Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Nation’s Triathlon 2010 – Race Report


First things first – how did it go? 
I finished in 2:28:11, 61 out of 496 for my AG.  This is by far my best race, substantially better than I had thought possible.  Before the race I created a chart of the best possible time I thought I could do (here).  This turned out to be 2:46.  I am still shocked I beat that time by so much.

My prep for this race was good (except for running), however I started getting some aches/pains on Friday before the race, and wasn’t feeling so good at all on Saturday morning.  I dosed up cold/flu medication and managed to feel ok on race day.  I was still congested, but I don’t think it affected the race too much.

On Saturday we got through packet pickup and the expo without problem, although parking close to the hotel was difficult.  Managed to pickup a few goodies at the expo too (transition bag, running visor, water bottle).

The forecast for Sunday’s race wasn’t good – rain overnight and continuing through the morning.  We got up at 5am and left the hotel at 5:45 to walk to the transition area.  It was raining, but it wasn’t too hard at that point.  By the time we got to the transition area it was coming down quite hard and was miserable.  It made setting up the transition area difficult, and it was really cold.  Many put on their wetsuits early just to keep warm. 

Pre-Race

There were 5,000 people registered to race, but a lot of people came to transition just to remove their bikes and go home.  I had a few open spaces next to my bike, which made setup easy.  I setup my bike and put a garbage bag over my running shoes/hat/race belt for T2 – to try and keep them dry.  Pumped the tires and was ready to go.  The race start was delayed 20mins, giving us all a little extra time to get ready.    As I was leaving the transition area, I realized that I forgot to attach my bento box to the bike.  Since it had the gels that I needed for the ride I quickly got back and attached it. 

Swim – 27:37 – Wave #13

The pre-swim area was well organized.  Sections were marked for each wave to assemble before being marshaled in to the water.   My wave was #13, the first of 3 40-44 waves (496 finishers in my age group).  I zipped up my wetsuit with about 8 minutes to go and was feeling pretty calm.   I positioned myself at the front of the wave as we walked to the jetty so I'd have time to get a few strokes in before the swim start.  I am really happy that it did this.  As the announcers said 30 seconds I could see some people still trying to get in to the water.

swim-exit My plan for the swim was to not start too fast.  I wanted to swim just like I had done in training, focusing on being smooth and breathing every 3rd stroke.  I am very happy with the way the swim went.  The wetsuit definitely helped.  I kept pretty good form for the whole 1.5k.  One of the best things about this race was the swim buoys positioned at every 100meters, with the distance clearly marked.  This was a really good way to break the race down, all I had to do was focus on the next marker and just count them off.  Other races could really learn a lesson here.

There was a lot of bumping going on.  What I didn’t expect was running into people from the previous wave at the 300 meter mark, especially with the waves being 4 mins apart.swim-exit2

I was swimming quite well, and thinking my time would be pretty good – I was really hoping for a sub 30 time.  The turn around was at 600meters, at that point i could see a lot of people, some from 2 waves earlier.  It was often hard to see them and I bumped into a few (sorry).  I had to zig-zag a little but managed to keep a decent line for most of the race.

the last 200m was the hardest – so many people coming around 2 90degree turns towards the finish chute.

I started my watch at about 30 seconds before the race start and glanced at it as I exited the water, it was around 28 minutes!  I am really happy with that.  Official time was 27:37.  This was my best swim ever, significantly helped by the wetsuit.  I am happy that I followed my pre-race plan of taking it easy and finishing strong.

I didn’t notice much rain during the swim, and the water seemed clean enough.  It was definitely better than my last race in Culpeper.  So many people that I talked to were concerned about the thought of swimming in the Potomac.  It really wasn’t bad, I won’t think twice about doing it again next year.

T1 – 3:40t1

the distance from the swim exit to the transition area was long.  It took me almost 2 minutes to get to the transition area.  I think a 3:40 transition was pretty good.  Since I already had my bike shoes clipped in (see pic on left), all I had to do was take off the wetsuit and put on my helmet and glasses.

The wetsuit came off easily and I was out and on my way.  As I got close to the center aisle another competitor fell while taking his wetsuit off, his head crashed into my right thigh – ouch.  I stopped to make sure he was ok, then ran the bike out of transition.

