Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Syracuse 70.3 Race Report

I had heard great things about the Syracuse 70.3 after its inaugural event in 2011 and quickly added it onto my race schedule for the 2012 season. After the bitter-sweet finish at Ironman Lake Placid I went into this race hell bent on earning a spot to the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas for the 2012 season. After all this was to be my last time racing a WTC event in the M18-24 category and I was determined to make it count.

Lead up:
One of the best parts of racing Syracuse was that it was only an hours drive from Rochester. Easy travel time for a great race venue. Checked and rechecked my gear Friday night, got a good nights rest at my apartment and was up and out Saturday morning. Lucky for me my good friend Karl is attending Medical School at Upstate and lives only 5 miles from the race and he graciously allowed me to crash at his place for the weekend. Got to Syracuse and went straight to registration. Signed in, went to the athletes meeting and soon found myself on my way to the race venue to check my bike into transition.

Having never raced this late in the season I had spent all week trying to figure out what I was going to wear come race day. Having raced Mooseman 70.3 in rather cold conditions with little extra protection I did not want to make that mistake again. Earlier in the week I had picked up some neoprene toe covers, a pair of gloves, a wind vest, and a skull cap to wear under my helmet. With air temperatures predicted in the low 40s race morning I was debating getting some knee warmers as well but at the last minute decided to race without them. Suffice it to say the weather was definitely on my mind in the days leading up to the race.

After checking my bike into transition I made my way to Karl's house whereupon we proceeded to go to Wegmans to pick up some food and hang out for the remainder of the evening. I was in bed by 8:00PM and was able to get a good nights sleep before being rudely awakened by my alarm at 4:00AM.

Race Morning:
I was up and out of the house by 4:30AM. The air temperature at that hour ... 41 ... perfect. The drive to the start was quick and when I arrived I spent a solid 20+ minutes just sitting in my car trying to convince myself that I actually wanted to go jump in a lake.

Transition set up went smoothly. Had ALL of my cold weather gear, just in case. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it warmed up as we neared the race start. There was not a cloud in the sky so once the sun came up things improved exponentially.

Looked over my gear a final time and made my way down to the swim start. I was to be the fourth wave going off so I got situated and tested the water; 62 degrees, very nice. With the pros on their way we cued up and before I knew it I was on the starting line.

Swim: 00:28:09
The swim is by far my strongest leg, and while this time was no different in that regards it was the first time in a long time that the swim came with some unnecessary complications. Read, someone had placed a magnet too close to my mental compass because I was having a hell of a time navigating (see below). The first leg went very well, uneventful in-fact. Settled into a comfortable pace and was well off the front of the rest of my wave. Made the first righthand turn at BAM! Good morning sun! I was instantaneously blinded and had absolutely no idea where the next buoy was. I took a guess, put my head down, and went with it. Thankfully I guessed correctly. Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of women from the previous wave swimming parallel to me. At least I was heading in the right direction despite being blinded by the rising sun. Prior to the start I had counted the buoys across the top section of the course, there were 3 in total: the two end buoys where we turned and a single central buoy (despite what the picture below shows). This is where my troubles began. I thought I had counted 3 buoys, in fact I know I counted 3 buoys, so I turned. Well apparently I had miscalculated because I was soon joined by a kayaker who politely pointed out that I was way off course. Great. Did my best to re-sight (again into the sun) and after a brief aquatic adventure I managed to find the last buoy and get back on course. Wish I could say that was the last of the navigating disasters. The angle that I approached the last buoy, combined with a rough 90 degree turn, and the blinding sun quickly put me off course again. This time no kayaker though. Which I guess is my only real complaint about the swim course. It seemed that the volunteer kayakers were a bit spread out and drifting from the true sight lines. Anyways, I eventually found my way back onto the proper line and finished the course strong. With all of the nautical nonsense I knew I had lost time, probably swam 1.5 miles rather than 1.2 but it was still good enough to come out of the water second in the age group right on the heals of the leader. Took advantage of the wetsuit strippers and set my focus on gaining ground out on the bike.

T1: 00:04:07
Took my time in transition. Was not as cold as I thought I would be so decided not to use my wind vest out on the bike. Dried off as best I could, through on my arm warmers and long sleeve shirt as well as my gloves and hat and was on my way.

