Thursday, July 28, 2011

Amica Ocean Beach 19.7 2011 Race Report

Alright, sorry I didn’t have a post for you yesterday.  I’m in Schenectady, New York, this week for a class on electric power flow modeling, and although I’ve got a bit more time than normal on my hands, I’m off my routines and just couldn’t quite find the motivation to do much of anything yesterday.  But today’s a new day, and I’m slowly but surely recovering from the race Sunday and the heat and weeks of training leading up to it.

Before we really get started here, and I want to take a minute and note that what I reported on Sunday was wrong.  I thought I went 1:35 last year at the Ocean Beach triathlon.  Actually, I went 1:31.  Which means that I was, in fact, slower this year than last year, and at least on its face that seems a little hard to understand.  I mean, I’ve been training much more.  Much, much more.  So I’ve been going through the events of Sunday’s race to try to figure out what happened, especially since I’ve got another, bigger and more important race coming up, and I want to perform at least a little closer to my full capabilities when I get there.

With that said, Sunday’s race wasn’t without its bright spots.  The key here, I think, is to take away the right lessons learned and continue to improve on the things that are better than they were.

Leading up to the Race

The days leading up to the race were hectic.  That’s kind of par for the course when you work a real job, live in a house that you own, have a wife, kids, and an active family life and everything else that goes along with the American Dream.  In specific, it’s summer and the kids are out of school.  On top of that, we were in the middle of a pretty severe heat wave in Connecticut last week—with temperatures in the mid- to upper-90’s—and our house isn’t air conditioned except in the bedrooms.  To be fair, we rarely need air conditioning in coastal Connecticut, but this past week was one of those rare times.  And that affected both my home life and my work.  At home, I had to deal with exhausted kids and a cranky wife.  At work, well, I work for the power company in New York City.  It was hot Thursday, and then we hit our all-time peak electric load on Friday, and there are some things that go along with that for me.  Still, I did the best I could to kind of lay off of things on Saturday, and I’ve got to say that Sally was pretty damned helpful in that department.  With the exception of when I got up to cook dinner on the grill, I tried to stay off my feet on Saturday, and I think I was mostly successful. 

Bottom line, it’s hard to tell how much the heat and the sheer craziness of last week affected my performance.  I mean, I think there probably was at least some effect, but I don’t think that the heat in particular affected me all that much.  Certainly, I wouldn’t call it a deciding factor in my overall performance, but I could be wrong.

What’s probably a bigger deal is the sheer amount that I’ve been training these past few months.  I’ve been training between thirty and fifty percent more this season than last season, and while I’m quite sure that that’s improved my overall conditioning, I also wonder if I’ve not allotted quite enough recovery time to my schedule.  For example, there have been many, many weeks lately when I’ve not taken even a single day off from training—if you include the ten miles I commute every day on my bike—and I happen to know that that kind of thing will eventually wear on a body.  As long as you can avoid injury and train smart that’s probably okay for your final peak performance, but you do need to allow adequate rest at some point in order to completely recover if you want to get stronger and faster.  Muscles only grow when you rest.  Balancing training and recovery can be a tricky task, and I’m not quite sure I’ve been at the optimal point lately.

Race Day

In any event, we went to bed pretty early on Saturday night, and I slept well.  My alarm went off at 4:40, and I got up, grabbed the stuff I’d packed the night before, threw my bike into the back of my car, and I was out the door by a few minutes after 5:00.  I had to stop and get gas, but even so, I thought was good on time.  I had to drive for about an hour to get to Ocean Beach, eating a Cliff Bar and a banana and drinking Gatorade as I went.  I got to the race site just after 6:00 am, confident that I had plenty of time.

As it happens, that wasn’t quite correct.  We had a tiny thunderstorm cell come through the area and kind of wreak havoc on pre-race preparations.  So although I ended up (eventually) getting everything set up in time, I left myself very little time for warm up and stretching, and what time I had I cut even shorter by forgetting my water bottles back in my car.  I literally had to run to my car to get my bottles and put them onto my bike and then run down to the waterfront for the race start.  Not the most auspicious of beginnings—and made even more so by the fact that I couldn’t go through my pre-race stretching routine.  Bottom line, I think I needed about twenty more minutes and that not stretching enough really hurt me, especially on the bike leg.

I did, however, manage to get into the water and swim a little bit before the race, and I had a few minutes to stretch and collect myself during pre-race instructions.  I felt like I was ready, and I felt fine in the water, so who knows?  Maybe the lack of pre-race yoga had nothing to do with anything.


Eventually we headed over to the start point, lined up in our heats, and got ready to go.  My heat was first, and it was pretty big.  More to the point, I didn’t push my way through to the front of the wave, which meant that once we started, I was surrounded by other swimmers.  However, I did at least start off to one side, and once the gun went off, it took me no more than about fifty meters to outdistance most of the pack and find open water.  The water itself was cool and glassy—perfect conditions, really, for a good swim.  By the time I hit the first buoy, I was out there alone with the elite athletes, one of whom I bumped going around the buoy.  After that, we kind of got into a little chicken-fighting kind of thing, and I don’t really know what to say about it except that I try to take a very tight line around the buoys, and with 2 years of high school water polo under my belt, I know how to fight folks off in the water.  In any event, I finally put a pretty hard elbow into the poor kid’s chest, and after that, he took a different line.  And for what it’s worth, I apologized after the race, and he didn’t seem like he’d taken it too hard.

