Race Report: Greater Nashua Sprint Triathlon

My first triathlon of 2019 was a sprint distance race held in southern New Hampshire, called the Greater Nashua Sprint Triathlon. I settled on this race in particular after several months of research, trying to find a race that was both within driving distance and lined up with my training schedule for my 70.3 race. I didn’t know anything about it other than what I found on the website and Facebook page, but it was the 10th annual running of the event, so it seemed likely to be a well-organized race.

Pre-Race

An added bonus to this race was that my wife’s parents and brother live just an hour away from the race location, so we were all able to stay with them and combine it into a family visit. It’s a huge benefit to race day preparations to be in a comfortable location with family before an event, so I’m grateful we were able to have that opportunity. I went to bed at the same time as my kids, and actually managed to sleep through most of the night. I only woke up once, at about 3 AM, and then drifted in and out until about 5, when I got up.

Breakfast was my customary bowl of oatmeal flavored with maple syrup with a coffee. While I had the syrup out, I took the opportunity to fill my gel bottle. I still wasn’t sure if I would even use fuel during the race, because it was so short, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have it along.

I had everything pretty much ready to go the night before, so all I had to do in the morning was load my bike, put my transition bag in the car, and head out. The drive was uneventful. As I got close to Nashua, I started to see more and more cars carrying bikes. It wasn’t long before I saw a fully decked out Quintana Roo on the back of a pickup. Welcome to New Hampshire.

Parking was an absolute nightmare. There was a lot designated for racers, which was the entire area around a local school, but it was already packed to the gills by the time I arrived. I ended up having to park underneath a swing set. I checked the air in my tires at my car, put my transition bag on my bag and rode to the transition area.

Transition was pretty well organized, with everyone having a marked spot on the racks. Once again my bike was too tall to fit very well on the rack. The saddle was too high to easily get it under the bar, and then there wasn’t enough of a hang to keep it on there securely. Not much I could do about it, so I set up my transition stuff and went to get body-marked, check out the transition routes, and wander down to the water.

My transition setup. My rear wheel is basically on the ground.

There were about 15 minutes of announcements before the race, which felt like they took forever. I tried to keep my arms moving, doing some arm circles and such, but mostly just stood around feeling my springs coil. Finally, they started calling waves. Everyone had an assigned wave number, and when your wave was called, you went down to a dock area to check-in and queue up for the start.

Swim

This was my first race wearing a wetsuit. It was also my first race with a wave start. It cheated everyone out of some time, because the timing mat was on the dock and the waves treaded water for a minute or two before actually starting. But at least everyone lost the same amount of time, so it didn’t really matter.

I put some water on the back of my neck just before jumping in, but it felt like a warm bath. I was prepared for a cold shock when stepped off the dock, but it was just balmy. I grabbed the start line rope and floated until the starter gave us the go signal, then I was off.

One of the first waves heading out

Almost immediately, I felt like something was wrong. I wasn’t more than 30 seconds into it and I felt absolutely awful. I thought I might be getting sick. Was I even moving? I couldn’t really tell. My line was way off, too, and I kept veering to the right. I tried to focus on my technique and things got a little better. I decided that whatever I was feeling, it wasn’t getting any worse, so I would just push through it. I had done enough swim training to know that I wouldn’t suddenly drown or anything, especially while wearing a buoyant wetsuit. The worst case was that my arm strength would just give out, and it hadn’t yet. So there was no reason to stop. On I went.

About halfway through the loop, I started catching some people. I have no idea if they were in my wave or the wave before mine, or possibly the wave after mine, having gotten ahead of me at the start. I didn’t try to swim over anyone but I didn’t really seem them coming, either, so some contact was inevitable.

I hadn’t set a goal time for the swim, but from experience I expected something between 10-15 minutes in the back of my mind. When I finally stood up to exit, it felt like it had been twice that, but I figured realistically it was maybe 12 minutes.

I looked at my watch and saw an 8. Suddenly things made a little more sense. I had been going faster — much faster — than I thought. No wonder I felt like my chest was going to explode.

Official Swim Time: 8:49 (.3 mi) – 1:41/100 yd
7/32 in age group; 34/414 overall

T1

T1 sent us up a sandy path through the woods to the grassy area where the bikes were. There were wetsuit strippers waiting for us, which was awesome. I pulled my wetsuit down below my waist, slid into home on the tarp, and my suit was popped off before I even knew what was happening. I thanked the volunteers and headed to my bike.

About to get stripped

I had toyed a bit with leaving my shoes on my bike with rubber bands, but ultimately couldn’t really figure out how to do it so it worked properly, and I was worried about the rubber bands getting caught in my gears, so I decided to just put my shoes on in transition, run the bike out, and clip in. I certainly wasn’t going to try a flying mount, so this was a reasonable option for me. At the last second I grabbed my maple syrup bottle and slid it into my tri suit pocket.

