Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Buffalo Olympic Triathlon Race Review

What a difference 2 years makes.  But wait.  I'm getting ahead of myself again.  Let's start from the beginning.

I spent Saturday evening was spent tweaking my bike and gathering all the necessities for race day.  One of my moms (New Mom for those of you keeping track) gave me an awesome backpack for Christmas that can expand out to swallow all of my gear.  I was able to get everything into that one bag - wetsuit and helmet included.  This went into the car along with my bike (no, my bike wouldn't fit in the bag too) and waited while I slept.

I woke up at 5:30 on Sunday morning and went through my normal pre-race routine.  Warm shower?  Check.  Bagel with peanut butter?  Check.  Climb into new team racing jersey and shorts?  Check.  With that, I hit the road for the 45 minute drive out to Buffalo.  The weather was looking absolutely great.  The sun was shining and the temps for race time would be in the low 70s.  Nice.

The first wave of the race wasn't scheduled to go until 9:00, but even at 7:00, things were just starting to get busy in the transition area.  I grabbed a spot on a rack and made sure it would be easy to find in the rather large transition area.  The Olympic and Sprint distance race at the same time, and there were two large transition areas separated by an Astroturf covered path.  With 1500 bikes to rack, they did a pretty good job of giving us enough space to maneuver.

Behold: my awesome MS Paint skills.
After claiming my space, I went to body marking where some dude drew on me.  No.  Wait.  That sounds weird.  Anyway, I got my race number on my shoulders and on my quads, plus my age on my left calf.  They do this so that you know if you're racing next to someone in your age group (remember this little tid-bit for later).  After that, I had another 90 minutes to spend waiting around, just soaking things in. 

After about an hour of wandering around, I got a text from my mom - Classic Mom this time.  She was heading over to see me race.  Sweet!  The Wife had to work on Sunday morning, so she couldn't make it, but it was pretty cool to know someone would be there.  Classic Mom made it out to the Get in Gear in April, but she's never seen me in a tri before, so having her out was pretty cool.

They had the pre-race meeting to remind us about the course changes.  This year, the bike course intersected two sets of train tracks and there was a very real chance that we would need to stop to wait for any trains.  That got a collective groan from the crowd.  My wave only the 4th to leave, so after the meeting I poured myself into my wetsuit and headed over to the beach for a quick warmup.  There was almost no wind, so the lake was just about as calm as my local lap pool.  I could tell already that the swim was going to be fun.  Just before my wave got lined up, I saw Classic Mom and gave her a nice wet hug before shuffling over to the start line.

The Swim
There was a hard right-hand turn less than 100 yards into the swim, so I lined myself up on the far left so I could get out fast and cut the corner in front of most of my wave.  Relatively speaking, I'm a stronger swimmer than I am a cyclist or runner, so I wanted to take full advantage of my time in the water.  Oh yeah.  I almost forgot.  At Buffalo, you don't have swim course buoys.  You get giant duckies.  Awesome.

The start was incredibly uneventful.  I ran in, took a good dive when it was hip-deep and busted a move towards the first turn.  I didn't get a lot of contact from the other racers - just a couple bumps here and there.  On the way to the first duckie, I started to catch up to the wave ahead of me.  I learned pretty quickly to stay away from any feet that were doing the breast-stroke.  One heel to the mouth will drive that lesson home quickly.  The good news is that all of the white swim caps from wave #3 made it easier to sight the course - just follow the little white dots.

The first left turn was a bit of a cluster, but the long straghtaway was a great place to get some speed going.  I knew I could go a little wider of the duckies without swimming too much further than the crowd.  I'd much rather swim just a little further if it means avoiding packs of other athletes.  After the third and final turn, I started seeing more caps from the 2nd wave - blue this time - but I was more focused on tracking down more yellow duckies.  I hit the gas with about 200-300 yards left to go and hit the shore feeling dizzy from the swimming, but still fresh.

Goal: 28:00, or 1:42 per 100 yards.
Actual: 24:52, or 1:31 per 100 yards.

