Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Renaissance Man Triathlon

The inaugural Renaissance Man Olympic Triathlon in Florence, Alabama was set to debut multisport into The Shoals, which happens to be my home turf.  I have to admit, I wasn't very fired up about this event, originally.  My weakest discipline is the swim, and the Olympic distance spends a greater percentage of total race time in the water than any other standard distance.  Generally speaking I am slowest at Olympics, so I avoid them altogether.  To further limit my chances of success, the swim was to be too warm for a wetsuit and feature 750 meters getting upstream.  Three big whammies to start my day.  I knew I would have to race my local race, after all if we don't support our community who will, right? But, I also knew this race presented a real opportunity for me to get stomped, right here on my own doorstep. Still, you've got to defend your city limits.

The morning started with derailleur gremlins playing the 1-up&2-down dance while warming up on the bike.  After a bit of tinkering, I was racked, loaded, and ready to fire off at swim start.  It was pretty dang cool realizing I had friends in every kayak, canoe, and paddle board marking the swim course. 

Bib #16 meant that I was queued up for the time trail start 15 swimmers back from the starting line.  A TT start means the swim is easier to support for rescue personal and the bike course is less congested since swimmers trickle in less volume than mass start races.  Unfortunately, it also means the racers don't start at the same time; its entirely possible to show up to the finish first and still get beaten.  While 99% of the field benefits from a TT swim start, 1% whines about it.  I am a whiner.

Cool pic, right?
Photo Credit: Ashton Lance of the Times Daily
After all my hatin' on the swim details, it was amazing.  The Tennessee River was glass.  It was a pool swim with a view of the cliffs of Sheffield's shore.  I immediately started moving through the few folks ahead and found my way onto a set of toes that were just fast enough to keep me comfy, so I settled in and relaxed.  When we made the turn around in the barge slew, I saw two other swimmers were just ahead of us.  Heading back to swim out, we passed the McFarland Park river walk overlook that gives spectators a chance to spot their swimmers just before they pass back under Oneal Bridge and hit the beach.  After a bit of jockeying for who would be third out of the water, I was 24 minutes into the race, grabbing sand and shimmy'ing my way to the bike rack.

The bane of learning to swim is having trouble finding a ride out of T1.
On the way to a 26mph avg speed bike split
on just ~260 watt AP
Out on the bike, I immediately got a split from one of the local Shoals Cycle Clubbers, Joe Duhon, that I was 3 minutes down on the leader.  Thanks to the rolling hills of the first few miles, I could spy the leader's motor patrol escort just ahead.  My bike plan is usually about hitting my power numbers, but this time I knew there was an evil run course awaiting us.  Instead, I chose to save my mojo and concentrate on riding smooth, small, and slippery.  I went harder where the course was slow and easier when it was fast. 

By mile 8, I'd passed into 2nd and at mile 10 I was shadowing the leader.  I made a strong pass to discourage any aspirations of pacing my wheel and settled into doing my thing once I'd broken away.

Lauderdale county maintains some of the best, buttery smooth asphalt a cyclist will ever see.  It's actually a challenge to keep our local rides marked because they repave so often.  Combine the silky road surface with great traffic control, wide sweeping turns, and this course can be taken full tilt. 

The thing just rolls so sweet.  I'm not sure how TJ managed to witch so
much voodoo into a frame, but diggity dang its a bad-mother-bicycle., but you're too late for #9.
 That is until the next to last turn leading back onto Savanna Hwy, when a motorist decided to jump in between the escort and me, just before a stop sign on a long sweeping downhill.  The intersection was being controlled by a police officer, I had a motorcycle cop managing traffic, another motorcycle escorting me around the course, and this guy just trying to get where he is going.  The intersection was a parking lot when I arrived, but since its my home field, I knew that I could make the turn onto a very wide shoulder without missing a pedal stroke.  Everyone there thought they were about to get to see a spectacular crash as I swung out wide before bending into the turn and sticking the Dimond up the inside of the whole fluster cluck that was shaking out.
Strava Bike Course
Never rack a bike in anger.
Arriving back into transition, I had the place to myself.  Which meant everyone got a great view of me butchering each step of getting onto the run.  After racking my bike, it slipped off the saddle hook and hit the lawn.  Next, I struggled to get on my snazzy bright Zoots only to hear the ankle pull tab pop a few stitches.  I then quickly scampered away from run-out, and just out of transition, dropped my shades.  My instinct was to leave them, but doubled back after a few meters when I realized I could be penalized for abandoning equipment. 

