Sunday, May 20, 2012

Race Report: Summer Open Sprint Triathlon

In climate like the one we have in Colorado, triathlon is a warm-weather sport. Nearly all of the major events in this state and those surrounding it occur between the middle of May and the end of September with the bulk occurring the summer months of June, July and August.

When I ran this race a year ago it was under blue skies and temperatures between the mid sixties and seventies.

Then there was yesterday.

We left home at 5:30 and as we headed north, sprinkles became showers which in turn became a down pour. I was concerned. I hoped for a break in the rain, but also told myself I'd better be ready to race in lousy conditions.

Fortunately, the rain did break as we got further north and by the time we arrived at Union Reservoir in Longmont, there was significant wind, but no precipitation.

This is a race that offers a race-day pick-up for a nominal $2 fee and I opted for this since Parker was not likely to be near any of the pick-up locations. It actually would not have been a bad drive, but I didn't know that at the time.

Getting my packet was easy with the only delay being waiting in line behind others who had opted for the same thing. But the volunteers worked efficiently and I don't think I had to wait even five minutes before I was on my way to the area outside transition to be body-marked and pick up my timing chip.

Transition was about half full when I arrived so I still managed to get a spot roughly in the middle of the area. I figured that was a good spot since the ends mean a lot more people running by you. The middle means a little more running to the end, but less chance of a collision with another racer.

Having been eight months since my last race, I was a little rusty in my transition area, but I managed to get set up with a fair amount of ease. Then it was off to the rather lengthy port-a-potty line to take care of my pre-race business. I probably waited 15 to 20 minutes in that line. Lots of people have pre-race business.

Back in transition I happily climbed into the lower half of my wet suit. With an outside temperature of only 50* or so, and the wind blowing hard off the lake, it was cold. Being clad in neoprene was sounding pretty good. I walked back to my car to drop off my transition bag and have my wife help me with zipping up. The suit is fine once it's on, but I've struggled getting all the way on without assistance.

That done, I managed to make a quick last stop in transition before it closed and grab my goggles and cap. Then it was off to the water to get a few strokes in before the start.

Yesterday not withstanding, we've had a very warm spring here on the Front Range and that meant temperatures in the lake were around 65* which is considerably warmer than the air. You could feel it. Last year, my first experience in open water involved a shock similar to having a bucket of ice water dumped on you including the short breathing and general feeling of shock. Not so today. It felt good after freezing in the cold wind on the beach. As you can see here, several of my fellow participants were doing likewise:

I'll grant you that 50* sounds pretty good in the dead of winter. But standing on the shore with the north wind carrying across the surface of the water and gusting up to 15 mph or so, I can assure, this was a very chilly environment. As I waited for my wave to start, I ran up and down the beach to stay warm. Even in the wetsuit, I felt a chill.

Just prior to the race, the director called out on the bullhorn for anyone who was freaked out by the water to come gather around him. This was due to the swells which I estimated to be around two feet high at their peak. Indeed, the waves were crashing on the beach the way they might along a gulf or bay. Nothing like the huge breakers you would see in Hawaii or Pacific Beach, California, but huge for a medium sized inland reservoir. He gave anyone who was troubled a no-swim or shortened swim option and a big shout-out to him for doing so. While nothing short of lightning or an unexpected release of piranhas into the water was going to keep me out, a lot of folks with limited swimming skills or minimal exposure to open water swimming were no-doubt fearful. Considering the fatalities that have occurred at races all over the country in the swim portion, it was a wise and thoughtful decision.

As for me, like I said. I was swimming. Waves be damned! I got shut out last year and I was not going to miss out on the swim again. Since the conditions were so rough, they put a lot of extra time between the each wave. Given that, I would imagine I probably started around 8:20 or so. I was not looking at the time. In fact, since I have not done an open-water race with a watch on before, I completely forgot to start my Garmin until I was near the first turn. Here's the partial track of what I did:

The swimming was sloppy, slow, ugly and tiring. I think I spent as much energy fighting the waves as I did propelling myself forward. In fact, I think I would have had a pretty good day in calmer water. Even without any advance preparation in the open, I've been swimming well and I think good form and efficient use of energy would have made a difference. But with huge waves knocking me around like I was a cork, it was rough. Nothing short of flying out to the ocean and swimming in it multiple times could have prepared me. Note to self, don't attempt any triathlons that involve an ocean swim!

A very slow 19:54 later, I hit the shore and gratefully climbed out of the water on my way to the bike:

Most of the way from the water to the transition area was carpeted which is nice given my own likely hood to stub a toe or scrape some skin off my feet. A series of small buckets and baby pools were also aligned so that I could rinse my feet before going into transition.

Once in the area, I finally pulled the wetsuit off my shoulders and was in the process of pulling of the sleeves when I discovered that the watch was going to be a problem. Even after removing the watch from the band, I struggled to get the sleeve off and lost a lot of time on something so stupid.

I'm going to need to find a better alternative if the watch is going to go swimming with me. More on that in a future post.

