Friday, June 28, 2013

Patriot Half - Sink, Cruise, Fly

I signed up for the Patriot Half tri back in the dark days of winter when I was recovering and rebuilding from a long and frustrating 2012.

With Timberman under my belt, I was ready to give the half distance another shot before even thinking about doing the full Iron Man distance.

I then spent the next four months preparing for a PR at Boston. Biking and swimming was only an afterthought during my Boston training, but it did help break up the monotony.

I was in fantastic running shape when April rolled around and I managed to hit my goal at Boston (by 1 second - 2:45:59), and felt great. So good in fact that I decided to go for another marathon PR a month later at Providence.

This pushed my tri training out another month.

Providence went really well, but I missed the PR by less than a minute.

It was already early May and I had been on the bike only a handful of times, and in the open water even fewer.

The early spring was definitely cooler this year than last, but I was running out of time and had no choice but to jump right into tri training no matter the conditions.

My first open water swim at Walden was a balmy 60 degrees.

The early morning training rides weren't much warmer, but they had to be done.

I was into full on tri training mode by the middle of May, and then decided to take a vacation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon....

I lost a full solid week of training while out in the Canyon, but what I lost there, I gained back in the experience, which will stay with me for a long time. Being able to endure a 46 mile trail run in 90+ temps will typically help build a little mental toughness.

Two weeks out from Patriot, and feeling a little desperate, I did a 30 mile ride followed by an 8 mile run in 90 degree temps. I felt fine and thought both were solid efforts. I was already well acclimated to the heat thanks to the Grand Canyon run.

One week out, I donned all of my racing gear and went hard for 40 miles on the bike and 10 on the run. I was able to sustain 19.5 mph on the bike and 6:30 pace on the run. Another solid effort at close to race pace.

This was pretty much all I could expect at Patriot the following week considering the amount of training I had put in. I was hoping that it should be enough to get me a PR (sub 5:12), and possibly close to a sub 5 on a relatively "easy" course this early in the season.

The C goal was to sub-Bash (5:07).

The swim was once again going to be the x-factor.

I had an OK swim at Timberman (41 mins), my first 70.3, and it wasn't as traumatic as I thought it would be. The swim goal for Patriot was to sub 40, which I thought was very reasonable considering that I was doing the mile swims at Walden in about 30 minutes.

I quickly learned that swimming at Walden and swimming at Long Pond in Freetown were going to be two completely different experiences.

The Swim

I went down to Cathedral Camp, site of the race, the night before and got my BIB number.

To test out the water, the organizers allowed us to swim for a few minutes in Long Pond. The water was calm and about 65 degrees, which to me is the perfect temperature for racing in a wetsuit.

This might not be so bad after all.

I got up early the next morning and drove the 30 minutes from my friend's place in Easton back to Freetown.

I was able to set up my gear and mentally prepare myself for the long day by 7:15AM. The race started at 7AM, but my wave didn't go off until 7:30AM.

The 30-39 AG'ers were the second to last wave to go, with only the relay teams behind us.

The water looked about the same as the previous night, and I didn't feel much of a wind on an otherwise calm and cool morning. This was looking to be a great day for a race.

I ran into Jimmie Cochran in the waiting area for the swim. He was shooting for sub 5, and hoping to catch his wife, Kate, at some point during the race. She was one wave ahead of us.

I didn't feel nervous at all as I stood in the water, waiting for the countdown and GO signal. I was actually looking forward to the swim and hoping for the same experience that I had at Timberman.

I positioned myself in the middle of the swim pack, next to Jimmie, when we got the GO signal. In hindsight, I should have moved myself further to the right and away from the group.

Right away, my swim stroke was hampered by the mass of bodies fighting for position. I didn't want to get kicked in the face, so I backed off a little from the main group.

I finally got some breathing room, but was still caught up in the swell of swimmers thrashing all around me.

I had no issues breathing or keeping calm, but it was a little nerve-wracking thinking that it might be like this for the entire swim. Very much different from Timberman where I was clear of other swimmers almost from the start.

And then I started to feel the swells.

