Friday, July 4, 2014

US Long Course Nationals Race Report

Long overdue, but here it is:

2014 US National Long Course Race Report
June 8th, 2014


Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Distance: 1.2-mile swim/56-mile bike/13.1-mile run
2013 Triathlon Race Number: 6
Career Triathlon Race Number: 142
Conditions: 59 degrees at race start with steady rain and modest wind.  Rain stopped by end of the bike and sun came out and it was mid 70s and humid on the run.  Water temp was 76 degrees.

I drove the 700 miles from Delaware to Grand Rapids, leaving at 4 am and arriving around 5pm.  Along the way I stopped at my Alma Mater, Michigan State, and left a note for my old academic advisor in the Engineering building.  I stayed down town at the Marriott and enjoyed my brief and quiet stay in Grand Rapids.

I checked out the course and did a short swim, bike and run on Saturday.  I picked up my race packet and was good to go by mid-day.  I hung around the hotel staying off my feet and then went out and listened to a couple of the bands playing at the Grand Rapids Festival that was being held throughout the downtown area.

On Sunday, I was up at 4 for my pre-race activities and to the race site by 5:15.  I parked my car about a mile from the start and rode over and set up my transition area trying to take care to not let everything get completely soaked in the rain and standing water.

There were 737 starting the race with 33 from my AG.  The top 20 in each AG would earn a chance to go to LC worlds in Sweden next year.  I wanted to make the top 20, even though I was somewhat unlikely to go to the WC race in 2015.  A quick analysis of my competitors put me at somewhere between 16th and 25th so I knew it was going to be tight.  I estimated that I would need to go 5:30 or better to finish in the top 20.  I set the following race plan:

-Swim: 35 minutes
-T1: 3:30
-Bike: 2:35:00
-T2: 2:30
-Run: 2:14:00

A little after 7 my wave (the 4th) was on the edge of the water and ready to rock.

The Swim

The course was a counterclockwise polygon in the Thornapple River.  The river was damned and I didn’t detect any current.  The first turn buoy was obscured by a point that we had to make a right bend around before we made the first left turn.

I started on the far right away from the buoys, which yielded several advantages.  First, I was away from the fray.  Second I could keep an eye on everyone between the buoys and I, and third, by my eye it actually looked like the shortest line to the first buoy.

At the gun I was cleanly and smartly away.  I felt very good and was pretty confident I could swim 35 minutes or better—I had done just over 36 minutes—6 weeks before at IMNOLA70.3.  The swim was uneventful and I had no problems neither navigating nor swimming around the buoys.  I felt strong throughout and soon enough found myself exiting the water.

I glanced down at my watch and saw 36:55 and my immediate reaction was the swim course had to be long and this proved to be true as I measured the swim course at 1.29 miles.  This works out to a 28:34/mile pace and would have yielded a 34:17 1.2-mile swim.  I took 1298 strokes, which translates into 1.75 yards/stroke and a 35.2 spm stroke rate.  Here is how the various quarter mile splits turned out:

1st Quarter: 6:51…243 strokes…35 spm
2nd Quarter:  7:12…250 strokes…33 spm
3rd Quarter: 6:37…234 strokes…32 spm
4th Quarter: 7:41…270 strokes…37 spm
5th Quarter: 6:44…239 strokes…37 spm

This would seem to indicate between 0.75 and 1.00 mile I let me stroke shorten up.  This, if accurate, is not surprising and represents perhaps a lack of concentration on my part that may have cost me 45-60 seconds.  None-the-less, this was a pretty descent swim and I had the 13th fastest in my AG (63.6 %-tile), which given the caliber of this field is pretty solid from my perspective.  I was 294th OA (60.2 %-tile).  I had opened up a 4:27 cushion over 21st place.

Transition One

I ran up the ramp and up to the strippers and they took a bit of a longish time to help me out of my wetsuit.  The transition zone was on a very narrow road and with 1500 triathletes competing in a Sprint, an Olympic, the Half and various Relays and Aqua-Bikes, it extended quite a ways.  I did a very good job in T1 (after the wetsuit was off) but I knew it would take a bit longer than the 3:30 I had targeted.

