Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nation’s Tri 2011–Race report

For those of you that want to cut right to it – how did I do??  I had an AMAZING race, I think my best ever.  I finished 11th/415 in my age group,  86th/2427 men and 86th/3884 overall!  This far exceeded all of my expectations, and then some.

This year was my 2nd time at the Nation’s Triathlon. With all of the bad weather in the D.C. area in the last week, the swim was cancelled on the Thursday before the race.  The organizers made a good call letting all of the participants know a few days before the start. I saw a lot of floating debris on Sunday, and I’m sure the water quality was very low.

With my calf issues in the last week – I was considering not racing at some point.  After a couple of visits to my Physical Therapist and Sports Doctor I felt confident that I could at least finish – just not sure if I could run even part of the 6.2 miles (10k) run portion of the course. 

I drove down to the expo and packet pickup on Saturday afternoon with a couple of friends, they both ended up not racing.  We hung around at the expo for a while, and I managed to pick up a set of CEP calf sleeves – I had been using the 2XU version, however after trying on the CEP compression sleeves I thought they felt great.  I ended up wearing them during the race.  They feel so good that I really don’t want to take them off!

After getting our things at the expo, we drove down to the transition area.  With no swim, it was going to be a different start procedure.  The organizers also made the decision to organize the bike racks into swim groups, and the whole transition area was oriented in a different way, perpendicular to last year.  When I arrived at the transition area, I didn’t like what I saw.  My swim group was #20.  There were no pre-assigned sections, it was first come first served.  I didn’t like it at all. Anyone who arrived early had a large advantage because they had their choice of the best spots.  I was there mid afternoon (around 3:30).  Anyone who turned up later in the day would have to spent a lot more time getting in and out of transition.  The aisles were narrow too, and seemed more compresses than usual.  Most of the time you are either assigned a specific position, or a range of 6-10 numbers.  The rows for swim group 20 were the longest I had ever seen in transition.  I chose a spot about 25 yards in from the aisle. I was happy that most of the other people on that section had put their bike facing the other side (towards the bike exit) – so that gave me a little more space to work with, and help be spot my position in T1 and T2.

Race Day

I woke up just before 4:00 am and ate a banana and a hammer bar and drank some water.  I mixed up 3 bottles of EFS, one for the drive, one to drink in while setting up/waiting and the 3rd was mixed with 1 scoop of First Endurance PreRace for 40minutes before the start.  I used a bottle of EFS Liquid shot, and water in my SpeedFil for the bike.  There was no traffic at that time of the day, so I managed to get a great parking spot less than 15mins walk away.  This was important because I was not planning on staying around for a long time post-race because I wanted to get home to watch the kids play their first soccer games of the season.  I quickly got my area setup, pumped the tires and had plenty of time before transition closed.  I even had time to walk back to my car and drop off my pump and other things I didn’t need, to save carrying it all with the bike for the drive home.

The Race

with so many competitors (around 4,000), the organizers did a great job of getting everything moving efficiently.  Each group was marshaled toward the transition area.  We were let off in groups of around 15 people every 15 seconds or so.  This start line was only 10 yards from the transition timing mat, where the official time started.

T1 – 1:32

T1 was more chaotic than normal, with the group of 15 converging to the same area, and people from the previous start still getting their bikes too.  I already had my helmet and glasses on, so literally all I had to do was grab the bike and go.  Running through T1 didn’t seem to hurt my calf.  I was not running very fast, but I hoped it that I could continue pain free for the rest of the race.  Some sections of the transition area were muddy, especially as we got toward the bike mount area.  As usual I had my bike shoes clipped on to my pedals, my feet were a muddy by the time that I got to the mount area, but that wasn’t really a problem, except for having to clean my shoes (which I still have not done).

Bike – 59:48 - 78/2427 Overall Men's – 8 minute PR

As I got to the mount line, there was a big group of people in front that seemed to take forever to get on their bikes.  I found a gap and ran through it and executed a decent flying mount, got up to speed and settled into my aero bars.  There were a lot of bikes on the course, and I was hitting 25-27mph on the flat section out and back past the transition area.

