Sunday, June 21, 2009

Race Report: Guelph Lake Olympic Distance Triathlon 6/21/2009

Race Report: Guelph Lake Olympic Distance Triathlon 6/21/2009.
1.5km Swim, 40km Bike and 10km run.
465 Participants
Weather: Clear and warm 22-27C

I was thinking that the Olympic Distance Triathlon would be my ideal distance. This was mainly due to the exuberance I felt when watching Simon Whitfield throw down his hat and run his way to silver at the end of the 2008 Olympic Triathlon in Beijing. Now after having completed my 1st Olympic distance event, I realize that until I master the swim I have no chance at competing for a top spot. More than any other Triathlon distance the Olympic is weighted towards the swim.

Following the Muskoka race 1-week earlier, my race preparation was mainly focused on recuperation. In a typical week I train somewhere around 9-12 hours including any races. This week my total training time was 5hrs including a 2+hr race. My training in the pool included a race simulation of 2x750meters with a short jog around the pool between sets. My instructor Alan put tape on my goggles to help simulate reduced visibility. I swam hard and my time was just under 25 minutes, which is a very good time for me at this point in my swim development.

Life outside Training had its own focal points this past week highlighted by my half-sister Clara’s wedding on Saturday afternoon & evening. The wedding was great and the Mother Nature cooperated by blowing the rain clouds away helping to make the outdoor event a bid success. On the down side I managed only 4hrs sleep the night prior to the race. Earlier in the week on Wednesday, I spent the better part of the evening at Sick Kids hospital with my son Xavier after a mishap at the Mayfair Club restaurant. Xavier tumbled from my arms chest high to the hardwood floor at the speed of Gravity. The noise that his head made hitting the ground was enough to stop all conversation in the restaurant. The reason that I was standing and not sitting was of course because I was chasing him down. Kids and sitting don’t make for great partners after desert. While trying to sooth him back at out table, an unwelcome creepy man came over to share a gruesome story would make the hospital trip unavoidable; I saw what happened! My godson hit his head just like that and died. You have 1 hour to get your son to the hospital before it is too late… Thanks creepy guy for sharing your guilt. 4 hours later in the minor league waiting room at the hospital, where all the ‘sick’ kids are playing with toys way past their bedtimes, we were thankfully told that Xavier looked great and we could go. So much for training that day or the next, my body needed the rest anyways. The extra stress associated with the ordeal was definitely unwelcome. Next time, don’t drop you kid Dad, even if you were bag tagged out of the blue.

Race Day
I arrived at the transition area earlier than 80% of the participants judging by the number of bikes on racks. There really is no need to read the signs in order to find my age group, just look for the most crowded rack. There must be some reason why there are more 40-44 year old men participating in triathlons than any other group. The reason is probably closely associated as to why my men in my age group purchase sports cars or motorcycle or get a full faux hawk hair cut. Back to the race prep, I was tempted to just set up at the end of an open aisle somewhere instead of mid way down my group’s, but I resisted and resigned myself to my place. I completed registration, spoke with some friends and returned to finish preparing for the race. My set up included socks this time, I had no desire to make my feet any worse after a week of nursing my cuts. I pulled my wetsuit on half way and headed down to the start area. I had time for a 200meter warm-up swim and time to plan out my start strategy adapting to the course and people around me. This was to be my 1st mass start, where all competitors starting at the same time. During registration you had to select a race cap in accordance with your predicted swim speed. I wanted to select yellow which was 3rd of 8 groups. All of the yellow had already been selected so I chose Red (2nd of 8). The idea was that you should line up in accordance with the colour of your swim cap.

The race start was on a beach that had a gradual entrance into a man made lake. The competitors were lined up along the beach from waters edge back to where the sand met the grassy hill (50 feet) leading away from the water. Most of the competitors looked as anxious as I felt about the start and allowed for a lot of room between one another on the beach. I lined up at the farthest edge of the beach, behind people wearing blue caps (top group). The starting horn sounded and I began jogging into the water. Being taller than most I decided to keep walking much longer than people around me as I found that there were not really moving any faster swimming in the shallow water. I started swimming just as I my pace slowed in chest deep water. Starting out walking gave me the advantage of being able to spot the trends of the swimmers and see where open water was emerging. As I began swimming I kept my head high out of the water and made some strategic cuts swimming over people’s legs to find some calmer spots on the outside. So far so good, I was able to execute my starting strategy while remaining relatively cool. I now put my head into the water and started into my regular swimming stoke. Trouble; my left goggle instantly filled with water. I swam some more extending my breath on the left side so that I could empty my goggle and keep moving. More trouble; my left goggle filled up again, now the emptying of the goggle was happening while treading water. Still more trouble; the goggle emptying process now included adjusting the straps and pushing the goggles into my face. Almost ready to enter a panic state; no matter how many times I emptied the left goggle, it kept filling up with water. My swim coach had tried to prepare for this scenario by swimming without goggles or with tape over my goggles, I just did not envision this happening to only one of my eyes. I tried to convince myself that I could just swim on with one eye wet and the other dry. Unfortunately, I was not mentally strong enough to adjust to the minor equipment problem that I was experiencing. Time to stop; I now removed my goggles and began to investigate the source of the problem. I discovered that the rubber seal around the left side was dislodged. I struggled with the seal and ultimately got in back into place. Had I actually trained with these goggles I probably would have reached this point much sooner. Lesson learned, be familiar with all of your equipment to matter how minor. Lesson not yet learned; develop some mental toughness and adapt.

