Monday, September 12, 2011

Gateway Cup, Labor Day

The short version: Monday @ Benton Park, pack finishes in both cat 4/5 and cat 4 races, 1 top 10. Friends and family, nice weather, kids race, rubber side down - a great day!

I visited my hometown on Labor Day for the finale of the Gateway Cup races. Gateway Cup is a longstanding tradition in St. Louis and fields are usually close to full for each of the 4 races, which begin on Friday night. I raced the cat 4/5 and cat 4 events on Monday only. My family's calendar was full for the rest of the holiday weekend and I had hoped to take advantage of fields softened by a 4th consecutive day of racing. Neil joined me in the 4/5, also racing on Monday only, while Rob Ragfield joined me in the 4, having also raced Friday and Sunday.

The start/finish line of the Monday course was on Arsenal Street along the north side of Benton Park, on the city's south side. The course wound northward from there, along the western edge of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and past several popular restaurants. The 1.77-mile length almost gave a circuit-race feel, but the 10 turns, including a chicane, were pure criterium.

The cat 4/5 race was the first of the day, scheduled at 10 am. I was on course warming up by 9:15. Nine cars were parked along the route and a city police officer was writing tickets. I wondered why they weren't simply towing the cars, as signs were plastered everywhere alerting the public of the "no parking" order that began at 8 pm the evening prior. None of the cars were in critical spots near the corners, so I thought perhaps they were planning to run the race with the cars there, maybe with cones to direct riders to the center of the road upon approach. Surprise, surpise: the announcement came at about 9:55 that the race would be delayed to tow the cars. A single city tow truck moved them all, which took about 90 minutes. Why did they not begin to move them earlier? Were they hoping that the owners would magically appear at 9:45 to drive them off? Not surprisingly, all of the races were shortened, the cat 4/5 race to just 5 laps and the cat 4 race to 7. By the time we got underway at 11:45, I had ridden 30 miles in warm-up.

The 17 mph northerly winds were gusty and made the 2 Interstate 55 overpasses a little sketchy. I was tempted to change out my Zipp 404 front wheel for the lower cross-section Mavic Ksyrium, but handling would prove manageable tucked into the race peloton. Most of the crosswind sections were either well-protected by buildings or along wide enough roads that no contenders would be forced to the gutter. The northbound stretch along 13th Street, uphill and straight into the headwind, would be an ideal launching pad for an attack. Though I started near the back of the cat 4/5 race, I was able to work my way up within a couple laps and hold a decent position in the first 15-20 wheels. On the last lap, I launched an attack and opened a gap on the uphill headwind stretch of road. I stayed away for only the next four turns before the peloton shut it down. It was the right move for me, but not quite strong enought to win. I sat up and riders started to pass. After I had recovered, I grabbed the next wheel to come around and rode it to the finish. I passed a couple riders on the final sprint to finish 8th. Neil stuck around for most of the race, but I think he lost contact with 1 or 2 to go. He would finish 15th (6th of the cat 5s).

Cat 4/5 ride profile

The women 3/4 and masters competed in shortened races before the cat 4 race would start. There was no opportunity to warm-up on course between races, so I was thankful to have warmed up in the 4/5 race. The field was packed with over 100 riders starting. I followed Rob and Jason (708 racing) across the street before the race, thinking it would be easier to squeeze through the barriers and get to the start line as soon as they allowed us on course. We found a crowd there as well, and wound up near the back of the field. We'd have just 7 laps to work through the crowd. I was able to move up just barely fast enough to avoid getting dropped, but was forced to ride across a few gaps that riders ahead had let open. With 2 or 3 to go, Rob and I both found ourselves on the wrong side of a gap that grew to about 50m or so along the long eastbound stretch along Pestalozzi. I said to Rob, "let's go, we gotta get back on." I think he got on 3rd wheel behind another rider, but I think he dropped before we bridged to the peloton. Rob was looking strong, but I think a weekend of hard racing had taken a toll.

On the headwind stretch with 2 to go, I made a push for the front of the race. I made a strong move on the straight and entered the left hander on the inside, about 10 wheels back. I was pushed far enough inside that I rolled over the apron of the concrete curb, which was raised an inch or so over the asphalt roadway. I slipped sideways off the apron, completely lost my line, and drifted toward the rider on my right. I apologized for almost taking him out and had to slow a lot to correct my line and avoid causing a crash. In doing so, I lost the ground I had gained and drifted back to the rear. The pace lifted on the final lap and I never saw a better chance to move up. I coasted to a 35th place finish, near the back of the lead pack. I think I could have done a lot better had I not faltered on that critical turn. I made the mistake of looking at the danger in the road rather than looking through the turn where I wanted to go.

Cat 4 ride profile Can you tell which lap held the prime?

I put my bike up to get ready for the main event - the kids' race. Zachary participated in the 5-6 year old division, which would be contested over about 200m of flat to uphill tarmac. It would be his first race without training wheels. He warmed up on the footpaths in Benton Park and was eager to go. As with my race, there was a huge log jam along the barrier openings to get on the course. We failed to get a good position on the front row, so we lined up in the second row close to the left side of the road.

Lined up

I coached Zach on looking for an opening to ride through. It was tough at first, as some of the kids had trouble getting started. There were even a couple of crashes. Zach kept the rubber side down and was able to squeeze around the traffic about 1/3 into the race. The fastest kids had already broken free, but Zach was still able to sprint home. About 20m from the line, I pointed out a kid just ahead of him in a Cubs jersey. "Get the kid in the Cubs jersey. Go! Go! Go! Don't let him beat you." He fired the afterburners and passed him right up. Awesome!