Official T1 time: 3:13 – 91/414 overall

Bike

The bike route was very short, and very flat. I’d only done three previous races before this one, but this was the shortest and flattest by far. I had been doing a lot of mental gymnastics about the bike leg in the days leading up to the race, debating my approach. Overall, I wanted this race to be something of a practice session for my 70.3 — transition logistics, using a wetsuit, etc. I thought about also extending that to pacing, to practice the mental and emotional control required to slow myself down at the start of the bike leg so that I would be able to hold the right pace throughout, and then have enough left over for the run. But as soon as I was clipped in, that decision was made. It was go time.

Because I didn’t have any pacing or power targets, I ended up watching my heart rate most of all while out on the course, followed by my speed. My heart rate was shockingly high compared to the levels I was used to seeing during my training, which is predominantly spent in zone 2. But I knew that wasn’t necessarily a problem. The race was short enough that I could work at or above threshold for the whole thing. They call it a sprint for a reason, after all.

The other fun thing about a sprint is that passing someone on the bike leg is usually permanent. In a longer race, it can often be just the first of two meetings, the second of which being when they come back and smoke you on the run. But in a sprint, they are more likely to run out of road if you go full throttle on the bike. Since it was a wave start, I knew that passing people was not an entirely accurate representation of my place in the field. But it was motivating anyway. So I reeled in as many people as I could, and made sure that nobody passed me. The best part was passing those $6,000 tri bikes on my gravel bike with regular old drop bars.

As it turned out, I was glad to have my maple syrup on board. I took a couple hits, one partway through and one just before T2. It felt helpful, and made me realize that I would probably need more fuel than I had been thinking during my longer race in July.

The bike course covered, I had a clean dismount just at the line, and ran my bike in to the transition area again.

Official Bike Time: 25:45 (9.6 mi) – 22.4/mph
4/32 in age group; 18/414 overall

T2

T2 was my slowest performance on the day, relative to the field. I didn’t deliberately go slow, but I wasn’t rushing, either. I’m pretty particular about how my shoe lace-up feels, and that combined with the socks I use (which are not super easy to get on) probably accounted for my slow time. But I made it out on the run with everything I needed and feeling pretty good, so I wasn’t too worried about blitzing through T2.

Official time: 1:51 – 313/414 overall

Run

I expected to be running fast out of transition, having experienced that phenomenon before. Adrenaline is high and you are excited to just get going, and before you know it you’re running way faster than you expected. I checked my watch after a couple hundred yards and saw I was running close to 7:30 min/mi, which is very fast for me. For reference, I ran all of my sprints last year at around 9:00 min/mi. My first reaction was to feel like I needed to back off, slow down and find a more conservative pace, but then I remembered it was only 3.1 miles. I was able to hold a strong pace through the swim and bike, why not the run? Might as well go for it, and see how long I could hold it before I slowed down. The worst case was that my pace would slow for the back half of the race, but I knew I would finish no matter what. Go time continued.

I focused on my cadence through most of the run, trying to keep the rhythm even and high. That seems to be my key to running fast (such that “fast” is, for me), when I need to. If I think about ‘running fast,’ it’s harder to do, but if I just focus on my cadence, it’s easier for some reason.

The run was also a very flat course, with only a couple slight inclines, when my pace dipped closer to 8:00 min/mi. I was able to hold my cadence pretty well throughout. Two or three people passed me, including a 60+ year old woman and a kid, wearing the race t-shirt. Sigh. But overall I held my pace and I felt strong throughout.

By the time the last half-mile came around, I was starting to feel it, particularly in my hips and my abdominals. I was definitely on the edge, pushing to maintain the pace. There wasn’t much of anything left for a late surge, all I could do was hold what I had through the chute and over the finish line.

Official Run Time: 24:19 (3.1 mi) – 7:50/mi
11/32 in age group; 65/414 overall

Overall Results:
Time: 1:03:55
5/32 in age group; 34/219 by gender; 36/414 overall

Post Race & Summary

The race venue had a lot of activities for kids, which was great for when my family arrived. There were at least three bouncy houses, plus a clown making balloon animals, and kid-friendly food. The food was great, and there was tons of it, all of it free as far as I could tell, at least for racers. It wasn’t just bananas and bagels, there was an entire sandwich buffet, flatbread pizza, Italian ice, all kinds of things. The only real negatives for me about the race organization and venue were parking and the lack of a professional race photographer (there were only official volunteers, who took substandard photos and whose coverage was incomplete). Otherwise, it was a well-organized and fun race on a decent course.

As far as my performance goes, I came away a little surprised and with a lot to think about. I had definitely underestimated my potential in the water and on the run. I really didn’t have any idea that I could swim or run that fast over any distance. Almost immediately, I started thinking ahead to July, and trying to sort out what that means for my 70.3. Obviously I won’t be racing at these speeds at that distance. But my personal bar has been raised, there’s no getting around that. Now I have the task of handling that knowledge without it infiltrating my head in a negative way. Expectations for a race are not usually helpful.

