Monday, June 14, 2010

Elkhart Lake, The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Alright, the Elkhart Lake Triathlon was my 2nd race in two weeks and a very important race for me.
It was my first Olympic race of the year. As a USAT sanctioned race it was to be my first opportunity to qualify for USAT nationals. Elkhart has cash payouts and attracts a pretty strong elite contingent as a result. Plus it is a challenging course that does not suit my strong points. I was anxious to see how I'd hold up.

I am a strong swimmer, and a strong biker on a flatter course. Being a bigger, heavier guy I can really get moving on flatter courses, Elkhart is a rolling course almost the entire way. It can really slow me down and suck the energy out of my legs. My run is still my weakest discipline, but getting much better. And the run course is also fairly hilly. Nothing huge, but consistent rollers and inclines/declines throughout the run.

The week leading up to this race was good. I had planned a 2 week taper which included Lake Mills, so the week of training was designed around shorter faster efforts in all three disciplines plus an hour run on Wednesday. I also practiced my transitions repeatedly throughout the week including mounts and dismounts. I was feeling very confident.

Race morning I got up and everything was feeling good. The weather looked like it was going to be near perfect. It was overcast and about 60+degrees. There was a little wind, but not much. And it looked like the rain was going to holld off for the day.

I was staying at a friend and teammates place, Chris Bauer. He lives about 2 blocks off the course, very convenient. I went out for a light warmup ride watching my power to get in some harder work. Got to transition very early, got set up and realized I forgot my timing chip in my car at Chris's. Not to worry, I went for a warmup run to go get the chip, found it right away and jogged back to the transition area.

A good friend of mine, Brian Schroepfer, was also going to be racing with me. I was at his cabin the week before. I was never able to beat him last season. He's a small little freak of nature with awesome genetics. Don't get me wrong, he's got a great work ethic, but as I've told him several times, he doesn't know how to properly train for this sport. As a result he is always pulling or tearing muscles in the gym. When he was 20 years old he dropped a 10:10 Ironman at Lake Placid. That was 12 years ago. If he had gotten a coach and taken the sport seriously I don't doubt he'd be a pro right now.

Anyway, Brian is always late. Last year I learned to simply leave him be on race morning as he'll throw me off my game if I wait for him. he was staying at the Osthoff, his room right abov transition. With about 20 minutes before the transition close he gets on his balcony and starts yelling at me from 3 floors up. He finally makes it down and realizes he has no bike shoes...they are in his car. so he goes running around to get set up and makes it back to transition with about 2 minutes to spare.

As a race I really enjoy Elkhart Lake. But I have 2 complaints. The first is how they handle the race start. They close transition at 6:45 is. The sprint starts at 7:30ish as near as I could tell the Oly race didn't hit the water until well after 8am. That is a LONG time to be standing around. The second complaint is that it takes the RD about 3 hours to get the awards figured out. Computers are amazing and he hasn't quite figured them out.

On to the race. I had a few goals for this race. Below are the times I wanted to hit. I came up with these based on my splits last year as well as looking at other splits and figuring where I fell compare to them and my training.

Swim - 19:45
T1 - 2:30
Bike - 1:14:00 (22.7mph)
T2 - 1:45
Run - 43:00
Total - 2:21
I also figured a 2:21 would put me into contention for the age group win once the elites/pros were excluded.

Brian and I had numbers pretty close and we were able to start side by side. I hit the water hard and fast knowing I had to keep him out of my draft. He isn't fast enough to keep with me in the open water, but he could potentially sit in my draft and stay with me. I could not allow that.
there were about 300 people in the water ahead of me. Every one of them was slower than me and I did a LOT of passing. I made it about 1/4 of the way out and saw someone on my right hip. Thinking it might be Brian I swerved off to the left and weaved in and out of a couple people to force him into open water. It worked because I never saw anyone near me again.

I made it out to the turn around, glanced at my garmin and saw 10:10. I felt fine and picked up the pace at that point. On my way in my hot pink swim cap came off. I hate swim caps anyway. I made it to shore without incident, there was a long shallow area I needed to run on and crossed the mat at 19:21. That was the fastest age group swim except for one girl that supposedly dropped a 16 minute swim. I also had the 4th or 5th fastest swim overall. But I had no draft to help me like the elites did. And I came out of the water thinking I could have gone a bit faster. Last year I did 22:18. So I dropped 3 minutes in the swim...about what I expected given the extra work. If I had a draft I would have been faster.

