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Raystown Olympic Triathlon Race Report

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Last weekend I did my first Olympic Triathlon, all I had done prior were shorter sprints. Following is a brutally honest breakdown of how it went.

Leading Up
I’ve been excited for this race and have been purposefully training for it since January. There were three weeks between my last race and this one, so I took it a little easy in the days right after that race, did hard workouts that weekend and through the next week, then tapered through the last week. My legs were feeling pretty fatigued at the start of last week, but till race day rolled around I was feeling pretty good. I don’t think I absolutely nailed the timing of the preparation, but it’s hard to find fault with it.

The Swim

This is going to be the longest part of the report, you’ve been warned…

Though I felt I had trained well for it, this was my first time swimming 1500 meters in open water and it went horribly. Aside from being nervous, the water was colder than I’m used to and I was having trouble breathing. I started to freak out while I was in the water before the race even started and had to swim to a kayak. I was holding onto it as the swim started.

The official in the kayak asked if I was okay and I told him, pretty panicky I imagine, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

He said, “Yes you can. You’re at least going to try, right? Come on, I’ll paddle along next to you to make sure you’re okay.”

I said “ok,” let go, began swimming, and he paddled right along next to me. Soon I was calm, found my rhythm, and it felt normal, just like all the training I’d done. The guy on the kayak disappeared after a few minutes, letting me go to finish on my own. I got through the rest of the swim fine, though very slowly.

I am extremely grateful for that guy on the kayak, if it wasn’t for him I probably would have just quit. More thoughts about this at the end.

I didn’t wear my watch for the swim, but my official time was 37:15, which is just awful. If you take out the horrible start maybe I actually did it a minute or two faster, but still…

Transition 1
The first transition went pretty well. It was my first time racing/doing a transition in a wetsuit and I know I could have done it quicker, but I made it through pretty quickly and without incident.

Time: 2:32

The Bike

This was the most challenging bike course I’ve done in a race. There was over 1700 feet of climbing (what’s depicted above) including a long hard climb starting about 2 miles in, and lots of steep little climbs that made you work. I went for it though and am pretty pleased with my ride.

Due to the horrible swim I got out of the water in 45th position overall out of 53, and last of 8 in my age group. I worked my way back to 19th (I think) overall and 4th in my age group by the end of the bike. I had the 8th overall fastest bike time, though still wasn’t close to the overall winners. Unfortunately, about a mile or two from T2 I started to feel soreness in my legs and I realized I might have over done it.

Time: 1:21:46

Transition 2
T2 went smooth. I know I can get my transition times down, but I didn’t make any mistakes that I can think of.

Time: 1:16

The Run

The run was an out and back course with a decent hill about a mile from transition, then pretty flat in the middle. My legs felt horrible right away and weren’t loosening up. When I started up that hill they started cramping like crazy and I knew I didn’t have any chance for a good run. I had to stop and walk up the hill and took a gel and drank some water on the way, then stretched quickly at the top. You can see my pace crash in the chart. After that I started running again and just tried to pace myself to finish. I didn’t have to walk again but was much slower than I had hoped. My goal was to run as close to 7:45/miles as possible, but I ended up averaging around 8:40 and was passed twice on the run.

Time: 54:40

Overall
I spent the rest of the day just being extremely happy that I finished and celebrated how I normally do:


yes, I ate the whole pack that day. don’t judge me! 

Again, I am grateful for the gentleman on the kayak and came away from the experience with two main takeaways:

1) It doesn’t matter what you’re dealing with, big or small, when negative thoughts start popping up, it’s very easy to get down on yourself and give up. Remember to stay positive, fall back on your “training,” have faith in yourself and your support system. I need to work on this.

2) A little pep talk and being there beside someone, even just briefly, as a reassuring presence can go an awfully long way. Everyone needs help from time to time and when you see someone in need, it doesn’t take much to offer kind words and reassurance. Be that guy on the kayak.

These principles aren’t triathlon specific!

