Monday, September 13, 2010

Pine Barrens Olympic Triathlon Race Report

2010 Pine Barrens Olympic Triathlon
Race Report #13: 9/11/10


My 13th triathlon of the 2010 campaign and the 99th of my triathlon career was held on this, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks. Before the race, we had a moment of silence to remember the tragic events of that date. I thought back to that time and the day I tried to spend riding the enormous, perfect waves from an offshore hurricane. My heart wasn’t in it and I cut my session short. I also reflected that on this day, nine years ago, my career triathlon total had stood at one race.

This is one of the original triathlons and the 2010 version was the 27th running. I’ve raced here at the Pine Barrens quite a few times including having raced the Olympic event twice before—in 2003 and again in 2009. One of things I like about the race is that the bike course is always the same, which facilitates performance comparisons across the years. However, we learned on race morning, that this year, due to construction, the bike course was changed to a slightly shorter, two-lap affair.

Race morning dawned promising a beautiful day and near perfect racing conditions. At race start it was sunny, low humidity and about 65 degrees. There was some wind—about 10 mph, but nothing to complain about. The water was a pleasant 70 degrees or so—it doesn’t get much better than this! I joined the other triathletes, there were 114 of us, and shortly after 9am we were off.

The Swim

The swim is advertised as a mile and its held in a pretty nice lake named Lake Atsion. The course is a narrow clock-wise loop with plenty of room to spread out. The actual distance varies considerably from year-to-year, as I believe the RD lays out the course by dead reckoning, as opposed to a more precise method. When I compare year to year I focus more on my performance relative to the field than my absolute times.

The first wave was comprised of males 39 and under and I watched them closely for the first minute of the swim. While this is a hard thing to judge, I was pretty sure that I could swim with any of them—no one seemed to be tearing it up. I jumped in the water and warmed up for another 5 minutes and after the ladies went off, I joined the 40+ crowd and we were off six minutes after the first wave.

I lined up on the far right to get clear water and to keep an eye on the competition. At the start I just headed out at what I felt was my race pace—I didn’t put an initial sprint on as the field was pretty spread out. Right away I began to slowly, but surely, open up a gap on those near me. I could see a group of 4 swimmers to my left who were doing the same over in the middle of the field.

I kept my eye on them over the first 200-yards as we stayed horizontally separated by 10-15 yards. Two of the guys on the left began to drop off the pace and we were now clear of the front of the pack by a good 10+ yards and this gap was steadily growing. Nice!

At about 300 yards we came together. The lead swimmer was about 5 yards ahead of me and looked stronger than I. I assumed this was Coy Purcell, a friend and strong 57 YO triathlete, who is an outstanding swimmer. Coy beat me by 2:35 (for the race) last year and while we weren’t directly competing, I was keying off him to give me a good benchmark of where I stood fitness wise versus last year. The other swimmer and I slotted in next to each other and basically swam side-by-side all the way out to the first turn buoy.
We began to get a lot more traffic from the first waves as we neared the turn buoy. I used my inside line to move ahead of my companion and hit the turn first. I got momentarily tangled in the ropes of the turn buoy but was able to quickly extricate myself and began driving towards the second turn buoy about 25 yards away. I negotiated this more effectively and looked back to see that I had some company on my feet.

As we headed back towards transition we were dead into the sun and even though it was relatively high in the sky, the reflection effectively blinded us. I could feel my competitor hitting my toes from time-to-time and after a bit of this I decided to push hard and drop him off my draft. In this I was successful. I now knew I was in 2nd in my wave and I took encouragement from this given the wave included all those 40 and over.

About halfway back I noted that the water shallowed out to about 2 feet and I took the opportunity to stand-up and sight the rest of the course. I was where I wanted to be and this move was helpful in orienting me on the rest of the swim.

I felt great the whole swim—very much in control. I knew that I could have pushed harder but from a competitive standpoint there didn’t seem to be any need to do so. I passed many, many swimmers from the prior waves and as I rounded the final turn for home I looked back and saw I had a 3-4 yard lead on the fellow behind me.

I exited the water with an elapsed time of 25:55 and an average HR of 155 bpm. This HR is my target for Half and full IM swimming and indicates I probably could have gone another 30 seconds faster if I had been so motivated. As I ran up the beach towards the timing mat, the race director was yelling something at me but I couldn’t really understand him because of my earplugs. I slowed and glanced back and he was waving at me and his mouth was moving. The fellow from my AG was running behind me and pointing at his head and as I pulled my earplugs out I heard him tell me to throw my swim cap to the ground. I was confused by this and thought that I like to keep the swim caps from the races I do as mementos, so I was briefly reluctant to do so. Then it dawned on me that this was the RD’s method for making sure everyone got out of the water OK.

