Monday, August 19, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Charles Island Sprint

Coming off of our vacation to Maine a week ago, Sally and I raced the (hopefully) first annual Charles Island Sprint triathlon this past weekend.  This race was the second in what is becoming an annual series put on by F.I.R.M. Racing and the Woodruff Family YMCA in Milford, CT.  
The tri scene in coastal Connecticut has been growing rapidly in the last few years, to the point where local Y’s have become competitive with each other.  Not so much in terms of their putting together teams and racing to crown a local YMCA Champion--although that would be an awesome idea, so maybe we should look into that--but more in terms of just trying to offer the best, most comprehensive mix of athletic services and community.  Part of Woodruff’s plan, then, is hosting these races and providing a triathlon club to help get new people involved in the sport and to give experienced racers a community of support on which to draw during the long training season.  I coordinate and coach the Triathlon Club at the Woodruff Family Y, although I’ll be honest up front and admit that I am not by any means the strongest triathlete that the Y itself has to offer.  I am a good swimmer, however, and a good swimming coach, and since that’s the discipline that tends to intimidate people and keep them from giving the sport a try, I feel like I have something to offer folks looking to get involved (or more involved) in triathlon.

With that in mind, I’ve gotta admit that I sometimes feel like an idiot writing up these race reports, but what are you gonna do?  Writing a race report is an excellent way to clarify your thoughts about a race, and more to the point, I know from the blog’s statistics that when folks are trying to figure out what races they’re gonna do in a given year, they tend to find my page while Googling the various races they’re considering.  If reading these things gives you an idea of what to expect from a given race, then good.  That’s the point.  If it’s not helpful to you... well, it’s still helpful to me.
I mention this because, yes, I am an enthusiastic triathlete, and yes, I write a lot about the experience, but no, I’m not holding any illusions about where I stand in terms of overall talent.  I am a decent triathlete, I know, but I also know that I have plenty of room for improvement, and I likewise know that there are lots and lots of folks out there who are more committed to the sport than I am.  However, the message of these race reports--of this blog in general--is really the inverse of that.  It’s that youdon’t have to train twenty to forty hours a week to be a triathlete and participate in the lifestyle.  If you want to, that’s fine, and I honor your commitment, but my message is more to folks working a regular nine-to-five and managing a family, too.  Those are the folks who need encouragement, who need to find a way to lead an active, healthy, athletic lifestyle in the midst of the day-to-day grind.  To those folks, I say this:
Don’t give up.  Set goals, train, and compete... at whatever level is appropriate for you.  It’s worth the effort, not because you’re going to impress us all with what an amazing triathlete you are but because being active, healthy, and athletic is going to improve the quality of your own life.

We were on vacation in Maine at the beginning of the month.  If you’re curious about it, go back through the past twenty or so days on the blog; I must’ve posted a million pictures while we were up there.  It’s relevant to the race report, though, because while Sally and the girls and I were active on our vacation--we hiked a lot, we rode the trail bikes, etc--it wasn’t like we were up there training.  Plus, we drank a lot of beer.  
I mean, I love beer.  This is a blog about triathlon, comics, and craft beer--equally; these are all things I love--and I’m just telling you, despite what we had planned, the vacation that we actually took was more about relaxing with the family and exploring the craft beer and wine scene on Mount Desert Island than it was about staying in peak physical condition for the Charles Island Sprint.
So anyway, when we got back, I think Sally and I both felt kind of lazy and slow, and when I weighed myself last week, I was horrified to realize that I’d managed to put on fully six pounds in eight days.  Which was a problem because while part of me wanted to just hit the workout routine hard and work until I’d shed the extra weight, I knew that was a stupid idea heading into a race week.  Thus, it became something of a balancing act.  I wanted to sharpen my focus and get myself to a place where I felt like I could work at a decent effort and not keel over, but I didn’t want to head into the race exhausted from a week of intense work while trying to shed some unneeded pounds.
I had Monday off, so I swam.  About two thousand yards.  And it was ugly. Then Sally and I ran together Tuesday--about three miles, easy.  I rode my regular commute Wednesday and Thursday, and swam again Wednesday night, but only about 1200 yards.  Then I rested Friday, and the race was on Saturday.  
Sally, meanwhile, didn’t put in as much swimming as she’d planned in the weeks leading up to the race.  She’s not a comfortable swimmer by nature, and she lets herself get worried about it, although with practice, I’ve seen her overcome her fear and swim well.  But that didn’t happen this time; she never put in the practice she wanted.  So by the time Wednesday night’s swim rolled around, she was really very nervous-looking in the water.  By Friday she was so nervous that she was jumpy, and by Saturday...  
Look, I love my wife more than life itself, but she was on the verge of panic Saturday morning, and it drove me crazy.  We were actively fighting by the time we rolled up to the race Saturday morning, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for my part of it; I know that I need to be a little more understanding with these things.  That said, I don’t know that Sally was necessarily acting rational Saturday morning pre-race; she let her imagination get out of control and run away with her, and that didn’t help her at all.  
By the time we got to transition to set up, it was a bad scene.
Thankfully, we did eventually get set up, do our pre-race yoga, and get down to the water to warm up.  I felt good in the water, but in retrospect, I think I should’ve spent some time on the bike warming up my legs, too.

