Monday, September 17, 2012

Race report - my first Olympic distance triathlon in Portage Lakes, OH

The Portage Lakes race was my "A" race for the year, meaning it was the most important race for me in 2012. I have not been able to do the Olympic distance back in June in Deer Creek Park and there were a lot of "firsts" for me in this race, including first open water swim (in a race), first wet suite in a race (I had little practice on vacation in Canada this summer), and finally first Olympic distance race! This was almost too exciting and I was a bit nervous before the race. Having done three Sprint races in the past two years it was a big step up. The Olympic distance triathlon includes the following: 1,500 m swim (0.93 miles), 40 km bike (24.9 miles) and finally 10 km run (6.2 miles).

As it turns out there was another first in this race with the time 2:22:28. I won in my age group and was 9th overall :-). Results are posted here. I was hoping for the podium, but the first place was a nice result to have.

I started my taper 7 days before the race gradually shortening training rides and runs and swims, but kept doing workouts at race pace intensity or faster. Four days before the race I dropped all cross training, two days before the race had complete rest with no active work at all.

Portage Lakes is only 2 hours drive from Pittsburgh, so I decided to drive on Saturday and found a real nice camp ground in the park where I slept in my Honda Odyssey minivan. I removed all middle row seats and folded down rear seats and got myself 8 feet by 4 feet of sleeping space. I put a mattress inside of the car and slept like a king, except I could not sleep too well (always a hard thing for me to do before a race). It was about 48 degrees at night (9 Celsius), but I had plenty of warm and fuzzy things to keep myself in comfort. This was my first time sleeping in the car, so for a moment I thought - is it possible to suffocate with all windows being rolled up? I kinda knew the car is not airtight and all, but still.. who wants to die before his A race :-) ? On iPhone I googled up few articles and made sure I will be ok as it turns out there are some pretty detailed articles on the subject, here is one example.

On race morning I woke up at 6am (my race start time was 8:30am), ate half of the cooked yum potato, hot tea, whole wheat flat bread with about 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, an apple and left the camping site. It took only 10 min to get to the race where I setup my gear for transition. About 1 hour before the race I ate little more flat bread and seeds+nuts bar with tea and 20 min before start ate one GU gel with little bit of water.
It was still very cold in the morning and I feared the swim, considering that it had been only 48 degrees at night. But then to my relief the announcer said that the water was 72 degrees - much much warmer than the air and the swim was still wet suite legal! Lots of folks got into the water for warm-up, but I waited and only got into my race uniform 20 min before the race start. I did a little bit of warmup for 5  minutes, but nothing major. I think it must have been about 60 degrees at the time of the start and about 70 degrees at the time of finish.
Here is a brief video of the transition area. I do want to make a mental note to myself about the mistake I made on the swim - I did not water my goggles and just put them dry. This made the fog so bad that I could hardly see anything after the first 10 min of the swim and it did not occur to me to kick on the back to clean and adjust those darn goggles.


The swim consisted of two loops around buoys and swimming in wet suit was nice. To my surprise I even passed few people on the swim (and yes, there were folks who passed me on the swim). The swim part did not feel too hard (like it did for my Sprint pool swims). But the most difficult thing was to swim straight. I wish I had GPS with me to record all zigzagging I did... Regardless, my swim split was 29:58, which includes 1 min run into the transition area, which translates into about 1m 46 sec per 100 yards. Not a  bad result for me, but I guess this is a big help from the wet suit. I was the 5th out of the water in my age group.

Transition from swim to bike was easy and took 56 seconds. As always, I kept shoes clipped into the bike. I had the 4th fastest T1 in the race and that is considering the fact it was my first time pulling the wet suite off in a hurry - I did not practice this science before :-). I guess the other thing that helps is not to have socks when biking and do the fly mount on the bike.

It was very cold for the fist 15 minutes of the bike while I was still wet from the swim and did not warm up enough. I biked hard, but not all-out hard to keep something in my legs for the run. Not a single person passed me on the bike, except for one guy 29 years old (according to his markings on the leg) who kept passing me after I would pass him for the n-th time. About 20 min into the bike I took one GU gel and 10 minutes before completing the bike took another GU gel. During the bike I had consumed almost a full bottle of Gatorade, which I carried in between my aerobars. The bike course had few hills. My bike split was 1:12:57 - fastest in my age group, which means 20.4 mph average, but considering hills this is not bad. In fact, the roads were open to traffic during the race and I had to pass a car on the left using the incoming traffic lane once on the hill when that car was stuck going slow behind bunch of riders who were walking bikes up the hill. There were a handful of other times when cars in my lane made me adjust speed a little bit. Overall the traffic was not bad at all, but it could have been even better without it.