running out of transition along the McFarland Marina.
Finally onto the run course, I settled into trying to run comfortably up the first mile.  The run is a long steady climb to the University of North Alabama campus, down the back side, then ascending back up to the campus before the rolling descent back to the river.  The course was covered with volunteers, and there were plenty of opportunities to nab water and calories all along the way.

I'm so diggin' the Zoot gear.  .
The course features four nice water shows with big fountains and trickling falls as we run along a mix of river front paths, through historic downtown Florence, around the lion exhibit of UNA's campus, and offers a rare chance to see a Frank Lloyd Wright house, before dumping runners back into McFarland Park. 
UNA's chemistry professor, Dr. Diaz, rolled out on the run course for crowd control. 
The biggest problem with the Zoot Suit is keeping the honey's from pawing at me.

2:03:18 officially
The run course from Strava
It was pretty easy to cruise the run course and enjoy the cheers of all the volunteers, soaking up the experience of being at the front for the hometown crowd. 

Most of the time, I show up on the soft side of the finish line wishing I could wring just a few more drops of fulfillment out of the day.  At least for the Renaissance Man, I felt content with the accomplishment.  It was certainly a good day to be triathlete in The Shoals.

Another local, Dr. Glenn Rudolph scored some prime real estate on the overall podium too. 
The overall awards were pretty obnoxious trucker hats with golden leafs on the brim.
I had my doubts, but the following day I saw a WSB rider hop on the top step of podium sporting the same hat minus the RMT logo.  We all should get our styling cues from eurotrash moto riders, right?

Carol Bishop straight up showed out for her debut into triathlon by snagging 2nd Overall female.

L2R: Jessica Diaz, Todd Allen, E!&Me, Stacey Nelms, Carol's Friend, Carol Bishop
Front: Robert Rausch, THE most interesting man in Lauderdale County

Mikayala is going to make sure I don't get away with that timing chip,
whether I pass out or not.
I'm guessing my blood gets lost, but virtually every race I come off the gas to find the world gets real dark for a few seconds.

Greg and Matt wrapped up the swim volunteer gig just in time to escort me in for the finish.

The RD, Bradely Dean, hit a homerun for this inaugural event.  I was shocked at just how well he managed the race.  Despite my worries, the swim was a lake because he had the dam shut down for 2 days.  The bike course had every turn manned and traffic controlled.  The run was marked and staffed so well you could spot a volunteer from virtually any point on the course. Great job, man.  'at a boy.
I'm a really big fan of these two. 

You just got to embrace the ridiculousness of it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Storm the Fort Half Iron-distance 2014

Fort Southwest Point, Kingston, Tn
I am typically a big wimp when it comes to racing often.  My willingness to hurt just doesn't grow back very fast.  I think it is because I have such a good memory.  Regardless, I am trying out a race heavy schedule this season.  After shopping around for a half iron-distance race within driving range, I decided on Storm the Fort in Kingston, Tn.  It wasn't a hard call when I saw the trophy.  I am not too ashamed to admit that I get a little excited about new mantel jewelry. 

