Monday, March 19, 2007

Sportsplex Supersprint Triathlon Relay

A few months ago I agreed to do the bike leg of a relay team for a local sprint triathlon (250-meter swim, 12-mile bike, 2-mile run). It sounded like fun and it seemed like a good chance to take my new time trial bike (the one I bought for Christmas) on its maiden race voyage. I have been spending about one day a week on the TT bike trying to get dialed into the much more aggressive aero position, but I'm still not entirely comfortable. Still, I had high hopes for the triathlon and set a goal to have the fastest bike time of anyone in the field.

I feel the need to qualify that last statement in two ways. First, other than the handful of other relay teams (there were 14 in this race), everyone else has to run and swim as well as bike so I have an unfair advantage right from the start. It's easy to be a one-trick pony; being good at all three disciplines is much harder. Second, of the 300 participants in this particular triathlon I would only consider about 15% of them to be "serious" triathletes. The essentially arbitrary and totally unfair litmus test I'm using to determine what constitutes a "serious" triathlete is the ability to complete the two mile run in under 14 minutes. Like I said, it's an unfair and and arbitrary categorization, but I make the distinction simply to make the point that when I say that my goal was to have the fastest bike time of anyone in the field I'm only talking about beating about 45 people, not 300 professional cyclists.

I had the chance to recon the course last Friday on my road bike and was able to finish the ride in about 34 minutes at a fairly easy tempo. It's a rolling course with lots of short ups and downs, about 15 turns, and very little flat terrain. Last year's best time was just over 31 minutes so I was pretty confident I would be able to beat that time and perhaps even go below 30 minutes. Unfortunately, as the week progressed I finally caught the cold that had kept my son out of school for three days and the day before the triathlon I could tell I would not be at my best. Still, my "day-before-the-race" ride went well and I was hopeful that I would be OK.

The morning of the race was cold and windy. By that I mean 35 degrees and 15 mile-per-hour winds, so nothing extreme but certainly worse-than-average for an early spring day in North Carolina. I warmed up on my road bike, struggled a bit to figure out how many layers to wear, and then headed down to the transition area in time to meet our swimmer. Our spot in the transition area was as far from the bike start as possible so I had to run quite a way in my cycling shoes and then fumbled around for what seemed like forever trying to clip into my pedals. As the seconds ticked away, I got more and more anxious and it got harder and harder to clip in. It was downright embarrassing.

Then I was off--out of the saddle, up the steep starting hill, and finally into the aero position. And then it hit me: I feel like crap. Seriously, I could not seem to catch my breath and my legs were worthless. My power dropped to a crawl so I got up out of the saddle again to try to kick start my effort but it seemed like I was dancing in jello and getting nowhere. Three minutes into the ride and I was already feeling tired. Fortunately the next five minutes were mostly downhill so I tucked in and tried to just keep the pedals turning even though I wasn't putting down very much power. Over that five minute stretch, I averaged 29 mph at an extremely meager 214 watts (to put this into perspective, on a good day I can average 250 watts for three hours). The only thing I could think of was that coming back up this hill would soon be a problem.

Because we had a late start time compared to the elite athletes, there were quite a few cyclists out on the road during my ride. Most of the time it was not a problem but on a couple of occasions I got trapped behind a car whose driver was afraid to pass slower cyclists. Although those incidents slowed me down, they probably allowed me to recover a bit as well and at about the 12 minute mark I was finally able to settle into a rythmn. I wasn't able to go quite as hard as I would have liked and my breathing was extremely labored, but I was able to sustain an output of about 300 watts.

The last half of the course was mostly uphill and mostly into the wind, so there were a couple of times when I was moving no faster than 10 miles an hour but I'm proud to say I only muttered one expletive--although lack of expendable oxygen has more to do with that than self control. I finally reached the end line, hopped off my bike, and had a whale of a time running to the back of the transition area so our runner could start. My bike computer showed a ride time of 30:56 but my official time was 31:33, meaning I spent nearly 40 seconds on the bike course with me not on the bike, and that doesn't even include the transition time! How crazy is that!?

Anyway, it turned out that I put in the second fastest time. The winner of the triathlon recorded a blistering 30:24 which is pretty impressive considering the cold and the wind, the fact that he had to save enough energy to be able to run 2 miles at a sub-6:00 pace, and that most of the guys in the top 20 were in the 35:00 to 38:00 range. In fact, the fifth fastest time was a full three minutes slower than my time. Here are the full individual male results and relay team results.

It's too bad I didn't feel well or I might have been able to take a minute off of my time, but who knows. I'll say this, though... Every time I do one of these relays it makes me want to take swim lessons and start running again. But then I think about how much I hate swimming and how unfun running is and I go back to thinking that one trick is plenty for this old pony.


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