Monday, June 13, 2011

Race Report - Greeley Triathlon

The first race is in the books! After something like eight months of waiting, I finally know what it is like to do a triathlon. I'm pleased with how I did and very anxious to put more under my belt.

The pre-race set up was at the race sight and included a meeting which was more of a Q&A session. This was particularly nice because, this course, like all courses, had its own nuances. We were briefed on a couple of particularly tight turns and the safety risks associated with them (things like crashing or pulling out in front of cars doing 70 on the highway). We also got a summary of how the swim course would work. Unlike the more typical mass wave start, this race used a time trial start due to the relatively small size of the lake.

Once that was done, we were free to roam around the lake and transition just to get a feel for the place:

The transition area sits empty in anticipation of the next day's race

Giant rubber duckies mark the swim exit

My bro and I agree...Chamois Butt'r is no good on toast!

Once we were set we did a spin around the bike course just to be familiar with the hills, turns and twists. I've been over it a few times on Google street view, but seeing it first hand is helpful. Then it was home for rest, more water and pasta for dinner!

Race morning started at 5:00 am. Since my parents live less than 5 miles from the course, it was a nice short drive and it was time I was able to spend sleeping rather than driving. That's always a plus.

We were at the site before 5:30 and though it did not officially open until 5:45, we were able to get into transition a little early and set up:

Then it was off to body marking. Since the last event was a duathlon, this was a new experience, but no problems. Both upper arms were marked with my number along with the back of my right hand. My USAT age was written on my right calf.

Earlier, I had mentioned the decision to forgo the wetsuit given an anticipated water temperature of 70*. However, a couple of factors lead to a change of mind. One, a group of volunteers would be serving as wetsuit strippers. That's something I've never heard of outside of an Ironman event. All I'd need to do was get the suit stripped down to my waist, sit on my butt and let them pull it off of me. Then get up, take the suit back and run to transition. Additionally, the guy there setting up the buoys recommended it for the sake of speed. Decision made, and it felt like the right one.

So after loitering around transition and making the requisite bathroom stops, I put on the Body Glide and pulled the suit halfway on. It was a little cool still at this point, but it would have been too warm to pull the suit all the way on.

It was shortly after this that I noticed my ankle strap containing my timing chip was missing the chip. It had apparently come loose from the strap. Not good. I found a coordinator and she and I went to the tent for Flatirons Timing where the guy running the show there was good enough to do an exchange. I was given a new chip and he scribbled down the change on a sheet of paper. Hmmm...well he's the pro at this, not me so I figured he'd get it covered.

This year's race was the site of the Rocky Mountain Region Junior Championship and that race, along with a shorter version for 13 - 15 year olds were set before us. Due to some issues on the bike course, the start was delayed. Finally, after about 30 minutes, the younger kids did there version. Once the last of them was out of the water, there were a few minutes to spare before the championship race went. All of this gave me the benefit of watching the swim course before my start.

Not long after the last swimmer in that wave went, it was time for our group to start. I had heard a call a little earlier for higher numbers to line up near the finish line, but my number was lower. The time trial start was in sequential numerical order which meant reverse age order. The first guy in the water was 82 years old! After he went I realized there was only about 50-some numbers between his and mine. But I had not heard a call for our number group. I suggested to my bro that we head over and sure enough, there were all of the lower numbers lining up. We made it, but with less than five minutes to spare.

So now I'm set. I'm standing in line with guys about my age, nearly all of us in wet suits and a line that is moving up one position about every five seconds. There was no mat at the start, just a race official and the time who had brought some kind of manual key-punch device with him. More on this later, but keep in mind that the number that was being read to the timer by a race official was the one on the right hand.

Probably not going to win any awards for this dive, but it my goggles and cap stayed on and the shock of the cooler water was minimal. I easily got into my rhythm of bilateral breathing every third stroke and siting on the buoys by looking forward every 9 -12 strokes was proving to be pretty easy. Then something really surprised me. I started catching the guys who had started in front of me.

