Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mountains to Mainstreet Triathlon - 2016 Race Report

Last Sunday was the first (of hopefully many) Mountains to Mainstreet Triathlon and Festival (aka M2M) held here in the Upstate of South Carolina.  I called it 'my multi-sport tour of the upstate'.  The main event is the triathlon, loosely called a Half (Iron) distance.  I say loosely because the distances are 1.2 mile swim, 58 mile (as opposed to 56) bike and a half marathon (which I measured at 12.93m).  The event's tagline is "Swim with the Bear, Ride with the Eagle, Run with the Rabbit". 

The swim starts in one of the most scenic lakes in the upstate - Lake Keowee, specifically at the South Cove County Park.  It's a beautiful start to a VERY difficult triathlon.  The bike course is VERY hilly tour of the Upstate with approximately 3200' of elevation gain.  The run has a few hills, but overall is mostly flat and mostly along the Swamp Rabbit Trail from Travelers Rest to Greenville.  The finish is on the TD stage, adjacent to the Reedy River in Downtown Greenville.

I didn't sign up for this event right away, I was hesitant due to it's point to point nature.  The shortest distance drive from T2 to the swim start is almost as long as the bike leg of the event and takes over an hour in good traffic conditions.  At the time I signed up, I only knew that logistics were going to be challenging.  That was back in December of 2015. 

I knew I had enough time to train for this event, while I was no longer taking advantage of the services of Malone Coaching, I had a plan, I even had a written plan.  All I had to do was follow it.  I could say a lot of things about why I didn't follow it, but suffice to say I had a plan and failed to follow through.  That's not to say I didn't train, it just means I didn't put the same effort towards training for this event as I did for last year's events.  Sunday just reinforces the positive influence that Katie Malone had on our results last year - that is to say everything we did last year is a result of the efforts we put forth under the guidance of Coach Katie. 

But 2016 (and specifically the M2M tri) is all on me.  On paper my plan was probably sufficient for a solid result.  Unlikely that it would have taken me to a top 5, but it would have likely put me in the top 10 for my age group.  I can't really complain too much as I still finished with a 14th place result in my AG (out of 30 finishers), however, it's not about the time or the placing, it's about how I feel about my performance and the reflections it's caused me to make. 

Before I go into any of that, here's how my race played out. 

I felt good for the swim.  The announcement shortly after we arrived said that the water temperature had been measured at 72.5degrees, which is definitely wetsuit legal.  I was happy about that as it just gives me a bit more confidence in the water.  I was thankful to have my friend Barry to chat with at the start - he had done a preview swim a few weeks before and was able to give me a few pointers on the swim course. 

From the start, we were swimming with the sun off of our right shoulder.  Thankfully not directly into the sun, but there was plenty of glare to contend with.  There was a good treeline in the direction of the first turn bouy that we'd be able to sight on.  Barry provided the next critical tip - after the turn there is a large water pumping station (or water tank - not sure what it is) that is excellent for sighting as you head to the second turn.  This was a great tip.  In both of these cases, the land based sighting objects were sufficient to get you up to the point where the actual sighting bouys were plainly visible. 

I started the swim and tried to set a steady pace.  My form is not the best so I tried to focus a lot on good technique.  Occasionally I could feel moments of that, slipping through the water, hips on or near the surface, good pull and recovery.  Other times I was a bit out of sync, breathing late such that I'd have to switch up to a breath every stroke to get enough oxygen.  Overall the swim to the first turn was pretty good and looking at my Garmin data I actually swam quite straight! 

Once I made the first turn, the water pumping station (or whatever) was very visible and I sent out another round of Thanks to Barry in my mind.  Again, moments of smooth followed by occasions of chaos.  This leg of the swim still went well overall although I was quite surprised when the turn bouy came into view.  I had to breast stroke a moment just to make sure I wasn't turning at the wrong place!!  If I was turning at the wrong place, so was everyone else, so head down and keep swimming! 

The final leg of the swim is the shortest and it takes you to the boat ramp and swim exit.  I swam all the way until my hand hit the ground before I stood up and starting moving fast (I'd say I ran, but it felt more like a quick walk).  I hit the lap button on my Garmin to get my Transition split.  The crowd was awesome as I came up the ramp - lots of people and I heard my name yelled several times.  Such a motivational bump when someone calls out your name!

I ran past the wetsuit strippers - I hadn't even got the zipper down yet.  Plus, I don't care to lay down in what is often a muddy mess by the time I get out of the water!  By the time I got into the entrance to T1 I was pulling the sleeves down and over my Garmin.  Surprisingly I was able to get out of the wetsuit pretty quickly and make a good transition.  I'm rather notorious for slow transition times, but even with the wetsuit and packing up the transport bag my transition time was only 2m59s minutes (Garmin showed 2m40s, but I know that I switched over to Bike mode as I was running my bike towards the transition exit). 

Swim split:  Garmin shows 41m36s, Official results show 41m33s. 

