Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Smithfield Sprint/Cherry Blossom Race Report

Smithfield Race Report
April 5th, 2014


Location: Smithfield, VA
Distance: 300-meter swim/9.85 mile bike/3.1 mile run
2014 Triathlon Race Number: 2
Career Triathlon Race Number: 139
Conditions: Delightful.  65-70 degrees.  Clear and sunny.  10 mph breeze.  Pool swim.

As with 2013, this was to be my second triathlon of 2014 after the Tune-Up Tri of last weekend.  This was my fourth Smithfield triathlon having won my AG in 2009 and 2012 and having finished 2nd last year.  Also similar to last year, this weekend was my Smithfield/Cherry Blossom 10-mile run “double”.  I drove 6:30 down to Smithfield arriving Friday evening and after the Tri, Saturday afternoon I drove up to DC and met Judy and ran with her on Sunday morning.

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. 

492 individual triathletes would finish the race in 2014 and there were 19 in my AG.  Last year’s winner, Greg Guinther was back to defend his title.  He beat me by 64 seconds last year.  Greg is a very strong triathlete who finished second in the Virginia Triathlon Series last year and was 8th OA recently at the US National Duathlon Championship were he beat strong triathletes such as Brian Sullivan, Nace Mullen and Lou Almekindres—all stronger athletes than I.  As I looked at the list of 55-59 YO competitors, I thought it would once again devolve into a two-man race.

Last year we had bib #s 128 and 129 so we started just 15 seconds apart.  This year I was number 62 and he was 77, which means either the field in 2014 was weaker (in terms of the swim) or we had both been too optimistic about our predicted swim times.  In any event, this change would weigh prominently in the tactical execution of the race as I was starting 4:15 in front of Greg.

The Swim

The swim here is a 300-meter “snake” pool swim with a TT start.  Every 15 seconds, beginning at 10 a.m. another swimmer started (meaning some people didn’t start until well past noon).  At 10:17:15 I was up and off I went.  I felt pretty good on the swim and despite my lack of pool time this year (due to my late start after Aconcagua) I was hopeful I would equal or perhaps better my 5:16 swim time from last year.

My first three lengths were: 23.3, 21.8, and 27.0 seconds.  However, towards the end of the 4th length I pulled aside and let the swimmer behind me pass and we she reached the wall, she stopped and stood up and looked at me.  I urged to go but she looked confused and finally she ducked under the rope and headed off for lap 5.  This was a bit of a “disaster” as my 4th lap was 35.6 seconds (I’m guessing this cost me 8-10 seconds).

I put it out of my mind and tried to just get on her feet and draft.  Laps 5-7 were: 23.0, 25.3, and 29.6.  During the 8th lap I could sense she was really slowly and I began to wonder if I should pass her back.  At the wall, she stopped and stood up again.  And then ducked under the rope and finally pushed off.  Aghhhh!  Another mini-disaster of 34.1 seconds.
The last four laps were a bit frustrating as I figured my swim was going to be slow.  The last four were: 22.4, 30.8, 25.7, and 28.4.  I exited the water in 5:28, a damaging 12 seconds slower than I did last year.  Let’s put this into a competitive context:

Greg Guinther finished his swim 29 seconds faster than I this year vs. the 6 seconds I lost to him last year.  At the start I knew I needed to find a way to make up 64 seconds on him this year and I had gone 23 seconds in the wrong direction on this swim.  I had the 136th fastest swim OA (72.6 %-tile) vs. 72.2 %-tile last year, which supports the theory that the swim field was weaker this year.  A look at the 90, 75 and 50 %-tiles each year confirms this:

                      2013              2014

90 %-tile         4:35        4:48
75 %-tile         5:07        5:31
50 %-tile         5:54        6:24

While my OA %-tile masked my poor swim this year, my position relative to Greg and the rest of my AG did not (I was 6th in my AG vs. 5th last year):

1.    Joseph                   --------
2.    Cofsky                   + 0:18
3.    Guinther                 + 0:21
4.    Brogan                   + 0:35
5.    Grinnan                  + 0:36
6.    Christofferson         + 0:50

I averaged 2.06 yds./stroke, which is actually pretty good but my spm were only 29.1, due to the standing around.  I normally average 31 spm in a pool, which implies I lost about 20 seconds during the swim. Darn.

