Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The West Point Lake Olympic Triathlon Race Report!

On Sunday, 4/29, I did my first triathlon of the season.  I was VERY eager to hit the water.  The West Point Lake Olympic Triathlon would be my first chance to gauge my triathlon fitness (and thereby get a sense of how my training was going) ahead of Rev 3 Knoxville this weekend and of course, Ironman Coeur d'Alene on June 24.  I knew that I had improved a lot in the swim over the last few months, and I knew that I had put in a lot of time on the bike.  At the same time, I was aware that I hadn't been running a great deal because of my bursitis.  I was really eager to see what I could do.     

My goals were to be about seven or eight minutes behind the leaders on the swim (which, based on past editions of this race, I figured would be around 27:00), around 1:02:00 on the bike (just over 24 mph), and under 39:00 on the run (a shade under 6:20 per mile).  Doing this, I figured that I could finish fairly high in my age group and in the race overall.  (As has always been the case, I was less concerned about my place and more concerned about having a good race.)  This was only my third Olympic-distance race and only my sixth triathlon ever, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect.

The swim was a time trial start.  They sent us out in pairs, about one pair every five seconds.  The water was around 72 degrees, so we all got to wear wetsuits. As was the case for Rev 3 Cedar Point last year, I wore my friend Erik's De Soto wetsuit.  (I also raced on Erik's Zipp rear wheel.  Thanks, buddy!)  It was only my second time racing in the wetsuit and fourth time wearing it.  I started around 1/3 of the way through the pack, about three minutes after the first pair left.     

My wife Kacie accompanied me to the race.  This was no small task.  We had to get up at 4:00 a.m. in order to make it to the 7:15 a.m. start.  On Saturday, she had ridden six climbs as part of her RAAM training, and then had dinner with several friends.  She napped on the way down there and sleepwalked through the pre-race preparations.  Once the race started, though, she came to life!  Moreover, she managed to do something that I never thought possible: she enthusiastically cheered AND snapped a few decent pictures.  In my experience, those two things were mutually exclusive; any attempt to simultaneously document a race and be a part of it would result in a bunch of photos of random arms, trees, clouds, and the ground.  I stand corrected.  Here is the picture she got of me taking to the water:     

The swim was fairly straightforward.  I came out of the water much faster than I thought I would--about 23:50--but I was about seven minutes behind the first person out of the water.  Looking at the results later, I found that I was in the middle of the pack, swim-wise.  That's about what I expected.  In other words, the swim was very fast for me, but it was very fast for everybody, so I didn't really make up any ground on my competitors because I swam faster than I thought I would.

The time trial start meant that we were fairly spread out.  Thus, I rarely ran into other swimmers, for better or worse.  (Mind you, I actually enjoy the chaos of a mass swim start.)  Being spread out also meant that I had a hard time drafting on other swimmers.  The cloudy lake water added to those difficulties.  In addition, whenever I did find someone's feet, I often lost them due to my inability to swim in a straight line.  In general, I was very happy with my swim, but I recognize that I still have plenty of room to improve in that discipline.

I made my transition and then headed out on the bike.  Here's the shot that Kacie somehow managed to take on her phone:      

As has become the norm, I spent the entire bike ride passing people.  Because I spent too much energy on the bike at Ironman Cozumel, I was determined to stay within my pre-defined limits on the bike course.  That being said, I could see how I allowed myself to go too fast in Cozumel.  It's really easy for me to want to mow everyone down as soon as I get on the bike.  That's neither wise nor effective.  This was a rolling bike course, which I like, and it had several turns.  I concentrated on executing my nutrition plan and staying relaxed.

During the bike, I passed several members of my team.  I spoke to each of them as I went by.  I also found myself feeling a bit of competitive animosity toward people from other teams.  This was the first time I felt that particular sort of competitiveness in a long while; I've been solo since I was in college.  I really enjoyed the feeling of representing a team again.  I'm sure that it made me go faster.   