Approaching the Finish (a little hard to see, number 29, green wheels)
More pictures

My mom and dad, Zach, and I grabbed drinks and a mid-afternoon meal at Frazer's along the course. We watched the elite women's race and most of the elite men's race before heading home. All in all, it was a great day of bike racing. The weather was beautiful, sunny and 75 degrees. Despite a turny course and sometimes rough road surfaces, I didn't see any crashes in the 4/5 race and only 2 solo crashes in the 4 race. Couldn't ask for more! Well, except maybe a podium finish. Next time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My First Xterra

I raced my first Xterra off-road triathlon on August 20 at Wildlife Prairie State Park, near Peoria, Illinois. This event would feature an 800 meter swim, 10 mile mountain bike, and 4 mile trail run. I had really fallen off the training wagon since my last race, 5 weeks prior, as kids' activities like football practice and school had demanded my time. Since that last race, I had done only about an hour and a half each of run and swim training. I had pre-ridden most of the race bike course, but had otherwise managed only 2 or 3 mountain bike outings. It didn't matter - I was doing this race entirely for the fun of it and had no ambitions of a high finish.

Xterra has its own culture that is unique and a little different from mainstream road triathlon. There are certainly some athletes that regularly compete in both Xterra and road events, but many are fully devoted to Xterra. In the parking lot, I counted license plates from Tennessee, Michigan, and New York - at a race that had only 63 individual participants. The New York athlete came in a SUV pulling a trailer that was decorated with signs and other memorabilia from past Xterra races.

Road triathlons usually have much larger fields in the Midwest and a significant share of casual participants. I think it is much less common for the casual athlete to dip a toe into Xterra. I was impressed by a very small cadre who took on the sometimes rocky and steep mountain bike course on "Wal-Mart bikes" with no front suspension. However, the vast majority were skilled mountain bikers with equipment to match. A common pre-race exchange in the transition area would go something like this...

"Hey Jim, how's it going?"
"Great, how are you?"
"Super. Are you doing the WHOLE thing?"

In most cases, I think Jim was an experienced mountain bike racer who, to the surprise of his friend, was attempting to swim without drowning and run without pulling a hamstring. It was a new experience for me to race where the bike would be a distinct weakness.

The Swim

The swim was in a reclaimed mining pit, deep with steep edges and surprisingly clear. There was no beach and not enough shallow water for a standing start. It thus became my first race with a deep water start, where everyone treaded water for a few minutes before the gun. A couple volunteers served as pullers on the shore to get everyone quickly and safely up the steep bank upon exit. I thought my swim went OK, but my time of over 16 minutes easily made it the worst of the year, which was not surprising given my limited swim training of late. Still, I entered transition virtually tied with 15th place, which put me in the top 25%. The top swimmer was 12:41 (1:35 per 100 meters). By comparison, I swam a 1:38 pace over 1000 meters in my best swim of the season. In a road tri, I would have expected at least a couple swimmers in the 10-minute range. Was the distance a little longer than advertised or were the ex-collegiate swimming stars intimidated by Xterra?


I dropped 5 more positions in the first transition, as I struggled with the unfamiliarity of Xterra. I put on a hydration backpack and gloves, both of which are unnecessary on the road but essential on the trail, for me anyway. Some more skilled and experienced riders were able to put gloves on as they pedaled away.

The Bike

In a road tri, the bike is by far my best event. I am almost always in the top 10% in the split, and often better at smaller races. Here, I was a strong swimmer (relatively speaking) who would become fodder on the trail. The steady-state effort required for road time-trailing is a good fit for my slow-twitch muscle physiology. Mountain biking is much more technical, especially on the singletrack that made up 80% of this course. Skill in handling the bike through narrow trails, around hairpin turns, and down steep descents with minimal braking is more important than fitness. And the fitness that is required depends less on steady-state power and endurance, and more on explosive power to accelerate quickly out of corners and up short, steep hills. I've owned a mountain bike for several years, but have used it only for fun and cross-training for skiing. I typically get out only a few times each year, mostly in the fall after my summer tri and road cycling season has wound down. I probably have logged about 300-400 miles, lifetime, on the mountain bike.

I tried to push a little harder than my skills would allow at the start of the first 5-mile lap and struck a tree within the first half mile or so. It occurred in a tight squeeze between two trees (or possibly two trunks of the same tree that were bisected by the trail.) The passage was perhaps 50% wider than my handlebars and I made the mistake of looking at the tree instead of the space between. The bike usually follows where the eyes track, and I clipped the right trunk with my handlebar and shoulder. My left hip scraped the other trunk and my left leg became pinned between the frame and twisted handlebars as I squirted through the other side. I lost a few more positions by the time I had extracted myself and replaced my dropped chain. I remounted with bruises and scrapes on four separate areas of my body, but it didn't hurt too badly until after the race. I took that section a little slower on the second lap, kept my eyes fixed on the trail, and made it through without incident.

I was passed by a total of 10 riders on the bike, but managed to pass 4 others, for a net loss of 6 positions. The 10 that passed included one chick and reality-TV star Ryan Sutter, winner of The Bachelorette several seasons ago. He's one of Jennifer's favorites and apparently one of the few that it still married. Big deal. Dude can ride a mountain bike, though.


The second transition was also tough, mostly because of the unfamiliarity. Bike gloves are not only hard to put on wet hands; removing them from sweaty, muddy hands is also a chore. I actually stood in transition and removed 1.5 gloves before I realized that I should be doing that as I ran. I even have pockets in my tri suit. Doh! Despite the dawdling, I didn't lose any positions in T2. After the experience on the bike, I was surprised there were still people behind me. I started the run near the middle of the pack, in 27th place.