With that said though, I’m honestly disappointed in how I did. I think I came in unprepared for running a 10k after a hard 25 mile bike, so need to address my preparation. However, even with the crummy run, compared to the other people in my age group, I had the second fastest times in the bike, the run, and both transitions. If it wasn’t for my horrible swim I could have at least placed in the AG and done much better overall.

Oh well. I’m still happy to have finished, had a nice long weekend with my wife away from home, and should learn a lot from this experience. It doesn’t look like I’ll do another Olympic this year just based on what’s available and the timing, but this experience should still help me improve.

I’m taking this week off, or extremely light anyway, then will do a four week training block before my next race, which is a sprint. I’m really going to focus on swimming, though know huge gains aren’t likely at this point during the season.

Thanks a lot for following along, happy racing!

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Written by Jim

May 24, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Triathlon Race Report

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Yesterday I had my first triathlon of the year. Some things went well and some didn’t, but overall it was a good race and I had a faster finishing time than I had last year. This is a sprint triathlon my gym puts on each spring and as long as I’m doing triathlons I’ll probably do this race each year; it’s close, cheap, managed well, and it’s nice to support the gym.

Leading up to the race
I didn’t really taper for this at all since it’s so short and I’m targeting an Olympic race in May as my primary race of the year. I still did normal hard swim workouts Monday and Wednesday of last week, but did tone things down for my Friday swim. I also cut out a run and bike during the week and dialed back the intensity some, but it wasn’t overly organized and I still tried to get some miles and some harder efforts in.  I felt pretty good going into it.

I couldn’t sleep at all the night before and probably only got 3 or 4 hours in total, just because I’m obsessive about this. I finally did fall asleep very late and ended up sleeping past my alarm by about 20 minutes. Since the venue is so close I still had plenty of time to eat breakfast, load up the car, and get there right after transition opened. I got a decent spot, setup, socialized and warmed up a bit before the start.

The Swim
The swim is a 300 meter pool swim. I’ve truly been working hard on my swimming and had hopes of being faster than I was last year but things didn’t pan out – I was 16 seconds slower. I really don’t know what the deal was. I might have been too reserved… I have a habit of going out real fast and running out of steam a few laps into a workout, so I tried to hold back to keep that from happening. Otherwise, I’m just a really bad swimmer. It’s okay, I’ll keep working on it.

Time: 6:46
Last year: 6:30
(times include a 20-30 second run from the pool to timing mat)

T1
I didn’t swim in my tri top and put it on it T1. Two reasons for this were 1) I thought the top would cost me more time in the water than it would take to put on in transition (probably not true in hindsight), and 2) it was still a bit chilly and I’m a wimp in the cold, so I thought it would be good to have a somewhat dry top on and to wear sleeves. So in T1 I put on a top with sleeves to the elbows, which didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped because I forgot to unzip it in the morning and it’s very tight and I had trouble pulling it on over my wet skin. I was happy for it though and did feel comfortable through out the ride and run. Also, during my “running mount” on the bike, I had some trouble getting my feet on the shoes, which cost me. Still need to work on that.

Time: 1:15

The Bike
The bike course is a 16 mile out and back ride on rolling hills, with a loop built in as the turnaround. I’m really familiar with this course because I train on it all the time. I started out a bit too hard and dialed back the intensity as I went on, but I was able to keep my speed up and kept my effort pretty consistent after the first few miles. Looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Starting with such a time deficit from the swim there were already a ton of people out on the course, a lot of which I passed. One guy passed me while I had trouble getting into my shoes out of transition, but I quickly caught him and wasn’t passed again through the course. It stinks being so far behind as a poor swimmer, but passing a bunch of people does boost moral.

This was my first race on the new bike and, though I was faster than with my old bike, I don’t know how much was due to the bike and how much was due to improved fitness. On a short course it’s hard to tell. I’ll just take all the credit, I think, though that makes it harder to justify the bike purchase.

Time: 46:30
Last year: 47:13

T2
The second transition went well. I know I could still shave a few seconds off it, but overall I’m happy and I didn’t really goof at all.