The swim course for this race was kind of a lazy triangle.  We swam more or less straight out, hooked a right, went down four buoys, hooked another right, and headed back in.  The hardest thing about the course, at least for me, was sighting on the end of the swim course, which was only marked by flags that were way up on the beach.  With my goggles a bit fogged, I had to lift my head way out of the water to sight on those damn things.
We started en masse, and I hit the gas right away, more to get out into open water than because I wanted to go blazing fast.  Fortunately, it only took thirty meters or so for the race to open up.  I could see a guy off to my right, and I could see a few guys ahead of me, but I felt good once I got out into the open, and I let myself hold maybe 70% effort.  
Saturday was a nice day; water a bit more than 70-degrees and glassy, no chop at all.  I enjoyed the swim and didn’t over-work it.  I thought briefly about putting the hammer down to catch one of the guys in front of me and draft, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth the effort.  Instead, I just let the race come to me and did my thing, and before I knew it, we’d turned the last buoy and were headed in.
Half-Mile Swim: 9:33.  1/8 Age Group; 5/103 Overall.
My friend Ben took this pic of me
heading to T-1.
I’m gonna say that this course was a little under a full half-mile.  I’m capable of going a 19:00 open water mile, but that’s at full gas, and I was nowhere near that on Saturday.  If I had to guess, I’d say this particular course was probably around 600 yards total, with another 100 yards or so of running included from the beach up to T-1.  The mats were right outside Transition, so that extra time was definitely tacked onto the end of the swim.
Anyway, for all of Sally’s worries pre-race, she swam well.  She asked me before the race how long I thought it was gonna take her to swim a half-mile, and I told her twenty minutes.  She wound up going nineteen and change, using a mix of freestyle and breaststroke.  She told me after the fact that she felt good swimming, and that she didn’t have any problems.
Sally is not a fast swimmer, but when she has her head together, she is a smooth and confident swimmer, and really, that’s what matters.
Transition was about a hundred yards off the beach.  I came out of the water at an easy jog, ran up the beach, sort of tiptoed through the parking lot, found my bike, and slapped on my shoes, helmet, and the rest of my stuff.  I’ve lately been pinning my number straight onto a cycling jersey, which I then put on in Transition, and that’s been working for me better than using a Race belt.
T-1: 1:20.
That’s a pretty good transition time.
I hit the bike, and that’s when I started to really feel all that weight I gained during vacation.  My legs were stiff coming out of the water, and with a short bike course, I knew that I needed to get on and hit the gas, but it just wasn’t there.  My legs felt tired and heavy, and I couldn’t settle in and find that fast but comfortable tempo that I needed.  So I didn’t push too super-hard at the start of the bike, and I really didn’t start to feel better until almost the end of the ride, say eight miles into a twelve mile ride.
My friend Steve took this one.  He's a good dude.
In retrospect, I think I would’ve gotten quite a lot out of warming up on the bike pre-race, especially since the ride itself was so short.  It’s frustrating because I felt good for most of the rest of the race, and I enjoy riding quite a bit, but I haven’t felt good on the bike in a race in quite some time.  Plus, I’m not objectively faster on the bike during my races than I am when I’m just out riding day-to-day, and that’s a problem.  Hopefully I can work that out in the next few weeks by changing up my warm-up, but I guess we’ll see.
As far as the race itself is concerned, I liked the bike course.  It was flat and well marked, and if there were a lot of intersections through which we had to ride, most of them were well-controlled, and in any event, there weren’t that many cars on the road.  We rode down from Walnut Beach towards the Audubon Society, looped back up into the heart of Milford north of Silver Sands State Park, and then did a little lollipop before heading back in along the same route.  The course was advertised as twelve miles, and it came out to be that far almost exactly.
Bike: 11.9-miles, 35:28 (~18.6 mph).  5/8 AG, 35/103 Overall.
I need to be faster than that, and I’m capable of it, but I’ve got to fix the way I feel when I hit the bike.  I probably also need to do more intervals on the bike to build up better high-end speed.  At this point, the bike is my weakest discipline, and that’s good because it means that I’ve become a better runner, but it also leaves me with something to work on.
Came into T-2, racked my bike, changed shoes, and I was out.  Not much to say about it.
T-2: 0:50.
Most of that time was spent running to the rack with my bike and then running from the rack to the Run Course.
I hit the run, and I was breathing really, really hard.  It’s frustrating that I felt like that after coming off a relatively slow bike ride, but what can you do?
