Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rockin' the Hall

It's easy to beat guys, like the one on the right, who are three feet tall.
After six years of racing triathlons, I finally managed to win my AG an event, the Rock Hall Olympic-distance. It's somewhat of a baffling outcome, as I had no reason to be optimistic going into it.  I'd ridden the Mountains of Misery Double Metric the Sunday before, which had left me unable to do any running or riding of note on Monday or Tuesday.  I did, however, put in 90 minutes of swimming on Tuesday morning, and then ramped things up to a fairly absurd level midweek.  On Wednesday, I swam for 60 minutes, commuted by Elliptigo for 75 minutes, attended yoga, ran an hour of hard hill repeats, and then hit the Team Z boot camp. Then, on Thursday, I was up early for 90 minutes of swimming, and the rest of the day comprised 90 minutes of Elliptigo, 60 minutes of yoga, an hour of Computrainer intervals, and an hour of TRX work.

The end result was that, on Friday, I was more sore than I'd been in years and could barely walk -- not quite the standard preparation for an Olympic-distance triathlon, which is raced at a very high intensity from the moment the gun goes off.  When my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, walking up the stairs was difficult, and I simply hoped that somewhere along the line my legs would loosen up and allow me to get some work done.

The Rock Hall Olympic is one of the newer and smaller races on the calendar.  My AG had 30-something guys in it, and I think the entire field was in the upper 200's.  It's a race that should grow considerably in the coming years: it's an easy drive, run very well, and is located in a quaint resort community that's very supportive of the event.  The course itself is built for PR's: largely flat (although not quite as flat as Eagleman), and although one has to negotiate the blustery winds that are ubiquitous along the shore, it's very possible to build up a head of steam and barrel down the course.

One thing I learned at last year's D.C. Tri -- during which I spent about 30 seconds a mile on the side of the run course doubled over in stomach pain -- is that the morning meal for an Olympic is in some ways trickier than for an Ironman, simply because it's raced at such intensity.  In an IM, you start off and kinda just mosey along, but in an Oly, you have to be ready to pull the trigger from the get-go.  I've adapted this year by eating my morning meal at least four hours before the start of the race.  This time, that meant three rice cakes with light peanut butter, chopped up banana, honey, and salt, along with a couple of capsules of beet powder.  Then, on the drive to the race, I had two Honey Stinger Waffles, and finally took in a gel just before I got into the water.

THE SWIM
(24:42, 28th overall)

The Rock Hall swim course was a bit of an I.Q. test, and apparently I'm not very good at those.  As far as I can tell, it was a triangular course with four sides, and there were yellow buoys at every turn except those at which there weren't yellow buoys.  Also, many of the buoys are tethered to large wooden poles -- think telephone poles -- that are emphatically bad to swim into.  On the upside, it's in a marina, which means that it's largely sheltered from the waves due to its being protected by sea walls.  On the downside, however, it's in a marina, which means that there are certain sections in which it's pretty clear that you're swimming through gasoline.

I think I swam a pretty straight course, but my time was again mediocre.  I've started really ramping up my swim volume recently, hitting the water 4-5 days a week, and I've signed up for a morning masters group that swims M-F, 90 minutes a day, in a 50-meter outdoor pool.  This past week was my first of those sessions, and I suppose it's possible that the sudden surge in volume, combined with my TRX work, meant that my shoulders and lats were fatigued heading into the race.  More realistically, though, I just have work to do.  It won't be as big of a problem at the Iron distance, where the swim is really little more than a warmup to the main event, but I gave up fully six minutes on the swim to the guys at the front of the pack, and that's just debilitating at the shorter distances.  In fact, I'd have comfortably won this race overall if I swam anything close to their times.  I'm hoping that the consistent work will pay dividends, and I may look into some individual lessons a bit down the road if I continue in this rut.

THE BIKE
(58:00, 1st overall, 25.2 mph) (PR) (CR)

I'd had a strong race on the bike at Columbia, a much hillier course, two weeks earlier, as well as a good ride at Mountains of Misery, so I knew that I had the ability to do well here.  The problem is that, as I mentioned earlier, my legs felt utterly dead due to the thrashing I'd given them midweek (not to mention the residual MoM fatigue), so I thought I could probably be competitive on the bike, but I wasn't expecting miracles.  Somehow, though, I got a miracle, going a full MPH faster than at the flat D.C. Triathlon course last year.  I had the fastest bike split in the race field by 54 seconds.  Objectively, my time is slightly flattered by the fact that the course was about 1/2 mile short, but even were it correct, I'd have ridden a sub-60 40k for the first time in my life.  (Previous best: 1:02:00 at D.C. Tri.)  Honestly, I didn't think I was capable of such a time, even in a standalone 40k TT on fresh legs, so this performance ranks as something of a shock. What I can say is that I got on the bike in 35th place overall, and got off it a close 3rd.  Thinking objectively about it, I've identified a few factors that I think contributed to this performance.