 

 

 

Bike – 1:08:27 – 21.7mph

I was really looking forward to the bike portion of the race.  I had worked hard for the 4 weeks prior to this race, and my average speed was coming up.  I was hoping to finish around 1:18, just over 19mph.  The roads were wet, and the rain just kept coming for most of the ride, which slowed things down especially at the turn a round's and some other tight corners.  There were a lot of volunteers on the course that did an excellent job of warning us of tight turns and even some water hazards.

I was feeling really great on the bike, each time I looked down at my speed, I was over 20mph – often 23 or 24.  The course was very flat.  There were a few up and downs but mostly rolling.  Nothing difficult.  Most of the roads that I train on were much harder and I think this really helped me. 

there were 2 things that i didn’t like about the bike leg:-

  • lack of mile markers.  I would have liked to see ones at 10, 15 & 20.  I did remember that the race website showed the first turn around was at mile 10.  I hit that in 29 minutes and change.  Once I saw that I knew I was in for a good ride time.
  • some sections were narrow and a few sections had a lot of water.  with so many riding there were some places with a lot of people bunched up, as soon as the road opened up again I put in a surge to pass the pack.  there also seemed to be a lot of drafting – mostly unintentional I think.  Some people were definitely getting a sizeable advantage.  At least we were warned about the narrow sections, before the race and by the volunteers.

bikeI kept a good steady effort, aiming for a good mix of speed, but not killing myself so I'd have something left for the run.  I tried to focus on a good cadence and spent most of the race in the 90’s – exactly as planned.

Even with the rain, the ride was over quickly.  Much faster than I had expected (by 10 minutes).  As I went past the Watergate hotel and the Kennedy center I realized that I was nearly finished, and it was about 1h 5mins into the bike leg.  The picture on the right is close to the finish of the bike leg.

The race organizers did an excellent job with the bike finish – signs were posted every 100meters, starting 500meters out.  There were a lot of people lining the streets cheering.  That was fun.

I had a fast dismount, didn’t really slow down much at all and left the bike running.  I think I passed over 10 people who stopped to get off the bike.  The flying dismount really saves time.

Final time was 1:08:27 – way better than I had thought possible.  The flat course really helped there.  Most of my training rides were around 19-19.5 mph, but with more hills and on hotter days. 

The cool day and rain helped a lot – I didn’t even go though my first water bottle (40oz speedfil).  I had a gel at 30mins and about 1hr in.

T2 – 1:50

Nothing exceptional, but a pretty good transition.  Got the shoes on quickly – no socks, put on the visor, race belt and picked up my small water bottle, the one that attaches to your palm.  In previous races i always felt like I needed to sip water more often, rather than take a bigger drink at aid stations.  I picked up the bottle at the expo before the race and I am so happy that I did.

Run – 46:39

run The run was the portion of the race that I was most concerned about.  I didn’t really have a good idea of what time was possible.  Having 2 knee surgeries this year meant that I had not trained much, plus I have had a few calf problems recently too.  2 weeks before the race completed a 10k training run and managed to just break 50 minutes for the first time.  The next run after that i was going slow, and after 3 miles had some calf pain.  I didn’t run after that until the day before the race.

I started the run at a steady pace.  I was feeling great.  Usually my legs feel heavy after the bike leg, but this time i didn’t have that at all.  I think this is a result of some good training, and also good pacing on the bike.  My pace started out at around 8:30/mile and since i was feeling good i kept going faster.  The run was very flat, and with the rain easing and the cool temperature it was close to perfect running conditions.

I looked at my watch and after the fast swim and bike, I was 1:45 in to the race at the start of the run.  I had to look a few times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.  I started to think that I had a shot at finishing within 2:30.  I couldn’t believe that I was even possible.

By mile 2 I felt some pain in my calf, but it didn’t really slow me down so i continued.  Actually i continued to pick up the pace each mile.  This felt really great. I continued a good steady pace and was passing a lot of people.  There were some really fast runners going past me, but not nearly as many as previous races.

run-2 The finish line was really well done, after passing under a bridge (14th st I think) there was a small rise and after that you could see the finish line about 400 yards away.  I put in a great final surge and finished the run in 46:39 – way exceeding my expectations.

I looked at my watch just after the finish – it said 2:28.  I couldn’t believe it.  I knew during the run I was going close to 2:30, but this was an incredible run, considering that I really haven’t trained for running.  The hard swimming and riding training that I have done have really increased my aerobic fitness, and this really helped. 

Final average pace: 7:32/mile – way better than any race before, especially for my first Olympic race.  I think the course might have been a little shorter than 10k too.

