Saturday, July 11, 2009

Race Report: Lifetime Fitness Triathlon

Like all my races this season, this one fit into a Grand Scheme of approach to Ironman. I'm looking at race day to practice execution - not to worry about how fast I can go, or if I can even beat that guy ahead of me. So I had two objectives for this race; the first, do no work. What I mean by that is, I wasn't going to go in with guns blazing, pushing some incredible and unsustainable pace, mashing pedals, whatever. I was going to let my training do all the work. I didn't want to get out there and sabotage my day with some obsession with 22mph or something.

My second objective was to stay in control on the run. In my head, I made the entire race about the last two miles of the run. If I could get to the last two miles of the run feeling like I could dictate my pace - choosing whether or not I wanted to bump up the pace, or not, or whatever, I'd have executed a good race. I didn't want to find myself feeling "great" for the first 1.5 miles of the run, only to start losing the pace, then getting into that feedback loop of trying to push back only to lose more ground, only to talk myself into a bit of a water break at mile 4 to recover a bit, blah blah blah. No death shuffles. I wanted to be in charge.

I say all this last because I have sucked at this race the last 3 times I raced it. In '06 they shortened it due to heat (that was the last time), but in '05 - another excruciatingly hot day - my run pace was relegated to..wait for it...11:11/mi. I remember pushing the bike that day and feeling awesome that I came in with a 20.2mph avg speed (topping 20 something I'd never done at that point), only to melt down with such splendid vigor on the run as to make the entire effort pointless. So, full disclosure; because I have only my past experience on this course to compare, I'll be referring some to that race in '05. was 4 years ago. A lot has changed, and I wouldn't in any way say it's fair to really "compare" that race and this race. So just something to keep in mind.

The weather! Wow, the weather was awesome. Such a refreshing change from the suffocating heat I'd come to expect from this race. I started setting up in transition with temps in the low 60's and a slight breeze - just cool enough where long sleeves were most comfortable. As the sun came out things warmed up a bit, but only to about the mid-60's. It was a beautiful day - sunny, with enough breeze to keep us honest, and temps at the race start in the upper-60's, getting to the lower-mid 70's as the race went on. Just about perfect. Here's a shot of Lake Nokomis as the sun began to rise:

Here's a look at the special Pro section they had set up, and some of the machinery being prepared. It was an amazing pro field and race (more on that in a bit), especially for the men:

And here's a look at Vapor all set up and ready to rock.

They close Transition for everybody way early - the Pro race starts by 7:00, and they do some announcements and the national anthem, etc., so Transition closes by 6:45. I made my way out of the gates with the rest of the athletes; my wave wasn't due to start until 7:51, so I had some time to kill. As I was leaving Transition my man Steve in a Speedo saw me and called me over (alas, he was wearing neither a speedo nor the famed "bowl of sunshine", instead relegated to boring civilian attire. I was, I admit, a shade disappointed...). He was out to watch a handful of friends doing the race and had his camera in tow. We had a fun chat for 15 minutes or so as we gawked at the pro's as they headed out. Steve had printed his own little spectator program with all the pro bio's in it. And a handy sheet with all his friends' race numbers and start times. It was pretty Type A, so you know I found it pretty awesome. He also had on his person an entire roll of toilet paper. "Just in case". Dude is hilarious.

I wished him well, headed out to warm up in the water a bit, stretch, and relax. The swim start is a time trial kind of start, so you get in a big line when they call your wave and head out in 3 second increments. This is nice in that it keeps the proverbial washing machine to a bit of a minimum, but you maybe lose a bit of the draft advantages without all the people around (like I'm a good enough swimmer to take advantage of drafting, ha!) Here I am just about to get my number called, looking tough. Thanks Steve for all of the in-race photos!

Ready, set...


