70.3 Santa Rosa Race Report

What do you know, a long hiatus from posting…typical. My apologies to my three fans :).

I decided to start my tri season with 70.3 Santa Rosa this past weekend. The well-known (in the tri world, anyway) Vineman Triathlon was taken over by Ironman, and this is its replacement. From my understanding, Vineman originally had the swim in the Russian River and was known for its comically shallow swim where people would sometimes get up and walk. It then finished in Windsor, CA after a bike ride through wine country. Ironman has changed the swim to Lake Sonoma and the finish to Santa Rosa, but from what I hear, the bike course is on many of the same roads. Given the great following of the Vineman Tri and the fact that I’d never been to Northern California, I was looking forward to going and checking it out.

The downside to the location changes was that it was a 40 minute drive at best from Santa Rosa/T2 to Lake Sonoma/T1. The company I work for, TriBike Transport, worked with Ironman to provide a bike shuttle to T1 for those who were unable to or didn’t want to deal with taking their bikes to transition the day before the race. Our guys on-site saw more reservations than anticipated and they transported 360+ bikes to T1 the day before the race! As one who has been a driver for the company before, trust me, this is a ton of work – I can attest to how long this took, as my TBT roommate this weekend (who helped with the shuttle service) got back to the hotel 30 minutes before I got up for the race…

It also turns out this is the largest IM or 70.3 event in North America, with around 3,000 entrants. Considering the need to take a 40+ minute shuttle to T1 on race morning, type ‘A’ triathletes wanting to be on the first bus, and me starting in the first wave, I was concerned about getting to the shuttles early enough. Luckily I had a friend racing, Cindy Lacotta, and her friend, Denise, offered to give us a ride to the shuttle on race morning so I could avoid worrying about finding parking. Greatly appreciated! I think we were on the first bus at (no kidding) 3:50am…

I got to T1 plenty early, did the usual routine and a jog, and wondered if I needed to put on some clothes before hopping on the bike post-swim. The temp was in the low 40s. I walked up and down the pro bike rack to see what people were doing, and the vast majority were opting to race as-is with no arm warmers, vests, etc. Last minute, I rolled up arm warmers and put one on each aero bar so I could put them on while riding if needed.

Water temp was 62-64, so wetsuit approved for the abnormally early 6:10am start. It’s hilarious – one of triathlon’s rockstars and Olympian, Andy Potts, is someone I know from us (TBT) transporting his bike so often. People probably thought I must be crazy fast, just by association – I walked down to the swim start with him, with me remarking on how when, at the pro meeting, they said there’d be rubber mats up the long, steep boat ramp (.2mi), they failed to mention they meant 1/4 of the way up it, not the whole way.

Swim

For this swim, I actually wanted to take it down a notch – I had a theory that me trying to swim as hard as I practically can may actually cause me to swim slower due to poor form from falling apart. This thought came from Ironman Arizona last year, where I gave that a shot and swam 1:02 after swimming 70.3s all year around 30-31 minutes…same pace for twice the distance!

I was dropped almost immediately. That’s been close to the norm for this whole pro experience, so I still kept the faith. I thought I was sitting as the last male pro for a while there, but about 1000m in, another dude started to pass me. I got on his feet and swam the rest of the way with him. I came out of the water and saw the time at 31:2X. Well that didn’t work. FML. 

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T1

T1 was a bit rough, literally. My ice cold feet were clumsy on the beat up pavement. It’s also an uncomfortable feeling suddenly going vertical and having to push it up a steep hill and I was breathing like I was at VO2max. After the .2mi ramp, everyone had to loop around transition, presumably to make it the same distance for everyone. Overall, it was .38 miles to my bike after measuring on Google maps, ha. Suit off, helmet and sunglasses on, and I was on the bike 4:11 after getting out of the water.

Bike

The bike course starts with a relatively steep, winding downhill for 3+ miles, and the whole distance, plus some of the relatively flat and safe-seeming next 1+ miles, is a no aero bars zone. This is due to safety concerns, partly due to that descent, and also because you’re on the left side of the road that whole time. After that, it’s down to business through the rolling hills of wine country – it really is remarkable just how many vineyards are out there! The scenery is quite nice and you will not get bored on this course considering that and the relatively frequent turns. I will say road conditions can be poor but don’t last long, so if you’re on a crappy section, it won’t be for long.

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Back to the cold temperatures…I should’ve put on those friggin arm warmers (and probably gloves) in transition. After the descent, my hands had practically zero dexterity. I don’t think I would’ve been able to put them on. I couldn’t squeeze my water bottle for the first hour. I just hoped the sun would hit me and warm me up quickly. I felt disconnected from my legs, like they were numb, and I felt like I couldn’t fully recruit my muscles. I race well in heat, presumably due to my stature, and I should have considered this when I walked T1 – I’m not as “thick” as most triathletes, and throwing on the arm warmers, gloves, and maybe my vest in T1 may have saved me from being miserable for most of the bike.

