A Jim of All Trades

Triathlon Race Report (HIM)

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Last weekend I did my first half distance triathlon and I’m finally getting around to posting my race report. This was my “A race” for the year, I started training for it in May.

My last few posts have been about my training for it, so please look back if you’re at all interested.

The race was a bit less than a 2 hour drive from my home. I left around 4:20 in the morning to drive there and arrived just a bit after 6. I ate my breakfast (a banana and a bagel with peanut butter) and drank Propel water and coffee on the way. There were already some people setting up when I got there but I got a really good spot in transition and had plenty of time to get ready.


I got a wheel cover a few weeks ago… I’ll probably do a separate post about it at some point. Looks cool though, right? (humor me!)

This was a very small race; I heard that only 58 people registered for it and the results show only 51 finishers. There was an Olympic, too, which had 70 some people in it.

Swim:

Swimming is my weakest area and I’m very glad that I did a long open water swim about a month beforehand. That really helped with my confidence swimming in a big lake and I felt comfortable going into this swim, which is a first for me in any OWS.

The swim was 2 clockwise loops in the lake, with an in-water start. The water was 72 degrees and really calm. At one point it did get a little choppy, but that was brief; otherwise the conditions were perfect.

I got in as soon as possible, got used to the water temperature, and swam around and treaded water for a bit just getting comfortable before the start. I setup toward the back and edge of the pack and when it started I just set off at my own pace. I had a little contact with others throughout, but not much, and it was just accidental bumping. Really it was uneventful, I just swam conservatively. I didn’t swim straight at all, but that didn’t tack on too much extra distance. The shore was really steep where you exited and there were people there helping you out so you wouldn’t fall, which was appreciated, then a short jog to transition and the timing mat.

I figured my time would be about 43 minutes, which was a bit of a guess… My official time was 40:40, which included probably 30 seconds of getting out and making it to the mat. I’m really happy with this. It’s not fast, but my comfort level was a win by itself.

T1:
T1 went pretty smoothly. My wetsuit got caught on my chip and it took a little extra time to get it off, but otherwise I was able to get through pretty smoothly.

Time: 2:09

Bike:
The bike course was three loops around the lake, totaling 58 miles. There was a decent hill right away out of transition to get to the main road, which was a bit rough after getting right out of the water. The whole course was hilly, but the hills were all long and consistent grades, not short punchy climbs like around where I live. I liked it; you could just sit up, find the right gear, and spin up. My watch had total elevate gain at about 2400 feet, but all other files I’ve seen were in the high 2000 to low 3000 range, so I think my watch was short by a few hundred feet at least.

The roads were a mixed bag, one was freshly paved with a wide shoulder, but another – which was a fast stretch that you spent a long stretch on – was horrible… all cracked up, tons of pot holes, and it really beat you up. That was my least favorite part of the race, not a fun road at all.

I rode mostly by feel, keeping an eye on heart rate so as not to overdo it, which worked okay. At the end of the first lap I started catching people who were faster swimmers, and didn’t have any issues with people not letting me pass or getting hung up. During the second lap I hit a bump that launched a bottle of nutrition from my bike. I had another bottle with one swallow left in it, so had to go about 9 miles until I could get a water bottle at the aid station. I had two gel flasks and some fig newtons with me so didn’t panic about it, but it definitely wasn’t ideal because I lost 200 calories and 600mg of sodium with that bottle.

I was expecting to finish the bike in around 3hrs 15mins, which is roughly 18 mph. Actual time ended up being 2hrs 59 mins – 19.4 mph – which I’m thrilled with. I might have over biked a little, and maybe my expectation was too conservative, but I still did well and am happy.

T2:
Went well – 56 secs

Run:
The run course was an out and back that you completed twice. There were 2 hard hills on the way out, which you had to come up the other side of on the way back, so it wasn’t an easy course, at least for me. Total elevation gain was 688ft.

