A few weeks ago I competed in the “Vineman 70.3” half distance triathlon which runs out of Sonoma County, California. Vineman is a ‘licensed’ triathlon which means that it is Ironman branded but it is run and owned completely by Vineman.
I haven’t been blogging as much (or at all) this year as I did last year. Last year I was new, this year I am not so new. My training leading up to this race was actually pretty good. My bike was good, running off the bike was good, and swimming was OK. My long runs (each and every one over 1.5 hours) were all terrible. That was the big unknown for me this year; and I knew it going into the event.
We started the swim from Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, CA; a small summer vacation spot full of ageing hippies and summer vacationers. The town is nestled in the hills and has two stoplights and one main road. The Russian river is not very wide, about 15 meters, and very shallow, running an average depth somewhere around 4 to 5 feet. Even though it is a river, there is barely a current either way. Race morning the water was about seventy degrees, a very doable temperature. This year I went with a rented Zoot sleeveless wetsuit. No problems there. The swim is simple, swim down on the right side of the river; come back likewise. The trick is that you can take the whole width of the river for the first 100 meters or so since the swim exit was about 100 meters up stream. I took a spot far to the left of the starting buoy and made my way to the right as we swam. This swim was extremely comfortable, the closest thing to pool water outdoors as I have ever seen. I wasn’t kicked or abused in any way – which is rare – I saved energy by not swimming very hard and drafting. I left the water in 37:05 (1:56/100m) which isn’t fast but right where I should have been. I could have swum faster but you only earn very few minutes of time for the amount of energy you have to expend.
As usual this part of the report will be longest since weird stuff tends to happen on the bike and you are on the damn thing for the longest time compared to the other legs. T1 sucks in this race, it isn’t a long run but the surface is a packed dirt which gets slick when it gets wet. When your wave is number 16 then yes, the ground will be wet. I almost ate my face, thankfully I didn’t. There is a short steep hill at the bottom of the T1 exit which a lot of people walk up, I didn’t but I did have one false start, I geared myself too low for the terrain out of fear and my first pedal stroke didn’t get me far enough. After that misfire I was out of the area and going down the road.
About 5 miles down the road there is a hairpin right turn onto Sunset road which is not just a 90 degree but the road is only about one car width wide so you have to keep your attention through that area. That lasts about a minute when you come to the 90 degree right turn at Westside Road which is a short and steep uphill. This was the hardest hill of the day, forget about chalk hill, doing this hill in the beginning of the bike sucks, and you can’t carry any speed into it because of the terrain.
At any rate, this bike course is harder than I gave it credit for. Certainly not impossible, but much harder than Boulder. Not only is there more climbing (all of said climbing is not paid back to you either) but the roads are narrow and curvy.
My initial pacing goals were quickly knocked down a peg. I felt OK during the entire bike, I played chicken with a couple guys in my age group in the later part of the bike which kept my interest up. Chalk hill arrived which was hard but about half as hard as my local hill (Olde Stage Rd in Boulder) and I was able to get over the hump in decent shape. I arrived in T2 in good shape for the run. All totaled I did the bike in 2:38:03 averaging 21.3 MPH. Good, but not as good as I had wanted.
The first thing one must realize is the large distances involved in the transition runs in T2. The dismount line is in front of Windsor high and the transition area is in the back of the school. You have to run with your bike along the length of the school. Once you get to the area you find the racks that correspond to your age group and find your run bag that you dropped the day before. Once you leave you must run to the far corner of the transition area (the make it clear everyone runs the same distance in T2 and this is how the enforce it) where they had porta-toilets which I had to utilize. My memory is hazy but I think the transition run continued after we left the transition area because I started the run portion on my Fenix 3 and my distances were way off.
This run marks the first time I have ever started a run in triathlon and my legs didn’t feel like complete garbage for the first mile or so. In fact, the first mile, 5K, 10K, 8 miles; were all relatively good. I had a reasonable goal to run a two hour flat half marathon. For a good portion of the run I would at or near that goal. I took in liquids at every aide station and I had a gel at mile 4. By the 10 mile mark fatigue started rearing its ugly head. My pace had dropped substantially and while I was still running, my pace would not support a two hour half and I knew it. I muscled through the last 5K without walking but it was certainly not quick. The finish line was lined with spectators (more than any other triathlon I have ever done) and they were a welcome sight. I ended up doing the half mary in 2:10:03 a whole ten minutes slower than I wanted. I wasn’t thrilled about the time, but I was also happy I didn’t have an epic meltdown so those two emotions balance themselves out.
Since I am a couple of weeks removed from this I am having a hard time remembering exactly but this is how I think it went:
- 1 Gel before swim
- 1 Gel in T1
- Gatorade endurance chews on bike
- 3x gel on the bike (approximately 1 every 45 minutes)
- 1 Gel in T2
- 1 Gel at mile 4 (should have had another at mile 8)
- 2 1/2 bottles of Gatorade EF on the bike
- One cup Gatorade EF + water at each aide station
The venue was adequate. The bike course needed more marshals, I almost got bumped off the road by trucks carrying trailers. Johnson’s Beach was fine but the area was very slippery. T2 was fine but the transition runs were abnormally long. This is a licensed event, there was not very much Ironman branding going on; if it wasn’t printed on your swim cap then spectators might not really realize it was an “Ironman” race. On the topic of spectators, the ones that hang out at Windsor High School were awesome. You get lined spectators during T2 (I think some of them want to see people biff on the flying dismount) and a huge crowd at the finish. They make a big deal about the mile loop in the La Crema Winery; this is not nearly as cool as it sounds. While it is nice to run on packed dirt with a bit of shade; years of drought makes that part of a run a dirty dust bowl.
This was the fall of running for me. Everything non-running went by the wayside (with the exception of the two triathlons I did) between late August and now to focus on running. In fact, after the Malibu Triathlon our bikes stayed in their bags in the middle of the living room until yesterday when I finally rebuilt the bikes, cleaned them off, and put away the bags. I am going to compress the two races into one report because most run reports go something like this “I got to the race venue, stood around for a while, raced, ended, I was happy/sad” the end. So…I will do a little of that but with a focus on the race venue, organization, and course so that if you are considering doing the race yourself you can take those things into consideration.
