This past Saturday was the 1st race of the season - the inaugural Lake Guntersville Olympic Triathlon. Finish time was 3:22:51, which, compared to last years Chattanooga Olympic race, was 38 minutes faster! This was the 1st race where I actually felt somewhat prepared. If you read any of the reports from last year, you know that I did a poor job of race prep. as well as race execution. This year, however, things have changed dramatically and I feel better about my fitness and race 'potential' than ever before. And with that - here are the details from the race. Before - during - and after.
Going in to the race
I felt I was in a good place. My goals at the beginning of the season were to be in the 230's weight wise, and the Monday before the race, I weighed in at 234 lbs. My lowest in probably 10+ years. My nutrition has continued to be outstanding (see recent posts below) and I have learned so much from Endurance Nation that I felt like I had a good race execution plan.
The Saturday before the race, the local Tri club (Vulcan Triathletes) held a 'practice' race for another Sprint tri that will be held next month. I signed up for the practice mainly so that I would have an opportunity to race in a wetsuit in open water at least once before Guntersville. The bike portion of this practice was appx. the same distance as G-town, and the run was about half. Overall, I felt this practice served its purpose and I felt good about it.
One thing that did worry me was that a few days before this practice race, I injured by left achilles (no idea how) and it was bothering me big time! I mainly just sucked it up during the practice but had to cut my ride short on the next day (Sunday) due to the pain. I then skipped the next scheduled run to give myself 2 full recovery days to rest it before G-town. I then did a long run on Thursday which aggravated it again forcing me to basically dose up on ibuprofen for the race. As I type this, it is feeling much better - but I have had 2 days completely off of it since. I will run again on Wednesday, but I will say I am slightly concerned about Kansas in 3 weeks.
I arrived at G-town Friday night and met up with Kourey, my training/racing partner who was also doing the race. We checked into the hotel, went and picked up our race packets and then had Subway for dinner. I got my usual and we then went back to our respective rooms to chill for the night.
Race morning, my goal was to wake up around 3am and quickly get some calories in before going back to sleep. But when the alarm went off, my mind did a VERY quick mental calculation and told me that for an Olympic distance, race, I would not need the extra calories - and I went back to sleep. Not sure that was the right call, but the mind has a funny way of doing things at 3am!
I finally got up around 5am and had a protein shake, banana, and some coffee before meeting Kourey in the lobby. We loaded up and left for the event at around 6:20am. The swim start didn't start until 8am, so we had plenty of time.
Once there, we got settled into transition and got our timing chips. We basically hung out until about 30mins before the start when we then started putting on our wetsuits. The water temp was appx. 75 degrees, so it was just barely wetsuit legal! :) After donning the wetsuit, I went to the lake to do some swimming to get warmed up and loose. After a few race announcements I had 1 Gu and we were ready to go.
The swim + T1 (44:33)
The 1500 meter swim was a wave start from the water. Meaning the different waves would go to the end of the dock and jump in and wait for the siren to sound. Being a 'Clydesdale' (fat guy >200lbs), I got to start in the last wave which did not please me. I am not a strong swimmer and the thought of starting last on my weakest sport did not sit well. But... ya' gotta' roll with it, right? Anyway, the siren went off, and so did we. I felt pretty good, actually, on the swim and was surprised at how many folks I passed. But as I came around the next to last turn and started going for the buoy at the final turn, things got a little sideways. As I was swimming and sighting the buoy, it seemed to me that one of the rescue boats was slowly creeping into our lane because it kept getting closer and closer to blocking the buoy. And then the buoy finally disappeared. Once I got up to the boat, I literally stopped, removed my goggles, and asked the boat where the buoy was. It was then that I learned that it had blown off course, and they pointed me to another which lined me up with the finish. I knew I had swam off course, but have no idea how far off I was. The GPS on my watch says I swam 1.8 miles (for a 1500m swim). But I have a hard time believing that. But either way - given the buoy and my lack of swim speed, I am pleased with the time.
T1 was not officially timed, so the time is included in the swim time (T2 is included in the bike time). No major things to report for T1 other than having help with moving our wetsuits. That was a very pleasant surprise! After that, I had a smooth transition to the bike with no issues.
The bike + T2 (1:24:03)
The 24.9 mile bike ride was a little hillier than I had expected. But after pouring through the Endurance Nation race execution materials, I had a good plan to deal with whatever the course brought. I do not have a power meter, so I raced with heart rate. One of the things EN has its athletes do is test for the bike lactic threshold heart rate and then bases training/racing zones on that value. I had re-tested my zones 2 days before this race, so I had a very clear idea on where I wanted my HR to be during the race. The EN materials suggested racing an Olympic distance race in the high Zone 3 HR for the 1st 20 mins, then bump it up to the mid to high Zone 4 the rest of the way.
After the swim, my HR was hitting the high zone 4 and it took the entire 20 mins to get it settled down into zone 3. At this point, however, I got caught in a traffic jam. There was a portion of the race course on a winding, narrow road. It was at this point that a slow racer was basically blocking a few cars and a few us were trapped behind the cars. There was nowhere to pass - this lasted about 5 mins and I was extrememly frustrated. But... we eventually got to an opening and all cars and the rest of us could go around. Buy this time, my HR was easily in zone 2, so I started to hammer away - quickly getting into the low zone 4 range. BUT - at this point, I kept thinking about all of my races last year where I hammered the bike and stunk up the run and the EN mantra of "there is no such thing as a good bike with a bad run" kept going through my head. So, in order to conserve for the run, I consciously lowered my intensity and raced most of the rest of the bike in the high zone 3's. Lastly, I ended up dropping my chain within 3 miles of the finish which cost me a little bit of time. Fortunately I was able to get it back on very quickly and cruise on in to T2.