I tried to examine whether I could have gone any faster, any harder, improved in any area in order to jump to the 1st-3rd place podium from my 5th place spot. I would have had to be about 6 mins faster to do that. Certainly I was maxed on the swim. I don’t think I was at maximum capacity on the bike, but I was fairly close. The run didn’t have a whole lot of room to give, either. When I look at the actual times between 5th (me) and 3rd, here’s what I find:

PlaceSwimT1BikeT2RunTotal
3rd8:202:2525:390:3521:0958:06
5th (me)8:493:1325:561:5124:191:03:55
Difference:0:290:480:171:163:105:49

Clearly the majority of time lost was on the run. That isn’t surprising to me, since I’ve never been a fast runner. But I’m encouraged, because I’m way faster than I used to be. The next biggest deficit was T2, followed relatively closely by T1. The differences on the swim and the bike combined could be easily surmounted by improving just my transitions alone. Or I could have pushed a bit harder on the climbs (such as they were) on the bike and probably wiped out a lot of that time. But most of the improvement work to be done is clearly in my run.

Is this a microcosm of what I can expect at longer distance? It will be interesting to see how the ratios play out there. I’d also be interested in comparing these relative results to my results from last year’s sprints. That is, how much slower — relative to the field — was I in transition vs. the bike leg, or run leg. Maybe that will be a good subject for a future post. You can’t compare races 1:1, but I think you can get a sense of how the relative balance of everything plays out, and what that means for your skill set and fitness level. If nothing else, it’s an interesting diversion.

Race Report: Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race

Signing up for the 18th Annual Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race wasn’t my idea. I’ll own the choice, of course, but I wouldn’t have even heard about it if my friend Phil hadn’t asked me to do it. I was in the midst of concussion recovery at the time, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sign up in part in order to give myself a temporary feeling of hope. Surely I’d be better by May 31st. If I sign up for a race, then it’ll make sure that comes true! Magical thinking, to be sure. Luckily it worked out okay this time.

We had a drive of about 3 hours to get to Wilmington, NY, where Whiteface Mountain rises above the surrounding ridge lines at the eastern edge of the Adirondacks. Lake Champlain was on the way, so we treated ourselves to a ferry ride while we tried to pick the mountain out from the landscape across the water. We never did quite determine which one it was.

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Ferry across Lake Champlain

A couple of guys from Burlington wandered by and chatted with us briefly.

“You racing?” one asked.

“Yeah,” Phil answered, “Whiteface. You?”

The guy nodded, because obviously there was only one race all of us were thinking about. He looked up at my bike on top of the car, an Orbea Terra gravel road bike with 28 mm slick tires. Phil’s was a Trek Checkpoint, a similar machine, with slightly wider gravel tires. “You riding on those?”

“Yeah,” I said, a little unsure about the pointedness of his question.

“Wow,” he answered.

“What are you guys riding?” Phil asked.

“Mountain bikes,” the guy answered, as if it were obvious, and he and his flat-brimmed hat bid us good luck and wandered off.

For the next hour, as we completed our drive to the base of the mountain, Phil had something close to a minor meltdown as he parsed the conversation and tried to decipher what the guy had meant by his line of questioning, his clearly loaded, Owen Wilson-like remark of “Wow” and his utterly straightforward statement that he and his friend were riding MTBs. Did he think we were idiots for our bike choices? Or did he think he was the idiot, now seeing what we were riding? What did it mean, and what would possess a person to convey such apparent passive aggression directed solely to a person’s choice of ride? Were we idiots for riding these bikes? Were we even going to the right race? What day was it? Why were their brims so incredibly flat?

We arrived in Wilmington quite early, with hours to spare before the race was to start. We walked over the bridge spanning the Ausable River and found our way into the ski lodge, where we picked up our race packets, which included helmet stickers, bike stickers with timing chips in them, the largest number bibs I’d ever seen, t-shirts and exactly zero snacks. Good thing we brought our own. Phil had all kinds of goodies from home to choose from for on-the-bike nutrition, including some special power cookies his wife baked. I had opted for a singular choice item: a refillable energy gel bottle containing 100% pure maple syrup. That, combined with water and endurance formula in my bottles, was what I hoped would keep life in my legs as I scaled the mountain in a few hours.

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The Ausable River

After I gathered my race accouterments from the helpful check-in folks, I asked them a question which had occurred to me.

“Is there another race here soon?”

“Yes,” one said, “a 50 or 100-km qualifier for Leadville.”

And suddenly, it all made sense. Those guys on the ferry thought we were doing Wilmington Whiteface. They thought we were going to be riding single track for 60 miles, on slick 28-mm tires! “Wow,” indeed. We had a good laugh about that, and “Wowwww” became an instant catch-phrase for the rest of the day.