Denver Hot Chocolate 5K/15K
The hot chocolate run is in it’s second year in Denver and it is put on by the folks at RAM racing. It sports a 5 kilometer and a 15 kilometer course that runs through the heart of the downtown Denver. Probably the nicest thing about this run is the swag. I had a coupon from Active for a free hat, which I will never wear, but the nicest thing in the swag bag is the running hoodie.
These things are expensive when you buy them! They have a zip pocket in the back. They are called “luxurious”, I am not sure about that but they are awfully nice. I see this with new races, the swag can be quite nice.
The race venue starts at Civic Center Park in Denver and they were smart by having the 5K racers start first. On a side note, people might find the 15K distance strange but it only is strange to us imperial unit fanatics. 15K, as a race distance, makes perfect sense. It is a 5K squared. A 10K plus a 5K, however you want to think about it is OK. Ultimately it is 9.3 miles which sucks when you are calculating your per mile pace.
I was running with buddies and we were setting a 8:50 to 9:05 pace which eventually went to 8:30 in the second half of the race thanks to my friend who is a bad influence on me. Overall the course was nice. The roads were blocked off and the Denver Police Department did a good job on traffic control. This is not a huge race but there were a lot of participants. The course looked like this:
My only real complaint was that the finish line was long by .16 miles, which is more than a quarter of a kilometer! I am normally patient with finish lines which are long or short by up to 1/10th of a mile compared to my GPS. This is because the GPS is accurate to 3-5 meters and there may be slight variances of when I hit “Start” on my watch and when I actually pass the timing mat. This should be a trivial exercise to fix but I have noticed that it is not uncommon to be inaccurate above 1/10th of a mile.
Anyway, the race finished up and true to form there was hot chocolate available at the end of the race. Not only was their hot chocolate, but they also had some sort of chocolate fondue with marshmallows and graham crackers for dipping. This could easily be a cluster-f*ck but the volunteers at this tent and at the equipment check in/out were fantastic. My experiences at the 15K, other than the odd distance and long finish line, were excellent. This qualifies as one of the better organized events I have been too. The finishers medal is pretty nice:
Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon
So this was the big kahuna of running events for me. Before this time I had run two half marathons. The first one was an arctic half marathon and I finished it in 2:07 which roughly equated to 9:45 a mile. Not terrible for my first time and my longest run. It was also the first finisher’s medal I have ever gotten, ever. The second was the end of the Boulder 70.3 – which didn’t go quite well. This was truly only the second race I did all year where I had any performance goals, that goal was to do the thing in under two hours. Sarah and I trained fairly diligently for this one but unfortunately Sarah had been having nagging issues with her foot – some sort of stress injury – as a result she was unable to participate in this run.
The venue was the same as the fortnight before (Hot Cocoa Run), Denver’s Civic Center Park. The R&R marathon is a big undertaking in Denver. There are a ton of participants across the 5K, 10K, 1/2 Marathon, and Marathon distances. The swag wasn’t as nice as the other run so I bought myself a Brooks (Brooks is the signature sponsor of this series) visor.
The race was well organized and all the Marathoners and 1/2 Marathoners were generally corralled at the front with the lead pacers up front. I was in corral 4 which was quite close to the front. One nice thing about these events is they have pace groups. Some guy runs the pace (say, 3:45 marathon) while holding a sign up. People in the group can sign up and get an extra bib which identifies you as part of the pace group. Or you can jump-in mid run. I ran with a pace group for a time and the person holding the pace marker was giving tips to the people in the group, that is a nice thing to have.
This year, instead of running around City Park and the museums, the course went around Sloan’s lake. Running west – from almost any point in the front range, is normally uphill. This was no exception. The full marathon folks do the same course as the 1/2 marathoners until the 1/2 people go to the finish line and the marathoners split off to go around Cheesman Park.
The weather was nice and cool and this helped offset the fact that the course had some challenging spots. Balloon arches were set up around the course which was nice. A lot of people who were unable to leave their homes due to the race (many roads were fully closed) stood outside and lent their support.
Overall my pace was pretty good until I hit the wall of all walls at mile 11. I had one gel right before takeoff, one halfway through, and in hindsight I should have had one prior to the last 5K. Not only could I have used another gel, but my longest run on the buildup to this was 10 miles. On the week and weekend of the longest runs in the plan I fell sick so my long intervals (2 times 2 mile intervals) was cut in half (2 times 1 mile intervals) and my 1:45 run became 1:30 and my 1:30 run turned to be closer to 1:20. My training was good, but not ideal. My plan was to gut-out the last 5K and I did but my last two miles were 30-45 seconds a mile off pace.
Fortunately I had banked enough average time (under the minimum pace for the 2:00 pace) that even though I ran a 9:30 and 9:45 respectively for my last two miles, I still finished in 1:56, 4 minutes ahead of goal time.
At the finish line with my buddy Jorge who finished his first half marathon and Jenn who ran the 5K.
Now it is time to back off running a little bit and invest some training time into swimming and back into biking. I am going to focus a little more on strength and on improving my low zone running speed. The sun is going down earlier and coming up later so my outdoor one hour runs will be done with less regularity. Sounds like a good time to run moderately on the treadmill.
OK, it took me a long time to get around to this. It has been a couple of weeks since I participated in the Malibu Nautica Classic Distance Triathlon. I an summarize this race the following way – Nothing went horribly wrong, nothing went really excellently. I didn’t feel great after the finish and that has basically clouded my memory of the event. So lets get to it.
Sarah had committed to doing this triathlon with Team Amwins (a business affiliate of hers) earlier in the year. She roped me into it by asking me many months ago “Hey do you want to do a triathlon in Malibu” and me going “Yeah, OK” maybe not totally understanding or internalizing the consequences of that agreement. Sounds like completely typical marital communication.
