Race Report: Challenge Rancho Cordova

Enjoying the flat and scenic course!

I just back from a fun/satisfying experience at Challenge Rancho Cordova, a long distance triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile cycle, 13.1 mile run) near Sacramento, CA. Although this was one of my two BIG races of the season, I went into the event without stressing too much about my overall time or placement. Nonetheless, I still pushed myself to the absolute limit, which was both satisfying and humbling, particularly in today’s heat.

Swim

Going into the swim, I kept telling myself to focus on being (relatively) comfortable, and to not use too much energy. I wasn’t as concerned about my time as I probably should’ve been, but I wanted to make sure I could have a solid bike and run afterwards.

Coming out of the water feeling dizzy, yet strong

The swim start was in-water, which always makes me a little extra nervous. I was fortunate to have a pretty clean opening 200 meters, and thus I was able to find feet quickly. I really focused on drafting in an attempt improve my ratio of speed to energy expended, and also to aid in sighting. We were swimming into the rising sun on the way out, and I found it rather difficult to see until we made the turn to head back.

Because I tried so much to stay near other athletes, there were a few instances of physical contact, though overall they didn’t significantly effect my performance. I did get kicked in the eye about five minutes into the swim, which set me back a few seconds to re-position my goggles.

The rest of the swim was uneventful, though I was surprised at how much I was enjoying this part of the sport: I didn’t feel the typical eagerness to get out of the water. The venue itself was beautiful, and water quality was actually pretty decent. In fact, it was clear enough to see 2-3 meters through the water (though not much more than that) which made it easier to spot other athletes. Due to the my de-emphasis on a goal swim time, my actual time was pretty slow and certainly below-potential. I’m eager to integrate more race-specific swim training and see how quickly I can swim at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in Oceanside at the end of October.

Time (m:s): 44:00

Bike

Similar to the swim, I approached the bike leg in a very specific way: I decided to focus on staying with others of similar speed, for the mental benefit and the slight benefit of the legal drafting distance whilst riding in a group.

The first half of the course had a lot of rolling hills, though they were never too difficult. However, most of the groups I rode with attacked on the uphills, and so I found myself going above my threshold power on some segments to stay with the group. This resulted in a normalized power of 10 watts higher than planned for the first (and most difficult) part of the course. I rolled through the first hour averaging 21mph, which I was satisfied with given the constant rolling hills.

Elevation profile: lots of light hills in the first half, and then downhill/flat for the second half

On the second half of the course, which contained a couple downhills and mostly flat segments, it was much easier to maintain an organized group. I took advantage of the aid stations to keep cool and hydrated, as the area heated up significantly through my ride. Similar to the swim, I really found myself enjoying the process, and by the end of the bike I was still feeling really mentally fresh. Overall, my normalized power was a little lower than I planned, but I was still able set a personal best over this distance.

Time (h:m:s): 2:35:23 (21.6 mph)

Run

Strugging to maintain form in the heat

The run course was a pancake-flat 10.5km (6.5 mile) loop completed twice. Because all of my training lately has been on extremely hilly courses, I opted to go into the event without a GPS watch and instead pace by feel.

Coming out of transition two, I felt great! My stomache was feeling okay, and the heat didn’t seem unbearable (yet). Due to a number of reasons, I think I ran the opening few miles a tad too fast. At the same time, my body was warming up very quickly (the temperature built up to at least 93 degrees Fahrenheit) and I found myself overheating very quickly. Around the 4km (2.5 mile) mark, I felt EXTREMELY dizzy, and finally stopped for a few seconds to re-evaluate the situation. Fortunately, I got encouraged by another competitor to keep moving, which ended up being my saving grace of the day. I ended up running with him for the rest of the first loop at a more manageable pace to let my body re-stabilize.

I decided to spend an extra 5-10 seconds at each station by walking through them to ensure I drenched myself with cold water and drank either water or Gatorade, depending on how my blood sugar was perceived to be. The aid stations ended up being another crucial part of my race, as my body would not have been able to complete this distance without the unbelievable amount of support I received from them. The volunteers were also fantastic, which made the whole run significantly more encouraging.

By the halfway point, I was able to pick up the pace again, and I felt strong. I kept the plan of using every aid station, though I was running through them now. Although I got into a good rhythm, it eventually became impossible to stop cramps from creeping up. This was perhaps the most mentally difficult part of the race. Coming into the last two miles, my calves started to spasm at random times, and I was actually a bit nervous that my legs would go out before the next 13-14 minutes were up. However, my pace stayed strong, and I knew I was knocking out sub-7-minute miles. By the time I reached the final kilometer, it became difficult to run without my legs feeling like they were going to collapse from under me. Fortunately, I made it to the finish without any major issues, though I knew I was very close to physically shutting down. Regardless, it felt great to negative split my half marathon, and I was stoked that I was able to overcome the adverse conditions and still run a solid closing 10K.

Running down the finishing chute

Time (h:m:s): 1:34:45 (7:14/mile)

Conclusion

Time: 4:56:51
Place: 40th/470 overall amateurs (1st in males 14-19)
Official results: http://results.racemine.com/Challenge-Rancho-Cordova/events/2014/Challenge-Rancho-Cordova/results

Within 10 minutes of finishing, I drank about two liters of water and two containers of Gatorade. There was a fountain just after the finish line that had hoses installed in the ground, which would shoot water up into the air. A ton of athletes, myself included, took advantage of the fountain, and I found myself just sitting under the cool water for almost ten minutes. Although I was certainly cooling down, my legs were still having regular spasms, and thus I went over to the medic tent to make sure my blood sugar was okay. They were very nice and helpful, and I eventually got everything under control.

Overall, I was extremely happy with the event! Despite a below-potential swim and the searing heat, I was able to set a PR over this distance (2km swim, 90km bike, 21km run) in 4:56:51. In terms of race management, Challenge did a kick ass-job for a first year event: there were only a few minor details I could complain about. I haven’t done a race of this magnitude in quite some time, so it was incredibly refreshing to have such a great experience. This event has certainly given me much-needed encouragement in regards to not only training and racing, but also to life in general.

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