The finishing medal was a nice touch.

Post Race Review

finish-medal I am looking forward to this race next year – anyone considering entering should really give it a try. the course is flat and fast, and very well organized.

I lined up after i finished at the timing tent, but they didn’t have the results at first.  I did manage to get back there about 30 minutes later.  It was nice to see my official time – and have it printed for me instead of crowding around some paper pinned to a board.

 

 

 

 

What are the things that i can take away from the race?

  • I validated that my training is working.  I performed better than expected in all 3 legs.
  • the wetsuit definitely helps.  I’ll wear it in every race that i am allowed
  • the course was excellent and made for a fun race – hopefully next year without the rain
  • the hand-held water bottle is a keeper!  may even use that for longer training runs
  • the Speedfil drink system worked very well.  I could sip water as often as i liked without leaving the aero bars
  • for the first time i used an aero helmet – the Rudy Project Wingspan.   I’m sure this helped take 1-2 minutes off the ride time.  I got it only a few days before the race and had not used it on the bike yet.  I am very happy that i did.
  • race and pre-race nutrition was good. drank only water, consumed 2 gels on the bike and 2 enduralytes at the start of the run, continued sipping water throughout the bike/run (refilled once at mile 4 on the run).  Since it cool and raining, there was far less need to consume a lot of water.  Breakfast was a Hammer almond/raisin bar, airborne and a cold/flu tablet and water.  A packet of Powerbar Strawberry/Banana energy gel blasts (yum) while i was setting up and and a Hammer gel about 30-40 minutes before the swim start.  Drank a good amount of water throughout the morning before the race.
  • my heart rate was definitely under control for the whole race.  Much lower and all previous races, even with the faster speed for each leg.  The last race i did, i averaged in the 180s for the swim alone, this race was 167 – the bike was in the low 160’s.  this shows that i was pacing pretty well.  Run average was 168 and up to 183 for the sprint to the finish. 

What can I improve?

  • i still have more work to do on all 3 legs.  Mostly the run.  If i can stay injury free, i am really looking forward to next year/season.
  • speed up transition times.  I think i can take 10-15 seconds from each.  perhaps just by running a little harder & putting on the race belt/number while running.

Final times:-

Finish Time

2:28:11

average/pace heart rate avg/max
Swim

27:37

1:42/100m 167/175
T1

3:40

   
Bike

1:08:27

21.7 mph 161/166
T2

1:50

   
Run

46:39

7:32/mile 168/183
Age Group

61/496

 
Gender Place

385/2834

 
Overall Place

422/4391

 

 

To think about for next year

I think i can cut a good amount of time for next year.  If i can cut just 1 minute off each leg that will get me in the 2:25 range, but if i can really work the bike/run i think i could get down to around 2:20.  If i can maintain some continued steady swim progress, and some good run/bike training should get me there. 

At some point I would like to buy a Triathlon bike, but not before I am stronger on the bike itself.  I passed many people with the full aero bike, wheels and all (that was fun).  My philosophy is to work on the engine first, then when I think the my current bike is slowing me down, I’ll upgrade.  I am hoping to do this early in the season next year.  Added to that is the fact that i have to save for a new bike too!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

5 Days to the Nations Triathlon - 2010

The nations triathlon is fast approaching – 5 days until race day.  Since this is my first Olympic distance race, i am not 100% sure how my body will react to the longer distance compared to the sprints i have done previously.

In preparation for the race, I put together some notes about how i think i might finish.  This is just my best estimate.  One of the big unknowns for me is how the bike leg will go.  All of the races I have done until now have been sprints, with a max of 700 athletes.  Each swim wave has been relatively small, and there is usually always a fair amount of traffic on the bike course.  The nations tri has something like 4,500 people – sure there are still wave starts (33 of them), with many age groups have multiple waves, but there is still going to be a lot of people out on the course at the same time.

So here’s my preview of how i think/hope the race will go

  Fast Average Slow Actual
Swim – 1,500m

31:00

32:00

33:00

27:37

Bike – 40k/25mi

1:17

1:20

1:23

1:08:27

Run – 10k/6.2mi

54:00

57:00

1:00

46:39

Transitions (1&2)

4:00

4:00

4:00

5:30

Total

2:46

2:54

3:00

2:28:11

Given that i have not had the best year in terms of injury – i would be happy finishing anything less than 3 hrs.

