Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Update and May/June Schedule

Plugging along here! I raced two more times (and won both! :)). Nice to start the year 3-0. I'll put up a couple of race reports shortly. I thought I'd lay out my event schedule for the next two months:

Sa 5/2 DABA 5k Delaware

Sa 5/9 Devilman--either the sprint of the "half-lite" New Jersey

W 5/13 Climb Mount Kisciuszko--Australia's highest peak

Sa 5/23 Hammonton Sprint Tri New Jersey

Su 5/31 Either Belleplaine, Cascade Lake or Pocomoke Sprint Tri

Sa 6/6 Climb Mt. Rainier in Washington

Su 6/14 Eagleman Maryland

Sa 6/20 Parvin sprint tri in NJ

Su 6/21 St. andrew's sprint Tri in Delaware

Su 6/28 Philly sprint tri

Busy, busy, busy!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Smithfield Sprint Race Report

2009 Race Report
(Smithfield Sprint Triathlon/Cherry Blossom Run)


And so it begins! Spring is nigh and once again the aging warriors turn their inner vision towards potential glory on the endurance field of battle. My copilot, Dave Spartin, aka Sparty, and I rolled in the new Black Beast at noon on 4/4 and headed south straight through an unexpectedly gloriously beautiful Delmarva Peninsula to the world center of ham production, Smithfield, Virginia. We did all of the usual pre-game stuff including a great meal at the Smithfield Station and a very restful night in a truly beautiful hotel.

We were gathered on this particular field of battle for the 5th Smithfield, VA Sprint Triathlon. This race is a 300-meter pool swim, 10-mile bike, and a 5k run. As we discovered, it is the perfect place to host a triathlon and is a great “pre-season” triathlon venue.

I rolled into HamCity with decidedly modest objectives. This year is the year that I’ve decided to branch out from a long-course triathlon focus to one that encompasses a broader palette of endurance challenges. As a consequence, this is the first year, of the last five, that I will not do an Ironman triathlon. In its place, I hope to do many more shorter triathlons, climb a couple of significant mountains, and try to complete a 24 hour mountain bike race. These are my good intentions anyways.

So why this change of focus? First, I definitely needed a break from the grind and sacrifice of trying to be the best IM triathlete I can be. Secondly, the realities of the significant limitations (ones which seem to be unavoidable) of my damaged left knee instructed me to begin to seek physical alternatives that don’t include running in any significant amount. The first point translates into a desire to be a much more social individual and the second is a begrudging recognition of the limitations that my knee problem is increasingly imposing on me.

So training wise, I slept in, bailed on bad weather and enjoyed much more wine with my lovely bride. Race time found me, not unexpectedly behind prior years in terms of training volume and intensity. All of this was cool and part of the plan except for what was going on with my running. What was going on with my running was a lack of running. I went through a dark period in February when my knee hurt so bad that 5 miles was all I could do (in a week) and I began to seriously think that my triathlon career was ending a little earlier than I had planned. However, over the last three weeks prior to this race, with the benefit of a new injectible drug into my knee, I actually was able to run 15-25 miles/week. Of course, this is decidedly not impressive, but at least gave me a glimmer of hope about the 2009 season.

Mentally I believe I have transitioned to a fundamentally new place. In the past I have focused on being a competitive triathlete, indeed a competitive Ironman triathlete. In the future I hope to become a broadly based extreme endurance athlete. So, I hope to continue to do triathlons (including perhaps one more IM), but more importantly I hope to expand my focus and competence to include other endurance athletic endeavors including high altitude mountain climbing, long-distance trekking, long distance cycling and swimming, adventure racing, and any other irrational obsession that catches my fancy in the few years I have left to aspire to such challenges.

And so we rolled into the quaint town of Smithfield, VA.

Race morning was a 10:20/10:16 start for Dave and I (respectively) so we sorta’ slept in and then made our way to the race site. We did our usual pre-race prep including several hundred yards in the pool and then we were good to go.

The Swim

The Smithfield swim is a 300-meter swim in the local YMCA pool. You basically swim 50 meters in each of the six lanes slipping under the ropes at the completion of each 50. We went off in TT format, every 15 seconds. We were seeded by our own estimates of our swim time and I found myself with number 57 (out of the 434 triathletes). I knew this was a little optimistic, especially given the 30% lower swim training volume this year, but what the heck.

When my time to go came I messed up the start of my watch but settled right in to a nice, controlled effort. I avoided the problem of over-cooking the first 100-meters that seems to have plagued all of my 300 meter pool swims in the past. I was passed by one fellow (a very ripped 21 year old VT student) but otherwise held my own. I was conscious of being pretty efficient, technique-wise, and felt that I stayed at just about the right level of effort through the whole swim—if anything, I thought maybe I was going a little too easy.

Soon enough the swim was over and I popped out of the pool and saw my watch reporting: “00:00”. I exited the pool building and began my T1 not really knowing how well I had performed but my sense was that I did just fine. Even if I had known my time, I would of-course still had no idea of where I stood, due to the lack of same AG waves.