Transition One

I exited the pool after glancing at my watch and absorbing the harsh reality of my swim effort.  This was very disappointing and certainly not the swim I needed if I was to beat Greg this year.  Being the “Year of Yes”, I tried to banish these downer thoughts from my brain but I can’t help but think this took a little bit of an edge off of my transition.

I executed all of my transition things in 1:25, which being 3 seconds slower than last year doesn’t appear at first blush to be that bad.  However, we (bib numbers below 100) had a more favorable rack location this year than last and almost everybody in the lower numbers was executing faster T1s this year.  Officially, I was 7 seconds slower than last year but Greg was 4 seconds faster—a net loss of 11 more seconds.  (Guys who finished in the top 5 both years—I’ll call them the “Top Dogs”-- on average were 5 seconds faster in T1—I attribute this to the favorable rack configuration this year).

Last year I left T1 one second ahead of Greg but this year my poor swim/T1 left me 33 seconds behind.  To beat Greg I was going to have to be 97 (64+33) seconds faster on the bike/T2/run—a very tall order.  I had done myself no favors at the start of this race.  I had the 82nd fastest T1 OA (83.5 %-tile) and 4th fastest in my AG:

1.    Cofsky                   --------
2.    Guinther                + 0:11
3.    Kiehl                      + 0:32
4.    Christofferson         + 0:44
5.    Bosley/Joseph         + 0:50

The Bike

As I headed out on my bike I gave myself a little pep talk.  I rationalized that it was a long shot for me to beat Greg this year anyways so I might just as well forget about my bad start.  I was riding my TM01 here this year for the first time and I thought it would give me a good look at how much faster it was than my old TT01.  I could feel the headwind over the first couple of miles but sensed it seemed like conditions might be a bit easier this year than last year.

There isn’t much to comment on as far as the bike ride goes as I didn’t have Greg in front of me due to the TT start and most of the people who started in front of me had outswam me and were well out in front with their TT head starts.  I had good power and was spinning very well (this was an area of interest for me as I had only averaged in the 70s last week—which I thought was due to the nature of the Tune-Up Tri course).  Here is what the first five miles looked like this year:

Mile 1:     22.4mph/165bpm/80rpm/270 avg watts/271 NP
Mile 2:     21.4/165/82/240/242
Mile 3:     21.7/164/81/247/247
Mile 4:     21.2/166/84/251/252
Mile 5:     21.1/167/90/249/260

During the descent in the 3rd mile I hit a top speed of 39.6 mph—which shows I know the course (because it’s a downhill blind curve) and I was really going for it.  You can also see the impact of the big hill in mile 5 where my cadence went up and my NP jumped way up vs. my avg. power.

The first half of this course has much harder terrain and has wind that hurts.  Consequently, the next 4.86 miles were traversed considerably faster:

Mile 6:     24.5/167/92/240/241
Mile 7:     24.6/168/91/255/255
Mile 8:     24.3/167/89/248/250
Mile 9:     24.7/166/91/235/237
Mile .86:   22.8/167/88/255/264

Despite the growing fatigue in my legs I felt very “up” during this ride.  I could tell I was riding efficiently with a nice smooth, high cadence.  My bike felt exceptionally fast and subjectively I knew I was going to have a good bike despite my lack of bike fitness this year.  I lost a little bit of focus on Mile 9 and that cost me a few seconds I’m sure.

I finished the bike in exactly 26:00, which in addition to being 16 seconds faster than last year (by my Garmin), was a course record for me!  It’s interesting to compare data from the last four rides:

                      2009       2012       2013        2014

Time               26:25      26:12      26:16      26:00
Avg Watts       253         251         254         249
Norm Power                   256         259         252
Average HR     162         161         167         166
Cadence                        80           82           87

Some take-aways:

-      My power has been pretty consistent across this five-year time span.
-      2014 was my fastest time and my lowest power.  This is explainable my either my new bike and/or better conditions this year (and of course less fitness this year)
-      I rode much more efficiently this year (look at my cadence and the ratio between NP/AP)

This is pretty good stuff and I knew it.  I ended up with the 23rd fastest bike OA (95.5 %-tile vs. 95.1 last year) and was a minute or more faster than the rest of my AG.

