Friday, August 29, 2014

2014 Season Almost Wrap-Up

Well damn... it's Labor Day weekend and the tri season is all but over. My July and August races were a mixed bag, although some of that is due to higher expectations from doing so unexpectedly well in the early part of the season. One of these days I'll get this periodization crap figured out and avoid peaking in early June. But until then, expect more of the following... 

Lake Waconia Tri

I don't remember much about this race other than how I felt before and after it. The whole week leading up to the race I had a sore throat and just generally felt like shit. Race morning was no different and I woke up feeling like total garbage, but being a dumbass I decided to go ahead and race anyway.

I ended up racing surprisingly well given the circumstances and took the win. But the real win was that racing somehow miraculously cured my illness. I literally felt better after the race than any time in the 5 days before. And I don't mean after as in a few hours after finishing when I'm cleaned up and fed. I'm talking about standing there in the finish chute while the volunteers took my chip off.  Baffling. Illogical nonsense like this is a big part of why I choose to make my living as a mechanical engineer designing inanimate objects. At least there's some logic there. The human body makes no damn sense.

Lifetime Fitness Tri

I raced decent here. Not spectacular, not awful, I'd give it a good solid B for effort. That was good enough for 2nd in the elite amateur race. At the end of the day I doubt it matters much as the winner Steve Mantell is on another level entirely and beat me by 3+ minutes. My A+ best case scenario on that course is maybe a minute faster on the bike and 30 seconds faster on the run, which would have netted me 2nd place 1:30 back instead of 3 minutes back.  Ah well... on to the next one.

Duathlon Nationals

I had this race marked on the calendar as one I really wanted to do well at, because A) it's a championship race, and B) it's local, and I don't want to let some carpetbagging out-of-towner come in and snatch a championship on my turf.

I ended up racing pretty well. The start was insane because a couple of young kids took off at like 4:30/mi pace. There's not much I can do in that situation other than let them go and hope that they're not for real. Luckily they weren't and by the end of the first mile it was starting to look like a local race with Dan Hedgecock and Bennett Isabella out front and me sitting in 3rd, which held until T1.

The bike course was a blast, with 3 loops over ~33k with some decent climbing up and over the Wabasha Street bridge, a sketchy technical section down toward the river, and a screaming fast out and back flat section along the river before climbing back up to the bridge and descending down to T1.

I caught Bennett at roughly the halfway point on lap 1, then gradually reeled in Dan for the rest of lap 1 and all of lap 2, finally getting to the front at the start of lap 3. Dan stuck with me for the remainder of the bike course and we came into T2 together.

Dan left me behind for good about 2 steps out of transition and I was on my own for the remainder of the race. This was a bit of a mental struggle because the 2nd run of a duathlon always sucks super hard, and if this were a typical local race I would have had the luxury of running fairly relaxed because there was no pressure coming from behind. However, in this case the 40+ dudes started in a different wave, and in a virtual sense I could very well have had several guys right there in striking distance. I eventually hit the line for 2nd in my wave ~45 seconds back of Dan. My fear of the 40+ wave ended up being warranted as Dave Slavinski, the first 40+ guy across the line, ended up only 20 seconds behind me at the end of the day. That would have been a much more exciting race had we launched in the same wave.

Since Dan races as a pro, USAT's official position was, "Thanks for coming, now we're going to pretend you were never here," and I was awarded the overall win* and the title of National Champion.

The win* got me a super impressive backpack full of swag. If you add up the street value of all that stuff it's without a doubt the best payday I've ever had at a race. Make it rain!

Heart of the Lakes Triathlon

This was the day after Du Nationals. I was originally going to skip it for that reason, but it ended up replacing Lake Waconia as the MN Best of the US qualifier when Waconia's future was in doubt over the winter, and while I'm pretty sure Trudy wouldn't have any issue letting me into the race even if I skipped out on the qualifier, that just feels kind of dirty.

I had never doubled up 2 races in one weekend before so I had no idea what to expect. The swim went reasonably well. The first half ended up being a floating fistfight with Kevin and Dan as we were all bumping into each other, but after the turn we got sorted out into a neat little paceline and ended up getting out together.

The bike went well. I was surprisingly not yet feeling any ill effects from racing the previous day, and ended up being the first one in to T2 with Dan a handful of seconds back.

The run was where I started feeling it. You could tell Dan was as well since I managed to stay out front for about a mile and a half, but eventually the inevitable happened and he started pulling away. I figured at that point I was in a position to cruise it in pretty easy for 2nd, but I took a peak back roughly 2 miles in and Marcus Stromberg was really close and looked to be running well. Typically we run very close to the same splits, but that wasn't the case on this day since he didn't race the day before. I managed to stay in front and hold onto 2nd OA, but it took a lot of work and hurt like hell.

Anyway, I'd rate my first attempt at racing on back to back days a pretty smashing success as I did about as well as I could at both races and made it through without excessive soreness or injury. I can't pat myself on the back too hard for pulling off the double, because a special best/worst idea award goes out to Bennett and Kevin, since they not only did the "standard" distance duathlon on Saturday, they went back for more and did the sprint race that same afternoon, then did Heart of the Lakes the next morning. 3 races in 24 hours. Barf.

USAT AG Nationals Olympic

So this was supposed to be the big "A" race for the season. I ended up with a disappointing 4th AG/15th OA. I didn't even race super terribly in the physical sense anyway... I'd put my physical effort on par with LTF earlier this year. But when the other guys are bring their A game my B- game will not do.

