I raced the Oliver half this past weekend. Preparation was essentially negligible with regards to triathlon in the prior three months. I have placed a focus on racing bikes and my limited training time has been focused on reaching the next level in road-racing rather than doing anything to prepare for racing a long course triathlon. I have to my advantage the fact that both sports are relatively endurance focused and I did run relatively consistently through the past winter. Swim training in the 100 days prior to the race included one 750 m swim during a sprint triathlon, and one early-morning open-water swim the morning prior to the race. Run preparation was on and off, but mostly off, it included a 10 mile run with Travis on the Monday prior where I felt like things were manageable between the 4:30/km pace and 4:40/km pace. I was racing with one data-point for HR and pace and hoping that extrapolations from there would be somewhat accurate.
I found myself feeling slightly sick on Friday as the day progressed, and relatively sick on Saturday. Sunday was worse again and my resting HR the morning of the race was 8 bpm higher than it should’ve been. I didn’t feel incapable of racing, and because I had used valuable vacation days to make the trip and incurred all kinds of expenses like gas and the condo, I never really questioned at least starting. Monday, post-race was my sickest day and I am now recovering slowly. Recover was delayed by too much time on Anarchist pass in the rain, or too many wineries, or both.
Race day arrived, and after the requisite preparations I lined up ready as I was going to be on the beach. I was pretty calm about the whole thing, I was confident in my ability to perform alright once I got out of the lake and decided on an all-day strategy that should get me to the finish line as quickly as possible. Swim only moderately hard to conserve energy, two stroke breathing the whole way to stay comfortable and not risk getting out of breath. Ride a solid but conservative bike split that would enable me to recover from the swim, eat well and prepare nutritionally for the run, and then run as close to an even-split half marathon as possible, starting steady and seeing what I had in reserve during the closing stages of the race. I didn’t expect to find much left in the tank.
The swim was relatively uneventful, I felt like I was overheating at the first turn and threw my swim cap onto a nearby kayak and continued on without a swim-cap. That was much better and I felt comfortable but tired during the closing stages. I pulled out of the water to hear Steve King announcing that the lead female had just exited the water. I estimated her to have likely swim 29 minutes, meaning I would have swum around 36 minutes. I believed things to be going quite well except for that I was tired. I wasn’t really sure how much traffic surrounded me, and fortunately I had no idea how far back through the field I was as that would have been demotivating. I opted to not run past anyone in transition and just go with the flow and try to get my heart-rate to settle. This wasn’t a fast strategy, it was a survival strategy.
Jumping aboard the bike I had a target power target of around 300 watts. I knew that because I was sick I needed to watch heart-rate as well as power and be willing to adjust on the fly, after a half lap I had to switch my target effort to what I realized was actually going to correlate to around 150 bpm and backed off my target to hopefully average between 280 and 290, realizing that I’d either fade hard due to illness or more likely (because I was being optimistic), build through the last hour on the bike. I got all sorts of conflicting feedback, some of it inevitably due to illness, and some due to poor swim fitness, as well as some due to the hair-raising experiences that inevitably occur when one has to pass nearly two hundred competitors while aboard the bike. I almost quit after a half lap, and then almost quit again after one and a half laps. I was a bit concerned about causing a severe chest infection if I really dug deep and got the lungs burning. Instead I just held back and kept going, I wasn’t really working very hard and so I figured I’d just keep cruising along.
