Monday, August 5, 2013

Pittsburgh Triathlon 2013 Race Report

This past Sunday was the 2013 version of the Pittsburgh International Triathlon. This race marks my one-year anniversary as a triathlete! As I thought about my race schedule for 2013 this was an important race for me because I wanted to try and quantify my personal growth. I realize that no two races are the same and that there are many environmental factors that limit the value of comparing year over year for the same race, blah blah blah. That said I’m going to do it anyway and since my results were so much better, I’m going to be all like, “I rock” and “I kicked ass”, so you've been warned.

I started my race prep pretty late, but I really didn't have that much to do.  I changed my wheels and brake pads, I removed my back bottle holder and I swapped out my seat bag so that I had the right tools for fixing a tubeless flat since my race wheels are tubeless. Since the ride is only 40K I planned to use only my front water bottle. Also I did not plan to carry any bottles on the run, so that was one less thing to prepare as well.

The other thing I wanted to do pre-race was to practice transition with a “shoes on the bike” setup. This is new for me but since this is a short course race I wanted to be as fast in transition as possible so I figured I would give it a try. I got everything setup and then I made six or eight laps around the block. At the start of each lap I practiced mounting the bike with the shoes on the pedals and then slipping my feet into the shoes while I was moving. No crashes, so that’s a positive, but I kept pushing the tongue of the shoe up into the toe box. Eventually I got that sorted out and I was able to get my feet into the shoes pretty quickly and without veering all over the road. Getting off was much more straight forward. After releasing the ratchet and Velcro straps, I just slipped my foot out and then went back to pedaling with my foot on top of the shoe.

I have to say that I’m not convinced of the overall benefit of this approach, at least for the first half anyway. Leaving my shoes on the bike and dismounting barefoot seems MUCH faster and I expect that I will add this to my normal routine. However leaving T1 barefoot and putting my feet into my shoes on the go seems like I’m just saving time in transition only to lose it back on the bike. I’ll probably take this on a race by race basis moving forward, but who knows. It would be interesting if someone would do some research on this, it would be an easy experiment to setup.

Race day started nice and early as usual.  Get breakfast, load the car, wake Cath up and then head out on the short drive to the race. Since I was pretty early there were no lines for body marking or transition setup, so that went really quickly. My transition setup this year was super minimal, since my helmet and shoes were on my bike, the only thing on my towel was my running shoes and race belt. Compared to my transition neighbor, who had water bottles and gels and an upside down bucket (I guess to sit on?), my stuff looked really lonely… But minimal is fast and fast is good.  This super minimal approach was a direct reaction to my non-minimal and thus aimless and horribly slow transitions in IMTX.

With everything setup, Cath and I headed back to the car to chill out and stay out of the rain. We stayed there until about 6:20 at which point we wandered back to transition and the prerace meeting and the porta-johns.

The first wave went off at 6:45 and I got in the water right after. The swim is an upstream start so everyone was floating and swimming to try and hold their spot in the current. The gun went off (well, actually someone shouted GO) at 6:50 and we were off. About 1/3 of the course is upstream before we take a sharp right turn and swim out into the middle of the river where we make another sharp right turn to start the downstream leg. I felt strong and the visibility was much better than IMTX. I found some feet and tried to keep my head down and my stroke efficient. The turn, turn section of the course is interesting because many people try to swim a straight line across the current from turn to turn, which does not work out very well. From my kayaking days I learned that the fastest way to swim across current like that is to keep yourself pointed upstream into the current, not across it. Using this strategy I was able to swim from marker to marker without getting pushed below the second turn.

The downstream leg felt fast and I tried to keep my intensity up for the entire distance.

The finish is my least favorite part of this swim as it involves a sharp right turn and then an upstream swim to the dock. The switch from downstream back to upstream, at the end of the race always zaps me. Anyway, I made it out of the water and started the longish run to the timing mat and the start of T1.

Final Time – 29:49 which is 2:00 faster than last year!

T1 went super-fast! I put on my helmet, grabbed my bike and ran for the line. This year I did not bother with bike gloves or sun glasses and after I got on the bike, I did not bother moving my Garmin from my wrist to the bike mount. Minimal and quick.

