Tuesday, June 1, 2010

CapTexTri Race Report

I predict this will go longer than a 10k at the end of an Olympic Triathlon on a Summer day in Texas. You are warned.

Well, D-day arrived. I'd been planning for this pretty much since January 18, the day after the Houston Marathon where I was amped up on exercise endorphins and needed to figure out my next challenge. Well, after a false start thinking I'd do Lonestar, May finally came to a close and I was heading to Austin for the 20th Anniversary Capital of Texas Triathlon, or CapTexTri.

Gettin' to Austin
This in and of itself might seem simple, but with the little one not yet 6 months old, and the older one in full onset of terrible two's, this proved to be the most daunting challenge of the weekend. We're remodeling so all of our suitcases are sitting in storage holding unneeded winter clothing, so for the first trip with a full 4 person family contingent, this involved packing in all sorts of shopping bags (you know, the ones you get for being a member of NPR), loose clothing, i.e. Wetsuit, a huge Bob Duallie stroller and a pack and play since we didn't know what lay in store for us. We planned on leaving midday on Saturday and it's a sign of how little we packed that we managed to fill the car and leave relatively on time.

Somehow, I lucked into booking the most convenient hotel possible to the race location online through a hotel inventory clearance site. We arrived at the Radisson just in time for dinner and decided the TGI Friday's wasn't a bad dinner alternative. Well, it was, but that's to be expected I guess. Very mediocre preparation and presentation, but I guess the chain experience isn't as consistent as it used to be.

Sleeping arrangements were made and scrapped when P. wanted to sleep in the bed with Mom and Dad. A. slept in the hotel provided cradle although finding the proper placement in the room where she didn't feel out of sorts and isolated took some effort. It took about 3 moves within the room, and K. banging her shin against an exposed piece of bed frame twice before normalcy and calm was achieved. We essentially went to bed at 8pm although with all the miscellaneous fussing, I'd say no one slept (except P, diagonally in the king sized bed) until about 10pm.

A. had a pretty bad night. It was her first night away from home so she woke up almost hourly. K. did a great job of sheltering me from the worse of it, although her shin hit the exposed bed frame a couple more times before A. settled down to sleep fitfully. I'd (selfishly in hindsight) planned on getting everyone up early to go to Lake Travis so I could take part in a free swim clinic that @zentriathlon was conducting Sunday morning. But despite waking up at 530am, I realized, no amount of earth moving equipment was organizing the little clan to leave so I could make the swim clinic. I bailed on the swim clinic. All weekend was a struggle logistically to marshal the troops to adhere to any schedule. Packet pickup/bike check in was mayhem with me having to forgo the line for free bike checkup since I had the wife and brood waiting in the car. I missed all they day's clinics and tutorials, but that may not have been such a big deal.

We did manage a social visit to a former roommate of mine who has a 7 month old. Thankfully, both our children napped for the visit meaning we didn't have to play whack-a-mole with keeping track of kids in someone else's house. Sophie was adorable. You can tell the new parents are enjoying the joys of parenthood. Of course, that could just be the reaction of how simple one infant seems when you have two less than 2 years apart in age.

Dinner Sunday was at Chuy's since it was the most convenient open place and it was a good call. I had had a beer at lunch, so I just recommended a beer for the wife so I could have one last sip. I'm not against alcohol per se, but in general, its worst affect in me is it ruins the quality of my sleep. I can deal with the dehydration aspects since I was carrying around a water bottle for most of the weekend, but mess with my sleep and that's trouble. I ordered some chicken taco's and was fine with it.

The night before, I wasn't really able to prepare my bag since the room lights were out since the kids were asleep. I'd trusted I'd included all I needed in the original packing and tried to sleep. The most difficult thing to prepare was the race packet info, putting on race numbers in appropriate places and making sure the chip was in a place I wouldn't forget. Now that I think about it, maybe I should have just put it on to go to sleep. Nah, if it fell off, I'd never find it in the sheets of the bed.

I woke up various times in the night, but generally felt I slept ok. We went to bed early, probably about 9pm and while my wake ups were nervous energy, it may have also been my constant bathroom visits from the loads of water I'd been drinking.

With my wave going off at 720 (thankfully among the early waves), I figured I should leave the hotel at 550, and walk over (yes, it was that close) to make it to transition by 6am. The alarm went off and I popped into the shower. I'd read that the best way to protect yourself from the sun is to apply sun screen after an early shower, so that's what I did. The downfall was my body marking didn't stick so I may have missed out on some picture oppty's since my number may not be legible. It was a risk worth taking.

