Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tune-Up Triathlon Race Report

Tune-Up Triathlon Race Report
March 30th, 2014


Location: Manassas, VA
Distance: 1.64-mile run/4.16 mile bike/200 yard swim
2014 Triathlon Race Number: 1
Career Triathlon Race Number: 138
Conditions: 43 degrees.  Torrential rain and very strong and gusty wind.  Lots of standing and flowing water on the course.  Pool swim.

Opening day for the 2014 triathlon (pre) season.  As I did last year, I combined a trip down to Baltimore to visit Jenny with the 160-mile trip from DE to Manassas.  This is the very short “super sprint” race run in reverse order that I first raced last year.  On this day there 159 OA competitors and 10 in my 55-59 YO AG.

As with last year, due to my 2012/13 and 2014 Aconcagua expeditions, I had a late start to my pre-season training as I entered this race.  This late start was even more pronounced than last year as I had returned from Argentina in early February after 4 months of focusing on mountain climbing.  Effectively, I had 4-5 weeks of triathlon training under my belt coming into this race.

Looking at my AG competitors the two fellows who finished 2nd and 3rd last year (Richards and Rice) were back and a guy named Flood looked like he might be able to push me.  14 guys had signed up but I guess the weather changed some minds.  There were a couple of guys I couldn’t find any info on and I assumed that the lack of race data on them meant they would not be a competitive threat.  My assumption was the race was mine to win.

I awoke at 3:45 at Jen’s and loaded up my car.  I was on the road by 4:05 and in Manassas around 5:30.  I did all my pre-race stuff and was ready (although very wet and cold) to go for the 7:30 a.m. start.

The Run

Like last year I was in the third wave.  Unfortunately, this year 50+ YO guys were there vs. just the 55+ YO guys last year.  This opened up a bunch of potential tactical questions—which would prove to be relevant.

The course weaved through the parking lots and involved something like 12-14 turns.  The reason I’m imprecise is that they had to change the course form the prior year due to the extensive flooding from the rain—last year there was a bit of cross country going on.  Despite this, my Garmin had last year’s course at 1.68 miles and this year’s at 1.64 miles.

I sighted and knew who Richards, Rice and Flood were at the start.  I doubt they knew who I was.  At the gun, Rice surged ahead and I was content to track him.  Last year he went out fast and I was able to reel him back in so I assumed this year would be more of the same.  However, after only 0.2-0.3 miles I was up on his heels and surprised that he was running so slow.  I surged ahead of him with no resistance and since I knew that he, Flood and Richards were behind me I assumed that I was now in control of my AG race.

However, almost immediately, and certainly before I got comfortable in my tactical position, a very fit guy in tri shorts and sporting number 217 surged past me.  Now I was number 219 and I knew there was a chance he was in my AG.  However, my first guess was that he must be in the 50-54 YO AG.  I had done my research and there should not have been anybody who was surging past me on the run at this point.

Let me digress here.  I do research before each of my races.  I do this because I feel that I need to do the best job I can of preparing (given my many limitations) before each race.  Obviously, most of this is physical but importantly, a lot of it is mental in an attempt to give me a superior tactical understanding of the race than my fellow AG competitors. 

I did this research for this race.  I knew (or so I thought) who could beat me and who couldn’t.  My judgment was if I was ahead of Rice, Richards and Flood during the run I could not be beat.  This type of tactical research is almost always foolproof—until it isn’t.  And on this day it wasn’t.

The guy that surged past me was named Stanton and I blew it on my research of him.  I thought he had no record on the Internet but after the race I re-researched him and discovered he had a pretty extensive record.  Including racing 2 minutes faster on this course in 2012 than I did in 2013.  Had I know this before the race I would have pegged myself as an underdog to him.

Of course, due to my poor tactical preparation, I didn’t know this on Sunday morning.  I sat on his heels for a bit but immediately felt the pressure on my (poor) run fitness and decided to let him go.  My rationalization was, firstly, that he was probably in the 50-54 YO AG since I didn’t know about him before the race.  Secondly, he was running faster than I felt comfortable running and as long as I kept him reasonably close my bet was I could erase the gap on the bike.

BTW, as we headed out towards the turn-around I was struck by how challenging it was running into the wind.  There were also deep puddles everywhere and I did my best to avoid them.  As I was nearing the turnaround I became aware of another older guy up ahead of me and I felt there was a very good chance he was in my AG.  When he made the turn about 20 yards in front of me I saw he had number 223 and it was clear that he was in my AG.  This was Jones—another guy who I found no data on during my competitive research.  It dawned on me that there was a good chance I was in 3rd.  I decided I would close the gap to Jones and try to beat him to T1.  After that, I was counting on my bike and (to a lessor extent) swim strength to seal the deal.

I hit the one-mile mark with an elapsed time of 7:55 and an average HR of 167bpm.  This was initially disappointing, as I knew I had passed one-mile in 7:37/164 last year.  Still, I was way ahead of the three guys I had pegged as key to stay with on the run and the weather was clearly a factor.  In any event, I had work to do to pass Jones and I focused on this task.

