Race Report: Milton Sprint Distance Triathlon 5/31/2009.
750meter Swim, 30km Bike and 7.5km run.
Water Temp: 64 F
Air Temp at Race Time: 8C
Weather: Clear and very Windy. Water was spraying due to high wind
My 1st Triathlon.
I researched parking spots on Google Earth prior to driving up to the Milton race site so that I could park outside of the Park grounds. It can be extremely difficult to leave the park when the race is still in progress. Parking outside the park would make it possible to leave shortly after the race on my bike and get to my car in time to drive home before my daughters dance recital, which started at 1pm EST. The race start time was 9:45. I found a parking spot and proceeded by bike to the race site arriving at 8:50am. I was clearly one of the last ones to arrive, as the bike racks were jammed. I found some room in the Overflow area, racked my bike and headed off to registration just as I heard the announcer stating that “If there is anyone here who still hasn’t made it to registration, you had better get there now”. Down the hill in the registration area I added my name to the list of entrants to be included in the 1st wave. I wanted to compete directly against the top athletes, I also wanted to try and avoid some of the congestion on the bike course by getting out in the lead group. My race goals were to be in the top ten and win my age group by beating Michael Keen; last years overall series age group winner (40-44).
I Picked up my timing chip, T-shirt and received my body marking, then back to transition to get ready.
I decided that given the cool temperature and high wind that I was going to wear a coat on the bike. I draped my coat over my bike seat and practices putting it on quickly, the zipping up would have to wait until I got rolling on the bike course. I was at the complete opposite end of the transition area that the elites were at, which meant that I would have further to run with my bike. The bike rolls well so running with it is no big deal except for if you have to do it barefoot, compared with no bike and shoes on. The surface of the transition area was rough, which you couldn’t help but notice as soon as you took your shoes off. People started leaving the transition area and heading over to the lake in bare feet and wetsuits. I put my wetsuit on and had the guy beside me help me to zip it up. I headed over to the lake timidly. Not sure of what to do next in order to prepare for the race. I swung my arms around a few times to loosen up my shoulders, which were already pretty loose after the struggle I experienced getting into my wetsuit. I spent another 30 seconds stretching my claves and then walked into the water. There were already many people swimming in the water to warm up, and many more at the waters edge neck deep to stay out of the wind. The water was much warmer than the air, which was a big relief after practicing swim transitions a few days prior in Lake Ontario near my house, where the water temp was 35F. I had planned for 5 reps of 100meters swimming followed by changing out of my wetsuit, but only made it through 2 attempts of less than 50 meters as I found the experience of putting on a sandy wetsuit to be not dissimilar to scrapping my entire body with sand paper. Not to mention the shock my face and feet felt at being directly exposed to the chilly lake water.
I spotted two friendly faces at the waters edge from the UofT tri club; Leanna and Jason. I waded over to them to say hello. The starting area seemed disorganized compared withy a run or bike start, consisting of 4 main groups. There were a group of people hanging around where I was at because you could still touch bottom. There was another pack of people ahead of me about three rows deep treading water and still another group out swimming. The fourth group was behind me consisting of people who had not made the commitment to get in any deeper than their ankles. I did notice that there were some people who elected to line up wide to the left to avoid the crowd. The race start had to be delayed by a couple of minutes as we waited to the swimmers to return back to the starting area. All of the people around me seemed very nice, it was clear that we were not as aggressive as the people in front as we were all starting with the disadvantage of being several rows deep at the start.
