June 25, 2009

Dextro Energy Sprint Tri Washigton DC

WARNING: This post is little longer that usual.

This past weekend I was in Washington DC to spectate the Dextro Energy ITU World Championship Series which is a new series of ITU draft legal races. Original plan was to drive to DC and watch the pro triathletes on the ITU circuit battle it out. But few weeks before the race itself I realized that I could actually do the sprint age group race and still make the pro race. Another thing that was interesting was the fact that parts of the course was shared between the age group and pro races - in particular the swim portion (the ITU pontoon), parts of bike and finish line on the run. Where else can you finish your race sprinting on the blue carpet and cross the same finish line that later in the day will be used by pro triathletes some of which competed in Olympic games and actually won (yes Jan Frodeno was in attendance).

Race Logo.jpg

Without boring you with the details of the 3 hours drive to DC here are few interesting things about the race. It was organized in downtown DC, the registration was in Grand Hyatt and transition area by the Potomac river on Ohio Dr. That presented a slight logistical challenge for me as out of towner, but organizers had bus service from the hotel to transition. So after attending the mandatory 30 minutes race briefing to learn about the intricacies of the course, that besides swim in muddy Potomac featured ride on major highway in opposite direction than regular traffic (the road was closed to traffic during the race), I was off to the bus with my bike. We needed to leave the bikes in the transition over night which greatly simplified logistics on race morning. After checking in my bike I walked back to the hotel which may not have been the best idea as it was pretty hot and the walk was good two miles or maybe even longer. When I got to the hotel I was hungry, but did not have any interest to wonder about town to find food. Luckily the hotel had restaurant where I got good dinner and then I walked across the street to CVS to buy something for breakfast. The race start was at 6am for olympic distance and 6:30 for sprint. Which is pretty early for any race. I had until about 3:30 to get some sleep and then it was time to get to race.


Funny part about the race starting at this early hour is that when I was leaving the hotel also some hookers were just walking out. I met few more on the way to the Grand Hyatt where the bus departed for the transition. Talk about unusual sights on race morning. Bus took us around the town about 3/4 miles from transition and we walked the rest. Setup was very quick - it was a sprint so I had one bottle with 150 kcal mix of Heed on the bike, one bottle for drinking prior to race, goggles, ear plugs, wetsuit, helmet, sunglasses, shoes, visor, race belt and gel. Sounds like a lot, but my transition space was very neat and felt empty compared to longer races.

After setup I went for short warmup run as we were not allowed to swim prior to the start (bummer). After warmup it was time to leave transition and go to the race start ceremony where major of DC (who raced in the olympic distance race and was in the first wave) spoke few words. And soon the first olympic race wave was off. After a while I started to make my way to the swim corral to secure solid place for the swim. I lined up in the front towards the right side of the river where the current was supposed to be slower. First part of the swim was against the current, then turn for about 30 meters swim and turn back with the current, then swim behind the pontoon take another two turns and go back to the pontoon. Pretty straightforward swim of 750 meters with only 4 buoys all turn buoys for my wave. I started in 8th wave of the day. The plan for the day was to step on the gas at the start and keep going until the finish line. Very easy plan to follow - Craig remarked that this is the only way to find out if and where I blow up. After all this was B-priority race. So I did. Soon after starting we caught up with the slow swimmers from previous wave and I had to swim around them. The first turn was there fast, second even faster. On the swim back with the current I noticed that the current was pulling me away from my direction towards the middle of the river and instead of actually being helped by the current I needed to fight it even on the way back. Somewhere at that point I had to take a breather (started too fast). Turned on my back and kicked for about 30 seconds. Then turned back and kept going. At that point the swim was very difficult - lots of people on the course as we had both the sprint and oly (the very slow swimmers) in the way. I had to swim around many people. Got into few position battles - and while I did not get kicked I had to show few folks that I was serious about keeping my line (not sure really if they fought over the line or just were trying to survive). I was out of water slower than I expected, but I knew that I needed to focus on getting fast through T1.