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We decided to cruise down the course a bit, just to check out the opening three mile prologue, and see what interesting things we could find in town. We saw a bunch of guys fishing the river, and watched one of them pull a sizable fish out. We stopped in a local shop and got some chocolate for the kids and wives. We saw a giant metal bike statue and debated climbing on top of it, but ultimately left such shenanigans to the presumed local youth to get arrested for. A gaunt man with a beard was lost and tried to get into a locked building nearby. I said to Phil, “That’s either a hardcore cyclist or a meth addict.” Not a minute later, he asked us where to check in for the bike race. #nailedit

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At the start

Finally, it got close to race time. We changed into our kits and took a little warm-up spin up the hill behind the parking lot. Phil had a little trouble with his cadence sensor, but we got it sorted. A lot of folks were really clamoring to start near the front of the pack, which surprised us considering it was a chip-timed race and drafting wasn’t going to be a major factor, so it didn’t really seem to matter when you actually started. Phil had a theory that the best strategy (if you were racing to win) might be to hammer the first 3-mile downhill section, though, so maybe the draft was a bigger player than it seemed. In any case, we opted to start comfortably from the back.

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Image may contain: 3 people, people riding bicycles, bicycle and outdoor

The national anthem was sung, the Canadian national anthem was played, we got the most anti-climactic count-down in history, and the race was underway!

As I mentioned, the first three miles were essentially downhill. I deliberately played it cool here, trying to spin up the legs in a relatively high cadence and to really back off the power. There was enough of a descent that I was clipping along basically without working. Then we hit the corner, and the climb began.

Once I settled in, I kept an eye on my numbers and found that an average of 340 watts felt about right. I was working, but I wasn’t hammering, and my heart rate was staying below threshold. I found my most comfortable gear and got to work.

My numbers from the corner to approx. the toll booth

There was the slightest of reprieves while passing the tool booth, and then it was nothing but up, for a section of about 4 miles that featured the steepest sections of the climb. Partway through this section, I took my first hit of maple syrup. It went down smooth and quick, and much easier than energy gel. I also didn’t feel like I had to wash it down with water to clear it out of my mouth. So far so good.

My numbers from the toll booth to the first switchback

Because of how the road is laid out, I could see the switchbacks quite a ways before I got to them. They were laid out high above me on the side of the mountain. I knew that they were only a couple of short miles away, so it was a bit daunting to consider how high I had to climb in order to reach them, especially knowing the gradient it would take.

My legs were doing okay, but started to get a little crampy and uncomfortable at around mile 8 or so. Originally I had intended to ride a bit easier until this point, and then put the power down. As it turned out, I rode a rather more consistent power output, so I didn’t have a whole lot of reserves to draw from. I was going steady, though, so I figured I’d just keep on with my 340 watts and see how that worked out.

By the time I reached the first switchback, I had enjoyed some amazing views, passed two unicyclists, hit my second dose of maple syrup (so good), seen a guy riding deliberately crosswise across the road repeatedly (to rest his legs, I guess?), gotten slightly annoyed by someone with a squeaky bike that I couldn’t drop, and been told “I like that gear you’re in.” As in, complimenting me on my specific choice of gearing. At that moment. I guess? I still haven’t figured that one out.

I knew from simulating the ride indoors that the switchbacks provided some measure of relief, and were the time to drop the hammer for sure, if there was any hammer left to drop. I latched on to the wheel of a guy about my size, who I had noticed from his bib that he was also in the Clydesdale division like me, and followed him up and around the second switchback. Then I went by him and made for the finish.

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Making my move

I had enough legs left to put down a sprint for the finish of about 0:20. It was completely unnecessary, and nobody was sprinting with me, but I don’t get to race in bike races very often, so it felt right. It was an experience I had never had, and I wanted to go for it.

Sprint to the line. Note the significant drop in temperature.
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Still recovering from my sprint

After I got through the chute and received my finisher’s medal, I pedaled around the courtyard of the little castle-like structure that is at the summit to behold a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. It was a great reward for doing the work to climb to the top. I took a couple of quick photos and then went back to the finish line to cheer on Phil, who was only minutes behind me. I managed to get a decent video of him crossing the line. We took a few more shots and drank some Gatorade, then put on our sleeves and started the ride back down. It was getting cold quickly so we didn’t spend a lot of time up top.

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Image may contain: 2 people, including Philip Kolling, people smiling, sky and outdoor
Image may contain: bicycle, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
The first switchback, seen from the summit

The ride down was at once fun, beautiful, exciting and harrowing. We were cruising at 40 mph with our brakes engaged. If we had been alone on the mountain, we probably would have let it rip a little more, but there were still people climbing the hill, cars driving up and down both ways, and other cyclists heading down. With a lot of blind corners, it didn’t seem prudent to be going full speed with no chance to stop suddenly if necessary. It was also really cold, and I had to adjust my hands and arms periodically just to make sure that I could, in fact, still feel them.

