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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Long Beach Triathlon Race Report - Redemption


After my previous race experience, needless to say I was a bit cautious coming into the Long Beach Triathlon. My expectations were lower, I had already made this a non priority race, and I was two hex-bolts away from putting training wheels on my bike. Overboard? Maybe. But I didn't want to risk eating asphalt salad again (by the way, "Asphalt Salad" would make a great band name!). You can read all about my expectations in my previous post here.

All that being said, as I went to pick up my race packet on Saturday morning, I got a view of things to come. The weather was absolutely beautiful with no wind. The water was calm and inviting. Much of the bike course was a grand prix race course (designed for fast racing). The run was flat. While this was a short "secondary" race, the conditions were about as perfect as they could be, which made me second guess my conservative approach. What better course to give it all I have and see how well I do?

That thought lingered a long time, but I had to remember what got me to this start line; humility, patience, and acceptance. I also had to remember that being too aggressive forced me off the road last time around. I decided to stick to my original plan: Book it on the swim and run, and take it relatively easy on the bike. 
This post is "media rich", with plenty of photos and video to help you kill some time. Many thanks to my wife, Marie, who took full advantage of our new Nikon D7000 and got some great shots! So without further ado, here is the race report.

Race day sunrise
Pre Race:
I arrived at the transition area about an hour early, set up my stuff, and started eating some oatmeal (this has been my pre-race meal of choice, as it has not caused me any GI problems in the past, and gives me plenty of carb energy). I made my way to the swim start by jogging the path in my wetsuit. I was the only one doing this, and I heard a lot of comments along the lines of "the race hasn't begun yet," and the like. However, I find it is essential to get a good warm up in before a race. Why would you ever want to start out stiff and cold?

Once I reached the starting area, I took a few swim laps around the buoys. The water felt great, and I thought about the last time I was in the water in Long Beach. I was about 3 or 4, and our family was in the marina among the slips of boats. I thought it would be a testament to my strength to show that I could push one of these 28 foot boats and make it move in the water. I validated my physical prowess, but misjudged how gravity would play into my little experiment. I ended up in the water between the dock and the marina, and fortunately was rescued by an understandably alarmed set of parents. I think it was at that time that they decided to put me in swim lessons. Today I was venturing into the water on a voluntary basis.

I was having some issues with my goggles filling up. Turns out there was a small crease in the rubber seal, that probably came about because they were left in the hot car (only thing I could think of). I had trouble fixing this, but my backup pair was back at transition, and the race was about to begin. At this point I took my own advice and just "let go" of the situation and do the best I could.

Swim:
We were the second wave to go, and the wave breaks were only 3 minutes apart this time around. The 30-39 age groups followed the 20-29 age groups. After the first group took off, I lined up at the front middle of the wave. This is usually the spot where the fastest racers position themselves, and I wanted to see how I fared. When the gun went off we ran to the water and the front of the pack, as expected, began to converge a bit. Once I was about knee deep in the water, I dove in and began swimming, recognizing that I was faster if I swam than continued running. This helped me to pass a few more people. There was lots of contact between the shore and around the first buoy, but I was able to find my way around a lot of people and continue moving forward. Finally, after about 300 yards, I began to find some open water and found a great rhythm. At a couple of points I noticed that I made contact with the feet of other racers, only to recognize that they were from the wave in front of me. I was seeing fewer and fewer orange caps (30-39), and more and more green caps (20-29). I took that as a good sign. 

Swimmers begin rounding the buoy's and heading for shore.























We rounded the last buoy and headed for shore, and I began to back off a little bit so that I could catch my breath for the run up the beach. Once I hit the shore and I looked at my watch, I saw that I was at about 11 minutes, which was much faster than my goal of 15 minutes. However, I still had to make it up the beach to the timing mat, a few hundred yards away.

Exiting the water and heading toward transition
As I crossed the timing mat I saw that I was around 13 minutes. A great swim! 

Swim Time: 13:02, 1:29/100 YDS

Transition 1:
Further good news was about to hit me, as I recognized that most of the bikes in my age group were still present in the transition area (which meant that many people were still in the water). Transition went smooth, as I was able to get my wetsuit off, and socks and shoes on, quickly without a problem. My only mistake came when I didn't turn on my GoPro before the race. This took me about 15 to 20 seconds to address, but I couldn't afford not to film the bike portion! That would be doing all of you fine people a disservice! The rest was easy. I ran to the mounting area, got on my bike, and there I went!