The Run

The run, which is normally my weakness, became an opportunity to reclaim lost ground. The upside of my slow bike, limited more by technical skills than fitness, was that I hit the run relatively fresh. The course was mostly off-road, on the park's hiking trails. I felt pretty good and kept a steady tempo throughout the run. The splits look bad, but the course definitely got harder with each mile. The last mile, by far the slowest, featured a treacherous, rocky descent followed by a long climb on a paved road. I managed to pass 3 runners who had passed me on the bike (including the chick) and finished 24th, several positions above the middle of the pack. It felt pretty good for a first effort. I could have easily trimmed 2-3 minutes off my transitions and moved up a couple spots overall. My age group was really tough and I placed 8th of 13.

Results Summary

SplitTime, PacePlace Overall/Age Group
Swim:16:07, 2:01/100m16th/3rd
Bike (GPS profile):1:17:21, 7.91 mph32nd/9th
Run (GPS profile):32:14, 8:04/mile14th/4th

Here is another summary of my splits and how my position changed through the race, and here are the full results.

Xterra won't become the focus of my training, but this event fit nicely as a just-for-fun race after my July peak road tri. I will definitely plan to do it again next year if my schedule allows.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finally, Success in Olympic Tri!

I raced the Evergreen Lake Triathlon for the fourth consecutive year on July 16, 2011. In 7 previous attempts at the Olympic distance (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) or distances in the same ballpark, I've always broken down on the run, somewhere around the 2 hour mark. Endurance is a weakness in my natural athletic abilities. The most recent failure was at the Quartermax race at Innsbrook, Missouri, three weeks prior. Following that race, I decided to focus more on endurance training and less on speed and intervals.

I asked my Wild Card Cycling teammate Martin for some very specific advice. At the time, Martin had completed several successful half-iron distance races and one less than ideal Ironman race. (He since raced a very successful Ironman in August 2011 at Louisville.) He suggested bricks (multi-sport workouts) of at least 3 hours in duration, done entirely in heart rate zone 2. In the past, I had done some zone 2 endurance training in the late winter and early spring build-up periods, but typically neglected it as the race season got underway in favor of more speed. Extended zone 2 workouts train the body to burn more fat, and in theory, the benefit carries over to race intensity as well, improving endurance. In the 3 weeks before this race, I did five workouts consisting of 1.5-2 hours on the bike, followed by 1-1.5 hours of running. Zone 2 training is generally slow and easy, at least for the first two hours. Things start to get hard in the third hour, and that is where the training benefit really materializes. I felt stronger after just a few workouts, but wasn't sure what to expect on race day.

My swim was a little slower than I expected. I had been training the 1500m swim in the 27:30-28:00 range, but held back a little in the race. I also seemed to have a little trouble sighting and holding a straight line. In the prior race, I swam a 1000m PR in 16:11, but felt terrible walking to transition and paid for it later.

The conditions were ideal for the bike: calm, cool, and overcast. I had planned to limit my heart rate to 160 bpm. However, I felt strong and decided to regulate primarily on perceived exertion. I backed off a little whenever my breathing felt too labored. I hid the speed from my bike display, as in the past I would sometimes push too hard if I thought I was not going fast enough. This proved to be a great idea that I plan to use in all future tris of this distance or longer.

Bike profile

The endurance training really made a difference on the run. In past intermediate-distance races, I always began the run feeling as if I had already completed a race. This time, it felt like I was just getting warmed up. I planned to start slow and try to run negative mile splits throughout the race. I did just that for 4 miles, but probably tried to push a little too hard in the 4th mile. I slowed a little on the final 2 miles, but still finished with my best 10k run split and best overall time at the distance by about 8 minutes (more splits and full results). I definitely won't neglect endurance training again.

The conditions made for a fast day, with Urbana physician Scott Paluska taking the top spot among age-groupers with a time of 2:05:41. There were 390 racers (including pro/elite, collegiate, and relays). I was 108th in the swim (top 28%), 25th on the bike (6%), 102nd on the run (26%), and 56th overall (14%).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Innsbrook Quartermax

On June 25, I raced the Quartermax (1000m swim, 28 mile bike, 6 mile run) about 55 miles west of St. Louis at Innsbrook Resort as my last "training race" of the season before my "A-race" at Evergreen Lake. My first intermediate-distance tri of the year, it was certainly an endurance challenge in my book.

I set a swim PR for 1000m, but the race went downhill from there (figuratively - in reality there were a lot of uphills, too.) After arrival under overcast skies, I completed a short bike warm-up and headed to Lake Aspen beach, hoping to log a 15-minute swim warm-up. Much to my disappointment, the lake was closed to warm-ups about 40 minutes prior to my scheduled start wave - a huge negative in an otherwise first-class event. There was a usable section of beach outside the course, but it was unpatrolled and officially off-limits. Undeterred, I hit the water hard and swam 1000m in 16:11, but the effect of the missed warm-up was felt immediately on the shore. It was a harbinger of things to come.

The private roads through Innsbrook Resort encircle and connect a series of several small man-made lakes. Many do not follow valleys or ridges, but are cut willy-nilly over hills and across earthen dams. The first 6 and last 3 miles of the bike course are inside the gated resort and present the rider with a sequence of short, but steep climbs and fast, winding descents. This is the only triathlon I've raced with hay bales on the bike course. The opening 6-mile salvo put me under a lot of pressure and I could have easily quit then, but there was still almost 2 hours of racing remaining. Exiting the resort, the bike course gave way to flat-to-rolling terrain and I dialed it back to recover. About 10 miles later, I finally started to feel good and a strong finish seemed a hopeful possibility. A furious descent capped the 23rd mile, but the final 3 miles presented more short, but punishing climbs. So much for feeling good and recovering.

