Monday, September 1, 2014

Harvest Moon Triathlon Race Plan

With just six days left until my "A" race and my final race of the year, it's time to share my plan for accomplishing the goals I've set for the Harvest Moon triathlon. It's also a "half-iron" distance race which means 70.3 miles. The Summer Open Sprint and Steamboat races were certainly important to me. Each was a validation of my training to that point in the season. However, everything I've been doing since the week after Christmas of last year has been aimed at having a successful race this coming Sunday.


This is as about as "in-town" as it gets for me. The race venue, Aurora Reservoir, is perhaps 15 minutes from home. I've race here twice before in 2012 and 2011, both the Rattlesnake Olympic distance triathlon. That's not to say I won't spend a fair amount of time making sure I'm dialed in and ready to race. Pre-race factors are nearly entirely within my control so there's no sense in making the race more difficult from that stand point.

My coach advised me to have my first meal at 4:00 am which is awfully early, but I am going to target a window of 4:00 - 4:30. I had a lot of success last time with a bagel and Odwalla super food drink so I'll go with that again. I also had a small cup of coffee so that might be on the table as well. 

Of course, that means three or more hours will pass before my wave starts at around 7:45 (probably later because I've seen only about one race start exactly on time). I'll eat a gel about 30 minutes ahead of my start which should top me up. I'll have some water, but constantly having to pee is no good so it will be in moderation. I'll make sure I'm staying well but not over-hydrated the day before the race. The idea is to make sure my blood plasma is maximized but not to the point that I'm leeching out electrolytes.

Arriving at the venue early was a good move last time so I hope to be at the reservoir when they open that gates at 6:00. I'm sure there will be a long line of cars so it's also a good idea to be there early to deal with that. Nothing good happens when you are rushed setting up your transition.

As usual, my transition area will be minimal. Six days out, the forecast calls for dry conditions until I'll be (hopefully) on the run. Nevertheless, I'll bring a kitchen garbage bag to cover up shoes, socks and visor in case the rain rolls in earlier than expected. Mostly, I just follow what I did in Steamboat where transition went very well.

I'll plan on getting about 10 minutes of swim warm-up in. My coach advised a ten strokes hard, ten strokes easy approach so I'll follow that. It will help focus my mind and prepare me to establish a rhythm after the start. Once that is done, there's usually no choice but to wait. 


I don't think there's a practical way to avoid the crowds and general chaos of the start. Rolling starts mitigate that, but this is not a rolling start. I'll just have to stay as calm as possible and realize that to worst of it is in the first couple hundred yards. It's a single loop out and back so I think the crowds will thin. There are also only three groups before mine including some elites so while I may catch a few people ahead, I think most of it will be clear.

I've done less open water swimming than in years past, but I've done a lot more overall swimming. It will be important to keep this in mind and just focus on establishing a rhythm. That ought to lend itself to a decent pace, especially in a wetsuit. I won't be going super hard. Rather, I'll go at the threshold just below the point of things becoming uncomfortable.

If I remember, I'm going to kick a little more broadly and actively as I approach the shore. Getting more blood into my legs ought to leave me a little less wobbly once I hit dry land again.

Goal Time 34:00 - 36:00

Transition at this venue is long. I estimate it's more than 0.15 mile from the shore to the entrance of the area and then it could even longer to where I rack my bike. I'm going to try and get it close to the entrance, but that's sometimes a luck of the draw thing. Last race demonstrated that skipping socks for the ride is the good way to go. I did IM Boulder 70.3 sockless last year with no ill-effects so it will be this time as well. Getting out of the wetsuit can be a challenge (I tore mine at my first Olympic race three years ago). However, this will likely be the last time I swim in this suit so while I won't try to tear it, I'm not going to be too upset if I do. Then it's just run like hell out of the area and get on the bike.

Goal Time 3:00 - 4:00


The initial stages of the ride are characterized by a steep down hill. I'll use that time to get a little water in my system and make sure the legs feel good. I expect that gravity alone will have me going faster than average which is fine, but there are a couple of turns and the roads could be wet so caution factors in. No one wins the bike in the first two miles so tearing it up through here does not make a lot of sense.

Upon the right turn onto Quincy, you begin a series of rollers but mostly it's a climb. It's at Quincy that I will start the clock on my nutrition and begin my power-based strategy. The coach and I discussed this and I'm going to follow his recommendation for how to approach the race. I'll set the Garmin to display my 10 second peak power rating. If you want to truly understand that you should read Joe Friel's book on training with a power meter. For the purposes of this race, it's going to serve as a benchmark. 

For the last six or seven weeks, my average power for that particular metric is 340 watts. My coach recommended I stay in a range of plus of minus 50 watts so 290 - 390. That number will like increase as I climb the hills and then drop back down as I descend. Since power is an immediate read on how hard I'm working, it should provide me with a guideline about whether I'm in range, working to hard or not enough.

The initial rollers have some steep sections, but nothing overly difficult. When I mapped it using, it came back with only two rated climbs on the route, both level 5 (the easiest) and those are later in the race. I think the key to doing well in the first 10 miles is staying to my power strategy and keeping my cadence fairly high. 

