Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Walker Sprint Race Report

Walker Sprint Triathlon
Race Report # 10: July 31st, 2010


I was born in Minnesota and return each summer to visit my parents at our lake cottage on Ten Mile Lake. We have a log cabin that my grandparents purchased in 1934. It’s been in the family ever since. A couple of days before Alex and I left to visit my parents, my brother sent me an e-mail and told me that there was going to be a triathlon in Walker—a town of 1064 souls about 8 miles from our cabin. This was the first time for a triathlon anywhere near our lake cottage. I decided that it was fated that I sign up and so I packed my TT bike up and dragged it along the day before the race.

We arrived late Friday and I reassembled my bike and did my normal pre-race stuff. I was familiar with the race venue, as I have literally been coming here for 53 years. I knew nothing about my competition but was excited to just show up and let it rip.

I was 27 days post IM Germany and hoping that I was sufficiently recovered from that effort to race well. I raced two weeks prior at Stone Harbor and my performance was pathetic. I was hopeful that the extra two weeks would have allowed my body to return to a state of “normalcy”.

The other problem I was dealing with was my on-going hip issues that seem to have been caused by a bike accident back in April. I’ve been doing very intense physical therapy for several weeks now and was hoping to be able to see some progress from that work. I went for a short ride and run after arriving on Friday and I could still feel the fatigue from my Wednesday session. My legs were stiff and sluggish.

I awoke on Saturday morning to a truly glorious day. The locals would complain about the heat and humidity but coming from the east coast this was the most pleasant conditions that I have seen for well over a month.

I did my usual stuff and kept to myself as I didn’t know anybody and my brother and parents were arriving right before the start. Shortly before the start of the race I found myself next to a young man whom I nodded to and initiated a conversation with. There were over 200 people in the race and I’m not quite sure how I ended up next to him and decided to chat with him. He was doing his 7th triathlon and was very into it. We had a nice conversation and I wished him well. Later, I would realize how incredible it was that I happened to talk to him out of everyone else at the race—more on that later! Let’s get to the race itself!

The Swim

The swim for this triathlon was contested in Leech Lake’s Walker Bay. Leech Lake is an enormous lake in north central Minnesota. As with most of the lakes in this part of the world, the water is pristine with clear visibility to depths of 15+ feet. The water on this morning was also a very pleasant 75 degrees.

The quarter mile swim was a counter-clockwise triangle with two turn buoys. The first wave was comprised of all police and EMS personnel (the race was actually named the “Chase the Police Triathlon”). I was in the 3rd wave, which left 4 minutes later—there were 53 in my wave.

I started to the far right—away from the buoy line. I pulled hard for the first 20 strokes and quickly separated from the main group. There were three of us that quickly gapped the field. The other two guys were on the buoy line and were slightly ahead of me. I kept my eyes on them and moved closer to the two leaders in case it was advantageous for me to draft off of them. One fellow began to pull away and I could see that I was going to catch the other fellow pretty easily. I had to make a call to either surge ahead and try to bridge up to the leader or mark the second fellow. Interestingly enough, the lead swimmer went on to post the best swim time of the overall race—44 seconds faster than me. I wonder if I could have stayed with him but my guess is probably not. The fellow I did draft off of turned out to be Taggart Downare, who was on his way to winning the overall race.

After rounding the first buoy we were faced with a lot of traffic from the slower swimmers in the first two waves—two minutes between waves is not enough. I actually moved ahead of Downare in this portion of the swim. I felt very comfortable and thought I had at least a couple of higher gears available—I decided to just stay on this pace as I was clearly opening up a gap on most (or all) of my AG competitors.

At the second buoy I got tangled up in a lot of traffic and Downare moved ahead of me. I threw a surge in and jumped right up on his feet where I stayed to the end of the swim. As we hit the shallows, Downare ran away from me as I was occupied with getting my wetsuit top unzipped. He ran across the timing mat a couple of seconds ahead of me. I ended up with a swim split of 6:46 and an average HR of 155 bpm—the latter being right in the sweet spot effort wise. The course may have been slightly long since no one swam under 6 minutes. I posted the 14th fastest OA swim time out of 219 athletes (94.1 %-tile) and I was almost a minute faster than any of the other 10 athletes in my AG:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Palmer + 0:56
3. Dutton + 0:58
4. Hatten + 1:25
5. Heine + 2:01

Transition One

I, of course, had no idea whom I was racing against (or how many for that matter as I knew no one in the race—save the young man I chatted with shortly before the gun). That said I was confident that I had completed a solid swim and was probably in a good competitive position. With my parents and brother cheering, I executed my first transition in 1:45 and my HR averaged 169. This was the fastest transition in my AG and I left T1 with a comfortable margin in my AG race:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Palmer + 1:12
3. Dutton + 1:56
4. Hatten + 3:03
5. Otto + 3:15

The Bike

As I left the transition area I saw Downare, who was a few seconds faster in T1 than I, struggling to mount his bike. The first part of the bike was up a hill away from the lake and he had clipped his shoes on in transition and was not able to slip his feet in and negotiate the immediate climb. I took the more conservative route—having put my shoes on in transition—and rode past him chuckling a bit.