After about 150m run from the swim exit to transition I stripped out of my wetsuit, put on my helmet, grabbed bike and off I went. I had shoes and glasses on the bike and I put them on after I got rolling. When getting on my bike I forgot I had installed a new flat wing and tore my race suit a little - I do not seem to have much luck with these things :-). Anyways right from start I put the hammer down and just kept going between two gears - hard and harder. The course was almost flat with few short and fairly easy climbs. The bike can be summed up as me being in aero position the whole way while yelling "On your right" the whole 20 km of the bike. I was not passed by even a single rider and must have passed what seemed like 200 people. I'm always amazed at these events why some folks invest so much money in their aero bike and then sit up and hold the bullhorns the whole way. I even saw few newbies sporting new helmets with visor and being in aero position. Well we all started somehow, but it made me chuckle in the middle of getting back to the transition. Even without knowing the course I got out of my shoes in time and made a smooth dismount (I recall someone yelling at me to get off before the line which I did and told them not to worry - I know that is a penalty :-). The T2 was as smooth as T1 - just took off the helmet, put on my shoes (no socks for the 5 k run), grabbed my visor, race belt and off I went. I knew that after the hard bike my run will be somewhat painful and it was. I decided to go as fast as my legs and body will allow. In the first few miles about 3 or maybe 4 people passed me which did not please me, but they were running much to fast for me to try to stick with them. After a mile I slowed down to take a cup of water from the aid station and then kept plugging. As I went to mile 2 I was able to start building the pace and I kept increasing the pace through out the rest of the run. It all went pretty fast - I mean it was 5k after all. at mile 2 I heard steps behind me and someone passed me - darn my AG. I pushed little harder to stay with him, but after about 400 meters I just could not match his pace and I let him go. Which seems slowed him down a little as he did not hear my steps. I kept in the same distance to him through the rest of the run, but in the last mile could not bridge the gap. I finished measly 12 seconds behind him. It was a great race. Funny part was that when I finished there were just few people that finished and the staff was just getting our bags out of the car, the food was just being delivered. So I took time to get my bag, changed to fresh clothes, stretched a little and walked to my hotel. I took shower, packed my stuff, checked out and went back to the race finish line with my camera. When I got back the results were posted - I looked at the order of finish and found my name on line 25 (wow I thought 25th overall is not bad and to my surprise I was 3rd in my age group). Sweet. So I not only waited to spectate the pro event, but also waited for the awards ceremony to collect my award. It was just amazing feeling to finish so well in such a big race. I was hoping for good finish, but this really blew me away. Only few days later when the final results were announced I realized that I finished 13th overall since the order of finish did not account for wave start. Even sweeter. So if this event is back in DC next year I'm pretty sure I'll make the trip down again. Great race with PR course - flat as a pancake with slightly difficult swim where you need to fight current (but not all that bad).


After the race I made a stop at the Suunto exposition and rewarded my great performance with a new watch (guess which one) and I also got a pair of compression socks from Skins for the 3 hours car ride back home. I knew that without them I would suffer the next few days. They actually work very well and I used them even today after my track workout.

Suunto T6c Red Arrow

If you want to check out the race venue on video you can watch the ITU race recap/highlights on the ITU site. It clearly shows the swim portion (only we started in water and did just one loop) and the finish line which was just a great experience. Especially for folks that were finishing during the ITU pro race.

And for the numbers people here are my splits from the sprint race:
Swim: 14:00
T1: 1:28 (8th best)
Bike: 30:43 (5th best)
T2: 0:44(3rd best)
Run: 22:19
Time: 1:09:12
And how that compares with my plan? Well I had about 3 minutes slower swim than I expected, T1 fasted than expected by about 1:30, bike faster by 3 minutes than expected, T2 about minute faster that expected, run slower by 1:20 than expected. Still beat my projected time by about a minute. So next time - swim harder, ease little bit on the bike and push harder on the run. So I can get my 12 seconds for that 2nd spot in my AG :-). I am still ecstatic about the result.

June 18, 2009

Chesapeake Bay 1 mile swim challenge

This past weekend I had a fun race planned - open water swim in the Chesapeake Bay. The key objective in this race was to test the waters literally. I have never done open water swim in the ocean and the 1 mile swim race presented a unique opportunity to test out how the swim will feel in my A-race.

I have decided to head down to Stevensville, MD on race day morning as the race was planned to start at 10am which gave me more than enough time to get down to MD. I would probably not do something like this again - the 3 hours drive to MD was OK, but the 3 hours drive back after the race was something I can do without.

But back to the race - after checking in and setting-up on the beach I observed Lin-Mark team setting-up the course for the swim. It was very simple triangle course - swim by five buoys on the way out, sharp turn right swim by two buoys, hard turn back to the shore with one buoy and then the finish line. You can probably make up the course from the picture below if you go to Flickr and look at the full size picture. To the right is route 50 bridge that my coach Erica swam by during her 4.4 mile swim - and she placed well in her race (11th women overall and 1st in her AG way to go Erica.).


The water did not look all that bad from the shore (what a mistake it was to think that). After a short wait I hooked up with Leah and Lori (fellow EnMu athletes) we attended a short pre-race meeting, suited up and lined-up for the swim. Leah was in 3rd wave and me with Lori were in the last 'pink' wave.


