Spring Thaw 2009

The UofA Triathlon Club’s annual Spring Thaw triathlon came and went this past weekend. The club puts on the race as an effort to expose people to the sport of triathlon and get people out to try the multi-sport experience. Our club even received a few thousand dollars to subsidize race entry fees for UofA students towards this end… making this the cheapest triathlon in the province for UofA students. It was even cheaper for members of the Triathlon club who all raced for free once again this year. It also happens to be a great opportunity to RACE!

Lots of the club’s big guns spent their morning volunteering so it wasn’t quite the showdown of Triathlon club skills that it could have been but non the less members of the club had an excellent showing… taking the top four spots for men and top two spots for women at the Sprint distance.

My race day started with a 4:30 am wakeup and first breakfast prior to arriving at the race site prior to 5am to help set up the transition area and some of the course. Heavy lifting before 6am! I then had to try and figure out for the first time in my racing career how to do a pre-race meal and then do another one all before my swim heat hit the water soon after 10:00 am. It was a bit tricky and I don’t think I did it exactly right. I ate a full breakfast (got rid of the overnight hunger) at 4:30 and then proceeded to try and also eat a normal meal at around 8:30 am like I would have done anyways. I wasn’t hungry enough to really eat but kind of ate anyways and drifted a bit close to the race in terms of time prior to racing that I was still eating. Ooops.

I cited a swim time of 13:30 and hopped in a lane with some likeminded people and one dude who was insistent on swimming 13:00 flat. He was very concerned about being able to pass up during the swim and so we all agreed to hit people on the feet when we wanted to get past and then to wait up and let those people past. That’s standard fare for faster swimmers getting by, no big deal. Into the water we go, I’m the first one out and cruise along at about pace for a 13:30 swim. Our friend the 13:00 swimmer has made up his 20 second deficit in swim start by the time I’m at 75 meters (Hmmm… sounds like he’s trying to swim about an 11 minute time?) and goes ahead. We’re all enjoying the draft for the next couple hundred meters and then some more passing starts to occur. Some people need to go by me and I go by a few people. It’s probably the case that no-one is strong enough to lead the line at the speed we’re swimming but everyone in the draft line would like to pick up the pace just a tad. As some people pass one another and wait up at the end one swimmer gets crammed into the little space where there previously was no swimmer before and now has no option but to hit people on the feet, now not trying to elicit the “wait up and let me pass you” response. Frustration and confusion ensues. We get to 600 meters and I want to pick it up for the last three laps. No-one else must be counting I think to myself and cruise out of the line down the middle of the lane… No one will believe a foot tap anymore. I pass three people down the middle and the heartrate is picked up a bit. It’s a tight squeeze and there had been some shoulder bumping but I pass the 13 minute dude during my last fifty and climb out at exactly 13:30 minutes. I suppose it’s a form of success?

Into T1, I’ve got a shammy towel and try to soak up some of the water in my shorts and from my thighs so they’re less likely to be chilly on the ride and cruise into the transition zone. Helmet on, number on, go!. My transition cannot be any faster as I run down towards the mount line and hop aboard the P2. I’m running my HED3 up front and aero-helmet and get some cheers and jeers from the tri-club members who are volunteering. You’re not allowed to be slow if you’ve got the gear to go fast.