The table above helps me to gauge what my fastest and slowest time should be, of course depending on a lot of factors, it helps me to work out a range of what is reasonable to expect.    What is interesting about this, is that 3:00 was the original goal i set for myself when i registered for the race in December 2009.  Today, even with the injuries, 3hrs seems easy enough.  After the race I’ll add a column for the actual race times to see how it compares.

Swim  (M40-44 - Wave 13 - 7:48am)

When I first started considering Triathlon – the limiting factor for me was 100% swimming.  Actually i had always wanted to complete a triathlon, but thought the swimming would be too hard.  I’ve worked hard on swimming this year, and i am now pretty comfortable with swimming the distance in the pool.  Note that i didn’t say fast.  Now that i found out that my local pool is yards and not meters, i had to manage my expectations a little too.  So what i though was 1,500 meters, was short (1,500m is around 1,640 yards).  The last time i did that distance (30min TT) i finished in 28:55 (details here).  Open water is going to be slower, especially with no walls to push off.  I am not doing flip turns yet so the advantage in the pool may not be huge, but at least in the pool i know that i am going straight.  I’d really like to break 30 mins, i think that might be possible if we could wear wetsuits.  Realistically, i will be happy with anything less than 32 minutes.  Since this is my first race longer than 750m, it will be interesting to see what i can do.

I’d really like to start the swim at a steady pace and not get caught up with trying to mix it up with the faster swimmers.  I did this on my last race and while i had a good time, i really pushed my HR limits (180+ hr).  Doing the same thing would be a problem with a race of double the distance.  I’d like to focus on technique and slow things down a little, if i can do that then i think i can still have a good time and have plenty of energy left for the bike/run.

It looks pretty likely that this will not be a wetsuit race.  I was really hoping for colder water so i could get a boost from my wetsuit.  Last week the water temperature was 85, today 80-81.  It is getting close to the 78 wetsuit cut-off.

Final note:  My age group is split across 3 swim waves.  I am in the first wave.  I wonder if they will mark us with the a/b/c wave too.  I am really competing for a time, not against anyone else, but i like to see what others in my group can do.  If i see someone ahead of me towards the end of the run, then I'll be trying to run them down – especially if i knew that they were in the same swim wave.

Bike

I’ve worked really hard over the last month – with very little prep on the bike for the entire year before that.  My recent rides have be averaging just over 19mph on for around 25miles mostly on rolling terrain with a few hills.  I used these training rides to come up with the time estimates above. 19.0mph would be 1:18.57.   The Nation’s course is supposed to be quite fast, but with all of the people, maintaining a good average might be a challenge.  I have never managed to top 20mph in any ride yet – that is one of my goals. I think it might be possible with a few more months of training under my belt.  Given how i have been training, i think something in the 1:17-1:20 time window is doable.  Anything less than 1:20 would be a great result.

Run

Running has been tough for me this year.  The only thing of note that I have done is complete a half marathon (1:53:55) in May.  Since then i have had another knee surgery and not completed much running at all.  2 weeks ago i did manage to complete a 10k training run – this felt really great!  I set a new PR by breaking 50minutes for the first time.  However a few days after that i was out on a slow jog and had some calf pain – a week later it is still there.  I am trying to massage every day and it is getting better, but i don’t think i am going to attempt to run until race day.

Ideally i would love to finish in around 55:00 or less – if i have a good day i could get closer to 50, but if the calf hurts it might take a lot longer.  My conservative goal is anything less than 1hr.  I’ve completed 3 sprint races, each in the high 26 minute range (26:41, 26:51, 26:34).  Doubling that time gets me to around 55, but i don’t know how my legs are going to feel.  At least this run is mostly flat.

Transition

This race is on a much larger scale than anything i have ever done before.  Looking at last year’s results – the transition times vary wildly.  the front of the pack (M40-44) were between 3-4 minutes combined for T1 & T2, whereas the average for a 2:50 finish were up to 6 minutes.  I am hoping to make up some time in transition – so i figured leaving 4 minutes combined should be enough.    I may update this after i see where my bike will be racked, and how large the transition area is.

I do plan on clipping my shoes in to the bike and doing a flying mount, and won’t be wearing any socks, so that should hopefully lay the foundation for a fast T1 and T2.  Last race my helmet and glasses were knocked off before i got to transition, so i may put them on the ground to be safe.  I have aero bars on the bike now, so that might make them more secure up high.


So that’s it for my pre-race thoughts.  I am hoping that by posting this goal, it will provide a little more motivation to go and make it happen!