Sunday, August 19, 2012

Race Report: Rattlesnake Olympic Triathlon

My last race of the season brought on mixed emotions of relief that I was done with the rigorous training mixed with melancholy that this was my last race for 2012.

Nevertheless, I was happy to get up before the sun yesterday morning and drive to nearby Aurora Reservoir to race one more time. My last race had been the rewarding but particularly challenging HITS Sterling so it was nice to look forward to a distance with which I had experience and with which I could perform better.

Photos on this report are pretty light. The blog's chief photographer (aka my wife) was given the morning off after coming out for every other race I've done both this year and last year. I think she earned it!

Having done it four times already this year, I was able to set up my transition area with relative ease and even post this photo to my Facebook account:

While I had plenty of time to set things up and even swim a couple of warm-up laps, there was also decidedly less waiting around than I've had at other races. That was just fine with me. In short order, the national anthem was being played (by trumpet which was pretty cool ) and then it was time for the elites to start.


The Swim:

Like the Greeley Triathlon, this one was a time trial start with racers going into the water about every 5 seconds.  Similar to open water swim events, it was also a multi-loop course that involved a few feet of beach running in-between loops. While I like the time trial start, I'm less enthused about having to interrupt my swim to run and jack up my heart rate. But it is what it is.

I found myself at the front of the swim queue in short order and then it was time for a few high steps into the water until I was ready to take a dive and proceed forward. It's a pretty big field but the crowding was still decidedly less than it is in a mass start. Since it involves two loops I found myself at the far buoy quickly and was soon on my way back. This race is interesting since swimmers on the first lap go back on a line that is parallel with the one they took out. A rope stretched between the buoys forms a barrier that prevents head-on collisions. I ran into a couple of times and was glad it was there.

After my run around the orange buoy and entrance back in the water, my heart rate recovered quickly enough and I was back out to the far buoy in short order. At this point, instead of flipping a U-turn like before, you make a right turn and go across a short distance before making another right turn. It's there that you head for the swim exit which is just down the beach from the start.

Despite what this map shows, I really did start my transition on land. Google Maps just took the photo when water levels at Aurora Reservoir were much higher. A note on the water: the lake has a much deserved reputation for being clear and cool. Water is pumped in from mountain sources and it makes for a nice swim experience. However, I don't really think it affected my times.

Wetsuit strippers were on hand and I gladly took advantage of their services before heading back up to the parking lot transition area. All told, the total distance from shore back to my bike was about 0.2 mile so that lead for a bit longer in T1 than I would have liked, but it was not the worst thing either.

The Bike:

I was somewhat familiar with the bike course having done a few training rides in the area. There's no better way to describe it than rolling. For every up there was a down and vice-versa. It became apparent early on that the best way to handle the ups would be to spin in low gear and then recover on the down side. As a result, I stayed entirely out of the big ring. I suppose for 0.25 to 0.5 mile stretches I could have increased speed from 28 to 32 mph, but I doubt it would have made much of a difference on my time. I was also dropping a lot of folks on the uphills. I went back and forth with one guy a few times with him always passing me on the down while I went by him fairly quickly on the up. That told me I was doing the right strategy. I stayed ahead of him from about 1/3 of the way in and didn't see him again.

Wind was definitely a factor, but not a big one. A breeze that felt like it was gusting to about 15mph was coming out of the north. Fortunately, the bulk of the ride was on an East-West trajectory so while it was annoying to have a cross-wind, it didn't slow me up much. In fact on the way back as I climbed the hill back up to the reservoir, it was at my back.

The race organizers had a good police presence on the open-road course and that ensured that anyone driving by was nice and civil! The motorcycle deputy who went back and forth was no doubt helpful in that regard. All-in-all, I'd have to say the Arapahoe Sheriff's department did their organization proud. The last half mile or so was down hill to transition and that gave me a few minutes to try and soft pedal some of the lactic acid out of my legs in anticipation of the run.

The Run:

There's no question in my mind that the run is the most difficult part of any triathlon. It's the point of the race at which you've already expended considerable energy and pushed your body to great lengths, often for well over an hour. 

Still, compared to what I felt coming out of T2 last year, I felt not bad. I don't know if that is just being lighter and in better shape or if I have become used to the difficulty of coming off a bike and powering on nothing more than my own two feet. Whatever it is, I'm grateful for it.

This one started pretty well. I felt relaxed and thanks to the cool breeze that was going, I never felt especially warm. I drank all 20 ounces of my nutrition bottle and probably about 1.5 quarts of water on the bike portion so I felt pretty good from that perspective as well.

This race's run portion involves an out and back along a paved bike trail that runs on the south side of the lake. There are some rises but nothing that I would call a hill. I was especially happy to be on a surface that didn't slip when I stepped on it (looking at you HITS run course!). Through four miles I felt good but also could feel fatigue starting to set in. I decided to go just a little slower on mile five and try and bring my heart rate back down. 