Through all of my swimming, I've almost always been the slow guy in the pool or the lake. I've been able to swim since childhood, but swimming with form and technique are new to me and it's probably never going to be my forte. Nevertheless, there I was catching a number of people with relative ease. I went by several and there may have been one or two passing me, but not many. Granted everyone I went past was older than me or at the oldest, my age, but still, I was cutting through the water with ease. The wetsuit made me feel like I was the keel of a boat and I seemed to glide through the lake.

I finished the swim strong, was helped up onto the finish ramp and ran for the wet suit strippers. I was fumbling with the velros strap on the neck to strip down to my waste when one of them helped with that. Within 14 seconds or so, I was out of the wetsuit and running into T1.

I had decided to leave my jersey on the bike rather than swim with it. I was wet and it didn't go on cleanly. I probably lost 15 seconds messing with that. Otherwise, I got out of there with relative ease and clocked a 2:27 T1.

My feet did not go into the peddles all that easily but after a couple of tries, I was in and peddling out of the bike start, heading for the series of turns and traffic circles that made up the early part of the course. After completing those, I was out on to the business route of US 34 and crusing through a flat to downhill section.

Going back by the transition area on my way out to the highway

I had hoped to be faster through here, but I was putting a fair amount of effort into it all the same. My cadence was about 92 rpm which is faster than a lot of training rides, and, from my understanding, fairly close to the ideal range. I figured I was still over the average pace I anticipated so I'd just roll with that.

About four and a half miles in I hit the first serious hill, but I went after it fairly well. I had to balance my desire for a good bike time against the need for energy on the run.

Unlike SOST three weeks earlier, drafting rules were more applicable. The former was a three loop course so were always in the process of passing or being passed. This was a single loop course so there were lots of both, but it was more spread out. As I made the turn back west off of 83rd Avenue onto 20th Street, I came up on a guy who was a little slower than me, but not a lot. I was also passing him as I went by a group that might have included an official. At the speed I was going, I had to attack the pass more than I would normally be inclined to do. So I kicked up the cadence a little bit and went by him. It felt pretty good. More so as many more guys on high end TT bikes blew by me.

To this point, my pace was pretty good. I had a couple of slow spots, but overall, I was riding right about where I wanted to.  Then came 95th Avenue. Until a few years ago, this was just a dirt road and today it's the next best thing, A somewhat paved road with no lane markers, very narrow and pretty bumpy. It also represents some of the steeper, albeit shorter hills on the course. It definitely threw me off my pace. In addition to that, it features a U-turn on a narrow road that is the next-worst thing to coming to a stop. However, everyone has to deal with it and I did as well.

Turning off 95th Avenue to the US 34 by-pass route was the danger turn we had been warned about. Cyclists had to stay within the cones or they would be pulling in front of highway traffic and would also be disqualified on the spot. That proved to be no probem for me. I was moving, but the turn was easy at my speed. The climb up on the higway was long, but not very steep and even had a slight downhill section. Then it was up back into the business park where the race was being staged. This too was a steep hill and I knew despite best intentions, my bike pace would be slower than I hoped for. I did manage a little speed as I rolled in to T2:

The T2 was typical of a lot of my bricks. Unlike the SOST Du, I had to put on socks. I just can't run without them and a few extra seconds means no blisters so I think it's worth the trade off.

That said, I feel like I did okay with it and soon was running out. I worried about putting the Garmin on the wrist strap as I went and I'm sure that saved time. This run started out like they all do after a bike--I felt exhausted. More specifically, I felt like my heart was pounding out of my chest and I could not catch my breath. Fortunately, past experience taught me that my body would catch up and after about a quarter to half a mile, it did.

This was a great course to run since the first three quarters of a mile are on a gentle downhill. That allowed me to run a sub 8:30 pace which was great. I was hoping I had a good swim, and seemed to, but I also new I had a few minutes on the bike to cover. After that first stretch of down hill, I made a right turn and headed up a fairly steady and drawn out up hill. It was nothing like the monster on the SOST runs, but it was enough to push my heart rate back up and slow down my pace. However, I was still running ahead of my goal.

