Yesterday was my first triathlon since Ironman-Melbourne in March 2013 – more than two years. The “Tri for Real” is organized by TBF Racing. These guys have been organizing races for almost 25 years and they are the best local races I’ve experienced. Major kudos to the team there.
My objectives for the race:
1. See how fit I really am (as to compared to how fit I think I am). I’ve been training since March for the Donner Half Iron race, upcoming at the end of July, and with about seven weeks of training to go, this race was perfect timing for a status check.
2. Be fast. I’ve been pushing hard in training rides and swims, and I wanted to see if the training is paying off in terms of speed and endurance. How hard could I push in the swim and have a very good bike? How hard could I push on the bike and have a very good run? How hard could I push on the run without cramping or blowing up?
3. Find a spot on the podium. I’ve aged up to the 40-44 age group (AG) since last competing, and in my last shorter triathlon three years ago (sprint distance), I was third in my AG and fifth overall in the race. I felt that if #1 and #2 were true, then I should hit the podium.
Planning & Pre-Race
On Saturday night, I reviewed last year’s AG times and comparing the results and my perceived fitness, I put time ranges around each part of the race for myself:
Swim: <25 minutes would be an excellent swim, and achievable considering wet suits, drafting, and recent improvements on my form. I’d consider 26-27 minutes to be good. 28-30 minutes would be disappointing.
Bike: Maintain a 21 mph average speed, considering I averaged 19.1 mph on my long ride on Monday that included 1500’ of climbing. This race course is mostly small rollers – no real flat arounds and no climbs. 22mph would be achievable under the right conditions.
Run: 7:30 pace. I’ve been running very well lately and even with my elevation training mask, I ran 7:30s in Monday’s training session, so I figured on a race after a very hard swim and bike, 7:30 would be my minimum standard.
Actual race times:
Swim: 26:27. 10th AG, 36th overall
Bike: 1:10:07 (21.7mph). 7th AG, 29th overall
Run: 45:22 (7:17 pace), 6th AG, 25th overall
Final: 2:21:56, 25th overall
Swim: My swim was sloppy. I went out too hard, trying to stay with the lead pack so I could draft, and when I found myself spiking on heart rate and breathing, I scaled back and struggled to find a good rhythm. I felt like I was swimming erratically and couldn’t get the hip propulsion that I’ve been working on in recent swim training sessions.
I hit the first buoy and relaxed a bit on the backstretch. There, I found a bit of a rhythm from time to time, then it would escape me and I felt that I was swimming in a meandering path again, pulling myself constantly to the left. My right arm was doing way too much work and I found it all very frustrating. When I hit the far buoy and headed for shore, I was more relieved than anything. The final leg of the swim was probably the best overall in terms of rhythm and form, and I was just happy to get out of the water and start on the bike.
T1: Not bad, not good. No mistakes, just took longer than I should have. I took a minute to reset myself, but generally felt that I was an acceptable transition. In set up, I had my cycling shoes mostly pre-fastened so i could slip them on quickly. The air was warm and so I didn’t need to spend much time drying, figuring the air would do the job for me. I should have grabbed a Clif Bar to eat on the bike.
Bike: As usual, I had a couple of competitors pass me early on the course. These are usually much stronger cyclists that I simply out-swam. I’ve come to expect and accept this. The first 2.5 miles of the course leads through Rancho Seco Park to the main highway for most of the out and back course.
At least one of the racers that passed me was in my age group and I pretty much knew by mile one of the bike that I would be tough to podium given my swim and how early it was in the bike to get passed by an age group competitor.
Once I hit the highway, I started pushing and kept pushing the entire way. I felt like I was hammering pretty hard, and with the out course a slight rise, I was able to maintain a 22 mph average throughout. Counting the racers coming back before the turn, I figured I was in about 20th-25th place overall. Not bad, but a bad place to be for any chance at an AG podium. I thought that maybe I could eek out a fifth if I could find one or two AGers on the back of the course and a very good run.
While the back bike course was generally downhill, there was a steady headwind that made it a little tough. My legs were tired and I keep thinking about the interval training I’d been doing, and that I needed to keep pushing through to keep my time and pace targets.
After I hit the turn, I picked off a couple of racers. One was in my AG which made me happy to get a spot back, and the others were good mentally to know I took back a few overall spots. As I turned back into Rancho Seco park, I started thinking about the run and in a short rise into the park, I looked back and saw two cyclists gaining ground. It really didn’t matter if they passed me back, but mentally I wanted to keep them behind me because of the work I put into passing them. These last two miles are place on the course where it’s easy let down your guard and struggle into transition. It’s slightly uphill and mentally you think – “I’m done with the bike,” even though there are 2.5 miles to go.