Fast forward to September of this year and I am lugging my bike in a brand new bike case (2x $450 Thule Cases…REI loves us) into DIA. As an aside, no one figures you are carrying a bike. I had 4 people ask me what was in the bag, one person asked me if I was carrying a yurt. Number one, what the hell is a yurt? Number two, why is that the first option you went to? The nice thing about this case is that the bottom of it resembles a roof rack, putting your bike into it is very straightforward. It takes about 20 minutes of wrench turning to disassemble and insert the bike into the case and the same amount of time to reverse the process. There aren’t places to put your handlebars, aero extensions, tire changing kit, saddle, etc. We bought some bendy rubber ties from Eddie Bauer and I fashioned all that stuff into the bag – it was a thing of beauty. I think the TSA people opened it just to see my elegant packing job once they saw it come up on the X-Ray machine.
We got up to Agora Hills on Friday night after some tourist sight-seeing and bedded down for the night. There are actually two Nautica Triathlons, the international distance on Saturday and the Classic Distance on Sunday. When we got to the hotel we saw familiar signs of other triathletes. People with numbers painted on their arms, TT bikes, headsweats visors, and things with Project Rudy painted on them. The hotel had little brown bag breakfasts prepared for these athletes which was very nice of them.
The next day we headed out to Malibu for packet-pickup. This was my first clue that this was not a normal Ironman brand or Lifetime brand triathlon. These folks were not well-organized. No need to spend a lot of time on that topic, but it felt very amateur. The strangest part was the bike tags, normally they are stickers you slap onto your bike frame so the officials and police can see your number. In this case we got paper numbers with holes punched in them and zip ties with which we would affix the number to the tubes of the bike. Yes, that thing flapped around in the wind.
Morning of race – we had to get up stooopid early. Like 0345 or something. There are only a couple of ways to get to the beach and they all have bad traffic. By the time we made our way from Agora Hills to the beach it was about 0430. Instead of martyring ourselves, we had a nap in the rental. It only takes a few minutes to set up your transition area. Eventually we grew bored with napping and we made our way to transition. The transition area was very large, this a big triathlon by number of triathletes, to give you an idea of how large, my T1 was 1/4 mile! Normally it is 1/5 of a mile or less. Since we were a corporate team we got our own rack which meant I got much more space than usual and we were right near bike and run-out. Score.
The swim – I have never swum in the ocean before. The breaks were large, some were over my head and this was a new experience for me. I got crushed a few times on the way out but eventually I got through the break.
That isn’t me but this person was in my swim wave and I would say that it is a good approximation of the break I experienced. The swim was an eye-opener for me, and not just because someone smacked off my goggles and when I put them back on there was a little salt water in them and it burned my right eye like holy hell. It was an eye opener because the water was clear enough you could actually see around you. I have done triathlon swim in Union Reservoir, Boulder Reservoir, and Weaver Lake, in all three you are lucky to be able to see your own arm in front of you below water. In this sea you had 5-10 meter visibility.
Anyway, I swam slow as poop. I was planning on getting out of the water in 15 minutes and it took me 21 minutes. Twenty one minutes for a 1/2 mile swim, that is almost shameful for me. I am convinced I lost all my time trying to get on shore. That break that was a b*tch to get through on the way out was hell getting through the other way. Worse because you weren’t sure when a wave would crash you in the back of the head. Worse still it had the effect of pushing you into shore a little but, but then immediately pulling you back out. It took me ages to get out of the water, and when I finally did I felt like I had gone through the spin cycle. Sarah had a similar experience except one of the breaks tumbled her head over feet! The swim was quite an experience. This was the first time I saw people hauled away on a rescue jet-ski – and there was more than one.
The bike – not bad by metrics. 18 miles averaging 20.8 MPH. What I wasn’t expecting were that the rolling hills actually included a bit of real climbing. If you are familiar with the Pacific Coast Highway at Zuma Beach and about 9 miles north you know what I am talking about. Here is the profile:
You go from 16 feet to 200 feet a couple of times. That will get the legs warmed up. The course was beautiful on the way back because you get an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. My only gripe was the turn around point which brought you below the highway on a smallish paved path. That was fine, it was everyone that slowed to 6 mph (a 15 mph speed limit was imposed here) and road side by side that pissed me off. Other than almost plowing over a clueless cyclist on a downhill the rest of the bike was uneventful.
The Run – Not bad by metrics, but I was not feeling well. It was warm out and I was still super annoyed by the swim. I was cranking away averaging 8:32 a mile which is a few seconds below my 10K time. It was warm, sunny, and humid, which isn’t a recipe for a really fast run. There was some unwelcome elevation change but I muddled through it OK. I was passed by someone with no legs and only one arm. I am not joking, this happened. For obvious reasons there was no age written on his calf but I memorized his bib number. I beat him in the overall race but it is still humbling to be smacked down.
This is where my major gripe with the race happened. The run was 1/4 mile long. I can tolerate 1/10th of a mile, that is understandable, but 1/4 mile in a 4 mile run significantly alters your split times. This is an easy problem to fix, so fix it. Have someone run two miles out with a Garmin and tag the turn around point.
When I got back in from the bike I noticed Sarah’s bike was still on the rack, so I was very concerned that they had plucked her out of the water. Turns out her swim wave was just waaaayyyyyy behind me and she was fine. After the finish you walked off the course on soft sand, the worst surface to walk on after a race short of molten lava. I desperately wanted cold water which they didn’t have at the finish. I am so accustomed to being handed a bottle of water after these things that I think I actually stuck out my hand and promptly received nothing. I made my way to the brunch tent, mainly to get out of the sun because I was much too warm, and they had nice hot coffee and milk. The though of either of those options made me queasy. Eventually I found orange juice, which helped. It took me 30 minutes of sitting in the shade before I returned to normal. I was able to see Sarah come into the finish, she felt better than I had.
Overall I have mixed feelings about this triathlon. On the one hand it was beautiful and the proceeds went to a good cause, on the other hand it was somewhat poorly run. There were far too many relay participants and the lack of experience of many of the cyclists was borderline dangerous. In fact, someone was rather severely hurt the day before in a bike crash. I wouldn’t dissuade people from doing this triathlon because it does go to a good cause, but I wouldn’t make it my A-race.
