Metro Triathlon 2011 Race Report

Tom Davis

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This was a great race: well-organized and fun. It was also the first race I've done wearing the new team kit. It looks great, and is very easy to identify at a distance, so you know when a friend is coming by and you can cheer for them. There was also good food at the end and the music wasn't so loud that you couldn't talk to people.

I signed up for this race (the Metro Triathlon) just a few days before it occurred because it looked like a lot of friends from my tri club (Silicon Valley Triathlon Club or SVTC) would be doing it, because I had not done a triathlon yet this year, and because it's a very convenient race: just about a 30-minute drive from my house.

I didn't particularly taper for it, since it was "just" an olympic-distance race and I didn't care how I did; it had just been so long since my last triathlon that I was feeling a little rusty. But I've done quite well in the past on "D" races where I don't care about results, and I figured that might be the case on this one, too.

One problem with this race (and another similar race held at the same venue) is that it is very hard to get a full-length swim course since the lake (Lake Almaden, but often referred to by triathletes as "Duck Poop Lake") is not big enough. On race day we found that they had changed the course and rather than try to squeeze in the full swim course in one loop (which usually turns out to be about 1250 meters) they decided to make it a two-loop course for the full 1500 meters. That's great for me, since my swim is my strongest leg, and the more time I can spend in the water relative to the rest of the race, the better I do. (I also do better the more f**ked up the swim course is: more swimming chaos, waves, currents, et cetera, but Duck Poop Lake had no problems at all and the race was small, too, so there was no swimming chaos.)

The race was small; so small in fact that there were only three waves: "men 39 and under", "men 40 and over" and "women", leaving at 5-minute intervals. I prefer to have lots of waves ahead of me so that there are lots of "hares" to catch. Since I'm psychologically a "hound" who loves to chase down hares and have a good swim, a mass start or a tiny number of waves makes my race much more hare-like.

I woke up before the alarm, had my usual latte and some cereal and a chunk of bread right out of the bread-maker that I'd set to be done at 4:00 am. I was planning to take a small turkey sandwich made of fresh bread to eat at the race an hour or so before the start since that works well for me, but at 4:45 am I just felt too lazy to make the sandwich and tossed an extra energy bar in my bag to eat instead. I got to the race transition area just as the transition opened, so I got my pick of any rack position for my bike.

After scoping out the various entries and exits from transition, I decided that this one was "fair" in the sense that every athlete needed to run the full length of the area on both passes so no rack was particularly better than any other. Sometimes some racks are located so you have to do extra running or running with your bike. Our club had a big presence at the race (and thus had a rack assigned to us), so I just set up at the SVTC rack. Of course since I was the first one there, I got the outermost position on the rack which would give me marginally more space to change.

The other nice thing about getting there early is that there's a lot of time to socialize before the race and I took full advantage of that. There were a bunch of good friends racing and that's one of the main reasons I chose this race.

Normally it's crazy to do anything different on race day than you've done before in training, but since this was a "D" race I modified my bike the day before and ripped out the old aero bottle that hangs between the aero bars and put in a mount for a standard bottle there. For this race it didn't make any difference but on long races I won't have to refill a bottle; I can just chuck the old bottle and shove the new one in place. But I never tried using the newly-installed setup before race day.

My bike will hold up to four bottles: one between the aero bars, one on the down-tube and two behind the seat. I thought of just taking one, but decided to take two in case the one on the aero bars was hard to use. So I took two bottles of Cytomax; one in the new mount and one in standard position on the down tube. In retrospect, I'm glad I took both bottles. I emptied them both on the bike leg and those (plus an "espresso" gel that I taped to my frame) took me into T2 completely fueled.

I swallowed a couple of salt tablets an hour before the start and ate my energy bar perhaps 35 minutes before start time.

This year I was pleasantly surprised to find that unlike most years, my wetsuit had not "shrunk" in the off season. This was probably because of the recent marathon (Big Sur Marathon race report here) I'd run. The water was very pleasant and I swam for a few hundred yards to warm up before the race start.

I got right on the water line with nobody in front of me for the swim start, and I liked the fact that there were some "youngsters" in my wave since that meant that there would be a fair number of them who are faster than I am in the water and I can worry a lot less about sighting. Left to my own devices, I've often strayed from the optimal course.

The gun went off with the usual chaos for 50 yards, but from then on it was easy going. My swim felt pretty solid, and I tried to pull harder than usual to try to get some extra speed. (As I write this, the results aren't up yet, so I don't know my splits yet.)

My transition was pretty good, but could use some work. I entered transition T1 at almost exactly the same time as my friend Dale, but he got out well ahead of me. Since I cut about two inches off the bottoms of the legs, the wetsuit came off quickly, but I was tired and a bit wobbly after the swim which made it harder to get off.