The bike leg turned out to be 17.45 miles in length. The first (and last) two miles were in town and were surprisingly technical—there were 15 turns, many of more than 90 degrees, in just this 2-mile section. The next 6+ miles were on highway 34, which entailed several long, modest (4-6%) climbs and descents. The 6+ mile section back to town was on the Heartland Trail, which is a converted railroad track and so was mostly flat and straight.

As I was negotiating the early twisty section, Downare came flying by on his P3. I could tell by the way he rode that he was an excellent cyclist and I decided to track him from 20-30 meters back. He was riding aggressively and I thought if I stayed with him for a while, I’d likely have a strong bike split. When we hit highway 34, the first mile was up a pretty steep climb and my power quickly climbed into the mid to high 300s as I struggled to stay with him. After about 10 seconds of this I decided that he either was a much stronger cyclist, riding very foolishly, or perhaps both. In any event I backed off and tried to concentrate on keeping my power between 250-300 watts on the climb.

I could tell that I had some zip in my legs and that I was a very different cyclist today than two weeks prior at Stone Harbor. The descents were fun as I was able to consistently ride 33-37 mph—for some fairly lengthy stretches. At the turn off of the highway I checked my power and saw that I was averaging 235 watts. I decided that I was being too conservative (I was nervous to really hammer as I did not know if I was sufficiently recovered to really go for it) and I decided to push it over the last 8+ miles. I soon found that I was able to comfortably hold 260-270 watts.

I passed a number of cyclists but not as many as I would have expected. There seemed to be a strong group of cyclists in this race. After negotiating the 15 turns in the closing section I dismounted my bike with an elapsed time of 45:37. This turned out to be an average of 23.0 mph, which I’m pleased with given the challenge of the course. My averaged watts climbed all the way back up to 246 watts with my back-half push. This is not a 100% level for me but vastly better than the 195 watts I struggled to produce at Stone Harbor. I averaged 81 rpm, which I think is quite good given the hills and my HR averaged 161bpm—respectable, but below my target of 165—I still had more speed that I didn’t access.

Competitively, I only posted the 12th fastest bike split OA (95.0 %-tile) although I was within a minute of most of those who out rode me. I was more than 4 minutes faster than anyone in my AG and effectively put the AG race away with my ride:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Palmer + 7:28
3. Dutton + 8:15
4. Otto + 8:27
5. Hatten + 8:30

Transition Two

I had what I considered to be a fast and efficient T2, which I completed in 53 seconds while averaging 163 bpm for my HR. I actually had the 3rd fastest T2 in my AG losing 8 seconds to the fastest fellow but this did not appreciably affect the standings above.

The Run

The run was a simple out and back that was mostly uphill on the way out and nicely downhill on the way back. The run distance measured 2.5 miles. My parents told me I was in 17th place leaving T2, but that included folks who went in earlier waves. In fact, I had moved up from 14th after the swim to 8th OA leaving T2. A few folks passed me on the run and I passed one fellow who had left T2 ahead of me.

I felt “ok” on this run—better than Stone Harbor but still noticeably slow and sluggish—I just haven’t been the same runner since my bike injury. In any event, the run was beautiful as we ran along the side of Leech Lake. It was noticeably warmer now but still much more pleasant than back on the east coast. I completed my run in 19:33, which is an average of 7:49/mile (sigh….). My HR averaged 165 so I probably could have gone a bit harder.

I ended up with the 43rd fastest run OA (80.8 %-tile) and the 5th fastest in my AG. I dropped back to 12th OA (95.0 %-tile) and comfortably won my AG:
1. Christofferson --------
2. Palmer + 5:36
3. Dutton + 6:37
4. Otto + 8:01
5. Hatten + 9:44

Post Race

After the race as I was chatting with my mom and packing up my stuff, when the young man (Justin Domogalla) I had talked to, came up to me and started a conversation:

Justin: Your name is Christofferson, right?
RC: Yes (I had my ITU tri-suit on and my name is printed on the front).
Justin: Do you live on Ten Mile Lake, next door to the Hasses?
RC: Yes—how do you know that?
Justin: You’re not going to believe this, but about 4-5 years ago I sitting on your beach around a fire you had made—I’m friends with Dax (one of the Hasses) and you and your son were talking about triathlons and all of your adventures. It inspired me to take up triathlon and now it’s a way of life for me. I’ve lost about 40 pounds and I just did my first half-Ironman. I’m planning to do an IMWI next year.

I, of course, was a bit dumfounded. We talked some more and it became clear that Justin, now a youth minister, had undergone a lifestyle transformation from his embrace of triathlon. He told me that you never know whom you’re going to inspire. I replied that he was absolutely right, as his story definitely inspired me!

I was struck once again by the human element and connectedness that comes from triathlon. Sometimes, and I’m very guilty of forgetting this, it’s not so much about just going fast. It’s about people and experience. This was one first rate experience for me, meeting Justin (again) and racing with my parents and brother in attendance.
Plus, I did go a bit faster. My PT seems to be working and while my run remains problematic, I think I can recover much of what was lost on the bike in time for Kona. In any event, my 96th career triathlon and 10th of the season was successfully in the books!

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