I began the run at a gentle 8-minute/mile pace and thought he could hold on or maybe speed up during the second half. However, gravel roads and hills proved too much for legs that were already softened by 1100 feet of climbing in the saddle. I walked up the second of several ascents that totaled 500 vertical feet, then alternated running with recovery until the final 3/4 mile.

I finished in 2:28:45, 50th of 299 amateurs overall and 5th of 34 in my age group. My swim, bike, and run splits ranked 35th, 14th, and 151st, respectively (results). The race was tough, but yielded few surprises while serving me homework for the next 3 weeks - endurance is the key. Fortunately, my next race will not require so much climbing!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 Tour de Champaign

It has been a while since I have posted a race report or a blog of any sort. I have found it a challenge to allocate time to blogging. In the past, I have always been too much a perfectionist in searching for the right words, adding relevant links, and embedding lots of pictures. All that takes time and can be draining. Going forward, my first priority will be to simply record my thoughts. If there is any time left, I'll make them look prettier. I find the race reports especially useful to review when I return to a race I have done before and I hate that there is a 2 year gap in the record. It's good to try to learn from past experience and improve next time.

The weekend of May 21-22 marked the third edition of the Tour de Champaign criteriums. I missed racing on Saturday for my kids' birthday parties, but I served as a volunteer course marshal for the masters, cat 3, and Pro/1/2 races.

First up for me on Sunday was the Masters 4/5 30+, the old and slow race. There were only 14 riders in the field, which featured 6 Wild Cards (Dan, Art, Karl, John, Jim, and me). I tried to get away early, but it wasn't an overly ambitious attack. I was mostly just trying to open up my legs and test the other teams and I was brought back after 1/2 lap or so. At that point, there were only 7 left in the lead pack, but two teammates were still around: the big diesel engines of Jim and John. I went to the back to rest. A few laps later, 2 riders jumped off the front (Frank from Team Mack and Jon from Bloomington Cycle). Jim was in a position to follow and I paused a bit to see how he would respond. He tried initially, but didn't have the legs to stay with it. I had mostly recovered, so I bridged up. Frank and Jon welcomed a third set of legs because they were a little tired. With 3 of us pulling, all would be guaranteed a podium as long as nobody quit. We worked well together and did about equal work, but I was tiring toward the end and my pulls didn't feel particularly strong. In the end, they were good enough to keep us in front. I pulled the 2nd to last lap (or was it the 3rd to last), then dropped to the back. I came around the last corner in third wheel, facing a headwind sprint. I came around Jon and was able to nip him, but Frank was a bike length or so ahead of me. Ironically, we finished from oldest to youngest. (I thought young guys made better sprinters, but maybe I will get faster with age.) I was my first podium in a crit (or anything other than TT and tri), so I was pretty happy.

Here is my race profile. I reached 180 bpm on the final sprint, which was into a stiff headwind and slightly uphill.

Scott (2nd), Frank (1st), and Jon (3rd)

Jennifer and the kids made it downtown after church to watch me in the cat 4 race, which was fast from the start. The field was modestly sized at 21 riders, but had several 18-24 year-olds who had not yet raced that day (and sadly, no Wild Card teammates.)

Cat 4 Start

About 20 minutes into the race, there was a group of 3 off the front and the main pack was crumbling. (I think it might have been two leaders and one chaser, but there were a total of 3 up the road.) The pace stayed high for a while, and I mostly dangled at or near the rear of the main pack, while riders were popping off at a rate of about 1 per lap.

Early in the race, it is already getting hard

Just when I was about ready to pop myself, the race miraculously slowed. At that point, there were 7 left in my group. Later, with about 6 laps to go, 3 guys jumped out of the group, trying to bridge to the leaders. That shattered the group and I wound up in the middle with Jacques from xXx, while the other 3 dropped behind us. Jacques was a little stronger than me, but not strong enough to follow the attack or try to bridge. He worked with me (and probably did 2/3 of the work) until the second turn on the final lap, at which point he simply rode me off his wheel. No one was threatening me from behind and I was really feeling the effects of the heat, so I soft pedaled home into 7th. (There were actually 7 ahead of me, but one of the leaders crashed out on the last lap.)

As a bonus, Jennifer and the kids were in the race coverage that aired on the 10 pm TV news (WCIA channel 3). They were shown close-up, watching the race from a sidewalk bench.

Here is my cat 4 race profile. Note the pace of the first 15 laps or so, followed by the relative calm. No sprint in this race, but I stayed north of 170 bpm for most of 44 minutes of racing.

Saturday results - lots of Wild Cards represented, including 8 in the cat 4/5 race. Nice job Luke taking 5th in a big field. Props also to Jason and Jim for pulling double duty.
Sunday results

Lunch Downtown at Guido's - more pictures

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Madness Indeed

The forecast for Sunday, May 15 called for pain. Rainy and cold conditions would smoother most of Illinois, and Effingham would not be spared. The evening before, Martin, beset with visions of hypothermia and pneumonia, and the possibility of only his buoyant wetsuit keeping him from sinking to the bottom of murky Lake Sara, cautioned that he might become a spectator to the suffering of the May Madness Sprint Triathlon. I only half-jokingly considered doing the entire race in my wetsuit. Any day that my furnace kicks on is not one that I would choose to ride dripping wet and wearing only a wafer-thin tri suit. In the end, Martin and I are both competitors (who both dropped $65 in non-refundable race fees), so we decided to harden the #$%* up!