I have spent a lot more time riding and racing with my powermeter since racing Oliver last year at this time and was able to use it to strategically allocate effort a bit more effectively than last year. I am also riding a lighter and more aerodynamic bike due to a number of adjustments I made to gear and position. I eliminated the aerodynamic penalty of carrying a spare by storing it in an added sliced-open aero-bottle as a P4-esque fairing to the bottom of the downtube. I am also running no stack height between my aerobar pads and base-bar. I am also running 3T brakes instead of the outrageous stock vision brakes that came with all the old Cervelos. I made some adjustments to cable-routing which greatly reduced the effective frontal area of the head-tube. I also switched to “CeeGee” pads which materially absorb vibration rather than diffuse it. They allow me to comfortably rest a larger fraction of my torso weight through my shoulders to the bars which relaxes the upper body on narrower elbows and longer extensions. This allows me to lower my torso further without biomechanical penalty of inducing lower back stress or engaging upper-body musculature to support my torso. This is in contrast to my old position on the TT bike which was as low as I could go with that aerobar configuration. This position may also have been improved by adopting a slightly greater anterior pelvis tilt with an adamo saddle rather than a fizik arione. The pelvis thin is a guess not a measurement. I made those alterations at the same time, in concert they are an improvement and I cannot distinguish one isolated source. I am also more practiced riding this year with an improved head position, settled on through roll-down testing. This is a simple test that is worth perhaps a watt or three when averaged across the whole bike course. It’s one of the things that people should be learning from Fabian, DZ and Wiggins. Where you carry your head matters, even if it’s just for a couple seconds at a time.
Bike at racecheck-in
All together I was able to cover the course 153 seconds faster than last year while expending less energy: 284 Watts [avg] vs 298 Watts [avg], while being in better shape meant it was an even easier bike ride. (training data suggests that 310 Watts [avg] would have been realistically achievable with good health). All of these improvements were of marginal financial expense; notably, I am still riding my P2 frame and second hand aluminum braking surface tubular tri-spoke and disc (circa 2006). Independent industry data doesn’t even suggest that if I were to buy a super-nine and firecrest 808 I would have made these gains. I saved almost 2% of my time and conserved more than 4% of my power output (Quarq is accurate to 1.5% and was re-calibrated prior to both races). Some of the aformentioned position and gear adjustment was saving me time but strategically superior time-trialing was worth a fair portion of the improvement, which is significant. Strategic riding is not something I see many people working on as hard as they could (or should). I don’t even think I’m that good at it yet (clearly I’ve gotten a lot better though).
A detailed power comparison including a number of case-studies on pacing decisions will inevitably follow on this blog… stay tuned.
On the bike I consumed: 1 bottle of powerade (~170 cal), 600 calories of shot blocks. ~120 calories of banana (2 halves), ~3.5 bottles of Gatorade (600 cal), and about a liter of water. I drank a fair amount and did pee once on the run. That put me at ~1500 calories which was more than I needed by a reasonable margin, but I was concerned about caloric expenditure during the swim being abnormally high. This concern was relieved when after the first 5 cups of coke on the run, I was feeling fueled and confident I’d make the finish without any risk of energy deficit. At that point I switched to alternating just a gulp of water or coke instead of drinking. Running with only marginal caloric consumption is a proven strategy for myself, it allows me to in theory run a higher HR on the run which is strategically beneficial. Those higher HRs weren’t accessed in Oliver due to illness and preparation that was lacking. Generally though, it felt like the right decision.
I started the run at around 4:25 pace and faded off close to 4:50 as I began the second lap but was able to recover focus and really pushed myself through the final 4 kms. That led me to a 1:39:00 run. I did the calculations last year regarding course measurement and the correction factor for grading this to an accurate half-marathon. My graded-time based on pace is 1:34:44. Sub 1:35 is more than acceptable in my opinion considering run fitness and illness. Sure it’s 5 minutes off of where I should be and 10 minutes off of where I’d like to be but I need to be realistic about my life-situation at the moment. HR and pace on the run correlated more or less in line with what I had expected and that indicates I would just benefit from a bit of run frequency in the next month rather than any at-pace or above-pace work. Doing this will not require huge muscular-stress so I think it’s something I can try and commit to in the coming couple weeks as prep for GWN.
Unsurprisingly the rest of the crew we travelled down with had pretty fantastic days on the course. Lesley exited the water in fourth and was riding in third overall until she was eventually passed by Kris who went on to win the women’s race by running 10 minutes out of the leader off the bike. Bridget surprised all, including herself, by escaping knee pain and was able to run the whole thing, something she was debating even attempting only days prior to the start. Travis tapered long and hard for this race, thanks to various business trips, but got around the course in fine form, more than redeeming the disaster in the furnace that occurred last year in the blazing hot conditions.