It's clear it's been a while since I transitioned (I did not train with bricks this year) because I also forgot to have my cycling shoes unbuckled. More time lost. Finally, I had everything ready, got out to the mount line and was on my way for the ride. Not the smoothest of mounts, but I did get both feet locked in on the first attempt and was on my way:

I've spent most of the early season riding in strong winds and unfortunately, this race was no different. Fortunately, on the areas where I was riding northward and more or less into it, there were more breaks in the form of houses, fences, trees etc. That's not to say that I didn't have to battle it, but I also was not going full on into a harsh gust. I felt a little tired but once I found my rhythm, I managed to keep a respectable speed up and even took advantage of the tail wind on the section where you go southward. This was especially helpful because on that section, there were no breaks to speak of. It's a criterion style course with three laps so I figure the wind more or less cancels itself out. The roads were also nice and smooth (except for the dirt at the beginning and end) which makes for a much nicer ride.

Leaving T2 and starting the run is, I think most triathletes will agree, the hardest part of the race. It was hard today, but less so than it has been on previous races. I also was dealing with that head wind, and nearly lost my visor as I exited onto the run course:

For the first quarter mile or so, I struggled to get my pace established and it felt like I was taking very short strides. However, as the distance grew, so did my stride-length and soon I found my pace well below 9:00 even as I went uphill. Going back down, I started running under 8:00. I think it was a combination of having done so many long runs, intervals and running in cool weather that made this the most successful part of the race for me. After my experiences at the Horsetooth Half Marathon the hill here looked almost flat. While my heart rate was high, it stayed below 150 or 85% of max for all but a few moments of the run. It ended up being my strongest event:

I finished strong and was pleased to hear my name called as I approached the finish line. It's a nice touch that good races do. SOST is no exception.

Here's my review of this year's race:

The bad:

When I talk about "the bad" I mean things that the race director and his/her staff could have done but didn't.  For example, they can choose a venue, but can't alter it. They can select a time of year where the historical weather is promising but can't control what happens on race day. In that light, I have only two, very small nit-picky items. That's all I could come up with:

Port-a-Potties: I counted eight of them including two designated just for "express use" only. I chuckled to see "#1 only" on the poster on the front of each. With 500 participants, and figuring at least 90% of them needed to make a visit, that's a ratio of 56 POH (per out house). I don't think anyone missed their start but I think probably two or four more would have been wise.

Medals: Without Limits Productions has made a point of doing something unique instead of the traditional finisher's medal. That's a great idea but for the last two years, it's been a beer pint glass. This year's was especially generic. I like pint glasses, but I've done a lot of races where I get a medal and a glass. I think they should start giving out finisher's medals. For those of us not expecting to see the view from the podium, it's a nice tangible piece of race memorabilia.

That's it, and I had to struggle to come up with those two.

The good:

Pre-Race Communication: Excellent. Multiple e-mails combined with updates to the website and Facebook page meant I knew all about this one during the week leading up to the race, including the water temperature. I think they struggled with this last year, but this year was a marked improvement!

On-site Support and Logistics: Another 'A' in my book. I had no problem getting my packet, chip or body marking. The woman doing the marking even held some of my stuff while I pulled off my hoodie. She, like all of  the volunteers I encountered, was friendly and helpful. It was a tough day to be out working the race and I tip my hat to all of them.

Attention to Safety: The water conditions really were intense and to the uninitiated, scary. Offering folks the chance to either stay out of the water or swim a shorter route was a good call. We'll never know, but it might have saved someone's life. If you think I'm being dramatic, see this item or this one. Race directors need to take this risk seriously. Lance Panigutti did and he deserves a lot of credit for it.

Course and Venue: I'll admit that this would be a lot more fun on a sunnier, warmer and calmer day, but this is a good spot for a race. It's a short run from water to transition and the transition area is spacious enough to allow one to move through it without bumping shoulders with fellow-competitors. In addition, closing the bike and run course to traffic means you only have to look out for other competitors. That's a real treat in races these days and one of the reasons to do this race.

Scheduling: I think this is about as early as you can have an all-outdoor event in Colorado and I'm glad someone is doing it. I don't think this, or any sprint, would ever be my 'A' race, but it sure is a good opportunity to start the season and shake down any flaws in training or technique.

Race Results: On the website by the afternoon after the race. I think 24 hours is a reasonable standard to publish results and these guys blew that away.

You never know what other races will come along and intrigue me, but absent that, I see no reason why I won't continue to come back again and again to do this one. I've had occasion to see a number of racing companies over the last year and I have to say that Without Limits is one of the best. In fact, I think they are good enough to start running events for outfits like WTC, Competitor and others. Colorado does not have Rev3 event? Maybe they should see about hiring these guys to put one on!

For me, I have a few things to work on before racing in Greeley on June 10. Chief among these is to practice my transitions. They need to be smoother and faster. Now that Grant Ranch has opened for the season, I'll also be out there doing my open water swimming and hopefully seeing improvement. I need to be better about using my Garmin. I'm denying myself some accurate timing data if I fail hit the Lap button at transitions and as I start each event.

Also, by no fault of the LBS who sold it to me, but by poor execution in production and distribution on the part of Blue Competition Cycles, I still do not have my tri bike almost two months after I ordered it. It seems that the wait my finally be over so I'm also hoping to see an improvement in bike speed. We'll see.

Final Results:

Swim: 19:54
T1: 3:14
Bike: 36:38
T2: 2:27
Run: 25:13
Total: 1:27:24

Finally, I have to say a big thanks to my wife, Tisha. Not only did she get up a 5:00 am just to come and watch me, but she stood out there in the freezing cold and took all of the pictures I used to illustrate this post. I'd do this without anyone there, but it sure means a lot that she was. Thank you sweetie! I love you very much!

Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead!

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