The water temperature was a chilly 67 degrees Fahrenheit and the racers had the beach to themselves. With the air temperature locked on 49 degrees throughout the day, northwesterly winds of 13 mph, and a driving drizzle that replicated the effect of being hit repeatedly with a giant pin cushion, the swim, with the aid of 5 mm of neoprene, would be by far the most pleasant part of the race.

The racers, 73 strong, started in a single wave. Usually a group this size would be broken into several start waves to limit the duration of the full-contact portion of the swim to about a minute or less, but the nice thing about a single start wave is that you always know the score. Anyone ahead of you on the course is ahead of you in the race. It would add intrigue to the intra-team rivalry between Martin and I, since I am a little better in the swim, we are about the same on the bike, and he is a little better in the run - usually. As the countdown began, I asked Martin to kindly not pass me until a mile into the run.

Needless to say, it was a little crowded in the water. I only got really clobbered once: a forearm to the thick part of the top of my skull. I have done at least one tri with a fat lip, which is no fun. One key, I've learned, is to ease up a bit when the bubbles get really big. Swimming in a crowd never feels really fast, especially when you have to keep your head up, but being pulled along with the momentum of human-generated current is usually not as slow as it feels. Just avoid getting boxed in by a group of really slow swimmers and letting a gap open to the pack you should be swimming in - not at all unlike road racing on a bike. I managed to get in the clear after the first turn in the triangular course, but Martin felt trapped until the final turn.

I exited the water in 7th place, with Martin 40 seconds back in 12th. It was my first race in a wetsuit. I had, of course, tried it on for size, but had never actually gotten it wet. I had no trouble finding the zipper and pulling the top off my shoulders. Sitting next to my bike in transition, I pulled it down to my knees, but then hit massive snags mid-calf on both sides. As I flailed away, kicking and screaming, Martin pulled up. "This has to be my worst T1 ever", I offered to Martin and anyone else unfortunate enough to hear. "This is not really a day to be fast", Martin replied. Both of us kept our gear inside totes with lids to keep the rain out. Anyone tough enough to not care would surely put seconds into both of us in triathlon's "fourth discipline." We also packed full-fingered gloves for the bike, but both abandoned the idea of pulling them on over wet hands. I left T1 52 seconds ahead of Martin and would not see him again until the bike turnaround. Martin started the bike just 2 seconds behind rival Eric, a tall dude in Decatur's Spin City Cycle suit, whose efficiency in transition would prove pivotal.

The wind and rain were certainly nasty, but the northwesterly orientation was nearly ideal. The bike course was mostly out and back, with a westward "out". Martin opted for the rear disk and I went with Zipp 404s, front and back. We both made the right decision for our comfort level in the crosswinds. I thought about dropping the pressure in my tires for the wet conditions, but given that there were only two 90 degree turns and one turnaround, I left it up at about 110 psi. I thought most of the course was smooth asphalt, from what we saw on the drive in. However, the smooth tarmac gave way to oil and chip after a couple miles, and I felt myself bouncing over the uneven surface quite a bit. Know the course, dummy.

We both passed most of the faster swimmers on the bike, but two guys stayed out in front the whole way. I was third heading into the turnaround and Martin was fourth, with Eric close behind. They both passed me shortly after the turnaround, but I kept it close and the three of us would enter T2 with less than 9 seconds of separation. At the last race, I nipped Martin by 19 seconds on the bike, which I chalked up to my having a rear disk and his not having one. Today, the equipment, and the tables, were turned - 60 seconds advantage to Martin. But setup doesn't explain it all; Martin rode harder this time. (Bike Profile)

Martin paused to put socks on for the run, a challenging test of motor skills with fingers numbed by weather and his blazing ride. I nearly forgot my Garmin and dropped several seconds going back for it. (I should have left it; there is no need to monitor lactate threshold in a sprint race, but I like to look at splits.) Mr. Spin City wisely did not mess around and exited T2 first among us. I followed 17 seconds later, with Martin another 4.5 seconds back. I went out at about a 6:50/mile pace, but with nagging Achilles tendinits (and a near total 3 week hiatus from run training), that was all I could do. Martin steadily accelerated and passed me within about 1/4 mile. I shouted, "Spin City is 46 (years old - in Martin's age group) - go get him!" The gap steadily grew though and Martin brought it home in 4th, 35 seconds behind Eric. I finished 39 seconds later for 5th. (Run Profile)

Transitions were the difference, at least for Martin. He beat Eric by 40 seconds in the combined swim, bike, and run, but gave 75 seconds away in the two transitions. I spotted Eric 50 seconds in transitions, but lost 3rd by a larger margin. Still, maybe I could have found inspiration to run harder if the deficit had been surmountable.

The first and second place finishers were really solid in all three phases. Guys like that are hard to beat and your only chance is if they have a bad day. They didn't. (Full results)

We will both stretch the distance for our June triathlons, but go our separate ways. Martin, gearing up for a return to Ironman Louisville, will return to Lake Sara for the Cutting Edge Half Classic and I will likely head to Missouri for the Quartermax. It is only fitting we would split the early season duel for the "Wild Card Cup."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

2011 Pioneer Sprint Triathlon

Martin and I traveled to Petersburg (about 23 miles NW of Springfield) on April 17for the Pioneer Sprint Tri. It was the first tri for the season for both of us. We both felt pretty good before the race, though our preparation was not ideal. In Martin's case, everything he does is focused on Ironman endurance. In my case, I just haven't done that much of anything this year. That's typical, as I spend most of winter training and racing on skis. It won't change anytime soon, because I love skiing with my kids and ski racing, despite my limited natural aptitude for it. Still, this year has had slower start than most, especially with running.