Importantly, I was 1:31 faster than Greg:

1.    Christofferson         --------
2.    Guinther                 + 0:58
3.    Siemers                  + 1:06
4.    Cofsky                   + 1:50
5.    Kiehl                      + 2:52

Officially, my chip time had me being a whopping 27 seconds faster than 2013.  Greg was also 9 seconds faster than 2013 so relatively speaking, I was 18 seconds better off, on the bike this year than last.  However, I was still 16 seconds further behind than last year, which meant I had to do 80 seconds faster (relative to Greg) than last year to beat him.  Had I known this I would have said no-way!

I also looked at the 5 “Top Dogs” again and saw they averaged 26 seconds faster on the bike so maybe most of my advantage this year was due to the conditions.  (In my heart of hearts, I think part of it must be my very fast new TT bike!)

Transition Two

After dismounting I “charged” into T2 feeling that my bike leg was excellent and maybe I was back in the game—after all who knows how Guinther was doing…. I felt I had a very good T2 and took a total of 1:02 to transition from my bike to my run.  This was good enough for 120th OA (75.8 %-tile vs. 85.6 %-tile last year).  Still, because of the more favorable rack locations this year I was 15 seconds faster than last year.  I was once again the 4th fastest in my AG in transition.

Guinther was 3 seconds faster than last year, which is a function of the better racks (making him faster) and his conversion from rat-traps last year to normal pedals this year (making him slower).  The net effect of this is I able to pick up 16 seconds in this transition as compared to last year and I left T2 this year with just a 55 second advantage as compared to last year’s 74 second advantage—I was still relatively worse by 16 seconds:

1.    Christofferson         --------
2.    Guinther                 + 0:55
3.    Siemers                  + 1:14
4.    Cofsky                   + 1:55
5.    Kiehl                      + 2:55

One last thing to note before moving on to the run is Siemers who was just 1:14 behind me vs. the 3:19 last year.  Had I known this as I left T2, I would have been doubly worried.

The Run

I was buoyed by my strong bike and apparently fast T2 as I headed out for my run.  Of course, I had zero information as to the tactical situation I was facing—I wouldn’t get that until 2+ minutes after the turn-around on this out and back run—more on that shortly.

I felt pretty good, relatively speaking as I settled into my run.  I was surprised about 4 minutes after I left T2 to feel my Garmin vibrate and indicate an auto-lap time of 4:07.  This surprised me because I had expected my Garmin to auto-lap at each mile.  The other default auto-lap distance was one kilometer and my confidence jumped quite a bit as this seemed to indicate I was on a sub 21-minute 5k pace.  I reflected on this and thought that I didn’t feel like I was running that fast and well frankly, I couldn’t really even remember what it felt like to run that fast!

I kept at it and was surprised when my watch indicated my second auto-lap interval was completed once again in 4:07—wow!  Maybe I’m kicking it!  What I didn’t know was my Garmin was auto-lapping at 0.5-mile intervals and not 0.62-mile intervals.  The reason for this is Judy had borrowed it for a hike and I had set it to lap on the half-mile.  Boy, I was really off my game here!  So the reality of the situation is that my first mile was in 8:14 and my average HR was 168, which indicates I was working pretty hard to go even this slowly.

Out on the course I was thinking (hoping) that I was crushing the run and I pushed a bit harder.  It was warm and the rolling course was challenging but I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could pull this thing out of the fire.

I soon reached the left turn that leads to the final short-ish out and back section.  Before I hit the turnaround (which I knew was at 1.55 miles) my Garmin vibrated again and I knew it was impossible for me to be at 3 kilometers—this was not a 6-kilometer race after-all!  I then remembered setting the watch for Judy and knew that I was running quite a bit slower that I had thought.  My 3rd half-mile was at 4:04 and my HR was at 168—indicating the stress my body was under.

As I ran back toward the main road I knew the moment of truth was about to arrive.  Since I started 4:15 in front of Guinther I knew that if we crossed paths around 2:08 (half of 4:15) we would be about tied out on the road (technically this is not true as he presumably was running faster than me and would be expected to cover the distance I covered in 2:08 a bit faster than I—but it’s usually a good approximation) and I would have very little chance of beating him.  I felt if I could cross at 2:30 (45 second lead for me) that I had a small chance (say 30%).  If we crossed at 3:00 (1:45 lead) I had a very good chance of winning (say 90%).