Time seems to pass more slowly when you're trying to finish strong and with the snaking course (it is called the Rattlesnake Tri after all), there was also the frustration of being able to see the finish area but knowing I still had closer to two miles to go. There were also a couple of those rises at the end that I could feel in my quads. I managed to power through and finish on a good sprint. I didn't realize it at the time, but I also hit a modern-day PR for a 10: with 50:47. Woot!


I've done my reviews in the past with the The Good and The Bad, but I've never been comfortable calling something bad unless it was just terrible. So starting now, I'm going to refer to these sections as Next Time as in next time the race organizers ought to do such and such and The Good as in they did this very well.

Next Time:

I'm not understanding the need to do a multi-loop swim. I know there are boaters and such but it seems to me that asking them to delay the start of the day on the water for an hour just a few times out of the year would be a good choice. Longer races (specifically a 140.6) present their own challenges for doing a single loop, but not here.

There was a three hour window last Sunday to do a pre-race packet pick-up. That's better than nothing, but I think it still makes more sense to allow folks to come to the venue and pick up their material the day before they race. Being able to do a race-day pick-up is always a good thing and I'm glad they did that, but I'd rather save time and have all my material before hand. But it was not a big deal either.

The Good:

This year marked the tenth running of the Rattlesnake Tri and they clearly have learned from past experience.

Venue: Aurora Reservoir is a great place to do this. There's lots of parking for both transition as well as participants and spectators, a beautiful lake and great spots for both the bike and the run. I did not realize until just this year what a good spot it is.

Pre-Race Communication: Top notch and excellent use of their Facebook page. I knew all about the event in advance. Maps were posted early on giving anyone who was so-inclined the opportunity to preview the course. I was very happy with all of the information I received. I even managed to get my bib-number online before race day which allowed me to be body-marked before I picked up my packet.

Volunteers: No one will probably ever come as close as the folks in Sterling, but these people still did a great job. I got a water with no problem at the bike turn around and they even set up a kids soccer net to drop your bottle. Water and Gatorade were at the ready at each mile on the run course. I'm sure it's one of the most tedious volunteer assignments to stand out on the bike course and hold traffic or point the way, but it sure is nice to see someone making sure you don't go off-course. These folks were all great and I really appreciate all they do to make races a success.

Finishers Medal: Probably the most unique one I've seen. It's a little bit like a military dog tag and it is also part bottle opener:

The slogan on the medal is Swahili for "Running Strong As a Lion"

Post-Race Nosh: Bagel sandwiches. cookies, carrots, fruit and best of all, beer! I've seen some pretty impressive spreads after foot races where you burn far fewer calories. This was the best line-up I've ever seen at a Tri. 

Barring conflicts with my schedule or other races, I'd like to think that I'll be back for many more of these to come. I walked away with a PR and a good race experience. If you're looking for something in Colorado later in the season, this one is fantastic. What's better, if you don't want to do the Oly on Saturday, there's a Sprint on Sunday. If you're a glutton for punishment or maybe just a little crazy, you can also do the Back-To-Back option and run both!

Final Numbers:

Swim: 27:06
T1: 4:19
Bike: 1:22:21
T2: 1:23
Run: 50:47

Total: 2:45:56 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Training and Drinking Wine

Since Tuesday, I've been here in Napa County balancing eating good food and drinking good wine with trying to get a few workouts in. The wine drinking and eating have gone really well. Fortunately, the workouts haven't been too bad either.

Tuesday I got a little of extra inspiration when we did our first tasting at a place called Velo Vino. That's right, it's a cycling-themed tasting room. The sign outside was enough to draw my attention:

Turns out this place was started by Gary Erickson who is the founder of CLIF Bar. Like so many others who have had success in other areas (Francis Ford Coppolla for example) Gary and his family decided to get into the wine business. 

This place was definitely unique from other tasting rooms. Sure, there's a variety of wines to taste. But there's also an espresso machine and and they also sell a variety of cycling nutrition products (CLIF brand, of course). 

It's a great place and one I'm sure I'll return to on future trips.

Flash forward to Wednesday morning and it's time to go for a ride on my rented bike. The LBS here in Calistoga is just down the street from where I'm staying which was convenient and helpful. There are lots of places to do some serious climbing around here but 1) the roads get pretty narrow and 2) I didn't want to.

Instead, I did a ride up and back on Silverado Trail which is the lesser used but more scenic highway that runs up and down the Napa Valley.

I felt pretty strong on the entire ride and even managed to pick up the pace on the last five miles or so. It was also good I got an early start. Though in the low 60 in the morning, afternoon highs are breaking 100* every afternoon. thanks.

There's video of the ride coming, but it is going to need some pretty heavy editing. I'll post it in the near future.

I returned the bike after the ride and enjoyed the balance of the day first tasting and then enjoying some time at a local mud bath followed by a massage.

This morning, I knew it was important to follow-up the ride with a solid run. There's the Rattlesnake Triathlon coming up in just over a week and the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in about six weeks. The latter is perhaps not my "A" race but it is nevertheless the one with my most ambitious goal of under two hours.