I took my goggles off and then managed to get my cap off and on the sand. While I was screwing around with this my wave companion ran just in front of me as we crossed the timing map. He actually clocked a faster swim according to the results page (1 second) but I measure my swim time from the start of the swim to when I have fully exited the water—not when I cross the timing mat (I do this to be consistent in my reporting and analysis). So, in my book I was the faster swimmer.

In any event, the lead swimmer from our wave turned out to not be Coy but a fellow named Abbott and I was able to out swim everyone else and post the 2nd fastest swim OA! No matter which way I look at it, this must rank as the best triathlon swim of my career to date. Of the 8 competitors in my AG, the closest was Jon Swanson, who has beaten me several times in the past, and I opened up a 1:27 lead on him.

More surprising to me is that I out swam Coy by 39 seconds. Last year, he was 4:21 faster than me and this more than anything, I think, illustrates how much stronger my swim is this year. I think the swim distance was probably pretty close to being accurately measured at 1 mile this year. Here is how my swims at the Pine Barrens compare to each other:

Year Time OA Place OA %-tile

2003 32:37 80/209 62.2 %
2004 27:14 15/59 76.2
2010 25:55 2/114 99.1

Here is where we stood OA after the swim:

1. Abbott --------
2. Christofferson + 1:13
3. Spina + 1:13
4. Fay + 1:18
5. Purcell + 1:52

Transition One

I put the swim cap affair behind me and really tried to focus on executing a strong transition. The week before, at Marlton, I had been horrible and I felt I was just being mentally lazy. I was confident that I had a very strong swim and I wanted specifically to move ahead of Spina after he snaked me across the mat.

I executed a very strong T1 in an elapsed time of 1:34 (HR was 169). This was in fact the 7th fastest T1 overall which is exceptional for me. Kristen Donahue, who is the best I know at transitions, was first but only 11 seconds faster. I’ll take that any day! Competitively, I put time into the rest of the top 5 (as well as my AG) and this is where we were OA after T1:

1. Abbott --------
2. Christofferson + 0:27
3. Spina + 0:28
4. Fay + 0:44
5. Purcell + 1:16

The Bike

I left T1 just ahead of Spina and feeling very into the race. The new bike course turned out to be a mile shorter than the historical course at 23.0 miles. It was a new course for everyone but turned out to be a simple 11-mile loop with a short run out and back to the two-loop course.

Shortly into the bike Spina went by with a very strong move. He open up about a 30-yard lead but then seemed to stay there. I was focused on riding somewhat controlled for the first five miles or so and I was content to track him from afar. I was feeling pretty good and seeing power numbers in the 220-260 watt range, which while a little low, seemed reasonable.

After about 5 miles I decided to up the ante and reeled Spina in and went by him hard. At the same time I passed Abbott and found myself leading the entire race! (I didn’t know this at the time but am pretty pumped about it after the fact).

Spina came back around me a mile latter and then Abbott followed right after him. I sat up and dropped back and collected myself for a minute or so and surged past them both again and I heard Spina yell out: “I figured you had more in you”. I nodded and said to myself: “Damn straight I do!”

I was riding harder now but shortly after the end of the first lap Abbott came by me again. I decided to cool it a bit and rode about 40 yards behind him. I looked back and saw that we had dropped Spina. I had passed quite a few cyclists to this point but I noticed there were fewer and fewer up the road. At about 15 miles I went by Abbott again and stayed ahead of him for the last eight miles. I finished the bike with a split of 59:42 and an average HR of 160 bpm. This is quite a bit below the 165 or so that I would expect in an Olympic race. My average power confirmed this as it came in at 235 watts. Earlier this year, at the Presidential Lakes Oly I averaged 241 watts in what I thought was a soft effort on a more technical course. Clearly, all of my long distance rides (like the 6 hour ride on the previous Wednesday) and my aggregate bike volume has dulled my top-end power and speed. My average speed was 23.1 mph and my cadence averaged 81 rpm. This is not a great bike for me but given my IM training emphasis, not that surprising.

Competitively, my ride was pretty effective. In my AG, I had opened up an 8+ minute lead. I had the 3rd fastest split in the field OA (98.2 %-tile) and managed to put significant time on both Abbott and Spina. Using Coy as my benchmark again, I was 3:30 faster than him this year versus 3:13 last year.