Final Time – 0:59 which is 1:37 faster than last year! Ha, I took 1 minute and 37 seconds off of my time in T1!

The bike was a two lap course where the front half of each lap is mostly uphill and the back half is mostly downhill. I got my feet into my shoes without too much trouble and settled into a comfortable rhythm. For some reason my heart rate was higher than I wanted it to be, so for the first couple of miles I focused on keeping steady and bringing my HR down. The run out of the water to T1 was uphill all the way and I tried to move pretty quickly, so that may explain my elevated HR.

Most of the ride was uneventful. I kept my head down and tried to keep my cadence up and I tried to keep pedaling smoothly on the downhill. My first split was 19:30, which was slower than I wanted but tolerable since it was all uphill. My second split was 11:58, which was much faster than I expected even with it being all downhill. The remaining splits were 17:12, 15:55 and 7:56, which are more in line with my norms.

I finished my bottle before the second aid station, where I took some water. I also ate a gel on each lap just to try and stay topped off. Since I was not going to carry any liquid on the run my plan was to make sure I was well hydrated coming off of the bike and I feel like I succeeded in this.

Local races are interesting for many reasons, but the one thing that stands out from this race is the wide variety of bikes that I passed on the ride. I passed tons of tri and road bikes, but I also passed mountain bikes, hybrid bikes and a commuter with full fenders on the front and rear. The only other thing of note is the guy that sucked my wheel the entire way up the hill on the second lap.

Final Time – 1:12:32 which is 3:55 faster than last year! This is a mixed bag for me. Yes, I was faster than last year, but the improvement was not nearly what I wanted. There are lots of possible explanations for this, the most logical being that the bike was my best event last year and thus would be the hardest to improve.

My barefoot dismount and run into T2 went super smoothly and thus super fast. So fast, in fact, that it actually earned praise from one of the volunteers at the dismount line! He said something like “That’s how you’re supposed to do it, Nice Job!”

The only snag with T2 was that each of my thighs cramped when I lifted my foot up to put on my running shoes! Yikes, that’s not the way I wanted to start the run. Fortunately I was able to get my foot in each shoe on the first try and then straighten my leg back out to relieve the cramp.

Final Time – 1:15 which is 0:34 faster than last year. Not as big of an improvement as T1 but still great.

The run is an out and back on a riverfront trail. There is not much elevation gain or loss and the out/back setup makes pacing pretty easy. My goal was to start strong but sustainable and then build from there once I made the turn - basically to negative split.

The first mile went by fairly quickly at a 7:40 pace which made me happy! The second and third were 7:43 and 7:36, so again, right where I wanted to be. After making the turnaround, I started to pick up the pace. Mile four finished at 7:10 and mile five at 7:08. Just a little over one mile to go and I was feeling tired and sore, but I knew that I would be able to hold on until the finish. I crossed under the bridge and made the last turn towards the finish and my watch beeped 6:49 for mile six. Sweet! I could see the line and three clocks, quick, which one is mine? I guessed that mine was in the middle and that one read 2:29 and change. Hurry, I thought to myself, and you can get there before it rolls over to 2:30!

Final Run Time – 45:15 which is 8:44 faster than last year! Yikes, that almost a minute and a half faster per mile! I’m super stoked about that.

Final Race Time – 2:29:52 which is 16:50 faster than last year! Again, Yikes!

So how do I measure one year of growth in a sport that I've come to love? Well, almost 17 minutes faster is one very real way and another is that I was right back in the water swimming again on Monday night, where last year I had to take a couple of days off to recover.

The Good:
Nearly everything, with special emphasis on T1 and the run.

The Bad:
The lines for the porta-johns and the fact that my coffee didn't do its job until after the race had started… Sorry, over share.

The Ugly:
My poor feet. I rode and ran without socks this year to improve my time in T1 and neither my cycling nor running shoes are well suited for sockless activity – lesson learned.

So that's the story of my first ever repeat race.

Oh, one other note, I spent much of the rest of the day and far, far too late into the night watching the live finisher feed from IronMan Lake Placid. That feed is like triathlon crack, I just can't put it down!


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