Spring Thaw 2011

I’d raced the Spring Thaw Triathlon at the University of Alberta 4 times before and been the Race Director once. I’ve improved every single time I took on the course, and 2011 was my best effort here both in terms of physical preparation as well as strategic and mental preparation. I did few things wrong on race-day and made a bunch of good decisions that helped with my result. I’m really really happy with my execution of the race, and even though it wasn’t perfect, it was about as close as I think I could get to doing so. So, the fact that I won is great, but it took everything I had to do it. I may be showing a chink in my armour by writing about it now and publishing it on the internet for all my competition to read (because I have no doubt that Dave will be reading this each night before he goes to bed to take me down next time we go head to head!)… but so be it. I was very close to perfect execution at the Great White North Triathlon in 2010 as well, that day panned out also very well and I thought a lot about that day while detailing my plans for this race.

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011

The Spring Thaw is a 750m pool swim in a 25m pool, heats go with 4 or 5 people per lane, this is followed by a 20km very challenging bike course with some sections of poor pavement, 4 ascents of Emily Murphy Hill which tops out at 9.7% grade (and takes about 1 minute to climb full gas), and has you navigate more corners during those 20kms than the average sprint triathlon, the run that follows is pretty straightforward and includes no hills but has a few sections of false flat. It’s an out and back where you should be able to see your competition once at halfway. This was altered on race morning due to a breakdown in communication and an underslept race-director adding an additional small out and back section meaning you’d see all your competition once and your closest competition three times.

My good decisions began when I decided to call up Campus recreation and revise my projected swim time. I had quoted 12:30 when I registered which was an accurate projection of how fast I should have swum to pace the race correctly. I then heard via the grapevine that there were some ex-varsity swimmers registering for the race which would mean that the final heat in the pool would be filling up. I wanted to race head to head against the competition and not start in an earlier and slower seeded heat, so I revised my projected swim time to be inside 12 minutes, and quoted 11:50. I theoretically could swim 11:50 and so it wasn’t technically a lie, on the other hand I shouldn’t swim 11:50 if I had hope of riding and running well. That decision mattered, because when the heats were published it was only people who had projected to swim less than 12 minutes who got into the last heat. Everyone at 12min and more was in an earlier heat and therefore wouldn’t be racing head to head, it’s not that they couldn’t win, but it would be impossible to ‘race’ other heats.

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011
Race Sim Powercurve

My next set of good decisions began with a focused race week. After a very disappointing finale to my marathon buildup this spring [I wrote about that here] I decided that I needed a redemption performance ASAP. If I had raced well at the marathon this triathlon was going to be fun, I’d race my best but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to sharpen up for it. Instead of training through it, I felt like I needed to show myself that I was capable of good execution and strong mental racing skills. So race-week workouts were done with this in mind, meaning I didn’t go and ride 500kms, I didn’t skip all the swims to be outside in the first nice weather of the year, and I didn’t try to push my run volume back up above 30 miles per week in preparation for the Oliver Half Ironman. I swam long the previous Saturday, swam Monday and ran short, ran and swam Tuesday, did a race-effort 15min (powercurves at right) with some transition practice on the bike to ingrain the pacing strategy for the big hill in my mind and muscles, and then ran and swam Thursday with a rest-up on Friday. While nothing impressive, that’s more swim frequency than I’ve done since before Ironman, I was committed to getting the feeling of being a swimmer back in my arms. I was successful with that.

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011

Ready to Rock
Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011

Race morning I had one goal in mind which was to stay calm. This was all I focused on at GWN2010 on race morning and it really helped. I arrived early to get a good spot in Transition, kept the headphones on to keep distractions at bay (which was more a sign to other people that I didn’t want their distraction than for the music) and once things were set up I tried to stay away from big groups of stressed out triathletes. I parked myself in the stands at the pool and tried to be calm. When I heard that the run-course had been changed on a whim on race-morning I was pretty frustrated, as I had personally invested about 3 hours in accurately measuring a run course for the race to be exactly 5.00kms and there was no reason for it to be changed on race-day. Instead of trying to fix it I just watched the giro broadcast online with Travis. I was pretty sure I could run 5.8kms at the same pace as I could run 5.0kms so it didn’t really matter.

No warm-up swim. This might not always be the best idea but for now, I think this is my best strategy. Getting into the pool and swimming around to get warmed up just gets me thinking too much about doing this and doing that. If I just start swimming and focus on getting the pace to match the kind of breathing rate I want I find that I can manage better than if I am thinking about stroke mechanics. A warm-up swim is just going to get me thinking about stroke mechanics, so I sat on deck while 100% of the other athletes in the final heat (who had all quoted swim times faster than me!) were doing their warmup swims. I visualized T1 instead and did some shoulder circles and kept my HR down. Exactly like GWN, I just waited on the sidelines until I had to go and get ready, when I did jump in the pool I was calm and ready.