I entered T2 not far behind another rider and was shocked to see just one bike already racked! I didn’t know how long ago that rider had left T2 and for that matter, whether he was from wave one or wave two. I did know that the guy just in front of me was definitely under 39 so I knew I was either 1st or 2nd OA. Here in fact is where we stood after the bike:

1. Chawner --------
2. Christofferson + 0:30
3. Abbott + 0:34
4. Spina + 1:46
5. Powell + 2:35

Transition Two

I was very psyched and highly motivated as I ran into transition. I knew there was a good chance that I was leading the race. I was hungry for more. I really pushed it hard in transition and once again had a pretty good one with an elapsed time of 41 seconds and an average HR of 157. This was 10th best OA and again only 8 seconds slower than Kristen—my transition role model. Here is where we stood after T2:

1. Chawner --------
2. Christofferson + 0:32
3. Abbott + 0:52
4. Spina + 1:41
5. Powell + 2:43

The Run

I exited the run hot on the heels of the young guy and tried to focus on staying with him for a while. I let myself be convinced that I was winning and I even thought about what it would be like to win my first ever triathlon. I knew, in my heart, that this was most certainly a false hope but I was having a ton of fun and just went with that pleasant dream.

I was pushing hard and (I felt) running well—especially given how poor my run has been of late. The run at PB is all trails running on mixed sand and dirt through the woods. In places it’s literally like running on the soft sand of the beach in Stone Harbor. The first mile however, has a pretty good surface and I was pleased to hit the mile marker in 7:36 with a HR of 165. I was keeping the young guy in sight and my optimism was surging at this point—maybe I could really win this thing.

I redoubled my efforts on the second mile but soon Abbott came by me and I judged, from the looks of him, that he probably was over 40 and that he must have been the guy who went off the front on the swim (in this I was correct). I decided to try to hang onto him as long as I could and I hit Mile 2 with a split of 7:29 (167 HR). I was very energized, as I seemed to be running better than I had at any point since my bike accident.

Not long after the 2nd mile mark, Spina sped by me and complimented me on my bike. I said thanks but my spirits sank a bit, as I knew I had no chance of catching him. Towards the end of the 3rd mile we hit the heavy, rutty, uneven sand and the running became very awkward. My third mile was an 8:15 (166 bpm), which wasn’t that bad given the surface.

After a long stretch of soft sand, Abbott had some sort of shoe problem and I went past him. He soon re-passed me and seemed to be more energized and began to pull steadily away. My 4th mile was 8:09 (165 bpm) and as several other runners (all but one, Powell, under 40 and technically 6 minutes behind me) passed me I sensed that I was slowing down.

I fought this urge and tried to pick it up on the 5th mile and clocked a 7:33 (165). As I passed 5 I saw that I needed to run an 8:02 over the final 1-1.2 miles to break 2:15, which seemed like a worthy goal. I don’t really know exactly how far the run course is, being out in the woods as it is, and I also don’t know how accurate he mile markers are, but I’ve always felt this run might be a little short but given the surface was equivalent to a road 10k so for analytic purposes, I’ve treated it that way.

I looked behind me and saw that no one was near me but I decided to really hammer it all the way home and indeed I crossed the finish line with a total race time of 2:14:58. My run split ended up at 47:06 (166 bpm) and an average of 7:35/mile. Frankly, while slow from an absolute perspective, I’m very pleased with this run given my slow recovery from my bike accident. I had the 31st fastest run OA and 3rd in my AG.

Benchmark-wise, I was only 2:09 slower than Kristen, which is fantastic for me (in fairness to Kristen, the soft sand is much harder on a lighter runner like her than it is on me). Coy was 2:03 faster than me this year versus 1:32 last year, which feels OK to me.

My run in 2003 was 47:48 and last year it was 49:16 (although on a different course due to flooding).

My run was good enough for me to hold onto 5th OA—almost a minute in front of the 6th place finisher:

1. Chawner --------
2. Spina + 3:02
3. Powell + 6:02
4. Abbott + 6:52
5. Christofferson + 8:33

I won my AG (my 28th AG victory) by 9:27.

Chawner turned out to be the runner-up from last year and provides another useful benchmark for my performance versus last year:

My time vs. Chawner (positive is faster/improvement for me)

2009 2010 Change

Swim (1:04) +1:27 + 2:31
T1 (0:15) (0:03) + 0:12
Bike (1:29) (1:52) (0:27)
T2 (0:05) (0:02) + 0:03
Run (7:49) (5:59) + 1:50

Total (13:20) (8:33) + 4:47

At this rate of improvement, I’ll win this thing in 2012!

Seriously, this was a great race for me. Certainly my strongest in 2010 and it gives me a lot of momentum as I head towards Kona. It also gives me a great deal of optimism about regaining my run strength and having a strong year in 2011!

Thanks for reading!

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