As it turned out, my T1 took 3:49.  I now was 2:14 behind my plan.  I had the 14th fastest T1 in my AG (60.6 %-tile) and the 358th OA (51.6 %-tile).  So, my transition was OK but I probably left a little on the table for sure.  I ended up dropping one place to 14th in my AG.  On the positive side, I was now 4:43 up on 21st.

The Bike

I headed out on the bike without a true picture of my tactical situation.  As I left T1, I knew I was 3:30 behind my target but I was convinced that the swim was long and T1 was long for everyone.  Before the race I had envisioned being about 10th-12th after the swim.  Had I known I was 14th I would have been a bit concerned but on the other hand I would have taken quite a bit of comfort in knowing I was 4:43 up on 21st.  That big of a cushion is about the best I could really hope for in a race like this.

The bike course at GRT leaves town pretty quickly and heads out into the surrounding farm fields.  The road surface is generally OK with a couple of chip seal/pot-hole sections.  The course is exposed to wind but on this morning it was pretty modest.  It continued to rain steadily and I left my helmet shield behind in transition.  The course had a hump in the middle, which resulted in two climbing sections on this out and back course.  The total climb for the 56 miles was 1043 feet.

I felt very strong right from the start.  I had averaged 183 watts at NOLA and had decided to target 190-200 watts today—I thought given the course that this power would put me in the vicinity of a 2:35 and that this was a reasonable ask of my body given my current fitness.  We had a slight tailwind and early on I was up near 200 watts and close to 23 mph.  I was psyched as this felt like a very easy effort.  Here is the data from the first three 5-mile sections:

0-5:  22.8mph/150bpm/85rpm/198watts AP/198watts NP
6-10: 23.3mph/148bpm/85rpm/198watts AP/199watts NP
11-15: 22.4mph/144bpm/88rpm/194watts AP/194 watts NP

During this first section, despite this strong effort I only passed 2 guys in my AG and I was passed back by two other guys in my AG—this was a bit disconcerting as I had expected to pass 4-5 guys during the ride (I wanted to be in 5th-8th after the ride).

I hit the climb and increased my effort a bit to keep my speed up:

16-20: 18.6mph/142bpm/79rpm/206watts AP/214watts NP

I had a decision to make.  I ran the math and figured I was going to come in around my 2:35 target.  I wasn’t passing as many guys as I expected but there was always the chance that I had a better competitive swim then I was assuming.  I was also running on the high side of my power target and given the weakness of my run I wanted to be conservative.  As the course flattened out I decided to try to drive my average power to the mid-point of my range: 195 watts.  My next two 5-mile sections:

21-25: 23.0mph/140bpm/87rpm/190watts AP/191watts NP
26-30: 21.3mph/142bpm/83rpm/194watts AP/195 watts NP

I passed two more guys in my AG and figured I was probably in 8th-10th (I was in 12th).  I felt very good throughout the ride and was able to finish the ride pretty much spot on my race plan and still feeling like I had plenty in the tank for the run.  The rest of the ride:

31-35: 20.1mph/140bpm/85rpm/189watts AP/189watts NP
36-40: 22.4mph/137bpm/81rpm/195watts AP/199watts NP
41-45: 23.0mph/141bpm/83rpm/192watts AP/193watts NP
46-50: 21.4mph/140bpm/83rpm/189watts AP/189watts NP
51-55: 21.1mph/140bpm/82rpm/195watts AP/197watts NP
56:  20.3mph/144bpm/82rpm/210watts AP/212watts NP

You can see in the above that I pushed the last mile, as I knew I would come in very close to my bike target.  In fact, my bike split would be exactly 2:35:00! (21.6 mph)  I averaged 195 watts with a Normalized Power of 197 watts.  My average HR was 142bpm and my average cadence was 84rpm.  At NOLA, I averaged 183 watts with an average HR of 142bpm, so my power was up 6.6% and the effort felt easier today than at NOLA.  For comparison purposes at SkipJack in 2011 (my last half bike split where I was really fit) I averaged 221 watts at 149bpm.  This indicates that I still have about 11-12% improvement potential in front of me this summer, which seems a very reasonable expectation for my IM build beginning in July.

