top of the hill, a little water on my head, and I was heading for the home stretch. My focus on the last mile was just on solid, controlled technique. My pace fell back into the mid 8's, and I hit the finish chute determined to eek out the last of whatever I had left.

I finished the run in 55:24, for a pace of 9:04. 3+ minutes ahead of last year. It would have been fun to have a faster run pace, but I stayed in control all day, never melted down, and I think realistically gave the best I had on a tough course. My overall finishing time was 2:50:49, almost 13 minutes ahead of last year's best on this course, and a distance PR by 12 minutes and change. I'd never broken 3 hours before - in fact it felt utterly elusive to do so - and I convincingly achieved that goal. The best part was that it wasn't for some super human effort - it was all just a natural result of the time I've been spending in training. Precisely where a guy wants to be on his way to another Ironman.

Some thoughts:

• A few environmental reasons that probably helped on the way to a 13 minute PR, if you want to be more analytical. It was an almost windless day. It was mostly cloudy, instead of having the sun beating down, and no question that helped a lot with the heat factor for me (though it was still high 70's/low 80's by the time I finished, and humid). Last year, we'd had so much freak rain causing all kinds of flooding, that the quarry itself was much deeper. This year getting in and out of the water was a lot more sensible because the water was at a normal level. Last year we also had a big rainstorm the night/morning of the race, which made Transition a muddy mudfest. I'm also about 6 pounds lighter this year then I was at the same point last year, and no question that'll make a difference.

• The gear worked great. Amazing, in fact - if the reason a guy buys new gear is in hopes of having a faster or more efficient experience, than I don't think it can be argued that the 2XU suit, which did NOT chafe at all - contributed to my great swim split. The aero helmet - which I didn't wear for this race last year - and the disc wheel contributed to my solid bike split. The Infinit Nutrition has been flawless in keeping me on the road. My only cause for thought is the Lunar Trainers - I wonder if on hot days, when I know I'll be dumping water all over myself, a shoe with better drainage will be in order. I'll have to keep that in mind. At any rate, probably you know gear is working best when you don't have to realize it's working at all. When you can just focus on the game. I was able to do that almost flawlessly yesterday. Good.

• All of that said, and absolutely most critical - the engine is on point. I thought so, I figured so, but a solid race day confirms it. That's best of all. I'll keep doing what I'm doing, and doing it how I'm doing it. Stay injury free, continue to build speed, and work my mileage up slowly and patiently, to peak in September.

• From here: I have two more races this summer before Ironman, both in July. The Lifetime Fitness triathlon is another Olympic distance, and this one is pretty fast and flat. It's another that I've done before, so it should be a good opportunity to see what kind of real run pace I can put together off the bike, without huge hills getting in the mix, and another good barometer of "before/after" progress from previous races. A week later I race the Door County Half Iron distance. It's designed to be a tough week of "training" - I should get a good sense of progress/problems to work on before Ironman, but should also achieve some fitness gains over the course of two intense "brick workouts" provided by the races. In the meantime, WIBA is coming up already this weekend, and I'll have my longest ride of the year yet with that crew out on the Ironman course. Very much looking forward to it - not just the training, but spending some time with all my old friends.

Some bits & pieces:

• I guess the management for this race changed companies this year. All in all is was pretty well exactly the same race that I've done 2 other times, with the only changes being positive ones; for instance, the mount and dismount areas were more clearly marked, the bike loop interchange was better marked with cones. I felt the intersections on the bike course were a bit better covered with more, or more informative, personnel. Registration had a representative from USA Triathlon who was clearly involved, and that's always nice. One thing I've never noticed at this race, and didn't this year, was any kind of marshaling on the bike. I didn't see anything overt in the way of drafting, and this course is so hilly and crazy that there's really no opportunity where drafting becomes sensible, but I still like to see the motorcycle cruise by every now and then during a race, keeping everybody honest. At any rate, a nicely organized race, well done Race Day Events.

• Highlight of waiting for the swim - super chubby dude in tiny speedo rocking out to Mr. Roboto on the speakers.

• Speaking of RobbyB, he did the announcing yesterday. I thought he did a great job, had a good presence, repeated information often enough so everybody got the same message regardless of when they showed up, but did it in a way that wasn't boring. Kept things interesting but informative, and kept the information pretty well constant - nobody ever had much opportunity to get too confused. Good work, RB. One thing I'd like to see better announced before races is a drill down of the transition area - where the swim in, run in/out, bike in/out is. Races usually wait until the "mandatory meeting" to cover this, but everybody's wondering it while they're setting up in Transition. Signs do get, or are posted, but it's still helpful to hear, I think, what to expect. This race did a good job, as the time to transition closing neared, of explaining - for instance - where the bike mount/dismount is, relative to the actual "gate" into transition. All good stuff.

• Dear dude in trisuit, rocking a Schwinn with fenders: YES!

• It's hard to hear much around you when wearing an aero-helmet with the farings over the ears, but a few times in the first few miles I kept hearing some dude with a disc wheel behind me. I started to get irritated with him - dude, just pass me already. But then I realized - oh, dude is me. Ha! The wheel cover doesn't give you that same whooshwhooshwhoosh as a real disc does, but it still makes a new sound that I wasn't used to.

• I didn't really wear a trisuit at all last year, opting for 2-piece rigs. I'm going back to trisuits for Olympic distance and shorter. And not just because they make me feel as sexy as I know I look. They're just easy. Thoughtless. Simpler is better, says I.

• Had a few people ask me about my crazy new wheel decals, which was great because it gave me a chance to explain the "Lionhearted" thing and who knows, maybe they'll come aboard or make a contribution. Speaking of which, I have an exciting announcement about the Lionhearted goal coming soon!!!

• Also dope about the crazy wheels is - the machine Vapor is not hard to find in Transition. Not even a little bit.

• Big, heartfelt shout out to CznE her fiance Jimmy, my man Mike, and Amy and Dakota for coming out to cheer me on. I really appreciate it, guys. Makes the day so much more fun to look forward to seeing you around the corner.

• The best part about racing? The finish line, of course. The best part of the finish line? The people you can't wait to see, and who can't wait to see you.


Herring on Land said...

congrats on the solid race and awesome PR. it sounds like you're really on track to rock ironman this year!

Trisaratops said...

Congrats on kicking major ass! You rock. Nicely done! You are looking crazy fit, dude! Will I see ya at WIBA this weekend?

OMG--the pics of D. The one running by herself AND to you. Cutest. Things. EVER. :)

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Pharmie said...

I agree with TST. Looking svelte! Congrats again on a great PR. Can't wait to see you this weekend!

CznE said...

Had fun last weekend! Mike got some great pics!!!

Iron Girl Nyhus said...

Fun meeting you at WIBA! I may be out to ride the course again before Ironman... I'll keep you posted.