Once I got out onto my own line, I made a conscious effort to slow down and get myself under control.  In past triathlons, I’ve tended to run a little hot during the swim and leave too little left for the run.  That’s silly, especially for me.  This time, I kind of cruised a long, confident of my swim training this season and determined to keep myself in control and breathing easily.  After I turned at the last buoy, I fell in directly behind somebody and let them pull me in the rest of the way to the beach.  Then I ran out of the water and up the beach—what turned out to be a very looong run to Transition through thick, loose sand.  Argh.

1/2-mile swim: 14:24.  1/35 Age Group, 6/356 Overall.

In comparison to last year, that’s actually two minutes slower.  Last year, my swim was two whole minutes faster, but I placed 8th overall against a slower field.  That’s only possible if either the swim distance was different, or the timing mats were placed closer to the beach.  It’s hard to say which of those things it was.


Before the race, Transition was a zoo.  They crammed 400 athletes into a space that was meant to house maybe 300.  This was a serious pain in the ass during set-up, but it wasn’t a big deal during T-1 because during T-1, I was one of only about ten guys in the area.  In any event, I grabbed my helmet, gloves, cycling shoes, and jersey, threw all that on, and headed out.  I felt like I made decent time, and compared to last year, I was faster.  It helps that I don’t wear a wetsuit.

T-1: 1:57.


Once again, the deck was slippery, so I made my way gingerly to the start of the bike course, mounted, slipped, re-mounted, and set off.  And right off the bat, I knew something was wrong.  For whatever reason, my legs felt dead.  Why?  This is what I’ve been trying to explain to myself for the past few days.  Was it the heat leading up to the race?  Simple over-training?  Poor pre-race stretching?  For whatever reason, I didn’t have it, and I knew it right off.

To make matters worse, the course was wet, and there are at least ten ninety-degree turns along the 16-mile route.  I usually corner pretty hard, but I almost went down on the first corner when my rear tire hit a patch of wet paint, and after that, I took it easy.  Far, far better to have a slower bike leg than to lay my bike down due to idiotic aggression on a wet race course.  So I found myself hitting my brakes a lot—pretty much every time I’d get into a decent rhythm.  I’d come out of a corner, peddle hard with dead legs to get back up to speed, eventually start feeling better, and invariably within the next mile there’d be another hard corner, and I’d have to slow back down and start again.  I don’t remember this being a problem last year, but then again, last year the course was dry, and I didn’t feel like such shit on the bike.  This year, the whole thing was a trial.

Normally, I enjoy the bike leg the most in a triathlon.  At this race, I just wanted it to end.

16.1-miles on the bike: 49:44 (17.8 mph).  17/35 Age Group.  126/356 Overall.

Last year, I averaged 18.5 mph and was just over a minute faster.  So yeah, this ride was shit.


I was super-happy to get off the bike.  I ran—gingerly—back into Transition, threw off my bike shoes, helmet, and riding jersey, threw on my running shoes—now with speed laces!—and out I went.

T-2: 1:01.  That’s pretty good, especially considering how slow you had to run into and out of Transition due to the wet boardwalk.


It is a rare race when I’m actually looking forward to the run, but that happened this time.  Still, it was dreadfully humid during the run, and the sun was coming up to full power.  So I wouldn’t exactly say that I enjoyed it.  I did, however, manage to hold form, and far fewer people passed me on the run than normal.  Usually what happens when I race is that I’m out of the water with the leaders, and then I hold my place against all but the most aggressive bikers.  I mean, I get passed on the bike, but not by mobs and mobs of people.  The mobs then pass me on the run.  That’s what normally happens.  But this time, the mobs had already passed me on the bike, and I held my place—and even passed a few folks back—on the run.

I’m not a great runner, but I’m improving.

At any rate, I didn’t run great, but I ran okay.  I mean, I didn’t push it, but I ran correctly and maintained a pace, and although it was humid, I eventually finished in relatively good order.

3.1-mile run: 25:50 (8:15/mile).  22/35 Age Group.  153/356 Overall.

That’s about a minute and a half faster than last year, and bottom line, I’m pleased that I ran well on a day when it seems like I didn’t do much else very well.

Final Thoughts

Ocean Beach 19.7: 1:32:55.  15/35 Age Group.  78/356 Overall.

Last year I was a just over a minute faster on the same course, most of which is attributable to the difference in the bike leg.  Honestly, this was just a rough outing, and I think that the only real positive here is that I’m running better.  That’s good.  But I definitely need to make an effort to get to my next race early and leave myself some time to stretch and get my head together before the race, and I think I also need to closely monitor my training levels leading up to the race.  I’ve put in a good base of work, but to really take advantage of it, I now need to round myself into form and get some rest—without letting go of my conditioning.  It’s a delicate balance, but if I want to perform well, I need to manage it as best I can.

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