Anyway, I didn’t pass anyone on the bike with the exception of two pro women who beat me out of the swim. Luckily, the last hour I was comfortably warm and I felt better. I’d say the hills in the second half of this course are longer and you’re less likely to hold momentum over them – definitely a consideration pacing-wise. I expected a bike split of 2:15-2:20 with the 2k’ or so of gain (although net downhill, point to point), and passed through 56mi in the 2:18s, and with the slightly long course, my split was 2:20:36.

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T2

Given the number of entrants and the transition being on a downtown city street (narrow), this is one of the longest straight-shot transitions I’ve encountered. It’s quite a site to behold with all the bikes in it. One of the perks of the pro thing is they usually place you close to the entrance to T2 and you don’t have to run very far with the bike. I was at my spot within several seconds of dismount; helmet and sunnies off, shoes on, hat on and gels grabbed, and I threw on the number belt while running through transition. The legs felt pretty good, and I was surprised to be leaving transition not far behind Jozsef Major and Jarrod Shoemaker.

Run

Even though I traveled to this race solo, it was great to immediately see a great friend of mine when I started the run – Andy, and his wife, Amy. I’ve known Andy since kindergarten, he was even in my wedding, and he’s a model human being. Love ya, bro!

First mile – 5:59. Alright, solid. Second mile – 5:59. Nice, steady. Third mile – 6:01. Okay, really steady. Haha – it seemed I was able to hold this effort quite well, but had a difficult time going any faster. My best 70.3 run splits are around 5:50 pace (= high 1:16s run split), but I was happy with this for my current fitness. Solid running weather helped. I thought I might be able to reel in Jozsef but didn’t seem to be getting any closer. This is a pretty flat, two lap course with the first lap being 8.X miles and the second 4.X miles. I appreciate this – something sucks about having to go back out the same distance for the second lap after getting close to finish at the end of the first lap.

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May have run faster if I had opened my eyes

Upon finishing the first lap and seeing Andy and Amy, I remarked on how I was averaging 6 minute pace but hadn’t passed a single person yet and that I was in [expletive] no man’s land. The pace was still holding steady though and I was confident some people would come back to me. It was also a bit more engaging to now have more racers on the course so I didn’t feel like I was out there completely solo. Sure enough, I passed two fading pros in the last 2 miles or so, meaning I passed 2 pro males the entire race…haha! This was the most evenly paced 70.3 run I’ve ever had – splits below: (“pace” is actual mile split, “GAP” is grade adjusted for any gain or loss):

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Evaluation

My run split ended up being 1:18:14 (13.07 miles on the ol’ Garmin) and a 4:16 total finish time for 25th overall. Considering the number of racers, this sounds like a solid result, but it is fairly distant from what I’m capable of. This is a “current fitness” thing, and the result is about what I deserve for where I am. I don’t believe I deserved that poor swim split, as I’m swimming around my fastest ever in the pool (despite being at 5,000′ elevation), but I have raced in the 29s before. The bike was about what I expected, and the run was a little bit better than expected.

Overall, it was just nice to shake off some rust since IMAZ was my most recent tri nearly 6 months ago. The fact this run felt *relatively* comfortable indicates to me that I may have been able to push a little harder, but I was just a bit out of practice/familiarity with that intensity and/or I’m still in “Ironman mode.” I’ve also taken on more responsibility at work, by my own choice, and there’s been an adjustment period. I can get carried away addressing various things, and it has left lower motivation or less time for training. However, I’m grateful to have a job where I can get carried away like that, and I appreciate the opportunity. This is simply something I need to get used to, but I do know that this race has brought back the fire! I’m now looking forward to racing 70.3 Victoria in two weeks, and hopefully 70.3 Coeur d’Alene three weeks after that!

Holla fo’ ma peeps

A big shout out to Cindy and Denise for the ride to the shuttles and company on the way to T1! Also to Racelab and Bettina for top notch coaching and support; TriBike Transport for allowing me to take the reigns with my new position, for being wonderful people to work for/with, and for taking my bike out to the race; First Endurance for the best sports nutrition out there; Pactimo for an incredibly comfortable one-of-a-kind tri suit; Rocky Mountain Multisport/Patrick Ray for being my go-to shop for bike work and feedback; and Rudy Project, purveyor of great helmets and sunnies!