Time:  0:46

The Run
The run is a mostly flat 3.1 mile out and back course; there are a few tiny hills, but nothing major. I had a bit of trouble finding my pace at first, but I think it leveled out by the end of the first mile. I wanted to push it and have a fast time, but also didn’t want to blow up. I managed to hold a decent (for me) pace and improved on last year’s performance.

Time: 22:28
Last year: 22:46

Overall
I’m disappointed in my swim performance and am going to keep working on that, but otherwise am pleased with the bike and run. I mean, I’d like to be faster all around, but I’ve made improvements.

My total time ended up being 1:17:46, almost a minute better than last year’s 1:18:39. I had hoped to be 2 minutes faster, but I won’t ignore positive results.

Anyway, it was good enough to earn me 3rd place in my age group out of 15, and 15th overall out of about 125. Could have been better, could have been worse.

What’s next
I’m not really taking much time to recover and am treating this like a hard workout, more or less. I’ll resume my normal schedule through the week, though will tone the first few bikes and runs down a bit. The Olympic I’m doing is in just three weeks so I want to get some good quality sessions in late this week and next week before scaling back for that race.

Well, that about covers it.
Thanks for reading and happy racing!

Written by Jim

May 1, 2017 at 9:12 pm

Cannondale Slice – My “New” Bike

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As mentioned in my previous post, I got a new bike! A member in my Tri Club got a new bike and sold me this – his old one – for a very cheap price. Though I’ve wanted to upgrade my Windsor, I wasn’t seriously shopping for a new bike, but I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

This is a Cannondale Slice 4. The previous owner told me he bought it in 2009 but looking around online I don’t think this color scheme was available until 2011, so maybe his memory is off by a year or two, or maybe my my online research skills aren’t the best. Either way, it doesn’t really matter much to me, the bike is a vast improvement over my old one.


(the Windsor, for reference, with my mismatched wheel set that’s now on the Slice)

The Windsor is aluminum, has a very basic shape and handle bars, more of a relaxed position, it’s a 9-speed, and just a very basic bike overall. I think I’ve done reasonably well with it and, if I’m going to be honest, it isn’t really limiting how well I’m performing, but for as seriously as I’m taking this “hobby” I’m justified in having a more capable ride.

The Cannondale is carbon, a 10-speed, quite a bit more aero, and just faster. I haven’t done a back to back comparison riding both of them, but I’ve been able to maintain higher speeds and have set quicker times over familiar routes than I was able to do with the Windsor. It also has return to center shifters, which I’m still adjusting to but like. Finally, I just like the way it looks! I don’t dislike the Windsor, it has a certain appeal to it, but I think the Slice looks cool, and in my opinion that’s important for enjoying a bike and getting the most out of it. It is old by today’s standards and quite dated, but I still like it and it’s a capable race machine for my purposes.

There are a few things about it that I’m adjusting to. It’s a bit smaller than the Windsor and I feel a little squished on it length wise. I have adjusted the front end out a bit, but if I go much more it adds too much tension to the cabling, so I’m taking time to adjust to it before making drastic changes. The crank arms are also a bit shorter (172.5mm vs. 175mm on the Windsor) and the chainrings are 150/134 vs 153/139 on the Cannondale, which has taken a little getting used to. My cadence tends to be a bit faster than I’m used to now. I’ve also found I am giving up a little speed going down hill, but on the level and going up hills the gearing and jumps between gears feel more comfortable and useful. I’m thinking about playing around with different chainrings to find what I’m most comfortable with, but will keep the bike like this for a while until I’m completely used to it. Overall I am comfortable on it and it is beginning to feel normal to me.

The first true test will be next weekend when I have my first race of the year. I want to be faster all around than I was last year but am hoping for a significant improvement on the bike leg due to the new bike and improved fitness. We will see. How it’s picture here is how I’ll race with it. I’ll use a Profile Design bottle between the arms and don’t need any other fluids for short sprint races (I do carry a bottle on the frame for training). The bag behind the saddle is small and not much of an aero penalty, I don’t think… there are better ways to carry your spares/tools, but for me this is convenient and good enough.