No big excitement in the water - the plan, as always, is to just keep solid technique, get into a rhythm, do my thing. I was trying to keep zig-zagging to a minimum, and may have swung a bit wide at one point and had to recover a bit to come back into the mix. I felt like I was out there for a long time - and I was. When I finally got back to shore I took a glance at my watch; it read 30:34. A PR on this course by about 2 minutes, but a shade slower than my last Olympic distance race. Good enough. This bit of info here doesn't matter at all, but will be interesting to note as the race report goes on: Out of 139 finishers in my age group, I came in 55th.

The run into Transition was a long one, and my bike was racked in a location that put me quite a long way from the bike out. But, in and out in 2:39 and I was on the machine, ready to roll.

So in keeping with my strategy that this whole race was all about the run, I mentally adhered to feeling nothing on the bike. I wanted to spin an easy 90rpm cadence and feel zero tension in my legs; if I felt even a hint of effort from my quads, or hamstrings, or in my knees, I'd shift gears or back off. Again, I'd let the training do all the work. I had no big plans for speed at all, I just wanted fresh legs when I started the run. I also was thoughtful about nutrition; I think one reason why in years past the Olympic distance has been such a tough one for me is that I've underestimated the caloric requirements, and toll, it takes. I've been a bit lax with nutrition on the bike. This time I had 300 calories of Infinit onboard with me, and planned to make sure I'd drunk the whole bottle by ride's end.

It was a pretty uneventful ride - lots of people out there, mostly flat and fast. The breeze was a non-issue, every once in awhile providing a bit of a tailwind, but I think all the aero gear made any kind of headwind mostly unimportant. The only really notable thing about the bike were the friggin' roads. Awful. I'd heard some people talking about this in the registration line at the expo - the number of potholes on the course - but seriously. Clean it up Minneapolis. There was hardly any stretch of road that wasn't teeth-chatteringly bad. It made for increased mental fatigue because you had to be really attentive to the road conditions. It made my hands tired and numb from vibrations and hanging on (no gloves for this distance race), and I saw lots of other riders, too, finding a rare calm spot to stretch out fingers and flex their hands. Between obnoxious gaping cracks in the road and avoiding well-marked-but-still-sketchy deep potholes, it was a crazy ride.

I finally rolled back into Transition after 1:13 on the bike- good for an easy, totally not-worked-for 20.8mph. This was another PR for the course by about .5mph - in '05 I pushed hard for 20.2mph. Not a lot faster, then, but that wasn't the point; I remember spending a lot of time out of the saddle mashing pedals in '05 for that 20.2. I came in 39th out of 139 in my AG.

In and out of T2 in 1:11, and now onto the "real" race. By the way, my T2 time was 2nd place in my age group! Why the hell don't they have podiums just for transitions? I'd be a contender, dammit.

I headed out to the run course, which is 2 loops around the lake on the paved running trail. It's mostly wide open to the sunshine, and especially around "race central", where you start and come back around for the second loop, it's crazy with spectators and a big aid station and all kinds of energy. I quickly found a pace I thought was comfortable and checked my watch - 7:15/mi. I hadn't gone into the run with any kind of pre-planned pacing, instead I just wanted to let my energy naturally find where I should be. I did assess earlier in the week that I think I've been mentally underestimating myself at the 10k distance; if I can do a half marathon with a sub 8:00/mi pace, there's no reason why, even in a triathlon, I can't expect a little more of myself in a 10k. But, I knew that I wanted to be ready to rocket the last 2 miles, so 7:15/mi was too fast. I decided to slow to 7:45/mi and see how that went. The plan was - find a comfortable, easy pace for the first 2 miles. At mile 2, if I feel good, bump up a bit. If I don't feel good (which would've meant I poorly judged the first 2 miles...), at least try and stay the same, or not slow down, so that by mile 4 I could push hard with whatever I had left.

So I dialed in 7:45/mi, had a nice spring in my step, only about .5 or less into the run, when CRACK, I'm, like, on my face.

