Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Litchfield Hills Triathlon Race Report

I hate to call the Litchfield Hills Triathlon my “A” race for the season because, bottom line, there’s nothing that makes it particularly important.  There was nothing on the line, this wasn’t the first time I’ve raced at this distance, I have no real use for the results now that I have them.  Really, there was nothing much to distinguish this particular race from the others that I’ve already run and/or plan to run later next month.  And yet, every season has to have some kind of focal point, and this race came at the end of the summer after a full season of relatively healthy training.  It was also the last Olympic distance triathlon I’m doing this season, so that made it a logic race on which to focus my tapering strategy.  And finally, I’d run most of the course before, and that’s a huge advantage in a triathlon.  Thus, sort of by default, I’d been thinking of this race as the culmination of my season, bearing in mind that the Fairfield Triathlon is next month, and that that one is both a better distance and a better course for me personally.  However, since Litchfield Hills is by far the harder of those two races, it demanded primacy of place in my season training plan. 

Does that make it the most important race?  I don’t know.  Certainly, I wanted to do well.

The Taper
I’d planned to do a straight-up 1-week taper leading up to the race, but at about two weeks out, I felt tired enough and sore enough that I thought I might need a bit more rest to get up to my peak performance.  Plus, with only a pair of Sprints left to go afterwards, it seemed like a safe play to go ahead and taper fully now and try to start getting fast, even though I know that there won’t be time to get back up to a full base-load level of training before I have to start peaking for my last series of events next month.  Eh.  I’ve got a solid base built at this point, so right now what I need is more speed.  It’s definitely a switch from the norm, but that’s what makes the end of the season so wonderful, right?  So anyway, I started cutting back on my workload with about 14 days to go before Litchfield, increasing my intensity to compensate for the lesser volume of work.  Then, a week before the race I did a long practice brick—a 17-mile pace ride with hill-work, followed by a 4.8-mile run with some interval work.  And I felt GREAT during the brick, so I headed into race week with a full head of steam and plenty of confidence.

Unfortunately, my wife Sally got sick on the Thursday before my race, so that by Saturday morning, she was the next best thing to completely immobilized.  That left me to do EVERYTHING around the house Friday night and Saturday morning, and by the end of Saturday—the day before my big race—I was exhausted and ready to collapse.  My back hurt, and my groin, which I’d pulled badly back in March and been slowly rebuilding ever since, felt worse than it had since early May when I first started trying to run again.  But what are you gonna do?  I’d already paid for the race, and I’d already made and executed my training and tapering plan.  True, this wasn’t the best way to end a taper, but I was still gonna race, come what may.  What choice was there?  I was already all-in.

I got up Sunday morning feeling better than I probably had any right to feel.  I mean, I’d been tired Saturday, but it was the fatigue of a single day’s chores not the intense exhaustion of a full season’s endurance training.  Race day morning I felt fine, save that my lower back was still ominously sore.  Still, I got up, loaded the car, and headed out.  Thankfully, it was raining, meaning that temperatures were destined to stay cool all day and also giving me a good reason to let my still-sick wife stay in bed for a few more hours.  She’d planned to go and watch the race with the kids, but the weather gave her an honorable excuse to skip out.  That was a good thing.

Check in, body-marking, and setting up in transition were all no big deal.  I’ve had a few mad scrambles this season, but Sunday I got in early and got set, leaving me plenty of time to down a goo and then go start warming up slowly in the water.  That was good because I wanted to have plenty of time to get my back as loose as possible before the race started.

Last year, I remember this being a long swim course that I finished in 28 minutes.  This year it was shorter.  Much shorter.  The water was very nice, maybe 78 degrees, and the air was warm enough that I wasn’t shivering pre-race despite the rain.  Anyway, we started soon enough, men in the 2nd wave for some reason, and I was lucky enough to find someone to draft off of.  That doesn’t happen to me very often.  So I let my man pull me for maybe the first third of the race, but then I lost him somewhere after the first turn.  After that I was on my own.  But I swam easy and felt good despite having swum little in the last month or so.  I got out of the water with the leaders, well up ahead of where my actual ability should have had me.

Swim:  Advertised .9-mile; I later calculated it at .78.  Time: 19:03.  4/32 Age Group; 14/260 Overall.

The run from the lake up to Transition in this race is about .2-mile uphill, and it’s one of the hardest parts of the entire course.  I jogged easy, found my bike, threw on socks, shoes, helmet, number, etc, and then headed out.  I wasn’t burning by any means, but that seems about an average time in T-1 by comparison, so I suppose I’ll take it.

Total Time in T-1: 5:22.