We made it down safe and sound, and then cruised back to the ski area for food and to check out the results. I ended up in 7th out of 26th in the Clydesdale division (190 lbs+), with an official recorded time of 1:19:25. I was pretty darn happy with that effort. I don’t know that I could have done it much faster if I had changed anything, and I don’t know what I could have changed. It was pretty close to the best execution I could manage on the day. You can’t ask for much more than that.

The drive home was long and dark, but still a good time and there was plenty to recount and reflect on from the day.

I was very glad to be able to do this race. It’s one that I don’t think I will ever forget.

Triathlon #3!

After falling behind on posting, I have been attempting to write two posts every time I write a post and to catch up to the present day.  It’s clear that it’s never going to happen, though, so I need to revise my strategy.  I don’t need the extraneous, self-generated pressure of feeling like I need to archive every significant workout I do in written words.  So I’m going to jump straight ahead in time to my third triathlon, which took place on September 1st, and then just start posting in the present tense again.  And if I feel like going back to recount an experience I can, but I’m not going to try to catch them all up.  Just keep moving forward.

So, without further ado, here’s my race report for triathlon #3!

I sort of built my season targeting this as my ‘big race,’ even though it wasn’t all that different from the first two I did in all practical terms. I traveled to Ottawa to do this race (had friends to stay with) so it felt like a more exotic and exciting way to do a race. So it was a goal race for me in terms of being a culminating event of my season.

Pre-race

I haven’t done many triathlons yet, so I wasn’t entirely sure if my judgment was off or not, but my first impression of the transition routes was that they were terrible. They seemed to be really far to go, particularly for a sprint, and through some ungainly terrain. I wasn’t looking forward to running up a sizable hill from the beach, barefoot, on an unswept asphalt bike path. I also wasn’t looking forward to running super far in bike cleats — including up and down some small hills, across a football field and along a dirt footpath into a gully (I bike in socks, so I couldn’t do the shoes-clipped-in-already method; might be something for me to work on in the off season) But maybe I had just been spoiled at my other events and this was normal. I didn’t really have the experience to know. And anyway, there was nothing to be done but make the best of it. The transition area was in the middle of an Olympic-sized running track, which was fenced all around. Athletes could only enter from one end, so I had to walk halfway around to get in. Security was tight on seeing numbers and matching bike tags. God help you if you forgot anything. I appreciated the care taken to ensure people’s bikes were protected but I think the entrance could have been closer to the other side of things. I ended up having to sprint from the transition area to the beach in order to make the race announcements. My fault for not arriving early enough I guess, but I didn’t realize how long it would take to get everywhere.

Swim

The swim was pretty similar to the other two I had done, which is to say I don’t think there was anything too exceptional about it. It was in the Rideau Canal, which technically has a current, but I didn’t notice much. The water was a comfortable temperature, but quite weedy and murky. I was aiming to simply stay relaxed and find my own rhythm, and I was able to do that for the most part. Only got kicked a couple of times, which was an improvement over my other races so far. The guy who did the race announcements high-fived everyone as they got out of the water.

T1

I left the beach and ran for the track. As expected, it turned out to be an effort. I started on the asphalt but then started running on the grass, as my feet were hurting. I was a little nervous about what might be hiding in the grass to poke my bare feet (rocks? snakes? tiny Canadian leprechauns?) but I didn’t end up stepping on anything. I felt more winded by the time I got to my bike than I had when I exited the water. I got my stuff on without trouble and headed out with my bike. First out of the track area, then across a football field, down a forest path, down and up a gully, across a road and finally to the mount line.

Bike

Cycling is my strongest discipline and the one I look forward to the most. I knew my biggest challenge here would be pacing. The course was virtually flat, which was a disadvantage for me because I’m a Clydesdale and I get a lot of benefit from the downhills. With no hills to speak of, it was entirely up to my legs without much of a gravity assist. I paid attention to my heart and breathing, trying to keep things steady and not going overboard, while aiming for my mph average. I thought it went pretty well. I wasn’t breathing very hard for most of the 3 loops, and only really started to feel it at the end of the 3rd. I also caught a bunch of people, some even from the first swim wave that went out 5 minutes before mine, so I felt I was doing ok. I had been nervous about losing count of my laps, but they had people announcing your name and what lap you were on, which was awesome. It was also cool to see all the different racers on the same course, because it was a looped route. The iron distance folks were doing 9 laps to my 3. I nailed my average speed goal. Once I hit the dismount line, things got awful.

