Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Train Easy, Race Hard
Golden State Triathlon
.5 mile swim, 15 mile bike, 3 mile run
"Train hard, race easy," is a maxim I've heard many times relative to triathlon and endurance sports, though I never agreed with it. Even when I was training intensively, doing intervals and other workouts scientifically designed to make an athletic silk purse out of my lumpy-sow's-ear self, I always put myself out on the ragged edge of what I was willing to endure in a race and suffered accordingly. Race reports from 2002-2004 at www.slowfattriathlete.com, will bear out this assertion. Now that I'm training in a much more relaxed and less structured way, essentially avoiding running at all costs, the suffering quotient involved in a race does change qualitatively, but quantitatively I think it's about the same.
I was marginally more prepared to do the Golden State Tri than I had been for Luna Bar, if only because I had already done Luna Bar and Golden State would be mercifully shorter and flatter. I had even ventured out the weekend before Golden State and done my first 3-way training brick in probably six years. A brisk couple hundred yards in the river, a 3.5 mile spin along the path, and probably .8 miles of jog/walking. Not dramatic, but pleasant training.
The location of Golden State was a huge plus for me, as for the first time I could easily bike to the start of a race. An easy 2.25 miles put me right in transition and served as a good little limbering up session. I went to pick up my packet, griped at the staff on learning that they had already run out of XL and XXL race shirts, set up my transition area, got body marked by a young woman with very neat body-marking writing (we both agreed that in general, dudes are way sloppier at the body-marking), and went to look at the swim exit. I had been curious about this as all I could ever remember seeing on the right bank of the river were steep sandy bluffs. Sure enough, the swim exit was essentially a crawl up the bluff, "aided" by some temporary wooden steps that looked like they would be slick little death slabs when wet. Hmmm...
I grabbed a gel for before the swim and walked up and over the Jibboom Bridge, which I normally cross on my bike on my Mon-Wed-Fri commute to the train station. The super sprint was starting, and I joined the crowds watching the swimmers and checking out the buoys for our race. Over at the beach, tri-ers were staring to warm up in the chilly water, which had actually taken my breath away during my little brick the other day. I was enthusiastically greeted by Julie, a reader and SVTC member whom I knew only from Facebook, so that was fun. This time I eased into the water more gradually than is my wont. Someone swam out toward the flock of 30 or 40 Canada geese which were swimming around right by the start buoy, thoughtfully pre-fouling the water for us, and frightened them off. I struck out for a warmup swim, which, truth be told, is probably one of my favorite parts of a race. Just hanging out in the water, swimming easily, dolphin kicking to stretch the back, joking with my fellow racers, looking around at the trees and the sun and the water - what could be finer?
But eventually the horn sounded and we thrashed off upstream. The current, which seemed gentle, almost imperceptible, during warmup, felt a lot stronger when I was trying to swim upstream for a long time. The race organizers had set it up so that 2/3 of the swim was upstream and only 1/3 downstream, which was less than ideal, but there we were. At least navigation was easy. Pretty much upstream, between the center sets of bridge pillars, turn around the buoy, head downstream, and look for the orange buoy by the "stairs." I stood up, looked at the stairs, which I now perceived were severely slanted toward the water and covered with mud, and decided discretion would be by far the better part of valor here. I used my hands and my feet to crawl to the top of the stairs, and promptly slipped in the mud where the stairs ended. I didn't fall though, and managed to remain upright all the way to the top of the little gully in the bluff. One down, two to go.
I decided to take my time in transition and found a curb to sit on. I had found my perfect race socks: kind of broken in, the elastic not too grippy, and I had remembered to fold them down for easy slipping onto the foot. I had even remembered an extra water bottle to rinse the mud off and a pack towel to dry off. Like I said, taking my time.