With 5,000 people racing, it was heavy traffic for the whole bike leg, there were bikes everywhere.  I tried hard not to draft, but it was almost impossible.  There was a lot of unintentional blocking and drafting going on.  I had to hit the brakes a number of times to avoid a slow group in front. Even if there was room on the right, a lot of people stayed in the middle or left side of the road/lane.  To add the the chaos, there were a lot of sections that were a single lane each way, some separated only by witches hats.  This made passing very difficult.  The whole course is about as flat as any you will ever race, making for fast times.  There are some slight rollers but nothing that really slows you down.  I can  remember only 1 minor hill where my speed dropped below 20mph. 

I  set my bike computer to auto-lap every 5 miles.  For the first 5 miles I averaged 24.6mph – sweet!  Before the race I thought I might be able to average in the mid-high 23’s, so anything close to 25 was a bonus.

For the whole bike let, the traffic never really let up – only on the sections that were 2 lanes could I put my head down and ‘go’.  There were a few others in my age group that kept passing me, I would pass them up the hills and they would pass me back on the downhill's – 2 of them had the uber (2-3x more expensive) version of my bike.  Mine is a 2011 Trek Speed Concept 7.0, the other two had the 9.x version which is lighter and more aero, they also had some nice race wheels too.  With about 10 miles to go we had gotten to a 2 lane section of road that was slightly up-hill.  I decided I’d had enough of them passing me – so I upped the pace and flew past them.  My averages for miles 10-15 and 15-20 were 27.0 and 26.3.  I didn’t see them again.  It shows that it is the engine that makes the most difference on the bike, but I did find myself contemplating how much faster I might be with some fast wheels.

With such a fast pace, I thought I might be able to finish the bike in less than 1 hr.  This would be a huge PR (last year’s was 1:08:27).  My Garmin had my time at 58:24 for the 24.91 miles at an average of 25.6.  I started it just after getting on the bike, and stopped it just before the dismount area.  The official race  time was 59:48 – awesome!

Statistics (from my Garmin Edge 500):

  • Speed 25.6avg, 36.7 max
  • Cadence: 95rpm avg, 116rpm max
  • Heart Rate: 164bpm avg, 175bpm max

I found this photo on the Nation’s Tri facebook page  - it is some of the first people coming back into T2, look how close they all are.  The Facebook post is here


T2 – 1:30

Getting in to the transition area was crowded again, I found my spot quickly, put on my running shoes and was off without wasting any time.  I wanted to take the bike computer with me on the run.  As I got to the end of T2 I realized that I forgot it.  It wasn’t a big deal, but I would miss looking at my HR data after the race.

Run – 40:30 – 159/2427 Overall Men's – 6 minute PR

monument-runAfter such a good bike split, I thought for a second that it was possible that the run could take longer than the bike leg.  Thankfully I didn’t have much pain.  I did alter my running style to minimize the stress on my left calf.  The compression sleeves really helped too.  Not having a watch was really nice, I could focus purely on feel and not worry about pace at all.

I started out at what felt like an easy pace, similar to the pace I would hold for my long runs to see where the legs were at.  I was happily surprised to be feeling pretty good, and was actually passing a lot of people.  Most of them were from the groups in front of me, I didn’t see many in my age group on the run course at all.  I do remember 1 person in my age group passed me, he was really moving.

The run course is as fast as the bike, flat as can be, with a little uphill section near the Washington Monument – nothing really to slow you down.   I was able to run only by what felt ok.  I thought I was running somewhere around an 8/8:30 minute mile, it turns out that it was much faster than that.   The course was well marked out, with easy to see mile markers, they even had a 5k marker, which was a nice touch.  As I got to mile 4, I started to pick up the pace a little, to see what I had left for the finish.  I ended up finishing strongly, with a decent burst over the last 1/4 mile.