I made the turn and as we crossed I glanced at my watch and saw it was exactly 2:30 since I had made the turnaround.  Now a little math here can illuminate what had gone on to this point:

- I now know Guinther ran on average 4.4% faster than me for this race
- It took me 2:30 after the turnaround to hit the crossing point and if we apply the 4.4% delta it would imply he reached the same point 4:47 later. 
- Since I started 4:15 before him, the best guess is he was 32 seconds (not 45) behind me at this point—(given we started at different times the gap between us at the turnaround was much bigger than normal and the approximation of assuming similar running speed produced a much bigger error)
- I had started 55 seconds in front of him, which means he had made up 33 seconds over the first 1.6 miles or so.
- I was running 8:11/mile on average through this point, which implies he was running about 7:50/mile

In any event, I knew it was going to be close but I was swimming upstream, so to speak.  My next two half-miles were: 3:58/170bpm and 3:57/170bpm—My pace was 16 seconds per mile faster than I had up onto the point I saw Greg.  I was digging deep but wished that like last year I could see Greg and gauge how much to dig (I’m sure if I saw him I could have found something more).

My last half was a slower 4:08/171—probably a combination of fatigue and some climbing down the stretch.  I kicked hard for home crossing the final 0.08 miles in 30 seconds—a 7:02 pace with a 173bpm HR.  It was a pretty solid kick on some uneven grass footing.

As I crossed the Finish Line I saw the clock read 11:15:59.  So in my mind I initially thought—OK, Guinther has to cross after 11:19:15 for me to win.  I also could see it took about 20 seconds or so for the runners to hit the line after they came into site.  I waited to see what my fate would be.  Soon the clock read 11:19:00 and after a moment of hope I realized my error—I needed the clock to read 11:20:15 (I was tired and the math part of my brain wasn’t working well).

At 11:19:45, sure enough Guinther made the turn and I knew he was going to beat the cut-off.  In fact he crossed at 11:20:05 by my eye—he had beaten me by just 10 seconds.  Over the last 1.5 miles I had averaged right about 7:50/mile.  Yet he had made up 42 seconds on me, which implies he had accelerated to 7:22/mile.  Here is how we stood at the finish:

1.    Guinther                 --------
2.    Christofferson         + 0:10
3.    Siemers                  + 1:29
4.    Kiehl                      + 1:58
5.    Bosley                    + 3:48

I finished the run in 24:51 (8:01/mile) with an average HR of 169bpm.  This might indicate I could have gone just a bit faster on the run.  I was 12 seconds slower than last year but Guinther had been 1:20 slower.  In fact (I’m guessing due to the warmish temperatures) the whole field was quite a bit slower than last year.  The “Top Dogs” were on average 38 seconds slower this year.  I had the 131st fastest run (73.6 %-tile vs. 65.9 %-tile last year).  Like last year, I had the 5th fastest in my AG.  Given my fitness, I have to feel pretty good about this effort despite the overall race results.

My final time was 58:46—two seconds slower than last year, which I’ll take, given how poorly I started.  I finished 48th OA (90.4 %-tile vs. 86.4 %-tile last year).

Summary Thoughts

-      Bittersweet to come this close to winning and not do so.  Still, from a bigger picture perspective this race was encouraging.
-      I really blew it on the swim and to a lessor extent T1.  This strikes me as more of a mental issue than a physical one.  I believe I could have easily have been 10-20 seconds faster through T1.
-      I lost 7 seconds in transition to Guinther, which in light of the 10 second delta is pretty significant
-      After T1 I’m quite pleased with my performance—especially on the bike. 
-      I’m encouraged by how fast my TM01 is.
-      It’s a bit surprising how “fast” I am this year given my training base.  This implies I’m “pushing” my fitness a bit right now and/or that my training program doesn’t really increase my fitness that much off a pretty good base.  This is something to think about.

In any event, the next day I did the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and ran 8:46/mile.  However, the first 5 miles I went through in just under 46 minutes so you can see how much I negative split that run.  I felt great over the last five miles and it sure is a lot more pleasant to run a distance race when you feel stronger down the stretch as opposed to just hanging on.  I was very encouraged by the run.

On to NOLA70.3 this coming Sunday where my lack of fitness has a good chance of being exposed.  We’ll see—whatever happens I plan to take it in stride!

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