Before the start I lined up to second row expecting to have solid swim and not wanting to swim through large packs during the start of the swim. Few seconds after lining up we were off. The way out was relatively easy - I was by the first buoys and felt pretty good. I did not overdo the start and felt I can pick it up a little. So I did. At the same time waves started to get little bigger and I was having troubles getting my breaths in between being slammed. I panicked a little and that raised my HR. After few minutes of struggle I decided to relax and take few breast strokes to clean my googles that in the meantime fogged (we were not allowed to do practice swim and I put googles under my cap so there was no way to dip them before the start). After that I decided to just take it with cold head and relax. From that point on I just swam with relaxed body while still pushing the pace a bit. I lost some time with the goggles cleaning and calming down, but I was now passing a lot of people that just started out too fast. After the fifth buoys I made a turn only to be kicked into a shoulder by fellow swimmer who obviously struggled by that point. My thought while hearing muffled "Sorry man" was - at least it was not my face. And I kept going. I had few more minor collisions with few people, but no more kicks or slams. After the turn back to shore I had troubles sighting buoys - they used one that is blue, yellow and orange which was just not possible to see. But after few meters I could see it in the distance and I corrected my direction to pass it without risking DQ. On the way back to the shore the waves got much better and I was able to pick the pace up even more. I swam all the way to the point where I touched the bottom and then ran up to the timing mat - it is a race after all. And then it was over - I was like "Hell where is my bike to hop onto." But yeah that was it.

I grabbed bottle of water and waited for Lori and Leah to come out of the water. They were out in few minutes and we grabbed some food, got out t-shirt from organizers, took shower with bunch of other people and headed back to our stuff.

I did post time that is not all that glamorous - 33:18 for the mile swim, but it was a good result given the conditions. The winner had time little over 23 minutes which is very comparable to my swim result from Black Bear where the water was little choppy, but not as bad as during this race. I'm happy with the result and feel ready to tackle the ocean swim in my A-race.

I stuck around for a bit after the race, but then excused myself and headed back home as Dasa was leaving town and I had to resume my primary duty to take care of Ian. Before I left Chesapeake Bay I made a stop on the way from the beach in local crab shack and had a plate of fried shrimp which was just amazing. Then it was time to drive back home.

Next up is sprint triathlon in DC this coming weekend. After that I'll stay around to spectate the ITU race - I plan to stick around for the men race, not sure if I'll wait for the ladies. I'm looking forward to both the AG race and the Pro event as well even with rain forecast for most of Sunday it will be fun.

June 2, 2009

Black Bear Half Ironman Race Report

Black Bear Triathlon is the most difficult race I ever participated in. It is situated in beautiful area of Pocono Mountains in PA. The race venue is near Lehighton in Beltzville state park. The event offers a sprint and half ironman distances. Last year I did the sprint and was very impressed with the CGI who puts up the race as well as the venue. This year I decided to upgrade to the half ironman distance which I like best of all distances I tried so far.

Heading to T2

I'll spare you details of when I woke up and what I ate. I got on site just before the cars started to queue up at the park entrance. This year the setup was different and it in my opinion better than last year. The transition area was moved further down from the parking, but it was much close to run exit - no longer need to run 0.5 mile to get to your bike. The bike exit was little longer run, but it was much easier to manage than run uphill over roots and pavement barefoot. If CGI reads this - guys please keep the 2009 setup for next year if possible. The bike splits are little slower due to the extra run with the bike, but the transition setup this way is much better than 2008 event. When I was setting up in transition Garen stopped by and we chatted for a bit and I finally gave him his hardware from Quakerman HIM where he placed 3rd in my AG. After I got setup I went back to my car to drop off my bag. It was good to get walking. On the way out of transition I ran into Herb and we walked together while chatting away. Killing time before the start which was more than hour away for the HIM.

Herb and me heading to T2

Then I came back to transition and started to look for Fred and Kristine to say hi and wish them good luck in Kristine's first triathlon and Fred's first half ironman. They are brave couple - both finished standing up and braved the difficulties of the course. I'm sure they will be back next year to conquer the Bear again.

Soon after that I started making my way to the beach for the practice swim. It was brisk morning so I spent only about 10 minutes in the water - I did some sculling practice and pick-ups while trying to avoid other people that practiced in the small roped off area. At that time the sprint was getting ready to start so I went back to the beach and cheered on the athletes that had much shorter day ahead of them. Time passed quickly and the HIM was getting ready to start. I looked for Erica, Craig and other EnMu athletes, but the beach was very busy. I only caught Erica as she was heading to the water for her part of the half iron relay. We wished each other luck and off she went. My wave was next so I got my goggle setup, swim cap and went to prepare for swim start. The start is in water and knowing my swim improvements I lined-up in the second row expecting to finish between 32 and 34 minutes. The swim started as usual with lots of jockeying for position, kicking, etc. But I made sure to avoid all the legs and big packs and just settled into my pace. This was first race I used sleeveless wetsuit and it is amazing. I can feel the water, do not need to lift hands against the rubber and get overall better feel for water. It is also fast. Swim went well until about 500 meters when my googles started to fog-up. Damn - I swam on my back kicking and cleaning my goggles. This repeated once again and after that I just decided to swim with mildly fogged googles which worked out pretty well. Everything was very smooth until the turn back where we caught up with the slow swimmers from previous wave and also the speedsters from the next wave caught us. I had to swim around a guy that seemed to perform slalom. No mater which side I tried to pass him on he always ended up blocking my way - swimming to the left, then right oh boy. So I kicked harder and swam very close around him. The rest of the swim was uneventful and I exited the water in 32:30 which is not bad for twice cleaning my googles.