With about a quarter mile to go I caught up to Jones and made a strong move past him.  I could feel him responding behind me as I guess he pegged me as an AG competitor.  I eased back a bit and carefully listened to see if he would pass me back.  Tactically, I admit that none of this matters but my ego wanted to beat him into T1.  With 100 yards to go I upped the pace pretty dramatically and was able to cross into T1 just in front of him.  The last 0.64 miles passed in 4:59 for an average pace of 7:48/mile.  My HR averaged 172bpm.

For the run as a whole, I took 12:55 and had an average HR of 169.  This compares unfavorably to last year where I finished in 12:49 with an average HR of 167.  I finished 44th out of 159 on the run (73.0 %-tile) vs. 38th last year (74.2 %-tile).  I indeed had the second fastest AG run this year (vs. first last year) and here is where we stood after the run:

1.    Stanton                 --------
2.    Christofferson         + 0:35
3.    Jones                     + 0:36
4.    Rice                       + 1:12
5.    Richards                 + 1:29

So, how to interpret this run?  Well, from an absolute sense I’m still old and slow.  And getting older and slower.  However, I wanted to understand it just a bit better, especially given the challenging weather this year.  Normally, a real solid gauge of year-to-year performance is to just look at my OA %-tile in both years.  In this measure I declined from 74.2 to 73.0%--a modest fall-off.  However, this measure assumes that the relative competitiveness of the field is the same from year-to-year.  With such a small field, this is often a perilous assumption.

So what I did is look at my relative performance and compared it to 2 guys from my AG who raced both years (Rice/Richardson) and 2 of the top guys OA who also raced both years (Walsh/Spiecher).  Here is what the data said:

RC was 0.5% slower in 2014
AG competitors were 5.9% slower
Top Dogs were 1.0% slower

So hey, maybe a pretty decent effort here.  In any event, I worked harder than last year to go slower this year and my fitness was behind last year as well so no matter what I have a lot of work to do.  Still, I have to feel pretty good about this result.

Transition One

Transitions are VERY important in a race like this—in fact, of all the races I’ve done through the years, it’s this race where they are the most important.  This should not be surprising.  With such short SBR sections it stands to reason that transitions are very important and much more so than races with longer SBR segments.

I wasn’t thinking about that per se but I was very focused on executing a fast T1.  Jones was right behind me and Stanton was already well into his T1.  As it turned out I had the 27th fastest transition overall (83.6 %-tile vs. 74.2 %-tile last year) and took 1:13 to complete it.  More importantly, I had the fastest T1 in my AG and made up 30 of my 35 second disadvantage vis-à-vis Stanton:

1.    Stanton                 --------
2.    Christofferson         + 0:05
3.    Jones                     + 0:13
4.    Willett                    + 1:18
5.    Rice                       + 1:41

The Bike

After mounting up and settling in on my bike I took assessment of my tactical situation.  I knew Jones was some distance behind me as his rack was right next to mine in T1 and he was still fiddling around when I left T1.  As I looked up ahead I saw Stanton and he was all decked out in an aero helmet and a TT bike.  Plus, I wasn’t really closing on him at the start—oh-oh!

I registered those facts but was more focused on controlling my bike.  I had an 808FC up front and a disc in the back (I was the only one in the race with a disc—I guess I missed the weather report).  The wind was gusty and very strong and there were rivulets of water flowing across the road but still I felt very stable and comfortable on my TT bike.  I also was struck by how freaking fast my TT bike is—I last raced it about 7 months ago…

A fair amount of the first 0.9 miles was upwind and I just wasn’t closing on Stanton.  Finally we made the turn and with a tailwind my speed shot up over 30 mph and I could see that I would soon pass Stanton.  Downwind, for whatever reason, I was way faster.  I passed him at about 1.3 miles.  Here is what my first two miles looked like:

Mile 1
Time:              3:09
Speed:            19.2 mph
Cadence:         74 rpm
Avg Power:      252 watts

Mile 2
Time:              2:52
Speed:            21.0 mph
Cadence:         74 rpm
Avg Power:      257 watts

Sorry about the lack of HR/NP data—I need to do a little work on my Garmin before the next race!  The low RPM is a function of the 15 turns (4 180s) on the course.  Of course these turns significantly impacted my speed and to some extent my average power as well.

At the second 180 I could tell I was beginning to pull away from Stanton and that all the rest of the folks in my AG were no longer in the mix so I just focused on riding as fast as I could (and not crashing given the rain and gusty wind).  The rest of the bike data:

Mile 3
Time:              2:53
Speed:            20.7 mph
Cadence:         80 rpm
Avg Power:      247 watts

Mile 4
Time:              3:45
Speed:            16.0 mph
Cadence:         74 rpm
Avg Power:      253 watts

The last 0.16 miles I covered in 37 seconds and averaged 15.5 mph/76 rpm/266 watts.

