Bassman International Race Report
May 4th, 2014
Location: Bass River State Forest, NJ
Distance: 0.69-mile swim/31.1-mile bike/5.1-mile run
2014 Triathlon Race Number: 4
Career Triathlon Race Number: 141
Conditions: Partly cloudy to mostly sunny. Chilly at the start but rising to mid-60s by race end. 10-15 mph wind. Clear lake swim with water temp around 58 degrees.
The fourth triathlon of the 2014 campaign and the “official” start of my “regular” triathlon season. I was coming off a three-week period where I recovered from IMNOLA70.3 and had a solid 8-day training block. While, I was still way behind in my 2014 training I felt like I was beginning to make some progress in gaining a more normal level of fitness. This race was part of a menagerie of Half, International, Sprint triathlons, duathlons and Aqua-bikes (a bit of an organizational challenge IMO) and there were just 106 finishers for the International this morning. There were just 4 guys in my 55-59 YO AG and indeed I was the 3rd oldest person in the race. (Yikes!)
I’ve done this race 4 prior times in my career (I also have competed in a Sprint and an Off-Road at this venue as well). I’ve won all 4 of those International distance races. A big reason for that is the bike-heavy nature of this race. The ratio between the bike and run at this race today is 6.1. Contrast this to a normal Olympic race (4.0) or an IM format race (4.3). Basically, this race has about 40-50% more bike in it than a “typical” triathlon. And that is good for yours-truly.
In any event, as was the case last year, I had two main competitors: Ted Maglione and Tom Senff. I’ve raced them both about 10 times before. I’ve beat Ted in all of our prior races and have won 70% of my races with Tom. Tom won the first three and I’ve been winning since. While I’ve beat Ted every prior race, he has been steadily gaining on me and in my view posed the more significant competitive threat on this morning. Indeed, last year I beat Ted by just 25 seconds (although he was assessed an additional 2:00 penalty so officially I won by 2:25).
The big issue for me is my lack of fitness as compared to last year. This was especially a problem on the swim and run but my bike was quite a bit behind last year as well. Given how close we were last year I knew I needed to execute a strong tactical race plan to remain undefeated at this race. I was hopeful there was a way for me to do this and I opted for the following strategy:
1. I would roll the dice a bit on the swim and go much harder than I have in the past—I was hoping to pick up 30+ seconds relative to my competition by going harder than I did last year. I was risking blowing-up on the swim or impacting my bike but I felt the risk/return trade-off in this decision favored going for it.
2. I would push hard on the bike but respect the distance of this bike split. At 31 miles it was just too long to pursue a path similar to my swim approach. However, last year’s ride was my first on my new BMC TM01 and my fit was way off and I had to sit-up a great deal. While my fit is still not completely dialed in, it is a whole lot better and I was hopeful I could stay aero the whole ride and perhaps this better aerodynamic position would offset what I anticipated to be a reduced power output.
3. I was planning on picking up time in transitions but I was able to do that in 2013 as well so I didn’t expect that to be a relative gain this year.
4. I was hoping my approach on the swim and bike would put me in a similar position to last year. On the run, I was planning to run faster than I did last year due in part to my improved bike fit. In 2013 when I dismounted the bike I was very stiff and had a great deal of trouble finding my running stride. I was hoping I would have less of a transition issue this year and that perhaps this would offset my inferior running training and fitness.
There were a lot of variables to consider and of-course, my opponents would certainly have something to say about the outcome as well. That said, I entered the race “hungry” and determined to keep my unblemished record at this race. In the back of my head I told myself that if push came to shove I would be prepared to dig very, very deep this morning.
SNAFU. Hey it’s Bassman, of-course it’s disorganized! The Half started 15 minutes late and we ended up starting 46 minutes late as for the 3rd time the Police support for some reason did not show up. The RD scrambled around and finally we were off.
