The Big Rock Triathlon took place Saturday, April 12th, at the Lake Perris state park only 15 miles from my home in Riverside. As my next big race is St. George 70.3 the first weekend in May, a tune-up olympic distance made sense. I had recently purchased a new bike and had done some monster bike workouts/rides around spring break whilst back home in Humboldt visiting my family. This included biking from Weaverville (7,000 + elevation gain, 100 miles) to Arcata, the HSU Cycling time trial, the Tour of the Unknown Coast century plus ride (10,000 + elevation gain, 120 miles), as well as a trip up Mt. Baldy and east fork (8,900 + elevation gain, 65 miles) just for kicks. These rides, coupled with a few other intense rides and my new bike (and bike computer) had me curious as to whether my bike splits would get faster.
I woke up Saturday morning at 4am and for once, I was actually one of the early arrivals at the race. I had everything well planned out by the time the race started, except I had forgotten my running visor and race belt. F&*k! It's always something. In the coastal cities where incomes are higher and there is greater external and societal pressure for beauty, triathletes are more numerous and consequently better (that's as far as I'll go with my sociological analysis in this forum). Not so in the Inland Empire, which is why I was pleasantly surprised by the crop of triathletes that showed up. There were at least 20 youngish fit guys like myself, so I figured the race would be competitive.
I strapped on my wetsuit and went down to the lake -- the lake at which I do my open-water swimming so I am very familiar with the terrain. Fortunately, the water was actually quite pleasant as I did a brief warm-up to get the muscles and arms moving. My arms were a bit sore from a longer swim set I had done on Thursday so I made sure to stretch them out. I lined up in the second row and went nuts when the gun blasted. I tried drafting some but after the first 200 meters the crowd thinned out quite completely and I thought I was up towards the front. But as I neared the first turn buoy I caught a glimpse of a small crowd ahead of me, so I realized I was losing "water" on the lead pack. The course was two loops, and I exited at 25 minutes +, after having to swim through the slow sprint triathletes on the second lap. This put me in the fastest 30 percent, not exactly brilliant. I guess I was hoping for a 24 minute swim, but essentially this time put me out of contention for the victory, as a few swimmers exited at 18-19 minutes a 6-7 minute advantage.
The transition was up a long beach, then across some grass to a parking lot. My total transition was just over 3 minutes (3rd overall) as I booked it hard up the hill. My heart rate was about to explode but fortunately one of my previous coaches had me do workouts where I'd run right after swimming, so I recalled that muscle memory.
For the first time I had my bike shoes already attached to my pedals so I jumped on my bike and took off. It took me a little while to get my shoes strapped in correctly, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Running in bike shoes not only looks moronic but it's inefficient. By the time I actually got moving I looked down and my watch said 30 minutes. Right away, I knew I would not get within 4-5 minutes of 2 hours, which had been my goal. No bother I took off and attacked the initial climb out of the park. Going up the hill out of Lake Perris I passed several sprint triathletes and perhaps a few other olympic participants who were faster in the water. Reaching the top of the hill I pushed hard over the crest to gather speed for the descent. As I picked up pace I got a few quick drinks in then got back into aero position to take full advantage of the speed. I looked down at my speedometer and I was nearing 40 miles an hour. Normally that scares the shit out of me but my adrenaline and race mentality were in high alert and I was surprised by any lack of fear.
Upon exiting the park there is a long straightaway with a slight downward grade, as such I was able to keep the pace above 27 mph the whole way. Then, turning right onto Ramona Expressway a slight wind hits you but I was still able to keep the pace around 26-27 mph, just where I wanted it. During this time I passed several people who in comparison seemed as though they were barely moving. Turning right onto Perris Blvd the grade shifts to slightly uphill. Nevertheless I don't think the pace once dropped below 24mph during this section with the exception of the few moments around the turns. I just eyed my heart-rate and cadence (pedal rotations per minute) monitor, which I had just added as a new tool. My strategy was to keep the cadence above 90 and below 100, and make sure heart rate does not get higher than 160 beats per minute as that would indicate I had exceeded my lactate threshold. When the cadence approaches 98 or higher I downshifted into a harder gear; likewise when the cadence went below 92 I would shift into an easier gear. This approach worked quite well as my power remained fairly consistent throughout the bike split (around 280 watts). The other benefit of more data is that you stay distracted from the lung, leg, and back pain that emerges throughout the course of a race. I have to say, this new tool is a nice addition, and I'm starting to feel really great about my biking.
The hardest part of the bike was the climb into the north end of the park around mile 10.5. I hit the hill and immediately saw a crowd of people, which I bombed by. When possible, it is always exciting to show off one's climbing prowess, keeping in mind that sooner or later you will be humbled. It was a tough 0.5 mile hill, though, reaching 10-11% grade at spots (I think), and I was able to maintain about 9.5-10 mph up the hill. My heart-rate increased up the hill but I made sure not to gas it too hard until the last 75 meters when I got out of the saddle and passed 3-4 guys about my age. It seemed good for their characters as I went by and then kicked it into high gear on the descent for loop 2. My second loop was much the same although I encountered a bit more wind on the Ramona straightaway -- it seemed at least. So I ended up with maybe a 30 second fall-off in overall pace on the second loop. In the end I recorded a 1:01:56 or so, just shy of 1:02 -- the fastest bike split of the day and enough to move me into 5th place in transition.
T-2 was fast as I had already taken my shoes off whilst on the bike. Indeed, the transition was my fastest to date. I had seen a guy just ahead of me on the bike who I had been trying to catch. He exited transition just before me and I figured I'd catch him within the first half mile, as I'm almost always a better runner than people who come off the bike with me. This was not the case as he pulled away over the course of the first mile. What a stud I thought. To make matters worse, my right calf was tight, my feet were numb, and I couldn't get a heart-rate read on my watch. Somehow the water or something had messed up the reading for the watch (but not the bike computer). Weird, I thought, I better run the old fashioned way -- balls fucking out! This is the strategy anyhow with an olympic triathlon.
The run course was on a thin bike trail going around a portion of the lake (2 loops). It's a rolling course so is actually quite hard to get into a certain rhythm as there are constant ups and downs and twists and turns. Nevertheless, I tried to keep my pace -- when flat -- around 5:45 min/mile but naturally the pace decreased on the inclines. The end average pace was 5:57 or so. On the way out I got a look at the leaders -- they were all going pretty strong and my hopes of catching any of them appeared dim as I was not clearly out-gunning them. On the second loop, the fast guy ahead of me pulled off to the side and indicated he felt a pop in his calve so he cashed in. So I took over 4th place it seemed, so that was good. However, I later found out that the tall guy leading the race had blown a tire during the bike and had already been disqualified. Later, after I had finished and thought I had third sown up, a 37 year-old guy from the second wave of the swim came in and recorded a time 30 seconds faster than mine. In any event, I recorded a 2:08 overall with a 37 minute run -- the fastest on the day, although I have no doubt I was not the best runner at the event.
So here I am with the best bike and run splits but ended up in 4th. Looks like I need to figure out a way to improve my swim if I really want to obtain my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships. To be sure, the olympic distance is most favorable to strong swimmers, but still, my swim disadvantage has never been so clearly articulated to me. But it's one step at a time, as I've worked hard on my bike over the past year (mainly increased intensity in long rides and shorter interval sessions on my relatively new bike trainer); once that's where I want it, I'll dedicate more time and effort to improving my swim.
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.