Monday, March 11, 2013

Clermont Elite Development Race: Wowie.

The less pensive yet probably less interesting posts are back: race reports. Yes, I've done a few runs and cycling races here and there (including the time I got Bailey to race in a cycling race that she subsequently won), but nothing really to write home (or on the interwebs for people interested in Googling me)
This race was really my focus/main sort of visualization throughout the offseason. I'll admit that I had that ever so slight illusion of grandeur that somehow I'd stumble into the top three and earn my elite license. That didn't happen, so spoiler alert: I finished 28th out of 76 starters...but I'm mildly pleased. You can stop here if you'd like.
While this was an elite development race, I think the whole weekend was a solid introduction to what my life would be like racing as an elite. I left after work Wednesday and drove part of the way down to Raleigh to an old high school XC teammate's house and slept on his couch to break up the drive before continuing down and getting to the Orlando/Clermont area on Thursday night. I spent the day before the race mostly out in Clermont doing my little pre-race run, then some practice/course recon riding and swimming. Gil, my roommate for the weekend from UNC, and I stumbled into the meeting pretty much right at 6 (whoops, forgot these are A personalities that start 5 minutes early). Everybody looked SO SERIOUS.
Race morning we made it there, I did my warmup, we got confirmation that it was to be wetsuit legal. It was definitely chilly for Florida, nothing like last year's deathly heat wave in the 90s. We were also racing at 8:30 as opposed to last year's start time later in the morning. Now as far as the race...
I signed up pretty early so I had a good chance to pick a spot on the start line, I lined up fairly close to the right end, which was the straightest line more or less. There was a long silence before the starting horn where I'm pretty sure my HR shot up to about 300 bpm, then we were off. The lake is super shallow, so I ended up running quite a bit off the start before diving in. Even then, it was another couple of dolphin dives (that's stand up, dive in maybe kick, push off the ground and stand up, repeat until you have a heart attack if you are unfamiliar with the term). Once we got swimming, I felt decent. Being taller, I had a little bit of an advantage on the running/dolphin diving part, so that was definitely a help. Otherwise, my biggest weakness swimming is my top-end speed, so the all-out sprint at the start of a triathlon is not my forte, especially not in a race like this where there are lots of superstar swimmers and staying with the group is essential. It was definitely a pretty physical race, but not terrible. I did somehow have my wetsuit get unzipped, but that just kind of happens I suppose. Based on where I came out of the water though, I'm not sure it made a huge difference. Once I noticed all the water rushing into my back, I made a bigger effort to keep myself hidden in the pack rather than swim in clean water off on the edge of the group. About 1/3 of the way back on the out-and-back swim, I noticed the elastic of the group was starting to snap and I had bigger gaps to a large group up in front, so I hammered the hell out of the next 200m or so to get back on some feet and into the group. Fortunately I made it just as it was time to start diving/running in the water again, so I was safe. I was pretty sure that there were a few breakaway swimmers, but this was the back of the main first group that I was coming out with, so I was pretty stoked coming out of the water!
It was a looooong run up to transition though, up the beach and around a boardwalk. I saw the breakaway swimmers and some of the leaders of the pack starting to take off on the bike right as I got into transition, but by the time I was running out, I knew I'd lost them at least for the moment. As I got out and mounted the bike, I noticed I was right next to Gil and a couple of other athletes. The first 1/4 or so mile of the bike course is really narrow and windy, so Gil and I both waited to slip into our shoes until getting out onto the main road, but at that point the other guys we were with just started HAMMERING. We both just barely saved ourselves and latched on half in our shoes. At this point, I knew it was go-time. There was another group of 6 or 7 not far up in front of our group of about 5, so we were pretty well organized to give chase. It took about a lap to reel them in and I was amazed just how organized our effort was. We didn't seem quite as well organized once we caught the other group, but I still thought we were doing the best job out on the course. Unfortunately, the leaders just pretty much stayed right at 40 seconds the whole race, and they were a larger, arguably stronger group. I probably did more work than I should have on the bike, but I knew that the only way I had any sort of chance to contend was to at least come off the bike with the leaders, let alone that I really needed to be in front of most of those guys. At the start of the very last lap I made a bit of a bonehead move and let myself get yoyo'ed off the back. For the uninitiated, think about driving a car closely behind somebody through a bend and how you naturally get that accordion effect. Well, the equivalent of "flooring it" when you're on a bike sucks. A lot. So letting the gap grow even just a tiny bit on a tight corner sucks really, really bad, and I let that happen just a bit too much and I lost contact with the group, which is exactly the opposite of my plan. By about halfway through the third lap (of four), I realized we weren't gaining any time on the leaders whatsoever, so my best bet was to try to sit in and do next to no work on the bike, get a drink, etc...and hope that the legs of the guys in my group and the back of the front group were too shredded to run. Well, that backfired and when I found myself off the back, I decided it was worth it to try to kill myself to get back on. It took the better part of half a lap, so I caught back on right at the turnaround point. Again, a 180 around a cone is a GREAT place to get yourself dropped off the back especially when you've just buried yourself, so no surprise that I lost contact again. At this point, I looked on the way back and saw that the next group was wayyy behind me so my best best was to just ride it in solo at my own pace. I ended up losing about 20 seconds to my group on that lap, which put me right around 1:05-1:10 off the lead group coming off the bike. After a little change of the shoes, I was off running.
I did my best not to do an Usain Bolt impersonation like I tend to do out of transition areas, so I kept calm. I knew a lot of guys would probably be sprinting off the bike at a completely unsustainable pace, so I revised my goal at that point to pick up the spoils of both my group and the lead group. I never really felt great on the run, not so much tired as I had nothing in my legs really. Every so often a crazy-fast runner from one of the bike groups behind me would just come flying by, but I had no response. Maybe I could have responded for about 10m, but it would have cost me dearly, so I decided to play it smart. I gradually caught up to Gil and another runner from our group. Gil came with me though, as I at least think I was speeding up. We ran shoulder to shoulder for most of the second lap until we picked up another athlete from our bike group, but Gil decided it was time to go for the sprint with about 1/4 mi to go, which caused the other athlete to answer. I tried but my legs didn't listen to my brain. I ended up running a 19:30. I'm by no means proud of that time, but it's of course infinitely better than last year's 23:something.
Biggest learning points from the race are still to be smart on the bike. I'm getting much, much better (also stronger, which hides mistakes), but obviously there's room for improvement. Jeff had me doing some visualization stuff in the week leading up to the race and I definitely thought that helped. I pretty much envisioned myself coming out of the water somewhere at the back of the main pack. Unfortunately, I didn't anticipate getting gapped on the run up to T1...that's the other learning point. If it's a long run, just suck it the hell up. Obviously I can't sprint it like a 100m dash or else I'll get popped off the back at the very beginning of the bike, but I think I held back just a tad on that run. If I hadn't, I may have made it into that lead group, which meant less time at the front and definitely less need to hammer away like I felt I had to in my chase group.
Next weekend in Sarasota most of the top of the field will be there, but otherwise it seems like it won't be quite as deep of a field. Making that first pack is going to just be that much more important.
Why I love my Element: taking a half-nap while hanging around at the race site
Duhhh of course I had to stop here
Fortunately, I WAS properly fueled for the race. It's not quite set up the same as the hole-in-the-wall Wawas of South Jersey/Philly that I'm used to, or even the super-huge gas station Wawas of Virginia, but this will do. There's still a touch screen full of deliciousness. 

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