Friday, August 22, 2014

Now and Then: Naperville Sprint Triathlon

On Sunday August 10, I did the Naperville Sprint Triathlon, which came with a good dose of nostalgia as it was my first triathlon ever six years ago.  It seems only fitting to do the race report with some "now and then" type comparison.  Spoiler alert: I've come a long ways!
When this race happened six years ago, I'd been dreaming of a triathlon for over a year.  I'd even done a training plan a year before just for kicks, with no race at the end of it.  I actually credit that for beginning to get me into shape.  When I found out about the Naperville Triathlon when I moved to Chicago, it seemed perfect.  My training leading up to it consisted of bootcamp fitness classes three times a week that were really kicking me into gear, bike rides on weekends, and occasional swims.  The week before the race put me in a panic, as I realized I actually was clueless.  What do I wear? How does transition work? What do I attach my number with?  I read "Your First Triathlon" cover to cover, at least once.  I vividly remember driving out to Naperville (on back roads because Chicago expressways terrified me) to pick up my packet, listen to the course talk, and buy my first tri suit.  At least I solved that "what do I wear" dilemma.  I was even assured by the race director that there would be a table to leave my glasses on during the race.  Talking to my mom the night before, it was obvious that at the time for me, this was a big deal race.
When I signed up for the race this time around, I was planning it as a fun departure from Ironman training to compare my abilities now to when I was a newbie.  Then I crashed on my bike four weeks before, withdrew from Ironman Chattanooga, and hadn't swam or biked since. My shoulder drastically improved in the week leading up to the race, which led to me thinking that maybe I could have some fun at this race after all.  I tested out biking around the block on Saturday, and while it was a tad sore, I could definitely tolerate the weightbearing through my arms.  I didn't have a chance to try swimming, but I had my full pain-free range back, and let's be honest- my pull is nonexistent, shoulder injury or not.  Worst-case scenario- it is a 400 m "pool" swim, so I could get by with one-armed swimming.  At 3pm on Saturday, I rented a car and was off to Naperville for packet pickup. Unlike six years ago, I knew exactly how packet pickup would go, and was able to pack my race day bag in just a few minutes without doubting if I had what I needed. 

Race morning also brought another dose of nostalgia, and realizing that just in terms of logistics, I’ve improved a lot! Back in 2008 it took me a good 20 minutes just to figure out how to take a front wheel off my Cannondale hybrid to fit the bike into the trunk of my car.  Race morning I had to have someone inflate my tires, as I had no idea how to do so. This time around, my fancy Penelope, my (new) Cervelo P2 was prepped and ready to go.  I adjusted the breaks, switched out the front wheel for one that wasn't slightly warped from the crash, and inflated my tires to proper pressure.  I even prepared a diluted Perform concentrate, knowing that full strength might be too much for high intensity.  Six years ago I had no clue about such nutrition.

The Swim:
The swim is a time trial start, with 6 athletes entering the water every 15 seconds.  There are signs up to help seed people, and I lined up with the 6-8 minute folks, targeting an 8 minute swim and figuring I'd rather be swum over than do the swimming over.  It felt like an eternity until I got in the water, though in reality it was probably about 15 minutes.  During this time I realized the Garmin on my bike was turned off- rookie mistake. 

The swim is 400 m and great for first timers, as it is in an old quarry, making it not quite an open water swim but not just a pool swim either.  It is an M shaped course with large buoys marking the turns.  I ran into the water and then started swimming.  Did I mention these were the first strokes I'd taken in over a month?  I was so relieved when I didn't feel pain.  That being said, I don't think I had much (or any) power behind my pull.  In general, the swim felt better than it actually was.  I was definitely breathing hard and probably had way too high a stroke count, but for not swimming in weeks, I couldn't complain.  I was passing a good deal of folks, which made me feel like I was putting in a good split.  Turns out people just seeded themselves with false expectations.  I was able to quickly navigate around the buoys at the turn, which is a skill I’ve picked up over the years but never really been able to execute well before.  Improvement!

My swim time was obviously disappointing but I can’t complain given the shoulder.  I would have been 100% ok with it if I hadn’t seen that it was over a minute slower than six years ago.  I’m seeing some low hanging fruit in the swim department!

Swim Time Now: 8:36       Swim Time Then: 7:14

The run to transition was on the longer side, as I was at the far end of transition.  It is always disheartening to get to your rack and have your bike be the only one there.  Yes, I know they may have started before me, but still it hurts.  Turned on my bike computer, put on my bike shoes (no socks), helmet, race belt, and I was off.  I'm not sure if my Garmin had totally found the satellites or not yet, but oh well.  Overall, not the smoothest, but not awful.  Thankfully I was close to bike out so it was just a short jaunt running with the bike.  

T1 Time Now:  3:08        T1 Time Then:  3:33

Despite now six years of experience, I was really clueless as to how to go about the bike.  The general plan was: hard.  But what is my hard these days?  It was only the day before that I’d found I can ride my bike again without the shoulder revolting.  I started the bike with my heart rate through the roof (note to self: need to buy HR monitor to start looking at that data).  I backed down a bit but kept steady pressure on.  I made sure to toggle to the screen with just lap time, 3s power, and lap power so I wouldn’t focus on speed.  For nutrition, I made a bottle of diluted Perform- just 2 scoops instead of 3- thinking that at high intensity I wouldn’t want full strength. 

