Because of my bike crash I had to withdraw from the Eagleman 70.3 triathlon. Fortunately I had registered for the ITU Olympic distance race a week later on June 21 so I would have at least one early year race. While my fitness would not be where I had hoped, at least it would be a good test of my gear and get me back into the triathlon racing mentality. It was also nice to be racing in my ‘home’ town (for now) and to have Lis there as my race Sherpa. As you can see from the photo to the right, I did finish, in fact the race went much better than I anticipated.
I had started training again just over three weeks ago, focusing on my cycling while my knee continued to heal. I started running two weeks ago, but only managed to get in three runs. The biggest concern was the swimming since the wound on the knee did not close properly until a week before the race. This meant that I had only one swim in six weeks.
I was working very hard on my cycling fitness and so did several hard and long workouts in the previous week. On the Tuesday evening before the race I went out with my cycling group and found that I had absolutely no legs for a ride. They pasted me after 20 minutes, so I pulled off and cycled home somewhat dejected. When I checked my training stress levels in WKO+ I found that I was at –44 TSB which explained a lot: I was seriously overtrained. So I decided to just do a few short recovery rides for the remainder of the week. This was helped by an insane work schedule and packing up the house for moving so I was otherwise preoccupied. Going into the race I therefore had no expectations. It was really a chance to see how I was doing and to have a fun race.
As mentioned above, one element of the race was testing my gear. Over winter I had done some research and looked at my gear from top to bottom. This would be my first race with my new setup. This included: new Xterra wetsuit, new tyres and tubes on my bike, rear wheel cover for improved aerodynamics, new dorky aero helmet and new running shoes. Since my ‘A’ race is Ironman Louisville in August, I wanted to identify any problems and then be able to address them over the summer.
The race began at 06:00 so we left home in a taxi at 05:00 and headed down to the Lincoln monument which was near the transition area. It was a fine morning for a race, not too hot with a clear sky. There had been a lot of rain recently but the Potomac river, where we were to swim, was down much and there was not too much flotsam and jetsam in the river: sometimes there are large trees floating down.
I had racked my bike the night before and noted that my front tyre was down on air. I made the mistake of getting the bike mechanic to pump it up. Why a mistake? Because he pulled the valve and blew the tube. Ho hum. It is a really hard tyre to remove and I was glad they had another mechanic there to do it. They kindly gave me a new tube but it was an inauspicious start to the race. Note to self: do not let others pump up your tyres.
Once I had the bike water bottles filled and my gear laid out, it was time to go and find Lis and get ready to start the race. On the way out I saw my friend Taneen as well as John Dean from the World Bank. He was doing the Sprint race which they were running in parallel with the Olympic distance.
I had been racing in an ‘e-bay special’ wetsuit since I started triathlons five years ago. I wasn’t sure if I would stay with the sport so why spend a fortune on a good wetsuit. I ordered it from e-bay and it arrived from Greece. Unlike everyone else’s wetsuit, it was light blue so I stood out in the crowd. I remember testing it once in my parents pool in Toronto before my first triathlon. It was showing its age so I decided to upgrade to a new Xterra wetsuit which I bought at their end of season sale. I rationalized the expensive price by insulating the crawl space in the house myself rather than get someone else to do it. It was not fun to do but I kept telling myself ‘Xterra wetsuit’ and that got me through the job.
|For the race I was also trying a new silicon spray for my ankles and wrists – it can be very hard getting off the wet suit. In fact, as the photos here show even getting it on can be quite the task!|
The race start was delayed due to traffic issues but soon we had the playing of the US National Anthem, as well as a welcome from Adrian Fenty, D.C.’s mayor and most famous age group triathlete. I don’t think he raced as I didn’t see him, but then I usually only see the back of him as he passes me 🙂
We were in the second wave and soon jumped into the Potomac which was about 72 degrees so not cold at all. I positioned myself at the back of the pack as I was under no illusion about my ability to do a fast swim. Then the gun went and it was off for the 1.5 km swim. As I’ve written countless times before, the triathlon swim start is an all out contact sport with swimmers being pushed under, pulled and pushed aside. With a few punches thrown in for good measure, and this start was no different. The picture below was from the official race photographer. It catches the general atmosphere …
One good thing about having spent so many hours in pools is that you have this muscle memory and, once I broke free of the crowd, I was able to get into my rhythm. The new wetsuit was a definite improvement on the old one as I felt more buoyant, particularly in the legs. I stayed to the right and headed up towards key bridge with my 1-2-3-breathe-1-2-3-breathe rhythm. I could feel my poor technique but that was OK as at least I was progressing, and I was not last in my wave.
As I approached key bridge this fellow in a red kayak interrupted my concentration by telling me I had to go to the left. He stayed with me for a few minutes getting me back on course so I thanked him and headed under the bridge. I could see the yellow buoy and headed towards it, suddenly to be swamped by the fast swimmers from the next wave. It’s bad enough being beaten up at the start but passing the buoy with the next wave of swimmers is even worse as we are all heading towards the same spot.