Socks, shoes and off we go

Transition to bike was smooth. I took off my wetsuit, put on my helmet, grabbed my bike and off I went. The run uphill was pretty hard after the swim, but I knew I'll get my HR down eventually on the first part of the bike. I took the first 7 miles fairly easy to settle into my groove and did use easy gear on the uphills while still spinning hard gear on the downhills. Worked quite well and I soon found my pace. The course is best described as very hilly - total elevation gain over the 56 miles is about 1200 meters and there is no single part of the course that is flat. Either up or downhill which makes the course hard for taking in nutrition. When we were passing the sprint newbies on the hardest hills I encouraged them, but kept focused on me not expending too much energy on the first loop. I was done with the first loop just around the 1:23-25 mark which was just on pace to have good bike. On second loop I noticed I kept passing guy on red Trek TT bike and after looking at his legs I recognized them from previous weekend ride with EnMu athletes - it was Herb. We practically paced off of each other (legally) the rest of the course and finished the bike side by side - you can see Herb and me above on the way to T2. That was also time when Dasa, Ian and Ivana got to the park to cheer me on and spectate the race. Thus pictures start at the end of bike.

Feeling the cycling in my legs

T2 was smooth and I was feeling well even considering the grueling hills we just finished riding. I took off on the run with my fuel belt and kept plugging at what looked like a relaxed 7:40 pace. Only at mile 1 I noticed that it was more like 7:00 pace which was way too hard of a start. It showed on mile 2 where I got a huge side stitch that I had to work for the next few miles. It left me at about mile 5. I was able to run even with the stitch, but I could only go about 8:30 or slower otherwise it was just unbearable. I kept my fuel and salt intake and by mile 6 I was back running, but then my knee started to act up. Well I guess that is what you get when you do not run for a month before a race because of injury. The good thing is that I was able to run the whole 13.1 miles and I only walked aid stations and parts of the course where the side stitch just got too much to bear.

Back from the first loop

On second loop I caught up with Fred who was having hard time due to nutrition deficit. I said hi the first time we passed each other and then when I caught up with Fred on the dam we chatted a little, I gave him the rest of my nutrition (no ned for me to keep them as the finish was only about 2 miles for me) and then another runner suggested to Fred not to run with us and instead to take it easy. I stuck with the older runner for the next mile and a half and then our ways split. He was heading to second loop and I was heading to finish. It was funny as just before heading down to the finish line Jim (another EnMu athlete from our relay caught up with me and passed me).

About here I heard Erica yell

It was good because I had someone to pace me to the finish. After the last turn there was the finish line about 200 meters ahead of us. At that time I heard Erica yell "Jan go for it, go, go!!!" so I mobilized what I have left and closed the gap to Jim and passed him about 10 or maybe 20 meters before the finish line - thanks to Craig's signature tempo workouts with pickups I'm able to do this. I hope no hard feelings Jim. It was not personal I really needed the few seconds I gained by this otherwise I would have been few places lower. Thank for pulling me across to the finish line. By the way you handily beat me in the run time. My run time was pretty pathetic due to the side stitch and knee issues. But I'll take this result. It was hard race and I left everything on the course on Sunday. Finished 40th overall and 6th in my AG. Not quite hardware position, but good placement. This race also shows me and Craig what we need to work on for my A race in July. Oh by the way Craig also raced and placed 15th overall which is great in this strong field. I was aiming for better finish than 5:24 - about 10-15 minutes faster to be honest. So I'm little disappointed with my run. On the other hand I'm happy that my ankles and heel are back to normal after 2 weeks of absolutely no running and painful walking. No signs of pain after the race which is really good - I look forward to my first long run this weekend and most likely some serious tempo work next week.

Finished - hurray.

The race would not be as much fun if Dasa, Ian and Ivana were not there. Thanks for coming to cheer me on it was very helpful especially seeing you as I was getting back from first loop and heading out on the second one. They gave me the energy to run and smile at the same time. And it looks like they had pretty good time as well.

Still having smile on my face

Jogurt - hmmm so good

Cheering the finishers
Triathletes after the race.

Leah and other EnMu athletes also raced this weekend and everyone did very well. You can read all about their relay race on Leah's blog.