My friend Dylan Beck and his dad, Chad.
Chad opened up his tri resume here with a solid day of racing.
It was an inaugural event and, as expected, had a few gremlins.  Overall, they were pretty minor considering just how great the event turned out.  I usually go for plain, fast courses that are simple expressions of fitness.  I am not attracted to racing through picturesque or historical scenery.  I see buoys, white lines, and turn markers.  This course though, it was pretty dang happening.  I couldn't help but be aware of just how cool of a course it is.  While riding, I decided its just how I would've laid out the bike course.  The run had a few annoying miles in town to hit that magical 13.1 distance everyone likes.  I really wish races could still be shaped by the terrain: swim to the far shore and back, ride over that mountain, run along the river path. 

The fam' showed up to surprise me just before I started warming up.
 Its not a long drive, but I wasn't expecting them to make it.
~82F water temps meant no wetsuits, my first in a while.  It was a surprisingly cool 58 degrees for a June morning, and it felt nice to get into some warm water.  The RD sent us in to que up for a deep water start.  Rumor was the race was to be started with the firing of the cannon from the Fort Southwest Point, but after or during the pre-race announcements, there was a chirp from the PA system and a handful of guys took that as the starting signal.  There is no calling back the hounds once they are turned into the woods to hunt, so we were off.

Lots of ambiguity about were the start actually started.
Not getting much of a headsup on the start meant that we were mostly still holding the peer and a handful of guys that were treading had a bit of a jump on us.  I played leap frog between a few drafts before making the first turn buoy of a giant triangular course.  After making the second turn, the sun had crested and was blinding.  I couldn't spot any bouys so I swam towards swim caps.  Mistakingly, I was chasing a "no wake" marker and swam significantly off course turning my triangle into a jacked up quadrilateral.  I started pouting when I realized, but I pulled it together and made the most of it.  Swimming to the boat ramp, meant maneuvering through the Sprint wave that had started 6 minutes behind us.  Lots of athletes trying to wade through deep water made for an interesting final 20 yards of swimming, but I managed without giving or taking a blackeye.
Somebody drafting ME!

Lots of traffic closing the swim out as we overlapped the sprinters.
It was a short prance to T1 where I saw a 30 minute swim time and had E yell that I was 5th out of the water.  Knowing that I get faster all day makes 5th a pretty nice spot to start racing.

Look at all those bicycles in transition!  The Accelerate3 program means lots of time watching the tiles fade on the pool floor in the winter.  I am beginning to believe!
Onto the bike, we were faced with riding through the back of the sprint bike race.  That meant a lot of bicycle traffic and a lot of very fast closing speeds with other racers.  After a short loop, we are directed out of town, leaving the sprint racers behind to start their run. 

The bike course is basically a pair of peaks bookending a rolling course.  The descents are just tricky enough to tighten up your cheeks if you haven't developed good handling skills on the bike, but they can be taken at full speed, no sweat.  Its really a perfect setup.  These two descents offer an opportunity for a proficient cyclist to exploit their talent over the typical athlete.  Its just another skill to separate the competition.
Strava Data Link
I spotted 2 riders just ahead of me after the first descent.  Catching the first, he said there was just one rider in front of me.  The next guy, was not as informative.  He gave me the solid we-aren't-friends vibe as he cut his eyes and commented "I couldn't tell you" when asked if anyone was up the road.  That made me happy; I can respect indifference in my competition. 

I rode a 245W average at GCT a few weeks ago, but I was kind of being a dandy about putting down the watts this time.  I had a major fatigue meltdown the Sunday before the race and bounced off rock bottom with a lot of sleeping and resting the last week.  That meant I hadn't tapered so much as just stopped training.  Ultimately, my pacing strategy turned into "ride as hard as possible without hurting" which was around 230 watts.  By the turn around, I managed to gapped 60 seconds into 2nd place and I still had an hour to ride.
DimondBikes #9 was the first one back to transition. 

I love to come back to a ghost town.

I arrived back at T2 confident and ready to run.  I imagine my races like avalanches.  The swim is the initial crackle as there is barely enough movement to even be noticeable. Then the bike starts a massive powerful slide gaining momentum.  Finally, the run finishes off with a nasty crescendo as all the kinetic energy is exhausted.  Yeah. Sure, I am just like that. 