I was mindful of a discussion that we’ve had recently in the Google+ Triathlon Community, i.e. you may feel like shit at the start of the running leg of a triathlon, but the odds are that you’re running faster than you think.  In this specific case, I kept that firmly in mind and forced myself to run comfortably and with decent form, trusting that once I got my breathing under control, I’d be running well, regardless of how I actually felt.
It took me maybe a mile before I started to feel like myself, and I was actively holding back just a little on the run from about the one-mile mark to the turn-around.  I definitely wanted to run smart and finish strong, especially coming off what felt like a shitty ride.  That plan seems to have worked because I hit the turnaround feeling pretty good and started to slowly let myself accelerate a bit, and to be honest, we were back almost before I knew it.  Truthfully, I finished feeling so strong that I think I left a little something on the run course, that I should have maybe accelerated a little harder coming of the turnaround.  But I was satisfied with my time, both on the run specifically and on this course in general, so I suppose that all’s well that ends well.
Run: 3-miles, 23:58 (just under 8:00/mile).  3/8 AG; 39/103 Overall.
That run course was a shade under a full 5K.  After the race, folks were saying that they went on that course about what they’d go for a 5K by itself, and in fact, that held true for me as well.  Still, going about 8:00/mile is a nice pace for me, about where I want to be as a runner, and I’m more than happy with it.
Charles Island Sprint: 1:11:11.  3/8 AG; 24/103 Overall.
Before the race, I thought I might go about an hour-twenty.  The swim was a little short, so I gained a minute or so there, but even so, this was better than I thought I was gonna do, especially just coming off of vacation.  I was super-happy with the performance overall, in particular because I know I didn’t quite have my best stuff.  Ultimately, it’s not anything to get too super-worked up about, but I made it onto the podium for my age group—granted in a small field—and that was a nice little bonus.  Certainly not what I was expecting pre-race.
To put this performance in perspective a little, the winner was a guy named David, who is
unquestionably the best triathlete in Coastal Connecticut right now.  He’s also a member of the Milford Y and an occasional Tri Club participant, and I really like riding with him, even though it’s some serious work to keep up when he’s around.  Plus he’s a nice guy.
Anyway, David went 10:20 at Ironman Lake Placid—maybe a half hour or so off the pro-tour times for a nine- to ten-hour race—and then he came back to do this race a few weeks later.  He was :15 ahead of me in the water and several minutes ahead on both the bike and the run, to finish overall in 58:22.  That was a bit more than four minutes ahead of second place and a bit less than thirteen minutes ahead of me, personally.
Which gives a sense of where I am as a triathlete right now.  I was about eight minutes back from the leader in my Age Group and about four minutes back from the guy who got second, and for as much as I would’ve liked to have gotten second in my AG instead of thirst, fact is, I don’t think I was gonna make up four minutes anywhere along the course, even if I had the best race ever.  Four minutes is a lot in a one-hour race.
Sally celebrates!
Sally, meanwhile, went 43:02 on the bike and 26:19 on the run to finish 2nd in her Age Group.  But while she was happy just to get on the podium, she was only a minute behind her AG’s winner and frustrated that she didn’t push a little harder and get that minute back.  For what it’s worth, my personal opinion is that 43-minutes is probably not too bad for Sally on the bike, but she can go a lot faster than 26-minutes on a 5K run to close out a race.  I run with Sally a lot, and if you ask me, she’s more than capable of closing out a race like this is under 25:00.

All smiles post-race.  Our friend Marisol took this
awesome pic.
Looking Forward
Sally and I are both doing the Westport Kiwanus Triathlon (super-sprint) in September and then we’re planning to run the Hartford Half-Marathon again in October.  I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also looking forward to the end of the season and to just changing it up a little and focusing on different things.  It’s been a long season so far, and I’ll be happy to ease off a little and train in a less-regimented way.


  1. Congratulations! You guys kicked ass and deserve a HUZZAH!

    And for what it's worth, I like reading your race reports. From your writing style it seems that you also like writing them, so we got a good thing going here. XD

  2. Thanks Alan. I appreciate that.

  3. Congrats! Love your style of this report. I too try to do race reports in the same way for the same reason.

    My next races are Aug 30th then through September/Oct. FL has year round racing.

    I look forward reading more.

  4. Thanks Bonnie. I really appreciate you taking the time to say that.

  5. I have to say doing the yoga everyday while up in Maine really helped even though I didn't do any other training during that week. I would also highly recommend practicing yogic stretches before every race. The benefits really pay off.

  6. I like watching you do yoga...