T2

Running after the bike is not comfortable, as we all know. For me, this was way worse because I had to traverse the same off-road route back to the track, in cleats, with jelly legs. I tried to run, but I mostly couldn’t and had to walk. My calves started seizing when I tried to run on elevation in my biking shoes, and having had a calf injury earlier in the season, I wasn’t willing to risk hurting myself. So I walked it in.

Run

My watch failed on the run – just wouldn’t work for me at all, so I had no idea of my current pace. That was frustrating. I felt pretty awful, which I have come to expect for the first mile or so. Usually it evens out and I find my stride, and things feel better after that. Not so today. I kept it going but I was riding the struggle bus the whole way. I felt underhydrated, especially in the sunny sections. The last mile was a mental battle. I ended up only about :15 off my goal pace, so it turned out it wasn’t as bad as it felt.

Post-race

I had passed a couple of other Clydesdales (I could tell from body marking) and none had passed me, and I didn’t see anyone my age pass me, so I had suspicions that I did relatively well in the rankings. When the results were posted, I saw that I had won the Clydesdale category! I checked to see where I would be in my age group, had I picked that option, and I would have been second! I was the 17th male, and 20th overall out of 115. They were by far my best results, so it turned out it felt hard for a good reason. I got a ‘gold champion’ lanyard to add to my finisher’s medal and other race swag.

The race was organized pretty professionally and seemed to be run well; my only complaints were that the transitions were so challenging. It seemed like they were expecting more people – there were lots of empty racks and a ton of space on the field. Maybe a low year for them.

What’s next?

I’m not doing any more triathlons this season, but I’m excited to continue training and to work toward Olympic distance next year. I don’t really have any idea how to make that leap, but I’m motivated to find out!

Triathlon #2!

My second sprint triathlon was a solo endeavor.  The family was tied up doing other things, and the race was about an hour and a half from home, so I didn’t have anyone coming out to see me race.

I was kind of okay with that, for this one. So much of triathlon training is done in isolation, and my plan was to look at this race as a hard training session for my 3rd race at the end of the summer. so it kind of fit. 

I prepped my gear at home, wandering about in the same fog that settled over me the day before the first race. I felt incredibly tired, as if my body knew what was coming and was trying to get all the rest it could beforehand.  It probably was.

The drive down was fantastic, taking me though the mountains on some roads I’d never seen before. The race was taking place at a state park with a campground, so I had reserved myself one of the very last tent sites and borrowed a backpacking tent from a friend (our family tent was too large for me to want to deal with). I planned to head down in the late afternoon, set up camp, drive the course, get some dinner and have a relaxing, solitary night camping outdoors.  When I woke up, I’d already be at the race site.

That’s pretty much how it went, too.  I set up camp without trouble, then was able to drive the bike course (which included the run course), pulling back into the campground just as it was getting dark. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found – it was a 14-mile loop that was downhill or flat for the first 75% of the ride. There was one significant climb, but it wasn’t anything I was afraid of, having done a lot of climbing in my training over the summer. Then a flat run into T2. The run was on the same course, with some slight rolling hills.  

I picked up dinner at the local store, as well as some fuel for the next morning, and after a small fire at my campsite and a few minutes reading, I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up feeling pretty good.  I had slept well, which was good considering the extra variables that camping can potentially throw at you. After my morning routine, I suited up, got my transition gear on my back (in a backpack this time!) and rolled over to check-in.

The scene for the swim was amazing.  I couldn’t imagine a much more beautiful place to do a swim.  

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After I got set up in the transition area, which was quite crowded, I wandered around the beach playing the “age game.” Everyone had their ages put on their calves at body marking, so I would look at a person and mentally guess their age, then look at their calf to see how close I was. It was awesome to see so many people, particularly older people, in amazing shape. And plenty of others working hard on it. That’s one thing I’ve found about going to these events – the atmosphere is pretty inspiring. It always feels like a pretty good crowd to be hanging out in.

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Swim

  • 600 yd Distance
  • 12:14 Duration
  • 2:02/100 yd

The swim was a wave start from the beach.  It proved to be a much better swim than my first race, in terms of the crowd.  The swimmers spread out quicker and I wasn’t really fighting anyone for space the whole way. There were people close enough to me that I could have drafted if I had that skill in my playbook, but as of this point I’m still learning how to just get the swim done, so I just focused on what I was doing and tried to keep my rhythm.  I came out of the water feeling less tired than I did during my first triathlon, and felt ready for the bike.

The transition run was short, just up the grassy lawn from the beach.  I had no trouble getting into the area and locating my machine.

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Bike

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  • 13.94 mi Distance
  • 39:50 Moving Time
  • 621 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 21.0 mi/hr
  • Max Speed 40.7 mi/hr

As expected, the ride was a blast. I was able to keep a pretty high speed up for most of it, especially down a couple of big hills where my weight went to work for me. I passed a bunch of people without even really trying, letting gravity and inertia do a lot of the effort, and at the halfway mark I still felt very fresh and prepared to attack the hill. 

