Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lessons learned

My first on-road tri today. Me and a bunch of friends signed up and participated in the Downtown Columbia Tri. For many of us, it was our first 'real' triathlon. Without a doubt, all of us learned a heck of a lot!

This is actually a great course. The pool at Carolina is very nice. 10 lanes in the 50 meter pool. It made for perhaps the best introduction to a pool swim triathlon possible. Since the swim was 500 meters, you swam each lane one time. No doubling up in the lane which gave plenty of room to pass (or be passed!).

The swim was a complete eye-opener. Most of my friends agreed with me that the swim was a very hard event. It's going to take some time to get used to that. One thing that was nice was the way the race was started. One at a time, swimmers are released to do their swim. A five second gap between each swimmer. Being 172nd in the line, I had about 20 minutes to hang out before my chance to swim.

When it was my chance, I dove in and went about as hard as I could. What a fool! I did great for the first 50 meters, even passed the girl who went out in front of me. About half way down the 2nd lap, I swallowed a bunch of water and had to breast stroke for a couple strokes. By the end of lap 2, she re-passed me.

It wasn't until I was well into lap 3 that I started to settle down a little. I was too worried about going fast, and not worried enough about having good form. Had I slowed down just a little, I bet my time would have been better. My breathing was all messed up, I don't think I was using my core correctly and I'm certain I wasn't getting the appropriate amount of rotation. I was a mess.

My results showed it. I was ranked 141 out of 196 with a time of 11m58s for the swim plus about a 150m run to the transition area. The timing pad was not at the exit to the pool, it was at the entrance to the transition area. Not a problem, but it made it difficult to get an actual swim time.

However, since I was using my super cool new Garmin 910XT, I hit the lap button as I got out of the pool. It shows my actual 500m swim time as 11m23s. That means it took me about 25 seconds to jog that distance to the actual timing pad.

When I arrived at the transition, I did decide to wear socks for the ride (and thus the run as well). I didn't anticipate how tired I would be after the swim, so it took me quite a bit of time to get the socks on, and then the shoes. I lost my balance a couple of times before I started to slow down a bit and get squared away. I popped a gu packet, on with the glasses and helmet and I was heading out towards the bike course, and another timing pad to get my transition split.

Turns out that was a pretty slow transition at 1m43s. The fastest guys were doing it in around 30 seconds. Probably the average guy was doing it around 45s. Something for me to think about when I do the half ironman in May - I should just go ahead and sit down on my towel to put my socks on. Do it right away and don't waste the time.

I'm committed to putting on the socks. I don't think I can be comfortable for a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run without any socks. That's why I did it today - all in training for the half iron. I probably could have been ok without socks for today, but it didn't serve the purpose of doing the transition just as if it were half iron race day.

I ran my bike out of the transition area and mounted up. The course immediately goes uphill. Not a super steep uphill, but a nice hill nonetheless. I kept it in the small chainring until I got to the top, then I kicked it into the big ring and started pushing as big a gear as I could handle.

The bike course was a great course. Three laps of 3 miles each. As a loop, of course you get to do some descending since you had that great opportunity to climb coming out of transition. I was really amazed to see people coasting down that hill. I was big ring, small cog and pushing for all I had. I was determined to gain as much as possible whenever I could push the gears.

I passed a lot of people. I think I was passed once where it actually stuck. One guy passed me just as we were getting towards the top of the climb, but I bombed past him on the downhill and never saw him again.

Of course I was riding my Javelin TT bike. For the most part, I was able to ride in the aero position. When I approached a corner at speed, I did sit up a bit and grab the bars with the brake levers. Never know when you're going to need to slow down a bit.

On my second lap, I passed Robin who was cheering us on outside the transition area. Almost as soon as I got past her, as the road started up again, I lost my chain! I had shifted into the small ring to tackle the hill, and boom, the chain falls to the inside of the crankset. I had to stop, so I lost between a half and a full minute getting the chain back in place. That includes the time for stopping and the re-acceleration in those big gears. Not the end of the world, but losing a minute on the bike cost me 10 positions in my bike leg ranking. As it was, I was ranked 40th with a time of 28m44s (the guy ranked 30th was 27:47).

Of course, I'm pleased with that result as it puts me in the top 21% of the field for the bike leg. Much better than the bottom 25% on the swim!

As I rolled back up to the transition area, I was feeling pretty good. The legs were holding up just fine. I dismounted and ran to my transition area to get ready for the run. I got out of my bike shoes and into my running shoes just fine. Removed the helmet, spun the race number from around back to around front, and headed out for the run.