Bike: 02:45:41
Having been roughly the fourth or fifth age grouper out of transition I was relatively alone out on the road. Two guys passed me in the first five miles, and that was it. I did not see another competitor until the second loop of the run. It was a very strange feeling riding 56 miles by yourself. Cool to be racing well off the front though. Usually I find myself getting caught by riders all along the course but not today. Made my way through the first 7 or so miles with no problem. Was holding a good cadence and temperature wise I was perfect.

I love gummy candy. Gummy bears, jelly beans, you name it. Therefore it makes perfect sense that I love Gu Chomps. Today for some strange reason the gummies decided to rebel. As I pass through mile 8 I opened my bento box to remove a Gu Chomp and as I pulled it out it decided to stick to a subsequently bring with it my entire container of salt tabs. It happened in slow motion. I watched the container come out, fall to the pavement, proceed to travel right under my rear tire, and explode as I rode over it. I was in disbelief. I had just lost ALL of my salt. I immediately went into backup mode trying to reconfigure my nutrition. My only option was to use energy gels and Perform. The problem was that using salt tabs is easy, take one or two ever 10 miles and you are good to go. Using gels I had to wait until I started to feel fatigue in my legs before using another. I have seen first hand what happens when to take too many gels.

Rolled through the half way point, still alone, and feeling good and managing the lack of salt well. Continued through miles 30, 35, and 40 without any problems as well. Approaching mile 45 my legs really starting feeling the lack of salt, the gels were helping to manage but I could feel myself slipping into the red zone. Thankfully the last 10 or so miles back to transition were downhill. My legs got to recover and I was able to maintain speed back into T2. Everything considered, including the salt incident and how challenging the course was I was very happy with my bike split. It was a full 20 minutes faster than my Mooseman spit from the start of the season. My only concern now was how the lack of salt was going to impact my run.

T2: 00:01:20
Thankfully I had extra salt tabs waiting for me in T2. An uneventful and relatively quick transition I was quickly out on the run course.

Run: 01:39:14 (04:58:31)
Surprisingly my legs felt great as I exited T2. Again, it was very strange to be running alone. I quickly settled into a fast pace and made my way through the first few miles. As I made my way onto the first loop I encountered the first mountain. This thing was a beast, but I checked myself and methodically made my way over the top. At this point the first place pro woman (and eventual winner) caught me and we ran together through the next few miles (and over the second mountain). She broke away on the backside of the loop and I was again alone. Feeling good I passed through the halfway point maintaining sub 7 minute mile pace. At this point I started on my second loop and was for the first time since the start of the race back amongst my fellow competitors. Made my way over the two mountain passes again and through mile 9 before my legs really started to feel the effects of the day. Kept my focus and pushed through mile 11 as I broke from the pack and made my way down the final finishing stretch. 12th age grouper to cross the line with a final time of 04:58:31.

Took 3rd place in the M18-24 age group. Story of the season, missed qualifying for Worlds in Vegas by a single spot. In all I was pleased with the days effort. Dont get me wrong it was ubber difficult and probably one of the hardest half-marathon courses I have ever run. However, I think it fit the course and the region well. Syracuse is hilly, the bike course is hilly, therefore in my opinion the run course should be hilly. I think it was a difficult course and as such is posed a unique set of challenges to racers of all skill levels and helped to keep things interesting in the race for Vegas slots. Was it fun, not particularly, would I do it again, definitely.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

RATS 40K TT Championship Race Report

Remember how I said that I probably could have pushed harder on the bike at Nationals? This is what I was talking about ...

Less than three days after Nationals I raced in the Rochester Area 40K Time Trial Championships hosted by the Rochester Area Triathletes (RATS). All the local triathletes, cyclists, and endurance sport yahoos in the Rochester area made their way out to test their legs on a relatively flat out and back course that offered a few rolling hills. Competitors left in a time trial format, spaced every thirty seconds. Being a super competitive individual I elected to be one of the last to go to see how many people I could catch over the 40K.