This past Saturday Sarah and I participated in the Maple Grove Sprint/Olympic distance triathlon (we both did the Olympic distance) in Maple Grove Minnesota, which is a suburb of Minneapolis. This marks my first Olympic distance triathlon and my first triathlon that wasn’t put on by Ironman. Maple Grove (along with Winona, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and a host of other ones) are put on by Lifetime Fitness. The natural side effect of being Lifetime members and being on the lifetime tri team is that registration was extremely inexpensive. Since my in-laws live about twenty minutes away from Maple Grove, it seemed like a natural fit.
Our training leading up to this race was not very extensive, in fact we only did one bike ride in the three weeks leading up to the race so we really weren’t expecting much. With our expectations set reasonably low, we went to packet pick up the Friday before the race (this race was on a Saturday) after having driven all night. The differences between racing in Colorado and Minnesota were apparent straight away when we were driving in. We had to run the windshield wipers…not because it was raining but because the humidity was 100% and it was foggy. Having never sighted the race course (and we didn’t bother on Friday) and heavy fog in the forecast, I had half a mind to expect to get lost on the bike!
We arrived at packet pickup and sat down for the athlete briefing. This triathlon is held primarily at Weaver Lake Park which surrounds the aptly named Weaver Lake. The park is not large but green and pretty. The lake is cool freshwater and the race was a combination of paths and sidewalks. The transition area was surprisingly large for a triathlon that I thought would be small.
We scoped out the transition area and the T1 run from the beach to the bikes which, according to my Garmin, was about 600 meters. We were in for a nice surprise when we got our goody bags. The T-Shirts are a nice blue color made of a moisture wicking material. They were also giving away blue Maple Grove Tri headsweats visors. I love these things and I can always use new ones.
One great benefit to participating in a smaller triathlon is that we don’t necessarily need to be there at the butt-crack of dawn. We got up at a reasonable hour and did the short drive to Weaver Lake and arrived at about 0630 in the morning. My swim wave started at 0700 or so, that sounds like it was tight, but it wasn’t too bad. We couldn’t park particularly close but duh, we have bikes, so we rode in from the car. One annoying part of Lifetime triathlons is that they do not allow duffels into transition, only clear plastic bags. It sucks to ride a bike with a clear plastic bag full of shoes, wetsuits, and other assorted crap.
Within a few minutes I was suited up for the swim, I was in an early swim wave. I didn’t warm up or anything, I dipped in the lake to get a little water in my wetsuit and I lined up with my wave. Two things stick out about this swim. Number 1, it was very foggy this morning.
These are the collegiate athletes entering for their mass start swim wave. This leads me to the second unique aspect of the swim compared to the other two triathlons I did. Ironman favors a floating start where you essentially wade out to a starting buoy and the starter releases you when it is time. At Maple Grove we entered the water in time trial fashion, which meant we lined up two abreast and every three or so seconds the starter would release us two at a time. We would run into the water and commence with the swimming. The last time I did an open water swim was in June but luckily I am not a nervous swimmer so I adjusted adequately. My only open water goggles are tinted (I swim in Colorado 99% of the time) which brought the already low visibility even lower. Combining the lack of sunlight, fog, and water sunglasses meant that I could only see the next buoy at any given time. Fortunately I could see the see of swim caps and I was able to follow th leader with the best of them. I didn’t get beat up to badly during the swim, even around the turn buoys. I got out of the water in 31 minutes pacing at about 2:01/100M. This was exactly the pace I was expecting.
One main goal I had during this triathlon was to run at a very, very, very short stride during the transition run. Running in a wetsuit sucks and a long stride means you are fighting your wetsuit on the way to the bike. I achieved this as I ran/stripped.
You can clearly see where my bike was racked. The mount point was actually sooner than is noted on this map, I just forgot to hit the “lap” button on my Garmin until I was on my bike.
I knew the bike was going to be an unknown. I haven’t been training on the bike and I have never done a 40KM TT and I have never done an Olympic distance triathlon so I had no idea how to pace. I had recently read some triathlete (Jordan Rapp, I think) who said you should be able to be at 97% of maximum on the bike portion, so I said “What the hell” and hammered it. The course profile was very easy. There was a little bit of wind and a TON of fog. So bad I could barely see through my sunglasses, and I had put the low visibility lenses in! I got to a pattern of peddle, peddle, wipe glasses, peddle, peddle. I always wear glasses riding, the tiniest of rocks can ruin your day if you don’t have eye protection. This marks the first time I have done a competition course where I literally had no idea where I was going. I never rode the bike there, barely looked the map, and snoozed through the athlete briefing.
The bike was a strange experience, it was foggy, and cool, so it was comfortable in temperature. The fog though, gave it a surreal feeling, like biking in a dream. It felt like there was something holding on to my back wheel, I thought my brake caliper might have been running but my pace was OK. I attribute that to lack of training, no more. The roads were heavily policed as some out and backs required us to use the left part of the right lane. This was good because it would be hard for me to get lost with cones one the road. There was a critical intersection where people doing the longer course had to go left and the shorter course folks went right. I was worried I would make the wrong turn here. Luckily for me when I approached the intersection the race organizers set up a large VMS (variable message sign) the type normally used to inform people of traffic problems which said “Long Course Left, Short Course Right”. By this time I had acquired a rabbit biker who, between the two of us, would pass and be passed. They had one aide station on the bike which came out of nowhere (no really, it was heavily foggy at that point so it appeared to come out of the mist) and I had enough time to slow down and take a bottle hand off, but not too slow that I lost my rabbit rider. I got about half a bottle of Gatorade in my aero bottle. In total, I would drink a bottle and a half on the bike.
My bike was 1:09 and I averaged 21.5 mph. This should have been faster. On similar terrain under similar circumstances at altitude I have done 22/23 mph. A month of deconditioning will do that to you. My T2 was pretty quick, I took some more fluid, 1/4 EFS powershot, and three honey stinger gummies. I put on my shoes and headsweats and took off the glasses and I was off.
The first bit of this run is straight up a rather steep hill, that says “Welcome to Maple Grove” where there was an aide station where I took some water. My legs were stiff from biking and swimming and I had a bit of reservation about the run. This lasted about a mile. I took a gel 3/4 of a mile into the run and the stiffness started to run itself out of my system. I ended up taking water at all 6 aide stations out of habit but I didn’t walk through them so it didn’t hurt my pace.