And, for now, I’m keeping the Windsor. I plan to use it as a trainer machine and for poor weather riding. I’m also contemplating putting road bars and shifters on it so I have a road bike instead of two tri bikes.

Well, thanks for reading! I’ll post a race report to share how the first one went.

Written by Jim

April 21, 2017 at 10:17 am

Triathlon Training Report

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This blog has been quiet for a little while again so I wanted to do an update about my training and plans for the upcoming racing season. I haven’t been doing a lot of other projects recently but I do have another guitar planned, and now that the weather is getting nicer I hope to get out and shoot some photos again too, so I’ll keep this updated when there’s stuff to share.

Also, I got a “new” [used, but new to me] tri bike! I think I’ll write a separate post about it, so won’t go into more detail now.

On to the training…

I’ve trained consistently over the fall and winter. Last fall I really focused on my running and saw some improvements, then over the winter I really focused on my cycling, mostly on the trainer. You can’t truly “focus” on more than one thing at the same time, and I had read that cycling helps maintain run fitness while running does little to maintain cycling fitness, so my plan was to make gains running first and hopefully maintain the improvements while refocusing on cycling. I’m not so sure it worked that well. Though I did get faster running in the fall, when I tapered back down and shifted my attention to cycling, I lost a good part of what I had gained. I think I’m only marginally faster running now than I was at this point last year. We’ll see if this year’s race results are any different. All the while I consistently hit the pool as well.

Anyway, in January I shifted to regular tri training. I’m following my own program which is a mix of things I’ve gotten from other tri club members, what I’ve found online, and other programs I’ve used. I try to swim, bike, and run each 4 times a week (12 sessions total) but will drop an easy bike or run session when I have scheduling problems. In actuality I’m putting in 10-12 hours of total training time a week on average. Probably about 40% of my time is devoted to cycling, the remaining 60% is split pretty evenly between swimming and running.

The bike training has been very purposeful and I feel good about it. I haven’t gotten that much faster but I do think I’ve improved, and I’m getting longer rides in than I’ve done in the past. For running, I’m working on getting more miles in and do one or two sessions per week where I do track work, hills, and/or sustained efforts at higher paces. I’m not seeing much more speed, but it seems to be going okay. Swimming continues to be my biggest challenge. My endurance has increased, but overall speed has only improved marginally, if at all. My coordination and technique are the biggest issues and I’m just having a hard time improving. I have gotten a lot of tips from people in my tri club, other swimmers at the pool, life guards and coaches, all of which I’m grateful for, but I haven’t been able to turn the advice into improved results. I’ll keep working at it and might try another swim lesson or something. It’s definitely where I have the biggest room for improvement, and I am putting in more time/work at it, so hopefully I do improve some.

Finally, I haven’t had any more health scares and seem to be managing my hydration and sodium intake effectively, so that’s good. I might have to adjust things as we get into the hot summer months, but I have no concerns on that front.

The race season…

I have two races scheduled so far. The first is at the end of April, just two weeks away. It’s the local sprint tri I did last April, and where I did duathlons in years prior. It’s hosted by my gym and I really enjoy doing the race. I’m not treating this as an “A race” but do hope to be about 2 minutes faster than I was last year. That is an aggressive goal, but I still think obtainable. Goals should be challenging, and if I’m a little faster in each discipline and don’t mess up my transitions this year I can do it.

The second race is an Olympic at the end of May. This will be my first Olympic distance race and what I’ve been training for. I’m sure I can finish it, being competitive is the bigger concern. The race is at Raystown Lake, PA, which will make for a cold swim and somewhat challenging/hilly bike course.

After that, I don’t have any races officially scheduled. How the Olympic goes will help me determine what I want to do for the rest of the summer. I’m kicking around the idea of doing a HIM length race, but seriously doubt I’ll do one this year. There is a sprint not far from where I live in June that I’m interested in, so I might do that, and later in the summer there are a few sprints and Olympics not terribly far away that I could choose from. I’ll make up my mind later in May after the race.

Well, that’s all I have to report for now. I’ll try to do another post soon about my bike.

Thanks for reading and Happy Easter!