At the finish I really had no idea what my run split was or my overall time.  I knew that I had put in a good race, and thought I might get within the top 40-50 in my age group.  Last year I had finished 61st place and that was my best race ever.   I figured that I might have run somewhere in the 48-50minute range, which I would have been totally happy with.  I was happy just to be running, and not walking after the calf trouble during the week before.

Post Racenations-tri-result-001

After finishing, I walked back to my bike, changed shoes and put on a t-shirt, then walked back to the finish area to get some food.  I stopped by the timing tent to get the printout with the unofficial results (see right).  This is one of the great unique things about this race, a printed result sheet showing your splits, total time and division place.  To my total shock I finished the run in 40:30 (an average of 6:31/mile).  This was a full 6 minutes faster than last year, and faster than any run in training too.  I still am not sure how that happened, especially with no running for the 10 days before the race with a strained calf.

The other thing that surprised me was my finish position – 11th in my age group.  I was thinking top 40 might be possible, so this was a really great result.





The organizers did a great job with this race again, even with the swim cancellation.  They made a real effort to let everyone know that the swim was cancelled, and were able to quickly respond to the many Facebook & twitter questions too.  I haven’t thought about my schedule for next year, but I would love to do this race again.


Overall Race Comments

  • if you are looking for a race where you can post really fast times, this is it!
  • I would like to do this race again, but I hope next year the weather is better so we can swim, and hopefully that will minimize drafting on the bike
  • there were plenty of port-a-johns at the race, I think this is a first.  I did see some queue’s, however if you walked another 100 meters towards the finish area, there were plenty without lines.  I needed to go 3 times before the race start and never had to wait
  • I hope the transition area next year goes back to what it was before – I thought it was less than fair for a lot of people this year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nation’s Tri predictions & calf injury

I am doing the Nation’s Tri again this year.  It was my most fun race from last year – see my race report for details.

Not only was it a fun race last year, it was my first Olympic distance Triathlon, and I finished with a time that far exceeded my expectations – 2:28:11.  So what about this year, do I think I can beat that?  Until 2 days ago, I was pretty sure I could post a great PR this year after some solid training for the last few months, but then on Sunday I was at the pool with the kids and while diving off a 1meter diving board I felt a pop in my left calf.  I could barely walk after getting out of the water.  Since then I have been applying plenty of rest, ice and compression.  It is starting to feel a little better, but is still very sore.  I can’t push at all, but I can walk.  I don’t think I will be running at all next Sunday during the race.  I do have an appointment at a Sports Doctor for Thursday to get a better idea of the extent of the problem and what the recovery time is likely to be.

My first thought was that my race was done, however after some reflection I realized how lucky I am to be able to race at all.  Less than 3 years ago I would never have thought I’d be competing in an Olympic distance triathlon, especially with a 1.5km swim.  I remember seeing some forum posts recently that a DFL > DNF > DNS.  So with that in mind, or unless the doctor tells me otherwise, I am going to start the race and walk through T1, T2  and the run.  So instead of getting down about missing my original goal, I can set a completely new goal.

I hope the swim will be wetsuit legal again this year, if not I’ll be around 2-3 minutes slower than last year.  Anywhere around 28-30 minutes will be great.  If the water is warm, I think I will be in the 30-32 minute range.  This year they have switched to a time trial start, instead of mass waves of 200+.  This should be interesting.  It means that we can’t get in the water before the start for a warm-up.  My swimming is not as strong as it was last year, having spent a whole lot less time at the pool.  I have been working hard for the last few weeks, so I am hoping that I can come close to last years great time of 27:37.

I am stronger on the bike this year.  With the new bike fitness/power and the new bike, I am still hoping for a strong performance.  The course is a little different, so I am not sure how that might change the final time. Last years time was 1:08:27, far exceeding my expectation of a 1:15.  This was the first race that I was able to average over 20mph.  I’d really like to finish in the 1:05-1:06 range this year. 