I packed my bags, filled 3 water bottles, ate a banana and two slices of untoasted multigrain bread with almond butter and jam and headed over. I'm not sure how I managed to carry everything. I ran into a fellow competitor in the elevator and was happy to have company as I walked to the race.

One of my pre-race dilemma's was whether to put on my heart rate strap going into the swim in order to save time fumbling with it in transition. I decided to put it on pre-race knowing it wouldn't register the swim HR, but that I'd be ready to go for the bike and run.

Prepping transition was pretty straight forward. Turns out the only thing I forgot were flip flops to wear once I staged my running shoes, but that was a minor inconvenience. I'd planned on taking a quick pre-race warm up swim but I ran out of time, so I just got ready and went to the start.

And we're off (Swim)
Well, not taking the time to think about it made me suffer. The start was a swimming start from an area about 20 yards off shore. I jumped in and acclimated. It was cold, but by no means so cold it was going to make me hyperventilate. However, in warming up for the 7 or so minutes I had until the gun went off for our wave, I ended up pretty much on the inside, almost middle of my wave. Probably the most crowded place except right in front. This was a mistake. As soon as the gun went off, despite my not wanting to be in the thick of things, I was.

I was planning on starting slowly, jockeying, but this probably consumed a good two minutes before I really got anywhere and was able to start a reasonable stroke. I'd decided on my tinted goggles and had applied fresh anti-fog on them the night before. Well, that didn't work, and it would haunt the whole swim, especially when we were in shaded areas, probably about 40% of the swim. I really struggled to get any kind of rhythm for pretty much the whole race. In other open water swims, I've ended up doing breast stroke for any where from 50 to 60% of the race. I think here, it may have been less, but it was still a good portion of my swim strokes.

I just plugged away, breastroke for a minute or so, then trying to get in a rhythm of freestyle. Whenever I was able to maintain the freestyle, I caught up to other swimmers and immediately stopped as I was afraid of thumping people. Turns out, I probably shouldn't have been so cautious. It was unlikely anyone was as sensitive as I was. But anytime I ran into someone, it stopped me and made me rethink my route.

Slowly but surely, I advanced. The buoys seemed to be beyond the horizon, but I got to them one by one, made the turn around, saw how far to the next one and tried to keep going. I never felt I wouldn't finished, and never felt panicked like I had in an aborted triathlon effort many years ago. The poor visibility probably did make me a little skittish in that I probably never swam continuously my freestyle for more than a minute, but there was no fear of quitting. I knew I had the endurance to muscle this out.

Sure enough, I rounded the last buoy and headed for the exit. I don't have detailed rankings, but I know I didn't set the world on fire with my time. I was pretty crestfallen when I looked at my watch and saw that had taken me 42 minutes, almost on the dot.

Time: 41:58 Pace: 2:18/100m (EDIT: Race organizers say course was 300 to 350 too long.)

As could be expected, I was a little breathless coming out of the water. No major mishaps except one leg of the wetsuit taking a while. I'm a bit of a loss as to why this took so long. The posted results don't make it easy for me to estimate how I did, but I think I essentially did it in the average time.

Time: 4:59

Over hill, over dale, the Bike
Pre-race, I was dead set on making the bike an integral part of my race strategy, and I pretty much executed flawlessly. My goal was to eat two gels, one at the beginning, one toward the end, pace myself, drink as much of my two bottles and make sure I stretched my calves and back as I wound down the bike to ease into the run better.

I quickly found the heart rate monitor wasn't going to reacquire the strap input without my taking distracting time to futz with my watch. So I just decided to trust my Perceived Rate of Exertion. This proved to be a bit of a challenge since the course had a lot of elevation changes which alternately tested, then relieved the pedaling. I set my bike computer to tell me my average and after the first lap decided to try to keep at around 19.5 mph. I figured I could keep that pace and it wouldn't tax me too much.

The hills weren't that taxing, although there was one stretch probably less than 80 yards, where we jogged east from the top of Congress at a stiff incline. The downhill after that was long and fast. I'd never hit 30mph on any of my training rides, but here I was hitting it without pedaling.

On the opposite end, there was a deceptively long slow downhill that helped counter balanced by the return which was I found the best place to pass people (other than the reverse of the 30mph hill).