T2 took me 45 seconds - that was also the 4th fastest T2 in the race. I planned to run in socks, but during transition setup in the morning decided to run with no socks, just like I did all Sprint races. This seemed to be a great decision as my Kinvaras felt very comfy during the run. I never run in training with no socks - only when racing.

The start of the run felt hard, but in about 10 min I finally got my legs back from biking and settled into the pace going at constant speed (at least I felt it was constant). The funny thing about my past two Sprint races was that by the time I started running well and feeling good and increasing the pace, the race was over. Here on 10K run I had a lot more time to run in a "normal leg condition". I decided not to wear my Garmin GPS for the race as it is a hassle to put it on and did not want to lose any more time in transition than I had to. On the run I also passed a lot of people and only one guy passed me in the last 50 yards on the finish line, but since I saw his marking on the leg stating he was 32 years old and not in my age group, I did not bother to out-sprint him, although I feel sorry about it now as it would have been a fun thing to do (easy to say it today - not so sure I had much left in me yesterday). My run split was 37:50, which is about 6:05 pace - second in my age group. This is faster compared to my Sprint races, but not surprising - for one, the run course was mostly flat, plus I increased intensity of training runs this summer. In training I ran intervals of 800 yards at 5:30 to 6 min pace and this seemed to help a lot. This season was the first time I started doing a mix of intervals, hill repeats, tempo and long runs. All the previous years I did not feel ready for this kind of work and simply ran at comfortable pace anywhere from 7:30 to 9 min depending on the distance with long runs on weekend.

Here is me 30 minutes after the finish and after having lots of oranges, bananas and watermellon pieces :-).
So far this was all good stuff. Now about the bad stuff. One VERY negative experience that most people got in this race was that the the run course was totally screwed up. In one particular spot nobody knew exactly which way to go and there seemed to be no race official to direct people. I had to stop three times (!!!) on my two big loops and ask for directions and exit to the finish as people seemed to go into different places. The turnaround points had no timing mats and no officials. No, I did not see anybody cheat, but one could if he wanted to. Because of the poor markings of the run course, I thought I only needed to do two big loops and two small loops and was sprinting to the finish only to find out that I had to do one more small loop, after which I accelerated to the finish and found out I had to do one more small loop, after which I did not have much strengths to accelerate anymore as I was not sure how many more small loops they will tell me to do, but thank goodness that was the last one. Whoever designed the run course, needs to be educated on how to do it properly and draw proper pictures before posting on the race website. Now I am looking at the top overall winners of the race and it shows that #1 and #2 runs for this 10K are respectively 1 min 22 sec and 2 min 42 sec slower than the world record for 10K. How realistic is that that the guys did 1,5K swim, 40K bike and only came within 1 or 2 min of the world record meaning they ran at 4m 27 sec pace for 10K in triathlon? The 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Alistair Brownlee ran an incredible 29:07 this summer to win the Olympic triathlon race in London. At the same time if you look at the results for this race, you can see that two of the top 10 finishers ran this 10K in 29 min and 27:42. I guess they should have represented USA in London then - these guys ran faster than Alistair was in London! Very very disappointing. I bet you some top finishers likely did not do 4 small loops as I and others were directed to do. I don't pretend for the overall win, but it just shows you that not only I was confused with the run course.

I was 11th fastest overall on the bike, but only 19th fastest overall on the run and 37 overall on the swim. I am usually almost as good of a runner as I am a biker, but the results this past weekend show me being twice as far from the top on the run as on the bike - at least compared to other folks. At the same time being 37th on the swim out of total of 88 is an improvement for me as I am usually in the second half out of the water - and yes, I did see plenty of people cutting corners on the buoys during the swim with nobody stopping them.

I find it interesting to compare my results to the results from this summer Olympics in London. In summary, I swam 76% slower than the first place Olympic winner, biked 24% slower and ran 30% slower.

Race results were not announced until Monday afternoon, so I took home and snapped last two pics on my iPhone while driving:
What's next? Well, next year I plan on doing Half-Ironman race or two, plus a couple of Sprint and Olympic races (perhaps one of each). I am not sure yet. In the meantime, I definitely need to work on my swimming and I already found a swim / triathlon coach - Kimberly Schwabenbauer to help me with that. I will describe my swim learning experience in a future post.

I also got myself a new pair of Newton Gravity shoes, which I did not even wear leading to the race as I am so used to my Saucony Kinvara, which I love, but want to experiment with shoes as I am feeling some tension in the front part of the sole of my right foot - near middle fingers (could it be the front part of the plantar fascia?). Usually it is the back part of it that causes problems, so I am not sure what is going on. I feel this every time for a couple of days or even more after high intensity runs.