Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Race Report: Steamboat Triathlon

I’ve raced quite a bit over the last four season but this was really only the second time that getting to a venue involved a significant road trip—the other being HITS Sterling in 2012. This year we headed the other direction across most of the Colorado Rockies up into the breathtaking Yampa Valley:

It took longer than the 3 hours plus shown in Google but we did arrive a little after 1:00 for packet pick-up at a local hotel.

That left some time to go out to the race site just outside of town and check things out.
Officially, the event is called the Steamboat Triathlon at Lake Catamount. The lake itself sits just to the south of the town proper. It’s part of a community of some nice homes that include a club house, boat house and private lake. I got a sense of where the swim start and finish would be and walked around the parking lot that would serve as transition the following day.

After that, my wife and I drove part of the run course and then drove the bike course that followed a small county road which parallels the Yampa River as it runs through Steamboat. Once that was done, we checked into our hotel and relaxed until it was time to go grab some dinner.
Steamboat is far off the beaten path but that does not mean it has not been well established as premier vacation spot for many years. Historically, the location has some of the best snow conditions in the state and it’s just as appealing during the warmer “off season.” As a result, many businesses have been in the area for decades.
Such was the case with Mazzola’s Italian Diner right in the middle of downtown. It opened in 1970. My butternut squash ravioli was phenomenal. After a stop by the grocery store for some pre-race nutrition it was back to the room to call it an early night.
Race morning dawned before, well, dawn. I was up and getting ready a little before 5:30. After a discussion with my coach about nutrition, I’ve upped the calories I’m taking in. Rather than the usual Frappuccino and banana, I had a bagel with cream cheese and a bottle of Odwalla. I definitely felt stated going into and (as it turned out) during the race.
Getting back to the lake took very little time which was good because it was necessary to park about half a mile away from the transition area. A large field had been set aside for the purpose. I carried my bike out of the field and then rode it the rest of the way. Arriving early also gave me my pick of transition spaces. Having found some success setting up near the “run out” arch, I did so again. Without Limits continues to use the nice tall saw-horse type bike racks so getting hanging mine by the nose of the saddle was not a problem. Within minutes I had set up this neat, minimal transition area:

By this point there were still more than 30 minutes until swim warm-up started. I moved around some by walking to each end of transition and checking out the swim start. It was pretty cool still. The temperature when we left the hotel indicated 42* and I doubt it had broken 50* yet. Not long after, a rain shower started.
It was not your traditional soaker, just a very gentle shower. All the same, I covered my small transition area with a garbage bag. Another good reason why it makes sense not to spread your gear all over the place.
Given the damp and cool, I decided to don my wetsuit at this point. If I was going to be getting wet soon anyway, I might as well be better prepared. The timing was pretty good since swim warm-up had just opened. I headed off to the lake and got about ten minutes of swimming in before getting out. The lake was actually warmer than the air and the water was remarkably clear. Only the churning of feet on the muddy bottom affected the ability to see more clearly than I do at my neighborhood pool!
Preliminary race functions were not different than any other and after what felt like a short wait, it was time for me to join my start group which was the fourth overall.


I thought I would start by getting out in front of the field. I’m generally a pretty good swimmer and tend to finish near the top of my age group. However, lots of guys around me went out really hard (too hard as it turned out) so I let go of that notion quickly.
It didn't seem like I was swimming too hard, but for the first 200 yards or so, I was a bit winded. The washing machine, as always, made it difficult to find a rhythm and I was also dealing with a few panicky kickers, one of who swam under me and then started flutter kicking to get me off. Uggh.

Finally, I managed to start getting clear of others and work my way into a nice, manageable rhythm. Unlike indications on the website, the course was just an out and back style along a string of buoys not unlike Kona only less than half as long. Fortunately, this did not create any problems with head on collisions (at least not for me). The return leg was slightly longer than the outbound leg with the finish being at boat ramp. Here the churned up bottom created a problem with visibility. I saw several people around me standing so I did likewise figuring I could probably wade through kneed deep water faster than I could swim it. Problem was, the boat ramp dipped down again and I was soon back to chest deep. No matter—I was out and moving under the transition arch quickly.

