Sunday, July 5, 2009

Race Report: Peterborough Half Iron Triathlon 7/05/2009

Race Report: Peterborough Half Iron Triathlon 7/05/2009.
2km Swim, 85km Bike and 21.1km run.
459 Participants
Weather: Clear and moderate mild wind from NW 24-27C

Race reports are very easy to write, there is always a Beginning, a period of Struggle and an Ending. There is always a hero / good guy and as many bad guys as there are competitors that you choose to vilify.
In order to tell the full story of the race you need to include the preparation. The race itself is a representation of the preparation that was done as well as the competitor’s ability to react to the race day environment. The longer the race, the more reflective it is of the preparation as the extended duration has a way of diminishing the impact of many obstacles that can arise during a race.

Without the benefit of a Triathlon coach I make my own judgments about how to adjust my training regimen heading into an event. Given my most recent results, I needed to focus on the swim. Not only have my times been much slower that my main competitors, but the energy that I have been wasting was hurting my efforts on the bike and especially out on the run. In the past 2-weeks I went out and swam in Lake Ontario near my house 10 times. Each time I put on my wet suit and swam a distance of 2-3 km’s in lengths of about 800 meters marked by 7 white buoys indicating the end of the supervised area just off the shore from Woodbine Beach. I found the experience of swimming in the lake to be helpful in building my confidence with the distance and comfort level in the water. The practice also helped me to adjust to the initial shock of the cold water to all exposed skin. I also received some advice from Paul Cross a good friend, long time Triathlete and coach, regarding visualization and finding a calm place in my mind to go to when panic feelings begin. I spent a lot of time a night imagining the mass swim start and planning how to overcome the stressful situation. I took the images with me into training to reinforce them and ultimately used those images in the race itself.

I was excited about a longer bike portion in the upcoming race as this would provide me with an opportunity to catch up the time I was sure to loose in the swim. I spent a lot of training time on my Time Trial bike over the past 2-weeks, working on my positioning and sustained efforts. I tried to do some run training, but opted out for the most part due to the blisters on my feet that were still healing from the Muskoka race 3-weeks earlier. There is no effort quite like running for pushing your mind to fully explore all options of opting out of a training session. When I finally did get around to doing some run training my heart rate rose quickly and the effort of running at speeds that I could manage easily a month ago was now a strain. Taking 3-weeks off from run training had taken its toll. I convinced myself that I just didn’t have the energy for run training because of a multitude of reasons. I then focused my efforts, both Mental and Physical, on preparing for the Swim and Bike.

The excitement of the race made it difficult to sleep on the night prior. I lay awake for the final hour before my alarm was scheduled to go off at 4:50am, glad for the mid afternoon nap the day before; thanks Natasha. I left the house as the sun was rising and drove 90 minutes up to Peterborough. I had prepared my gear the night before and did not forget anything. I parked my car in basically the same spot as last year for the half iron Duathlon. When I put my wheels on my bike I noticed that my rear brake pad was pushing against the wheel. No doubt something had come askew when I changed the brake pads the day before to prepare for the disk wheel that I reserve for races. Unfortunately I had not mounted my disc wheels in preparation and had left it in its wheel bag, so I had been unaware of the problem. Lesson Learned again, I hope for the last time; check all of your equipment well before the race. Fortunately I had brought along some tools and I set about correcting the problem. It is surprising how quickly a slight adjustment can turn into a high stress event. My backup plan of finding one of the vendors at the race grounds who might be able to help me was quickly becoming my #1 plan. In the process of fixing the problem I cut my finger and blood began dripping onto my breaks. All I could think was that it had taken me a while to produce that blood and I needed all of it to finish the race. I stopped to take a drink of water while squeezing my finger hoping that somehow the water was my way of replenishing what was lost. After the break I realized what I needed to do to get my bike going and made the necessary adjustments.

I rode my bike down to transition and set up in an overflow rack then headed off to registration. The weather was great and there were plenty of people about. There must have been about 1000 people competing in a variety of races all running at the same time; Half Iron Tri, Relay & Swim Run – 8am; Half Iron Du 8:30; Sprint Tri and Du 9am. The swim cap colours for the mass start were to represent estimated swim speed. I asked for a purple cap indicating the 3rd seeded group and a 33-35 minute pace, which is was my time in Muskoka for a similar distance race. All of the purple caps were already handed out so I upgraded to yellow representing a 31-33 minute 2km estimated time. I hurried through all of my final preparation steps, grabbed my wetsuit and headed down to the lake.