I had been training my running the hardest for this and was really hoping to hold a consistent pace throughout. My plan was to start with an 8:30min/mile pace and slowly speed up throughout. That never happened. I started too fast and had trouble settling down. I finally did pull it together a bit and managed mid 8 minute miles for the first 6 miles. During mile 7 things suddenly went downhill fast. I kept running and didn’t walk, but it was a struggle just to manage 9 minute miles. The last 2-3 miles especially, which were mostly flat, were super hard.

I was hoping to finish in 1hr 49 mins, which would be about an 8:20 mile. End time was 1hr 51mins – 8:30/mile. My watch, and other files, only had the run course at 12.8 miles though, so I believe it was short and that my true pace was about 8:44/mile. I’m a little disappointed in that, but happy I fought through and didn’t walk it in.


the one significant drop at about 9.5 miles was where I got water at an aid station…

Overall:
I was expecting my overall time to be around 5 hours and 50 mins … actual time: 5hrs, 34 mins, 5 seconds. I’m really happy with this. I might have been a bit too conservative with my bike expectations, but still did over perform my swim and bike. The run was a bit of a disappointment, but not a failure by any means… I’m satisfied with it. I also managed to place well in my age group and pretty high overall, which is always nice. It was a really small race, so less competition than an Ironman, but it’s always a bonus to place higher than you expect to.

I won’t say never, but don’t think I’ll be doing another half, or moving up to a full. I just enjoy the shorter races more and the longer training sessions stopped being fun as I was prepping for this. I’m glad I did this race though and am enjoying the sense of accomplishment.

Thanks a lot for reading and following along.
Happy racing!

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Written by Jim

September 30, 2018 at 8:21 pm

Run Training Report

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This is part 3 of my training recap leading up to my first half distance triathlon, which happens this Saturday! Hopefully I’ll be able to put up a race report shortly after to share how everything went.

Running was my primary focus while training for this race. I’ve read and heard a lot of stories about people’s races falling apart on the run, and I’ve had experiences where I just didn’t have the running legs I wanted in tris, so really wanted to focus on running to be sure that I’d be able to run a fairly strong half marathon at the end of a triathlon.

I’ve seen the “BarryP run plan” referenced a lot on Slowtwitch and when putting together my training plan I decided to follow it.

The plan takes a high volume, low intensity approach to training. You run 6 times per week, but the majority of runs are done at a very easy pace. The idea is that the easier efforts won’t beat up your body or leave you so fatigued that you can’t recover, and all the while your endurance and speed improve as you keep building up your mileage day after day, week after week, month after month.

Each week you do 3 short runs, 2 medium runs, and 1 long run. The distances are ratios of 1:2:3, meaning if – only for example – your short runs are 2 miles, your mediums will be 4, and the long run will be 6. Distance is added very gradually, timed to build up long enough for your planned race. As you get closer to the race, one of the medium runs is substituted with a threshold or tempo run where you work on your speed, and then after several weeks the other medium run can be substituted with a speedier day as well.

It takes a very long view on training, recommending starting about 6 months before your target race. Many plans I’ve seen really don’t give enough time to make significant gains, so I agree with a longer approach, but still, 6 months is a long time!

My impressions? … I liked it and recommend it. I didn’t follow everything to a T, taking some liberties with the distances, but did keep with the main premise of doing 3 short, 2 medium, and 1 long run per week, and I mostly kept the effort levels low until it was time to add in speed work. I ran by feel and pace mostly, while checking on heart rate. Over time I noticed that my pace got a little faster while I didn’t feel like I was running harder (though I admit that could vary a lot depending on what time of day I ran, the route, and how much rest I had). I started in May, which only gave me 4-5 months versus the recommended 6 to work with, so had to ramp up the mileages faster than recommended, but didn’t notice any bad consequences.

I won’t know whether it was effective until the race, but in my last race I ran faster than I ever have in a tri or duathlon, and that was mostly on this type of training, so that’s a positive sign.

Running slow can really suck though. Plodding along day after day got a little mind numbing and that could be a bit tough mentally. I also think adding a bit more speed/intensity work in wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. The only complaints I really saw about this online were people complaining about the lack of top end work. For my first tri this distance I’m happy with it and feel like I’ve built a lot of endurance, but if I were to do the run plan again I might work in more speed. Finally, it’s hard to fit in 6 runs a week on top of swimming, biking, working, and living a somewhat normal life. To fit everything in I’d usually do two bricks a week where I’d do a short run right after a bike or swim. …just keep the time needed in mind if considering this.

