Monday, May 22, 2017

Santa Rosa 70.3

It seems as though the blog has reached rock bottom. It only comes out when I'm desperate and have essentially been force-fed something to write about. Nothing has been coming quite as "naturally" as it used to, which has surprised me. I expected, given the change in scenery and context that I'd become even MORE prolific (I know, you'd like that, wouldn't you?) but that has not been the case at all.

Well, faithful readers, I now have something to write about! Rejoice!

I almost quit triathlon over the winter of 2014-2015.  Saying "quit" insofar as triathlon is concerned is a bit odd because it really is more of a lifestyle choice, at least for me, than it is an all-or-nothing hobby. I just enjoy running and cycling. Sadly, I do not always enjoy swimming and feel like I really ONLY swim because I do want to RACE triathlons. I'm never going to be a "completer" when it comes to a hobby I pursue, I don't think. Even if it's something I've never done before I still want to "beat" others and I'm not sure I can rid myself of that compulsion.

But yea, I almost didn't really want to race or TRAIN anymore from that point. I am making a distinction here between "training" and "exercising." To me, "training" is exercising with a focus or goal, whereas I could still be riding my bike 12-15 hours a week but if I had no race or competition or objective I'd simply consider that exercising. To be good at competing, TRAINing is absolutely necessary. To be fit and happy, exercising is absolutely necessary. But the differences between them can make your mental approach to them vastly different.

I was mildly burned out on road triathlons, but I still had an Ironman to do in 2015. I clawed my way back in to shape with the guidance of DTD and felt very prepared for Louisville, but along the way I had significantly more fun racing XTERRA Oak Mountain and XTERRA Utah. Unfortunately, as you're probably aware, Louisville did not go so well and that sealed my deal for 2016 race ideas. Off road won out and I did 3 big XTERRA races in 2016. I did pretty well at each, competing at Maui (a World Championship in triathlon) and feeling satisfied with my year. It was interesting, however, that people still seemed to assume that I had "quit triathlon" that year. I was asked, more than once (and by different people), why I "quit" or what led to me not wanting to race anymore. That pissed me off. The relegation of XTERRA to being a sort of "side show" that doesn't matter to anyone (sponsors, "regular" triathletes, teams, manufacturers, etc) was frustrating.

So I ended 2016 not really being sure what I wanted to do.

Living in Tucson has crafted the answer to that question a bit, as I actually ENJOY riding my road bike here whereas I absolutely did not enjoy riding my road bike in Charlotte. The roads felt, quite simply, too dangerous and I relegated myself to weekday trainer rides or mountain biking and only really getting out on the roads on the weekends.  Here in the desert, however, I feel much safer on the roads. The huge variety of routes I can access from the front door of our house makes it eminently more enjoyable. Mountain biking here, on the trails near our house, is just plain HARD. It is fun, but it is not as fun as NC, where trails were groomed and purpose built for mountain biking. They were, in hindsight, real easy.

So, Christine convinced me to sign up for Santa Rosa. I had kind of accidentally gotten to be in real good shape in January and February, so why not carry that fitness into the year and bust out some road triathlon-ing? Why not indeed, says I.

The last half-ironman I did was June 2015, and that didn't go so well.  The last GOOD half I did was July 2014, at Challenge New Albany. So my previous 3 half-iron races had been something like 4:50, 4:50, 4:09.  I think 4:09:04 is my PR, but I can't find results from Rev3 Florida 2013, which was right around there and might have been just under 4:09. Be that as it may, I figured SR 70.3 would potentially be a "PR" course based on the profile of the bike and run, while also knowing that the swim would be wetsuit legal (neither of my two previous fast times were in a wetsuit race).

My preparation for SR was solid, but not extraordinary. I probably did not spend enough time on my tri bike in the aero position, but I had some good solid workouts in the aerobars and felt confident that I could put together a fast race.

Christine and I flew up late Wednesday night and got most of our race prep done on Thursday such that the only thing we had to do Friday was give our bikes to TriBike to shuttle to T1 (they provided a service at this race such that you didn't have to do this yourself, which saved us 1.5-2hrs on Friday) and set up our T2 bags.

Race morning involved a 3am wake up, which might be the earliest I have woken up for a race.  The shuttles to the swim start (about 45 minutes away) were easy and pain free and we arrived with ample time to setup everything and even get in a bit of warm up swimming.  I was going to line up in the front of the rolling swim start (or near it) and Christine a bit behind that so as the time approached we wished each other luck and got in our chosen spots!

Swim 1.2 miles - 27:55

I was excited about a rolling start for a couple of reasons:

1) I wouldn't have to wait around for my wave (when this race was going to be a wave start I think M30-34 was one of the last waves).
2) I'd get to be one of the first AG athletes on the bike course
3) I'd probably experience less anxiety than in a wave start

Regarding #3, I was just hoping to avoid an experience like XTERRA Utah, where I had a mild panic attack and had to swim backstroke for a minute or so to collect myself.

