After months of illness and rebuilding my fitness, I was finally healthy enough to get back into competition! For my first race of the season, I chose a local sprint triathlon that I was very familiar with: the Tri for Fun summer triathlon series in Pleasanton, CA. I did all three of their events last summer, so I thought this would be a good event to gauge my current fitness (with respect to last year).
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any specific fitness coming into the event. It was not since October of 2014 that I had last ridden in a time-trial position, or swam in the open water. Nonetheless, I had a solid amount of general fitness from the last few months of training. Thus, I decided this would be a good race for me to shake out the cobwebs and to provide insights into where I should be focusing my specific training.
As soon as the gun went off I began to regret my lack of open-water training coming into the event. I simply found it difficult to get comfortable, and thus I was not expending my energy as efficiently as I could have. Despite this, my recent training in the pool allowed me to stay relatively close to the front and in contention for the bike and run legs.
I came out of the water in 7:30, exactly one minute down from the lead bunch and in 18th place overall. Coming into T1, I made quick work of my wetsuit and got out onto the bike course in just over a minute. I was very happy to have a smooth transition after no practice/racing for all of 2015.
The bike course starts on a short, 30-second hill to leave the park. I immediately began climbing out of the saddle, riding at my V02max with my feet on top of the bike shoes. Once I hit the crest of the hill, I had a solid amount of momentum, and took advantage of this opportunity to slip into my cycling shoes.
Next, I got down into the aero position and started to crunch out my target wattage: 230 watts (3.8 watts/kg), or 92% of my aerobic threshold. Ten minutes into the ride, I began struggling to maintain my form. I certainly had the strength in my legs, but not the specific training on my time trial bike to utilize the fitness that I had. Thus, I made the conscious decision to dial back on my power output, focusing instead on staying in my aerobars and conserving energy for the run.
Before I knew it, I was riding back down the hill into T2. I rode the 10.2-mile bike course in 27:48 (22 mph), with a normalized power of 215 watts (and a surprisingly low variability index of 1.01). I ending up riding the 3rd-fastest bike split of the day, putting me into 4th place overall, though I lost another minute to the leader. My average cadence was 99rpm, which I felt would set me up for a good run. I performed a solid flying dismount, and was out of the transition zone in less than a minute.
Heading out onto the run course, my legs felt quite heavy, but still strong. I immediately began to run a pace that I felt I could sustain for the 5km run. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my GPS watch, so I was a little worried I would lose some time to poor pacing. In retrospect, I don’t think having the watch would have changed much.
I started to play a game of cat-and-mouse with the faster cyclists who began the run ahead of me. Having someone to chase down provided not only motivation but also confidence, and allowed me to perform to the best of my current ability. After making a few crucial passes, I had a feeling that I was a contender for the overall podium, though I had no idea of my placement due to the waves starts and the design of the run course.
I ended up having the fastest run of the day, rolling through the 5K mark in 19:41 (6:20/mile). This moved me into a podium position, and I ended up finishing 2nd overall, two minutes behind the leader (whom I had been chasing all day). My overall finishing time was 58 minutes.
Full results are posted here.
I have a lot of feelings – both good and bad – about my performance today, but overall I am very optimistic.
I know that I still have a lot more potential in the water, and I am now more motivated than ever to get in some specific open-water training. There is a group that swims twice a week in the Berkeley Marina, so I’m hoping to get in a few sessions with them before my next triathlon. Even if my swim fitness remains constant, I feel I can improve my times (and conserve energy) through more exposure to open-water swimming.
In terms of the bike, I have a very similar attitude. I know I have the fitness to ride quite a bit faster than I did today, I just need to put the time into specific time-trail training. Now that my bike is all put together and ready to ride, I’m hoping to do race-specific intervals on my time trial bike at least once a week.
Despite putting out the fastest run split of the day, I was a little disappointed with my run splits. Four days prior to the event, I did a session of 2 x 3 miles in 18 minutes (6:00/mile), which felt very manageable. Thus, I thought my splits today would be closer to the six minute mark. However, a multitude of factors likely effected my times today: the swim and bike likely took more out of me than I expected, there were quite a few rolling hills, and I have no way of verifying the distance of the course. Nonetheless, I have identified key areas of improvement that I can make, and thus I plan on doing a few brick sessions (run-off-the-bike) to reacquaint my legs with the feeling of running on tired legs.
Next weekend I’ll be doing a criterium in Berkeley, just a mile or two from where I live. This should be a fun (and painful) contrast to my efforts in the triathlon earlier today.