Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Portage Lakes Sprint Triathlon

Portage Lakes Sprint Triathlon Race Report
I have raced at Portage Lakes three times before this year: two sprints and one olympic. I have only ever placed in the Olympic and almost always find myself in the toughest age group in the race despite being in a different age group since the last time I have raced. It is the only local sprint that I have done where I had never placed been in the top 3 of my age group.
For some reason, I really wanted to do this race this year despite being completely undertrained for it. I have swam a total of about 5 miles the ENTIRE summer. Yes, there was a single day in January when I swam more than I did in the months of June, July, August and so far September combined.
I had trained for the run for HTC, but I had done a total of 2 speed workouts, and I just forgot to run the week before this race. I could have run on Friday, but I didn’t want my legs to be tired. Any running right now leads to some soreness.
Enough of the background and the excuses…
It was freakin’ cold. When I went to go get body marked, the guy laughed at me because I had on so many layers of clothes. Considering it was about 50 degrees, I didn’t think 4 layers of clothes was excessive.  I was happy that I got there a little early as the body marking line got really long about a half hour later. I later heard that they stopped marking people’s calves because the line was so long.
I had no problem setting up my transition area. I had convinced Mentor to come out and race, and by the time I got there, he already had his transition setup. I milled around for a while chatting with teammates. One had pre-ridden the course before the race, and he mentioned a turn where you need to make sure you are in the little ring. I made a mental note of it and continued to chat with folks. Little did I know that they had changed the course since the three times I had raced it.
I talked to Tattoo Mike, who lent me his trislide spray to make it easier to get in my wetsuit and to prevent chafing. Apparently, he isn’t the biggest fan of being cold, so he switched from the tri to the duathlon and had no need for his swimming supplies. It worked great, and I was very appreciative!
After Wisconsin last year, I was really paranoid about putting on my wetsuit too early for fear of calf cramps crippling my swim. With about 20 minutes to go, I finally put on the wetsuit and headed to the bathoom one last time. I think it was in that line that I had my biggest moment of panic as I had dropped my goggles. Fortunately, they were only about 10 yards away from the line so it wasn’t that big a deal. I had another pair, but I had done this swim before and not wearing tinted goggles would have been a big problem.
I got down to the beach, and I noticed that the swim looked longer than expected. I guess I am used to these sprints where you basically get your feet wet and the swim is over, forgot that some sprints actually make you swim. Standing on the beach was absolutely torture in my sleeveless wetsuit. I was freezing and then standing on the cold wet sand was unbearable. I quickly wised up and stood in the water that was 72 degrees rather than on the 50 degree sand.
I stood there with Mentor, and I told him a bad joke, kind of a habit of mine to try to break the tension. He laughed, but then he reminded me of my all-time favorite story of what he saw while waiting for IM Lake Placid to start in 2009, and I started laughing hysterically. I needed to be relaxed, and it definitely helped. I don’t think I can tell the story in my blog, but if you know him, ask him about it. Regardless, I haven’t felt that calm before a race in a very long time.
The women were in the 4th wave so I got near the front and took off running when the gun went off. The course was a beach start, running in the water to a buoy then making a right turn to do a loop around the buoys. The first stretch of the loop was by far the hardest as it was almost due east, and with the sun, it was pretty much impossible to spot the buoy. Heck, I couldn’t even spot it on the shore before the race. After reaching that buoy, I got much more comfortable and fell into a rhythm. I didn’t think I was having a great swim, but I didn’t think I was slow as I feared. I knew I had caught up with a few guys in the waves ahead of mine, but not as many as I usually do. I do miss the days of colored swim caps. It was always a fun little game as to how many different colors could I catch on a swim. Oh well.  I made a wide turn around the final buoy but kept swimming until I hit sand, then stood up and ran to transition.
Swim: 14:39 (15th out of 107)
I ran up the hill and the long way to my transition rack. I stepped on my wetsuit to get it off my feet. I had my socks rolled down so they would be easy to slip on my wet feet. I put on my shoes, sunglasses, helmet, and I was off.
Time: 1:32 (not bad considering it took some time to get the wetsuit off)
Bike: I don’t have a mount for my Garmin on my tri bike so I carried it until I got on the bike, then put it on my wrist while exiting the park. I would say that I probably passed about 10 people before I even got out of the park. I realized just how bad a swim I had because I don’t ever recall passing that many women on the bike course, at least not in short course.
This race was the first time I had raced in an aero helmet, and HOLY COW, I almost think they should be illegal! My Garmin beeps every mile, and I honestly thought something was wrong with it because it didn’t seem like I could be ticking off miles that quickly. I just didn’t feel like I was working hard enough to be maintaining the speed it was telling me I was going. I kept looking down at my computer, and even when I wasn’t pushing, I was going 20-21 mph. Granted, there were few instances when I wasn’t pushing.
Before the race, Mentor told me to be nice out there, and I said I would try, except that I see myself coming off as a complete B**** on the bike. When you are a strong female cyclist starting after three waves of men, you are going to be passing LOTS of people on the bike. Some of these people know how and where to ride on the road, others do not. My throat was slightly sore from yelling at people to get over. I would say that I passed at least 50 people on the bike, and that’s probably a pretty low estimate.