The start horn sounded and all of those nice people turned into swimming savages. It is a basis physics problem; people who are lined up in a vertical position right behind one another suddenly turn horizontal. Instead of taking up 12 inches of space bodies now need up to 8 feet with arms extended. Multiply this problem by 10 + rows of swimmers 20 wide and what you get is pandemonium. Anyone who knows anything about triathlons knows that the swim starts are brutal. Incredibly, I voluntarily put myself right in the middle of the madness. I couldn’t believe how many people were making contact with me, not that I was being hit hard, it was just coming from what seemed like all directions and I couldn’t see anything. I focused on making sure that my arms entered the water directly in front of me so that I could avoid hitting others if possible. My legs were not moving much at this point so there was little worry of me kicking someone. Now came the hard part, after reaching my anaerobic threshold in about 30 seconds, I needed to do all of the following; find some empty water to swim in, slow my breathing down and find my rhythm. I had practiced this very scenario with my swim coaches many times. I had come a long way in the past 8-months during my swim training, from having trouble completing the warm up swim, to being able to swim at a moderate + pace 1:35-40/100meters for a decent distance (up to 1500m.) I had experienced some panic type symptoms in training scenarios where I got out of breath and needed to stop swimming to get my breathing under control. I had worked hard to overcome my problems. I even practiced going out at a rapid pace and then settling down, to simulate race conditions. Unfortunately I was unable to apply all that I practiced. I was breathing very heavily every 2-strokes and lifting my head above water to see where I was going. I tried to start breathing every 3-strokes but I could not settle myself down and ended up gasping for air. Fortunately I had practices back stroke as a back-up in case I ran into trouble. I flipped over onto my back and found some small comfort in being able to keep moving forward despite my ridiculously fast breathing. I was also surprised to see some people behind at this point in the race as it seemed like anyone bwho was behind me had swum over top of me. I stayed on my back for a while and then flipped over again. I still couldn’t manage to slow my breathing and struggled with breathing every 2 strokes and continuing to look ahead to spot where I was going. My body was under complete stress, which could not help me in any way. I often had to tread water for a second or two doing a side-stroke in order to get some extra breaths in. The biggest difference about being in the lake compared with the pool was the inability to see, there was zero visibility in the water, which did not help in my efforts to calm down.
After passing the 1st marker I had a lot more room in the water as the rest of the swimmers in the 1st wave (purple caps) were getting well away from me. Between the 1st & 2nd markers I continued to struggle, but without the contact from other swimmers. Rounding the 3rd maker I moved into the home stretch. I noticed that some people from the wave behind me (Gray swim caps) had passed me. I tried not to think about my pre-race goals vanishing and stay focused on completing the last leg of the swim. I was able to do front crawl for the entire way and even managed a few 3-strokes between breaths. My final swim debacle was when I stopped swimming right before the exit in front of a crowd of people and reached down with my foot only to find no bottom. I swam a few more strokes and then made my way out of the water to the encouragement of the onlookers. I was so far behind at this point that the transition area was basically empty; most of the people from my wave had been through and most for the wave behind had not. I exited the water 4:52 behind the leader.
My swim transition went well, and my feet were too cold to really feel the rough ground. It took me a little longer than it should have because of my boneheaded decision to put a jacket on, which cost me time out on the bike course as well while a zipped up. I was singularly focused on putting down a huge effort on the bike. I began passing people right away, I figured that my secret goal of getting behind the pace car was out of the question but I pushed on the best I could. I was annoyed to see a cyclist try and pass me within the first 1-2km’s of the course. My efforts in the lake were taking a toll on my bike speed as well. Two weeks prior I had raced against most of the same people in Victoria Duathlon (Waterloo) and had registered the fastest bike split of the day. Today my efforts were good enough for the 11th best bike split. I had beaten David Sharratt by 36 seconds on the bike last time out, this time I was 59 seconds slower for the same distance (30km). With a few km’s to go on the bike I spotted Michael Keen, I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I was able to overtake him and hoped that I had enough left on the run to stay ahead. If I wasn’t going to crack the top ten or better maybe I could still do win my age group.
My transition to the run went smoothly except for that my feet could now feel the brutal ground as I ran to my spot at the far end. Out on the run course I passed one guy within the 1st 500 meters. At this point I couldn’t see anyone in front of me and I had no idea of what place I was in. I secretly imagined what it would feel like to be 1st at this point in the race. As I turned right out of the trail and on to Appleby, I could see some runners off in the distance. I felt good on the run but did not enjoy the amount of uphill involved in the 1st half of the race. I saw the race leader (Len Gushe) as he headed to make the turn to Appleby. Len had a great pace going and he looked strong. A ways back I saw 3 guys chasing who also had a nice pace going. At just past the halfway point on a wooded trail, I could hear some footsteps behind me. It was my friend Paul Bregin, who told me “nice job” as he moved past. I yelled out that my swim was horrible and probably took 18-20 minutes. I was inspired by Paul’s pace and the gravitation advantage of now heading down the hill that I had just climbed. I picked my pace up and passed 3 runners before finishing in 15th position overall. I put in the 13th best run of the day and ended up 3rd in my age category. I was amazed to see that my swim time was 14:32 (138th overall) because it sure felt like 18-20 minutes. My bike time was 2 seconds slower than last year on the same course, which I have to attribute to my effort in the water and a little time wasted with my coat. My run time was 2:30 faster than last year, a great improvement, which I am very happy about.
Next up Muskoka long course in 2 weeks (2km swim). My plan is to start out wide away from the fray and maybe even work in a pre race swim to help with my comfort level. I don’t mind swimming a little extra distance if I can work myself into a good rhythm