The swim is my weak-leg in Triathlon and so I really wanted to cut my losses. I needed to swim my best in this race if I wanted to be in with a shot at running near the front of the race on the run. I had swum with 2 of the 3 other guys in my lane frequently this past winter and I knew they were strong, I also knew they were going to go HARD off the start. So, if I wanted to catch their drafts I also needed to go hard off the start. I did. It took Travis a full 100m to catch Rob’s draft after the 5 second staggered start. It took me another lap to catch on to Travis which was like bridging about 8 seconds up to Rob considering I was still 2 bodies back. By the time we were at 200m Rob had really detonated and let Travis and I past and he tacked on to the draft train at the back. Brian, who was leading our lane went even harder out of the start and we missed catching his feet for the swim. I followed Travis for 150 more meters and recovered as best as I could from our crazy fast start at which point Travis was starting to fade and I gave his feet a tap and he moved over. I made sure that he and Rob were going to catch on to my feet for the draft for the rest of the swim and went hard for the final 400m to finish it up. They’d helped with the fast start and so I felt like I should contribute back by making sure they’d have a draft to finish off well. I maintained breathing every stroke for the final 400 which means I’m going hard. I maintained the gap to Brian up at the front of the lane until 650m and then even pulled it in a bit on the last 100 such that in the end I actually outsplit him as well. It was about as fast a 750m as I think I’m capable of and I hopped out for a 12:01 time. That’s equivalent to 1:28 per 100yds, which I’d be hard pressed to pull off in a set of 100s in the pool during practice! There were 25 people in the last swim heat and I swam the 22nd fastest swim of the day with one person from the second fastest heat swimming faster than me, that meant I was the 5th last person out of the pool… so my significant planned underestimate of my time to try and get me into the final heat of the day was not a strategy that I employed all by myself, there were other people out of their league as well!

T1 was fast. Helmet, racebelt, go!

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011 Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011

I saw Dave in T1 and was on the bike ahead of him. I caught a couple people right away, I caught a group of the varsity swimmers pretty quickly and I caught Mike Downey on my ascent of Emily Murphy hill the first time. Retrospectively I think he was in the lead of the race at that point. I’m not sure if he realized that. After that I had a few people to pass here and there but for the most part I didn’t have to lap much of the field while on the bike so traffic was never crazy.

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011
Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011
Race Powercurve

That description of the bike leg is purely from the outside. On the inside I was hurting. If I were to have swum that hard for a 750m TT in swim practice I would have crawled out of the pool and lay on my back on the deck for at least 10 minutes. I might have eventually recruited the energy to flop back into the pool and do a couple laps to cool down to prevent my body from seizing up into one big cramp but I wouldn’t have been able to do any more of a workout. Instead of laying on the pool deck I transitioned into the bike leg. Needless to say I was a bit lacking on power. The power curve way up above is from the little pre-race workout I did on Wednesday on the course. I had an Average power of 358Watts & a Normalized power of 445Watts for 16 minutes or so. It felt controlled and reasonable for race-day. Instead my race-day performance was 311Watts Average power and 399Watts Normalized power. About a 10-13% slump from where it should have been depending on how you look at it. It was partly that I couldn’t bike as hard as I thought I should have, but partly I made a decision that I needed to be able to run. It was a wise decision and I’m proud of myself for deciding not to bury the hatchet before T2. I rode strong, strategically used my effort where I needed to, and did my best to arrive into T2 in less debt than I had arrived in T1. I still netted the fastest T1+Bike+T2 split of the day. It was also a course record, it was strategically suboptimal and I was OK with that. Exactly like Great White North, strategically slower than my best, and arriving at T2 ready for a footrace.

I wanted to be able to run with the freedom to choose my pace based on what felt right and so elected to go without a watch, I didn’t want feedback I wanted to run fast.

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011 Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011

Leaving T2 I felt good for 400m and felt rough for about 800. The first out and back came at this point and I saw Dave behind me, I had no watch and didn’t bother to try and figure out any split. I knew that if he was going to catch me it couldn’t be until the second half of the run. I lost a fair amount of time through that rocky section but focused on my footstrike and my breathing for another kilometer and my legs started to improve. I then turned into the headwind and I really picked up my focus. I am good at running into a headwind. Whether or not anyone can quantify that… hmm… I don’t know. I always mentally decide that it’s advantageous to be running with a headwind when you’re a heavy guy as it can’t blow me around as much. In any case, I felt good for a fast kilometer into the wind. Then the turnaroud. I got to see Dave again, he had gained on me but not by much, if he was going to catch me it would be less than a kilometer from the finish. I was now running with the tailwind and felt good. I think I’m also a good tailwind runner, I’m like a sail. I guess I should always race on windy days, I’m mentally strong in those conditions. Things ticked by and I realized I was within 10 minutes of the finish. I can do anything for 10 minutes I told myself. Just like GWN I had paced the run so that I felt amazing with about 1/3 of the run leg remaining and then really let loose. Then with a kilometer to go I told myself it was only a kilometer. I can do anything for a kilometer, I hadn’t checked over my shoulder all race and if Dave suddenly appeared he wouldn’t have had a chance to pass me. I was ready to go for the finish at a moments notice, I had my running legs now. I refused to check back and see where he was, if he saw me look he’d have hope and I wasn’t going to give it to him. The final little out and back and I could finally have a look. He wasn’t nearly as close as I thought. Just run I told myself and so I did. There were a few cheers as I came around the side of the building and I was feeling awesome. The lap on the track at the end was really great and it felt totally fantastic to wrap it up like that. Every race should end with a lap on a track, it’s a great feeling. Lets take some notes from Paris-Roubaix and the Olympic Marathon.

Photo from gallery: Spring Thaw 2011

Mens Sprint Podium – a UofA Triathlon Club clean sweep!

Swim: 22nd Overall
T1 + Bike + T2: 1st Overall
Run: 9th Overall

Thanks to Keegan for the photos!

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