It was an interesting course in that it wound back inside itself so as I was going out, others were coming back in the opposite direction. The field was pretty thin however, so there were no traffic issues. In addition the bikes were still coming in, but they were well separated on the left side of the road so again, no issues.

The turn around was near the finish line which can be a little frustrating since you're hearing the finishers called but you still have nearly two miles to go. Fortunately, it's at this point that you get to go back down hill for quite a stretch and I felt better as well as saw my pace improve. Before long, a left turn put me back on the same hill I had run down at the start, along with a little in and out loop and then I was running around the swim lake on my way to the finish. I had wanted to finish stronger than I did in Longmont three weeks earlier and though I was breathing pretty hard at this point, I also knew I could stride out the finish. I did and it felt good:

And this is the very cool finish line that was set up:

Right between his legs and then you're done. There were refreshments and iced towels and that was most enjoyable as it had gotten pretty warm by this point.

Upon looking at the results, we also learned that my bro had not only placed, but won the 40-44 age group. He beat the next closest person by a comfortable 21 seconds. As for me, well it should have been about 9th out of 16, but more on that in a second. Given my brother's win, we stayed around for the awards ceremony. Then it was home for some much needed/desired beer and a barbecue!

Race Review

I have some criticisms, but I want to say up front that I think the race organizers did an excellent job. This was a well-run event and I had a blast. I'm glad this ended up being my "official" introduction to the sport and I plan to be back next year. I would also, without reservations, recommend it to anyone who is looking for a sprint early in the season.

The bad:

**Timing -After initially not getting a swim time, it later posted so despite having run with a replacement chip, all was well. What's more, I was actually the second fastest swimmer in my age group.
Pre-start communication - The call for everyone with number 238 and higher to line up lead me and my brother to believe that there would be a second call for lower numbers. I might have missed that, but I don't think so. There were a lot of participants and spectators about. You need to make those calls clearly and probably repeat them.

The Good:

Pre-race communication - The days leading up to the race included multiple e-mails with details, water temperatures, etc. I like being kept up to date and this was helpful. I never felt out of the loop.

Venue - A great sight for a race. The lake was small, but a short swim course is kind of cool and great introduction to rookies like me. In addition, the transition area was spacious and the run and bike courses offered great scenery, interesting challenges and above all, a good location for our family to watch us race. It means a lot to have your own cheering section.

Course support - There are apparently close ties between the Greeley law enforcement community and the race. As a result, several off-duty officers showed up to man the turns on the race and keep us all safe. They did this voluntarily for no pay. That's one of the more commendable things I've seen at a race and I tip my hat to all of them. There were also a lot of volunteers manning the run turns and of course, the wet-suit strippers. That was a very nice touch!

Race-swag - Not a ton of stuff, but what I got was pretty cool. It included a big red reusable grocery sack, the iced towel (suitable for transition) and a  pint glass from the local Crabtree Brewery. There was no beer on site, but they did give you a coupon for a free glass at the brewery.

Door-Prizes - I didnt' win any, but they had some pretty cool stuff including Rudy Project sunglasses and Road ID gift certificates. There was also a lot of it and several people got a little something extra for hanging around after the race.

Overall, I think this was a great race. While I look forward to the challenge of longer Olympic distance events coming up, I still plan on coming back next year. As I mentioned before, this is a great one to check out early in the season.

Today's a rest and recovery day and tomorrow morning I'm back in the pool. Thursday is a quasi-race as I'll be in Boulder for this week's Stroke & Stride event which is a 1500m swim followed by a 5k run. Lots more swimming, biking and running ahead in the next six weeks so plenty of posts coming up as well!

**A side note, even though I'm no longer a first-timer, I'm keeping the blog name for now. Although not official, I may have one or two followers out there and I don't want to lose anybody with a URL change. Next year, I'll see about an update and will do so with plenty of advanced warning.