All the above said, I’m entering the race confident, so that’s a good thing.

Here is a link to the full BarryP plan. It’s long, but includes tons of detail, explains the methodology, and has variations for different length races.

Thanks a lot for reading and following along through my training recaps. Saturday is race day, wish me luck and check back to see how it went.

Happy running!

Written by Jim

September 18, 2018 at 7:04 am

Bike Training Report

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This is part 2 of my training recap leading up to my first half ironman distance triathlon. Part 1 was about swim training and I’ll post part 3 about running next week.

My goal for the race is to finish, with as respectable a time as possible. In other words, being able to finish is most important, and putting together a well-paced consistent effort over the entire event is more important to me than how competitive I am, though placing high is always nice. ;)

When comparing my ability levels in swimming, cycling, and running, cycling is the strongest of the 3 for me. Not that I’m an uber-cyclist, just that I’m a better at it than I am running or swimming. So, as I was putting together a training plan, I decided not to prioritize cycling in lieu of focusing on running, where I felt I had the biggest realistic opportunity for improving.

I ended up using the bike portion of a half Ironman training plan on triathlete.com – here’s a link to it.

The plan has 3 bike workouts per week. 2 during the week are shorter, about an hour long each, with varying length intervals worked in; usually 1 session has 4 to 8 short and hard intervals, and the other has just 1 or 2 longer intervals at a “comfortably hard” effort level. The 3rd weekly workout is a long ride over the weekend, sometimes with some higher intensity miles worked in.

As time progresses, the intensity of the workouts gets harder… the length or number of the intervals increase, and more distance and effort are added to the long ride – the long ride maxes out at 60 miles 3 weeks before the race. The entire plan is comparable to other programs I’ve followed before in how it builds distance and intensity, with recovery weeks mixed in, peaking before a taper a couple weeks before the race.

While I did follow this pretty closely, I also took some liberties… Early on I added to the intervals because I thought the plan started a little “softer” than I needed to given my fitness at the time, and I added some distance to some of the longer rides, too. Once and a while I’d slip a fourth ride into a week as well, usually just short mileage at an easy pace, but that didn’t happen very often.

My only caveat, if you can call it that, about this bike plan is it’s a little light. Previously I’d try to bike 4 times per week, and with more intensity, and that was training for shorter races, so it feels a little like I’m not doing enough now. That said, I don’t feel under-prepared and the bike sessions have seemed intuitive in how they’ve built for the race. I’m sure I could have done a more aggressive plan and made some bigger improvements, but I probably would have had to sacrifice some of my run training to do that. As mentioned earlier, my reason for choosing this plan was to train my cycling for the race while focusing on my running, so it seems like it fit my needs fairly well.

I won’t know for sure how well it’s worked until after the race, but in the last few weeks I’ve done longer rides than I’ve ever done before, with more climbing than I’ve ever done, so I do feel confident in my training. I’ve also been doing more challenging routes than I believe the actual race course to be, so hopefully the bike will feel easy on race day. We’ll see.

Well, that should cover my bike training. If there are any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Thanks a lot for reading and happy pedaling!

Written by Jim

September 6, 2018 at 7:12 am

Swim Training Report

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As I mentioned almost 2 months ago, I signed up to do a Half Ironman distance triathlon, and it is fast approaching. Well, it’s still a month away, but  that time will fly by. Usually I post a training recap a bit before a race, but since I’ve been training more than usual, I thought I’d break it up into recaps for each discipline and post one a week (roughly) until the race. So read on to hear about my swim training… 
   
Swimming remains my weakest discipline compared to biking and running. Last year I started following Swim Smooth and have continued with it through this year. The program provides a lot of information about how to swim correctly, identify flaws and how to fix them, and how to train effectively. There’s a lot of emphasis on technique/form, as well as appropriate pacing and workouts that support your ultimate goal. I like it. 
   