When it was my turn to go and I left the start line I got after it. I was soon at 26+ mph and my heart was racing at a millions beats per minute. My immediate thought was that there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to sustain this effort over the next few seconds let alone over the next hour. But soon the seconds turned to minutes and I settled into a very comfortable turnover, my heart rate leveled, and my speed maintained. I continued to down the road and before I knew it I was at the turn around and still feeling great.

With about 4 miles to go my legs still felt good so I put the hammer down and gave it everything I had left in the tank. Crossed the line in a final time of 00:57:28 and an average speed of 25.95mph. Time was good enough for the overall win and a 30 second margin of victory. Strong showing considering I had raced Nationals just 3 days before.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

USAT Age Group Nationals Race Report

When I first saw this race was going to be held in South Burlington VT I knew I had to get there. Over the past few years South Burlington has developed into in many ways a vacation destination of sorts. My girlfriends grandparents live there and we make multiple trips each year to do everything from ski to race the Bitter Pill 12-hr adventure race, grab some beer at the Magic Hat Brewery to simply hang out downtown on Church Street. Lots of fun has been had in Burlington and I wanted to add the USAT Age Group National Championships to the growing list.

Lead up:
In the days leading up to the race itself we took some time to show my parents around South Burlington as they had never experienced it before. We hit up all the favorites and had a great time enjoying the good weather. With respect to pre-race events, some thoughts. The registration expo in my opinion was severely lacking. I know that this event would not garner the same attention as an Ironman but really? Half of the vendor spaces were empty and most of the ones that were filled had nothing to do with triathlons. Having raced the Vermont City Marathon a few months prior, and seeing the awesome vendor turnout (Ben&Jerry's in particular) I was expecting a bit more. Another point of concern was the swim "warm up" area they gave competitors to use on Friday. Dont get me wrong it was better than nothing, and I completely understand they could not shut down the harbor to boat traffic for the entire weekend, but really? Personally I do not think roping off 50yards worth of lake is adequate space for a National Championship. Aside from those relatively minor points I think the race was well run and I look forward to returning next year.

Race Morning:
Got to transition bright an early, having checked in the bike Friday evening. My transition spot could not have been better, right next to the bike and run exit. After situating myself I met up with some of the ROC gang and hung out until they closed transition. The start was set up in wave format so once we got kicked out of transition I still had about an hour to wait before I went off ... in the second to last wave. I guess that is one more point of criticism I have for the way that race was set up. Again, I appreciate that the sprint championships were being held later in the evening, and I appreciate they needed to have all the races off the course in time for that race to start. But putting the fastest group of races at the end of the stating cue was not the best option. We spent the day swimming through the masses and dodging packs of cyclists and we literally fought our way to the finish line. Something to consider for next year.

I digress. The ROC crew made our way over to the swim start and one by one we made our way into our respective waves. When it was finally my waves time to start I made my way to the staging area and joined my fellow competitors. Now dont get me wrong, at the start of each and every race I get nervous but knowing that I am a strong swimmer helps calm me down a bit. Usually I can approach the start line knowing that I will be able to dictate the pace of the swim. I quickly realized that this race was going to be different. Listening to the murmurs of my fellow competitors I overheard "Division 1 NCAA National Champion Swimming this" and "Division 1 NCAA National X-Country Champion that". It suddenly hit me, my age group was filled with the best of the best collegiate swimmers and runners in their racing prime. Good competition brings out the best in you right? ... yeah we will go with that. Either way it was going to be a fast and furious race.

The Swim: 00:20:47
When the gun finally went off and the race started it was absolute mayhem. 200+ of my closest friends all fighting for the same aquatic real-estate. The best part was that the chaos did not stop. We were all swimming at the same speed and going around the first turn it became apparent that no one was willing to give an inch. It was only when we started catching the wave ahead of us that things started to spread out. I took a wide line to avoid as many people as I could. As we rounded turn two things were looking very good, I was feeling great but at this point it was impossible to judge my position in the age group. I just kept my head down and pushed a hard tempo. Rounding the third turn was a bit difficult. We were swimming into the rising sun which made spotting difficult at best. In addition the guide kayaks which were supposed to keep the swimmers on course were drifting very wide. As a result everyone took an extremely wide turn but at least we were all in the same boat. The last segment of the swim went off without incident and as I approached the swim exit I had managed to catch swimmers from three waves ahead of us.