The event was held at the local high school (PORTA). The swim took place in the smallish PORTA pool - 6 lanes of 25 yards. As with most pool tris, the swim was a zigzag deal with each racer starting on an interval - start at one end and work across the lanes to the other end. However, in this case, the swim totaled 300 yards. 6 lanes x 25 yards per lane = 150 yards. Uh oh. That means you have to swim down and back in each lane before changing lanes. Sounds a little crowded. Maybe they'll at least start us on 30 second or longer intervals so we won't jam up. Nope. 10 seconds. And, as is customary, the start order depended on athletes placing themselves according to their anticipated swim times. I put myself amongst a group of others who estimated 4:30. In my case, this was based on a time trial I had done 2 days prior. I should have followed Martin's advice and cheated by 30 seconds. After my start, I literally swam 2 lengths (50 yards) before running into someone's feet. With traffic moving in both directions, passing would be a challenge at best. Another 25 yards and someone was on my feet. 25 yards later, the woman in front of me must have felt like I was violating her, because she paused on the wall and told me to go ahead. I said "thanks" and took off. 15 yards later, I'm crawling up the back of some dude. This was starting to get old. I got desperate and tried to pass. Bad idea. I exchanged forearms to the head with someone coming the other way. I swam with my head up and counted at least 4 people in front of me - and there were probably several behind. So this whole mess was caused by some idiot who put himself at about 4:15, but was swimming about 5:30. I was really frustrated, because I have been swimming about 10 seconds per 100 yards better than I was a year ago and was looking forward to posting a result that proved it. Instead, I probably lost 45 seconds off my race time. Grrrr.

Off to the bike for 13 miles. I've been practicing cyclocross-style mounts at home to help shave a few seconds in tri. However, I am not yet confident enough to try it in a race, on asphalt. So I got moving the old-fashioned way and was soon out of the parking lot and onto the open road. Within the first mile, 2 dudes passed me. One was on a road bike - naked setup, no aero bars. I'm not used to getting passed on the bike (except sometimes by Martin). Not that I usually win the bike split either (I have once), but anyone who can beat me on the bike is usually an elite triathlete who can also clobber me on the swim. Hence no one passes me. I checked my speed. 23.5 mph into a gentle headwind. Damn, these guys must be good. 1/2 mile later, their gaskets blow - first Mr. Naked Road Bike, then the other dude. See ya! The out-and-back course included some rollers near a creek close to the turnaround. Nothing major, but I did have to get out of the saddle 4-5 times. (Bike Profile)

Back in town and time to finish this gig with a 5k run. A rather hilly 5k run. My run training has suffered the most in the early season, and my run was not pretty - about a minute slower than I probably should have been, but it is hard to know for sure since I don't usually run hills. (Run Profile)

Shortly after I finished, Martin rounded the turn into the school parking lot for his finish. He started several places behind me on the swim. (I thought he'd catch me on the run, but his Ironman legs now only know 26.2 pace.) The announcer remarked, "look at that smooth stride; it looks like he could run all day." I'm not sure if he knew how spot-on his comment was.

After it was all sorted out, I finished 3rd overall and Martin 5th of 144 racers (results) - not a bad showing for Wild Card. The second place finisher was almost 2 minutes faster, tempering my frustration over the 45 seconds that evaporated in the pool. The results were stacked pretty tight behind me, so someone else may be thinking "I coulda beat that Scott dude if not for the morons in the pool." Not exactly. Martin finished just 32.1 seconds behind me - a margin probably afforded by my use of a disk wheel and dedicated TT bike setup. Martin used his road bike with aerobars and ~58 mm section wheels, so he could ride home 110 miles or so after the race. Ironman training doesn't take a day off for a 1-hour race.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Support for Champaign County Charities

I serve on the Rotary Club of Champaign charity committee. I am on a subcommittee that directs monthly donations to local charitable service organizations. We are currently selecting recipients for 2010 donations. The typical award is in the $300-$500 range.

Because of the economic recession, our current focus is on organizations that meet basic human needs. Recent recipients include the Crisis Nursery, the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, Salt and Light, and Restoration Urban Ministries. A recipient must provide services in Champaign County and must be an established 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in good standing, capable of providing a current letter of tax exempt determination.

Let me know if you would like to nominate an organization to receive a future donation from the Rotary Club of Champaign.

Other past recipients include, but are not limited to:

American Cancer Society
American Red Cross
Angel Car Boat Donation
Champaign County CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates)
Champaign County Courthouse Belltower Project
Champaign County Humane Society
Champaign County Operation Snowball
Community Blood Services of Illinois
Daily Bread (New entity replacing Catholic Workers House Soup Kitchen; non-ecumenical)
Eager Beavers Preschool Program (through Champaign Park District)
Family Service of Champaign County
Goodwill Industries
Junior Achievement of Champaign County
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation
Leukemia Society
Salvation Army
Talecris Plasma Resources, Inc.
University YMCA

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tour de Champaign

July 11-12 witnessed the running of the first Tour de Champaign series of criteriums. Wild Card Cycling and Scarlet Fire Racing, a semi-pro team spanning the Illinois-Indiana region with several local riders, sponsored and produced the event. We hope it becomes a regular annual weekend of races. I competed with several teammates in the weekend's first contest, Saturday's category 5 race.