As soon as we turned right out of the park, I realized it was a different course than the one I had done previously. I knew that the old course was considered pretty hilly so I figured, it would probably be similar, and I think that is pretty much the case. There weren’t as many rollers, but there were some slightly longer uphills, still too short to be called climbs, but still a challenging course.
I recall getting to one turn, and I saw a steep uphill and realized that it was the hill that my teammate mentioned, and I quickly dropped to the little ring. I was grateful for the heads up because I might have tried to climb it in the big ring, then dropped my chain when I tried to go into the little ring.
Any experienced triathlete should look at a Sprint triathlon as a z5 sufferfest, basically a time trial of all three disciplines. I can’t say that I was going as hard as I would in a TT, but I noticed that on a few of the climbs, my breathing was pretty labored. I think that the presence of slightly longer uphills made it necessary to take some recovery on the downhill. Even if I didn’t dwell on it, I knew I was running when I got off the bike, and I didn’t want to burn too many matches.
I did notice that I did better on cornering on my tri bike. I don’t think a time trial bike handles as well as a road bike, and I have struggled adapting my handling skills to my Kestrel. I didn’t take the turns as sharply as I would on my Cannondale, but I definitely took more speed than I would have a year ago.
The bike course was a little long as I heard my watch beep for a 13 and 14 mile, no problem for me, give me a long bike course anyday! I was hoping for the best female bike split, and that’s what I got. As I made my way back to transition, I saw Tattoo Mike on the 2nd run for the duathlon. He looked a little surprised to see me already, and I took that to be a sign that I was doing well. 
Bike: 40:18 (averaged 21.1 mph with about 950 feet of elevation gain in 14 miles 1st out of 107 by 1:40)
As I approached transition, I told myself I could do it, so I reached down and unvelcroed my shoes and managed to get both of my feet out of my shoes before heading to the dismount line. I had never even practiced a flying dismount so I was really excited by the success I had on my first attempt. It definitely made for a faster transition as running in my socks was faster than trying to clop along in my cycling shoes. I got to transition, took off my helmet, stuffed my feet in my pre-laced shoes, grabbed my water bottle and visor and took off.
Side note: Read Eric’s blog ( if you want to read a good description of how to do a transition properly. I do believe I have read every race report he has ever written, and he is very methodical, and I tried to emulate him. What Would Eric Do? Apparently, Eric would also yell at you if you never practiced a skill and tried it in a race.
T2: 0:45

I felt like I needed to pee when I started running, and I contemplated ducking behind the same building I ducked behind in 2007, but I just told myself it wasn’t that bad. The run course was different than it had been in years’ past, and I think it was confusing, short, and probably plagued by people cutting the course. The course turned right onto a down and back into a parking area on a little peninsula on the lake. The course then headed in the direction of transition but turned right on the road heading out of the park. The course had a turn around on that road, and then headed back to the first down and back before turning left across the parking lot to the finish line.
I got passed by a woman coming right out of transition, and I don’t recall any other woman passing me, which is huge, I tend to bleed places on the run. There were two women ahead of me that I could see. The one woman wasn’t making much ground on me, but I wasn’t catching up either.
The first down and back is a bit of an up and down so I was prepared for a slight rise at the beginning, then enjoyed the little descent. As I made my way out to the second down and back, I spent a lot of time paying attention to who was coming in the other direction. I didn’t see many women at all so I figured I was in 3rd or 4th place overall.
It was in that second down and back where I started to wonder why I was going so slowly, and that’s when I realized that it was a nice false flat. I was happy when I saw the turn around, but it also seemed short at that point, that heading straight back to transition wasn’t going to be close to a 5k.
I enjoyed the run back towards transition as it was a gentle decline, and I was able to assess how much space I had on the women behind me. I think the closest woman behind me was about four or five minutes, and I felt confident that I would maintain my position in the race baring a cramp or falling or something stupid on my part.

When we got back towards the transition area, we were informed that we had to do the first down and back again, which I thought was kind of weird, but expected as the run would have been really short otherwise. I think there was lots of confusion at this point, and it also made it difficult because I could no longer just follow the guy ahead of me, I had to know where to go.
While I did pass a few people on this last down and pack (people I am assuming who were just starting on the run), I could tell my run was starting to get very forced. My pace went from an 8:08 to an 8:25 (mind you most of this was a false flat) to about an 8:30. I was getting very stiff, and I never really payed attention to keeping my arms loose.
On the last turn around, I could see that there were no women chasing me down so I kind of put it on cruise control to the finish.
Run: 23:29 28th out of 107 (yes, I am pretty sure it was still short)
I am not going to lie, the results make no sense to me. I don’t recall seeing four women ahead of me on the run, not to mention duathlon women on the course, and there were enough down and backs that I should have seen them. I recall seeing two. I am not going to say it’s intentional as it was very easy to do, even unintentionally, but I am pretty sure there was some course cutting taking place. Regardless, 5th overall out of over 100 women is a good result. I was 3 minutes back from the winner, and I did manage to place in the sprint at this race, FINALLY.
Total Time: 1:20:46 3rd in the 30-34 age group, 5th overall.
End Notes:

I can't think of anything that went wrong in this race.  I got my watch on while riding just fine.  I had no problem working the multi-sport function on my watch.  I had gum ready for the run.  I didn't drop my chapstick.  I honestly don't think I have ever had a race go so smoothly.
The top 3 women in the 30-34 age group all did better than the 1st place finisher for the men’s 30-34 age group.

Mentor came up to me after the race and poured an ice cold cup of water over my head. He was so excited for me, he said he heard them announcing my name as he was in T2. He kept saying, “you crushed it!” For him to say that, it’s a compliment. It’s rare for him to do or say anything that might inflate my ego.
I was wondering why HFP decided to change the run course, and my best guess is because they lacked the volunteer support to man a 3rd aid station on the run course. Maybe not, but I hope they change it back to a closer to a 5k run (even though I don’t really complain about short run courses), but I think there was plenty of course cutting going on at this race. In almost every activity, I am starting to get this realization that volunteers are really underappreciated. So, the next time you are racing, say thank you to the volunteers and consider volunteering for a race yourself.

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