I was already out of transition and headed up the road when I realized that I had forgotten my hat. While not the end of the world for a run that ended up being short of the advertised 3 miles (I clocked it at 2.75mi), I certainly don't want to forget that for the half marathon that finishes out the half ironman!

This transition was better, and the results show a time of 54s. Again, the fastest guys were doing it in 30ish seconds. Although I was better, it can use improvement. No reason to mess with my number at that point. and, DON'T FORGET YOUR HAT!!!!

As with the bike, the run heads uphill from the transition area. It was a mostly out and back course with a loop thrown in at the end before the finish. I set out on the course just trying to find my groove. At mile one, my pace was 7m58s. I was good with that, and would have been happy to have kept that pace for the entire distance.

At around mile 1, I passed my buddy Scott. He started about 40 swimmers in front of me. I didn't recognize him as I really was in a zone. Once he said something, I realized who it was and said hey. We weren't too far from the turn-around, so I got to see him again shortly. He was looking pretty good.

The next of my friends I saw was Rene. She looked like she was rocking it! Then, I saw Jen just as I started the last leg of the run, which was a loop around the block. Mile 2 was clocked at 7m32s, and the last .75 mile to the finish was clocked at 5m29s (a 7:17/mile pace). I really didn't feel like I was moving that fast! I was ranked 77th in the run. In the upper 50th percentile. Looks like there is room for improvement there.

My garmin shows a total time of 1h4m33s, while the official results show me at 1h4m31s. That puts me in 63rd out of 196 men. I'd say that is the top 30%, which is where I seem to end up in many of the larger events in which I participate.

So, what did I learn?
I need to concentrate on my form, and forget about speed for the swim. I'd probably be faster just in doing that. I'll contact a swim coach to see if I can get some help improving my technique. 1.2 miles is a hell of a long way to swim, and I need to get better. I have a little over a month.

Need to speed up the transition to the bike. Sit down immediately if I am going to wear socks. I'm certain that is where I lost all my time. I had a towel to dry my feet, but don't think that is necessary, just need one on which to wipe my feet.

DON'T FORGET MY HAT!!!!! Stupid move here. Again, not a big deal for a 2.75mile run, but I will definitely be hating it if I forget for a half marathon! Concentrate on smooth during the bike - run transition. Smooth is almost always fast.

Tune up my bike, and test ride it about a week before the event. For some reason, even though I have been riding the TT bike, I had not noticed the front derailleur contacting the big ring when I switched from small to big ring. Also, fix the damn thing so it won't drop the chain to the inside when shifting from big to small ring. I have time to mess with it, so I need to work that out.

Overall, I had a great time. My finish of 1h4m31s puts me in 9th place for my age group, and 63rd in the overall men's ranking. Nine women finished in front of me, so for the overall event, that puts me 72nd out of 271 participants.

Next up: I need to find another on-road tri. I need to get more swimming!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Santee Off-Road Triathlon 2012. I love it when a plan comes together

Drove down from Greenville to Santee State Park on Friday evening. On the way, we encountered some gorgeous country in some perfect weather. Of course, if you were in South Carolina on Friday, you know we also encountered some AWESOME thundershowers!

A Greenville Spinners Team-mate and I were headed to Santee to compete in the Santee Off-Road Triathlon. Like the Winter Challenge, this event consists of a trail run (3 miles), a flat water paddle (3 miles) and a Mountain bike (8 miles).

This time, my team-mate and I decided to work together as a 2 person relay team. She would do the run, while I would do the paddle and mountain bike.

During the morning, as we made our preparations, I was thinking the event didn't start until 1030am. However, it actually started at 10am!! I was feeling pretty relaxed as we made our final preparations. We dropped the boat at the put-in, got the bike transition set up, then headed back to camp to get changed into our kit. We arrived back at the start / finish line at 955am!!!!

Had I known the race started at 10am, not 1030, I would have been a basket case! Thankfully, we were actually there in plenty of time to get lined up. Everything was ready and she just had to walk to the start line.

They started the race, I started my garmin. Even though she was running, I was keeping track of our overall time. After the runners were out of sight, I walked the 1/4 mile over to the boat transition. This is actually an added distance for the run, and the distance I'll have to travel from the boat to the bike.

I waited at the boat and chatted with some other folks who were also on relay teams. Interestingly enough, both of the guys I spoke with were on c0-ed teams as well. I dreaded seeing the boats they were paddling. These are real flat water racing boats. As compared to my 16.5' flat water touring boat!

I was expecting to see the leaders come through at about 20 minutes, but it was actually closer to 22 or 23 minutes when John Wellens came crusing in. He jumped in his boat and was gone with one guy right on his tail and another about 20 seconds back.