The race is organized in such a way that as the race progresses, the course gets loaded with more and more competitors coming off the swim. Traffic soon got pretty bad. Having said that, the worst situation was caused in an early lap (i.e. with not many riders on the course yet) by a guy in a cycling top trying to fish a gel out of his back pocket. I saw him drop one and then fish for another one. As he did this, he was slowly weaving left as the elite riders approached intent on passing us on the left. That was a close call. I got around him as soon as I could. I later lapped him as well on the run. That was satisfying.

I was straining and feeling the burn in the quads on the hills, but I could see I was doing better than pretty much anybody else out there except the pro's. Outside of the hills, I almost felt like I was going too easy. Literally, I wasn't out of breath and I was looking at my average mph climb over 19.7.

As I rounded lap 3 of 4, I starting worrying I would not do the right number of laps. I was pretty certain of my count, but as it appeared I had nothing else to worry about, this would be the pressing concern of the segment. Thankfully, I figured out, I just had to look at my bike computer trip odometer to figure it out. Sure enough, starting lap 4, I looked down and saw 18 something meaning, I was soon finishing. I finished my prescribed gel (keeping the wrapper in my suit so as to not litter on the slow downhill and got up off the seat to stretch calves and back as I got back to downtown and started crossing the bridge for the last time.

Bike Time: 1:14:20 Pace: 20.1mph

A slight hitch as I had figured my rack location based on the swim exit, but not the bike exit. I had two misses before I found my rack. Other than that no surprises, slipped off the bike shoes, and slipped on the running shoes, belt and visor. I'd practiced with no socks, so there was no blistering. I did have a slip as I was running out of transition. I tried to see if I could get my watch to pick up my heart rate strap and as I looked down, I missed noticing a slight incline. My wobbly legs betrayed me and I slipped. I tucked and rolled and got back up pretty impressively I think, although it probably looked pretty goofy to the onlookers. No permanent damage, just a skinned knee someplace it wouldn't bother me.

Looks like this was pretty slow, and I'm at a loss to figure out why.

Time 2:59

The Hot Run
As the bike wound down, I had started for the first time figuring out if I could still break 3 hours. It was no use trying to use the bike, since I felt any gains on the bike would be netted by bonking on the run. My sprint race where I pretty much skipped nutrition I bonked pretty badly at mile 2 of the run as a result of being in love with the speed on the bike. The simplest calculation was how quickly would I have to run a 6 miler (for ease of calculation) and still finish in 3 hours. I started with guessing if I could run 9 minute miles, something I felt might not be possible, I would need essentially to start with 54 minutes available. Well, as I started the run, I looked at my watch and saw I was starting at 2:04 and change. This meant I had 56 minutes to run 6.2 miles. That was the goal.

Starting off, I felt fine, but I was hoping to see mile markers where I could gauge my progress against my goal. I had no idea how fast I was running. I really wish one of the TWO darn footpods I bought for my Suunto T3c had actually worked. It would have made a huge difference in the run. I'd complain about how disappointing my Suunto was on this race, but I bought it the week before so I shouldn't blame anyone but myself for trying untested gear on a race.

The first water was right out at the beginning of the circuit, but I just threw some over me. I'd hydrated well I thought on the bike consuming about 75% of the water in my two bottles. I took a swig before leaving transition so for the start, I felt good.

The next aid station was pretty much right after and it had a shower station. I took some water and ran through the shower. I don't like to stop for water since I learned a neighbor of mine who beat me in the Marathon by about a minute never stops to drink. He just pinches the cup to minimize spillage. During my sprint tri earlier this season, I had to stop because I'd bonked. But I still felt strong although starting to wilt from the sun. In talking to nearby runners, I learned the buildings offered shade, but we were on our own on the south side of the lake for the most part.

Crossing the bridge to the north side, I got a great surprise when I passed my hotel, and heard my wife calling out to me. Turns out, I'd passed her (although I think she didn't see me either) and she was calling out to me. This was uber cool. The plan had been for her to drop off the little one with our friends and then come watch the race with the eldest. Well, since the race ran by the hotel, we were unsure how easy it would be for her to get back to the circuit to watch. So like the Marathon in January, I'd resigned myself to no spectators. I waved to her and told her to get ready to see me on the way back since I would be passing her spot four times. The picture below I think is the last time. I'm surprised how chipper I look. This may be testament to how excited I was to see the wife and eldest.