At first I thought it was just the water being pushed around by the swimmers, but the swells were rhythmic. Every few strokes I would get picked up and then come back down again. There was definitely a strong current in the water.

I was starting to feel a little nauseous, and had a slight panic attack.

I could tell I wasn't making much forward progress, so I put my head down and really went for it to see if I could swim out of the current and get back into a smoother rhythm.

About two minutes later, I looked up to sight and saw that I was about three minutes off course!

The closest buoy was ahead, but far to my right. Damn!

I told myself to stay calm and just move steadily towards the buoy.

What I should have done was to keep going straight ahead and move in towards the buoy line as I got closer to the first turn buoy, instead of basically making a right hand turn.

This would have saved me a few minutes, but I was worried that the officials and lifeguards around me might start yelling at me to get back on course.

I was pretty much alone at this point, and could see my group making much better progress way up ahead. I managed to pass a few stragglers from prior groups, but that was little consolation as the relay swimmers, with a five minute delay, began to pass me with ease.

Eventually, I was able to find a groove on the swim and make my way around the first turn buoy. I wanted to check my time on the Garmin, but didn't really care about my swim time at this point. I just wanted to finish the swim.

I figured that I couldn't be much slower than my Timberman swim, since that swim was my first 1.2 mile open water race. I figure that I had experience on my side now and my time would be about the same even with the mishap early on.

I found out I was dead wrong when I finally got out of the water 47 minutes later, 6 minutes slower than Timberman.

Fortunately, and for some reason at that moment, I thought I had clocked a 46 minute swim at Timberman, so I wasn't overly worried about my swim time, and I consciously told myself to just move on. Make it up on the bike and run.

This was the problem I had at Timberman. I had trouble compartmentalizing my race.

I spent a good 20 minutes on the bike at Timberman worrying about my swim time, and that affected the rest of my race.

As soon as I got on the bike at Patriot, I was focused on that portion of the race. The swim was what it was. There was nothing I could do about it now.

I quickly did the math in my head and knew that a PR was still very possible, and a sub 5 was still attainable, if a little bit harder now.

The Bike

T1 went by in a blur.

My wetsuit came off easily, and I made sure that the timing chip didn't go with it like it did at Timberman.

Glasses, helmet, shoes.

I still haven't built up enough confidence yet to try the shoeless mount and dismount, but I plan to work on that this summer and give it a go at future race.

I was 404th out of 500+ out of the water, so I had a lot of ground to make up over the next 4 hours.

The Patriot bike course consists of two 28 mile loops on relatively flat roads with some moderate, short climbs.

I didn't know how a course like this would suit me, since I do a lot of biking on hilly courses out in Ayer, and Timberman was a beast of a bike course.

Before the race, Jimmie had told me that it's tough to build up any consistent speed here, since there were a lot of turns.

I experienced a couple of those turns right away, and had to slow down as the roads are open to traffic.

The turns didn't frustrate me as I was still able to average 19.5+ for most of the first loop.

My legs felt heavy through the first 20 miles, but eventually loosened up. My gearing was a lot better now than it was at Timberman, and I felt that I was pretty dead on throughout the entire course.

I also focused on staying seated, and in the aero position, on most of the climbs in order to save my legs for the run. This was probably my biggest mistake at Timberman: standing up for the climbs.

Staying hydrated and well fed was the game plan for today on the bike.

I was using a front mounted aero bottle for the first time at Patriot, and this was a lot easier for me to stay hydrated. Definitely a good choice even though it can be a bitch to balance on the bike rack.

In the bottle, I filled it with regular water fortified by two Nuun tablets. I filled it up twice during the ride, and felt that it was sufficient for my needs on a fairly warm day.

I also made sure to eat something every hour on the bike.

I took my first GU at the one hour mark into the race, and then a big size Bonk Breaker an hour later. My final GU was around the 45 mile mark to prep for the run. I also ate a mini-Bonk Breaker near the finish of bike as I was feeling a little hungry, and didn't want to deal with it during the run.

Overall, I took in about 400-500 calories on the 2 hr 50 min bike. I didn't feel like I lagged at all at any point during the ride. Very consistent splits.