By the time I got zipped in I had 5 minutes left before race start. I had a quick warm-up swim and then stared out into the horizon at the race markers, finding that calm mental state that I had been preparing for. All of my focus was now on the swim start, which I had run through many times over the past 2-weeks. The mental preparation had paid off in a big way as I was able to get myself into a race ready state very quickly. My strategy was to go as wide a possible at the start; however, I adjusted my strategy according to the rocks at the bottom of the lake on the far right side. I set myself up where just before the rocky area started, the last thing I needed was more cuts on my feet. Unfortunately this strategy change meant that there was now a row or two of people in front of me, many rows behind, 60 people to my left and now about 20 people to my right. ‘No worries Bruce, look ahead and stay focused’. The horn sounded and the mass start race began. I jogged into the water following the pace of the people in front. I waded in longer than those around me looking for space to open up, eventually a small bit of room opened up and I began swimming. I swam with my head up looking for more open water, but I could not find any. I kept bumping into people, there seemed to be no relief and no way to work into a sustainable rhythm. I was getting short of breath and realized that I needed to change my situation fast. I headed for the outside swimming over many people who were much more focused on heading forward. It was at this point that my recent training paid off as I was able to catch my breath while working into my rhythm. I felt a great sense of satisfaction with being able to make it through the mass-start without any panic incidents and now switched my focus to all of the queues I had been developing to get my into my most efficient stroke.

I had watched a lot of swim highlights over the past 2-weeks on YouTube from ITU triathlons, I was amazed at how quickly the top athletes popped out of the water and began running like gazelles in wetsuits. My experience to date of exiting the water was not dissimilar to what my son looked like when he was learning to walk, minus the giggling. Emerging from the shallow water, I quickly found my feet and balance, then began running down the beach for a second lap; I even passed a couple of people during the short run. I noticed that the people around me were wearing the same yellow colour cap as me, indicating that I was swimming at a good pace. This realization provided me some more positive reinforcement that helped me relax even more on the second leg of the swim. Again I sprung out of the water at the end of the 2nd lap and ran to my bike focused on a smooth transition. My swim time was 31.28 for the 2km distance (1:34/100 meters pace) good for 50th place out of 459 swimmers, which was 2:29 faster than the Muskoka race. I still feel that there is room for improvement not only with stroke technique but also by applying a better starting strategy of either committing to going widest at the start or picking the right person to swim behind and sticking with them for the 1st 100-200meters or so. Eventually I would like to be able to swim away from the pack at the start and then settle into a rhythm, maybe next year after much hard work.

I moved through the transition area efficiently a leaped onto my bike. A race official was yelling “No passing until the road!” There were two cyclists directly in front of me who I would have liked to have passed right away, but a headed the warning and used the time on the park path out to the main bike course to get my feet into my shoes. Once I hit the main road I noticed that the two riders ahead were now getting into their cycling shoes, which made passing them a mere formality. It is difficult to understand the choices that people make which no doubt drag down their times; why not get yourself adjusted properly in the slow no pass section instead of wasting time out on the main course? I felt strong on the bike and proceeded to pick off riders on the ride out which was comprised of quite a few gradual hills on the way out of town. As is often the case with the bike portion, the start is a low point (near water) in the course and the 1st half of the ride contains more climbs than the ride back. At about the 8km mark the course turned right and into a mild wind. I kept pushing myself and was rewarded by catching more competitors. The closer that I got to the front of the race, the more spread out the riders were. I took a second to look back at the riders I was passing to see if I could tell who they were and yell a greeting if I did. After passing 2 riders at the 30km mark I spotted a solo rider in a red jersey up ahead. It took me a good 5-7km’s to finally catch up to Michael Hay, my new arch rival who has been dominating our age category. I spoke with Michael as I pulled even with him; he told me that there was only 1 rider out in front and that he did not know who he was nor could he catch him. I took off after the lead rider as I made my way towards the turn around point. I did not recognize the race leader who was following a pace car as I passed him heading in the opposite direction. That was the last time I saw the pace car or the lead rider.