A combination of being at low altitude (about 900 feet), it being a very cool day (about 67 degrees), and some more aggressive run training conspired to make this the best 10K I have run to date. I ran the 10K in 52 minutes which is 8:28 pace and that is a whole minute faster than normal per mile. My goal for the run was to hit 9:10 a mile (since that is what I want for the 1/2 marathon) so I hit that goal without issue. This was a high zone 5 effort which at low altitude is sustainable for a longer period of time. The run was a nice two loop through a very nice neighborhood where curious homeowners and onlookers gathered to watch us. A 12-14 year old brought his drum set out and entertained the passing runners.
By the time I hit my second loop many of the sprinters were taking to the course and it became more congested. This was one of the few times that I passed other people whilst running. What a feeling. I did get chicked by a 55 year old lady who asked me the pace we were at (she didn’t have a GPS watch) who, after being told, promptly strided away from me. If anything will keep your ego in check, that certainly will. I am not saying 55 as a guess, this was what was written on her left calf!
After it was all said and done I completed the triathlon in 2:40 which easily beats my goal of “under three hours”. Sarah had a good race coming in at 3:10. Later that day we went and walked around the Minnesota State Fair for 5 hours. Olympics are much more forgiving activities than 70.3s!
I would do Maple Grove again (but I probably won’t) and I will certainly do another Lifetime Triathlon. The venue was great, the race staff were excellent, and the event was done efficiently. I think next year we will try for one or more of the Lifetime Triple Crown (MSP, NY, CHI) series based on the experience we had at this event. I would recommend Lifetime triathlons to anyone, especially beginners who may want a less intense environment than ironman, but still want to experience a real triathlon.
Team Evergreen’s Triple Bypass ride is an internationally known gran fondo bicycle ride that has been put on for the last 26 consecutive years. They have a simple motto; “For those who dare” which is fitting considering the immense challenge that this particular ride represents to casual and serious riders. The attraction to this particular century ride is the route, which goes from Evergreen to Avon looping through 3 mountain passes (hence the name ‘triple bypass’) for a total of 120 miles and 10,990 feet of total elevation gain. The ride profile looks like this:
There are a few more challenging rides in Colorado, you could do the death ride, you could do the double triple bypass, or you could complete the Colorado Triple Crown which are more challenging events. Those events, however, are either multiple day events or (as is the case with the triple crown) so elite that only handfuls of people are able to complete any of the stages. As far as an accessible event for the masses of people, this event can be thought of as a crown jewel of an accomplishment for a cyclist. The difference between this event and other gran fondos is similar to the difference between a sprint triathlon and a 70.3, or maybe a 10K vs a half marathon. Regular and fairly intense training is required in order to even complete the event.
I have wanted to do this event before I considered doing a triathlon which, at the time, seemed like a very lofty goal, because at the time it was. I was in terrible shape and at that point completing a 40 mile bike ride in any amount of time was quite an accomplishment. In fact, I did the Tour of the Moon gran fondo last year which had a fair bit of climbing (nowhere near the Triple Bypass) and I probably stopped before almost each hill to catch my breath.
Enter 70.3 training. Sarah had been interested in doing a long distance triathlon and I couldn’t very well let her do it on her own. I signed up for the triple bypass as well and met with my coach and we decided that 70.3 training should be enough to get me through the triple bypass as well. To that end, I did very minimal triple bypass specific training. After I did the 70.3 I joined my Ironman friends for 2 of their century long training rides and then a week before the actual event we went up and did Freemont pass and Vail pass so I could acclimate to the altitude. Three rides, that was the extent of my triple bypass specific training. Luckily for me, two of my triathlon buddies were also signed up for the event, so I wouldn’t be alone on this quest.
I was able to carpool with Jason and his dad up to the start in Bergen park. This was a very good idea because there were a TON of riders ready to go right at 0600 on Saturday morning. It was challenging to find room for 1 car, let alone three. We set off to tackle Squaw and Juniper pass and for the first time ever, there were people actually checking our wristbands to make sure we paid our dues to ride. There is a certain amount of banditry that goes on during these rides but Colorado State Patrol was pretty serious about only letting registered riders onto the course. It became evident why, CSP monitored the entire course, some roads were closed to traffic, others were marshaled. You have to pay to get those privileges.
This first segment is roughly from Bergen park to Warrior mountain and we climbed from roughly 7,800 feet to 11,100 over Juniper pass. I fought off a cramp in my right hamstring which went away after I warmed up a little and took down a bottle of Powerbar Ironman Perform. I thought I had sufficiently hydrated but on balance I may have been a little dehydrated at the start. Juniper pass is a nice road to ride on but the trees block most of the view until you get to the very top.
At the top of this mountain we had an aide station which, since it was about seven in the morning, had bagels as well as the standard fare of cliff bars and gels. The volunteers were very pleasant and would cream cheese or peanut butter (or both if you asked) a bagel for you. Since the road was closed to traffic, it was very safe and relaxing.
My two co-riders, a father and son team, took a break for a photo-op. The father did the triple bypass before and swore he would never do it again! Here he was a year later, back at it!
We got back on the road and enjoyed a nice long downhill into Idaho Springs. I had not put on my jacket which turned out to be a mistake, even though it got warmer as we descended, early morning mountain air…while piercing through it at 40 mph is like being in front of a huge cold blow dryer. I white knuckled it the whole way down. I was so cold that my HRM, which reads heart rate optically, started reading my heart rate at 212 BPM because my capillaries tightened up so much.
We had a ton of community support in Idaho Springs, there were people lined up on the road cheering us on and ringing cowbells. Nobody overslept in Idaho Springs on this particular morning. The route meandered through Idaho Springs where there was another aide station (time for sunscreen) and we were connected to Georgetown. The route took us up to Silver Plume by bringing us through the parking lot of the Georgetown Loop Railroad up to a trail that goes along side I-70. This bit was quite a climb, if you craned your neck up you could see cyclists a couple of hundred feet above you and if you looked down you saw the opposite.