Last year, the bike leg on this course was something of a rude awakening.  The first maybe 8 to 10 miles are roughly downhill, followed by another 8 to 10 miles of easy climbing interspersed with flats.  Then there’s a section of maybe a mile of rough road followed by about 3 miles of climbing, still on fairly rough roads.  And the last maybe half-mile or so of that last climb is brutally steep.  Really, it’s the kind of grade you have to experience to truly appreciate.  Last year, it was a misery, and it left me absolutely floored.  This year I was much readier.  First off, I knew what to expect, and then too, I’d been training on hills a lot.  Also, the Pat Griskus Tri earlier this season had NINE miles of climbing, some of which were every inch as brutal as that last bit of Litchfield’s course, meaning, bottom line, I knew I could take it.  I might not break any speed records on my way up, but at the same time, I knew the course wouldn’t break me either. 

In the event, I felt really good on the bike, held a decent pace, and enjoyed myself tremendously despite the rain.  The last bit of climbing was tough, but I held steady and finished okay if not quite as well as I might’ve hoped.  But it was fine.  I was happy enough with the end result and in a good mood headed into T-2.

Bike: 23.5-miles in 1:16:16.  Average Speed: 18.5 mph.  17/32 Age Group; 106/260 Overall.

Another uphill run to Transition, followed by changing of shoes, a short stretch of my back and a gulp of Gatorade, and I was off.  Total Time: 1:41.  That is NOT fast.

And the run.  My nemesis.  Also, the only part of the course I’d never seen before.  Sally and I did this race as a Mixed Tag Team last year.  But I’d heard that the course was rolling and not too bad.

Heh.  I’m sure that was true for some people.  I’m just not one of them.

In the event, the first two miles were rolling—steeply rolling, with far more downhill than up.  I started tired, but at the end of two miles I’d recovered somewhat, and if the course hadn’t been quite so up-and-down, I probably would’ve run a decent race from there.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it was.  In reality, after that first two mile decent, the course turned back up and proceeded to climb through the next three and a half miles solid, almost without a break.  Holy crap!  They told me after the race that the last mile was mostly downhill, but I cannot honestly say that I remember that.  All I remember is thinking that surely THIS was the very top of the State of Connecticut, and so we couldn’t climb any more—until we did.  What’s worse is that at Mile 3 my right quad started locking up, and I was briefly concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to finish.  But I sucked it up and drove on, eventually entering a kind of trance-like mental state that I don’t think I’d experienced since doing 3-hour swim practices at West Point on early-season Saturday mornings.  I used to do this set of 5 x 300 on like 3:30 with the distance swimmers, but I did the sets in butterfly.  I distinctly remember that set and how much it hurt and how going through that left me in a weird kind of mental Hell that haunted me for days afterwards.  Sunday was like that all over again.  I could feel my form falling apart, but I couldn’t do anything about it, and the road just kept climbing, which kept me from being able to get my head and ass wired together for some kind of late-race rally.  Ugh.

Fortunately, nothing lasts forever, and indeed, once I reached Mile 5 my quad loosened up enough that I knew I would at least finish.  I was never able to pick up the pace or put my form back together, but there is something to be said for finishing with your dignity intact.  I did that, at least.  People said, “Good job,” when they passed me, and I didn’t scowl or snap at them.

Run: 6.2 miles in a wretchedly slow 59:29.  Average pace: 9:36/mile.  25/32 Age Group; 203/260 Overall.

Total: .8-mile swim, 24-mile ride, 6-mile run: 2:41:52.  20/32 Age Group; 115/260 Overall.

Final Thoughts
That was a better overall performance than I had at the Pat Griskus race, especially on the bike.  And that’s good.  But I’m still not where I want to be at this distance.  Bottom line, I need to keep running, and I need to stay healthy if I’m going to get to the point where 6 miles isn’t a “long” run.  And that’s where I need to be if I want to be competitive in these Oly’s.  I don’t necessarily need to lay down a 45-minute 10K to end the race, but if I could at least average 8:30/mile, I’d be within striking distance of 2:30 overall, a decent goal for me at this point.  2:30 would’ve put me 13th in my age group, slightly better than the median time, and I think for now that’s what I need to shoot for.


Jeannine said...

Hey, thanks for the race report. I'm doing this tri this year. It will be my first Olympic distance, so I'm a little nervous about those hills!! Is there a place where one can leave a pair of crocs for to T1 run up to transition? -Jeannine

DannoE said...

Yeah, you'll leave them on the beach at the lake. It's no problem. But that run up the hill from the lake to T1 is probably the hardest part of the whole race.