I was a little worried about the bike leg in the sense that up to now, I haven't done any really extended rides in aero position. When I ride with the club (SVTC) or with other friends, I don't like to be in aero position if we're close together since the bike is less stable. But today I was able to ride almost the whole thing in aero with no problems. I climbed the hills (of which there was only one that amounted to anything at all) out of aero, but I did try to stay in the saddle and tried to keep my cadence up.

The race basically goes south to a turn around and then returns north by a mostly-different route. There was a headwind going south, and thank goodness it continued to blow and thus turned into a tailwind for most of the ride back. I thought I was doing pretty well: a friend who was just there to cheer on the team saw me come out of T1 and seemed a little surprised how quickly I got there and he said he was even more surprised on how little I lost on the bike leg.

Since I have a very good swim, if there are no waves or just a few I get passed by all the folks who are weak swimmers and good cyclists or runners. This time I did get passed by a bunch of people, but fewer than I thought, and beginning about half way through the race, I was actually catching people on the bike.

At about mile 17 or 18 I got a bit of a surprise when I caught a 60 year old on the bike which means that he was a better swimmer than I was. I didn't recognize him, but since he just got into my age group this year, it's not surprising. I was only a little faster than he was and he must have gotten into transition T2 just a little after I did.

I have been bad so far this year and have not done as many "bricks" in training as I should. (A "brick" is a training session where you start running immediately after the bike workout.) Being in full aero for most of the ride, my back was a bit tired and since I hadn't practiced the bike-run T2 transition much, the beginning of the run was pretty dismal. After 200 or maybe 300 yards I was finally doing something that was run-like, rather than waddle-like, but still not great. I also noticed that my GPS watch was having trouble locking in to the satellites, and it took it more than a mile to do so. Thus I lost my pacing information for the first part of the run, but I do know that it wasn't pretty.

Just as I was starting to not-waddle, I got passed by the 60 year old and he started pulling away. I couldn't match him and he was gradually getting farther and farther ahead. But then he stopped gaining, and was running perhaps 50 yards ahead. We stayed that way for a while, but then I started creeping up on him. I was certainly a bit relieved that I hadn't lost the race, but on the other hand, I was thinking, "Oh shit! Now it's going to be a real race." Of course I didn't know who was behind me and how close they were, so I wasn't sure whether to catch the guy ahead of me and let him know that he had actual competition, or to run behind him and surge at the end.

Since we were less than 2 miles into the race (out of 6.1) I decided it would be better to pass him and not risk being run down by some third guy. I did run at his speed for a couple more minutes and then caught him. We introduced ourselves, and it turns out I knew who he was (he's a good friend of a friend of mine who has spoken about him often) and he had heard of me, too. Talking to him at the end of the race, I learned that he actually knew that he is a stronger swimmer than I, but that my bike and run are better so his goal was "to stay ahead of me until the top of Bailey (the one hill on the course)." He did a lot better than that, and I think he was surprised to catch me on the run.

I did not know how good his run was, and I didn't want to take any chances, however, so after I left him behind, I wanted to keep pushing the run. What I did was alternate 50 paces fast and 50 paces "normal". At the turn around, I counted paces and he was about 60 behind me (about a minute, I'd estimate) and so that gave me a lot of confidence, but I still kept the pressure on. I think I finished a couple of minutes ahead of him (but the results aren't up yet). And it turns out that he knew he was lost because he'd gotten a 2-minute penalty on the bike. He (and I, too) think he didn't deserve it: the penalty was for riding too far from the right, but it was on a closed road.

Anyway, I finished first in my age group which always feels good, and I was pretty happy with how all the race felt.

OK, the race results were finally posted and here are my times. The only one that's very slow compared to the competition is the T1 time: I'm still not great at getting the wetsuit off. I also ride and run with socks and so it took a few extra seconds to put those on.

Swim: 00:24:14
T1: 00:02:18
Bike: 01:12:40
T2: 00:01:44
Run: 00:48:46
Total: 02:29:42

Here is the bike course trace: Garmin GPS trace. It looks like I could run my heart rate a little higher, but I'm pretty happy with the cadence. It's still not at 90 where I'd like it, but I'm mashing gears a lot less than I used to. If you look at the average speed on the mile splits it's pretty obvious that there was a headwind going out and tailwind (and a downhill) coming home.

Here are the traces for the run leg: Garmin GPS trace. Note that the mileage is off and hence so will be any average data, since the GPS did not lock in until a mile or so into the race. I also started a bit late, hoping the GPS would lock in earlier. Note the jagged form of the heart rate. I'm almost sure that's due to my strategy of running "50 fast, then 50 normal." The really jagged stuff at the end is when I red-lined it during the last mile when there was no need to save anything.