Monday, July 15, 2013

If a tree falls in the forest, has a hipster heard it already?

One of the great things about triathlons is that anyone can do them. With a few months of training a few times a week, one can complete a triathlon. For this reason, triathlons are a frequent item found on "bucket lists". With time, it is an item that can be checked off-similar to half marathons, tough mudders, etc.

With the rising popularity of triathlons, my guess is that close to 80% of the field in most sprint or olympic races are not racing, but rather completing or competing against themselves. The last 20% of the field is going for a podium finish within their age group. There are usually only a few athletes in each race who have a legitimate chance of winning the race. This is usually because those last few athletes are the least sane. They devote a huge amount of time and money into racing, which if most other people had their way, these extremists would instead be tied to generators and they single handled could probably solve global warming.
Imagine if triathletes did all of their training with these. All of our pedal power turned into electricity? We would be super green. Also, if I was preparing for the zombiepocolypse, I would probably get one of these. 

For most of this season, my races have been as described above. A few athletes trying for the win, and the rest of the field competing or completing the race. With the exception of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, I had not yet been part of a race where a large portion of the field would be racing until collapse. The races that I had been doing, I had been having success, but as compared to the rest of the serious triathletes in California, I didn't really have an idea about how fast I was. I had been placing in my age group and in the overall classification (and winning my first race outright this season), but those races were small. I had emailed some teams in the area to see if I was fast enough to earn a spot, and most of the responses back I got were to get faster. I had chopped down trees in the forest, but not big enough ones to make noise.

This past Sunday, I raced at the California International Triathlon in Pleasanton, California. The official, really long title of the race was the "USA Triathlon Southwest Regional Championships". With such a grandiose and long title, I knew that the field would be more stacked than normal, so the race would be a good test of my ability. I had been dealing with some knee and back pain over the past month or so, so my fitness was not what it could be, but I was feeling pretty good going into the race.

Look at how long and complicated the name is! The race must be kinda important!

The race was held at Shadow Cliffs, one of the East Bay Regional Parks, where I would know some of the guards that were watching the swim. Also, the race was only about 45 minutes from home.
Shadow Cliffs is one of the busiest aquatic facilities in the East Bay Regional Parks, with hundreds if not thousands of people visiting every day.

I made my way to the race site, and by 5:45am I had my transition spot set up. The normal stuff was put out, and I avoided one of the many mistakes of my last race, and was sure to tape my gels down with electrical tape. I had one for the run, and one for before the race. I decided to go with only one bottle on the bike instead of two as I rarely get through both. That ended up being the right decision, but barely. More on that later.
You can't see it because of the bar, but my gels are taped on. I ended up taking one of the bottles off. And you can see the extra gel nestled between my cycling shoes.

As I warmed up, I heard the announcement that the race would be wet suit legal due to a water temperature of 77.8 degrees (for a race to be wetsuit legal, water temps must be below 78 degrees) (for those that don't know, wearing a wetsuit makes you more buoyant in the water, and thus, faster. It is a benefit to those who are not the strongest swimmers, particularly when the water is not cold enough to warrant wearing one, but the water temperature is still below 78). The weather had been very hot recently (it was 100 degrees at packet pickup on the Friday before the race), and I was surprised that the water was below 78. Even with the race being wetsuit legal, I decided against wearing a wetsuit. The race was going to be hot, and I did not need to be hot in the water before hitting the bike.

I finished my warm up, and went down to the water for the race to start. I recognized some of the athletes from other races, and we exchanged pleasantries before the race started. At the start, I made my way through a few swimmers, and I was in a lead pack of 5-7 swimmers. I fell in on the feet of one of the swimmers, with two wetsuit clad people beside me. The wetsuit swimmers decided to squeeze me off the feet of the lead swimmer I was following, so I let them go, not wanting to fight for a few seconds now that I could make up later.

The gap between me and the lead swimmers grew to about a minute halfway through the swim before I finally found a rhythm and started pulling the lead group back. By the time I hit transition, I was about 30 seconds behind the leaders.

I ran up to my bike and realized that I had about 4 people in front of me. I got to my bike, did my normal dance to get onto the bike, and away I went. On the hill out of transition, Eric Clarkson (a professional triathlete from Team Every Man Jack) had lost his chain. I wished him luck and pushed on.

Out of transition, I had two people in front of me by about a minute. I was pushing 25-26 mph on the flat course, and was quickly overtaking those two. By mile 3, I was ahead of them, with three people in front of me. Then came the turnarounds.

On the course, there were three turnarounds. The course was well marked with cones and chalk, which was a bonus, except at the first turnaround. The chalk on the ground indicated that the turnaround was at a median in the road, so around the median I went. The two people that I had just passed whizzed by me. I looked to see why, and to my surprise, there were cones set up for the turnaround about 20 yards further down the road. While the chalk arrow went around the median, the course was set up for me to go around the cones.