After correcting my equipment problem, I now was able to begin my swim in what seemed like last place with 500 meters to go in the 1st lap. I swam on the outside and I swam on the inside adapting to the swimmers around me. Getting out of the water at the halfway point for a quick jog down the beach was a welcomed break. However, I was barely moving faster than a walking pace on the beach and focused all of my energy on trying to regulate my breathing pace to something south of a very thirsty dog. Once again I staved off swimming as long as possible while getting back into the lake. I picked my spots and put in what seemed like a decent effort for the second swim lap. I exited the water and ran up the grassy hill dropping my cursed goggles out of my wetsuit sleeve. I probably should have left the goggles where they fell, but I made a split decision to turn back and get them, after all I was so far back at this point that competing for a top spot was now out of the question. I entered the transition area in 99th place over 9 minutes behind the leaders and just under 6 minutes behind Michael Hay (top finisher in my age group).

Out on the bike course I used up all of my reserves putting out a maximum effort. Unfortunately my reserves were not well stocked as I would find out later on the run course. Gone was the sense of joy I had experienced when passing other competitors back in Muskoka, in its place was a annoyed cranky feeling. Every so often when I passed a cyclist, they would decide that the pace they had been moving at for the rest of the race was not reflective of their true ability and pick up their pace in an effort to move back ahead of me. This type of move always increases my resolve on the bike as I dig a little deeper to ultimately return the challenger back to their true race pace. As the bike course was out and back I could see that the leader was a good 8km’s in front of me, I stopped counting when I got to rider #3 Michael Hay realizing for the 1st time just how far ahead of me he was. I pushed hard right up until the end of the bike course, passing Michael Keen with about 3km’s to go. I moved up from 99th to 14th spot passing 85 riders over 40km’s. My bike split was the second fastest of the day, but over a minute slower than the race winner Len Gushe. I am hoping to be able to put in a faster time than Len at some event this year, maybe in Peterborough at the half iron distance (90km).

Putting on my socks in transition probably added an extra 10 seconds to my time, but my feet love me for it. I exited the transition area out onto the hot run course, tired, drained of energy, and cramping all through the right side of my torso. I felt as though I was shuffling along barely able to lift me feet, which was confirmed to me by the three runners who quickly passed by including Michael Keen. I had given back the time that I had gained on the bike and there was nothing that I could do about it. Mercifully the 1km marker appeared and I said to myself that all I need to do was shuffle along for another 9. Michael Keen was disappearing off into the distance as a fiery yet muted voice from deep down inside of me insisted that I keep Michael Keen in my sights. The invisible demon grasping my ride side of my chest and gut, loosened his grip and my shuffle extended into something that resembled a runners gate. Michael Keen and 3rd place in my age group was still within my sights. The amazing volunteers at the drink stations helped to revive me with water, Gatorade and encouragements. I was no longer loosing any ground to Keen. I focused on expending as little energy as possible to propel myself forward at the fastest speed possible. If only I could apply some of these techniques to the swim, then I might have enough energy left not to need to use this tactics in the run.

There were 2 turn around spots on the run course making it easy to judge where you stood in the race. I had no interest in what was going on behind me as I was solely focused on Keeping up with Keen. At the 7km marker I applied my ‘this is now a 3km race’ tactic on myself, which seems to work nicely. I believe my stride was even improving and I began to make up some ground. Just after the 9km mark I put on a burst of speed and ran by Mike hoping that the feint would discourage him from trying to keep up with me. I heard a big gasp/sigh as I went by him and without looking back I knew the play had worked. I set my sights on the next target up ahead who was peeking over his shoulder back at me, but he had the better of me on this day. I resigned myself to my finish position and began peeking over my shoulder to see if I needed to protect my spot with an additional burst as I ran down the hill to the finish. My run time was the 19th fastest of the day, finishing in just under 40 minutes for 10km. Given the circumstances (wedding the night before/low energy, bad scene in the swim, shuffling feet for the 1st 1.5km – those are all the excuses I could come up with so far but given time I could probably produce a few more), I am very pleased with the run result. I am confident that I have a better run split in me and look forward to proving it in 2-weeks.

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