T1: 00:01:19
A bit slower than I would have liked but all in all no major problems.

Bike: 01:03:53
Leaving transition I immediately found myself in a mix of age group competitors. After the initial few technical sections of the course the road straightened out and I settled in, working on catching those ahead of me. For the most part the ride went well. The majority of the top competitors in our age group stayed together as we made our way through the crowds out on the road. We would go through stretches where we would have the road to ourselves and then we would hit traffic jams with riders all bunched together. Prior to the start of the race I had overheard that there were going to be 25 officials out on the bike course so I was very aware about potential drafting. In such a short race a 3 minutes penalty can mean the difference between placing in the top ten and finishing outside the top 30. Even given the number of officials there was still a large amount of drafting, or at least what I considered to be drafting as I think a grand total of 6 drafting penalties were given. Nutritionally I was feeling great and things were going well as I approached T2. In hindsight I probably could have pushed a little harder on the bike, I think my Ironman mentality was still going in full force, but all in all I was pleased with the way I rode.

T2: 00:00:44
12th fastest T2 split overall! ... to bad there are no awards for that. Was in and out without a problem.

Run: 00:38:53 (02:05:37)
Exiting T2 we had about an eighth of a mile section of flat run course before we hammered up a rather intense hill. Having just finished Ironman Lake Placid I was prepared for hills but many of my fellow competitors were not and this hill definitely took its toll. Having conquered said hill the remained of the 10k was relatively down hill which was very nice. I settled in, kept my eyes up, and worked a solid tempo. At this point I do have to admit that it was nice having started in a later wave. While the temperature was climbing we did have the benefit of being able to chase down everyone in the waves ahead of us. Passing people every few seconds definitely helped keep the motivation up. At the turn around I started to feel the twinge of fatigue in my legs but quickly pushed it out of my mind and focused on making it to the finish line strong. As I passed through 8k one of my fellow competitors yelled "love your kit" as I ran by; I do agree, the folks at e21 Recovery have been nothing but amazing this season and it was great to be able to represent them at such a huge event. As I made my way towards the finishing stretch I put in one more hard effort and was able to catch as few more people before the line. All in all a good race and I look forward to doing it again next year.

As it turned out I managed to place in the top 4% which was great. I had missed my goal time of going sub 2 hrs but I definitely learned where I can gain some valuable time and it only being my second olympic distance race I will take it.

Update: Initially, my finishing time had placed me well enough that I earned a spot Team USA's alternate list for the ITU World Championships; having missed automatic qualification by just under a minute. That being said I was recently notified that I had been awarded a slot on Team USA! Looks like there is a possibility that I might be going to Auckland New Zealand next October to race in the World Championships!

2012 ITU Triathlon World Championships

Received notification yesterday that I qualified for the 2012 ITU Triathlon World Championships in Auckland New Zealand! Just confirmed my spot on Team USA! Stay tuned for more information as it comes, but right now can not help but be a little bit excited.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sodus Point Triathlon Race Report

Its nice to have friends in high places. In the weeks leading up to Sodus I was not sure if I would be ready to race. With about a week to go before the race I was able to squeeze in under the radar thanks to me Fleet Feet team membership. Definitely made the right decision.

Race Morning:
Sodus NY is about an hour drive from Rochester so it was quite an early morning. My Dad and I made our way out at around 6AM and the weather could not have been more perfect. Thankfully the rain and thunderstorms that were predicted held off until the late afternoon, upon which they made up for being tardy by flooding the basement of my apartment. In door swimming pool anyone? But that is neither here nor there. After about an hour drive we arrived at Sodus and I made my way to transition. It was nice to get there a bit early. I found a nice spot in transition and met up with a lot of my friends who had raced at Placid to exchange war stories as the rest of transition slowly filled.

As I slipped into my Xterra Pro X2 wetsuit and made my way down to the beach an announcement came over the PA system warning athletes that there was a good amount of seaweed accumulated on the waters edge and to tread lightly to prevent injury. Seaweed ... right ... that was an understatement. More like Seemuck, one and a half feet deep and ten feet long along to entire shore. Awesome. Something to look forward to on the way to T1.