I cursed myself for not looking further down the road, and sat up to turnaround and fix my mistake. Cutting the course short can result in a disqualification, and two athletes had seen me mess up. A tree had fallen, and someone heard it. I pulled a quick u-turn, and tried to minimize the damage. 

I lost about 40 seconds due to the mistake, and the two people I had passed went by me again. Another thing that I noticed was that the field was charging behind me. I buried my head, and pushed the tempo as much as I could.

I hit the hill at mile 9, having passed the two again from my mistake, but I was passed by two more, so my overall position in the race didn't change. Having looked at the map profile for the course, the hill did not look to bad. On the hill, it was rough. There was a head wind pouring down, and my speed slowed to 10-11 mph. I forced myself to not hammer, and just maintain my heart rate and cadence until the summit. I am a fan of keeping my cadence high on hills; I look at hills as being a sandwich. It is easier to eat a sandwich with a lot of little bites versus a few large ones, so why not take little bites and enjoy it? On the hill, it is easier to keep my cadence high and in a low chain ring rather than trying to muscle over the hill.

At the top of the hill, I got back into aero and pushed down the hill. I hit 42 mph on the way down (with a head wind... Probably could have hit 50 without it), and then the next time I looked at my computer, it said I was going 17, and then 12, and then 5, and then zero. My magnet had gotten pushed out of position on my wheel, and my computer was not showing my speed, so it wouldn't show my distance, or my time for the rest of the ride. I was riding without knowing anything except what my body was telling me, my overall time from my wrist watch, and what landmarks I had memorized from the course map. 

Within triathlons and other types of training, there is a wealth of information that can be gathered. For example, you can buy GPS watches that track your speed, distance, cadence, altitude change, power output, heart rate, and they can probably measure the distance between two atoms if you let them. Some of this information can be useful in your training, such as the power output. There will be a more complete post on some of the ways that pertinent (and non-pertinent) data can be collected.
This is the latest bit of technology you can get for riding your bike. It's called ReconJet, and it projects all of your data in front of you as you ride in the form of a "heads up display". Cost? $599. It relies upon other pieces of equipment on your bike and body to collect the data, so you still need to buy the power meter (~$250), heart rate monitor ($50-100), etc. Useful? No, unless it also shoots lasers at your competitors too.

Without my bike computer, all I had to go on was feel for the last 14 or so miles. For me, it was actually a pleasant way to race. I did not allow myself to get caught up in how fast I was going, and I wasn't distracted by the information that I could have been using. I simply raced. Frequently I get down on myself for putting out subpar efforts during workouts, and the way that I know they are subpar is from looking at my watch/bike computer. Now, the only thing pushing me was my desire to race.

The rest of the bike I listened to my legs, and pushed hard, but controlled. The weather was getting hot, and I knew that the run was going to be tough. One competitor passed me the rest of the way, so I figured to be in 7th overall.

I hit t2 feeling solid but hot. Temperatures were in the low to mid 80s now, and my legs would not turn over. I left transition about 1 minute behind one athlete, and about 30 seconds behind a second athlete, who ended up being Ritch Viola. More on him later.

The first two miles were rough, and the course ended up being harder than anticipated. Most of the two lap course was on a partially/barely shaded trail that was flat with a bunch of very short, steep hills. For the first two miles, my pace was just above 6:45 pace, and I lost sight of the athlete who was 1 minute in front. Ritch, who started the run ~30 seconds in front, was still in sight. 

Keeping him in my vision was key. I very much feed off of my belief that I can catch people if I can see them. Over the next four miles my legs loosened up and my pace dropped to ~6:10 pace and I pulled up to Ritch at about mile 5. As I got closer to him, I realized that he was minutes in front of me because he had started in a wave behind me. He was also a popular guy on the course- most of the volunteers at the aid stations knew him. We exchanged pleasantries as he is the founder of Team Everyman Jack, and we had exchanged emails about me joining his team. After a few words, I pushed on in the last mile, finishing in 2:09:14.
My splits: 
Swim: 20:43
Bike: 1:07:21
Run: 39:36.

I finished in 7th place overall, and second in my age group. When I crossed the finish, I took a look at the athletes who were laying in the shade near the finish. I didn't recognize any, but upon further research, I found out that most of the athletes in front if me were either current or former elite or professional triathletes. In a competitive field, I had done well.

After the race, I waited around for the few athletes that I knew to congratulate them. One of the athletes from the bass lake triathlon was there (AJ Reid), and one from the masters team that I swim with (Adam Carlson), so I made it a point to find them at the finish.

For my podium, I got a cheap bag and a bottle of wine, and this picture where I am cheesing hard for the camera. I had cut down a reasonably sized tree.
Update-I technically won my age group. The athlete who beat me, Andrew Bauer, is an "elite" triathlete, and was incorrectly placed in the age group category.


  1. Well done, John! Congratulations!

  2. Keep hacking down them trees homie. Can't wait to race you again soon!

  3. Sav, are you the hipster cutting down the trees with elite tech and irony?