New Race on the Calendar

My “A-Race” this year is the Musselman Triathlon, which will be my first 70.3-distance race. I’ve been looking for a smaller, shorter race I could do in advance of that one that would time up well with my training and is close enough to me to not be a logistical headache. There are lots of running races in northern New England and a fair number of cycling events too (though mostly fun rides, not races), but triathlons are harder to come by. It’s even harder still to find one that takes place on the specific weekends that work within a larger training plan for the year.

Most triathlons are pretty flat, and I suspect that has a lot to do with their scarcity in this region. Vermont in particular doesn’t really do flat.

The race I found that fits the bill for my training and schedule is the Greater Nashua Sprint Triathlon. I’ll be going a little further afield for this one, but not terribly far. It’ll be a couple of hours in the car to get there; less if we stay with family who live closer to the venue.

Even as sprints go, it’s a short one. Here’s a preview of the three legs:

The swim clocks in at less than 600 yards according to the website, but still manages to pack in three turns. The turns are the worst part of the swim, for my money (apart from the mosh pit) so that’s a little disappointing, but it’s probably due to the geography of Lake Naticook and for safety reasons. It looks like the waves are staged on a dock.

The bike course currently shown on the website is amusingly just a screenshot of someone’s browser tab displaying Google Maps, which has been converted into a pdf. I converted that to a Strava Route so I could get a sense of the details, and it’s a ripper. Very short and very flat.

Greater Nashua Sprint Triathlon Bike Leg

The bike leg climbs only about 430 ft over a distance of 9.5 miles. That’s less than half the elevation per mile that I’m used to in training around where I live, and the total distance will be the shortest bike leg I’ve raced so far.

The run leg is a good match for the bike, keeping things flat and fast.

Greater Nashua Triathlon Run Leg

The exact location of the transition/finish area is unclear, but it looks like the total distance will be just over a 5k, at around 3.2 miles, with about 80 feet of elevation gain.

So what do these details mean for me?

This race will primarily be a training tool for me, an opportunity to practice organization, transitions and race-environment stress management. So in that sense, the details don’t actually matter all that much. I’ll be there to practice triathloning and to have a good time.

That being said, I wouldn’t say the race particularly caters to my strengths. I do better in a swim when I can establish and hold a groove; 3 turns means a lot more buoy sighting and thinking about things other than swimming ahead at my own pace. Cycling is my strongest discipline, but the relatively shortest opportunity here, which means that there will be less time to make up for deficits from a slow swim, and more complications in terms of pacing because I’ll be tempted to really drop the hammer on a <10 mile ride (but thereby risking leaving less in the tank for the run). The run looks like a fairly standard 5k route, but running is probably my most challenging discipline, so that’s really no help. So at the end of the day, this could prove to be a pretty tough race for me, if all of these factors stack up in the right (or wrong) way.

My aim then will be to mostly forget about all of that, and to focus instead on managing my pre-race anxieties, race day strategies and transition performance. After all, those are really the only things from a sprint-distance race that will meaningfully translate to a 70.3.

My Challenges with RPE

Since getting into triathlon training last year, I’ve encountered a whole slew of metrics, terminology and methods, most of which are pretty new to me. Particularly because I use Training Peaks as my primary workout recording tool and to interact with my coach, I’ve come to consider things on a daily basis that I never knew existed before. IF, TSS, FTP…there’s a seemingly unending list of acronyms to Google and to try to figure out the importance of.

Ironically, one of the most challenging ones for me to master is proving to be RPE, or Rating of Perceived Exertion. In concept, it’s a very simple idea. You do a workout, and you record how it “felt.” In Training Peaks, it’s as simple as picking an emoji that corresponds to your feeling and picking a number on a scale of 1-10. I’ve also seen another scale that goes up to 20 or so, presumably for finer resolution of this subjective assessment.

In practice, I find it very difficult to manage. There are so many things that go through my head when I try to describe how I “feel” — about anything, not just training. “How I feel” is a question that, for me, is usually almost impossible to clearly answer. My answer, or my attempt to formulate one, is usually comprised of what seems like a dozen or more different components, which I then have to distill down into a succinct answer. When I think about how a workout felt, it’s no different. I think about my physical feelings, my mental feelings, my emotional feelings, my expectations and how they align (or don’t) with reality, my general mood apart from the workout…just to name a few. On top of that, I have a hard time separating out “progress” on a micro-level. That is to say, if I feel badly at the start of a workout, but progress to feeling great by the end of it (whether physically or emotionally or mentally), how do I put a single number or emoji face on that? In some senses, it’s a success and feels great. In others, it might be lower than expectations and all I did was salvage a turd.

I think this may be part of the reason why it’s tempting to lean in to objective metrics. They are hard numbers, without influence from subjective factors. If I average 200 watts, that’s what I averaged. There’s a simplicity there that is attractive amidst the mental chaos that can go along with focused training.

On the other hand, metrics can be a vortex. You can become obsessed with numbers to the point that you disconnect from your subjective experience of training, lose the underlying connection to your body and its limits, and that sort of defeats the whole purpose of training for me. Ultimately, RPE is important for that reason. It forces you to think about yourself in connection with an experience you just had, and to evaluate that using nothing but your mind and body.

I think that it will get easier with experience. In that respect, figuring out how to classify my “feeling” after a workout is a skill that I can practice. And like so many other aspects of triathlon training, it seems like that skill should translate to the rest of life, as well, where I often struggle to define complicated feelings.