The men were in the first wave this morning and at the starting line I positioned myself to the right of Senff. Tom had the top swim in my AG last year and what I wanted to do was to keep him close but keep my effort easier for the first couple of minutes and then try to pull away from him. Both Tom and I are “lefties” and being on the right side I had the advantage of seeing him while he could not see me.
At the gun, Senff surged ahead a bit but I was able to keep him in view just a few feet in front of me. I was way on the inside on the buoy line (it was a clock-wise square course) and I drifted right to find conflict free water. After a couple of minutes I felt really good and I decided to go for it and soon I pulled parallel to Tom and then moved ahead of him.
At the first buoy I was cut-off by a swimmer that seemed to lose all sense of direction but shortly after that I was around the buoy and back at it. I lost a few seconds but Tom was still behind me. I tried to focus on my swim cues for this race. (I had been working this Spring on modifying my swim stroke a bit in the hope of simplifying my mechanics and making me faster in the water. Sorry for a bit of a diversion on swim technique but what follows is what I had been working on and was now thinking about in this race):
1. I tried to make the recovery phase of my stroke slow and easy.
2. I did not initiate my catch until my recovery arm re-entered the water a few inches above my head. At that point I was fully rolled over with my catch arm out and front of me and my head laying on the inside of my catch arm near my shoulder. These two cues were meant to help lengthen my average distance per stroke (dps).
3. At the initiation of my catch I tried to get a very early vertical forearm and just did a forceful in-sweep stroke followed by aggressive hip rotation to clear my body and to accelerate my pull. I was trying to have a slower than normal recovery and a more powerful and faster than normal catch and pull. This was a big change from my old stroke where I executed an “S” or “?” stroke with first an out-sweep and then an in-sweep. This “S” stroke had the advantage of pulling less moving water but required me to change the pitch of my hand mid-stroke. My old stroke required less physical force but was slower and more complicated.
4. I also focused on consciously engaging my Erector Spinae muscles in my lower and mid back. This had the benefit of lifting my hips and legs up higher in the water and behind the hole I was punching with my shoulders and head as well as tightening up and straightening my mid-section so I had a bit less horizontal oscillation in my stroke. A friend of mine who was an All-American swimmer at Stanford suggested this latter correction.
In any event, I felt very good and smooth in the water. No one was catching me from behind and indeed I was starting to catch some of the people who had started faster than I. I felt comfortable with my effort-level, more than I intended, but I rationalized this away by taking comfort in the fact I was out-swimming Senff. Since Senff had out-swam me in 2013 and he is a very experienced triathlete with a comparatively consistent swim, I figured I must have been gaining on the field as a whole. However, this thought process was, in retrospect, flawed, as the real threat this morning was not Senff but Maglione. I knew Maglione would be far behind me in the swim but there was no guarantee that just because I was doing relatively better this year against Senff that the same would be true for Maglione. The net effect of this miscalculation was I swam easier than I intended to.
I was aware that I was swimming a straighter, better course than many of the swimmers in front of me—especially after the last turn. The buoy line sagged in and the better line was actually wider to the left and away from the buoys. Soon enough I reached the shore and hit my Garmin and noted a swim time of 17:58. This was initially disappointing as last year I had swam 17:12. As I was running up the beach I quickly concluded that the swim was longer than last year because I had outswam Senff and I “knew” I was faster this year. Here in fact is how the two swims compare:
Distance (miles) 0.60 0.69
Time 17:12 17:58
Pace (min/mile) 28:38 26:11
Cadence (spm) 36 35
Strokes 619 632
DPS (yards) 1.71 1.92
So I did indeed have a stronger swim this year despite being less fit—this highlights the importance of technique for the swim. The course was 15% longer this year. However my DPS improved by 12% and this overwhelmed a slight reduction in my cadence to yield a 9% improvement in my average speed through the water.