This led us to unexpected challenge number two. A significant portion of the Silver Plume to Loveland route was done on new and nicely paved bike paths. That sounds nice until you cram 3000 cyclists onto it. The challenge is two fold. First, with that number of cyclists it can be hard to pass or be passed or stop safely. The second challenge is that driving roads are generally built within guidelines set by US DOT and state DOT for safety. Bike paths are not within these guidelines so they can be steep and undulating (as this path is) and curvy. It was difficult to be in the right gear because it changed so rapidly. We were eventually dumped off the path onto US 6 very close to the base of Loveland Pass.
Family members were allowed to meet there athletes here so it got very crowded. This pass (even though we were already more than halfway through with the climbing) would be challenging. It is the highest in elevation which is evident by the fact you would be climbing to above the tree line. If you look closely, you will notice there is still some snow on that mountain. US 6 was closed to drivers with the exception of trucks carrying hazardous materials which can’t go through the tunnels. Luckily those trucks are few and far between.
After thirty minutes of eating and generally dithering about we mounted back up and started the climb. Jason and I are both decent climbers and we were passing people fairly regularly. Don’t get me wrong, our breath was getting short but we could complete intelligent sentences. We saw someone on an elliptical trainer (I am not kidding, I actually have a video of his) trekking up the pass. We passed someone who was wearing an Alpe d’Huez jersey and since I was interested in doing that triathlon I pulled up next to him and asked him about it. This wasn’t my brightest idea, firstly he was French and at that point in the ride I think it was hard for him to form English sentences. Secondly, even though Jason and I were essentially conversational this didn’t mean other riders were. We got past him and saw the random person bail out for a break and one or two people walk their bikes for a little bit. Jason was a little faster than me on this pass (he led me by 5-10 meters) but he pulled off near the top to regroup with his dad. I got top the top and had a quick talk with two gentlemen who were doing the double triple from Montreal. The top was empty of cars, there a bunch of cyclists and some volunteers who were shouting motivation to us.
After a few minutes Jason and his dad arrived and we got a picture at the top of the pass from one of the volunteers.
I am on the far right, and after my experience going down Juniper pass I wisened up and put my jacket on. I am the one on the far right.
We didn’t spend much time on the top of Loveland because we saw storm clouds gathering and we wanted to avoid the raid. To that end we failed, about five minutes into the descent a shower started. That wasn’t the worst of it, I have ridden in rain before. What was the worst was riding 30 mph (slow for safety) and getting hailed on. The hail only lasted a few minutes but it was enough to beat me up a little bit.
Descending out of Loveland pass brings you past Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and eventually dumps you into Dillon. CSP closed the road on Swan Mountain so before our last bypass we had another climb over Swan Mountain to do. At the base of this climb was the penultimate aide station where we met another one of our triathlon friends. At this point the hours of cycling were starting to wear on our bodies. My buddy Wade and I ride “endurance” bikes (he a Specialized Roubaix and me a Trek Domane) and we were starting to feel it in our backs and…of course, our behinds.
After this aide stationed we were quickly marshaled onto another bike path which runs between Dillon, Frisco, and Vail. We weren’t thrilled with being on another bike path but this one was fairly downhill and straight which turned into a low grade climb which brought you into Copper Mountain Ski area. This trail was better than the first one but by this time other pleasure cyclists began to appear both in our direction and opposite us. Once we got to Copper Mountain we had begun to loudly b*tch and moan. The next pass was Vail pass heading west which would technically the easiest climb of the day…had we not just done 8900 feet or so of climbing. Vail pass is also a recently repaved trail which is high grade at only a few places. Jason again rode ahead with me behind and his dad behind me. There is one blind switchback which was a monumental challenge, thankfully at the apex of the switchback Jason decided to stop and wait for us. I didn’t want to bail out but seeing him was all the excuse I needed. His dad arrived, we took a picture, had some water, and set off again.
After a grueling few minutes we reached the top of Vail pass and the last aide station. Wade didn’t stop there but we did. I planted myself in front of the watermelon and oranges for a few minutes and had a little meal. We still had 25 miles or so left so even though we wouldn’t be doing any more climbs we were far from done.
We descended on a trail from the top of Vail pass into Vail. We went fast because we were going downhill but we weren’t laying down too much wattage. Once we got into Vail started the hardest part of the ride which was between Vail and Avon. We had done 100 miles and still had more to go. The route was flat to downhill but we were tired of riding and tired of being on our bikes. Luckily there was a 20-22 mph pace line we were able to get into which took us the next 12 miles to the finish area.
I was (and am) beyond happy to have completed the ride. It was an ambitious goal to begin with, it took 6 months of regular training to complete. Was long distance triathlon training sufficient? Yes, was it efficient, no. If you were to simply do the triple bypass you could have gotten the same results with 2/3 the amount of training time or less. It didn’t hurt, Jason (who is doing Ironman Boulder) did it without getting his heart rate over 150! Was it harder than the 70.3? Maybe. I was sore after the triple, I was also sore after the 70.3. If it is easier, it is only because it is untimed and therefore you could take as long as you want to eat, put on sunscreen, take pictures, etc. Ultimately I had fun, I will probably do it again next year. Thanks to Jason for driving me to the start and hanging with me, thanks to Sarah for picking me up and spending the night in a resort with me . Thanks to my coach Nicole and my other triathlon buddies who trained with me over the months. Thank you also to the Lifetime Cycle Team who I ride with occasionally and who I see in the cycling studio from time to time. Double triple, maybe, 2015.
I have finally gone and done an actual triathlon! For all my training and talking about triathlon, this is the first one that I have ever actually done. A sprint triathlon is a short distance triathlon that attracts everyone from first timers (me), young people (youngest male was 13), old people (there were a few septuagenarians in the group) and some very, very, very fast athletes. This sprint is an Ironman branded event which really doesn’t mean anything significant except that there is a bit of a quality standard that Ironman branded events are held too. This race was a 1/2 mile open water swim, a 17 mile bike, and a 3.1 mile swim. This is slightly longer in the bike than a normal ITU sprint triathlon.
