Smithfield Race Report
April 7th, 2013
Location: Smithfield, VA
Distance: 300 meter swim/9.85 mile bike/3.1 mile run
2013 Triathlon Race Number: 2
Career Triathlon Race Number: 128
Conditions: Cool and breezy, around 50 degrees at the race start. Clear and sunny. Pool swim.
My second race of the 2013 season was down in Smithfield, VA at this Set-Up Events sprint triathlon. This was my third time at this venue having raced here in 2009 and 2012. I won my AG in each of those prior contests.
I drove down the day before, stopping in Washington DC to pick-up my race number for the Cherry Blossom 10-mile run, which I planned to run on Sunday, the day after Smithfield. It was a lengthy drive but after about 7 hours I was ready to roll and safely in my hotel for the evening. I stayed at the Smithfield Station, which is where I’d say you want to stay for this event—I’ve stayed there all three times.
This race boasts an unusually large and competitive field (for an early season local sprint) comprised of mostly Virginia triathletes. Notably, two big triathlon clubs: Endorphins and Fat Frogs come out in force for this event. Endorphins bills itself as an elite triathlon team that requires “tri-outs” to join. They definitely distort the OA %-tile numbers.
The 10 a.m. Time Trail (TT) start made for a leisurely pre-race morning. I awoke at about 6 am and had coffee and a muffin to charge up. It was clear and chilly with quite a bit of wind about. The wind would definitely be a factor out on the bike. Upon arriving at the race site I did my usual warm-up including riding the entire bike course.
On this morning there were 451 starters with 20 in my 55-59 YO MAG. I was surprised to find 7 guys in my AG with lower bib numbers. This is unexpected because the bib numbers are assigned based on self-estimated swim times. I’ve done pretty well historically on the swim so this was a bit of a jolt. The swim is contested in a 300-meter pool with swimmers going off every 15 seconds. The faster (estimated) swimmers go first so this indicated that I had quite a bit of potential competition from a swim perspective. I had bib number 129 and as we will soon see, I had at the end of the day done an effective job of seeding myself against the field.
I didn’t know much about the competitors in my AG though it was clear that one fellow, Greg Guinther would pose a serious challenge. Greg had won his previous 8 straight triathlon AGs dating back to 2011. One of these was the 2011 Kinetic Half-IM where he rode a 2:24 bike split, on a pretty challenging bike course, to a 4:48:02 H-IM. The last time I went that fast was 2007—and on a much easier course than Kinetic. He also was 8th OA at the US National Duathlon Championship, where he beat among others, Brian Sullivan by 3+ minutes, Nace Mullen by 5 minutes and Lou Almekindres by over 6 minutes. All three of these gentlemen are considerably stronger athletes than I so this did not bode well for me.
As luck would have it, Greg had bib number 128 so he started the swim and race 15 seconds in front of me. On the pool deck before the race I introduced myself to him and he was very eager to talk about himself and his expectations for the race. He told me that he was “going for the VTS (Virginia Triathlon Series) title in our AG this year”. He said he planned on racing 5 or more VTS events. I offered that he should have no trouble winning the VTS title because I didn’t think many guys our age would race 5 VTS events. He disagreed and said that there were 3 or 4 top guys who were all competitive. He expected to “set the bar” and establish a lead at this race.
He further told me that he had been a competitive bike racer since he was 14 and used to be a Cat 1 rider. He said he still raced bike races and that biking was his real strength. I kept my mouth shut (unusual for me) by I thought to myself that we would just have to see about that out on the course.
I thought starting just behind Greg was ideal from a competitive perspective and as I waited on the deck, I decided that “Plan A” was to make-up the 15 second gap on the swim, out-transition him and leave on the bike first and then pull away from him in an attempt to convince him that he would be better off racing for second….
Since this was a pool swim I didn’t have my wetsuit as a crutch for this swim. This is a relative competitive disadvantage as I tend to be at or above the 90 %-tile with a wetsuit but only in the 70s without.
