Monday, May 8, 2017

Race Recap: The Lake Norman State Park Sprinter Triathlon

A couple months back, on a bit of a whim, I bought a used triathlon bike from my friend John. I had been getting frustrated with my old bike -- especially the fact that it wasn't compatible with modern wheels (only 9-speed) and that the front derailleur was non-indexed and prone to throwing the chain if you didn't shift it just right. John had bought a top-of-the line bike a year ago but had since been caught by the fat bike craze and needed to raise some cash to fuel his new passion. One trial ride later, I HAD to have his bike -- and readily forked over his asking price. I can't begin to explain what a massive improvement this bike is over my old ride. Not only is it beautiful, it's FAST! Here I am riding it at last month's Charlotte Motor Speedway Time Trial:

Yep, I got the fancy aero helmet too!

In that time trial I obliterated my 10-mile PR, clocking 25.73 miles per hour!

Naturally, I needed to try this thing out in a triathlon, so I set my sights on the Lake Norman State Park Sprinter Triathlon, a hilly race in a beautiful park and the surrounding country roads.

Yesterday was my chance to race it!

At the start, most of the athletes were concerned about the cold. My car thermometer had registered 39 degrees on the ride up, and while it was supposed to warm over the course of the morning, it would still be quite chilly getting out of the lake riding a bike at 20-plus MPH! I decided to wear socks and arm sleeves for the ride, and laid them out at the transition area next to my bike. Then I headed out for a quick warm-up, and before I knew it it was 5 minutes before the start time. I wasn't too worried about the start because they were just taking swimmers as they lined up and sending them off a few seconds apart. As it turned out, I probably should have been a bit more concerned. I got my wetsuit on and headed towards the start, only to realize I hadn't gotten my body marked yet. So I had to take my suit nearly completely off for that, then hustled down to the beach, where the first swimmers were entering the water. I got to the back of the line, and in a few minutes, I was off.

I'm not a great swimmer, but I'm better than average, so that meant I was faster than everyone starting around me. I'm also quite a polite swimmer, so I spent a lot of time swimming around, rather than over, the weaker swimmers in my path. The water was also very choppy, and all of this made it tough for me to focus on smooth strokes and good swimming lines.

We had to do two loops, getting out of the water and crossing a timing mat after each loop. In the end my watch registered over 1,300 yards for a swim advertised as 1,000 meters (1093 yards), but I suspect most of that difference was just the poor accuracy of a Garmin in the water. I finished the swim in 22:13, or 2:02 per 100 yards. That's slow for me, perhaps because of the choppy water and all the weaving to get around the slower swimmers.

I ran up the hill to the transition area, about 200 yards, yanked off my wetsuit, then wrestled on my sleeves, socks, and helmet. The sleeves in particular took a long time to pull on, but I didn't want to be cold on my ride. That was probably my second mistake. Time in transition: 3:41, over a minute slower than folks posting similar times to me overall.

The bike ride starts with a massive climb, and I had my bike in a good gear for it. I was able to stand and power my way up the hill right out of the gate, passing perhaps a dozen riders on the way up. After about a mile, things finally started to flatten out a bit, but I knew the first five miles would be mostly uphill. I pushed as hard as I could without totally maxing out, and ended up finishing this uphill section with an average speed of 20 mph. On my old bike, 20 mph would have been a decent overall pace, and I had just done that on a section with twice as much climbing as descending, over 280 feet in all. The next five miles were much flatter, and I was able to average 23.9 on that section. Smoking!

About 10 miles in to the ride, I felt a strange sensation around my belly. I looked down and saw that my new aero tri top had come completely unzipped and was now flapping in the breeze. The whole point of this top was supposed to be that it hugs and conforms to the body, making it more aerodynamically efficient. Now that benefit was lost and I might as well be wearing a baggy cotton T-shirt. But with only 8 miles to go, it wasn't clear that it would be worth it to stop and try to fix the problem, so I decided to continue on with my bare white belly exposed and my top flapping in the breeze. I didn't slow down much, hitting 22.6 mph on a section that included the biggest climb of the ride. The last 3 miles were very hilly and back in the park. I knew I should be able to stay in an aero position down all the hills, and I did for all except one, where I cheated and put one hand on the extension to have quicker access to the brakes. Before long I was coasting into the transition area, with an average speed of 22 mph for the ride -- my fastest tri bike segment ever, on one of the hilliest bike segments I've ridden.

My second transition went seamlessly, and I was starting on the run just one minute after I finished the ride. I still hadn't fixed my shirt; I figured I could do that as I started running, but the bouncing of the run and the tiny, ultralight zipper made this impossible, so I spent a few seconds stopped until I could get my top zipped up for the run.

Despite taking the time to put socks on in T1, my feet were cold enough to be a little numb, and this made running rather challenging. I had been hoping to average about 7 minutes per mile for the run, but looking down at my watch, I was barely below 8:00/mile. It didn't help that I was climbing an 85-foot hill within the first half-mile of the run. I figured when I finally crested the hill I'd be able to pick up the pace, but somehow my legs weren't responding. Slowly, steadily, I worked my pace down to 7:23 for Mile 1. Good, but not great. Mile 2 wasn't any better, with more climbing and my feet still numb: 7:37. Finally on Mile 3 my legs seemed to thaw out, and I was able to pull off a 7:13. Just one big climb left, and then it would be downhill all the way to the finish. I gave it all I had on the hill, but now I was starting to feel the effects of a hard day's racing. "Cmon, Munger, get up this hill," I pleaded with myself, but my body didn't want to listen. Finally I got to the top and was able to run down the other side. There was some tricky footing as we ran over some grass and then onto a narrow, paved path down to the beach. I could see the finish line at the bottom of the hill! But then I stumbled -- over what? It was a paved concrete path, with no obvious obstructions. I was able to catch myself without falling, but I soon realized that this sloping path had level sections every 30 feet or so, that were just enough change in slope to throw a runner off if he wasn't being careful. Then at the bottom of the hill we had a tight hairpin turn as the path turned onto the sand. Finally I ran into the chute and through the finish. I was never able to really take advantage of the downhill finish and averaged 7:30 for the final mile. My average pace for the run was 7:26 by my watch, 7:22 officially. Not bad, but not as good as I had hoped.

In the end, my time ranked second in my age group and 21st out of 109 men. Not bad for the first tri of the season! My friends Randy and Hope also earned podium spots -- a first-ever podium for Hope!

I was happy to collect my award, and even happier to have a giant burger and beer to celebrate afterwards. A fun day of racing!

Happiness is a spot on the podium!

I do think the decision to put the sleeves on may have cost me a minute or so in transition and probably wasn't necessary -- the uphill start warmed me up quickly anyways. I might have been able to cut a minute or two off my swim if I had started closer to the front and had fewer people to pass. My second-place finish was by just over three minutes, though, so while I definitely want to learn from those mistakes, I also don't want to be too hard on myself -- I had a great race, and my bike leg was (other than the incident with the tri top) nearly flawless. For next time, I clearly need to do some more work on bike-to-run. I know I can run faster than I did yesterday; I probably just need to practice that "brick" transition more in order to accomplish it.

Details on yesterday's race are below.

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