This tri was unusual in my experience in that (a) bike riding was legal in transition and (b) drafting was legal throughout the bike leg. I was excited about this as I've always been a fairly adept bike handler for an amateur and I was looking forward to catching an easy ride. However, I knew that I'd have to catch someone first. This proved to be easier said than done, as the road quickly slanted up and over the drainage canal. I ride over this bridge 3x/week on my way home from the train. It seemed both easier and harder - I was propelled upwards by adrenaline and yet I was still pretty pooped from the hard swim. The drag along Garden Highway to Northgate was ever so slightly uphill, so I puttered along for quite a while, being passed by packs of sleek carbon-fibered greyhounds, not-so-sleek packs, and individuals on beach cruisers. Well, maybe not quite. But definitely folks on mountain bikes. Then it was down Northgate (off the levee, downhill), a quick U-turn and back up Northgate and onto the levee, and back toward the park. This went much faster. A couple of quick turns, down the levee, around a block, and back up the levee, and back over the canal bridge and into the park. Phew. Lap 1 of 3. My breathing felt good but my quads felt pretty tired for a flat course. Those levees are more troublesome than you think.
On the second lap I managed to catch up with a gal with an older bike and toe clips - she was buzzin' along though at about 17.5 mph. I held her wheel for a while, then offered to take the lead, but with the speed it took me to overhaul her, I lost her. Then we swooped down around the office buildings, back up the levee, and so forth. On lap three, the two of us picked up a third woman. I drafted off her for a while, then she pulled in behind the two of us and it started to feel like a bike race. Or it would have if my companions had any experience in a paceline. Still fun though. It felt good to be going fast-ish on a bike again.
What with all that fun and the up and down onto the levee and off again, my legs were pretty blown when I hit T2. Still, only 3 miles on a path I knew well and knew to be actually flat, not just "flat." I stumbled out of transition and onto the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, AKA the American River Bike Trail. A bunch of runners were already coming in, a familiar experience to me as I listened to the cheers for the happy finishers. I tried to settle into a rhythm of 50 steps jog, 50 steps walk and get my breathing into a regular, sustainable rate. The weather was warm but not hot, and I took Gatorade at the first aid station just for the heck of it. I had managed my nutrition pretty well this time. I had yogurt before leaving the house, some Accelerade and water on the bike, and a gel during the bike as well. Even though this was a "sprint," I was still figuring it would take me around 2.5 hours to complete so nutrition was definitely a consideration.
A slow run is not much to write about. I cheered on some of my fellow slow runners, upped my rhythm to 100 steps jog, 60 walk, then back down to 60-60. I stretched my back a few times, but it was basically fine, nowhere near the cramping and pain I had at Luna Bar. Julie passed me about a mile from the finish; we hooted. The aid station appeared again, which I figured was just under a mile to go. As usual, that last mile seemed pretty long, and I couldn't hear the sounds of the finish until I rounded the last bend of the path and the finish arch was almost right in front of me. It was beautiful. I ran as best I could, gave a little fist pump as I crossed the line, and settled in to look for fluids and then the Elk Grove Tri Club, who had invited me to their post-race do. Kathy Lewis and her gang proved to be a very friendly bunch with some of the most amazing snacks I have ever eaten. (Can I get the recipe for those pumpkin-cheesecake-bar things? Wow.)
So that was the last tri of my rather short multi-sport season. San Ramon Aquathlon, Luna Bar, and now Golden State. I really feel a lot more like a triathlete now than I did after Luna Bar. I found myself checking the calendar to see if there were any other local races I could do and looking up bike rides and other events. I'm scheduled to go down to Monterey in November and do a 5k with the Chico gals. But my next sporting event is the Lady LaMa Pro-Am disc golf tourney in La Mirada on October 23. Tournament Director Indigo Brude is still accepting registrations.
Other off-season plans - work on the running, I think, without straining the joints too much. Do some strength and flexibility training at the gym. Get in the pool just to remember how it works, and keep bike commuting into the winter this year, even if it takes spending the money on waterproof clothing and a bag for my laptop.
Another cool thing - almost no soreness or fatigue either the next day or the day after. That, my friends, is huge.