First, and most obvious, is bike fit.  I've tuned it over the years in every small way I can, down to changing over to inwardly-rotated S-bend aerobar extensions this year that bring my hands completely together to fair my computer and water bottle.  I have 18.5 cm of drop from saddle to armpads, which is exceedingly aggressive, I race in a one-piece skinsuit, and I use insoles that keep my knees tracking correctly so as to get all of the possible power out of my legs.  I don't wear a number on me during the bike leg, and I only went out of the aerobars once during the entire ride, that to power up the single hill on the course.  In short, I did everything possible to punch the smallest hole possible, and I think I got more speed per watt than just about anyone out there.

Second, I had the right equipment.  The Speed Concept 9-series is an absurdly fast bike, and the Di2 shifters allow me to have zero movement in my upper body while shifting at will.  I use the Bontrager R4 Aero tires, which are low-mileage but also very low rolling resistance, and inside them are latex tubes, which also minimize rolling resistance.  Finally, I had an 11-23 cassette on the bike, which meant that the gaps between gears were very small, a crucial feature on a flat course like Rock Hall.  My strategy throughout the entire bike leg was "One more gear."  I'd spin up to 95-100 rpm, then force myself to shift up just one gear and bring my cadence back up.  Then one more gear.  Then another.  Surprisingly often, I was able to hold 2-3 mph faster without working too much harder, but that wouldn't have been possible if I were goofing around with an 11-28 cassette.

Third, my mindset was exactly right for the bike leg, which was: "Acquire target, track down, and kill."  My mediocre swim had the salutary effect of putting a bunch of people in front of me to serve as rabbits, and I made it my mission to track them down, one by one, and then to accelerate past them in ostentatious fashion in order to prevent them from getting any ideas about drafting.  Then there would be another guy or two in the distance, and the whole process would repeat.  Frankly, that approach really, really hurts.  I was about ready to be done after only 5 miles, but I found that the pain didn't really get worse as the miles ticked off, it just held at a barely tolerable level.  Flat and windy courses can be fast, but they're also difficult because one gets no rest at all.  They're just straight-up about who is willing to endure the most pain, and I decided on the day that I was going to kill anyone out there and deal with the consequences when the run came around.  I guess it worked.

Despite this result, the wattages I'm putting up in training still aren't anywhere near what I've put up in past years -- I simply wasn't working much on the bike in the winter or spring.  So, although I'm ecstatic about the performance, I also know that I have a lot more in me if I continue to train the way I need to, which includes twice-weekly full-body strength work, running and riding hills, thrice-weekly yoga, hitting the pool, and watching my diet.  Nothing motivates like success.

THE RUN
(40:44, 19th overall, 6:33/mi) (PR)

I came off the bike in third place overall, but I was so toasted that I nearly fell over in T2 trying to put my shoes on.  As I rolled out of the transition area in 4th (due to the slow transition), I yelled to a friend of mine, "I think the hill repeats two days ago were a f*cking mistake!"  Man did I feel done.  Surprisingly, though, I quickly ran past the guy who'd exited T2 in front of me -- last year's overall winner.  I continued to pull away from him over the first 5k as my legs came around a bit.  I finished the first loop in about 19:50, but I just couldn't hold it together in the second half.  My legs just had nothing more to give, and I was experiencing massive GI distress that threatened to be disastrous unless I backed it off.  One guy caught me and I stayed with him through mile four, but in the last couple of miles I was forced to walk for 30 seconds or so on three different occasions simply to get my stomach under control, and I lost two spots overall.  I finally rolled it home in 40:44, which was a 2:42 P.R. over my D.C. Tri time of 43:26.  I'm happy with the PR, but I'd have finished 4th overall instead of 6th if I'd simply managed to hold it together for another two miles.  I'm optimistic that I'd have been able to dig deeper if I'd been rested and truly prepared for the race, and I'm confident that I have another minute or two in me if I get everything right.

CONCLUSION

Going into this race, my P.R. was 2:15:19, and in this race I'd hoped to improve on that to something in the 2:10-2:12 range.  My 2:06:25 was like a bolt out of the blue; even if the bike course had been correct, I'd have been in the high 2:07's.  The bottom line is that I'm riding the hell out of my bike right now, so I'm pretty excited about the remainder of the season, and I'm even more motivated to put in the time on the swim and run.  I know I can ride, but now I want to ensure that I'm swimming closer to the big boys, and to start running like I know I can.

Bring it on.