This is a quick race report for the 2016 Spring Classic Duathlon in Portland, Oregon. This race has become one of my favorite races, but it is a bit of a strange one. First, there’s the field and how I do in the race. This year, I finished 4th in my age group out of 19 competitors and about 29th overall out of 246 competitors. My times were a bit slower than in years past, but I attribute this to a lot of stress (both work and personal) that I was carrying coming into the race– plus I’ve been flying long-haul flights recently and that always leaves me feeling flat. So, the people I narrowly beat each year returned the favor this year– but I was counting on that. But that’s not the weird part. I’ve done this race in the past when there were over 500 competitors, won my age group, and finished in the top 15 overall. It seems that this is becoming a key early season race for a lot of athletes from northern California up to the Canadian border. I don’t know why that should make the field smaller and more pointy, but this has definitely been happening over the years. Second, there’s the weather. Mid-Spring in the Pacific Northwest is anyone’s guess. I’ve done this race when it was sunny and hot. And I’ve done this race when it was pouring rain and cold. Two years ago, I did this race when the race held off but the winds just howled. The course is pretty exposed and, riding a Zipp 808 front wheel and a disk rear wheel, I was getting blown all over the road. This year’s forecast was cold and rainy, but the rain miraculously held off and it was just cool and windy. The weather is always a roll of the dice for this race.
My friend Mary and I drove down the day before and each got a room about 300 yards away from transition. I had forgotten a key supplement (beet juice) and had to try something new from the local triathlon shop. This turned out to be a mistake, of course, but not a tragic one. I gulped down the beet juice, ate a bagel, and warmed up on my Omnium trainer in my hotel room. My body felt fine and warmed up pretty easily.
Getting to transition, I realized that I had brought the wrong running shoes– I only had my racing flats with normal laces. Obviously, this was going to cost me– but I didn’t quite know just how much. Nevertheless, I set up quickly, chatted with some friends, got to the start line, and off I went.
LESSON LEARNED: The usual– nothing new on race day. It’s easier said than done and requires flawless preparation (almost impossible in early season races). Nevertheless, the rule still stands.
Run #1: 5K in 21:19 (6:53 pace)
I did mention stress and long-haul flying, right? Wow, this 5K wasn’t good. I was breathing really hard and struggling. I was uncomfortable and couldn’t settle in during most of the run. It was quite a bit slower than recent 5K’s but I was giving it everything I had. Nevertheless, all the running I’ve been doing did pay off– I didn’t fade too badly and was able to not let people pass me.
LESSON LEARNED: Don’t hit the first run too hard and go largely by feel. Don’t try to shoot for a specific pace as things may just be off. Also, don’t travel for at least a week before a trip and live a serene life with no stress.
I wish I could blame this on my shoe laces, but I can’t. I came into this race with zero preparation in terms of transition practices (always a weak spot for me). I also went way too hard on the first run and so I couldn’t focus on what to do next. Looking at the transition times of folks around me, I lost almost a minute just in T1, which would have moved me up two places!
LESSON LEARNED: Practice transitions before the race and bring the right shoes!
Bike: 15 miles in 42:59 (20:93mph)
The aforementioned stress and an overly aggressive run only leads to one thing on the bike– a really lousy bike ride. This is usually the place where I win back a lot of time. I couldn’t care less about what my final speed was– that can all depend on the course and the conditions. Instead, I was watching my power meter like a hawk. I could only hold about 176 watts average, which is right on the upper edge of zone 2 for me. That’s the lowest power I’ve ever had in a race, except for two years ago when I was too busy trying not to get blown off the road.
Thank goodness my aerodynamics are pretty good or my low watts would have translated into more lost time. But this is also a double-edged sword. At the end of last season, I replaced my aero bars and my new fit isn’t quite the same. I was unusually uncomfortable on my aerobars– and discomfort can lead to lower wattage. I’m fact, a few times, I found myself sitting up for 10-15 seconds just to give my shoulders a break.
I did make a complete rookie mistake during this race. Right at the turnaround, a guy who had been tailing me blew by me as I took a gulp out of my water bottle. It seemed that in the time I took a gulp, he was at least 100 yards in front of me– and it took me the rest of the bike leg to reel him back in! The lesson learned is never coast or soft pedal during a slow portion on the bike. This makes perfect sense of course. Had I waited until I was back up to speed before taking a gulp, my speed would have fallen off more but that’s far better than almost stopping and letting your competition just speed past you.
LESSONS LEARNED: First run is all about gentle control– a few seconds gained can mean minutes lost on the bike. Also, never do anything that wastes time (e.g. gulping water) when you’re not moving fast.
Looking at my competition, I was only about 30 seconds off the mark on this transition. This is also where having the right laces would have eliminated this mistake. So make this means I could have saved 90 seconds on my transitions, which would be good for about 3-4 places.
Run 2: 5K in 23:04 (7:26 pace)
I was a bit tight coming off the bike. Right off the bat, a guy was right on my tail. I never turned around, but could hear him gaining on me. My gut told me I was the stronger runner, so I just turned on the gas and the sound of my breathing started to fade. Soon enough, I couldn’t hear his footsteps anymore. By the time we hit the turnaround, I had a good 30 yards on him.
On the final stretch coming home, that beet juice started causing real problems. At one point, a little indigestion caused some coughing and I had to stop to catch my breath. In reality, I didn’t really HAVE to stop but I was having such a crappy day that I just wanted to stop. In that short time, the guy who was following me approached and I just let him go. It would have been a simple affair to fight him off if I had wanted to. Turns out that he was in my age group and he took third place!
LESSON LEARNED: Assume that anyone next to you is in your age group. If you have the slightest doubt that they will knock you off the podium when they pass you, they probably will.