Instead of simply training for Wildflower and then jumping in to it as my first race of the year (and also one of the "big" races), I discovered a smaller (?) race that is held in the Sacramento area two weeks prior to Wildflower: the aptly named "Ice Breaker" race.
This race is held in Granite Bay (Folsom Lake), which is adjacent to Roseville. The day was sunny and warm, with the mid-day temperatures hitting the high 70s. The temp at the race start was in the low 60s, and the water temp was 62+ (according to the race directors). Speaking of the race directors, this was my first TBF Racing event and I have to give them a 100% happy endoresement. The race was exceptionally well organized and the course was so well-marked you would have to be a bumbling idiot to get lost. They also do the Tri-for-fun and Tri-for-real series of events in the Bay Area. The only real downside was that they have not switched over to the ChampionChip timing systems (yet?) and are still entering racer's numbers into hand-held timers for split times. Because of this, the split times are not available on race day, nor for several days after the race.
The water was icy cold. Even with a wetsuit on, the water felt like melted snow. Admittedly, it was warmer than the SF Bay, but I don't swim in the SF Bay. The photographer snapped a shot of me getting ready to enter the water for the first time. You can see it here (I'm the one in the middle in case you were wondering).
The swim course was laid out like an oversized slice of pie: swim out, a sharp left turn, swim across with a slow left hand arc, then another sharp left and swim in. There were a total of five bouys, with the sharp turns being oversized beach balls and the arc described with the standard dayglo orange markers.
The first leg of the swim was a shock as always. Maybe it's just me, but I always take a few minutes to acclimate to being in the water after the start. In the frenzy to get to the first bouy, my group went way wide, heading too far to the right. Of course this corrected itself as everyone funneled around the bouy.
As I was making the turn, I fell in behind a guy in a wetsuit with bright pink stripes on the side (hey, it made it easy to see him) and fell into the draft behind him. (Look at the picture here to see what a wetsuit with pink stripes looks like.) His speed was perfect for me; I slowed my stroke speed and took advantage of the easy ride. I stopped to sight on my progress a few times, but the guy I was following was going perfectly straight between bouys every time. Each time I simply had to pull a little harder for three to five strokes to fall back into the draft and then just relaxed for the next few minutes. I'm sure the guy knew I was there because I was tapping his feet about every other stroke. I actually had to laugh about that at one point because between bouys #1 and #2, I could feel someone tapping my feet, drafting off of me. I'm sure it looked hilarious from the outside. I have no idea how many of us there were, but we were all just swimming along in a nice little single file line for a little while.
We passed the first red swim cap about 50 feet past the second bouy. (Red caps were from the wave ahead of me, and the waves were on 5 minute starts.) The red cap guy was sculling backwards (this is a "lazy" backstroke where your arms never leave the water) and the line I was in got all tangled up going around him. I was lucky that I was drafting off of someone with a distinctive wetsuit so I was able to fall back in easily, but nobody was tapping my feet after that.
About halfway between the fourth and fifth bouy, the guy I was drafting off of stopped for a breath. Maybe he was tired of feeling me touching his feet and wanted to switch off. I don't know. Either way, he stopped and I didn't. Amazingly enough, after only about ten seconds, I fell in behind someone else who was also going just about the right speed. I drafted off of him for the rest of the way around the fifth bouy and about halfway in to the shore. The second guy was harder to draft becasue he was doing a sissor kick. I had a tendancy to creep up on him between kicks and then when his feet came together they were sometimes hitting my elbows. Ouch! About halfway in the shore I gave up on him and just swam on my own. I mananged to get out of the water a little bit ahead of him. (Here's the picture of me leaving the water - I'm on the right this time.)
Between the easy drafting and the slow pace, I got out of the water feeling totally fresh and not at all tired. Assuming the same pace at Wildflower, my projected time for the swim is 35:58.6 - a very slow swim time. I'm not sure if it matters that much, because if I can get out of the water feeling as fresh as I did, I'll save a TON of time in transition. I was literally -running- in transition.
|Bike||16 miles||54:30.6 (including T1)|
The bike course was a 2-lap course that was mostly flat, with only a few small rolling hills, but several VERY sharp turns. Rather than being a "normal" out-and-back loop, this was out-and-back-and-out-and-back-and-out-and-back with THREE 180-degree turnarounds and at least two other more-than-90-degree turns. One corner had a beach access path crossing it and was covered with sand (note: sand on pavement makes a very scary sound when you turn in it). One corner was a very tight and sharp right-hand turn which ended with you looking directly at the oncoming cyclists who were bombing down one of the few hills. Overall, there were a -lot- of speed chokes on the bike ride.