As it turned out, my swim time was 5:09, and had I known that, I would have been thrilled. Strangely enough this turns out to be a 300-meter pool swim PR for me. Here is how I have done in the past at this distance:

Angel’s 2005 5:39
Angel’s 2006 5:41
Angel’s 2007 5:14
Smithfield 2009 5:09

I looked at my time and two competitors in my AG (Bosley and Spartin) whom I raced against last year to see relatively how I did versus last year:

2008 2009

vs. Bosley same time RC 0.9% faster

vs. Spartin RC 16.4% faster RC 11.4% faster

So, it seems I did slightly better this year when compared to Bosley but not Spartin. The latter is probably a reflection of his improvement as he starts his 3rd year. Competitively, it turns out that I had the 125th fastest swim which puts me at the 71.4% percentile—not that great but I’ll certainly take it as I have never done well in pool swims in the past (my three previous percentiles were: 45.4%, 58.1%, and 70.1%) as the no wetsuit hurts my low-kick swim approach as does my lack of flip turns.

Versus my AG competitors, I was in the mix of things as I was the 4th fastest out of 21 (85.7%-tile, which is again a high water mark for me). Here is the top 5 after the swim:

1. Sherman ----
2. Williams 0:22 (behind)
3. Kiehl 0:33
4. Christofferson 0:36
5. Zachary 0:36

Transition One

T1 at Smithfield is a relatively straight forward affair with the racks set-up on the lawn adjacent to the pool building. I felt like I did a solid job in transition, efficiently donning my bike stuff and heading on my way. I passed the VT stud and seemed to exit much faster than the other 10 or so folks who were in T1 at the same time as me. My T1 time was clocked at 1:20 and it turns out this was the 56th fastest of the day (87.3 %-tile) and the 3rd fastest (90.5 %-tile) in my AG. While I was able to leap frog two of the fellows who out swam me with my faster T1, the AG leader, Sherman was 4 seconds faster as he backed up his number 1 swim, with the fastest T1. Here is how we stood after T1:

1. Sherman ----
2. Christofferson 0:40
3. Kiehl 0:45
4. Bosley 0:49
5. Kingma 1:16

The Bike

While I didn’t know where I stood, I would not have been surprised to know I was 40 seconds off the AG lead. As always, my race is made or broken on the strength of my bike leg--even more so this year as I expected my run to be a real competitive issue. The problem however, was my cycling volume and intensity were off substantially from prior years and for the first time in 5 years I did not go away for a bike focused training camp (last year before my first race I spent 16 days training in Tucson—riding more than 500 miles per week). It is what it is and I needed to make due with what I had in the tank.

The bike course at Smithfield is pretty fast with only a few hills to contend with. It does have one real slow 135 degree turn at the bottom of a hill leading directly into a small-ring climb. While nothing overly technical, this definitely ate into everyone’s average speed on this 10-mile course (I clocked the course at 9.861 miles). On this morning there was a pretty good wind blowing—15 to 20 mph or so. This wind was mostly in our face/cross-wind for the first 6 miles. This part of the course was also net/net up-hill and as a consequence the first 6 miles were pretty slow, speedo wise. Sparty and I had ridden the course the night before so we were ready for it and were looking forward to the last 4 miles where we knew we would scream home.

At the bottom of the first hill was an overpass that had a nasty bump and while I tried to bunny-hop it, I still caught enough of it to cause my seat to slip forward and point down at a 30 degree slope—as you know this is a problem of the BMC seat design and something I need to work on mechanically (I thought I had it addressed before this race). While annoying, for a 10-mile race this was not much of a problem.

As we cruised along, I was seeing attractive power numbers on my SRM combined with a stable heart rate of about 162 bpm. This felt like a comfortable effort and while I’d normally like to see 167-169 bpm in a sprint, this was not unexpected for an April race. It’s only after I do a lot of speed work in the spring and early summer that I can generate enough effort to stress my heart at that level.

The ride was uneventful (besides the seat) and I found myself passing about a dozen or so competitors. Given the head start that many had on me (as much as 16 minutes) it was not surprising that I was only able to catch this many. The last four miles were a blast as I was able to sustain 30-35 mph the whole way. There is nothing better than screaming along on a TT bike at that speed! I had a big smile on my face. I reached the end of the bike with an elapsed time of 26:25, which translates into 22.0 mph. That’s not very exciting but given the wind and the course, it’s not a surprise.

The good news is that I was able to average 253 watts with an average HR of 162 bpm. Those are every encouraging numbers given where I’m at in my training. In fact, the power compares very nicely with some of past sprint races where I was able to get good average power readings:

Bassman 2008 240 watts
Hammonton 2008 254
St. Andrews 2008 254
Catfish 2007 258
St. Andrews 2007 249
Metroman 2007 248
Kinetic 2007 255

Competitively, I delivered the 18th fastest bike overall (96.1 %-tile) and more importantly had the fastest split in my AG. In fact, I was able to put 2:24 on Sherman and was able to open a nice lead heading into T2:

1. Christofferson ----
2. Sherman 1:44
3. Bosley 1:50
4. Kingma 2:54
5. Fariss 4:07

I didn’t know this of course, but my surprisingly strong bike ride had narrowed the contest to a three-man race. Compared to Bosley and Spartin here is how this race compared relatively to 2008 (Kinetic):

2008 2009

vs. Bosley RC 5.9% faster RC 6.4% faster

vs. Spartin RC 10.4% faster RC 11.8% faster

All the data seems to indicate I had a very good bike split indeed at Smithfield!