My Time:  28:34—the course was long; my Garmin measured it at 1848 vs. the expected1640.
Official Time:  29:09—they start measuring when you enter the transition area, not when you exit the water.


I hustled up the beach and into transition fairly quickly. My bike was near the entrance and then it was just a matter of pulling off the wetsuit and pulling on the beanie, helmet and shoes. As I mentioned in my race plan, I decided to skip the socks for the bike.
I knew I was not moving as fast as I had hoped to, but I got my bike and ran hard out of the transition area, mounted and was on my way out to the course.

My Time:  3:11
Official Time:  2:33


The bike course starts off with a steep but short climb out of the lake area and then down a chip-sealed road out to Highway 131. There were other cyclists about of course (there was also a sprint distance going concurrently with the Olympic) but there was not a crowd. I tried to show patience as I passed folks who were meandering since there was still plenty of room to go around.
I was perhaps a bit winded to start, but I didn’t really pay attention. I just tried to push as hard as I could without burning any matches just yet.
Just over two miles in, you make a right turn onto Routt County road 14E and head north toward town. This is the first real climb of the course but I was up it easily and soon rolling back down the other side in the big ring. This is followed by a slight downhill until a sharp left by a large set of horse stables. The crowd was a little thick through here and I was going by some folks on the inside of the turn. I got past most of them except for one guy who seemed to be a match for my speed. I was probably risking a drafting penalty so I eased up and he seemed to open up the gap after that. The section ended with a short climb that included crossing some railroad tracks.
I pushed on all of the downhill sections the rest of the way to the turn figuring I would need to bank a little time before the turn and the climb back up to the finish. That turn around happens in a parking lot in front Howelsen hill which is where the local kids go for ski practice after school. The race emcee claimed past Olympians have trained there.
Once I was on my way back, I found that the climbs, while noticeable, were not slowing me especially. I have to note that I did not have MPH displayed on my Garmin but my Watts seemed good and my RPM was high and I felt pretty good. A look back at the data shows I was still running 17 – 19 MPH on most of return trip just slowing up occasionally and briefly on the especially steep sections.
Faster than I expected, I was approaching the left turn to go back over the railroad tracks. As I did, I saw a guy who had flown by me earlier now stuck on the side of the road with a flat. It seemed to me at the time that there were an inordinate number of flat tires that morning and not just on tubular wheels where that seems to be a common problem. Even folks with the basic road bikes and clinchers were off their bikes or being assisted by the support vehicle.
I asked the guy as I approached if he had what he needed to fix his tire. He replied that he had the wrong adapter for his CO2 kit. I had a full repair kit on my HydroTail so I tossed it to him and hollered my name and race number as I rode on just telling him to find me afterward. He was fast enough I figured he might pass me again.
Then it was time to make the turn. A volunteer was holding a car so I hit and cruised over the tracks. Hard. I’ve hit other obstacles in the road equally as hard before, but there must have been something special. At first I thought everything was okay but then it became apparent that I had flatted my front tire. Frustrated, I got off my bike and started walking down the road. My hope was that the support car would get to me quickly.
After about .3 mile or so, another rider got off her bike and told me she had hit a tack and was just pumping up her tire every so often to just get through the race. She offered the pump to me after she inflated her tire again. Try though I did, nothing was happening. I didn’t see much sense in delaying her any longer so I sent her on her way and proceeded to remove the tire and then the tube. I was really hoping the guy I left my repair kit with would show up and I could get a new tube on and get moving again.
Turns out, he did show up—walking his bike, clearly having been unable to affect repairs of his own. Right behind him was the support car so walked my now one-wheeled bike back to where they were a few hundred yards away.
The support crew was from a triathlon store called Kompetitive Edge in Sheridan which is a suburb in south central Denver. There were two mechanics in the car and they quickly changed my tire for me and did so far faster than I have ever done on my own. With my profuse thanks expressed to them and good luck expressed to my fellow athlete in the same predicament, I was on my way out again. I did not know the loss of time but have since determined about 16 minutes.
The other guy passed me not long afterward offering to buy me a beer for offering my repair kit. Unnecessary but thoughtful. By now, we had reached Highway 131 again but instead of turning back toward the lake, you actually go right and head down it for a mile or so. Not even a quarter mile after that right turn, I heard a loud pop and then saw him slowing and pulling over to the side of the road. I asked if there was anything else I could do, but I already knew the answer. He had hit a tack which left a big hole in his tire through which his tube was ballooning. Short of replacing the tube every half mile (and the Kompetitive Edge guys were out of tubes now) there was nothing to do. I wished him my best and proceeded on.
Once I had turned around and was now truly headed back to the lake, I took advantage of a sustained downhill pushing my speed into the upper 20/lower 30 MPH range. Then it was back onto that chip seal road for the last climb. I was about four minutes behind my goal time (not including the unplanned stop) but that included the section I had walked with my bike. I knew there would be no PR and no podium today, but I still wanted to have a good run.