I had just the 9th fastest bike in my AG (75.8 %-tile) and 194th OA (73.8 %-tile).  I had a little over a 12-minute cushion over 20th place.

Transition Two

I ran quickly into transition, as I knew I was still behind my overall race plan.  I executed what I thought was a pretty solid T2 and took a total time of 2:51.  This was slower than my 2:30 target but the transition zone is unusually long here in Grand Rapids.  I had the 13th fastest T2 (63.6 %-tile) in my AG and the 320th fastest OA (56.7 %-tile).

The Run

As I exited T2 I glanced at the race clock and could see that I was a bit more than 3 minutes behind my race plan.  I knew I needed to essentially run a 2:11 (10 min/mile).  It had stopped raining and the sun was out and it definitely felt a little steamy, but not too bad.  I decided to just run at what I felt was a comfortable pace and see what my body felt like doing this morning.

I hit the first mile in 9:29 with an average HR of 147bpm.  This was very good news indeed as it was a very easy effort and I had put 31 seconds into the bank.  I decided in the midst of the second mile to hit the porta-potty for a quick pit stop.  Despite that stop my 2nd mile elapsed in 9:20 at an average HR of 151bpm.  I continued the easy cruise through the 3rd mile with a 9:21 at 150bpm.

The course was a two-lap out-and-back and there was a nasty hill leading up to the turn-around point between miles 3 and 4.  Consequently, my 4th split was 10:06 at 149bpm.  The return back along the river also featured a pretty tough hill and my 5th mile split was 10:07 at 150bpm.  I still felt pretty comfortable and my HR was comfortably in zone two where I wanted it.  At this point, I had been passed by two guys in my AG and now was in 14th.

I passed mile six in 9:47(146bpm) and made the turn for the second lap.  Split 7 was a 9:55(149bpm).  At the turn I figured I was on a 2:08 pace and I was feeling pretty optimistic.

However, mile 8 (which felt the same as the prior 7) came in at 10:29 (147bpm).  I was also passed by two more guys in my AG.  The split surprised me because it felt like the same level of effort but was dramatically slower.  I consciously tried to pick it up in the 9th but posted a 10:23 (150bpm).

I knew I was slowing down and it was going to be tight and I was constantly running the math.  Miles 10 and 11 featured the two hills and I knew I would have to work pretty hard just to keep the splits under 11 minutes.  Mile 10 was 10:42(151bpm) and 11 was 10:47(151bpm).

Three more guys passed me but I was encouraged when I passed one fellow (which put me in 18th).  I figured I was in the top 20 but I knew it was close and I was very nervous when anyone would pass (but no one did in my AG) in the last two miles.  I decided to push it up to an uncomfortable level in mile 12 and was rewarded with a 10:03 (154bpm) and then I really dug deep in the 13th and recorded a 9:48 (159bpm).  I could see the finish line and saw the clock was winding closer to 5:30 elapsed time.  I went into a full-out “sprint” and the last tenth of a mile was at a 7:31/mile pace (169bpm).

I was relieved to hit the finish line with a run of 2:10:51 (151bpm average).   This gave me an overall finish time of 5:29:53.  I felt a great deal of satisfaction as I had executed my race plan to near perfection.  My average run pace was 9:59/mile and my average HR was 151bpm.  My run was just the 24th fastest in my AG and 502nd OA.  More importantly, I finished 18th in my AG and 356th OA.

So, this race was a real positive.  With my late start to this season and my peroneal injury it wasn’t clear that I should even do the race.  It turned out well for me—although I’m still a long way from being fit, as I should be at this time of the year.  But clearly, I am fit enough to begin my Kona build and that at the end of the day is the prime objective…

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