Friday, August 22, 2014

Clawing my way up the podium......General Smallwood International Triathlon race report

Since committing to the Beach2Battleship half, I had about 18 weeks to get back into shape. I screwed around for a few weeks, then at 15 weeks to go started to get a little more serious. I came into General Smallwood International as a kind of tune-up race for B2B--the first 5 weeks of "15 weeks to go!", but still 10 weeks from the half. From here on out I have a few road running races to fill in the gaps: a 10-miler (this coming Sunday), a half marathon, and a marathon-that-may-be-just-a-half-marathon.

That 5-week block leading up to the race started out brilliantly! As my last post indicated, I was hitting the highest volume I have in a while...but it kind of petered out by the time it was General Smallwood race week. (For the number nerds, weekly volume = 12:30, 11:35, 9:15, 6:15, and a paltry 5:45 by race week, which included the race! Oops.) I'm still learning that I don't recover as well as I used to, and my body reminds me the whole "stress is stress" concept as I work longer hours, try to train more, and don't sleep enough. It all came to a head the weekend before the race, when I woke up feeling extremely fatigued with a small cold (coincidentally or not, two days after swimming in the Potomac River for a happy hour open water swim??). I ended up sleeping all day and taking the next several days VERY easy. We'll call it a forced taper, especially since I'm a fan of the 2-day taper when I'm feeling healthy!

It's all fun and smiles until you wake up sick two days later!

Even though I wasn't training as much as I should've or could've in those last 2 weeks, I did focus more on eating better and drinking less (teehee). This was motivated by a huge cold sore that broke out on my lip after the second weekend of Team Fat Kidz cupcake tasting. We'll call it "Cupcake Herpes". It freaked me out enough that I cleaned up my eating quite a bit and by race day I was not only feeling better (not sick any more) but definitely fitter and skinnier. I'm about 5 pounds down from when I raced at Rock Hall 2.5 months prior, the last triathlon I did, and my work pants definitely are getting loose.

red eyes and sleepy eyes!
Transition selfie!

Carmen, my partner-in-crime/neighbor/emergency contact on my RoadID, and I had both signed up for both B2B and General Smallwood, so this would be our first time racing together. Our other neighbor/running partner Hiza drove us all, with Kevin crammed in the front seat fast asleep. The cool part about General Smallwood is that it's close enough (an hour's drive) that we didn't have to travel far and get a hotel, unfortunately that meant a really early wake-up time: up at 3:30am to be on the road by 4:30am, to get to the race by 5:30am, to get our registration packets and set up for a 7am race start. Ungodly early!

Kevin lends a helping hand.

The swim course was changed from a big triangle to two out-and-back loops. We've had surprisingly cool weather for our DC summer and the forecast was in the 60's for air temperature. The night before we also got the surprise of a wetsuit-legal swim! I'm glad Carmen told me, because I wasn't planning to bring it. After we zipped each other up, we were off in the second wave.

I felt like I had a strong start, and then settled in the last 3/4 of the swim behind another woman who I thought was stronger than me (she passed me at some point, so she must be faster, right?). I drafted behind her to "conserve energy" for probably 75% of the race, which in hindsight was probably a terrible decision. I would hit her feet many times and wasn't really breathing hard. By the last stretch I finally made the pass, but it was too little, too late. It ended up being another 30-minute swim (OUCH) which is way too slow for an Olympic distance race! I also realized that I should be breathing really hard the whole way for an Olympic effort, which is what I do on the bike and run, but I just need to snap out of the "lazy swimmer" mentality. I know my swim fitness still needs improvement (I've been swimming consistently twice per week but need to make the leap to 3 and start going to a coached practice once a week), so I blame that for 50% of my slow swim, and the other 50% on bad strategy and execution.

I decided to go with an aero helmet this time, since I was trying to go faster and the forecast was pretty mild. I forgot my sunglasses in my backpack, but it wasn't very sunny and I do enough fumbling around trying to get my aero helmet on. I wriggled out of the wetsuit and took a few swigs of Red Bull--my nutrition plan for an Olympic is a bit haphazard because I'm in the "Gatorade only" camp for short races. (Although for the half I am leaning towards the trusty ole Hello Panda and Frappuccino Camelbak strategy from the Ironman days.) I recenty purchased one of those big Speedfil tanks and filled it up about 3/4 of the way (30-ish ounces) so I'd be testing it out. Kevin yelled that I was about 10th woman out of the water, maybe 5 minutes back, and it was game on!

Where's the ref? This other guy is mounting before the MOUNT LINE!

Onto the bike and I felt stronger than Rock Hall already. I had adjusted my bike position after that race, as I had a relatively slack position and didn't feel powerful at all then. My seat has since been moved up 1/4" and the cockpit has gone down two spacers. I'm still on just three bike rides per week--two indoor trainer rides (one easy-ish, one Sufferfest) and a longer outdoor ride. I always intend to add a 30-minute transition run but can't say I've done it recently. I started out going smooth and steady, ticking off other riders and counting the women I passed. (But not out loud. That's fun, but rude.)

I was going fairly hard and strong up to mile 16, and must've gotten complacent and dozed off, when I got re-passed by two riders (one of them a woman!), and woke back up. Hello, this is an Olympic effort! I threw the hammer down and by the end of the bike ended up passing 8 women. So was I in second place yet? Am I winning yet?

The fun part about wearing an aero helmet and sipping from the straw in my new hydration system is that the helmet obscured my vision as I leaned down low for a drink. I'd only be able to see two feet in front of me. Good thing it was not a crowded course!