I felt pretty good if not fantastic during my eight mile run around this area. It was a fairly flat course, but I also got after it pretty well  and ran what, for me, is a good pace:

I'm going to take the next couple of days off and then it's back for more open water swimming at Grant Ranch and the slow taper leading up to my final triathlon of the season on the eighteenth of this month. More to come soon.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The 70.3 Post Mortem

With a few days perspective, I feel like I’m in a good place to look at my race and judge what went well and what could have gone better. I’ll say at the outset that I definitely want to do this distance again, though not this year! As much as anything, I’m confident in my ability to improve.

What I Did

The Swim

There’s not much to say here. I had a goal of 35:12 and I finished in 38:39. However, the swim course was long—0.2 mile long to be specific. Adjusting for that, I swam it a little over 33:06. I’m swimming well. I may spend the off-season doing things like working on form and attempting to learn the flip-turn, but as far as open water goes, I’m where I need to be.

The Bike

I rode about five minutes faster than my conservative goal of 3:15. I didn’t want to be too aggressive about how fast I was going, considering the long run that awaited me after the finish. I’m pleased that I was able to stay well-hydrated and well-fed during this stage. I may have been tired and hot when I got to the run, but I never bonked. It’s always great to finish ahead of a goal, but I’m also satisfied to have essentially done what I planned on doing.

The Run

Ah, the run. What can I say about it? Through three races this year, I did better than expected. I was much faster at Summer Open Sprint. I was faster still at Greeley.  I was surprisingly faster at Boulder Peak. Finally, I was slower than expected at HITS. I’m not too unhappy about that, however. I saw a lot of folks struggle on that hot, dusty run and since it was my first time at that distance, I’m giving myself a break on what was my slowest half-marathon on record.

Running strategy has been a tricky for me. It’s the area in which I’ve seen the greatest year over year improvement. It’s also the area that concerns me the most. I want to run more and run faster, but I also feel especially vulnerable to injury. What’s clear is that at 10K or less, I’m doing pretty well. The time of 52:23 at the Boulder Peak is evidence of that. I’m less prepared for longer distances.

What I Would Do Differently

The Swim

What would I have done differently? In all honesty, there is not much.  I can probably squeeze a minute or two off my 1500 time and that might help me reach a new PR in the Oly distance, but other than that’s about it... I did a lot of open water training this year and I expect to do that again next year.

The Bike

To improve on the ride portion of any race, I need to do more long rides and increase the maximum distance of my longest ride. Having my bike breakdown on a 50 mile training ride was not helpful, but that should have been just one in a string of long rides. In actuality, the long rides were more like a handful.

Next year, I’ll plan on building up to the long mileage. I found myself discouraged or not motivated when a 60 mile ride came up on the training schedule. I can avoid that by doing several 40 to 45 mile rides first. Additionally, I need to plan for those long, most-of the-day type rides just to over-distance for the race. 56 miles ought to look like a walk in the park after going 70 plus.

Additionally, I need to find a good interval plan. I did pretty well with that earlier in the year but let it go as I focused on longer distances. That may not have been entirely wrong, but perhaps it would have done me some good. I suspect that my intervals may have been a little too aggressive and ended up wearing me out rather than effectively training me. It’s worth looking at for next year.

The Run

My run is the tale of two distances. On 10K or less, I’ve improved significantly over 2011. I’ve lost about 10 pounds over last year and I’ve developed my strength to the point that I’m able to run at paces in the 7:00 range for sprints and 8:30 or better for the Oly. At longer distances, my endurance clearly is not where it needs to be.

Earlier this year, I swore off bricks. They did me some good last year when I had never done any multi-sport racing. If nothing else, they mentally prepared me. Through three races, the lack of a brick did not harm me.

However, I think a modified brick would do me some good in preparing for the 70.3 distance. The point of such a race is endurance and nothing drives that like riding and then running. I don’t think I need to build up to a 56 mile ride followed by a 13.1 mile run, but perhaps doing five or six after a long ride might help. I’ve heard BRICK stands for Biking and Running, It Can Kill. But done properly, I suspect it can be especially valuable.

At this point, I don’t see a lot of value in hiring a coach or paying for a training plan. Experience is still the best teacher and I think I’ve developed some good perspective on how to approach this distance in the future.

For the rest of this year, there are two more major events for me. First the Rattlesnake Triathlon on August 18. This is an Olympic distance race that includes a ride portion on East Quincy Road where I’ve done several training rides. The run course appears to be flat and on a paved trail which also favors me. Heat, as it always is, will be a concern, but I’m confident in my ability to combat it.

Once that one is over, I’ll be focusing on the Rock and Roll Half Marathon on September 22. My goal for that one is to run a sub 2:00:00. I feel like I can do that, but I’ll be doing a lot of prep in anticipation.

Before all of that, though, I’m off for a few days in the Napa Valley. Training will continue while I’m there, of course, but it will be a nice respite from the normal routine.

Thanks for reading!