I keep seeing small improvements, though I am still an average at best swimmer. My overall speed has improved, but I’ve probably noticed a bigger improvement in my endurance/stamina and ability to hold a fairly consistent effort level through a session. I do fatigue over time, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be. 
Typically I’ll do three weekly sessions, which end up looking like this (not necessarily in this order):
  • A CSS (Critical Swim Speed) session where you focus on pacing (almost like threshold work on the bike or running)
  • A short session focused on drills and technique
  • Either a session of speed work or a longer and slower endurance workout
It’s not often, but when I’m able to fit another swim in I might do another CSS session, or the opposite of what I did in the third point above.  
 
My average weekly distance is around 6000 meters per week. I know, that’s not much and swimming more would help me improve more, but I’m somewhat constrained by time and balancing the training between the swim, bike, and run. And, honestly, I still just don’t really enjoy swimming that much.  
 
One other thing I’ve been doing is using paddles and/or a pull buoy a lot. I read an argument on slowtwitch.com that lots of pulling helps you improve strength and simulate open water swimming, which makes sense to me, so I will often do anywhere from a quarter to half of my main set with those tools. I think it’s helped me get a bit stronger and faster, in the pool anyway, and I recommend it, except you need to gradually work up and build strength; doing too much too soon risks getting an injury.

Also, last week I did a fairly long open water swim. It reminded me how bad I am at open water swimming and that I have a fairly healthy fear of drowning. I’m really glad I did this before the race though; hopefully I’ll be less jittery in the water on race day, and I think I picked up on a few little things I can do to improve my stroke when swimming in a wetsuit in open water. I HIGHLY recommend doing some open water swim practice before racing – with some friends for safety! – especially if you’re not accustomed to it like me. Far better to work through any problems during practice than having to deal with them on race day.  
 
Well, that should cover swimming. I’ll do a similar write up about my biking and running in coming weeks.  
 
Thanks for reading and happy splashing!

Written by Jim

August 26, 2018 at 9:01 pm

A Week in West Virginia

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A few weeks ago I spent a week in McDowell County West Virginia, a southern WV county in the heart of the Appalachian Region. I was there in a mission trip with “SWAP,” which is part of the Mennonite Central Committee. It’s a very interesting and worthwhile program, and I intend to link to it so you can read more if you’re so inclined, but it appears the site is down at the moment. I’ll update the link in the future when I’m sure everything is working. I’d be glad to talk more about it as well, so if any one is interested just comment or contact me.

Anyway, it was my first time to West Virginia aside from just driving through the most north eastern corner of the state and it’s just a beautiful area. I took some pictures with my phone while there and have been meaning to share. These are sort of lack luster from a photography standpoint, but still give a glimpse of what a beautiful part of the country it is… lots of mountains, forests, twisting roads with really sharp cut backs, nature, etcetera etcetera. Hope you enjoy!

Uh-mazing roads!!

Where I was working they had a number of friendly dogs… maybe not unique to WV, but still worth taking pictures of:

This guy was actually “smiling” here, sort of…

This little puppy was only a couple weeks old…

Play time!

And I stumbled on how to make gif’s with my phone… lots of fun!

Written by Jim

August 16, 2018 at 9:21 pm

Triath . . . er, I mean Duathlon race report

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Yesterday I had a race, here’s how it went…

The start/finish and transition were on a big island with a sports complex on it in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This was supposed to be a triathlon, with the swim in the river, but unfortunately the swim was cancelled due to a very high e coli (bacteria) level in the water. So, the swim was replaced with a short run.

I covered my training in my last post so won’t recap that all here. In short, I’ve been working more on building my mileage and endurance, but not a lot on speed/intensity. This was a short sprint distance race, so I thought I might not be fast as I could have been for it. I did work some more short intervals and pickups in my training over the past two weeks, and did cut my volume a bit last week to get ready. My legs actually felt pretty dead at the start of last week, but with some foam rolling, stretching, and reducing the training volume last week, they felt quite good on Sunday.

