Saturday, August 2, 2008

Champaign Park District Mini Tri

Today I raced in the Champaign Park District's 26th Annual Mini-Triathlon. It was my second annual start in this race, which last year was my very first triathlon. The atmosphere at this race is very relaxed and family-friendly. The distances are ultra-short: 400 yards in the water (only half of which must actually be traversed with a swim), 6 miles on the bike, and 2 miles on foot. Last year I finished the race in just under 41 minutes and in 17th place overall. My goal this year was to finish under 38 minutes. With my new bicycle, I have been riding about 2-3 mph faster across all distances than I did last year. Part of the improvement is due to the equipment and part due to better training and conditioning from additional racing. Over a six-mile time trial, I have been training about 1:30 faster than a year ago.

This race is very popular locally and fills up fast. I mailed my entry about 6 weeks before the race and was put on the wait list. With about 40 ahead of me, I figured I should find another race or just take the weekend off. But the race director called me about two weeks ago to say that I was in.

The weather was beautiful, though a bit warmer than ideal and with a steady but not overwhelming northerly wind. Considering two of my four races this summer have been affected by rain, the conditions were great.

I saw several friends and acquaintances who were competing, spectating, or volunteering, including five fellow Champaign Ski Club members, two fellow Rotarians, and a fellow juror. One friend from the ski club, Chris Haydel, is usually one of the top overall finishers in this race. He was a collegiate runner at Western Illinois University and still runs very well.

The race begins with a 200 yard tour through the lazy river at the Sholem Aquatic Center. The starter sends one competitor every 15 seconds, with the start order determined by the order of registration. My start number was 373 and my start time was 9:03 am. I had plenty of time to warm up and get my gear situated, especially since the transition area remained continuously open to all competitors. The downside of a late start is that the temperatures and wind speed would gradually increase through the morning.

The lazy river jets were turned off, but the water was only 3 feet deep throughout. Some self-proclaimed triathlon purists insisted on swimming this portion of the race. However, no self-respecting professional triathlete would swim in 3 feet of water, and my own interpretation of triathlon purism is to do what the pros would do. The object is to get to the finish as quickly as possible, within the rules of the race. For me (and most semi-coordinated athletes over 5' in stature), that meant a combination of running and dolphin-diving through the lazy river. My friend Chris, also a late registrant, started 2 minutes and 45 seconds behind me. One of my goals was to stay ahead of him, but I knew that would be tough since he is a much stronger runner. I can swim and ride on par with him, but I figured the odds were pretty good that the catch would come about 1 mile into the run.

After we exited the lazy river, we ran to the 8-lane lap pool and swam one length in each lane, ducking under the dividers after each length to enter the next lane, for a total of 200 yards. The depth in the lap pool ranged from 5 feet at one end to 3.5 feet at the other. Some competitors chose to walk through this portion as well, but swimming was the fastest route for me in this water.

I felt pretty good exiting the water and jogged through the transition area to my bike. I chose to ride and run shirtless, but a silly rule required us to wear our paper race numbers, facing forward, during both the bike and run. Most races require numbers on the run and some require separate numbers attached to the bike, but I didn't see the point of wearing a number on the rider's front. Except for riders who sat totally upright on a mountain bike or hybrid, the number was not visible anyway. Wearing the number on the front only served to irritate the rider and cause a bothersome fluttering sound throughout the ride. The bike route was a three-lap circuit around the main streets that encircle the park complex, a high school, and a middle school. The route was mostly flat (no surprise for the locale), but included a modest rise which was a bit challenging since it was positioned immediately after a corner that followed the headwind stretch. The route was different from most I had raced in that it had a lot of right angle turns per length, but the roads were generally clean, without the gravel and other debris that collects at the intersections of rural routes. Maintaining as much speed as possible through the corners was critical. One of the corners featured three utility lids hazardously positioned 2-3 inches below the road surface, but I had scouted the route on my bike earlier to plan my line. I encountered slower riders in some of the turns, which really tested my modest bike handling skills.

The race timing was pretty low-tech and no splits were recorded, but I did record my bike leg here. It was a decent ride, but I probably should have stood out of the saddle and pedaled harder over a few stretches, given the brevity of the ride and race as a whole. Unlike my last race, an Olympic-distance challenge lasting over two and a half hours, there was virtually no risk of cracking due to prolonged elevated heart rate here.

The bike-run transition is typically a weak spot of mine. I improved it a little today by opting not to wear socks on the run. On a longer run, that could lead to blisters and some discomfort the following week that would impact training for the next race (not to mention general mobility), but I was confident it would not be a problem over two miles. I felt pretty good on the run and knew from having raced last year just where to start my finishing kick. I kept waiting for Chris to catch me, but I held him off to finish about 15 seconds ahead. Of course, with my earlier start, it meant that he had bested me by about 2:30 and that I was second in the age group to which we both belonged. The age brackets for this race are a little odd and don't follow the USA Triathlon age groups. I race as a 37 year-old in USAT, which uses your age as of December 31 of the current year so that no one changes age class during the racing season. However, I don't actually turn 37 for another 6 weeks. As a result, I was likely the oldest competitor in the 30-36 group used for this race. However, my whining is meaningless since I would have finished second in the 37-43 group as well.

My result was good for sixth overall. (Here are results by age group and overall.) I was about 20 seconds slower than the fastest woman, an incoming freshman at the University of Illinois and a walk-on to the swim team. Finishing in the top 2% overall looks pretty impressive, but keep in mind that the field as a whole was not very competitive, given the relaxed, family-friendly nature of the race. In my most competitive race, the Olympic-distance Evergreen Lake Triathlon held two weeks prior, I barely cleared the top 50% overall.

My finishing time of 37:30 was nearly 3 and a half minutes better than last year's mark and exceeded my goal of 38 minutes. I probably owe half of the difference to a faster bike. I did cramp a bit on the run as a rookie triathlete last year, so I am sure I gained a bit there as well. And the rest of the improvement is from faster transition and better overall familiarity with the triathlon routine. It will be tough to top the mark again next year. I am not getting any younger, and don't plan any major equipment upgrades! Plus, this may be the last year that I actually race this event for a while. If we can get the training wheels off Faith's bike and get her in some swim lessons, then I could become a "super-domestique" to help her finish her first triathlon.


Anne said...

Good job Scott! Does Faith know you're planning to turn her into an uber-athlete???

leonard said...

Good luck in getting her to agree to take off those training wheels. Her swimming has greatly improved but her bike riding skills are still lacking. Your best bet is to start working on Zach. Congratulations to you!!! Kay

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed that I raised such an athlete - 6th place!! We'll see if Faith and Zach follow in your footsteps! You are setting a great example - being fit is a good thing. MOM