Not surprisingly, this increased speed translated into competitive benefits. I ended up with the 18th fastest swim OA (84.0%). This is my best showing at Bassman in the swim to date:
2005 55.0 %-tile
I also compared my swim in 2013/2014 to a group of 5 triathletes (Chesson, McGee, Donohue, Senff, Maglione) who did the race in both years as well (in case there was a significant change in the relative strength of the OA field from year-to-year). I was 4.4% slower this year while the group of 5 averaged 8.4% slower. No doubt about it, I had a very encouraging swim this morning.
In my AG this is where the top 3 stood after the swim:
1. Christofferson --------
2. Senff + 0:16
3. Maglione + 3:31
The above would seem at first glance to be very good news. With respect to Senff, he had beaten me by 0:33 last year so I was 49 seconds relatively better off this year than last. However, I was 4:40 better than Maglione last year so in a sense I lost 1:19 this year vs. Maglione. Since, for the race as a whole, I only beat him by 25 seconds last year (not counting his penalty) this would have been a real concern to me had I known it.
I was blissfully unaware of Maglione’s swim as I ran up the beach. I was consciously trying to run hard through transition and when I arrived at my bike I did a very good job of turning into a cyclist. I elected to forgo putting my long-sleeve jersey on this year, as it was a fair bit warmer this year than last. Soon I was pushing my bike along the lengthy path to the mount line.
I executed my transition in 2:42, which was a marked improvement over my 3:50 last year. How this compares competitively we’ll never know as for some reason, the RD decided not to measure (or at least report) that information. This would have been good to know of-course because back in 2013 I was 57 seconds faster than Maglione in T1 and I would have wanted to be at least that much faster this year. Last year I was 80.0 %-tile OA, so my guess is I was better than that this year.
The bike course was once again changed this year—I think it’s been different all five years that I’ve raced here—why, I couldn’t tell you. This year it was longer than last at 31.15 miles vs. 29.78 miles. I felt pretty comfortable on the bike and really tried to settle in and relax—I wanted to stay in the aero position for the full ride, as the course here is pretty flat.
I had set my Edge 800 to auto-split at 2-mile intervals and the first few splits confirmed what I had expected—my watts were down this year at a comparable effort level vs. last year:
Mile 2: 227 watts @ 161 bpm
Mile 4: 212 watts @ 160
Mile 6: 221 watts @ 159
Mile 2: 241 watts @ 161 bpm
Mile 4: 227 watts @ 159
Mile 6: 230 watts @ 158
I absorbed this information with little surprise. I wasn’t happy about it but I fully expected it—my bike fitness this year, at this point in time, is not that good. Still, I decided to stick to my tactical plan and really focus on body position and trust that my better fit would offset my lower power production.
The ride was pretty unremarkable. With so few people on the road it was pretty lonely. For some reason I was never able to get a visual ID on either Senff or Maglione during the out-and-backs so I had no idea where I stood competitively (aside from the fact I knew I was winning). I focused on good position and my nutrition. It was relatively cool on the bike so I ended up drinking one 24 oz. bottle of Cytomax and about 200 calories of Hammer-Gel (a total of about 450 calories). It wasn’t the most comfortable ride but I was able to hold an aero position for 95+% of the ride.
I completed my bike leg in 86:53. This translates into an average speed of 21.5 mph. Here is how the key bike parameters this year compare with 2013:
Distance (miles) 29.78 31.15
Time 82:35 86:53
Speed (mph) 21.6 21.5
Climbing (feet) 308 278
Temperature 47 66
Avg. HR (bpm) 155 156
Avg. Power (watts) 231 215
NP (watts) 233 217
Cadence (rpm) 81 83
So it panned out pretty much as I had hoped. My better position more or less cancelled out my lower power (I’m assuming the wind’s impact was similar, which I believe is a good assumption as the wind speed was similar in both years). I spun a little better this year, though I would like to see that up around 85 rpm for a ride of this length. Most importantly I jumped off my bike feeling vastly better than in 2013.