Last year’s run leg was a great one for me – 46:39, this was a real breakthrough. I felt strong and really pushed for the last 3 miles. Before the calf injury I was hoping to get close to that again  So now I am going to try to walk in a sub 15:00 mile pace.

Time Predictions:



2011 (fit)

2011 walking






     5:00 (walking)






     3:00 (walking)



1:28:00 (walking)




The time is always hard to predict, I think a 2:25 was possible before the injury.  Usually I can walk much faster than 15:00/mile so I’ll walk as fast as I can without pain.  If I can walk a little faster, I might go close to the 3:00 mark.

So my priorities and goals have changed.  #1 is to make sure I don’t do any damage to my calf.  If I can have a good swim/bike I’ll be happy with whatever comes after that.  I am trying to keep things in perspective.  I will be happy being out there giving it a go, and if I do happen to be dead last, then I will celebrate that I could finish and didn’t give up.

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Using Strava to analyze your rides

An alternate title for this post could be simply “Strava is awesome”.  I recently was put on to strava via a friend.  Originally I had thought it was just another online tool to track bike rides & runs like Garmin Connect or trainingpeaks, both of which I use frequently. 

But then I had a look at strava, and there are a couple of features that really stood out:-

  • comparing sections of a ride with others – with King of the Mountain competitions
  • identifying the climb difficulty and statistics – e.g. category 2,3,4, % grade, elevation gain etc.

So I signed up for a the free service and immediately I really liked what I saw.  I have been riding a bit recently in the hills out at Skyline drive, the first of any sort of mountain riding I had done.  When I uploaded my first ride, I could immediately see how difficult the climbs were, and it told me what position I had finished against anyone else who has uploaded a ride from the same location.

Here’s an example:-first-ride-elevation
not only can you see the elevation for the whole ride, it split up the ride into segments automatically. In addition to that, you see a table with your performance for each segment.  You can also add your own segments.
I found this fascinating.  The first climb of the day was a tough one, after a 4.5 mile descent the climb is 3.9 miles, it is rated at a category 2 (same scale used in the tour de France).  It took me 26:37 to complete the climb at an average pace of 8.8mph, with an average HR of 152.  It also estimates the average power for the climb, for those like me without a power meter.  When you click on the climb segment, you get even more detail – like the grade being an average of 5.7%, and information about who is the fastest man & woman to complete the same climb.  Once you have loaded up several rides along the same segments, you can compare your own best performances too.

If you look closely at the icons on the left column of the chart above, there are some awards there too, it will tell you if you have a new PR or even if you made the “KOM” King of the Mountain. 

Of course you can choose whether to keep your information private, or public and compare to others.   There is an element of social networking built in too – friends can leave comments on your efforts and can click on the “Kudos” button (just like a “like” in Facebook).

It is possible to create your own segments too – they don’t have to be just hills.  Last weekend I combined 2 rides that I often do into a single long ride.  I created segments for a tough out/back and another segment for a loop I often do, so now whenever I go back, I have something to compare them too.  When you create a segment, you can choose to keep it private, or make it public for everyone else to have a go at.

Here’s another example:

An out and back section of almost 17 miles with a decent amount of rolling hills.carters-run-elevation

and after uploading 3 rides where I completed this section, I can compare the results.carters-run-comparison

Part of the reason for the difference in speed/time between May 22nd and June 5th was switching to racing tires.  The ride on August 20th was part of a 3hr ride, not sure why the HR was up as high as it was, but it is good to see that I was only 25 seconds slower than the last time where I felt like I went harder on a much shorter ride.

I’ll often catch myself thinking that I had a “great ride” today – now I have a tool to help me understand this much better.  It won’t just be a perception any more, or an overall average speed that I use, with Strava I can analyze it in many different ways.

You don’t even have to have a fancy bike computer.  Strava supports Garmin devices, and there is also an app that you can download for the iPhone and Android platforms.

I think it is my new favorite tool!