You can barely see the lady miss me with the splash of cold water as I check out of T2.

BUT! this guy chased me down for a
 second chance at that splash. 
That's my kind of volunteer!
So I hit the ground and started my lickty-splittin'.  As I made the first turn, I found 2nd place was only 60 seconds behind me.  I was surprised that I hadn't got more separation on the last hour of the ride. For the rest of the first lap, I settled into running comfortably, expecting to be caught at some point.  The aid stations were stocked well, and I was able to get a gel, cold sponge, and water at every second aid station.  I was excited to see how much better I performed actually getting calories in on the run. 

The Zoots are awesome to run in, honestly.  The sock-like upper is comfy for naked piggies, the elastic laces and giant finger loops make for quick T2s, and the drain holes mean you aren't running in

fluids. ;)

There was a small bland section in town of
administrative mileage to make the 13.1 distance. 
Coming back into town on my second loop, I found 2nd place waiting on me.  He said he realized he had missed a turn at the beginning of the run course, and he had already dropped and turned in his timing chip.  I was honestly disappointed since I'd envisioned an epic run battle that wasn't to be. 

The course mercilessly presents 4 temptations to jump from this bridge.

From there, I had another ~5 miles to wrap up so I just decided to see if I could get a nice negative split.  I soaked up all the river view, I ran through a gaggle of hissing geese that I was certain were going to flog me, and I caught two runners simultaneously deciding to take a #1 in the woods on the back side of the fort.

On the gas coming down
Along the backside of the Fort
 I gave them a quick heckle and discouraged any potential sword fighting.  There was some nice, colorful joking as we started climbing back up to the Fort Southwest Point for the final time.  Heading back into town was a blast.  There was solid crowd support, and the cheers pushed me to a strong final 5k. 
Much of the run course is along the water front and a river walk path.  It's especially cool as you can see the finish line from the descent of the Fort all the way around the river bend.
Best part of being the first one back is all the Oreos you can eat!
Official Results

The run course is gently rolling aside from the two bike climbs up to the Fort.  You can see quite a few places where I slowed way, way down to manage the elevation changes. 
Strava Data Link
After a little homework, looks like my buddy that went off course and dropped in 2nd place was a solid runner.  I have no doubt he could have closed in that 3 minute lead I had off the bike.  I know he was frustrated about the situation; I've been there too.  I keep looking for that good, honest run effort but seem to always be weighing options out there. There is something alluring with a simple dichotomy, suffer or lose.
Last weekend for Goldilocks. 
I finally had 10" to donate and started over!

Its a big big bonus that the race was awesome, because Kingston is kind of a dumpy little town.  Its definitely the kind of place I'd like to live and train in, just not where I want to go on holiday.  The good news is its a quick little squirt to Knoxville, and it's pretty happening over there. 

If you do stay in Kingston, the Super-8 seems to be a popular choice.  There is a mini-fridge in the room and they've got some good coffee and free grub at 6am.  The rooms aren't spectacular, but they aren't terrible either.  The big guy behind the counter doesn't have much of a personality, but he was helpful.  The best advice he gave us was to make the trip to Knoxville.

As I wrote, the course was pretty dang cool, especially the run.  The race director was all over the scene answering questions and doing his best to keep the wheels greased.  The aid was plenty and the volunteers were everywhere.  I cant imagine anyone not getting enough support from this race.  I know the ascents look imposing on the elevation profile, but they were welcome breaks in the rolling monotony of both the bike and run courses.    There are a few gremlins to squash for their first go at the half iron distance, but I have no doubt it'll be finely tuned next year.  I cant wait to see the improvements and start collecting cannonballs!


Packet pick up is at the Fort Friday afternoon or in transition race morning.

Remarkably loud bell despite my efforts to be ginger with it. 
There is at least a bit of exploring to do at the Fort.

Carbo-loading with some good luck sugars! 
Worth every calorie!