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I kept it steady on the climb, focusing mostly on my cadence and trying to keep my spin rate up. I didn’t want to sprint it, but I didn’t want to go too easy, either. I felt like I hit the right mark, especially as I caught a couple of people in my age group on the way. One or two superstars with full aero gear passed me on their way to the second lap of the Olympic distance course. I did my best to remind my brain that they were not my competitors; nobody was, in fact.  Just myself.

I crested the hill and then cruised the last two or so miles on the flats around the back side of the lake back to the transition area. No troubles again on transition; just racked my bike, switched my shoes and headed out.

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Run

  • 3.10 mi Distance
  • 27:47 Duration
  • 8:58/mi Pace

I was able to shake the jelly legs at about a mile, and then felt like I had my feet back under me. I found that the small climbs and descents on the run course really helped; working against a little elevation seemed to clear out the dead feelings somehow. I did get passed by a few people I had caught on the bike, but I was expecting that, knowing that running is probably my weakest discipline. I kept at it and was able to finish feeling pretty strong. For my current state of training, my final pace was really fast.

Results were posted live on a screen next to the transition area, so it wasn’t long before I was able to see how I did. I was expecting to see something like my first race, but was pleasantly surprised to see my name considerably higher in the standings – with my overall time of

1:23:52.5, I finished 4th in my age group, and 26th overall out of 166!  Later, the results sheet was revised to remove the top 5 finishers out of their respective age categories, leaving me 2nd in my age group! My transition times improved over my first race, at 2:14 and 1:25.  The results also confirmed my internal convictions that the bike is my jam, especially when there are downhills: I had the 12th fastest bike ride of the day.

After picking up my race shirt and watching some more folks finish, I went back to pack up my campsite and drive home.  I felt satisfied and very happy with what I had accomplished.  I was already looking forward to the next one.

My first triathlon!

I finished my first sprint distance triathlon! Getting here was the culmination of 10 weeks of training, with a focus on changing my eating habits and trying to lose weight. It was a milestone I worked hard on, and I was proud to achieve it.

It took the week beforehand off almost entirely, doing only an easy swim where I tried out a couple of techniques I had seen online. Other than that, I didn’t exercise at all. I knew I was really stretching the definition of “taper” but considering my recent calf injury, which had only just begun to feel normal again, I thought it was best to go the route of complete recovery.  Certainly nothing I did in the week beforehand would make much a difference fitness-wise; it was up to the 10 weeks prior to see if that was up to snuff or not.

I spent the day before the race in something of a haze of nerves and intermittent preparation.  I ended up taking two separate naps by accident, and it took me probably 4-6 hours to actually get my kits together.  Mentally, I was in a fog. Eventually I did manage to get things laid out, though, and then packed them up into two reusable grocery store shopping bags, for T1 and T2.

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On the left we’ve got tri suit, race-provided swim cap, sunscreen, goggles and earplugs, and race manual. In the middle is T1 – spare bike bottle, helmet, gloves, numbers, bike shoes and socks, 2 towels and large water bottle. T2 has running shoes, an energy snack, another large water bottle and a towel.

The race was about an hour from my house, so the wife and I were up early to get there. I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, and hydrated on the drive.  The weather was perfect, so I was glad to see that wasn’t a factor I’d have to contend with.

The logistics of transition setup had me more nervous than almost anything else.  The two transitions were in two different spots, as opposed to being in one location, and I didn’t really know how most people would be traveling from one to the other. Everything seemed roped off, so parking at T2 didn’t seem to be an option. Parking at T1 wasn’t an option either, for that matter; we had to park at a 3rd location and then walk (or ride) to the Ts.  So we ended up walking pretty far, carrying my shopping bags, which almost immediately demonstrated how poorly chosen they were.  Why it didn’t occur to me to use a backpack, or at least a duffel with a shoulder strap, I have no idea.  The fog was pretty thick the day before, I guess.

I got my stuff set up at T2, then headed to the beach for T1.  After being handed my bike stake, I asked someone why people were leaving their bib numbers at T2 – because the race manual said you had to wear it on the bike.  Did they get two numbers somehow, did I miss something?  No, they said, they’re just not following the rules.  Cool.  At least I knew I wasn’t screwing something up.

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T1 setup

I got my T1 spot set up, then headed to the overlook just above the beach to check out the swim course. It looked to be a long way, standing on shore. It was hard to tell how it measured up to the training I had been doing. Only one way to find out, though.

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Swim course

Due to how the timing mats worked, they had us all line up in a crowded mass on a pathway before entering the beach area, and once we were there, we weren’t allowed to leave.  Due to the low water level, it was going to be a water start, so everyone waded out to a first set of buoys to await the start signal.