I heard this comedian on the radio on my drive to Minneapolis, and he was talking about getting into a car accident. He said that being in a car accident is like going down one of those crazy fast, straight-down water slides. Only first you're in the shower just going about your day as usual, and then suddenly out of nowhere you're going straight-down on a water slide. This is like what happened to me. I'm just doing my thing, nothing out of the ordinary, and I'm suddenly, with no helpful segue, on my knees on the middle of the road. I'd stepped in a mother-effing Minneapolis effing pothole. My left ankle abruptly twisted in and I hit the ground hard, my right knee taking most of the impact. I swore, loudly, as much out of surprise, I think, as anything. I heard somebody around me say, "are you okay?", but I didn't answer. I got right back up and started running again, my left ankle screaming at me. I was limping badly, and had trouble putting weight on it. I had these visions of a hairline fracture in my ankle. Of a deeply purple sprain. When I was in high school I stepped on a buddy's foot when landing while playing basketball and did something very similar to this, and it ripped all kinds of ligaments in my ankle - just before football season. I was injured for the first few weeks of the start of the season, and slow (well, slowerer, not like I was ever some bullet) for 6 weeks. It sucked, and I had visions of something similar just 60 days out from Ironman. Oh, and I also thought of my daughter, who lately has been skinning the same knee every time she falls, which is frequently as she's running all crazy like she does and trips up on a crack in the sidewalk, or is trying to learn to negotiate uneven segments of ground. I thought - geez, I hope it doesn't hurt her this bad everytime she falls, that would suck. All this went through my mind in about two seconds.

I couldn't be sure what the real damage was, and what was maybe just initial pain from a sudden impact, so I just kept running, trying to consciously correct my stride from the limp, and continue to put normal weight on my left foot. It wasn't long and the pain mostly subsided altogether, which told me it wasn't anything too serious, thankfully.

I ticked past the Mile 2 marker feeling good with a 7:36/mi average. I bumped up the pace just a bit, with an eye towards not going any slower than 7:30/mi. Things felt good and drama free. When I came around again, on the second loop, to the location where I fell, I had a look at the road to see if I was just a clumsy idiot or what - nope. Big fat pothole-crack in the road. Awful.

I hit the mile 4 marker still feeling very good - relaxed and fresh, still with a spring in my step. My pace had increased to an avg. of 7:27/mi. Perfect. Now I just had 2 miles left, and I felt fantastic. I threw down with whatever I had left, buzzed a bit with the knowledge that I'd arrived at these last 2 miles precisely how I'd hoped to - that I'd executed my strategy just about flawlessly.

It's important to me at this point, I guess, to say that I hope none of this sounds too, y'know, self-congratulatory. I don't feel that way about it - I really feel much like an observer of some kind of experiment. I'm making hypotheses, and then I'm testing them. So when things go well, or according to plan, it's not really a "hey look at me, I rule" kind of thing, it's just...interesting.

That know how at the end of a race, and you're feeling pretty spent and maybe miserable, and then some dude or woman just blows by you? And you feel like punching them in the face with all their spritely prancing down the road with ease? I was that guy. And I've wanted to punch my face an awful lot in my life, so this was a new experience for me. I was just flying, having to go around runners, split between them, go off the path to avoid big masses. Like the whole world was standing still. It was crazy how good I felt - I think I could've run all day.

I cruised into the finish chute knowing I'd had a blast, that my training had prepared me for a great race, that I was able to execute. Nothing more I could ask for as I prepare for Ironman. Here's a final shot from Steve as I approach the line.

The last 2 mile split was at 7:05/mi. My official run split was 46:21, for a 7:29/mi pace (the Garmin said 7:22, but whatever), good for 25 out of 139 in my age group. I finished in 2:34:17 - a 26 minute PR for this course, and a 19 minute PR for this distance. I finished 33 of 139 in my age group - good for a top 25% finish. Oh, and I went from 55th place out of the water up the 33rd. The moral of that story - it's all about the run, and execution is king.

Here's a self-portrait after the race, thumbs up on a great day.