Athlete check-in was Saturday and we were there right at the start because it was a training day so the team decided to do a little workout while the check-in was being set up. Check in was uneventful and the staff was helpful. We attended the athlete briefing which was short and sweet. There isn’t a ton of stuff to go over for a race this size and distance. We didn’t have mandatory bike check in, which nice because I don’t like leaving my bike where I can’t control it. I have a lot of money tied up in that thing.
The next morning Sarah woke me up before 0500 (which annoyed me) to get out to the race location. We didn’t start swimming until 0730 and I hate standing around. We didn’t have to be quite so early but it worked out OK, we ran into a bunch of people we knew and we hung out.
I am second from the right. Our coach, Nicole, is very close to having that baby! Jason, far left, and Brian, right next to me, are in my age group so they swam with me.
Hijinks ensued when it was time to get into our wetsuits, which caused nerves for me because the last time I swam in the wetsuit (the day before) it felt like I was shoulder pressing the entire time. Imagine those little elastic bands with handles on them which you can find at almost any health club. Imagine stepping on one end and doing the crawl stroke holding the other. This is what it felt like to swim in my wetsuit. I texted Nicole, distraught at the thought that I had made a $700 mistake in buying that wetsuit. Her response; “You have to pull that thing all the way up so that it hurts your nards a little bit”. Okie dokie, hurt the nards, got it.
Sarah helped me put it on, Nicole was being might helpful holding the camera . Joking aside, if you notice that the sleeve is a couple of centimeters away from my wrist, the day before it had been down at my wrist, this time we pulled it all the way into the shoulder to give my arm more freedom…and we pulled it all the way to the nards.
The ladies got into their wetsuits much earlier than I did, I have a superstition about things and I don’t like getting my equipment on until I am absolutely ready to start doing whatever activity I am about to start.
Unlike last year, when Ironman races did a metered start, this year they are doing wave format starts. I was in the first wave, males from 12-34 years old. We started in the water about waist deep. The course is a U shape with three buoys on the long sides and one on the short side. The starting noise went off and we were into the race. A triathlon swim is hard to describe unless you have done it. Unlike the pool, you have little to no directional reference looking down or ahead in the water. You have to spot the buoys and set a course and hopefully you stay on it otherwise you will stray. This is easier when you are with a bunch of people because the pack tends to go in the right direction. As much as it was annoying swimming in the pack, when I found myself not around anyone, it wasn’t because I was going wicked fast, I was actually off course. I probably lost a minute or two over the course because I had to change direction to get around the buoys.
Fortunately the adjustments in my wetsuit helped though I was still swimming with more resistance than I am used too. This may be just a consequence of swimming with a full sleeve wetsuit. I had no idea, I am such a novice that I just got a wetsuit that someone told me I fit into and went from there. Doing it again I would go with a sleeveless wetsuit. The water is not cold enough to phase me and unrestricted arm motion is more important to me than getting slightly more hydrodynamic with rubber covering my arms. People make a big deal about how much their wetsuits “help” them, primarily with buoyancy, to me it feels like more of a hindrance. Then again I don’t have issues with buoyancy in the pool, so it is solving a problem I don’t have and introducing problems of its own.
At any rate the swim didn’t go badly. I got in at 14:04 right before my two buddies in my swim wave. They passed me going up the chute to T1, I was a little dizzy from the swim so I didn’t go too quickly into transition.
Sarah is a more experienced triathlete and open water swimmer than I am. Getting out of the water and into transition was less dramatic for her.
It took me 2:47 to get out of T1, probably a whole minute of that was peeling off the stupid wetsuit. I got that thing off and shoes + helmet on and I was ready. It sucks to run in cycling shoes. It is like running in ski boots, awkward, slow, and noisy.
For a 17.1 mile bike ride I would be on my bike for less than an hour. Only one water is needed for that so I went without any additional bottles on my bike frame.
I had a good and strong bike, 21.6 mph and I finished in 48 minutes. I know this course well and there is a grinding uphill portion for the first 5 mile stretch. Even when you start going downhill you are still kind of going uphill at the same time until you hit Neva road where all of that work gets rewarded with almost constant downhill until you get back to the start.
I got a two minute penalty on the bike for “overtaken”. In triathlon rules there is a rule that says once you get overtaken you need to drop back a certain number of bike lengths in a certain amount of time. I did not do that and I was penalized. In a longer race this might result in going to the “penalty tent” for the prescribed amount of time, in this case the penalty was added to my total time. This only really matters if you are competing for money, age group awards, or to go to a world championships. None of those apply to me so I am not so broken up about it. I knew the rules and I got dinged, I will be more careful next time.
Due to my decent swim and good bike, I got in off the bike with a lot of serious athletes. My T2 time was much better (1:37) owing to the fact that all you really have to do is take your helmet off and change shoes.
A 3.1 mile is a little baby run compared to most triathlons and open running events. At the end of a triathlon, even a sprint, the run can be an unforgiving mistress. I set my pace in the high 8 minute miles (and I stayed there) and I was passed mercilessly by what seemed like everybody (it wasn’t everybody, but it was probably 130 runners). It wasn’t that my run was terrible, it was that I was in with all the very good athletes and compared to them, my run is very slow. I am talking about sub-20 minute 5K times. I can’t do that fresh.
I did the run in 27 minutes and change, which is actually a quick 5K for me. I am bulkier in the upper body than most triathletes owing to the 10 years of weightlifting I did before this sport. That extra weight does me no favors at any portion of triathlon.
Overall I placed 145 out of about 470 competing athletes and the upper half of my division and gender. This was a competitive field so while I would have liked to have paced better, the only conceivable place to do that was the run, and training to do a 1/2 marathon in a 70.3 is different than training to do a fast 5K. Maybe after the 70.3 I will put some more effort into my speed, but at this point I am happy with where I am at.