Competitively, I had the 9th fastest bike OA (92.5 %-tile). This was considerably better than last year:
2005 85.0 %-tile
I was 4.8% slower this year and my comparison group of 5 was 5.0% slower. The quality of the bike field overall may have been a little lower this year than last.
According to the official race results, here is where we stood after the bike in my AG:
1. Christofferson --------
2. Maglione + 5:03
3. Senff + 7:42
Last year, at this point, I was 5:02 in-front of Senff, so a net improvement of 2:40. In 2013, I was 6:49 in front of Maglione, which at first blush indicates I was 1:46 relatively worse off. However, this includes Maglione’s penalty and if we ignore the penalty my swim/T1/bike was actually 14 seconds better relative to Maglione than last year. I had managed to execute my tactical plan and despite being in considerably worse fitness this year, I did relatively better.
However, there is the matter of the 2-minute benefit that I received last year. I would not be so lucky this year. Last year Maglione had erased 4:26 on the run and I was just 5:03 ahead. Unfortunately, I was in considerably worse run fitness this year and if I had known these facts I would have been concerned indeed.
I initially had trouble finding my transition area when I first arrived back in transition. This wasted several seconds (which would have some impact as we will see) but soon I found my transition spot and then executed a very quick transition. My transition took 1:52 at an average HR of 156 bpm. This was similar to 2013 when I had a 1:53 transition. In 2013 I a 90.0 %-tile OA so I imagine this year’s transition was relatively good as well.
With a little data manipulation I can back-out the impact of transitions this year versus Maglione. I was 37 seconds faster this year in the two transitions than Maglione. In 2013, I was 59 seconds faster in the two transitions.
I was hopeful that my better bike position this year would enable a better run as well and as I left transition I could tell I felt a lot better than last year (last year I was in so much pain I still remember it very distinctly). I felt so good in fact I thought I might very well be running at an 8:00 min/mile pace. Since I averaged 8:39 min/mile last year this would be very good news indeed.
However this proved optimistic as I hit mile one in 8:29 with a HR of 163 bpm. Importantly, this was a slight improvement over 2013 where I went 8:36/161. I was modestly disappointed with the 8:29 but I was pleased none-the-less as I had memorized my prior year’s result. As I continued my run I became more and more confident that I would beat last year’s time. Mile 2 was 8:37/163 vs. 8:42/162.
Around 2 miles there is an out-and-back section and I was able to see I was about 4 minutes or so ahead of Maglione and I remembered this is where I was last year as well. Since, I was running well, I felt pretty confident—I knew I couldn’t relax but I felt if I just stayed “on it” that I could hold on for the win.
I made a concerted effort to push mile 3 and I was rewarded with very good news: 8:13 min/mile @ 169 bpm vs. 8:46 @ 160 bpm last year. I was much more engaged and aggressive this year. I was hurting for sure but was dialed in on sustaining through to the finish line.
Around the 4-mile mark I saw Maglione again and could tell he would be unlikely to catch me—he was close enough that I couldn’t relax but I seemed to be in a pretty good spot competitively. Mile 4 saw me split 8:22/mile @ 169 bpm vs. 8:37 @ 160 bpm last year. I was pretty close to redlining it this year.
I began to turn my intention to Tim McGee, a 50 YO friend, who had beat me by 6:42 last year. He was directly behind me this year but steadily gaining. I didn’t want to blow up by pushing too hard to stay in-front of him, but at the same time as the finish line came closer and it was certain the Maglione wasn’t going to catch me, I wanted to try to hold him off. With about 600 yards to go I began to push it harder.
My 5th mile was 8:25 @ 170bpm vs. 8:44 @ 161bpm in 2013. I pushed very hard the final 0.11 miles and more or less rigged up with about 20 yards to go. Tim caught me a few yards from the line and we both stumbled across laughing and trying to avoid puking. My final 0.11 miles were at 6:50/mile pace and my HR averaged 173bpm—definitely above my redline.