Nutrition wise I drank 2 bottles of water (44oz) and had 3 Gu's on the bike.
I felt very pleased with the bike portion of the event considering I took it a little easier than suggested, getting stuck in a traffic jam and dropping my chain. I ended up having the 3rd best bike split of the 'fat guys' (and very respectable overall) which I am happy with.
T2 was also very uneventful. Dropped the bike off, changed into my running shoes, donned sunglasses and visor and was off.
The run (1:14:14)
The 6.2 mile run was, well, much hillier than expected! But before I get to that, I need to explain how EN trains/races with pace on the run. As with the bike tests, I did a run test where we do a 5k time trial in order to calculate our vDot (Google it). This vDot is then used to calculate our run zones based on pace. My vDot gives me a zone 3 of 11'24", zone 4 of 10'52", and zone 5 of 10'28". Based on the EN race execution for an Olympic race, I should race in the zone 3/4 for the 1st mile and then zone 4 for most of the rest - zone 5 all out for the last mile or so. Unfortunately I was not able to do this. But, unlike last year when I either pushed to hard on the bike, or was unprepared, it had nothing to do with dead legs or fitness. I honestly felt pretty good and thought I would run well. But (not to make excuses)...
Here is where I must share with you my run while trying not to sound like I am complaining or whining (although I am surely doing both!). While this was a 'less than optimal' run performance, I did learn a lot and it is a valuable lesson going forward. And because this was a "B" race, I am glad to learn the lesson at G-town rather than later at an "A" or "AAA" race (Kansas or Augusta).
Coming out of T2, as I said, I felt pretty good. We ran back the towards the same bike route so I was not surprised at these hills. Nice and rolling, but not too bad. After about a mile or so, I came upon the 1st aid station. I was not really in need of much, so I just got a small cup of water and kept going. I still had 1 Gu in my pocket and felt pretty good.
After a little bit longer, the race turned onto an unpaved (well, it may have been paved at one time - maybe?) road that was covered in pea gravel. While I wouldn't really mind running on pea gravel under normal circumstances, I was a bit unprepared for it during a regular triathlon. I almost felt like I was at the Xterra races at Oak Mountain that were being held the same day. The most difficult part, however, was that this portion of the run was also the steepest. 2 (maybe 3, I lost track after going up and down going and coming). Again, I was unprepared for this and had a hard time. My fault, however, for not being prepared for anything and not scouting the course well enough in advance. Lesson learned!
Back to the aid stations where I felt the race really lost something for me in terms of my overall satisfaction of the event. At the 2nd station, I was really ready for some more water as it was hot by this time of day and I had taken little water at the 1st. Here, however, there was no water. Only ice and Powerade. huh?? While I know most racers do fine with PA, I do not. Sports drinks just do not sit on my stomach AT ALL and if I drink them, I get knots in my stomach and I go downhill fast. I use Gu for my calories. So... I skipped the PA at this station and got a cup of ice that I dumped down my pants (don't laugh - try it! It works at keeping you cool!)
At the 3rd station, there again was no water - only ice and Powerade. At this point, I had to have something, so i took some PA and drank it. I drank very little so that it would not mess up my stomach (which it didn't), but I really was wanting some water - and my Gu.
I got to the turnaround point (which was at the bottom of a pretty steep and long hill) and started back the way I had come. At some point along the way was a 4th aid station, but I honestly do not remember where it was or what I would have gotten there, if anything. (dang, turning 40 sucks!). But I do remember passing #3 (or maybe THAT was #4) again and they were completely out of everything! Really?? It wasn't as if I was near the end of the pack - I wasn't winning, but there were many more folks behind me who were going to be depending on that station. I cannot believe it ran out - and I felt bad for the volunteers because they obviously felt back for us.
Anyway - continuing on, I went by station #2 again and by golly, they had large cups of water!! Woo hoo!! I felt like I was in heaven - took a cup, ate my Gu, and felt pretty good almost immediately. I was also back on pavement at this point and was getting excited about the finish. As I passed station #1 again (last one before the finish), I just grabbed some ice for the pants again, and ran on to the finish.
I felt pretty good at the finish - definitely left something on the course. Not happy at all with the run - but as stated earlier - I am glad to have learned these lessons on this race rather than an A race. All that said, I will not be doing this race again - there are too many other early season races to choose from (Rev 3 Knoxville, Nola HIM, IM Texas).
Conclusion and finish
After the race was over, I got a couple of cookies and a bottle of water. I was again surprised by the choices of post race food - no Coke that I could find, all fruit (watermelon) was gone, and some rice + sausage dish that didn't look appetizing. So - 2 cookies and water for me.
Kourey finished a couple of minutes ahead of me (congrats!), so we were able to pack up and leave together. We returned to our hotel, got cleaned up, and then headed to Pizza Hut for our post race lunch! And that, my friends, was my race day!
I want to give a special thanks to:
- My wonderful wife, Crystal, who puts up with my training schedules, out of town races, non-stop talk about everything triathlon, etc. Without her, I would not be able to do this and I love you for it!
- My 2 sons, Levi and Rylan who also put up with me when I tired and cranky from lack of sleep or tired from a long day. And for giving me hugs whenever I get home no matter what!
- Kourey for training with me and pushing me while we are out there and keeping me honest
- Joe, Geoff, and everyone at Bike Link Birmingham for keeping my bike in tip top shape and for fitting me in at the last minute for a quick repair for my rear derailleur cable and front brake cable a couple of days before the race.
- Endurance Nation for the incredible knowledge and resources that have improved my training in more ways that I can count and given me the race execution tools I need to make huge gains in my performance.
If I missed anyone on that list, well, sorry. It is getting late and this post is MUCH longer than I had anticipated. And I have to get up in 5 hours to (what else) go train! I hope you have a wonderful week... and until next time...