My Time:  1:15:02 (moving time)
Official Time:  1:31:04


Once off the bike, I ran hard again into transition. It’s not a particularly big area so getting back to my rack was easy. The socks went onto my dry feet with far greater ease than they ever had when leaving the swim. My shoes have Yankz in them and they were on quickly too. I don’t think I did a lot of rushing, but I was out quickly.
My Time:  1:37
Official Time:  1:33


All of the “excitement” on the bike had somewhat caused me to forget the fact that there was still a 10K run waiting for me whenever I got back to transition. I headed out and started cruising the initial downhill section at what felt like a comfortable pace.
That pace was actually well below 8:00/mile but it felt okay and since, like the bike, this one involved climbing back uphill on the return leg, I decided to stay with it.
At times, I found myself thinking way ahead to the end of the race and had to remind myself to think about the next mile instead. How far along on the current mile? How far to the next? Good, focus on that. It was not quite a mantra but it is how I kept myself focused and not overwhelmed by trying to strategize the whole distance at once.
Right around 1.5 miles, or just under a quarter of the way through, the course turns onto a smaller road used to access some of the properties on the far side of the lake. Most of this is flat to down, but just after 2 miles, there is short 11% grade section that not only slowed me down, but quite frankly hurt. From then until the turnaround cone, there were a series of ups and downs before descending a steep hill. From there, it’s across a narrow bridge and then up an 8% grade for a tenth of a mile before the turn. My pace dropped to around 10:00/mile in that section.
The halfway done point has always been symbolically important to me. It seems to help to know that whatever is left is less than what has already been completed. That was just as true here as I headed back. I knew my pace would slow some going up hills, but I did my best to take advantage of any downs and push the pace when I could.

Just before the five mile mark, I made a deal with myself that I would slow up a little too avoid blowing up. I was right on the edge of sustainability and though there was only a mile left, a lot can happen in that space. My easier pace did not last long. I wanted to be done more than I wanted to ease up. After about a quarter mile or so, really involuntarily, I picked up the pace. I could faintly hear the PA and the emcee calling finishers and my watch told me there was just a short distance left. I pushed really hard through those last three-quarters of a mile doing most of it in the mid 7:00/mile range and finishing strong.

My Time:  49:39
Official Time:  49:38

My Overall Time: 2:38:03
Official Overall Time: 2:54:00

Take away the flat tire and my guess is that I would have been closer to a 2:34:00 time. I still would have missed the podium by about five minutes in that case so in the broader sense this one didn’t really cost me anything. Truthfully, I would rather that the flat happen here than at Harvest Moon in three weeks.
That race now becomes my main focus. I’ll be using some of my performance in Steamboat to help guide that race plan and, of course, will be having a detailed discussion about it with my coach.
For now, it’s back to training and being ready to kick butt at my last race of the season.

Thanks for reading!

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