 

 

 

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Recap of the first half of the season: 70.3 Texas, Boulder, and Coeur d’Alene

As many of you know, I decided to give pro racing a try this year. The decision came following my result at Ironman Texas last year, where I finished 1st amateur and 12th overall in 8:55. In a lot of races leading up to it, I was starting to consistently find myself placing among the top three amateurs in a lot of races, and I set the goal of first amateur and sub 9 in a full Ironman. After meeting that goal, I felt a bit more justified getting the “pro card,” and having the time to train, no kids, and a low budget added to that decision.

Winter and spring training numbers were my highest ever for that time of year, which really says something after finding I was a huge baby about training in the cold after two warm-ish winters in Austin (we moved to Fort Collins, CO in August 2015). My buddy Todd hooked me up with a CompuTrainer though, and that coupled with Zwift or Netflix made indoor training a lot more tolerable than with a standard trainer.

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In mid March, I had a strange popliteus-related injury (I think) that (I think) came from a long trail run on very tired legs. It nagged pretty badly on both bike and run for a couple of weeks and gradually subsided with some recovery. I followed that with catching a cold, which caused more training to suffer, of course, and my confidence was not the highest leading into my first pro race!

IM 70.3 Texas – April 10, 2016

That first race was IM 70.3 Texas in Galveston on April 26th. The pro start list had an incredible 58 male entries, the most I can recall seeing for any race. It seems that WTC removing prize money from some races and concentrating it elsewhere has also concentrated the pros at those races. It was super exciting to get checked in, get my first bib number with “professional athlete” on it, and go to the pro meeting. It was crazy being in the meeting with some big names, people I’ve looked up to and idolized for years. I picked up my bike from TriBike Transport, got the race wheels all set up (also thanks to TBT for the hookup on the race wheels!), and rode the run course because it seemed complicated. The run is 3 laps and has a crazy number of turns – for some reason, they have the entire thing crammed into a space that is .7mi x .4mi. No joke, I measured!

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This is now framed 🙂

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Perks

One thing I really like about being in the pro wave is being able to start first. A huge peeve of mine the last several years has been starting in wave 10+ and having hundreds of people ahead on both the swim and bike. It’s very refreshing to have a clear course, as well as not having to wait for wave after wave (while the nerves build!) to go off before yours.

The salt water, wetsuit legal swim is in a bayou and is more protected than the ocean but is known to be choppy. I went out hard and was at the back a lot earlier than expected, ha! With the clear course though, it was easy to swim buoy to buoy without having to navigate people and I focused on swimming straight and pushing hard but not balls-to-the-wall after the beginning. The pro women started six minutes behind and I figured it’d be a good day if the lead female didn’t catch me before I finished the swim…NOPE. For those who don’t know, my swim is weak relative to my bike and run. Relative to the pro field, it’s pathetic. All good, it’s a work in progress, and it is progressing.

The bike is a single out-and-back along the length of Galveston Island and it’s super flat, but can be quite windy. Because it’s so flat, it requires some fortitude of the nether regions to be able to stay in the aero position for that long; you never get a break. It seemed to be a cross-headwind on the way out, cross-tailwind on the way back. Overall, it was relatively uneventful and I passed a couple of guys, including the top one or two women who passed me during the swim ;). First half was covered in low 1:10/24.0mph/150bpm, second half was low 1:04/26.0mph/151bpm = high 2:14 bike split.

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IM 70.3 Texas bike course and profile…

While overall expectations were on the low side given the training interruptions, I was looking forward to seeing how the run would go because I sure seem to have a knack for choosing races that have hot and/or hilly run courses! This one would be (relatively) cool and flat, with some consideration for the number of turns. The 5:4xs came fairly easily early on and of course, gradually became more difficult. It was hard to get a handle on how far people were ahead of me due to the number of turns and especially after we were onto laps 2 and 3. Toward the end of my 2nd lap, I saw Lionel Sanders on an out-and-back (and it’s crazy he was that freakin’ far ahead!) and I focused on maintaining pace, partly to (hopefully) prevent him from passing me. I succeeded but jeez. I continued basically trying to maintain pace and finish strong and was very pleased to come in at a personal best time (by 7min) of 4:05:13. I also had a personal best run pace of 5:55 – run split was in the 1:16s.

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The unusual 3 lap 70.3 Texas run course

I thought there was a decent chance the top amateur would finish ahead of me time-wise, partly because I don’t believe this type of course (flat and cool) suits me, but I did feel a bit more justified in taking the pro card after seeing I finished 2+min ahead of first amateur. While 27th overall sounds a bit “blah” to me, I finished about mid-pack as far as the pros go and again, it was a big personal best despite some interruption in training. Great success for first race of the season!

Results

IM 70.3 Boulder – June 11, 2016

Boulder was nice and easy to get to at only an hour away, and I got to stay at home the night before. I was looking forward to a stronger swim and bike after seeing some solid workouts lately.