I was in and out of transition under 60 seconds: socks and shoes on, took a couple quick swigs of Red Bull (and had actually finished most of my Gatorade by the end of the bike, good guesstimation!) and grabbed my race belt as I ran out. I realized that I also forgot my visor in my big backpack, d'oh, but it still wasn't too sunny. I'll just have to cope with the helmet hair in my race photos. The race announcer yelled that I was 4th female, and I think 5th and 6th had just come into T2 as I was heading out. Yikes! And nuts, I guess I'm not in 2nd or winning yet!

It was an uphill start out of transition, which I knew whilst finishing the bike on a speedy downhill. I didn't fret and took the first mile easy-ish and steady, acting like it was one of my treadmill tempo sessions I do every other week: I always warm up with an easy first mile, then crank it up for 5 descending miles starting at about 7:20 pace down to sub-7. I've come to learn that the first mile off the bike always feels kind of crappy until your run legs come around, but I was pleasantly surprised that despite the crappy feeling, my legs also felt quick and light. Quick and light but crappy--I know, it's an oxymoron. I didn't wear a GPS watch for this race because I learned my lesson from the Firecracker 5km and didn't want to confuse or frustrate myself. The mile markers and finish line are wherever the race director put them, not what your GPS says.

That said, I was impressed that I hit 6:59 for the first uphill mile. WHAT. That mile marker must be short. Then the next one which was kind of half uphill and half downhill was 5:56. WHAT?! Maybe I am quicker than I thought? The third mile kind of leveled out at a 6:29. Dude, I'm so fast! Getting skinnier in the last 2 months definitely helped, although my race number belt was so loose that it kept spinning around on me.

It was a two-loop course and I actually enjoyed that it was hilly with a mix of pavement and shaded trail. The course wasn't marked too well and a guy way in front of me missed the turn onto the trail. Luckily the guy immediately in front of me hollered at him to come back, just in time for me to not miss the turn too! Toward the end of the loop, there's a section that goes over a bridge by the lake we swam in, but I wasn't sure I was going the right way. (Carmen later said it's because nobody was around me...funny because a couple weeks ago, my advice to a newbie for his first triathlon was "Know the course, because best case scenario is you're leading it!"). At the end of the bridge, the orange cones were back, phew.

I had passed a woman in my AG during the first mile and thought I was passing some other women, but this got confusing on the second loop as there were runners on their first loop. So yes, I passed at least 5 more women on the second loop and of course kept wondering, "Am I winning yet???" That thought was interspersed with "cadence turnover breathe relax cadence turnover breathe relax". That's how I know when I am focused and racing well--when there aren't many wandering thoughts, just cues to keep myself in the zone.

My splits ended up being something like this: 6:58, 5:56, 6:29, 6:44, 7:31 (ouch!), 5:30 (whoa!) and then 4:26 for the last 0.2 miles... now I didn't slow down at the end, so I'm pretty sure the mile markers were off! My average pace ended up being 7:01, which is hilarious because hardly any of my miles were around 7:01.

As it turns out, the 5 women I passed on my second loop were still doing their first loop. Nuts. I ended up taking 3rd overall (WOOHOO!), and the top 2 women were ahead of me from the gun, so I didn't see them at all the entire time. Yeah, embarassingly enough they swam 8 and 6 minutes faster than me...and finished 10 and 4 minutes ahead. Rock stars! They say you can't win the triathlon in the swim, but you can certainly lose it!

Women's overall podium

Overall, I'm really happy with how I did. Fun fact: I'm not sure I've ever gotten on the overall podium at an Olympic distance race! I got the fastest bike split for women and my 10km time I believe is a PR (for standalone 10k's too!). I feel like I'm getting my stride back in terms of fitness and balancing the training with work. Other than when I don't recover and sleep enough, and my body definitely lets me know. But it's all a learning process and I'm a work in progress. Obviously I need to work on my swim, as you shouldn't lose 8 minutes on something that is less than 20% of the race. For the numbers nerds: my bike speed is about where I want it for my B2B goal (2:35 or 21.7mph) and my 10k run pace was 7:01/mile, which is quite faster than my B2B run goal (1:35 or 7:19/mile).

I haven't found a Coke that says "Jocelyn" but was
handed one that said "Legend"--even better!

The reason I bring up those numbers is that I feel my Olympic and half-ironman pace and effort aren't all that different (there's a reason I migrated toward the longer stuff); I feel like I have the endurance training hiding dormant in my system and just need to bring it back out over the next 9 weeks. The speed has always been harder for me to achieve, but now I feel like I have the speed and need to back it up with some endurance. So I know what I need to work on!

Carmen ended up taking 1st in her age group, I was super proud!

Thanks Set-up Events for putting on another great race (yeah, all three of my tris this year will be Set-up Events), thanks Team RWB for hooking me up with great friends and keeping me inspired! Special thanks to Hiza for all the photos and for being designated driver, and of course thanks Kevin for being my #1 support crew!


1 comment:

  1. "The speed has always been harder for me to achieve," it is for everyone. Thats why I have long referred to Ironman as the home of the mediocre triathlete. Obviously that doesn't apply to you, but in general I have observed over the years, people avoid the hard work to get fast, and instead hide behind the distance. While 70.3/140.6 are hard, they are only really hard if you do them fast! Sprint+Olympic are really hard to do fast too. Well done!