I didn't wait long before I saw my team-mate, however, there was a pretty good number of people rolling in between those first three and her. She rolled in at about 27 minutes. Not a bad pace for a 3.5 mile trail run! I didn't count (should have) the runners who came in before her, but I am VERY certain she was in the top 20, and pretty certain she was in or nearer to the top 15. We switched off the timing chip, and I jumped in my boat.

I set out trying for a solid pace that I could maintain for the 3 miles of the paddle. I was quickly catching and passing some of the paddlers that were close, and I had my sights set on those further out. By the time I reached the far buoy for the first time, I had passed most of the people I would pass while in the boat. My garmin automatically counts a lap every 1 mile, so looking back, I see that my average pace on the boat was about 10m30s per mile. Not too bad.

As I approached the near buoy at the end of lap one, I was very close to passing the last guy I would pass. After the turn, I hit it hard and got past him. There was one more guy I was trying to catch, but it would turn out that I was only able to match his pace.

As we approached the far buoy for the 2nd and final time, I felt a presence behind me. Sure enough, as I came around the buoy, there was one of the two relay guys in his racing boat right on my tail. I pushed hard to keep him at bay, but a fast boat with a decent paddler is always going to beat a slower boat with a decent paddler. He passed me about 1/3rd of the way into the last leg of the paddle.

He probably got about 30 seconds on me as we approached the landing, and I basically followed him all the way to the transition area. At the transition area, I kicked off my shoes, put on my bike shoes and started fastening them up. Unfortunately, in my left shoe was what felt like a huge boulder! I had to take the shoe off twice and shake it out to make sure the (I'm sure tiny pebble) was gone. Meanwhile, that dude is riding away from me.

As you know from my last post, I'm obviously not the strongest bike rider out there, but in fact, I am a pretty decent rider. I have the confidence perhaps of someone stronger than me, and I take advantage of that whenever I can. As I mounted my bike, and set off in chase, I felt certain I could overtake that guy. I wasn't about to lose 1st place! My team-mate had worked too hard for it!

I was actually pretty surprised at how quickly I was closing the gap with that guy. Within a half mile or so, I had caught him and passed him. I kept pushing, now in time trail mode.

Unlike the last off-road tri I did, this time I did do the proper maintenance and test ride of my bike before leaving home. I did the best I could with the rear derailleur adjustment, but I was expecting a little bit of shifting issues. Thankfully, I knew exactly what I was getting into, and I knew what I needed to do to make the shifting work.

I only had a few spots where I had to play with my shifting to push it up into the easier gear. No problem at all, and totally fine with it. That being said, it is time to do a chain replacement, cable replacement and COMPLETE cleaning of that poor bike. It has been so neglected!!

I kept pushing on the bike, essentially riding by myself. At one point, I thought I saw another rider in front of me, but I didn't seem to catch further sight of him, so I thought I would be alone to the end.

The last several miles were technical in the fact that the route was very twisty. This meant a lot of slowing and re-accelerating between turns. Thankfully, the course was quite flat, but this constant re-accelerating was tough! Plus, the roots and rocks (and pine needles) were a bit wet, thus they were quite slippery. I must have had at least a half dozen close calls as my tires nearly slid out from under me.

After taking a turn a couple miles later, I did again see a flash of white jersey. YES! there was another for me to pick off. This gave me additional motivation and I pushed hard to catch him. Again, I nearly crashed probably twice before I got close enough to call out "coming behind". I always like for the rider in front to pick the place for me to pass, so he can make sure he is ready and we have enough room. He didn't waste any time telling me I could go around.

Of course, as soon as he said that, we came upon a chicane between some trees, and I knew I couldn't pass there. He pulled aside as soon as we got past the trees, and I accelerated past.

Now, I truly was alone for the rest of the ride. I kept pushing though, because just like I came up on him, I didn't want anyone to be coming up on me.

As I took the final turn to head back to the finish line, I clicked it up a couple gears and started mashing the pedals. I was flying as I crossed the line! As I turned to watch the next rider come in, I realized that I hadn't needed to worry, I had enough gap between the next rider that there was no way he was going to catch me. In fact, it was the guy I had last passed crossing the line a couple minutes later.

According to my garmin, I crossed the line at about 1h42m. Not sure how far the leader was in front, still waiting for the official results to be posted.

We loaded up all the stuff and headed out for lunch at the Lone Star BBQ. Chris Williams is the proprietor of this restaurant and catering business, and does a great BBQ. We had a fine lunch, then we all gathered for the results.