It was actually sort of chilly in the morning and I was shivering a bit before I started my warm up. It stayed clear, mild, and comfortable all through the race though, which was a welcome change after a heat wave we had last week.

For a warm up, I ran 1.5 miles easy about 30 minutes before the race started, with ¼ mile at goal race pace in the middle, and another 30 second pickup closer to the end. The run felt good and I felt ready to go at the start.

Run #1
The race was started in waves, my wave starting first. It followed a path around the island which was mostly flat and advertised as 1.5 miles, but ended up being 1.7.

I wasn’t quite sure how to pace for this so started in roughly the middle of the group and just ran by feel, settling into what felt fast but comfortable enough to maintain. It ended up working out well because I was pretty steady, was only passed by a guy or two, and passed maybe five or six other guys. I don’t think I could have held it much longer, but also didn’t feel spent on the bike.

Distance: 1.7 miles
Time: 11:10.36
Pace: 6:35 / mile

T1
The first transition went very smoothly. I had spent time practicing transitions the week before, took time to visualize them in the morning before the race, and I really think that paid off. Maybe I could have saved a few seconds here or there, but didn’t make any mistakes and even did a running mount without nearly crashing like I often do.

Time: 40.2 seconds

Bike

setup in transition before the race – notice the empty rack behind?… I got there early!

The bike course was out and back, crossing a bridge to the shore, riding along the river to the turnaround point, then coming back the same route. It was quite flat, though with some very slight grades and false flats. There was also a slight headwind on the way out, which became a tailwind on the way back. It was advertised as 14.5 miles, but really measured 14.

I just tried to settle into a hard maintainable pace for the distance. Considering it was a flat course I was able to stay in the aero position for the entire time, tried to hold a consistent effort level, and only had to shift between a few gears depending on the grade and wind. I kept an eye on my heart rate and it stayed right around 160, which is about as high as I felt safe maintaining for the distance. I passed around 6 or 7 guys and was passed maybe 3 times.

I ended up averaging just a smidge under 22mph. I had hoped to be a bit faster, but really I can’t complain; I gave it all I had and would just need better conditioning to go faster.

Distance: 14 miles
Time: 38:16.25
Pace: 22 mph


bike file from Strava – includes 10-20 seconds in T2 because I forgot to pause my watch, and is estimated power, not actual

T2
Transition 2 went very smoothly as well. No complaints, I’m very pleased with it.

Time: 37.76 seconds

Run #2
The second run crossed another bridge to the shore then followed a walking/running path next to the river to the turnaround point and back. It was very flat aside from mini hills you had to run up/down at each end of the bridge. It was advertised as 3.1 miles (5k) but ended up being only 2.8.

I left transition at the same time as 2 other guys. One of them fell back fairly soon and the other guy and I ran a lot of the way together. My goal was to average sub 7 minute miles, and he was running about 6:50, so I tried to hang on. I felt good, like I could maintain it for a while, but eventually the day started to catch up with me. We talked a bit and exchanged places a couple times, but around mile 2 he pulled ahead and I had trouble holding on. When we hit the little hill to get back on the bridge I couldn’t hold the pace and he opened a large gap. Around then another super-fast guy came flying by me too but that was the only other time I was passed. I got my legs back a bit when it leveled off on the bridge, but was really feeling the pain at that point and just held on as best I could to the finish.

I did manage to average under 7:00/mile, which I’m very pleased with, and think I still could have held that had it been a full 5k – on this course. It being so flat definitely helped, of course.

Distance: 2.8 miles
Time: 19:25.02
Pace: 6:56 / mile

Overall

Overall: 1:10:09.59
Overall place: 11 out of 195-ish
Age Group Place: 4 out of 31 (10 year age groups)

I’m very pleased with how this race went. It would ALWAYS be nice to be faster, but looking at everything I don’t think I could have done any better. I paced myself well in all three events, both transitions went super smooth, and I don’t think I made any big mistakes that had an impact on my result.

It was disappointing that the swim was cancelled, I wanted to use it to judge my swim training and get some open water race practice, but I don’t mind duathlons and was really happy with how my race went.