I swam across the river to the next buoy and then headed downstream towards the end. I must say that I endure the swim rather than enjoy it, but ever since my Total Immersion training, it is not daunting. It seemed like a long way to the swim exit, but the fireboats moored in the river got closer and closer, albeit at a slower rate than I would have liked. Then it was around another buoy and up the ramp to the exit. My legs felt good and I saw Lis as I headed to the transition area. She said afterwards that she spotted me in the water in spite of my black wetsuit and was surprised how smooth I was with my swimming. Me too!
I’ve never been good at transitions and today was no different. By biggest problem was that I couldn’t get off my wetsuit! I had to struggle on the ground and eventually got the blasted thing off my feet. Note to self: practice getting wet suit off. Lis grabbed the photo to the left, I’m on the far side with the dorky white helmet.
It was then off on my bike for my favourite part of the race. The course took us down past the Washington monument, looping back past the Kennedy centre before heading out towards the K street expressway and Canal road along the Potomac. Being Washington D.C. the roads were of dubious quality, in fact I lost one of my water bottles after about one km when I hit a bump.
I have been following the Endurance National training philosophy so I wanted to use this race to test some of the principles. Although they are aimed at the Ironman distance race, many still apply to shorter races. For this race I wanted to focus on staying in the aerodynamic position and cycling at a constant power level. I did quite well with the former, and my variability index was 1.05 which shows that I pretty well with keeping the power constant (1.00 is perfection). The biggest challenge I had was not overdoing it and racing too hard – I kept on reminding myself I had a 10 km run to do after the 40 km bike ride.
I felt really good on the bicycle and was able to pass a lot of people, only being passed by a small number myself. It was a challenge not to draft but I endeavoured to keep the rule of three bike lengths between me and the preceding cyclist, except when passing. There were referees out on motorcycles and I wonder how many violations they gave – hopefully a few!
Coming back on the first loop – it was two loop course – I noted a very bad section of pavement with a big bump. I was grateful that I didn’t crash. On the second loop I saw an ambulance there patching up two cyclists who were not so fortunate. It was on a downhill section so it would have been a high speed crash. Not a nice way to end your race day. In the final two miles I passed several people with gear failure, but one fellow was running barefoot with his bike rather than replace the tube. Probably a good idea.
As I approached the dismount area I remembered a bit late to remove my feet from my shoes – makes running with your bike easier – but managed to get them out just before the line. I had a brief glimpse of my friend Archil from Tbilisi who was in town for road safety training as I ran into transition. I was a bit better than before, but had problems with my shoes, before heading out on the run.
Lis was at the exit and I had a quick kiss before hitting the road. I felt really good on the run and I was cheered on by the few spectators because of my New Zealand race shirt that I was wearing. The run route was nice at the beginning, passing the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin, as well as the Washington Monument, but soon took diversions into less salubrious attractive areas. In fact, there were two sections where we ran through tunnels. Not nice. I was able to keep up a really good pace and was only passed by two people, but passed many more than that.
It started to rain lightly which was very refreshing – D.C. can be exceptionally hot and humid in summer. Eventually we headed down towards the Capital Building, and then turned left onto Pennsylvania Avenue for the final run home. I passed a fellow who was 72 (they write our ages on the back of our legs) as well as a few younger ones. This was better than last year at the Nation’s Triathlon when I got pipped at the end by a fellow in my age group. I felt very strong as I ran towards the finish, and heard Lis and Taneen cheering me on.
I finished with a time of just 2:27:47 (31:14 swim, 3:31 T1, 1:07:10 bike; 1:49 T2, 44:05 run). That was good enough for 5/18 in my age group and 107/265 for all men. I was also the top male New Zealander, which was easy as there was only one 🙂
This result was far better than I had hoped given my recent injury and lack of running and swimming. In fact, my 2:27 was the best time I’ve ever had for an Olympic distance race. I had the slowest swim of the top ten in my age group. but the fourth fastest run. It was interesting to compare my swim times to previous races, my pace of 2:04/100 m was actually faster than in many previous races – that new wet suit really made a difference!
Looking at the bigger picture, this is a validation for the Endurance Nation training program. After following their off-season program, in spite of losing three weeks of training I set a personal record. Would have been interesting to do the race without the injury downtime. The taper must have also helped.
I met up with Lis and while she caught the metro home I walked back to the transition area to grab my bike and gear. I was able to watch the professional men’s race transition – very impressive, especially compared to me! You count to five and they are gone. The did the race in about 1:48 … It was then on my bike for an easy ride home where Lis had prepared me a great recovery breakfast. Then it was a quick pack and off to the airport for my flight to Germany. As soon as I was on board I fell asleep which was just what I needed.
This race has helped put my bike crash into context. I’m in better shape than I thought and now just need to do the hard work necessary to get ready for Ironman Louisville in two months. With hopefully only this one business trip to do, I will have time to focus on my training. Watch this space 🙂