On race morning, the water temperature dictated that the pros would be non-wetsuit while the age groupers would be allowed to wear wetsuit – the cutoff temperatures are different. This presumably puts me at a disadvantage, but I do like the lack of restriction when not wearing a wetsuit. Despite the smaller time gap to the women’s pro start compared to Texas, it took much longer for the first female to pass me, which was in the last 100m or so. Small victories.

Bike summary: I passed one guy right at the beginning who later passed me. I then passed one or two more guys. That’s it. Ha! It was a lonely ride but I was very happy with the average speed. I used to be quite fixated on the hour barrier during the 40K bike of an Olympic distance race. In Boulder, I covered both of the first 40Ks in less than 59 minutes. The effort was quite high and I’m still learning just how hard I can push the bike while still having a decent run. The course was short, 54 miles, and I came in at 2:07 – At my 25.5mph avg, I would have covered an accurate course in the high 2:11s, much improved from April despite 1900′ of gain in Boulder vs 280′ at Galveston.

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Da bike, pre-Boulder

The Boulder run is 2 laps, primarily on dirt road and path, and very exposed. This day happened to be near-record temperatures as well. I felt alright and the first lap was 6:03s. In the second lap, I started to fade a bit (6:20s), and unfortunately, I think this was primarily a mental thing. I didn’t feel like I was in this race, and I let it get to me. I basically ran like I was on a training run, not like I was racing.

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I came in just under 4:05, another PR, but it can’t really count considering the short bike. I was an improved 22nd overall, but still kind of “out there.” I am mainly happy with the improved swim relative to the field and the bike PR. It turns out that I was quite disappointed with how I handled the run. Over the next two weeks during a maintain-fitness type of transition to 70.3 Coeur d’Alene, I basically beat myself up about it, but in a good way – I was mentally prepped to run like I can in CdA.

Results

IM 70.3 Coeur d’Alene – June 26, 2016

I’ve heard nothing but good things about racing in Coeur d’Alene, so when I realized we (TriBike Transport) had a truck going from the Denver area to the race, I jumped on the opportunity to make this a paid race. I drove the Colorado truck and picked up bikes in Colorado Springs, Aurora, Denver, Westminster, and Boulder, then headed west through Wyoming to Salt Lake City. From there I headed straight to CdA for race weekend. Even though I was paid to head up there, the downside to working the event means a lot of time on my feet the two days before the race. I tried my best to minimize the impact and believe I did a pretty good job.

The water is cold there! I thought I might need to double up on swim caps, but after warming up pre-race (needing to breast stroke before being able to commit to keeping my face in the water), I decided I’d be okay with one. This was a beach start with a run into the water, which freaked me out a bit because I have just about no experience with dolphin diving and the like. I think I did alright…The lake is quite large, so you can get some waves. I’d say these were more like swells, but as mentioned earlier, it’s nice to have clear water otherwise and it was relatively easy to swim straight. I found myself gapped fairly early, but it turned out I had someone on my feet for the first time this year. He stayed there the whole time. Out of the water, my gap to the fastest swimmer was a full minute less than Galveston and Boulder. Good!

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Photo Credit: triplethreattriathlon.blogspot.com

On the first, shorter out-and-back on the bike, I found myself in the company of two other guys. I passed one, but the other one was stronger and I kept the proper distance to feel things out as the race continued. Well, it basically stayed like that the rest of the way! I was consistently pushing hard at 6-10 bike lengths from him, never feeling strong enough to pass. This was a good place for me to be – it brought me to a higher effort and for the first time this year, I wasn’t alone for the vast majority of the bike. The climbs on this course are pretty long, which would presumably really lower the average speed, plus it was the hilliest course this year so far. I was pretty happy to come in at 2:21 on this course.

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70.3 CdA Bike Course Profile

Starting the run, I couldn’t help but smile because my legs felt good. The course is out-and-back two times with rolling hills and the first lap was covered at 5:48/mi, right on pace for a good run PR. The second lap got a little bit slower and more difficult, as can be expected, but I didn’t slow by very much at all. I was counting on the out-and-back sections to see what place I was in and to see if my distance to the top guys was at least staying the same. It was indeed staying close to the same to guys like Potts, and I was making up ground on some of the other top guys. I was having a good run, much more to my fitness and potential, and this was specifically from mental prep over the last two weeks after being disappointed in Boulder. It’s highly unlikely I gained any fitness in those two weeks. This was my first pro race where I felt like I was more in the race. I felt more like I was competing, rather than being out in no-man’s land.

I finished 14th overall and ended up having the 3rd fastest run split overall, 1:16:46. That’s more like it! I had finished within two minutes of the top 10, and it is another step in the right direction.

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IM 70.3 CdA run HR, profile, and pace chart

Results