The run through downtown proved to be pretty good. It was a short climb, but the buildings afforded some shade. I remember one stretch where we headed west to turn around and everyone is running in the sun. I gladly ran on the right side of the road to take maximum advantage of the shade.

The first lap (essentially, my only mile marker that I knew of) came to a close and I looked at my watch. Given my calculations at the beginning of the segment, I was a little disappointed to see cross the theoretical halfway mark at a little over 29 minutes. If I'd wanted to break three hours, this needed to be in the 27 minute range if not less. In doing the math now, I realize I ran the first half of the run in about a 9:21 pace. I didn't know this at the time, but at the halfway mark I started thinking how I went about making sure I finished this race with nothing in the tank.

Although I didn't think it would make a difference, I took my last gel at the second aid station on the circuit (the one with the shower). I'd debated even packing this gel since my suspicion is that these things take about 10 minutes or so to kick in and by then, I'd be pretty close to finished.

The last lap was pretty much a blur. I remember passing competitors and pacing with someone asking what they thought their pace was. They'd answered about 9:20 to 9:40, but I soon felt fine leaving him behind. A woman asked me if I had my pace to help her gauge her progress. I repeated what I'd been told and she told me I was going faster than that. That I think encouraged me as I crossed the bridge northbound for the last time. I started picking up the pace and left her behind.

I'll be frank, except south side of the lake, I never really felt bad. I took water at all aid stations, but never stopping. It wasn't very efficient, but from a hydration standpoint, I felt fine. I think the bike ride hydration strategy was keeping the remaining maintenance to a minimum.

Right after the picture above I started slowly increasing my pace more as I essentially had about 3/4ths of a mile left. As I crossed the bridge, I went to a very fast clip, but by no means a sprint. As I came along the last gallery, I spotted some kids with play toy water cannons. I yelled to them to hit me and they let me have it. I was surprised how much water they doused me with. It added to my giddiness at finishing the race. I heard my name (correctly pronounced which is uncommon) and left it all at the finish.

Or did I? I'm not sure if it was the end of race rush, but I didn't feel all that taxed at the end. I was pretty exhausted, but nowhere near as bad as I'd felt in my shorter sprint triathlon.

Time: 56:53 Pace: 9:10 (Update: Organizers mixup in cones added .4 miles to Oly) Pace was 8:38/mi

Total Time: 3:01:11. Ranks AG 64/141 Gender 408/805 Overall 492/1217

Turns out, based on the math of hitting the halfway point at around 29 minutes, this means I ran the last 5k in sub 9 minute miles. It will take me a while to stop punishing myself to think where apart from the obvious swim, I might have shaved 71 seconds. If I'd had better feedback (darn watch, I'm giving you one more chance), I'd probably have made it easily given that I don't think my HR would have indicated I was anywhere near my max. When I stopped my watch, it paired with the strap the first time I restarted the watch. Grrrrr. I guess I'll know for next time.

While I was originally disappointed with my time, I'm realizing that my Age group finish is better than I expected given this is a very competitive race. Heck, last years average time for my AG was 2:46. This year, it was probably in the 3:03 range. I have the info, but can't easily do the tabulations since the results are in a flash application.

The wife had given up on trying to find me and I found this out as soon as I was let into transition and found out P. had wanted to stay by the pool. Turns out, every time she saw me she started crying because she wanted me to come back. I guess she hasn't figured out the point of a race yet. Anytime she trains with me, Daddy is always right behind her pushing the stroller.

The rest of the day was packing, picking up A. from our friend's and dealing with Memorial Day traffic returning to Houston.

All in all a great day on an another wise complicated weekend. Every thing turned out well, although not quite as I would have envisioned it had I actually planned it out.

Next time, I'll post my learnings as I think I'm still a little close to it. You can probably see from my ramblings that there are plenty of areas to improve and strategize to reduce time.

I'd love to hear your comments, assuming you've made it this far.


  1. Just learned courtesy of http://bit.ly/cX1eQ7 that turns out swim course may have been as much as 20% longer, 300 to 350 meters longer. Makes me feel completely different about my result. Yaay!

  2. Great report. Ah, the glamour of Tri preps with families in tow! But well done! See u back on Daily Mile

  3. Good job! So if the swim would have been right, you broke 3 hours!!