My total run split was 42:56 and my average HR was 167bpm. This was a very gratifying improvement over 2013 when I went 44:43 @ 161bpm. (My per mile time improved from 8:39 to 8:23—16 sec/mile.) This 1:47 improvement proved to be important, as this is where we finished in my AG:
1. Christofferson --------
2. Maglione + 1:18
3. Senff +11:51
Overall, I had the 45th fastest run. Here is how my OA %-tile has varied over the years:
I was 4.0 % faster this year while the group of five was 3.9% slower. Based on that I’d say the run strength in the OA field was stronger this year.
My final time was 2:32:30, which was 14th best OA. Again a comparison to prior years:
So what to make of all of this? I had a pretty good race this year—from a tactical perspective. I beat a triathlete that was probably fitter than I with good tactical execution. I feel pretty good about this effort—my 47th AG victory (of 141--33.3%) and 2nd this year (of 4—50%).
With four races under my belt, I thought it might make some sense to step back and see where I am relative to a notional “potential fitness level” that I might reasonably expect to achieve this year. I do this by comparing my OA %-tile results to a measure I created called my “Demonstrated Fitness Potential” (DFP). The DFP is simply the average of my best three OA %-tile finishes for each discipline for any given year. I can then compare this year’s races and calculate how much faster I would have been had I preformed at these DFP levels. It sounds more complicated than it is.
The calculation works like this. My average DFP for the last three years are as follows:
Swim: 91.4 %-tile
For the Bassman swim, I was actually at 84.0 %-tile. Had I been at the 91.4 %-tile I would have been 1:37 faster, which indicates that I was about 8.8% off of where I should be when I’m really on my game. Notionally this means I need to get 8.8% faster by the time I get to Kona. This seems both reasonable and doable to me. In fact I can imagine targeting the following numbers for my races in the latter part of the summer:
Bassman Target Change
Strokes/minute 35 36 + 2.9%
Distance/stroke 1.92 2.03 + 5.7
Speed (mph) 2.29 2.49 + 8.8
Pace (min/mile) 26:11 24:04
Pace (per 100 yds.) 1:29 1:22
Turning to the bike, my shortfall turns out to be 9:14 or 10.4%. This implies I need to generate about 289 watts (vs. the 215 I did in this race). This number strikes me as somewhat high. To reach my DFP in a race with 106 people, I’d basically have the 2nd best bike OA. It’s a reasonable hypothesis that a bike heavy race like this attracts a stronger bike field than typical short-course races. MY bike DFP is very sensitive to the strength of the top 2-3 cyclists in a race—so probably not a good estimate of how far I need to go on the bike. I personally feel that I need to be more in the 240-250 watt range for a race of this length (my best prior power output at Bassman was 240 watts). This would imply a need to improve my power output by about 11%.
Now consider my effort at New Orleans 70.3. There I did 182 watts over 56 miles. An equivalent wattage at 31 miles is about 193 watts. This implies an improvement at Bassman of about 11% (of course this implies similar conditions and the conditions at New Orleans were considerably more challenging than Bassman). If you believe all of these numbers I bridged about half of my fitness shortfall over the last 3 weeks—which seems plausible to me. Of course, the next half will be far more challenging.
On the run, my shortfall is 4:04 or about 9.4%. This implies a need to run about 8:02/mile—about 21 sec/mile—this seems like a good estimate of the work I need to do. It also seems very doable.
Overall, my lack of fitness yields about a 14:55 aggregate time penalty for Bassman or about 9.8%. In other words, if I was at my historically demonstrated fitness potential I would have finished 7th today instead of 14. As a point of comparison, if we take my OA DFP of 93.5 %-tile it implies a smaller shortfall of 9:22 or about 6.1%. This probably reflects the over-estimation of my shortfall on the bike.
On balance, I think an estimate of 6-10% improvement potential is reasonable at this point in the season given my late start. I look forward to doing the work and earning that improvement!