Swim: 00:10:24
The women started 5 minutes ahead of the men, and as they made their way through the first section of the course we began jockeying for position. I found a nice place on the start line in the center of the course. When the gun went off I put my head own and put in a solid 200 yard sprint to separate myself from the field. As we made the first turn on the square course I was in the lead with a growing lead. At this point we began catching the trailing women but as they were spread out navigating through them was relatively easy. I made sure to give everyone plenty of space; one of my biggest pet peeves is unnecessary contact during the swim. Everyone is here to have a good time. There is a time and a place for violent washing-machine like contact (read Ironman Lake Placid) but these types of local races are not it. As we made the final turn I was still leading and feeling great. As we approached the shore I happened to glance behind me a found a fellow competitor right on my feet. With 25 yards to go he pulled aside me and starting challenging for the swim win. For a moment I started to go with him ... and then I remembered the Seemuck. Ya know what buddy, you want to race through the slime you go right ahead, I will see you in T1. Made it out of the water (and safely through the slime) a few seconds down to the race leader but feeling very good.

T1: 00:01:08
Everything went off without a hitch. Had my eye on the race leader as I entered and noticed he seemed to be having a relatively long transition. Thought maybe I could beat him to the exit but came out of T1 just on his heals.

Bike: 00:33:02 (*Bike Course Record)
The first section of the bike course were very technical. Lots of sharp 90 degree turns with very little room to accelerate. Once we go on the main road I settled in and began to push a hard pace. I wanted to catch the leader and I wanted to do it fast. As I began closing the gap I noticed that he was riding like a man possessed. Not in the sense that he was firing on all cylinders, but rather like he was turning himself inside out, giving everything he had to maintain every second of advantage he had. As is turned out he was 17 years old and he had trained all summer for this race, his first triathlon. He ended up having a great race but I made the pass shortly thereafter and regained a solid lead, with only two women ahead of me. I continued to push a hard tempo and quickly caught the womens race leader one of my good friends who had also race Lake Placid. I slowed only briefly to give her a word of encouragement and then I was off. Now this next section was my favorite part of the race. The race directors had arranged to have a police pace car for the race leader. Sirens, flashing lights, the whole shabang. AWESOME! I had been in situations before were I briefly lead out of T1, but never had I been given a police escort. As we approached the turn around I really started to find my legs and went through a 5 miles stretch were my speed did not drop below 31mph. It was a pretty cool feeling to be flying down the road, police car ahead of me with sirens blaring and everyone on the road pulling over to the side to let me through. I managed to maintain my speed all the way back to T1 and entered transition with a sizable lead.

T2: 00:00:28
Again, flawless. I wanted to make sure I kept as much of my advantage as possible so I was in, out and on my way.

Run: 00:18:27
As I exited T2 I immediately pushed the pace. At this point I did not know how large of a lead I had. The run course was two loops with some rolling hills and I never looked back to see if anyone was behind me. I stayed focused and ran hard from start to finish. On the second lap as I ran past on of my Fleet Feet teammates I heard them say 'Stay strong Rocket, your killing it". Rocket being the nickname my buddy and training buddy Matt Kellman gave me at the beginning of this season. With that I pushed it that much harder and approached the finishing straight. I crossed the line (01:03:30), took the win and felt great. After crossing the line I looked behind me, for the first time since leaving T2 and I saw no one. Then the waiting game began. It was another 6+ minutes until the second place finisher crossed the line, I had literally won by a mile, and it felt great.

I was very pleased with how the race went and aside from not leading out of the water I do not think I could have scripted a better race from start to finish. Even better was being able to celebrate with my Fleet Feet teammates afterwards, all of whom had outstanding races in their own right. A great day and an outstanding race!

Life Since Placid

This past Lake Placid Ironman was my third a row. Each previous year it has also marked the end of my triathlon season; nothing like going out with a bang. The problem is that after Placid I have triathlon on the brain, I want to race more. Well this year I made sure to schedule some races after Placid, quite a few in fact. Staying healthy and enjoying the "extended taper" since has resulted in some the best racing I have had in a long time, if not ever. Some really enjoyable experiences in what has already been a very memorable season.
This pesky little thing called a PhD seems to have consumed the past few weeks of my life. Things are now under control and it is now time to catch up on the blog.