As is normally the case in triathlons, the bike leg was successful by virtue of its boringness.  No bonks, no crashes, no drama; I simply passed people.  I stayed within the target HR range, and happily, my target HR netted a higher wattage than I anticipated.  I got off the bike somewhere around 13th place, but that seemed irrelevant given the time trial start.  I passed roughly 100 people on the bike.  My split was 1:02:42, which included my hobbling to and from the mount/dismount line.  My computer also had the bike at about half a mile long.  Regardless, I was very pleased with my bike ride, and as it turned out, it was the third-fastest split in the race.  I transitioned again and headed out on the run.  Kacie snapped this picture.   

(Holy crap, I have long legs.)

At the start of the run, I focused on staying relaxed.  My goal was around 6:20 pace, and I knew from other triathlons that running at any pace normally feels slow after getting of a bike.  At the same time, I have good running instincts that I honed over years of running before becoming a cyclist and then a triathlete.  I'm good at knowing precisely how hard to run.  That being said, for the first time ever, my pace felt kinda quick in the first mile off the bike, even though effort-wise, it seemed about right.  My running instincts were in conflict with my brain.  I decided to roll the dice and trust my instincts.

After a slightly uphill first mile, I crossed the mile mark in 5:48.  Hmm.  About thirty seconds too fast.  I didn't panic, but I quickly re-assessed my goals.  "Okay," I said, "Given how I feel, I can probably run around 6:00 pace."  I continued on, but there was no two-mile mark.  At the three-mile mark, I took a split of 11:37 for the last two miles, which meant that I was keeping that 5:48 pace.  I still felt relaxed, so I started to push a bit.  At the five-mile mark, I took a two-mile split of 11:10 (5:35 pace for miles four and five).  I started to dig, and I ran the last, slightly downhill mile in 5:15, plus the last .2 in :58.  All told, that was a 10K run split of 34:49--the fastest split in the race, and about four minutes faster than I had planned to run.  My last 5K was 16:48.  Whew!  I didn't know that I could still run that fast!   

My final time was 2:05:07.  In the end, I was eighth overall in what was the most competitive edition that the race has ever had.  I was second in the 35-39 age group.  Any other year, my time would have put me in the top three.  I am super-happy about this race.  Clearly, things are coming along well. 

The takeaways?  First, I suck at transitioning.  I need to practice this.  Everyone in the top ten transitioned in under 2:00, except for the tenth place guy who went 2:08.  My two transitions combined were nearly 4:00.  I simply gave away two minutes to my competitors.  If I had that two minutes back, I would have finished fifth.  Second, my running benefits from a great deal of swimming and cycling.  I have pressured my coach to keep cycling at the center of my Ironman training, given that I believe cycling to be the linchpin of the race for me.  It seems clear that my running is not suffering despite the fact that I've only been able to run twice a week.  Third, I need to keep practicing my open water swimming.  I'm actually pretty good at sighting, and I don't get bothered by swim traffic.  But I have to get better at swimming in a straight line, and I need to improve my ability to follow feet even when I can't quite see them.  I've said in the past that people who grew up swimming and swam in college deserve to beat me out of the water, just as I deserve to beat them on the run (given my background in running).  I think that that's true, but I can keep working to close that gap.  Fourth and finally, I may have turned to corner to actually recognizing myself as a triathlete.  I've said in the past that I wouldn't really be a triathlete until my swim was somewhere closer to my bike and run.  My swim has improved, but more than that, I felt as if I raced the entire race.  I felt like I approached it as one big event.  It felt normal for me to hop out of the water and then get on my bike, and then to get off the bike and start running.  I have to think a bit more about this, because it feels like something has changed.        

On to the next one . . .


  1. Congrats! You are so fast!! (and, indeed, your legs are very long!)

  2. Yes... you do have long legs! :)

    You are a rock star - between you and Kacie, you make one heck of a couple!

    Congrats on a fantastic race. I have a feeling CdA is going to be amazing this year! :)

  3. George, thanks for the comments on my blog. You had a great race at WPL! I saw you on the run but there was no way I was going to catch you. Best of luck for the rest of the season.