I crank out the first lap including the emily murphy hill with an average speed of 40.5 km per hour. As I settle in to ride the next lap I’ve got a knot in my upper stomach, I try to ignore it and keep pushing… the second time up the hill isn’t quite as fast and I deal with a bit more traffic. By the time I’m up top my average speed has dropped to 39.8 kph… I get aero off the top of the hill and keep cruising, I chug down about a third of a bottle of gatorade. I brought 2/3 of a small bottle thinking I might drink twice but elect to just stick with drinking once. The nose of my seat starts to rotate down a little bit from level, argh! that’s not supposed to happen. There’s nothing I can do though, I’ve been riding hard out on the tip of it trying to be as aerodynamic and powerful as possible, now my seat is effectively a tad too low. I continue through the third lap and just as I summit Ben Adam is arriving off the next swim heat. He’s quick and I’m determined to stay with him for the lap. I have no problem doing so until I climb the hill the last time and don’t want to go anaerobic. I did for the first three laps but stay seated and make an effort to stay aero on the last lap so I’m not in the midst of recovery when I arrive in transition. It’s a good choice and cruise back into transition. I take the dismount a bit too quick as I leap barefoot from the bike and the pavement kind of hurts my feet. Oh well. Into T2 I come, rack the bike and helmet off. I’ve elected to wear socks even for 5km because I haven’t trained without. They probably add two seconds per foot, I’m relatively successful I decide as I stand upright again and Andy is yelling at me to show my number as I leave T2. The race belt is on inside out and the side displayed is just white! The draft marshals apparently couldn’t have given me a penalty even if they wanted. (Not that there was anyone nearly fast enough for me to draft).

The first 100 meters is quick but the subsequent 500 meters are slow. I’m frustrated as I feel like I just can’t pick up the speed. It takes probably the whole first kilometer before I feel like I’m actually pushing the pace on the run and am breathing hard. I crank out the first half and come to the turnaround. I’m far ahead of everyone else from my heat so until now the only people I’ve seen on the run course are barely moving people from the previous heat. Once on the return I feel like I can let it fly and feel pretty good. I’m running about as fast as I think I can run but not getting tired out. I’ve only got a kilometer and a half left I think to myself when I go past Cory and Simmon volunteering and they shoot my photo. I can’t run fast enough through the final stretch it seems even though the pace isn’t terribly fast. A few hundred meters to go and I switch from run to sprint and finish a bit wobbly on my legs. Once the heartrate drops back from the sprint finish I feel pretty good, I probably could run another 5 km and not be too much slower I think to myself. That’s frustrating, I couldn’t have run any faster. Serves me right I suppose, marathon training doesn’t translate to top end 5km speed.

There’s not too much time for me to to wait after finishing until Ben cruises in off his bike is out onto the run. Next off the bike is Lindsay and she’s got a pretty good gap on both Stefan and Pat who come in off the bike together. Pat flies through transition and Stefan has to tie his shoes, he’s just racing for fun today, he won his category at a bike road race the day before and has nothing to prove. Pat is off to hunt down Lindsay and record the fastest run split of the day.

Total results for myself include almost a 40 kph bike split and reasonable run at 20.5 minutes for 4.8 km. My swim time is a whole minute faster than last year when I believe I was told I was finished swimming after only 700m. In total that translates to the equivalent of about 2 minutes improvement on the swim (reality only 1 minute faster) and I cut a minute on the run as well as a bit more than 4 minutes off my bike time. I’ll attribute 5 seconds of that to the helmet, 5 seconds to the race wheel, 5 second to the new bike aerodynamics, 5 second to the new bike’s weight and 10 seconds to my better aerodynamic bike body position. That leaves me 3:30 seconds of raw ‘effort’ improvement on the bike from last year. All in all the improvement of my swim as what was my limiting factor didn’t make as much difference as the improvement to my bike top end speed which was refinement of my strength. That’s not terribly encouraging to make me keep working on the swim… but that’s where the deficit to the competition still lies. The beginner lane at triathlon club pool swims has been eliminated and I will be taking that bull by the horns next winter. Swim improvements from here on out for the 2009 season are likely to be minimal. I’m content to swim about a 35 minute half ironman pace (equivalent to this swim speed) as I feel like anything more is going to tax my ability to run a fast 21.1 km.

The annual showdown with the Spring Thaw Triathlon will come to an end in 2010 as I’ll be race director for this event which precludes me from competing unfortunately. It should still be a rocking race and I’ll likely pick up one other short course race next season just for fun to test out the speed, probably more likely to be Olympic distance than sprint though, a one hour effort is relatively rather unsatisfying once you’re tapered for it.

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