Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Who Would Have Thought that I'd Be King of the Mountains?

Yesterday I reviewed the race organization of the Bandits Challenge Triathlon. Now, I get to tell you what it was like to actually race the thing. Let's start with the swim. Honestly, I'd prefer to just pretend the swim didn't happen. It was horrible. It was embarrassing. First, they put the Clydesdales (male racers over 200 lbs.) in with the 30-something age groupers, which tends to be one of the strongest age groups. There were supposed to be five of us fatties in that heat and I couldn't find a damn one. Sensing that I was a little out of my league in this heat, I went ahead and got at the back of the group. Last year at the Turtle Crawl Sprint Triathlon, the Clydesdales and Athenas started in the very last heat right behind the oldest competitors. I spent the entire swim leg passing people and ended up regretting being so conservative in my starting position at the back of the pack. Looking around at the guys around me in the green caps of the second heat, I realized that maybe this event drew a slightly more experienced set of triathletes than the pancake-flat course on Jekyll Island.

It turns out that I'm a good judge of books by their covers. As soon as the guy in charge of the start blasted the air horn, the rest of the heat quickly left me behind. Five minutes later, the next heat (more youngish age-groupers) took off and two minutes after that their best swimmers passed me. By the time I got to the halfway point, people who were scheduled to start 15 minutes behind me were passing me. There is some light hyperbole in that description, but there was one guy who finished the swim course in less than half my time and 11 guys finished  the 1.5k swim at least 15 minutes faster than me, meaning the best guys in the wave starting 15 minutes after me probably did pass me.

I'm honestly not sure what the problem was. I felt a little panicky in the water for probably the first half before I really got resolved and settled in. I never feel panicky in the water. I hadn't even gotten to a quarter mile before I was wishing I could just quit and have one of the guys in the kayaks give me a tow back to the shore and call it a day.

I entirely blame my training. First, my training schedule this spring consisted of 3 bike sessions and 3 run sessions a week, but only 2 swim sessions each week. In addition to that, I don't swim year round. I run heavily all year and I bike regularly year-round, but I've been taking off from swimming between my last triathlon and March. Last year that meant I didn't swim a day between June 1, 2011 and March 1, 2012. Also, because of drought conditions, I had to move my training from my parents' pond to the local pool. My parents' pond is 132 yards long. The pool is 25 yards. That means I was used to having the mind set this spring that I could stop and take a quick breather every 25 yards in training. Last year I had to go the full 132 yards before I could take a few breaths before heading back. The swim course at this race was about 1,636 yards. Twenty-five yards is just a speck compared to that. I had the physical ability to finish the course. I didn't have the mental training to do it well. For the rest of the summer, I plan on increasing my focus on swimming as I have three scheduled sprint triathlons in northern Florida and would like to perform a little better in those than I did at Bandits. Also, after the heavy rains the last couple of weeks, the pond is again deep enough to use for training. I plan on using it at least once a week to get my head right for the future swim legs.

Getting back to the race, by the time I got out of the water, I knew the race was hopeless. I never saw another green cap (my heat's color) the entire swim, and I was exiting the water mostly with swimmers from two heats behind me and the transition area was mostly cleared out by the time I got there. There were 91 men in the race. Only four of them had worse swims than me. My swim time was exactly 41 minutes. It's actually not a bad pace for me, especially considering the much longer course than I got used to last year, but I still want to do better.

I took my time in transition. I was deflated, and I wanted to make sure I didn't rush too much and go beyond the endurance I'd trained up. My transition time was about as bad as the swim. I spent 4:20 in T1. The best racers spend only about 1:30 in T1. Thinking about how to improve this one, I think practicing that transition would be a good idea. I had my stuff organized and easily accessed, but I'm not practiced at hurrying in putting it all on. Another thing I could do is to practice putting my bike shoes on while riding. A lot of the better triathletes put their shoes on their pedals, get up to a cruising speed on the bike with their feet above the shoes and then put the shoes on on the fly. I've never worked on this and so haven't used it during a race. I plan to spend some time working on it this week.

And on to the bike... When I finally ran out to the mounting line and started pedaling I dropped my chain. I've NEVER dropped a chain. Apparently at some point in the morning, my shifters had been bumped several times so that the bike tried to shift a bunch of gears at one when I started pedaling and the chain just came off just at the bottom of the huge climb to the top of the dam. I fairly quickly got the chain back into place, got the bike into a reasonable gear for the climb and got back on. Despite this, my first mile wasn't all that slow.

You'd think from that start that I'd have had a miserable bike leg, but I didn't. I discovered something. I'm really not that bad at climbing on a bike. In fact, every person I passed (and I passed a bunch) were passed on the steeper climbs of the course. My legs never got overly tired and I'd often pass a person going up a rather steep section feeling like I was taking it easy and realizing I was blowing past the skinnier guy in the much fancier bike. By mile 25 I was yelling "whee!" on a couple of the descents and feeling amazing.