The water was somewhat chilly (64ish maybe? Can't remember what they said) but never noticed it during the race itself, just the warm up. I started out smooth but the swim felt very crowded for the first 400m, where we made a right hand turn and were no longer headed into the sun.  From that point on I never really had any crowding, so I'm not sure if my perception was just due to the sun being in my eyes (and basically only being able to see splashes) or actual crowding. The swim was nothing to write home about (wait...) but I did keep steering to my right for some reason, which I found annoying. I would say I did not push this swim as hard as I probably could have, but I was - again - trying to avoid scenario #3 mentioned above. I figured I might be able to swim 30-40s faster but the cost might be higher than that in the long run. In hindsight, I probably should have pushed it harder starting at about half way.  Oh well, hindsight (especially when blogging) is always 20/20.

T1 - 4:44

This transition run was easily the most "legit" of any race I have done. A long and steep boat ramp followed by a long and steep road up to an upper parking lot meant a lot of distance and gradient needed to be traveled. I did not store any shoes at water exit (which quite a lot of people did) and I would probably do that again. I did, however, take my wetsuit off right at the bottom and threw it over my shoulder for the run up to my bike. My feet were very cold and by the time I got to my bike I really couldn't feel them anymore, just a general sense of pain. I put socks on in T1 and was methodical in my movements so I would not describe this as especially fast, although it was not slow either.

Bike - 56 miles - 2:17:57

I passed a few people early on and also installed some light gloves. The course went downhill steeply, then flat, then uphill in the first 8 or 10 miles and my left hip flexor was mildly cramping here and there, which gave me some things to think about in the first 30 or so minutes. Luckily, that stopped, and I continued on for a while without thinking too much. I passed some guys for a while then didn't see any but started passing some of the pro women. I figured there'd still be some EMJ athletes ahead of me as they all seemed to gang up at the start line of the swim.

Somewhere in wine country. Thanks for this $25 photo FinisherPix...

I started to get pretty bored but continued to hold some power and consume liquid calories without too many issues. Jenson Button came up on me around mile 40 and he was the first person of the day to pass me, but another guy passed me and then Jenson shortly thereafter. I knew Jenson was a pretty good runner and was not worried about the other guy (he didn't look like a good runner) and both were in different AGs anyway so I wasn't going to kill myself to keep them around on the bike.

The last 10 miles were a little rough as I honestly just started to lose focus. My power dropped, my interest level waned, and I was ready to be off the bike. I knew that once I was running I'd LOVE to be back on the bike, however, so I finished the bike with that happy mental outlook fueling me ;)

T2 - 2:02

Pretty quick. My rack spot was right at the beginning of transition, so at least 30-40+ seconds of this are running from my rack spot to run "out" at "race pace."

Run - 13.1 miles - 1:24:44

The run course, on paper anyway, looked like it was gonna be pretty darn fast. I didn't think I was in PR shape (sub 1:19) but I did think I was realistic to account for 6:10 pacing. I held that without too many problems for the first half of the run, and passed a few more pro women (and almost got knocked out by Matt Dixon's back who was not paying attention to oncoming traffic while shouting encouragement at one of his pro athletes...) and a couple of guys as well. It turns out the first 4 miles were slightly declined, but there was a few sharp turns and bridge crossings that slowed the pace down a bit and kept the rhythm of the run a bit off kilter.

As we started heading back into town, I started having to work a bit harder to hold the pace I was shooting for. Normally I carry a gel flask in my hand and take a squirt of gel before every aid station where I then get some water or gatorade (or coke maybe, as my mood swings).  This time I had a gel flask but it was in my rear pocket which, while easy to access, was not as easy as my hand. So in the first half of the run I probably only took one squirt of gel, a fact that I think would prove to be a downfall as the miles progressed.

Coming back into the main area got a bit more crowded and my pace slowed some more, although it held at 6:30s and I attributed this slowing to the increase in traffic on the path (90% of the run was along a river path, about 5-8' wide depending on where you were) but signs were pointing towards the fact that I was just blowing up a bit.

I kept on trucking but my legs just did not want to turn over much more. The last 3 miles were a real struggle and I was working HARD to break 8 minute miles! Jenson passed me back and an EMJ guy also re-passed me, which was a bit frustrating but there was nothing I could do at that point. I just focused on limiting any damage and crossing the finish line.

Mile splits:

5k splits were 19:06, 19:08, 19:52, 22:04

Finish - 4:17:22 - 3rd M30-34

Overall I was quite pleased with the race. I think, on this day, with better execution, I could have achieved a 4:12-4:14...which would have put me in contention for top 3 amateur. Be that as it may, there's a good reason I probably didn't execute perfectly: I'm out of practice! If this race had been 1.2 + 40 + 8 I would have been much better off! I don't think my issue is fitness, either. Regardless, it was fun to get back out on the roads and while I didn't achieve anything close to a PR, I was competitive in a west coast 70.3, which is something to be pleased with. I know that I cannot bring the same level of fitness and execution to World Championship 70.3s, however, if I want to be at least somewhat competitive in my AG.

So back to the pool!

Next week...