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Getting set for the start

The start was in two waves, with the men going first and the women and teams going second. I positioned myself to the outside and toward the back of the pack, thinking that would be safest and easiest to manage.  I had never swum in a pack before so I had no idea what it was going to be like. I was just hoping I wouldn’t get panicky.

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First wave start

The signal sounded and we were off. I took a few steps, plunged in, and almost immediately it was chaos.  People were thrashing and kicking all around me. I got kicked and whacked several times right from the start. Because it mostly happened underwater, it didn’t really hurt, but it was always unexpected and somewhat disorienting. It was hard to find a route forward that wasn’t full of arms and legs. The pack didn’t really thin out until we had rounded the second corner and were on the way back toward the beach, so I probably only had about 40% of the course when I could really swim comfortably and try to find my own pace. The rest of the time was spent primarily fighting my way through and trying to navigate. The water was terrible, too – almost uncomfortably warm, full of weeds and smelling like boat fuel. Not the most pleasant environment to swim in. 

I ended up working pretty hard on the swim.  By my watch, I was out of the water in about 10 minutes, not including the run up the beach, which was 3-5 minutes faster than I expected. I think I swam a lot faster than I had trained.

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Out of the water (on the far right)

It was over soon enough, though, and I was back on the beach, heading up for T1. As I ran up the hill, I discovered that one of my earplugs had suction-locked into my ear, and I couldn’t for the life of me get it out. There was nothing I could do but leave it in and do the rest of the race with one ear plugged. I hoped it wouldn’t affect my balance.

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Drying my feet and getting ready for the bike

I dried my feet and got my biking gear on, then jogged my bike out to the mount line and headed out on the bike course. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the transition times, since this was my first triathlon. I primarily wanted to get through them successfully, so I didn’t mind taking a little extra time.  As it turned out, I took a lot of extra time and had some of the slowest transitions of the entire field. 

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Heading out on the bike

Cycling is definitely my strongest discipline, and the course was pretty flat, so I was eager to put down a good time. I realized right away that the effort I’d put out on the swim was definitely too much, because I was eating people up left and right in the first mile.  That meant I could have swum a bit slower and made up time on the bike.  Lesson learned.

As I rounded a corner to head up one of the only hills, passing another cyclist on my right, I learned another hard lesson – never forget to check your tire pressure.  Like, with a gauge.  And a pump. My tire seemed to roll out from under me and go soft, and I was sure I’d blown a flat.  I stopped at the top of the hill and got off my bike to check.  My rear tire was soft, but it wasn’t flat.  It was rideable, and I wasn’t about to take the time to pump air into it with my little hand pump.  I decided to keep riding as far as I could.  If it went flat on the course, so be it.  For the time being, it was low but usable.

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The low tire definitely slowed me down.  I couldn’t corner very well, for fear of losing stability, and whenever I tried to stand and power over small rises, the back end of the bike went all wobbly.  It didn’t feel safe at all. I kept it conservative when maneuvering and put as much power in as I could when the road was straight. That got me to the end of the course with an average of about 19 mph.

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Coming back in to T2

I found my transition spot easily enough and put my bike down. I basically ignored everything else there except for my running shoes. I carried one of my bike bottles with me for a short distance to douse myself with before tossing it to my wife, who was there cheering me on, then bricked on out to do the run.

The legs felt dead and weird for the first mile, as expected, but my pace was good and my calf felt great. I felt the exertion in my lungs but I still had legs, so I pushed it pretty much as hard as I had left.  The course wound through some residential areas and back along the lakeside, finishing up along a bike path.

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I came into the finish with an overall time of 01:21:34. I didn’t have a fixed goal to shoot for going into this; I was aiming just for completion.  But under 1:30:00 seemed to be fairly respectable, and I was placed somewhere in the middle of the field, both in my age group and overall. The distances for the race were allegedly 500m in the water, 12 miles on the bike and 3 miles on the road (but I’m not sure I trust their measurements, either, particularly for the run).

I say somewhere because the timing for this event was completely messed up and none of the splits ended up being reliable.  The only time I trust from the official results is the overall.  When I got home, I checked the results and saw one set of split times and placing; the next day, they had completely changed. Neither of them made any sense, either, and didn’t align anywhere close to what I had on my devices during the race. 

Luckily, the times didn’t matter all that much to me.  This one was about learning how to do a triathlon, completing it and having a foundation for the next one.  In terms of those goals, it was a complete success.

The biggest racing takeaway I got was that I don’t need to go that hard on the swim. I’m not such a good swimmer that it will make much difference, except to tire me out. Meanwhile, I’m much better at biking so I can easily make up the time on wheels. Logistically, the biggest lesson was to pare down my transition gear, to put it in a backpack and to not take so much stuff!  I brought two giant water bottles I never even touched during the race, and I had way too many towels. I also didn’t need any food for such a relatively short race.

I didn’t walk away with any medals, but I got a cool training shirt, some free food and a whole bunch of knowledge. It was a good day.