Ready to start the cat 5 race

At the suggestion of teammate Tom, I had planned to launch an early attack and use my relative strength in time trialing to try to stay off the front as long as possible. The short loop (about 1 kilometer) presented the possibility of getting out of sight more easily than usual. I wasn't planning to go as soon as I did, but immediately after the first turn onto Main Street, we encountered a light headwind. No one seemed to want to work on the front and the speed was really low. I figured the time was as good as any.

On the attack!

My attack allowed my team to relax early in the race while the responsibility to chase me fell to the other teams. However, it was doomed from the start. The field included a very strong Scarlet Fire rider, a successful ironman triathlete and former varsity cross country runner at the University of Illinois. He led the chase and pulled me back after about 4-5 laps. A lot of riders couldn't keep up with the chase and it thinned out the group. A cat 5 rider on the Scarlet Fire team is a rarity indeed, but he certainly is on his way up.

Cornering is one of my weakness, especially in large packs. I can usually go faster through corners on my own, so I rode with more confidence while on the attack. The smaller group I found after the catch helped compensate for my cornering weakness as well. I found that I could handle the bike and fight for position reasonably well in the small group.

The group nonetheless did not shed a particularly erratic rider with very poor bike-handling skills. (My skills aren't great either and I don't dish criticism loosely.) He made me very nervous when he was in front of me. Whenever he was on the inside line, I moved outside, and vice versa. It me a little uncomfortable moving up through the pack, which I did successfully only a few times, when I could jump hard enough to get around him. Inevitably I would bleed a few positions through each corner. This rider also mixed it up with my teammate John, who pushed back on him with some authority at one point.

With two laps to go, I successfully moved up to second wheel, but the pace lifted again on the final lap. I again lost position in the corners and found myself on the back. A tailwind on the stretch before the final turn pushed the speed to about 35 miles per hour and I had no luck gaining position. The finish line came up pretty fast after the final turn and I finished last in the field sprint to take 15th place of the 28 riders.

I'd like to think my attack played a part in opening the door for Big Jay, our strongest teammate in the race, to jump into the winning break. He wound up 4th. If I were paying attention more and if I were strong enough at the time, I might have tried to go with him. I continue to learn a little more after each race.

Rain crept into the morning for the women's cat 3/4 race and became really heavy for the men's cat 4 race, which was delayed for several minutes due to lightning. When it resumed, a xXx rider who had crashed and fallen off the back before the delay, was able to rejoin the pack, launch a solo attack off the front, and steal the win. The wet roads made cornering much harder for the chasing peloton. It was nonetheless a pretty good day for Wild Card Cycling. Complete official results for Saturday's downtown criterium are here. The Wild Card summary:

Men's cat 5:
4 Jay Yost
9 John Sturmanis
15 Scott Dahman
19 Dan Shunk
21 Art Hess
22 Shea Nangle

Women's cat 3/4:
1 Anona Whitley
4 Becky Chan - though we are fairly certain she was 2nd

Men's cat 4:
3 Mark French
4 Alexei Perelet
5 Chad Knutson
7 Tom Carlson
8 Luke Taggart

Women's cat 1/2/3:
2 Anona Whitley

I was unable to race on Sunday because I had previously agreed with a friend to swap days for duties at church. Sunday's cat 5 race was announced only about 5 days before the race and it was too late for me to rearrange commitments. However, I was able to get there with Zach in time for the kids' races. This was Zach's second kids' cycling race and his first on a training wheel bicycle. He contested the other on a big wheel. Jennifer, Faith, Kay, and Len also arrived just in time to catch the spectacle. Zach had a great time and pedaled hard.

Zach lines up for his race

Sprinting for the finish!

A well-earned ribbon for a promising young rider

Wild Card had another successful day, including a podium sweep in men's cat 4 to cap our first effort as race hosts:

Men's cat 5:
2 Jay Yost
5 John Sturmanis
7 Art Hess
15 Dan Shunk

Women's cat 3/4:
1 Becky Chan
4 Anona Whitley

Men's cat 4:
1 Mark French
2 Alexei Perelet
3 Jay Yost
6 Nick Hand
7 Chad Knutson
8 Quentin Capista
9 Luke Taggart

Women's cat 1/2/3:
4 Anona Whitley
6 Becky Chan

Masters' 35+ cat 1/2/3:
19 Greg Youngen

More pictures from Sunday's action:

My Album

Teammate Rob's album
Professional event photographer

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Freedom Celebration 5k

After a lackluster run in the Mattoon Beach Triathlon, I decided to focus a little more on my running. An open 5k seemed like a good way to work more high-intensity training into the mix and to see what I could do without the burden of 45 minutes of swimming and cycling prior to the start. I had not competed in a running-only race since the fraternity intramural point leagues in college. Prior to that, I competed in distance running in high school, but gave it up after one year of injuries and knee and foot pain.

An annual 5k race is held on July 4 prior to the Champaign County Freedom Celebration parade, following the parade route. It seemed like a good opportunity to get back in the game. The race was well-run by the Body n' Sole Sports shop and the local Second Wind Running Club.

On Wednesday prior to the race, I ran a 5k time trial on the St. Joseph-Ogden High School track with our newly acquired Forerunner 305 GPS-enabled run computer. The goal was to get a feel for how I should pace myself during the race. I knew that it would be faster than a 5k run at the end of a triathlon, but wasn't sure how much. Most of my recent run training has consisted of either long low-intensity sessions or short, high-intensity intervals. The Forerunner was actually a gift for Jenny to use as a fancy heart-rate monitor for her mostly indoor workouts, but I get to use it for running whenever it would otherwise sit idly in her gym bag. It mounts nicely on the wrist and can communicate lots of useful data during a run, such as pace and heart rate.

