Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Santa Cruz International Triathlon Race Report

I've gotten out of the habit of writing race reports and though this is a month after the race, it's still soon enough to write a cogent report.

The Santa Cruz International Triathlon on August 12, 2012, was not on my original schedule for the year.  I usually try to avoid races that contain multiple laps and this one is all about the laps.  There are two laps on the swim and four laps on the bike.  Fortunately, the run is an out and back.  My reason for avoiding races with a bunch of laps is that, when there is a large field, it gets crowded and it's easy to get mixed up on placing, pace, etc.  But there was a special on the race where the entry fee was only $40 or $45 dollars.  Then after SF Triathlon at Alcatraz was canceled, I wanted another summer race.  So I signed up and slotted it as a B-/C+ race.  This means I would not taper for the race and use my results as a measure of fitness.  The point of the race was not to get a great result, but to measure my fitness and health levels.

On the morning of 8/12, I parked on West Cliff as suggested and rolled into transition about 90 minutes before my wave was set to start.  This was more time than I need, but about the right amount of time for me to feel comfortable.  I was glad to find that SVTC had two well-located racks and saw some familiar people.  A few SVTC members came just to cheer people on -- I have no idea how they have the energy to be so social, but they rocked.  I got set up, listened to the briefing, put on sunscreen,....  One of my pre-race routines is to listen to a few songs.  Specifically, I always listen to "Thieves" by Ministry a couple of times.  I may try to get a few Smiths tunes in as well.  But basically, I try to get my mind ready for relaxation, intensity and even whimsy.

I was ready to go, but the swim start was on the beach about 400m away.  So I walked with my wetsuit off from waist-up to the beach.  While there, the cheering section -- I remember Christen and Katherine, but I think there were a couple more people -- were taking pictures and just really lightening the mood.  I'm a very introverted person so I eventually just isolated myself and pulled my mind into a more deliberately meditative stance and went into the water to warm up.

My wave was called into the chute and I positioned myself in the back at the edge of the group.  I will stop doing this.  I'm not a slow swimmer anymore and I just set myself up for having to swim through more traffic.  I went into the water pretty strongly, even dolphining through the first couple of waves.  I started swimming a little early as I had to shorten my pull to keep my hands out of the sand.  I went out fairly easy, but found myself in a fair amount of traffic.  There was some bumping and I caught a kick in the side.  I think that led me to speed up because I was clear of the traffic pretty quickly.  I took pretty good lines on the buoys and was really surprised at how strong I felt when I exited the water for the first lap.  I took a couple of exploratory steps and then charged out in an almost sprint.  For some reason, I then decided to dive into the first wave over knee height and swim.  The second lap was swum in mostly sweet isolation and my sighting ended up being pretty good.  Looking at my data file, I came out of the water around 28:14.  That's basically a 30 minute mile.  I felt strong and ran to T1 at a fast jog.

I pulled into T1 and was shocked to see Bernardo's bike still there.  I haven't placed much focus on transitions and generally take them at a leisurely pace.  Bernardo came rolling in about 30 seconds after me and left about 30 seconds ahead of me.  I was really taken aback that I swam faster than him.  I figured I wouldn't see him again.  But apparently I am a better cyclist than I realized.

The bike course was four laps, pancake flat and super fast.  It was also about 4 km short of a normal triathlon course.  It starts on a hill so I decided against a flying start and ran my bike out with shoes on.  My first mile was by far the slowest, but I found a rhythm quickly with my power output leveling out roughly 1/3 mile in.  My normalized power for the whole course was 198 W and 201 W for my peak hour.  This was actually about 10 W more than I thought I could sustain, but since it was not an A-race, I let it go.  I ended up averaging 19.6 mph for the entire course and 19.8 mph on that peak power hour.  I have to say that riding down West Cliff at >20 mph is a great feeling.  There are a few curves to utilize your bike skills and the scenery is wondrous.  I passed Bernardo on either the second or third lap.  That was shocking to me.  But I ended up with the 7th fastest bike split in my age group.  Like I said earlier, I guess I'm a better cyclist than I realized.

In T2, I did my normal lackadaisical transition.  Bernardo came in a few seconds later and left about a minute earlier.  At this point, I knew for a fact I would not pass him again.  On a good day for me and a bad day for him, he's still more than a minute per km faster than me.  My legs really felt dead during the whole run and my cadences on all the splits show that.  At that point, my average cadence for easier runs was 166-168 (83-84 on the monitor).  I never got past 168 on any km.  Even on the last km when I did a 5:14, I ended up at 168.  My km laps ranged from 5:14 to 5:47 with my second fastest lap at 5:33.  I ended up running 56:15 and felt slow the whole way.  This works out to about a 9:01 mile pace.

Even though my transition and run times were slightly disappointing, I still had a great race.  2:41 was well ahead of my target.  I didn't realize the bike course would be 2.5 miles short.  My stretch goal for the race was 2:50 -- add 8 minutes for a shortened bike and I still beat that.  I ended up 15 out of 23 in my age group.  But I was just 84 seconds from finishing 10th.  And my fitness splits were all better (13th on swim, 7th on bike, 14th on run.)  I can easily take 84 seconds from transitions while still being very average at it.  There are other tactical, non-fitness things I can do that would probably take off some more time.  In other words, I didn't give a full racing effort.  I'm not finishing at the bottom of my age group anymore so I need to race more seriously.  It's just not a good feeling to finish lower because you farted around in transition.

Nonetheless, the goal of this race was to primarily get fitness feedback.  I got that.  Writing this report a month after is a bit misleading -- my current training numbers are so much better.  Next week, I will put together a race plan for my A race, the Santa Cruz Triathlon.  I'm thinking 26-27 minute swim, 1:15 bike and 54-55 minute run with 3:30 for transition is well within my capabilities.  This puts me around 2:40 without a shortened bike course.  This would be a >30 minute improvement over 2011.  Of course, I did 2011 after I had "finished" my season and certainly didn't train for that particular race.  So it's not strictly comparable.  Still, 30 minutes better is a big improvement....

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