The Bike
After a somewhat muddled transition (gotta practice those) I pedaled out onto the bike course.  With 1500 athletes, it did get pretty crowded out on the course, especially during the first lap.  Most of the riders were good about riding safely.  Slower riders stayed to the right, giving speedier ones some room to pass.  Although, there were a few that need to be reminded what exactly "on your left!" means.  In the end, I don't think anyone was slowed down significantly due to congestion.

The course was incredibly fast.  During most of the first lap, it felt as though I was either going downhill or had the wind at my back.  Yes, I know.  The course is flat, so there weren't any downhills, but that's sure what it felt like.  In fact, the only real hills to speak of were a couple long rollers on the back stretch of the course, heading back into town. 

I tried to keep my pace moderately hard.  My goal was to keep my average speed over 19.5mph, so any time I dropped under 20mph, I gave it a little more gas.  Cycling during a triathlon can be tricky.  Sure, everyone wants to go fast, but if you go too hard you can ruin your chances at a good run leg.  I have enough problems putting together a good run, so I'm often second-guessing myself when I see my average speed climb too high.

Then again, sometimes you just have to say 'screw it!' and go out harder than you think is smart.

The 2nd lap was a lot less crowded, but still felt just as fast.  Again, the only real slowdowns were with the two rollers heading back towards the park.  As I came up into the park I realized that I had forgotten to slip my feet out of my shoes.  I wrestled with my right shoe and got my foot out, but was barreling towards the dismount line too fast to be able to get my left foot out.  So, I unclipped my left shoe, hopped off the bike, took off my shoe, picked it up and ran with it towards my transition area.  This was not exactly the graceful dismount I was hoping for.

My speed still looked good though.  I managed to keep my average speed over 20mph for the whole leg.  Wow.  That's the first time I've ever topped 20mph for any triathlon distance.  Sweet.

Goal: 1:18:00, or 19.6mph
Actual: 1:16:00, or 20.13mph.

The Run
The first 1/3 of the run is very flat, which made it a little easier to get my 'land legs' back.  I haven't done as many bike-run bricks in training this year as I probably should, which probably contributed to me being a little stiff.  Still, I managed to shuffle along at 8:50 per mile while running down the lake path.

Mile 3 made me wish that I had studied the course ahead of time.  It was essentially one long sweeping climb.  It wasn't extremely steep, but the road just kept turning, and turning, and turning, so it was impossible to see the turnaround until I was almost on top of it.  Needless to say, my split wasn't what I wanted - 9:23.  The good news was that mile 4 took us down the same hill.  So, I drank some water from the hilltop aid station, poured the rest over my head and booked it down the hill.  Lo and behold, going downhill actually gave me a faster split time - 8:35.  Downhills help you run faster?  Go figure.

As the course led back towards the lakefront, I was able to see the finish line waaaaaay down the shoreline.  I knew that I was almost there, but it still looked so dang far away.  I tried to pick up the pace a little bit and was even able to pass a few runners - something that I rarely do during a race.  Usually, they're all passing me.  I tossed some more cool water over my head at the last aid station and then focused on trying to reel in the next runner in front of me.

With about 50 yards to go, I got close enough to see that he had a '33' on the back of his calf.  He was in my age group (I TOLD you to remember that knowledge morsel, didn't I?).  I managed to grunt out a little sprint at the finish and passed him with about 10 yards to go.  That's the first time I've ever out-sprinted someone in my age group before.  Yay.

Goal:  56:00, or 9:00 per mile
Actual: 54:49 or 8:50 per mile

Goal: 2:46:00
Actual: 2:39:42

Well lookie here, I met my goal!  Now, part of me says that I need to set some more aggressive goals.  But, another part of me realizes that the race conditions were ideal for fast times.  If there had been heavy chop on the lake or high winds on the bike, I could easily have missed the mark.  The part that I was most encouraged about was my finish place.  I was 21/42 in my age group, which puts me squarely in the middle of the pack.  I've never felt this good about being average.  Hopefully this means that I actually am starting to get a handle on this whole triathlon thing.  Even better, I still feel like there's plenty of room for improvement.

So, it was a good day.  I met my goal.  I got to race by Classic Mom a couple of times and I firmly established myself as a middle-of-the-packer.  Good stuff.

I'll get some photos posted shortly.  Stay tuned.

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