I completed the time trial at an average pace of 6:35 per mile. I figured I could push myself a little harder in the race, but the road surface would not be as fast as the track. My plan was to target 6:40 for the first mile of the race, then increase the pace several seconds each of the next two miles if I felt strong enough. 20 minutes seemed like a good goal for my race finish time.

The race day forecast called for lots of rain, but fortunately the strongest storms were supposed to come later in the day. Jenny, the kids, and I arrived at the Assembly Hall at about 10 am, where we met Jenny's parents. Faith participated in the Youth Run before the event. She was a bit nervous, but ready to go. The Youth Run course was described only as "around the Assembly Hall." I assumed that meant they would start and finish near the start of the 5k, but would follow the streets around the Assembly Hall instead of turning east along the parade route. I told Faith that her run would be about 1 mile. She was prepared, having run a mile with me on a few occasions in the spring and early summer.

Getting ready at the start

The kids actually lined up on a sidewalk along the southeast parking lot of the Assembly Hall. The race director told the kids they would run along the sidewalk to a cone, then turn left. Other cones and volunteers would direct them where to go from there, but I had no idea where they were running or how long their course was. There were probably 30 kids in the run. The big kids lined up in front and Faith was a couple rows back. I reminder her not to start too fast. If she felt good near the finish, she could run a little faster.

Lined up and anxiously awaiting the siren

When the siren sounded, the big kids took off fast. I ran alongside to encourage Faith and help her with the pacing, but it was hard to dispense good advice when I didn't know how far she'd be running. As it turned out, we basically took a loop around the southeast quadrant of the Assembly Hall grounds and the distance was probably on the order of 500 meters.

On the backstretch at Assembly Hall

When we made the final turn, I saw someone handing ribbons to the kids as they finished, so I told Faith to run as fast as she could. Jenny and her parents shouted encouragement as well. She did great and ran a lot harder than I expected. Though it wasn't really a race and there was no timing, the kids seemed to finish mostly in order from oldest to youngest. The News-Gazette the following morning featured a picture of the start of the Youth Run on the front page of the local section, but Faith was obscured behind some of the taller kids in front. Bummer.

Faith kicks for the line!

Shortly after the Youth Run, the rain seemed to pick up a little. I did my final preparations and headed for the start along 4th Street. Based on the results from the 2008 race, I figured I would finish about a fifth of the way down the field, so I positioned myself about that far into the crowd at the start.

The Course

Watching in the rain

Everyone around me seemed to really take off fast at the siren, so I did the same to keep up and avoid getting pushed and trampled on the wet road. The course turned right on Kirby Avenue about 300 meters or so from the start. After rounding the first turn, the average pace on my run computer showed about 5:33, considerably faster than I had planned. I gradually eased up to meet my target pace, resisting the urge to stay with the herd. Several people passed me, but the move paid off because I passed a lot of them later.

I finished the first mile in 6:28. I held a fairly constant pace for most of the race, after the initial burst. As we turned left onto Lincoln Avenue, I tried to stay close to Jolee, a fast 15-year old runner and state track meet qualifier from St. Joseph-Ogden High School. Her entire family, whom we know well from church, ran the race as well. She started a little faster than I did and held a higher pace when I eased up following the first turn, but she seemed to slow to a pace similar to mine after the first mile or so.

Shortly after the turnaround, I passed a couple runners that started to fade. After mile 2 and the turn back onto Florida/Kirby, I felt pretty good and just held onto the pace. I started the finishing kick after the final turn onto 4th Street. One runner came streaking around me on the finishing straight, but I passed one or two others myself. As luck would have it, the only picture of me from the race was taken as I was passed. Or was Jenny trying to tell me something? Hmmm.

Getting passed just before the finish. I don't look too happy about it. At least this guy was not in my age group.

The finish was set about 75 meters past the start line, where we were corralled into a chute in the order we crossed the line. I had to get off the gas a couple seconds before the actual finish line because several runners were backed up in the chute. The officials tore the stubs from our race numbers in order. I guess if they missed someone's time, they could interpolate between others that finished just ahead and behind.

I officially finished in 20:13.8, which was good for third in my age group and 74th overall. The participants numbered 462, which included about 50 walkers. I thought it odd that they reported results to the nearest 1/10 second when the timing seemed nowhere near that precise, but it probably served to differentiate between runners who finished within 1 second of each other.

Here is the run profile. The lap splits (each mile) show a pretty steady pace, despite the initial burst. The speed graph shows the initial burst and finishing kick. The crazy speed fluctuations seem to derive from GPS location error. The sampling rate is probably too high for the accuracy of the unit and the actual speed traveled. The speed should probably be integrated over a longer period when the speed is low. Maybe it is designed for pros who run 4:30 mile splits. Here are the results overall and by age-group.

True to the forecast, the heaviest rain held off until about noon, well after we finished. The parade was cancelled for the first time ever because the ground along the route was so heavily saturated. Just about all fireworks celebrations in Central Illinois were rescheduled to the following night.

There is another 5k in our little village of St. Joseph on August 8, during the annual Community Festival. Faith wants to try, but she has never run more than a mile. Jenny and her mother Kay may try it as well, but both need to start training soon. I don't even like to run that much, but it looks like I may have helped start something.