A note about the 'transport bag' - due to the point to point nature of the event, each athlete has to pack up all of their swim gear (and whatever they're not taking on the bike) into a bag which has their number.  This bag is then transported to T2 after all the riders have departed T1. 

With the transport bag packed, helmet, socks and shoes (and gloves even!), I was off on the bike.   Because I have it, I rode my Wilier Tri-Crono TT bike.  This is a very cool machine and I enjoy riding it (although not as much as I enjoy my Pinarello...).   It gives me the best aerodynamic efficiency and it just feels fast.  Doesn't hurt that it looks great. 

Out T1 and onto the South Cove County Park Road.  Lots of traffic as I left the park, even passed a course marshall on a motorcycle.  The beginning of the bike leg is always difficult for me.  Because I'm relatively slow at the swim, I end up behind a lot of people whom I'm able to pass on the bike. This puts me in a position where I'm either always working on my next pass or 'coasting' so I don't get into the draft zone.  Usually I end up pushing a bit harder than I intend at the beginning of the bike.  I need to consider this a bit more as all efforts put forth on the bike have direct impact to the run.  If I go too hard early it may not hurt me on the bike, but it can certainly hurt me on the run. 

On the bike is where nutrition and hydration are key.  Again the run is impacted by how you approach these elements while on the bike.  My Wilier is equipped with an aero bottle between the aero bars and I had stocked that with 20 oz of Infinit.  I used this last year as we prepared for IM Chattanooga and had great success late in the season.  I've used it during training this year, although the time I've spent training is not near what it was this time last year.  This may have had an impact on my overall result. 

In my saddle mounted bottle carriers I had in order of planned use:  one 24 oz bottle of water and two more 20 oz bottles of Infinit.  I didn't plan on using both of those bottles of Infinit back to back, I planned on, if I needed it, to pick up a bottle of water between the two.  I felt it unlikely I'd need more than, in order:  20 oz Infinit, 20 oz water, 20 oz Infinit.  For what I anticipated to be a 3h15minute ride, this seemed sufficient.  I carried the extra bottle of Infinit just in case and I knew I'd be able to get water at the aid stations.

The early part of this ride is a lot of rolling hills.  Big enough hills that in order to keep my heart rate in the targeted 140 - 145 bpm zone I had to shift down into my little ring.  This caused a rather noticeable yo-yo effect with a number of riders around me.  I targeted the same HR for the entire ride - this means both downhill and uphill.  Of course, on the downhills that meant I was in the big ring small cogs and a light pedal stroke while on the uphills I was in the small ring, big cog and only as hard a pedal stroke as necessary to get me up the hill. 

That means slow uphill and quite fast in comparison on the downhills - big yo-yo with other riders.  It didn't seem to cause any real trouble.  A few times I found myself passing a rider while they where passing another rider.  That put us 3 wide.  I don't believe there is any rule against this, provided we all stay to the correct side of the yellow line.  I believe this occurred when the course marshall was nearby, so I would think he would have corrected us if necessary.  "Corrected" would likely have been in the form of a time penalty - I didn't see anyone get tagged for a time penalty. 

About the time we approached Salem where we would make a turn towards Hwy 11 I started having some real pain in my groin, towards my backside on the left.  I've had this before, I'm not sure if it is a fit issue or a saddle issue.  It took a fair amount of time to work out as I rode up to and along Hwy 11.  I don't feel that it necessarily slowed me down a lot, although I'm sure it did.  I had to sit up to change my position on the saddle several times.  Thankfully the course was hilly enough that I could sit up while minimizing the impact to my aerodynamic advantage - sitting up on the slowest part of the uphills. 

The first aid station was in Salem - I rode past without taking any aid - I was still well stocked. 

By Salem I had mostly cleared the traffic.  Between then and Hwy 178 I was only occasionally passing or being passed.  Again, it was similar - I'd pass on the downhills, they'd pass on the uphills.  My HR was mostly staying in my target range, although there were occasions that it slipped higher than intended. 

The ride on Hwy 11 was outstanding!  The very hilly course made for some very fast downhills.  Unfortunately the strong wind (I've heard reports of up to 20 mph) made it much harder than it should have been.  It was mostly a head wind, but occasional gusts from the side.  I focused on staying in the aero position at all times - uphill and downhill.  I was still battling the pain in my saddle / groin area but it seemed to be subsiding. 

On one of the more prominent downhills I let it fly a bit.  I thought I must be doing 60mph!!  Unfortunately, perhaps it was due to the headwind, my garmin shows only about 43mph.  It was fun anyway. 

At about 1h35m into the ride, while on Hwy 11 I ended up with a mechanical.  While I was shifting into the small cogs for a downhill, the chain slipped off the small cog and jammed such that I couldn't pedal.  Thankfully I was going downhill as it provided me the opportunity to troubleshoot so I knew what I had to fix when I stopped.  It was a quick fix once stopped and I got right back on the bike. 