That's not an exaggeration. I literally yelled whee. I couldn't see anybody in front of me and the guy I passed coming up that hill was out of sight by that point. I was feeling crazy good on the bike and didn't care if someone did hear me, honestly. I also hit a personal record on this section. I hit 40 miles per hour on one downhill section. I've never gotten that fast before. I also hit the 30s in one flat section, something else I've never done. Despite feeling like I was taking it relatively easy, I finished the course in a time that is comparable to the best pace I can managed on my rolling 21 mile course at home. I can't say anything bad about how I did on the bike. My time for that leg is about middle of the pack. Considering the fact that this seemed to be a race where there weren't as many newbies as in most races, I count that as a win.

Honestly, this had been the leg I worried about most. I was working under the assumption that I was a slightly above average swimmer from my experience last year. I wasn't going to win my age group in the swim, but I wasn't going to embarrass myself, I though. I was wrong. I was also wrong about my cycling abilities, though. Where I live, hills are difficult to find. I have one route where I ride about 7 miles before I get out closer to the river and find a series of decent rollers, but that 21-mile route only has about a thousand feet of climbing. The Bandits bike course features almost four times that much climbing. I really did not feel prepared for this. It turns out that I shouldn't have worried. Apparently my training for this was good enough.  The hills on my training route are pretty short, although some reach reasonably challenging grades. When I rode this route (which was nearly every bike session for the last two months) I'd keep the bike in a slightly higher gear than was comfortable and just bust my ass as hard as possible up the hill, take a short rest on the backside of the hill and do it again with the next hill. Usually by the last three hills I was feeling pretty spent, so I was expecting to really suffer on the much more different course for this tri. Instead, I just kept the gears on my bike set to where I always felt like I was working up the hill but not in any sort of stress and focus on a high cadence and that was enough for me to catch up to and pass every person I ever got into my line of sight during the race. Apparently my hill training was enough even though I was never able to do any lengthy climbs. Still surprised I finished that first 3 mile climb without too much suffering though. Now with the flat sprints in Florida coming up this summer I need to go back to working on sustained effort on a flat course. There won't be any chances to catch a break on a downhill for those races and I need to get used to that again.

My second transition was pretty slow as well: 3:56. There were two main flaws in this transition (other than my lack of practice). I had forgotten my energy gels when I got on the bike and I tried to choke one down after pinning on my run number to my shirt. In the future, Don't need to stand still while taking the gels. Either run with them to my lips or don't worry about them at all. Also, for the running bib number, I don't need to pin it on in transition. Last year I didn't have this problem. I didn't have a tri-shirt so I swam shirtless and then put on my running shirt for the bike with the bib already pinned on. This year I didn't want to swim with the number pinned to my shirt, so I pinned it on in transition. They do sell belts to hold the number and this may be worth investing in now. Then I can just snap on the belt and go. Of course the downtime spent in T2 helped me feel a little better when I started the run. Normally getting the legs running after the bike is difficult. The legs feel wobbly and non-compliant. This time they were moving pretty easily.

That is until I hit the climb up the side of the dam. Seriously, it was steep. I was slightly winded just walking up the damn thing before the race started and I'd already burned through 2,000 calories that morning by the time I had to run it. My legs just weren't there. Neither were they there the other two times I had to go up the other side of the dam in the process of going through my two laps of the run course. I did, however, run the rest of the course, including the less ridiculous hills in the course. (And I didn't see anyone else running those hills either. I saw a lot of middle-of-the-pack finishers working on their second lap when I started my first and none of them were running up the climbs either. Looking at finishing times, I don't think many guys outside of the top 25 were running up those hills consistently. I finished with a time of 1:00:55, which is about 9:53 per mile. That, by the way, is faster than I ran the Peachtree Road Race in 2010 and also faster than I ran a similar distance with similar climbing on Kennesaw Mountain back in December. I felt like crap every minute on the run, but it turns out that I wasn't slacking off. After the fact, I'm pleased with the run.

I don't really have much in the way of training commentary for this. Running is actually my strongest event, but when it comes at the end of the race, it's not going to be as pretty as I would normally do it, especially on a course that had over a thousand feet of climbing. If I were to do this race again (or one with a similar profile), I'd probably want to spend more time running those rollers that make up the bike course I trained on for this race. Also, losing about 15 more pounds wouldn't hurt.

Of course, I could have done better, although perhaps not much this year. With the birth of my daughter in March and the bulk of my training having to come during tennis season, I really just couldn't put together a decent training season. I shouldn't have expected better than what I got. I probably shouldn't have expected what I did get. I am probably pushing back my Half Ironman and Ironman plans now. I was barely ready for this and since I didn't actually quit coaching tennis for next year like I had thought I might, I won't have time to train for a 70.3 race. Now my plans are for a 70.3 in 2014. Then my son will be 7 and no longer a hassle for my wife and my daughter will be two. I'll aim for a full Ironman the next year when my son is 8 and the girl is 3. After that, I'll "retire" and just enjoy training with my son, assuming he keeps his current love of running long distances for no real reason. I think I'd like that. I think I'd like it even more if the girl turns out to be a runner/cyclist/swimmer too.


Mickey said...


Julie said...

I think it is so cool that you yelled out in joy while bike riding on a triathalon. Team Jacob! With that attitude, baby girl will want to run/cycle/swim just as much as the little man does. Who wouldn't want to have fun with dad?