Despite (or maybe because of) being a technical challenge, the bike ride was extremely fun. The hill training I've been doing came in handy, keeping me shifting nearly constantly and keeping my cadance up in the 85-100 RPM range. According to my cyclo-computer, the ride was only 15.30 miles long and I logged an average speed of 18.4MPH, with a top speed of 24.3MPH, which is a very tight spread. (That's good.) Assuming that my bike computer timer is correct, my T1 time was 4:48, which is the fastest T1 time I have ever had, but still shows a bit of room for improvement.
I was happy to see that I was not passed by any of the women (tha I noticed) in the race on the bike at all. With only a 10 minute start difference, I'm pretty happy about that! Here is an image of my coming into the transition area after my smokin' bike ride. (Hint: I'm on the right again.)
Taking my time and extrapolating to Wildflower distance, I'm looking at a target of 1:24:40.6 - and that includes T1 so I'm pretty happy with my bike performance! Whether or not I can keep that pace under the hot sun on the hills at Wildflower remains to be seen.
My T2 time was not so great, probably around 3 minutes. Since the bike course required my full attention the whole time, I was unable to eat or drink at all, so I took about a minute in T2 to eat half of a Balance Bar and swallow a few mouthfulls of Gatorade+water blend. Plus I had neglected to "set up" my running shoes ahead of time, so I lost some time untying the laces and loosening the shoe up to actually put it on. It may not seem like much, but if it added 15 seconds per foot, that's half of a minute overall.
The run was a very scenic trail run with a little bit of everything on it, including single-track, double-track, fire-trails, pavement, and even a sandy beach run. There was never any question which way the course went, it was so well marked. It was a bit unsettling at first running on a trail that had dips and bumps like a BMX bike course, but once I got used to it, everything was fine. It just required a little more attention to knee flexion and extension and pace cadence. The first woman (that I saw!) passed me at about mile 1.5 of the run. Go me!! Just about then I was thinking, "Wow, I'm really thirsty!" Sadly, the first aide station didn't happen until after mile 2! I grabbed a quick cup of water and splashed another on my head. (I -should- have stopped, and drank more, but didn't.)
The second aide station was only about 55 yards later. This time I -did- stop and ate a PowerGel, drank a full cup of water and a full cup of gatorade. Three runners passed me while I strolled, eating my food and water. I passed them back in only a few minutes. The time spent resting (eating) was well invested!
The only hill to speak of was a steep (like 45-degree, can't-get-traction steep) gravelly dirt hill on the trail. It went up maybe 20-feet and then made a hard, blind right turn into another 35-foot climb (thats 20 and 35-feet VERTICAL). Time to walk again (some idiot tired to run it and ended up having to walk at the top).
As the finish line came into view I was passed by the second woman that I saw. I suspect that more women than that finished ahead of me, but those were the only ones that I saw. I'm not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. I ran out of energy about 200 yards before the finish, which tells me that I paced my self -perfectly- for the race (or at least the run). Luckily there was a guy about 50 feet ahead of me for the last run-in so I was able to muster the ambition of a final sprint. I didn't catch him, but I closed the gap by a LOT, finishing about 10 feet behind him. Amazing what a little competitive spirit can do! Sadly, the phtographer was taking a nap when I finshed, so there is no finishing photo of me. :-(
Bumping this time up to Wildflower distance nets me a target time of 57:04.7 which is better than the 60 minutes I was thinking. Plus this time includes T2 (which was slow) so I actually could be faster!
Overall, this was a fun race and I'm really glad I did it. It was an excellent warmup for Wildflower and I'll use the lessons learned here to temper my last week or "crash" training. I finished at 251st out of a field of over 492 participants. Official splits are -still- not available, and the final overall times were just posted today - four days after the race. :-( Looking down the official results and allowing for the stagger on the start times, I was passed by exactly THREE women on the course.
I did get to hang out with a really cool bunch of people from GGTC (three of whom "placed" in the race and were given awards). Based on my times, I don't think that a 3:00:00 time is likely for me at Wildflower, but it is possible. And I'm certainly going to give it a good try!
Next update in a bit under two weeks.