So overall it was a very good day!
Now, back to training…

Like always, here’s how I celebrated…

this flavor is delicious!

And here are a couple phone pics from the island – it is quite scenic


some guys were fishing in the early morning


a look back at Harrisburg

Thanks a lot for reading and happy racing!

Written by Jim

July 9, 2018 at 9:14 pm

Triathlon Training Report

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I’m doing a sprint triathlon this Sunday and wanted to post about how training is going.

But first, the big news is that I have signed up to do a half iron distance triathlon later this year! The “half iron distance” distinction is intentional in that it isn’t an IRONMAN brand race, but an independent race that’s about the same distance as a HIM (actually, it’s a tad longer). Anyway, I’m excited about it and a bit nervous. The race isn’t until late September and I began training for it in May, so I’m confident I’ll be prepared till it gets here, but the distance is still a bit intimidating. I sort of expect it will be the only Half I do, but we’ll see how it goes.

Since I am training for the Half, I am not expecting to be overly competitive in the sprint this weekend as I have mostly been working on building up my endurance and mileage, but not doing much speed or intensity work, which is important for short distance racing. Here’s how the training has been going for each discipline…

Swimming: I’ve been swimming 3 times a week pretty consistently, sometimes sneaking a fourth session in if I have the time. I’ve still been following the Swim Smooth program, typically doing one drill/technique session, one threshold (“Critical Swim Speed” in SwimSmooth speak), and either one speed or endurance session per week. Though I’m still very slow, I’m seeing little improvements here or there. My speed is improving bit by tiny little bit, but I’ve noticed a bigger improvement in my endurance/stamina, and ability to hold a pace for longer sets and sessions. Not that I don’t tire out and drop off, but it’s getting better. I will never be one of the first ones out of the water in a race, but I’m more concerned with building my endurance and will take any speed improvements that come along with it.

Biking: For cycling, I’ve been following a training plan I found online in a Half distance training program, though the name of the site where I found it escapes me right now. I’m cycling 3 times a week, typically doing two sessions during the week, both 45-60 minutes, at a moderate effort level with some short pickups or intervals worked in. Over the weekend I do a long ride at moderate effort, though I do try to work in some harder hills and/or some segments at higher intensity. Cycling is still my strongest area and needs the least work out of the three, but I still feel that, to ride over 50 miles strongly in a race, I should be putting in more work. I tack on some extra miles here or there as I can and know I’ll have built up a big base of mileage till race day.

Running: Running is the area where I’ve made the biggest training change, I’ve been following the “BarryP” running plan. If you’ve spent any time on the Slowtwitch forums you’ll likely have seen this referenced before (for example). Check out the linked name, but to describe simply, it’s a high volume low intensity run program that is highly regarded, at least on Slowtwitch. You run 6 times per week, doing 3 short runs, 2 medium distance runs, and 1 long run. All are at a very easy pace to start while you build mileage, then you do a block with some race-distance-specific speed work once per week, and then another block with a second speed work session, until you begin to taper.

Before this I ran 3 to 4 times a week, and usually at least 2 of those sessions had speed work or hill repeats built into them, so this is very different than what I’m used to. The whole idea is that the easier running allows you to add more and more miles without it taking a huge toll on your body. I have bought into that in that I don’t feel as beat up from my runs as I used to and a nagging injury I’ve had for months has improved since I started this program. At the same time, I’m worried that the lack of speed work will end up holding me back. While I’m happy to build my endurance, in the race if I’m only able to run at a really slow pace, I’m not sure if all the extra running will have been worth it. And, to be honest, I find running slowly all the time very boring, so there’s that. All that to say, I’m going to see the program through to the end and do trust that it’ll help get me ready for the Half.

That about sums it up. I’ll post a race report sometime after the sprint, and expect another post or two about training before late September. I’m not expecting anything grand and just signed up for this sprint because I wanted to try it  and couldn’t go the whole summer without working another race in since I enjoy it so much. I’ll be pleased to put together a solid race, and if I end up with a decent time, well that’ll just be a nice bonus.

Thanks for reading and happy training!

Written by Jim

July 5, 2018 at 10:00 pm