After Guinther started, I jumped in and 15 seconds later I was off. I felt pretty good and I tried to swim at a pretty controlled level of effort. With no wetsuit I wanted to be conservative and not go anaerobic early in the swim. I noted where Greg was as he swam back in our lane after the first turn. After 50 meters I crossed under the lane line and as I swam towards the 75 meter point I could see that Greg passed earlier in this lap than my first. This was disappointing as it indicated Greg was actually out-swimming me. I put this out of my head and just focused on getting through the swim with as little drama as possible—Plan A apparently needed to be abandoned.
I passed a couple of slower swimmers (which led to a bit of lost time) along the way and had one pass me as well and I finally pulled myself up and out of the pool with an elapsed time of 5:16. I was reasonably pleased with this effort given the late start I’ve had to training this year due to my expedition to Aconcagua in January. In fact my swim volume over the first three months is only about half of what I have averaged over the last few years.
As an aside, here is how my training volume this year compares to the my average training volume for 2010-2012 for the January-March period:
2010-12 Avg 2013 Change
Swim (yds) 103,900 52,500 - 49.5 %
Bike (miles) 2,255 1,764 - 21.8 %
Run (miles) 420 261 - 37.8 %
In any event, my swim split this year was comparable to my prior efforts here:
2009 2012 2013
Time 5:09 5:13 5:16
OA %-tile 71.4 75.2 72.2
AG %-tile 85.7 85.7 80.0
Also, from an overall %-tile perspective, this swim was in line with my prior triathlon pool swim results:
Angel’s 2005 45.4 45.0
Angel’s 2006 58.1 80.0
Angel’s 2007 70.1 80.0
Smithfield 2009 71.4 85.7
Smithfield 2012 75.2 85.7
Tune-Up 2013 78.5 80.0
Smithfield 2013 72.2 80.0
I was 126th OA (72.2 %-tile), so my predicted time and it’s swim seeding (129th) were pretty good. I was also the 5th fastest in my AG. Perhaps most importantly, I lost 6 seconds to Guinther as he exited the water 21 seconds in front of me. Here is where we stood after the swim:
1. Clarke --------
2. Wolf + 0:05
3. Guinther + 0:26
4. Young + 0:27
5. Christofferson + 0:32
As I exited the pool building and ran towards my bike rack I could see Guinther up ahead executing his transition—because of our bib numbers we were racked right next to each other. He had told me that he focused on transitions and he even used old-school “rat-traps” so he could ride in his running shoes. This strikes me as a flawed strategy as I’m sure the biking inefficiencies generated with flexible shoes more than out-weigh the 10 seconds or so it might take to put one’s running shoes on.
In any event, Guinther’s shoe strategy didn’t benefit his T1 and I was 7 seconds faster than him in transition. In fact, my total T1 was just 1:22. This was an excellent transition for me and you can see that reflected in this comparison to 2009 and 2012 here at Smithfield (note that the transitions in 2012/2013 were much longer than in 2009):
2009 2012 2013
Time 1:20 1:59 1:22
OA %-tile 87.3% 77.1% 89.1%
Competitively, I had the 3rd fastest transition in my AG. Notably, Clarke had the top transition to extend his lead. Clarke is the fellow in my AG who races for Endorphin and had we started in a normal wave format, I would have been very concerned with his strong swim/T1 performance. However, since he started close to 10 minutes in front of me I was blissfully unaware that I was getting thumped in the early stages of this race. Here is where we stood after T1:
1. Clarke --------
2. Christofferson + 0:40
3. Kiehl + 0:40
4. Guinther + 0:41
5. Young + 1:05
Indeed, we had a real good one going here but of-course with the TT start we were all unaware. However, I was focused on Guinther and as I ran out of T1 I could see him mounting up and I estimated that he was 15 seconds ahead of me (equivalent to us being tied)—this proved to be a solid guess. Now that the bike was upon us, I was about to find out if I really had a chance to win this thing! I have to say I was very motivated this morning!