By the time I turned on to Hwy 178 I was feeling pretty good.  I know hwy 288 into Marietta and hwy 276 into Travelers Rest quite well.  Hwy 288 starts off as a gentle downhill with a large flat before a small climb into Marietta.  The climb continues past Marietta for another 1.5 miles or so.  This is not a horrible climb - I was able to keep a steady pace. 

The last 4 miles of the ride is a gentle downhill.  This means big ring, small cog and soft to moderate pedal.  I was moving pretty good through there.  As we approached Travelers Rest (near the hospital) the right lane was blocked off for us.  The traffic had been quite respectable throughout the ride and as we neared the end there was no change - except we now had our own lane. 

Down through downtown Travelers Rest, right at the Gazebo, wrong way down the one-way street and onto Old Buncombe road towards Trailblazer park and T2.  Of course there was a HUGE crowd at T2.  As I pulled in, I saw more friends than I can count cheering me on.  I hit the lap button on my Garmin, dismounted and took a huge bow.  I was having such a great time!  High fives to every person as I walked my bike to and into the transition area. 

Bike Split:  Garmin:  3h20m50s; Official results: 3h20m54s  Transition (official time): 2m9s

Again, considering my past performances in transition, 2m9s was pretty good considering I had to unpack my run gear from the bag we left it in when we set up on Saturday.  I also walked over to the fence where Jenny was cheering me on and gave her a nice smooch!  I think I learned that I just need to relax in transitions and not worry so much about it. 

The run course starts out with a left turn onto Wilhelm Winter street, down to Watson Road, right on Ina St and merge into McElhaney Road.  This is a hilly section of the run and on Watson Road's uphill, both of my quads cramped up.  I tried changing up my pace a bit but going up the hill it was too much and my quads couldn't relax.  I decided to walk it out.  Before I actually got to the top of the hill indeed they both calmed down and I was able to begin running again. 

Once I merged into McElhaney Road my left quad started cramping again.  More efforts to keep running and relax it out, but the quad wouldn't have any of it - I had to walk to get it to calm down.  Not long and I was back to running again, up the road and right onto the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  I was feeling pretty good at this moment, still quite early in the run.

I continued down the SRT and did a quick pit stop at the aid station at mile 3(ish) - I think it was the intersection of Old buncombe road and the SRT.  My pacing was still pretty good all the way through the Furman lake loop, although the mile that included the hill was, not unexpectedly, a bit slower. 

When I turned back onto the SRT at mile 6.3 I was starting to feel some discomfort in my gut.  I'd had issues with gas last year while Using Infinit, but they seemed to work them selves out as we trained with it.  Again, this is where my lack of training was likely coming back to bite me. 

By mile 9 the GI discomfort was really making me feel light-headed and very much like I was going to throw up.  I was also starting to feel cramping in my legs which I tried to take in some base salt to correct (I had used it throughout the bike and had taken it earlier in the run as well).  It is reflected in my pacing for mile 9, 10 and 11 - each one slower than the previous, although I was still running these miles.  A little more walking as the mileage increased.  Pacing was 11m18s, 11m46s and 12m13s / mile respectively for miles 9, 10 and 11. 

Mile 12 was the slowest mile and included most of the walking on the course.  At the SRT crossing of Willard Street I tried to run up a small ramp leading up to the road crossing and both legs locked up.  I was able to walk it out, but now my mind was starting to mess with me. 

The mental aspect of this run is what I am most unhappy about.  I let it get to me and I lost focus and motivation.  Mile 12 of this run was the hardest part of this race.  I kept thinking "if I could just throw up I'd feel so much better".  I should have just kept running and if it came up, I could stop.  As I started mile 13, I began to run a bit more.  The actual distance of the run showed as 12.93 miles in my Garmin data.  The last 0.93 miles I covered in 13m35s - obviously still a lot of walking going on.  When I hit Linky Stone park I knew I had to pick it up again - There was NO way I was going to walk across that line. 

Run split:  Garmin: 2h26m15s; Official results: 2h26m03s

Overall result:  Garmin: 6h33m35s; Official result:  6h33m36s

Of the three Half Iron distance triathlons I've done (both previous were on much easier courses), this is the slowest by far.  My event played out the way it did, and I can only analyze and examine what I can do different next time. 

**Of course primary on that list is to actually follow my training plan.  I do need to incorporate more bricks I think - the first brick I did this year started at T2. 
**Confidence in my physical conditioning aids in having the mental confidence when the going gets tough.  I need to feel good about my training approach which gives me that confidence that I can work through any physical issues which also helps keep the mental monsters at bay.
**I need to continue to refine my sport nutrition throughout my training.  Maybe my body needs to adapt to the infinit as it must have done last year.  I don't know - this is possibly going to be the biggest challenge. 

I'm sure there are other details that I'll think about over the course of the next several months as I prep for 5 more events throughout the summer.  The last thing I will say is a big thanks to my body for putting up with me and performing the way it did despite my poor preparation.  There are a lot of people who can't do what I just did and for that I feel very blessed.

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