Written by Jim

April 15, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Getting Aero

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This year I made a few changes to try to improve my bike aerodynamics and this past weekend I did some testing to see how much of a difference different gear actually makes. This post is going to show the results of my testing to see how much of a speed difference deeper wheels and an aero helmet make on the bike. I’ll note that this topic has been covered in great depth by countless others, so if you’re into triathlons and bike gear this won’t be news to you, but hopefully you’ll still find it a little interesting. If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you’re at least somewhat familiar with the importance of aerodynamics in triathlon and cycling, so I won’t elaborate on that here.

Last winter I was researching different things to improve my speed outside of training more. Wanting to get more involved in the sport, I wanted to make an upgrade that would hopefully make me a bit faster. I came across this article and, aside from working on my bike position (more on that below), I decided to buy an aero helmet, a used Giro Advantage 2 that I got online for $50 shipped.

xcs___IMG_20160906_063613637

Through the year I kept my eyes open for some aero wheels as well and came across a Shimano RS80 C50 front wheel on craigslist, then shortly later picked up a Giant P-SLR 1 rear wheel on eBay.

IMG_20160724_121341s

Not being a matching set they do look a little silly together on the bike, but they’re both well regarded 50mm deep wheels, and combined they “only” cost me $250, which is pretty cheap for an aero wheelset (I couldn’t have gotten a matching set for that price), so I’m quite pleased with them and don’t care how they look. There are better, deeper, lighter, etc. wheels out there, but for my budget these are just fine. I’ll also note that they actually might be a tad lighter in weight than my basic Bontrager Select wheels.

Here’s an older pic of the bike with the Bontrager wheels:

IMGP0694xs

When using this aero stuff I definitely *feel* faster on the bike, but I wanted to quantify how much of a change they actually made. So on Saturday I did some testing…

There is a stretch of road not far from my house that’s just a hair under 2.5 miles long. On the far end the last half mile goes uphill at a 4% to 5% grade, but otherwise it’s relatively flat. I use this stretch of road for interval work from time to time and it takes about 10 minutes to get there, which works for a short warm up.

On Saturday morning I did this course three times. Each time I pedaled easy to the stretch of road, then:

  • First did it with my “non-aero” Bontrager Select wheels and wearing my normal helmet.
  • Second with my aero wheelset, still wearing the normal helmet.
  • Third with the aero helmet and aero wheelset.

Recording this all with my Garmin 305 watch, I did the 2.5 mile stretch as hard as I could on the way out, turned around at the top, then did the stretch as hard as I could back. I counted each time out as a lap on the watch and each time back as a lap, excluding the turnaround. I then pedaled easy back to my house and changed the wheels or helmet for the next run. Everything else stayed the same. I wore exactly the same clothes, kept the same stuff on my bike, and even topped off my water bottle each time so all other factors would be as consistent as possible between the runs. At the end of this post are some other notes about things that could have potentially affected the results, though I think they’re minor.

Here are the results:

Aero testing chart

Having to go uphill at the end of the “Out” segment really hurt the time/speed of that leg, but going down helped on the way back, which is why there is such a difference between the two segments.

Here are some of the key take away points, combining the “out” and “back” times:

  • The aero wheels were 20 seconds – 2.4% – faster than regular wheels.
  • Adding the aero helmet was 21 seconds – 2.6% – faster than the aero wheels with a regular helmet.
  • The aero wheels and aero helmet combined were 41 seconds – 5% – faster than the regular wheels and regular helmet.
  • My heart rate stayed within 3 beats per minute for each run, which would suggest a pretty consistent level of exertion.
  • I think the reason the top speeds weren’t always recorded during the fastest run had to do with me jumping the gun a little with my effort vs. when I started the watch. If I was a little eager with jumping on the pedals, it would give me a bit of a head start and more time to reach top speed before I settled into the normal effort for the ride.