What really leaves a bad taste in my mouth is that I pretty much gave up on the race at the 2nd bike turnaround at mile ~18. At that point I could see that Mark Harms and James Burke were way off the front, like 3-4 minutes, and Dan Stubleski had made up a ton of ground on me after the swim and was only a handful of seconds back. Since Harms and Burke were well out of reach and Dan is guaranteed to outrun me, I know I'm racing for 4th in my AG, and I figure if I'm fucking around with 4th in M35-39 I'm going to be really buried in the overall, so I basically started thinking about the sprint race the next day and mailed in the rest of the Oly. I was still going kind of fast and it still kind of hurt, but I was just in no mood to really push myself.

I think if I could have stayed focused and on the gas I could have finished somewhere near where Stubleski did. There very little chance I actually beat him that day, so I'm still 4th AG, but a top-10 overall was certainly within the realm of the possible. There's nothing wrong with showing up, doing your best and simply getting beat by better athletes, but punching out the way I did after that bike turnaround is some weak bullshit.

USAT AG Nationals Sprint

The best thing about short course racing is that if you punt one the way I did in the Olympic distance race, you generally don't have to wait around too long for a shot at redemption. In my case it was roughly 23 hours between crossing the line on Saturday and jumping back in the lake on Sunday for the sprint race.

Everything about this race went better than Saturday. I slept better the night before. I ate a better breakfast. The walk down to the race site felt better. I felt better during my warmup. Everything.

The swim start was much more relaxed, mainly because there were about half the number of people in my wave than there were on Saturday. I ended up getting out of the water in 6th, then passed a few guys in T1 and hit the bike course in 3rd. By the first turn at 3-ish miles I was in the lead. The second turnaround comes at ~9 miles and I was still in the lead, but Steve Johnson had made up major ground because he was only 30 seconds back and I didn't even notice him at the first turn.

I don't know much about Steve other than that he runs a successful coaching business out in Colorado and that he has gone sub-4 at the 70.3 distance. You can't go that fast in a half without being a good runner, so I tried to step on it a bit for the remainder of the bike hoping to take a decent lead out onto the run.

The run ended up being a very solid (by my standards) 17-low, which kept me out front to win the 35-39 AG.

When I crossed the line I had the fastest time of the day, which stood for a surprisingly long time. Eventually a couple 20-somethings came in faster, which can pretty much be expected in a sprint race, but when the dust finally settled I was in 3rd overall. I was also the only guy over the age of 25 who broke 1 hour, which is alternately really cool and really depressing.

So yeah, total palate cleanser after Saturday's shit sandwich.

Pigman Half

This was a big old swing and a miss. My mission going into the day was to go sub-4 pace until I either hit the finish line or blew up, whichever comes first. For me a 4-flat would look something like 27:30 swim, 2:10 bike, 1:20 run with 2:30 left for transitions.

It started out pretty promising with a 27-low swim and a brisk T1. Once we passed the Olympic distance bike turnaround at mile 12 I could see the two leaders, Adam Bohach and Thomas Gerlach, both pros, about a minute up the road. At that point my bike goal shifted from "ride a 2:10 and leave enough in the tank for a good run," to "catch the guys in front of me at any cost."

I rode more or less as hard as I possibly could and closed down that minute over the next ~14 miles, finally getting back on about 2 miles before the turnaround. If I were a smart man I would have realized that I was well ahead of my goal pace and sat in at the legal distance for the rest of the ride, but... I bombed around both of them and took the lead.

I continued hammering away out front until about mile 45 when I ran out of proverbial matches to burn and the wheels came off entirely. Tom and Adam both passed me shortly thereafter and put about 1:30 on me over the remaining 10 miles.

At this point the race was basically over for me and the survival contest began. There was a brief glimmer of hope in the first couple miles of the run when I was holding low  6-minute pace and was even closing in on Tom a bit (Adam is a very fast runner and was clearly long gone already), but the Pigman run is net downhill the first few miles and all I was really doing was digging the hole deeper.

The run from 3 miles on was genuinely one of the more difficult things I've ever done. I could write a bunch more words elaborating on the suckitutde, but I figure this plot of running pace vs. time pretty much says it all...

Somehow I managed to limp along to the finish line and hold onto 3rd overall, which is right where anyone with any brains would have predicted me to finish so it's really not all bad, but I did it in the ugliest, most painful way possible in a less than stellar 4:13 time. I'm sure I could have ridden a nice steady 2:13-2:14 then got off and run something in the low 1:20's for a 4:0X time, but hey, sometimes you've gotta get out there and take your shot.

On the bright side, this experience finally gave me the motivation to get off my ass and convert some of that Du Nationals swag into US dollars, which were then exchanged for a shiny new powermeter. So maybe next time I line it up for a half-iron I'll pace myself properly and won't blow up riding like a monkey on the first half of the bike. Or I'll spaz out and blow up anyway, but I'll have a really lulzy power file to pinpoint the exact moment I exploded.

Leadman 125

As of right now, there's only one more race on my schedule for 2014, the Leadman 125 in Bend, OR on September 20th. Travel plans are set, registrations are official and the equalizer time for the Matt vs. Dave grudge match has been established. The grudge match wager is still TBD, but I'll be in town a couple days early so I'm confident we'll come up with something over a growler or two of Bend's finest artisinal craft hipster-brew.

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