I stayed in an aero position, but began to feel aches and pains screaming out for me to sit up and slow down. I fought the pains the best I could and sat up only on ascents. I never looked back and kept hoping to see the leader in the distance at the crest of each hill.

While training on my bike outdoors, I often come across policemen directing traffic at road construction sites. I always either wave or say hello. These officers are out in the elements regardless of condition for our safety and I feel obliged to let them know that I appreciate what they are doing. Earlier in the week while driving I cam across a group of officers who had set up a 2-way speed trap. I was well within the speed limit so had no concern regarding a traffic violation, however, I felt obliged again to waive to the officer on the side of the road. As I looked back in the side mirror I noticed that the policemen swung his speed gun at my car to get a reading. Obviously my respectful solute must have been misinterpreted as being of the one finger variety. Maybe I should have taken this as a sign that my message was not well received and that I should stop waiving to police officers on road. At around the 70 km mark out on the bike course, I noticed a police officer up ahead on the side of the road that actually seemed to be waiving at me?! Being the kind hearted person that I am, I took my hand off my bike to waive back as I rode past doing my best to maintain my pace. As I continued onwards it suddenly struck me that there was something peculiar about the situation, there are sometime spectators who waive and cheer at the participants but I had never seen this behavior from an officer. I finally made the connection, he was waiving at me to indicate that I should be turning. I was now a few hundred meters off course and squeezing hard on my breaks. I turned around awkwardly and raced back towards the policemen. I quickly glanced up to see if any other riders were riders were coming into view, thankfully they were not, but I had surely lost some valuable time. I got back on course and dug hard cursing myself for a lapse in concentration and for having given up time that I worked so hard to gain. I used my anger to help spur me onwards, but the energy burst did not last and was quickly replaced by fatigue, enhanced by the realization that I would not achieve my secret goal of getting behind the pace car. I tried to keep my focus on finishing up the bike leg with a high cadence to save what was left in my legs for the run.

Back in transition I did not see any other bikes on the racks for the Triathlon competitors. The cyclist who had come in ahead of me was actually part of a relay team, which I would find out after the race. I moved through transition efficiently taking the time to pull on socks to help prevent damage to my feet during the long run. My running pace was moderate as I my focus was on completing versus competing. I was caught by Tyler Lord at about 2km who asked me what pace I was aiming at. My response was that I had no idea but that it had taken me 1hr36min the year before (in fact it was 1hr38min I discovered later). Tyler said that we were moving at a 1hr24min pace; he wished me luck and then steadily ran past. As he moved ahead I looked to my competitive spirit to see if I could call on it to help increase my pace. The short answer from my spirit was ‘no’. Any fight did exist was crushed by the foreboding 19km’s left in front of me coupled with the unknown of how my body would respond given that I had not run anywhere close to this distance in a year. Then a small gift presented it self as Tyler ran over to a bush to relieve himself while I ran right by. This just goes to show you that nutrition and hydration play a huge role in these races. Even if you have been competing for years you can still get it wrong by taking in too much fluids or much worse by taking in too little. I continued on for another km or so in the lead before Tyler caught up and passed me again.

I took in fluids at all of the stations that were set up along the course. On two occasions when my energy was at rock bottom and my stomach felt the most empty, I consumed a gel pack as well as some fluids. I rejoiced at every km marker at the side of the rode; only 15km’s left, one third of the way through, half way done. Everything past the halfway point was a big struggle I had been passed by 2 more competitors and would ultimately be passed by another two. Darren Walton and Michael Hay both provided me with some encouragements as they past. Peter Kornelsen an inspirational 50 year old athlete passed me with 4km’s to go. I marveled at how fluid Michael and Peter’s running styles were; all of their energy propelling them in a forward direction.

I was thankful for the 20km marker knowing that the pain would end soon. I finished the race in 6th place with a time of 4:19:24 just 14 seconds ahead of the 7thplace finisher. My run time was 1.32.02 shaving 6.06 off of my run time from last year. Of the top 7 finishers 4 of us were in the 40-44 age group. The more I compete in triathlon the more respect I gain for the athletes that have mastered them. Pay just a little less attention to one of the disciplines and it will cost you in the next race as it did for me in the run this time. I am still searching for a better balance in my race preparation that will optimize my results. Next up is a 40km time trial bike race followed by the Provincial Duathlon Championships (10k/40k/5k) the following week.

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