I headed out on the bike very focused on Guinther, who was just up the road. Despite my cocky attitude, I was riding with a lot of respect for him. I decided that what I needed to do, now that “Plan A” was out the window, was just try to pace off of him and see how my body felt. I thought there was a reasonable chance that he was a better cyclist than I and that the cost of my staying with him might be too much of a stress on my body. I found the first two miles to be pretty challenging and I guessed that the distance between Guinther and I was staying constant. Here is what my Garmin 800 said about the first two miles:
Mile 1: 266 watts/268 watts NP/80rpm/169 bpm HR
Mile 2: 241 watts/243 watts NP/81 rpm/166 bpm HR
This data reflects what I was feeling and I thought that it might be the right strategy to just try to stay close to him. However as we made our way through the third mile it seemed to me that it was becoming easier to track Guinther’s pace. My third mile looked like this:
Mile 3: 240 watts/241 watts NP/80 rpm/164 bpm
As we headed into the 4th mile I began to get my mojo up and I started to real Guinther in. I had the advantage of knowing the course and about midway through the 4th mile there was a blind downhill with a fairly tight curve leading to a short but steep climb. Guinther backed off on the descent and I, knowing the course decided to pour it on. I flew down the descent and at the crest of the hill blew past him going at least 10 mph faster. Right after this section there was a 120-degree left turn and then the steepest climb on the course and having seen this many times before I executed a strong downshift and then pushed close to 800 watts up the hill. I was away and feeling very pumped and I decided that I was all in on this ride—I wanted to ride away from Guinther. My next two miles reflect this:
Mile 4: 274 watts/274 watts NP/81 rpm/166 bpm
Mile 5: 264 watts/284 watts NP/85 rpm/170 bpm
Mile 5 was probably the hardest I have ever pushed it in a triathlon bike leg. 284 watts Normalized is the highest I’ve ever recorded for a triathlon mile and 170 bpm for an average HR is also higher than I’ve ever recorded in a tri bike leg. The truth is I was riding way above my fitness level given my limited training coming into this race.
That said, I was having a blast. I was committed to making my break stick—no matter what—and I was not going to look behind me…I assumed that Guinther was hot on my tail and I needed to push it. And so for the most part, push it I did, although I could really feel that I was making some withdraws from the First Bank of Fitness that probably exceeded my balance. In any event—here were the last 5 miles:
Mile 6: 251 watts/251 watts NP/87 rpm/168 bpm
Mile 7: 258 watts/260 watts NP/84 rpm/167 bpm
Mile 8: 249 watts/249 watts NP/82 rpm/166 bpm
Mile 9: 249 watts/249 watts NP/83 rpm/166 bpm
Mile 10: 247 watts/264 watts NP/83 rpm/166 bpm
I finished the bike leg in 26:16, which given the wind we faced this morning was an excellent effort. The wind this year was more like 2009 and much worse than the easier conditions in 2012. Here are the key measures of my bike effort over these three races—based on this data, I’m confident that my ride this year was the strongest of the three times I’ve competed here:
2009 2012 2013
Time 26:25 26:12 26:16
Average watts 253 251 254
Normalized Power 256 259
Average HR 162 161 167
Average Cadence 80 82
Of course, the 167bpm average HR is a real clue to the fact that I rode above my fitness level this morning. 167bpm is what I do when I’m really motivated in August…definitely not what I typically see in early April. Especially given my lack to training this year. I had fun, but from a tactical point, I rode too hard this morning. That said, I kicked some ass and I was able to put 1:13 on Guinther and two and more minutes on the rest of my AG competitors. I had the 23rd best bike OA (which given the caliber of this field I feel great about) and this was good enough for 95.9 %-tile. Here is where we stood after the bike in my AG:
1. Christofferson --------
2. Guinther + 1:14
3. Clarke + 1:38
4. Kiehl + 3:07
5. Siemers + 3:19
After dismounting and running the 30-40 yards to the actual transition area I glanced back towards the dismount line to see if Guinther was nearby. I was pleased (and truth be known, a little surprised) to not see him. I dashed to my rack in a real hurry—I had worked very hard to build my lead on the bike and I was focused on maintaining it.