Bits & Pieces

• I never set out to PR the course, but I figured I would, just because my '05 time was so obviously slow, and I know what's up a lot more this time around. Still, I was surprised. I didn't know my training had prepared me for that easy of a bike at almost 21mph, and that easy of a fast run. Very encouraging. It's not, I don't think, very quantifiable to any kind of Ironman perspective, except to say that my race-day approach to execution is paying off, and I'll emulate it at Ironman.

• Knock on wood, glaring weaknesses. Nothing really felt out of joint at all. I swam about how I figured I would, did the bike how I planned, and the run took care of itself. Nutrition and hydration were on point.

• Can't over emphasize enough how much the weather helped have a great day. It takes a whole other, crucial element of difficult out when you're not having to obsess about heat and hydration management. Now if I could just get a halfway decent weather day in September...

• Craig Alexander isn't as crazy looking in person. Like, in all his ads in Triathlete mag for Orca or Orbea or whatever he's schilling, he has this lunatic death stare going on. He looks like a pretty regular dude in person. Shorter than I thought. Also, I think Steve has a little bit of a man-crush on him.

• I shook Andy Potts's hand at the expo. I'm pretty sure that makes us BFF.

• Newbies: I love you, you know I do. You don't need a Batman utility belt, though. You don't need seriously 8 flasks on your fuel belt. You just don't. Make it easier on yourself, you know?

• I think doing an Olympic distance race on a mountain bike would be tough.

• Amy and Dakota are out of town now, and I really missed them at the race.

• Thanks again, Steve.

• The Pro men came down to a sprint finish between Andy Potts and Matty Reed. It looks like it was a close, great race all day. Can you imagine sprinting down the finish chute for $20,000? Like, I'm all Type A in transition before a race just to have my own geeky little goals and aspirations, but can you imagine having your paycheck on the line? Or missing out on that $20k by less than one second? That's crazy. It kind of hurts my brain.

• Here's a great, brief video of the pro race that somebody at Slowtwitch took. Check out Matty Reed's fantastic move in the last 100 yards - he just bursts out from the pack and turns it on. Awesome.


Elements of Erin 337 said...

Great race report! Are those Wheeltags on your wheels? They look great with the bike.

Maria said...

Not to sound creepy, I saw you at the race (your bike is easy to spot) but didnt get a chance to introduce myself. Congrats on the solid race and awesome run despite the spill (hope you're doing ok)!

LcgN said...

proud of you, as usual. i think it's amazing how much you can remember and share with us - but i think that proves how much it means to you. xxoo

Pharmie said...

As a Twin Citian, I would like to formally apologize for the roads. My brother and I biked river road a couple of weeks ago to see the new Mpls du course and quickly decided it is a HORRIBLE idea because of the roads. Hope the ankle is holding up OK. Congrats on a HUGE PR! Sorry I couldn't be there to see you get it.

Anonymous said...

Hey babe--I'm glad you felt prepared for the race! Dakota and I miss you and wish we were there to see your PR!! We love you!--Amy

KodaFit said...

Nice job on the PR!!

As for sounding self-congratulatory - or at least trying not too. I know what you mean. It's kind of like when you watch The A-Team, and at the end of a successful mission Hannibal/George Peppard would stick the big fat cigar in his mouth and say "I love it when a plan comes together". You train hard, you plan, you prepare, and when it all comes together, it's the best feeling on earth. Well done!

WADDLER26.2 said...

Great race report. I like how you put the race in to training perspective. I am training for my first iron and need to do this.

I love your documentary. Many monthes ago, I found it on a sleepless night. Very inspirational for me. I go back to it often. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

You Inspire ME!!

I will be praying for 60 degrees on Sept. 13.

Jack said...

Love reading your reports and you inspired me to try my first Iron Distance this November in Wilmington. It will be my first Triathlon of any kind. (Maybe a little lofty for a goal, but what the heck) Thanks again.