Now for the 70.3
As a predictor of my performance on the 70.3 I am OK with my results and how I felt. I felt like I could easily continue running for another 10 miles. Obviously I will approach the 70.3 much differently than the sprint. I will have to do a much better job sighting the buoys and I will plan on spending at least 40 minutes in the water so the vertigo will be more pronounced. I will go probably 2-3 mph slower on the bike than I did on the sprint and I will be between 3 and 3 hours and 10 minutes on the bike. I will start the run at a 10 to 10:30 pace instead of blazing out of transition as fast as possible. The half marathon will take anywhere from 2 to to 2 hours and thirty minutes – maybe more. Fueling will be much more important, I had one bottle on the bike and I took two cups during the run. During the 70.3 I will have three bottles (or more) on the bike and almost every aide station I will take some water. I will have a bonk breaker, gummies, and a gel on the bike. At the beginning of the run I will have an EFS power shot and 1-2 gels over the 1/2 marathon and possibly another bit of bonk breaker.
I am a little more confident now that I have done the sprint, but I am still wary to “respect the distance” on the 70.3.
This is my first ever race report, the reason is simple, this was my first ever race! It was a personal record by default because not only was it the first half marathon I have ever done, I am fairly certain it is the longest distance I have ever run ever in my life! I am happy to have the experience under my belt.
This was not an A race for me, in fact, it was the culmination of a 3 week build phase in my training. Brian, Sarah, myself, Don, Kaira, and Sabrina (Sabrina did a different half) did this with the opposite of a taper. In the work week and Saturday leading up to Sunday’s run, this was our workout schedule:
Tuesday: Swim – 2200 meters Bike – 7×5 minute hill climbs, negative splits
Wednesday: BRICK – 1 hour bike @ moderate intensity, 20 minute run at threshold intensity
Thursday: Run – 12×1 sprints with active recovery Swim – 2000 meters (done back to back)
Friday: Swim – 2500 meters
Saturday: Bike – 3 hours (61 miles) Run – 30 minutes (I skipped the run)
Sunday: Long Run – 13.1 miles
If your legs are a little sore (as mine were) from the previous days bike ride then you haven’t tapered properly.
Sunday morning, race day, I am a little nervous because this was my first ever half marathon and only second organized run I have done since the 90s. The weather was not favorable. It was about 32 degrees and sleeting. If you are unfamiliar with sleet, there is a precipitation between straight rain and nice fluffy snow. When snow falls (or rain depending) and there is a mean temperature difference between origin and ground, the snow turns into a frozen ball of ice/water which, when picked up with even the slightest amount of wind, stings the face.
Even considering the weather, a good many souls showed up to brave the conditions to do one of the three (5K, 10K, 1/2 Marathon) runs available. As a quick aside I would like to mention that we had great community support from Arvada and a good many volunteers who stood in the freezing rain to hand us slushy Gatorade and oddly thick power gels. Arvada is an older suburb of Denver and often overlooked in favor of newer communities. A few years ago they widened their roads and put in generous bike lanes (where we ran when we were on a road) and many running paths, which we took advantage of. The Arvada Apex Community Center (where we started/finished) is a nice facility with a full workout facility and 4 pools.
If you come from a warm climate and wonder how you equip for a run like this, there are solutions. I wore a pair of Pearl Izumi multi-sport pants (good for breaking the wind since they are designed for cycling), a Nike hyper-warm turtleneck running shirt, an Eddie Bauer BC-200 rain shell, Pearl Izumi thermal cycling gloves, a Swix winter hat, and a Newton Running branded Headsweats visor. I also carried a fuel belt with 2 water containers with Skratch secret drink mix and a GU Gel (I meant to grab a honey stinger gel which I like better).
The course was not overly aggressive but the longish climb required some personal race management to make sure I wasn’t prematurely burning myself out. One thing to note, those little spikes in elevation seem quaint enough on the profile but when you running up that grade (some oddly placed high grade hills in residential neighborhoods??) it can be spirit breaking. In fact, there was a sign at the beginning of the highest grade one which said “It’s a hill, get over it”. Clever race people, clever.
There was only one real problem spot for people. Up until the lake the trails were paved. The trail around the lake was not paved or grated in any way so somehow the mud was both sticky and slippery at the same time. While out there, some of us joked that this was our first half marathon survival run.
Not only was the lake practically dangerous to run on (a lot of people walked for safety) it coincided with a time where mother nature decided that freezing rain was better with a bit of wind. This was the only time I ran with my hood up which blocked most of the freezing rain from hitting my left/right cheek). I passed people here who were better runners than I was, but not as sure footed and without the mountaineering class jacket I was wearing.
Fortunately, once you finished this the course was essentially out and back so that gradual climb in the first half was a gradual downhill on the way back in. There were not a ton of runners out there so I found myself either alone or within sight of one or two other runners. By this time the 10K people had all but cleared the parts of the course they shared with us. We were on wooded trails so line of sight wasn’t great, if it had been a sunny day this would have been a relief because the trees would have provided ample shade.
The finish line was not lined with people, too cold for that. The organizers had space blankets for us, which was nice. I found my co-runners and waited for my wife to come in who was a few minutes behind me. When I saw her I jogged in with her.
I averaged 9:45 a mile, which isn’t brilliant but my run plan was actually to be paced at 10:00 a mile so I was well within my planned pace. It would have been faster but the trip around the lake cost me (and many other runners) minutes. Not a huge deal, it wasn’t as if were were competing for money.
My fueling and electrolyte plan was spot on. I had begun hydrating the night before (a combination of preparing for the run and recovering from the bike ride that day) with an amino-acid electrolyte supplement. Morning of the race I had an english muffin with peanut better and jelly, a cup of coffee, and a KIND bar. During the race I hydrated from my fuel belt every 10 or so minutes and took the race water twice. Halfway and three quarters I had a gel, the second gel was probably unnecessary but a nice race volunteer handed me one so I took it. Sarah and I took a potassium supplement post race and besides some soreness in the calves (not uncommon with Newton Running shoes) we haven’t had any cramps. Our attitude during the race was positive and we didn’t have any emotional drops or feelings of “Can’t this run be OVER!” which are common signs of glycogen depletion and electrolyte depletion.
This was supposed to be the last organized race before I went on to do the Boulder Sprint and 70.3 in June but we may run the Colfax 1/2 marathon in May which is flatter – maybe I can improve my time. Realistically, I will probably do it, I have enough friends who are running it so they will bully me until I sign up .