T2: Very, very good. Racked my bike, slipped on my shoes and off I went. Ander a minute on T2. Very happy here.
Run: Keeping the 7:30 pace in mind, I wanted to start fast so my legs would just think – “Okay, so this is how fast we need to run.” The first half mile is flat, then there are a couple of rollers before the first aide station. I was passed pretty quickly by the cyclists that were just behind me coming into transition. One of them was a 58-year old that ended up finished 8th overall. Ahead of me I had one racer that I thought I might be able to pick off over time.
I was running a 7:15-7:20 pace which made me very happy knowing that my legs would smooth out after the first mile off the bike. The run course is a challenging one. The first 2.5 miles are rollers on a fire trail, then it flattens out for from 2.5-3.5 miles. The last 2.7 miles are a combination of an open trail run and returning to the finish line on the fire trails.
I kept my pace the first 2.5 miles and was thankful for the flat part of the course to make up some ground and to give my legs a break. The same racer ahead of me kept the same distance. I couldn’t close on him. We hit the open trails and while I continued to keep him in sight, as much for pacing than anything. Behind me, there were two more racers that were about 50-100 yards and I definitely wanted to hold them off as much as I wanted to try to grab a spot ahead. At mile four, a racer came out of no where and blew by all of us. He was pushing hard and I thought maybe I could use him as a pacer, that maybe my 7:20 pace could be faster with someone to run with. I tried to keep up for about 50 yards and found that to be completely futile. My left quad was burning and feeling like it could cramp up at anytime, so I settled back into my rhythm and just thought about getting off the open trail and back to the fire trail for the last mile.
I hit the final aid station and still had the same racer ahead of me. There were 2-3 more rollers and I started pushing harder with 1/2 mile to go and just couldn’t close enough – too much gap to close. About 1/4 mile to go I looked behind me and no one was there. My age group spot was locked at this point, and my overall place could be improved because of the wave start, so I kept pushing to carve as many seconds as I could from the final time. I hit the finish, and that was that.
I thought going into the race that I could vie for an AG spot and instead I finished 10th. I wasn’t disappointed, just surprised. With my final time, I would have placed 2nd in the 35-39 AG, so apparently I’m not the only one getting faster as he gets older. My hat off to everyone that competed, and especially to those that finished ahead of me.
1. Looking at the final results, I was under five minutes from a 3rd place AG spot, and I know where I can find those five minutes:
- Two minutes on the swim with more form work and practice in the open water.
- One minute on T1.
- Two minutes on the bike upping to a 22.5 mph average
- (I can’t see getting down to a 7:00 mile on the run quite yet. That will take some significant work for a one minute payoff so my focus right now is a more relaxed swim and continuing to improve on the bike.)
2. I had exactly the race I thought I could have – 26-27 minutes swim, 21-22 mph bike and <7:30 run.
3. Consistency across all three sports – 10th/7th/6th in my AG and 36th/29th/25th overall on the swim/bike/run. The bike is especially encouraging because this has been my weakest area in the past. The swim placement is a huge chance to improve.
4. Pre-race planning and set up. I was very relaxed and organized, and even got to the water in time to warm up and feel like I was ready to start the race. When I last raced these shorter distances three years ago, I was running to the swim start and jumping into the water with about 30 seconds to spare.
5. My transitions are improving. I’m super happy with my bike-to-run (T2) and I can see how to continue improving my swim-to-bike transition (T!).
6. My bike strength is improving. The interval training is working and so more of that please.
7. My run is really strong. Running 7:17 on that course is very good for me, especially considering I couldn’t run at at all fewer than six months ago following knee surgery.
8. My knee held up under pressure. Never felt a twinge or a blip and didn’t even think about it during the race, save one or twice where I thought – “This is awesome! I’m not even thinking about my knee!”
9. I scoped out the race and absolutely know this is family event for us, even with the early morning race start.
10. I woke up this morning barely sore, a great indication of my fitness.
- I’m going to register for the Tri for Real II in late June/early July to compete again. I need to see how much of those five minutes I can shave, and as an outside goal, see if I can I get down to a sub-2:15. That’s seven minutes off my final time – i.e. three on the swim, three on the bike, and one on T1.
- I’ll be ready for the Donner Half in July. Yesterday’s race gives me the confidence that with 6-7 more weeks of training, I’ll be good to go even with the elevation and course difficulty.
- Lena and Benjamin are joining me at the next race. So many families out there and I felt a little lonely all by myself at the finish line.
Time to get to work.