I executed a very good T2 taking a total of 1:17. This compares to 59 seconds in 2009 (with a much more compact transition area) and 1:20 last year. I had the 66th fastest transition overall (85.6 %-tile) and I ended up posting the 2nd fastest T2 in my AG. The fastest, unfortunately was Guinther’s with his rat-traps and no need to change shoes. As I was running out of transition I saw Guinther coming in and I surmised I was probably less than a minute ahead of him. In fact Guinther made up 19 seconds on me in T2 and with his 15 second headstart at the swim, he left T2 just 40 seconds behind me. Here is where we stood in actual elapsed time through T2:
1. Christofferson --------
2. Guinther + 0:55
3. Clarke + 2:01
4. Kiehl + 3:14
5. Siemers + 3:51
I was not surprised to feel heaviness in my legs due to the big effort I put out on the bike and with my lack of recent racing and training for that matter. However, I didn’t feel completely smoked and I tried to push myself even though I knew Guinther was close and he is a much stronger runner. You never know what’s going to actually happen so I wanted to give myself a chance to win this thing. I thought if I could get a ways past 2 miles—preferably quite a ways past, then maybe I could stay close and use my 15-second offset to eek out a win.
I looked at my watch at the one-mile point and realized that in the heat of battle I had neglected to hit the lap button at the end of T2—so I had no idea how fast I was going although it seemed like I was well under an 8-minute pace. My spirits were up as I had stayed ahead for the first mile.
The run course is an out and back with the turnaround just past the halfway point. I made the left-hand turn on the road where the turnaround was and I could see that the course was considerably longer this year than last year (more on that shortly). As I approached the turnaround, Guinther caught me and I wished him well and resigned myself to trying to hold onto 2nd. The air went out of my balloon at this point and my pace definitely slowed. It took Guinther about 1.4 miles to make up just 40 seconds on me but he was able to put another 79 seconds on me the rest of the race.
I crossed the finish line with a 24:33 split (7:54/mile) for an overall time of 58:44. Greg was 1:59 faster than I and I ended up with the 5th fastest run in my AG and the 155th OA (65.9 %-tile). I finished 2nd in my AG and 62nd OA (86.4 %-tile). Here is where we finished in my AG:
1. Gunither --------
2. Christofferson + 1:04
3. Clarke + 3:05
4. Kiehl + 3:54
5. Siemers + 4:15
My time this year was the slowest of my three efforts here but with the wind on the bike and the added length on the run, I decided that I needed to dig a little deeper analytically to really understand how I did this year compared to prior efforts. Normally, I’d just look at OA %-tile comparisons but with the added competitiveness that Endorphins have brought to this race I thought it would be more instructive to find people who had competed in both 2012 and 2013 and see how their bikes and runs compared. I found five guys who were close to me in Overall finish time both years and I took them, plus the fellow who won both years and compared how their times changed from year to year and compared to my splits:
Change in bike split from 2012 to 2013:
Basham + 1.2%
Keihl + 5.4
Harlow + 4.8
Wozniak + 2.3
Jordan + 3.8
Berman + 3.7
Comp Average: + 3.5%
Christofferson + 0.4%
As can be seen by this comparison, I did relatively better on the bike than did all of these direct competitors. This difference indicates I was actually about 49 seconds faster (relatively) than my competitors this year than I was in 2012.
Here is the same analysis for the run, which as I mentioned was quite a bit longer (physically) in 2013 than in 2012:
Keihl + 6.3
Wozniak + 7.1
Berman + 4.3
Comp Average: + 8.5%
Christofferson + 8.9%
So it would seem that my slower time this year was in line with the rest of the field and due principally to the course being longer this year. This also indicates that my pace last year (which was my best of the year last year) was a little optimistic and not that accurate. If I had to guess, the course was probably closer to 3.1 miles this year than last year.
Guinther was the stronger triathlete today (and probably most days) and I did well to finish 2nd. With the tougher conditions this year and the longer run course, my time this year was certainly quite a bit better than it was in 2009 and 2012. Given my lack of training this year my results were very strong this year—my bike was especially surprising.
Still, it’s just one race and I probably raced above my fitness level—for sure on the bike. This pre-season stuff is behind me now.
I need to now focus on training and building my LC fitness. As a consequence, I’ll take 4 weeks off from racing. I’ll jump back in with 3 races in May. That said, I did however cruise the Cherry Blossom 10-mile race the next day after Smithfiled treating it more like a training run than a race. And I did well! Onward and upward!