T1 Time: 1:50

Bike:
Again, my goal was to take the bike conservatively, but in sections where it was safe (straightaways, wide areas, etc.) I would put the hammer down as hard as I could. It was really the turns that had me nervous, as I didn't want another rider to clip me or try to cut by me on a sharp turn. I found that I would get passed by a few people on each of the sharp turns, but then I would reclaim my position on the straightaways. Thus I think the reward for aggression is minimal and short lived. 

The first lap was fantastic, as it felt like I had the road to myself, with the occasional rider. The course took us down Shorline Drive from Ocean Blvd. down the grand prix raceway. A quick U turn brought us back down the raceway toward the Queensway bridge in Long Beach. Over the bridge and toward the Queen Mary, there were a few more sharp turns, at which time I was passed, and straightaways, at which time I did the passing. We went back over the Queensway bridge and took a sharp right back on to Shoreline. I anticipated this turn and took it slow, but was passed very quickly on the left by someone in aero position (no brakes!). 

As we approached the turnaround, the honeymoon was over. Now into the second lap, the field was becoming more congested with people coming in from later waves. Unfortunately, this meant there were faster bikers mixed with much slower bikers. While it was relatively easy to pass on the wide Shoreline Drive, as we went over the bridge, there was no way to pass. This made my already conservative bike time even slower. But, the good news is that I made it back into transition with both wheels on the ground and my head above the handlebars. 

Biking into T2
(A little more shameless self promotion. Music by Radblaster)

Bike Time: 33:07, 19.9 mph (The bike was a little longer than 11 miles - my Garmin had it at 11.5, with a split of 20.9 mph)

Transition 2
Everything went absolutely perfect in T2, I don't think I could have done anything any differently. This time I saw only two or three bikes, which told me I was still in good shape. Got my running shoes on and my race number, and sprinted outa there!

T2 Time: 1:03

Run:
My goal was to run 7:00 miles, and I was just about there. I remember from my previous race in Carlsbad that I hit the gas too early and burned out in the last couple hundred yards (at which time another racer passed me). So I held back a bit longer, while trying to keep my pace around 7 min.

The run was much like the bike in that the first lap was empty, aside from faster 20 somthing's passing in the opposite direction toward the turnaround. The second lap was more congested, but I found it more easily navigable, and was able to continue passing people while maintaining my pace. It was a great feeling as I approached the turnaround the second time and the volunteer pointed to the turnaround but I was able to point to the finish and go through the chute. I didn't really hit the gas at all at the end of the race, but I should have finished strong. But at least I finished feeling like I didn't need to puke.

The best part is I looked at the time as I crossed the finish and saw "1:13:00". This meant that I actually beat my goal by 2 minutes! I then realized that, being in the second wave, we started 3 minutes after the first wave. That means I beat my goal by 5 minutes!

Happy finisher with energy to spare!
Run Time: 21:25, 7:09 min/mile
Total Time: 1:10:25, 5th place age group (out of 46), 40th overall (out of 611)

Overall, I enjoyed this race. The course was great, the climate was awesome. Organization had a lot to be desired, but I can't complain about a fifth place finish in my age group. I wasn't aware of my placing when they first began posting results, as they were just posting overall. I could see that I did pretty well. As I pushed through the crowds to see the posted results (in the smallest font possible), I tried to determine how many 30-34 age groupers were ahead of me. I thought I saw two or three, but I couldn't tell. While we had other plans for the day, I had to convince my tired wife and kids to stick around for the awards ceremony.

The awards ceremony wasn't very organized as they were giving awards out to the relay groups and youth groups before getting to the age groups. They announced the names and I found out that I didn't get a podium spot (which was okay, because it wasn't very organized - they didn't have a podium). I was just happy with my performance. Given this was a "B" race and I didn't want to be aggressive, I think my time was awesome.

When I got home I learned that I got 5th place in my age group, and missed third by a little over 2 minutes. For my second finished race, this is not too shabby. Putting this into perspective, at an Ironman race, there are 50 spots allocated for the Kona World Championships. At times, 30-34 will get at least 5. Being 40th overall, and 5th in age group would secure a Kona spot! Granted, the Ironman is a lot more competitive, a lot longer, and a lot more challenging, but I have time, patience, and determination. It may not happen next year, or even the following year. But the point is that for the first time that goal actually appears on the horizon and looks achievable. I think I've come a long way in the last year. Great things are yet to come!