I was only keeping one eye on power, as I didn’t even have a goal since who knew what my FTP was at the time of the race.  It seemed I could keep it in the 150s, so I sort of aimed for that.  With my last FTP test being 162, I was happy with this considering I hadn’t ridden in 4 weeks.  There were a few 180-degree turns that required significant decelerations, and a few times the course got congested, so my overall average power is probably artificially a bit low.

I finished the first loop in 16:58 with an average power of 156.  Having the first loop down made it easier mentally going forward, as now I had expectations and knew it was just going to be 16-17 minutes until it was done.  I also realized that I could bike in 34 minutes or less, which gave me motivation and a goal.  I probably overdid it a bit in the first lap, as my power dropped a little and hovered more right at or below 150.  I just focused on the fact that it would be done soon, and tried to see it in four-minute blocks.  I also thought about Timothy Jenks, the son of one of my EN teammates who was killed cycling, and thought that I needed to ride hard as he would. 

As the second lap came to an end, I tried to push hard, chasing a few people down.  My legs were definitely tired but not destroyed, so I am pretty sure I could have pushed harder.  It seemed to be more cardiovascular limitations, with a very high RPE at the start.  I also had suffered from some nausea early in the bike that never quite went away, resulting in me only drinking half the bottle.  However, as I reached the dismount line, I was pretty satisfied with the bike leg.

What I love about this race is that there is the whole gamet- the folks wearing swimsuits with running shorts on mountain bikes, to aerohelmets on fancy schmancy tri bikes.  Six years ago I was the girl on the hybrid who had just bought her first tri suit the day before.  I don’t think I even had toe cages on the pedals.  This year I rocked the tri bike.  I honestly don’t remember too much from the bike six years ago, except that my training journal says “bike was the hardest part.”  I remember being exhausted on the bike ride, thinking it was long, and I remember a hill.  I’m not sure if there really was a hill and the course has changed, or if it was just a slight incline that didn’t even phase me this time around.   Looking at my times, this was the biggest improvement for me.  I’m sure a lot is due to better equipment, but I think the engine is stronger as well!

Bike Time Now:  34:54             Bike Time Then: 54:40

T2 was pretty uneventful.  My legs felt good just running the bike in.  Socks and shoes on, grab the hat and go!  Unfortunately it was a long way to run out!  I’m guessing the slightly longer T2 time this year is just a function of where I was in transition (and I didn’t have to change shoes back in the day!).

T2 Time Now: 2:07                        T2 Time Then: 1:26

The Run:
I always feel a sense of relief when I get to the run of a triathlon.  It is the sport I am most comfortable with and at that point, no mechanical can hold you back.  I had my running legs right away, none of the brick feeling I was expecting, and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps a higher cadence?  However, I still did feel that I was going steady, nothing too fast.  I just had a regular sports watch, so I didn’t know my pace and didn’t even note the time I left to do the math at the mile markers.  I’d assumed I was in no chance of placing, so I wasn’t necessarily pushing the pace. 

The run seemed familiar from six years ago.  It starts off on a path before winding through some neighborhoods.  It has been a long time since I did a sprint tri, and knowing the run was only 3.1 miles was huge.  It seemed to go by so fast.  Mile 1 was there before I knew it, and from there, a measly two miles left!  This was far from the attitude I remember back in 2008, where the run seemed to go on forever. 

At the two aid stations I grabbed some Gatorade and water.  Probably around the half way mark I tried to push it a tad more, still nothing crazy.  My legs were feeling good, but I think I just lacked the motivation.  When I got back to the path heading in, I figured it was about a half mile left and tried to push a little more.  I passed a few more people, including one in my age group.  Knowing I was going to break 1:15 gave me motivation for a bit of a final kick across the line.

Run Time Now: 25:08          Run Time Then:  27:14

Final result- an improvement of over 20 minutes from six years ago!
Total Time Now: 1:13:49          Total Time Then: 1:34:06

After grabbing some food, I saw that folks had printouts of their times.  I went to get mine and as the girl printed it out she said “nice job- congrats!”.  I looked at it and saw 2nd place!  What?  I was shocked.  I’d been very happy with my time, but didn’t think I’d placed!  I know it’s a local sprint and that many of the more competitive folks were racing USAT Age Group Nats or Racine 70.3 that weekend, but I still felt so validated by that result.  Six years ago I was a total newbie, trying out this sport for the first time.  Now I was seasoned, comfortable and confident in a sport I’d grown to love, and I was a legitimate athlete.  I called my mom and told her “Well, the bad news is that I have to wait around for awards.” 

Turns out that was bad news (though I can’t complain.)  It was about two hours from when I finished until awards, and I didn’t have much to pass the time with.  Still, I wasn’t going to miss my first triathlon podium!  Turns out I was third, seems like there was a chip mishap with the girl that ended up being first.  But still, third place!  Without swimming or biking for a month! I’ll take it!

Division (F25-29) Place Now: 3rd of 71       Division (F20-24) Place Then: 35th of 61

1)   Much to improve on the swim.  For starters, swim. 
2)   Time to invest in a HR monitor to start using that as a measure as well as power.
3)   Work on smooth transitions- every second counts if I want to be competitive.
4)   Need to learn how to mentally race, embrace the suck!
5)   I’ve learned so much in the past six years and these results show it.  Motivated to see what more hard work can bring! 

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