I'm aiming for about 300 calories an hour on this one so my first nutrition intake will be in at the turn around point to head back west on Quincy. I'll be taking a super-concentrated bottle of Gu Brew and some Honey Stinger gels to meet my nutrition needs.

After ten miles, there's going to be a lot of down hill. Again, I don't plan on destroying my legs, but this will be a good chance to pick up some speed and bank some time. This course is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere so wind can be a factor and if it's coming from the north, then it's going to bleed off some speed as I roll down Watkins Road toward the town for which it is named. There's nothing I can do about that but stay as aero as possible.

Upon arriving in Watkins, the next turn is right and east toward the town of Bennett. It's flat to down through here so, again, barring any wind, it should be a good chance to make decent time. However, cadence and power discipline will override and desire to open it up. It is a 56 mile ride after all.

A bigger challenge happens just east of Bennett when you turn right again and are heading south on the Kiowa-Bennett road (so named because it connects these two tiny burgs). The stretch is a little over 8 miles and has a grade that averages less than 1%. However, that's not a constant number so there will be some stretches where I'll be headed uphill. If the wind is out of the south, this could be even more challenging. I think the key here will be not to blow up the legs. This is well into the second hall of the ride and fatigue will no doubt be factoring in more. I don't want to ease up too much, but if I drop a little below the 290 watt level on 10 second power, that will be okay.

Things get harder after the right turn back onto Quincy Road, now headed west. After a short drop, you're greeted by the first of the two rated climbs. Map My Ride says 1.6% for 3.6 miles. It's nothing like the monsters we climbed on the Experience Ride back in June but there are no extended breaks or huge caloric intakes here either. There are also a couple of false summits along the way which are never good when you're expecting an extended downhill section.

That down hill section of over 2.5 miles does come shortly after the intersection with Tom Bay Road. I've raced and ridden out here a few times so I know the area. By now, the course is on the same stretch of road that was used by the Rattlesnake Triathlon. On the advice of my coach, I'll use this down hill for some recovery. Gravity will have me going plenty fast as it is.

There's one rated climb after that descent. A shorter but steeper 1.9% grade for 1.75 miles. That's half the distance of the previous hill so it should feel mercifully shorter. High cadence spinning will be the key to finishing it successfully. Then it's mostly down back to the reservoir entrance. 

Despite not being a rated climb, this is a tough section. As you would imagine, Aurora Reservoir is perched up high and its dam looms large above you as you ride in. I've seen plenty of "heroes" ride their bikes hard along this two mile section. It's probably one of the more pointless things you can do. If you've lost time, trying to make it up here only makes a bad situation worse. If the bike were the end of the race, then it might be okay, but remember, there's still a half marathon left to be run.

Goal Time: 2:50:00 - 3:05:00


My best T2 has been at this venue. I don't know that the transition area will be the same, but I don't imagine it will be much different either. I'll do my usual fast as I can approach. I might grab a little water if there's some left in my bottle but then it will be out the run start and on my way.

Goal Time: 1:30 - 2:00


Without question, this has been my achilles heel at this distance. Even in Austin where I turned in my best performance, I did not run especially well. Since that time, I've done a lot more running including some painfully intense workouts. I'm lighter, faster and stronger than I've been since probably my twenties so I have several advantages coming in.

Nevertheless, I am very wary of blowing up on the run. Unlike a bike where a power meter and cadence sensor can go a long way toward helping you maintain a strategy, running is far more by feel. The key to success in this stage will be establish good pacing. By that I mean a pace I can maintain for all 13.1 miles. 

In the course of my training, I've done some long runs at sub 10:00 pace. Those have been a mix of hard intervals and slow recoveries. This needs to be more steady state. At the start, that probably means that the pace is going to feel too slow and too easy. 

The other key to success is to take the race mile by mile. More than once, my coach warned me not to look at the finish area which is visible across the lake, especially after you reach the turn around point. Depending on winds and ambient air conditions, it may even be possible to hear the PA system as folks are finishing. Tuning that out those audible and visible inputs will be second only to focusing on the next mile.

My coach also pointed out that the tendency among tall guys is to start striding out late in the race. That should be avoided because it's likely to lead to leg fatigue and cramps. Keeping a shorter stride is in line with maintaining a conservative, consistent pace. That's what I'll try and keep in mind.

Every run section of the three half-iron distance races I've done to date involved some walking. In truth, it usually involved quite a bit. My goal is to keep running the entire time here. I might slow to a walk to take some water at an aid station, but that time will be measured in seconds. I really do plan to run the whole thing. If I can't, I can't but even then I'll try and minimize the breaks to just a minute.

Goal Time: 2:00:00 - 2:10:00
Total Race Goal Time: 5:50:00 - 6:00:00

The week ahead is a light one and I've been told to quit any workouts if things don't feel right. I doubt that will be necessary. In truth, staying calm and focused are bigger challenges this week. I don't expect I'll post again until the race is over, but you can expect a detailed race report afterward.

Until then, thanks for reading and good luck to any readers who also have big races coming up!

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