Turns out Team Greenville Spinners Racing did in fact finish first amongst the relay teams. We were quite stoked about that! In looking back, it looks like we finished 7th in the overall results. I may not be a great bike racer, but I feel pretty good about the results we had today, and the results I had last month at the Winter Challenge. Maybe this multi-sport thing is for me.

Tomorrow (sunday) I'll compete in my first 'on-road' triathlon. This is the more traditional swim, bike, run event here in Downtown Columbia, SC.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

At least I wasn't last...

Two bicycle races under my belt this weekend. I don't have the fitness and it really showed. Both races I ended up getting dropped on the very first lap.

Saturday's race was at River Falls - a great course with a rather gnarly little hill just before the finish line. The cat 4s do this 5+ mile loop 5 times.

The course starts off downhill. I was struggling almost immediately. The pace was fast from the get-go. After the first turn, of course there was a huge acceleration as I was in the back of the pack. I managed to keep in contact until we started up that hill. Dropped almost immediately.

I continued to ride the course, picking up one of my team-mates and another guy I know pretty well. We rode the course together, finishing out the 5 laps pretty far back from the main pack. Interestingly, a lot of people that get dropped don't even finish the race, they pull out and take a DNF. Well, I guess that means I wasn't last, although technically, I was scored 46th out of 47 finishers.

Sunday's race was at SCTAC (Donaldson) on Perimeter Road. I felt better about my chances of sticking with the pack for at least a lap, despite HORRIBLY windy conditions. We started off and after the first turn, the course runs through a rolling hill section before making a short climb up alongside the golf course, topping out at the golf course's club house. About half way up that climb there is a false flat.

On the very first lap, as we were coming through that false flat, I was forced off the road as riders squeezed to the right to avoid a rider moving backwards through the pack (he was getting dropped, and the stronger riders were moving to either side to get around him). I was on the grass side of the road, and did my best to stay on the road. However, it was just too tight, and to insure against crashing, I went off the road.

The grass was a little wet, the ground a little soft, but overall not too bad. I pushed to keep a good pace and not lose ground to the peloton. Unfortunately, by the time I found a safe location to get back on the road, a gap had opened.

Of course this had to be as we were turning into this horrible wind, and we are still going uphill. I tried to catch back on, but just couldn't push through that wind and up that hill. Maybe I could have overcome one, but the combination kicked my ass.

Thus, less than 1/4 lap into the race, I found myself alone with that wind. The remainder of that first lap was bad. My mind was really messing with me and it took all I had to resist the temptation to quit. It would have been really easy. That nice warm car (out of the wind, with a nice sunny day to warm it up inside) sounded really good.

I hate quitting, so I pushed on. For most of that first lap, I chased a rider I could see in front of me that had also been dropped. I caught him as we turned into the wind about 1.5 miles from the start / finish line. We tried to work together for that 1.5 miles, but the wind was so strong, you really couldn't find a draft.

So, he and I pretty much rode side by side for the rest of lap 1, and all of lap 2. He talked about quitting at the end of lap 2, but I think my decision to keep going kept him in it. We rode together for about half of lap 3, until 3m hill. He was much stronger up the hill, so he rode away from me.

At the end of the 3rd lap, with only 1 to go, I was feeling ok, but definitely slowing. As I crested the hill at the Golf course clubhouse, I bonked. I felt like I had nothing left at all. I nearly sat up, but started playing mental games with myself to at least go as hard as I could. That really wasn't very hard, but at that moment, it was hard for me.

At 3m hill, I dropped into the small chain ring and stayed there for the remainder of the lap. I had already been lapped by the Pro, 1, 2 group who started about 10 minutes ahead of us, and the Cat 3 guys started passing me as I rode past the Michelin Plant. By the time I finished the lap, I had been lapped by the entire Cat 3 field. they started 5 minutes ahead of us.

The only consolation I could take was that those Cat 3 guys weren't really moving that much faster than I as we rode into the wind between the top of 3m hill and the finish line. Definitely faster, but not by much. That's more of a statement about how bad the wind was than about how strong I was riding - I wasn't riding strong at all.

As I dropped into the dip at the end of the runway, a little over a kilometer from the finish, I realized that I couldn't just noodle into the finish line. with the wind almost at my back (but still quite a cross wind), I shifted back into my big ring and tried to give it one last push to the line. It may not have been fast, but at least I did that last push.

When I got to the line, I stopped to check with my friend Jamie, who is also an official. I asked her if I was not too late to get scored. Of course she smiled and told me I'd be scored. As I checked back to see if it was safe to roll out onto the road, I saw one final cat 4 guy cross the line. Perhaps that is the greatest consolation of all - at least I wasn't last (35th of 36).