Overall, I took 13:15 to finish this bike leg.  I averaged 18.8 mph, 75 rpm, 255 watts, and an average HR of 163 bpm (from my 910).  Here is what this year looked like compared to last year:

                      2013              2014

Distance          4.27        4.16
Time               13:11      13:15
Heart Rate       157         163
Cadence          82           75
Power             239         255

Translation: I worked a lot harder than last year and produced more power.  However, with the poor conditions and despite the course being slightly shorter I was 4 seconds slower.  This isn’t surprising.  I was under a lot more competitive stress this year and was doing everything I could to open up a gap on Stanton.

In this I was modestly successful as I put a total of 30 seconds on him (and much more on everyone else in my AG):

1.    Christofferson         --------
2.    Stanton                 + 0:25
3.    Jones                     + 1:54
4.    Willett                    + 2:32
5.    Rice                       + 3:11

Overall I had the 13th fastest bike 92.5 %-tile (vs. 94.9 %-tile last year).  However, it’s clear there were a bunch of faster athletes that raced this year that didn’t race last year and if we once again look at my relative performance vs. others who raced both years we get the following:

RC was 2.4% slower in 2014
AG competitors were 10.8% slower
Top Dogs were 3.7% slower

Based on all of this I’d have to say I was actually stronger this year than last—probably due to the competitive pressure I was facing from Stanton.

Transition Two

I dismounted and ran hard into transition.  I knew Stanton wasn’t that far behind me and if were to out-transition me then I could be in trouble on the swim.  If you think back to T1 where I was 30 seconds faster than Stanton you can see how important transitions are in this race.  It would have been a whole different deal if he entered T2 5 seconds ahead of me instead of 25 seconds behind.

I absolutely killed this transition taking 2:02 to rack my bike, strip out my clothes, run to the pool building, walk 40 yards on the deck and then finally slide into the pool.  I had the 12th fastest T2 OA (93.1 %-tile versus 77.2 %-tile last year).  This was tops in my AG by a considerable margin and most importantly 47 seconds faster than Stanton!  In total, I put 77 seconds on him in the two transitions (remember that number).

As I ran out of transition I looked back and saw Stanton racking his bike.  He still had a lot to do and it registered that he wasn’t going to catch me.

1.    Christofferson                --------
2.    Stanton                         + 1:12
3.    Jones                            + 2:06
4.    Willett                           + 3:56
5.    Rice                              + 5:01

The Swim

Unlike last year, the first couple of lanes where uncongested when I arrived at the pool’s edge.  This year, the swim was shortened to 200 yards (from 250 yards) for no apparent reason.  I jumped in and had a pretty decent swim.  Of course my HR was sky-high after the bike ride and hurried T2.  It’s challenging to swim with one’s HR so high at the start of the swim.  I was right at my threshold, which is something I never really do in a triathlon swim.

Here is what my 8 laps looked like:

1:    22.0/12 strokes
2:    26.6/12
3:    29.1/13
4:    27.4/14
5:    26.9/14
6:    28.6/16
7:    29.1/14
8:    34.3/16

These splits look slow and they are.  However, the rules here require you to swim a length, touch the wall, go under the rope and touch the wall in the new lane before you push off.  It’s awkward and definitely costs a couple of seconds each lap.  The final lap also includes swimming over to a ladder and climbing out and then walking to the timing mat.

My total elapsed time was 3:45.  This works out to 1:53/100.  I averaged 1:58/100 last year.  My swim was good enough for 39th OA (76.1 %-tile versus 78.5%-tile last year).  So despite being faster, I placed relatively lower—this is consistent with my belief the field had higher quality (at least at the top) than last year—I should see this reflected in a higher USAT rating when they come out.

I only had the 4th best swim in my AG (I was 8 seconds slower than 2nd best) and significantly, Stanton outswam me by 22 seconds.  Here is where we stood at the finish:

1.    Christofferson                --------
2.    Stanton                         + 0:50
3.    Jones                            + 2:50
4.    Willett                           + 3:48
5.    Rice                              + 4:56

Recall that I put 77 seconds on Stanton in transition (47 in T2).  Stanton actually was 27 seconds faster on the SBR part of the race than I was.  I nailed this victory in transition.

Overall, my time was 33:09, which was good enough for 20th place (88.1 %-tile).  I finished 19th last year.  This turns out to be my 46th AG win in 138 starts so my career win percentage has now climbed to 33.3%, which seems pretty good for a no-talent like myself.

It’s hard to get a good read on my fitness from this race.  The reverse format and the shortness of it make it difficult to extrapolate.  Also, the weather and the bike course make comparisons and conclusions about my effort/fitness difficult.  Still, I did what I had to do today and I could certainly have imagined worse outcomes.

Next week I’m down in Smithfield and I’ll be able to get a much better read on where I’m at in that race.

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