Transition Two

Transition Two flew by and I definitely thought I did a good job. For some reason however, I did not do as well as I did in T1 (this is something I need to start practicing). My T2 time was 0:59, which was only 168th fastest overall (61.5 %-tile) and only 6th fastest (76.2 %-tile) in my AG. I gave back a whopping 12 seconds to Sherman but was to able to cling to a reasonable lead heading into the Run:

1. Christofferson ----
2. Sherman 1:32
3. Bosley 1:41
4. Kingma 2:56
5. Fariss 4:24

The Run

I knew I wouldn’t get any real competitive data until half-way through this out and back run course (which I believe was a little long, 3.15-3.20 miles). The run course at Smithfield is pretty fast with several mild hills. The wind was a factor at points but even in the brilliant sunshine, the temp was still probably below 60—good conditions to run fast!

That is if you’re fit, which when it comes to the run, I am not. Off I went though and tried to run a controlled, even pace. I settled into a “comfortable push’ which translated into a HR of 167 bpm for the first mile. This seemed just about perfect (I’ll go 7-8 bpm harder when or if I can get some decent training under my belt). I hit the first mile at 7:30, which I felt pretty good about. No great shakes for sure but I was prepared for worse!

I decided to do more of the same for the 2nd mile and as I neared the near-around I saw Sherman and Fariss who started ahead of me. Based on their bib numbers (46 and 42 respectively), I was able to work out what I had to get to the turn-around in to be ahead of them. Because Sherman was ahead of Fariss on the road and had started 1 minute behind him I was mostly concerned with Sherman. As I hit the turn-around I concluded that I was about 45-60 seconds ahead of Sherman. Based on a quick judgment from my few seconds of observing Sherman run, I thought that my lead might be good enough to stand-up. I wasn’t sure and I knew it as going to be close. I knew I needed to stay after it and try not to fade down the stretch.

I hit the second mile at a 7:34 split and a HR of 167. I still felt pretty good and I decided to just keep at that current level of effort. I saw Sparty and waved and I didn’t really see anyone in my AG who I thought was close so the race was clearly in front of me.

I stayed strong through to the finish and did not fade. I hit the finish line in a total elapsed time of 23:40. The last section took me 8:36, which if it was 1.1 miles would have been an average pace of 7:49/mile. If the course was a .05-.10 mile long (which I’m pretty certain of) then my last section averaged 7:10-7:29/mile. Since the last section was a bit down hill and I pushed it, the later numbers make more sense. In any event, I averaged 168 bpm for the last section.

As it turned out, my run was good enough to get the job done. I gave up 52 seconds to Sherman but was able to get the win with 44 seconds to spare. My total race time was 57:32 (which is the shortest time I’ve ever raced a triathlon). Here are the final AG standings:

1. Christofferson 57:32
2. Sherman 58:16 +0:44
3. Bosley 59:32 +2:00
4. Fariss 61:08 +3:36
5. Basham 61:53 +4:21

My run turned out to be the 95th fastest overall (78.1 %-tile) and 5th fastest 81%-tile in my AG. For the whole race I finished 40th (91.0 %-tile) OA. Compared to Bosley and Spartin my 09 run compares to 08:

2008 2009

vs. Bosley RC 3.3% faster RC 1.5% faster

vs. Spartin RC 11.3% faster RC 11.4% faster

From this I can conclude that my run form is indeed behind last year, but not as much as I had feared. Perhaps this bodes well for the balance of the year.

Overall, I’m very pleased with this race. I raced quite a bit faster than I thought and am frankly surprised that I was able to get the “W”. This turns out to be my 18th career AG win in my 74 triathlons. It also strangely enough, is my 5th straight short-course AG win as I won my final four in 2008. That’s better than a sharp stick in the eye!

After the race we immediately loaded up, went back to our hotel and cleaned and packed up. We drove up to DC where I was able to see Michigan State win it’s National Semi-final basketball game with UConn on TV. All and all a great day for RC!

Sunday morning dawned impossibly beautiful and I went out and participated in the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race. What a fantastic day as the weather was spectacular! 50 degrees, no wind and brilliant sunshine. I was a little stiff and since I had yet to even run a 10 mile run this year I decided to just cruise the run. This is what I did as all of my miles were between 8:00 and 8:30 with the exception of one where I threw a 7:14 in just for fun. My HR stayed right around 162 bpm and I felt great all the way to the end. My time was a pedestrian 81:17 but it was exactly what I was looking to do. My knee did not bother me and I ran a nice solid training effort. I liked the two-race weekend aspect of it and am looking forward to hopefully enjoying a couple of two triathlon weekends this summer.

The whole experience this weekend was very encouraging and I think I’m pretty well positioned to improve my fitness enough to have some fun at races latter this summer. I’m looking forward to it!

Thanks for reading!