I had mixed feelings about these results. I was hoping for more than a ~0.5 miles per hour difference with each upgrade and have to wonder how much the margin for error is since testing was based on effort. Still, I feel pretty confident that I put the same amount of effort into each test, this still shows an improvement with the aerodynamic equipment, and is pretty consistent with the linked study. I’m especially pleased and surprised with the third test; my legs were feeling pretty fatigued by then and I didn’t feel like it went well. I still gave it all I had, but was sure that the time wouldn’t be any better than my previous test. Had my legs been fresh I wonder if I could have done better yet.

I also multiplied the combined times by 5 to project the overall improvements for a 25 mile (Olympic distance) ride. Sure, I wouldn’t be able to maintain this effort for 25 miles, and a lot of other factors would come into play, but it gives a rough idea about how much time savings these changes would give you in an actual race.

25mi testing chart

Summarizing for a 25 mile ride:

  • Aero wheels would save 1 minute 40 seconds over standard wheels.
  • Aero wheels and an aero helmet would save 1 minute and 45 seconds over just aero wheels and a regular helmet.
  • Using an aero helmet and aero wheels together would save 3 minutes and 25 seconds over regular wheels and helmet.

Again, this is just multiplying the times out so isn’t overly realistic, but still shows that there are time savings to be had. The article I linked to listed a 67 second savings with the aero helmet alone and roughly a minute savings with the aero wheelset, so my calculations aren’t that far off.

Between the two, if there’s one big take away, I’d say that getting a good aerodynamic helmet should be done before spending money on wheels. It yields the same improvement or more, and helmets are a lot cheaper than wheels. Helmets can be found used for $50 or less, and new ones are available for as low as $80 and up to $200 or more. Decent new wheelsets on the other hand typically start close to $1,000 and only go up from there. Even if you put together a used set like I did, the price will still be greater than most new helmets. How much a helmet helps is also dependent on your body positioning and how well you hold your position and head over a race. But when considering price, and assuming you can get a decent fitting helmet that compliments your position, and that you are comfortable holding your position, there is a much greater combined value and benefit in getting the helmet.

Talking about gear is interesting and the subject of a lot of different debates, but actually, the human body accounts for about 80% of drag on the bicycle (I’ve read this multiple times over the past couple years but do not have a source handy, sorry), so getting in the most aerodynamic position as possible will yield the greatest improvements. To that end, last winter I lowered the elbow pads on my bike as low as I could and moved the extensions as close together as possible, while still allowing room for a bottle between my forearms. I did not do before and after testing or take pictures, so don’t have any data to show how much of a change it made, but it did definitely reduced my frontal area in the wind, which is a good thing. I think I could comfortably get a little lower yet and maybe bring my arms a bit closer together, but I would need to buy a new bar to accomplish this, and am done spending money on upgrades for this bike for a little while. I’m comfortable and satisfied with how I fit on the bike for now.

Hopefully you found this interesting and helpful. Thanks for reading!

 

Here are some other quick notes about possible factors in the different times. I don’t think these played a huge part, but they should be mentioned:

  • It would have been more scientific and accurate to use a power meter and ride at a consistent power level each time to see how much the speed/time changed, but I don’t own a power meter and I found it too hard to maintain consistency by cadence or heart rate, so decided to go by what I felt was the highest effort I could sustain for the intervals. There is room for error with this approach, but it’s what I did.
  • The tires on the Bontrager wheels are Michelin Pro 4 Service Course and the tires on the aero wheels are Michelin Pro 4 Service Course Comp, which have slightly less rolling resistance, but both sets of tires have quite a bit of wear and neither are considered especially fast tires, so I don’t think this should have affected the results much. They both have the same types of tubes.
  • The Bontrager wheelset has a 12-27 cassette while the aero set has a 11-28 cassette. The gear spacing in the middle gears is nearly identical though, so to keep everything equal I didn’t use the largest cog in either wheelset, and didn’t use the smallest in the aero set – the second smallest is a 12 tooth gear, so it’s the same as the smallest on the Bontrager set. This is important because I could have used the smallest gear when using the aero wheels, but didn’t for the sake of equality. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain the 11 tooth gear long with the Bontrager set, so I know I left some speed on the table when I was riding with the aero gear.

Written by Jim

September 6, 2016 at 7:01 am