My bike time here was, surprisingly, five minutes slower than it was at Timberman, but I paid the price dearly once I got off of the bike at Timber.

At Timber, my quads locked up almost immediately, and I had nothing left for the run after the first three miles.

Today was going to be far, far different.

The Run

I gingerly made my way to T2 after dismounting about 50 yards from the bike racks. My legs were a little wobbly, but nothing serious. I felt worse at Timberman.

I had verbally repeated my BIB number to myself near the end of the bike, so that I could remind myself where to rack my bike. Unfortunately, I was telling myself 386 instead of 368. I lost about 30 seconds, and a few ounces of pride, with that mistake. Silly.

Once I found the correct bike rack, I wasted no time turning myself into a runner.

Hat and sneakers (no socks).

Before leaving the zone, I gave Ally a quick high five. She was part of the Princess Booyah relay team that would come in 2nd overall, and 1st in their division!

I shot out of T2 like I was fired out of cannon, looking forward to chasing down the remaining 150+ people in front of me.

Total race time up to this point was about 3 hrs and 43 mins.

I would need to run a sub 1:17 to break 5 hours. My current half-marathon PR is 1:17 and change. There was no way I was going to PR even if I hadn't swum 1.2 and biked 56 beforehand.

However, a sub 1:30 would give me a new PR for this distance. That was at least manageable, and about 10 minutes faster than my run at Timber.

My legs felt fine, but my breathing was still trying to play catch up.

The temps were in the low 80's, and my heart rate showed it.

I looked down at my Garmin through the first mile and saw myself clocking a 5:58 first mile. A little hot, but expected. I always start out fast on my favorite leg of the tri.

During my brick sessions, I tried to train myself to start off slow and work the pace down over the course of the run. A lot easier to say and train for. A lot harder to do during the heat of battle.

I lost track of how many people I passed by the 2nd mile, and it didn't matter. It was me versus the PR clock at this point.

The water support on the run is fantastic with a station at every mile. I mainly just grabbed water, but did take some Heed at one table.

I took my only GU around mile 7 of the run, and that was enough to get me through to the finish without issue.

The words of encouragement from other runners also helped.

I've always found it interesting that nobody says a thing to you when you pass them on the bike, but they will cheer you on if you pass them on the run looking strong.

Every slight uphill on the run course paid you back in full with a comparable downhill on the other side. A rolling course for the entire 13.1.

I checked out every body marking on the male runners I passed to see their age. I was a little frustrated early on in the run as I was passing people in their 40's and 50's. Nobody in my AG.

It wasn't until about the 10K mark that I started to catch people in their 30's. I figured that I was close to dead last in my AG when I got off of the bike. It was now time to put myself where I belonged.

A few people I passed recognized me from other races and they cheered me on by name, which helped tremendously. Also seeing other TriFury members out there gave me a boost.

With 5K to go, I was well on pace to finish under 1:30 for the run. Could I possibly finish under 1:25?! A sub 1:25 would definitely put in the top rankings for the run leg, which was something I always try to shoot for.

"20 minute 5K" is the mantra I always repeat to myself when I am out racing a marathon, since this is what I usually shoot for early on in order to be on pace for sub 2:50. That's what I would need here to get under 1:25.

The most difficult part of the run course just so happens to be the final 5K. A couple of good climbs that only really flatten out just before the finish. The heat of the afternoon sun was now in full effect too.

Once you're within sight of the finish, you have to run an additional quarter mile on gravel and grass, which isn't the greatest feeling, but you can deal with it at this point.

I gave it my usual kick, and for good measure, passed one person in my AG right at the finish.

This strong finish put me 66th overall, 6th in my AG, and 6th fastest run time on the day, only one spot right behind Ethan Brown's run time.

Overall, I thought this was a decent race with a few more mistakes made and lessons learned.

Leaving with a PR is always nice, but the swim left a really, really bad taste in my mouth, and it had nothing to do with what was in the water.

With Rev3 two months away, it's back to the lab to figure out how to push myself even further to get under the sub 5 mark.

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