I came out of the water and there is a really long transition with a narrow path. A grouping of girls were meandering their way up to T1. I came running behind them and asked them to move...they started whining and wanted me to go around them. That was stupid since the path was barricaded and I couldn't go around. So after about 2 seconds I used my arms as a plow and went through them. As I went by I told them to move their asses as this is a race not a social club.
I Came into T1...despite my practice I had a lot of trouble getting my wetsuit off. It was just really tight around my ankles and I actaully dropped to my butt, ripped it off and put on my bike shoes and other stuff.
I had practiced mounting the bike with shoes on and off. I decided at the last minute to keep my shoes on as I just had too much trouble getting into the shoes while riding. It isn't a balance thing, it is that my feet are size 12-13 and the shoes really drag heavy on the ground. On several occassions they hit something and pop out of the clips. I didn't want to risk that so stayed in my shoes.
So I ran out of T2, ran past the mount line a couple steps to be sure I was out of everyones way, mounted, clipped in after a couple seconds and was off!!! Everything went great.

I started riding and noticed the Garmin wasn't getting a power reading. I hit a flat section of the course and tried to hit the menus to get it to work, nothing. So I said screw it and raced on RPE. A couple things really stick out about this bike course. First, I had forgotten how hilly it really is. I came in thinking the first half of the course is hilly, and the back half is mostly downhill. that was not really accurate. The entire course is rolling hills. Nothing huge, but enough to be challenging. So my plan to take the first half hard may not have been the most effective. I came off the bike fairly tired. The age-groupers I didn't pass on the swim, I mostly passed on the bike.
Overall the bike was uneventful. I finished with a 1:16:05 for 22.1mph. Not bad, but not what I wanted. Last year I did a 1:21:05, so I did drop a full 5 minutes, but wasn't where I had hoped to be.

Onto T2. As I had practiced my T1 mount, I also practiced my T2 dismount. The only problem I ever had in practice was that the velcro on my shoe would stick to my sock...and the shoe would unclip and drop behind me. In bare feet that wasn't a problem. In practce I often went a bit slow as the road near my house is a bit rough on the feet.
Anyway, I start approaching transition and get my feet out of the shoes, and get over to the left side of my bike no problem. Hit the dismount line and am off and running. I will say this, I cam in too fast, but not out of control. Anyway, next thing I know my shoe/pedal hits the edge of the curb. The shoe flies off and the back of my bike starts bouncing around. At that point I committed the cardinal sin, instead of stopping and then looking back, I looked back and then tried to stop.
Big mistake. The handlebars essentially followed my the left. That was of course right in front of my path. So with the back wheel bouncing around uncontrollably the front wheel went right into my path and down I went, ass over tea kettle. HARD. In reality my hands and right knee took the brunt of the hit as I desperatly tried to avoid landing on my bike. I immediately started cursing. I looked for Matt and Mike to thank them for their advice and underestimating my stupidity. :-)

I heard several gasps from the crowd as the bike hit hard. In any case I bounced up, left the bike there and got the shoe. Someone handed it to me, I think. It's a bit of a blur. Someone told me to relax that it was only a few seconds and I think that snapped me back into reality. At that point I grabbed the bike, ran to T2 and got into my run stuff. I took a look at myself, my hands were cut up, my right knee had some road rash and was bruising, I had a slight cut on my abs and left foot. As I ran out of T2 I seemed to feel okay, so kept going.

I saw John White coming out of T2 and said something to him about this happening 2 weeks in a row. ugh.

On the run. I came running out of T2 at a good clip. The very first section is flat and I needed to take advantage of the flats where I could as the guys behind me were all faster runners. So I headed out at a 6:45ish pace. At this point I realized my original thoughts about the course were incorrect. I did not remember the hills between the start and the first turn around, I thought it was flat. As I hit that first section of hills I remember thinking..."This sucks".

I hit the turn around and looked at my watch to guage where the next two guys were. I saw Brian about a minut back, so I had 2 minutes on him. I saw Dan Grismer after 3 minutes, so I had 6 minutes on him. He ran past me at Lake Mills. It was Brian I worried about as he is a faster runner and was making up ground.
I hit an easier section of the course, down and flat and basically went as fast as I could dropping down to about 6:50's. And then I came to the final two hills, both longer steadier climbs. My left quad was acting like it was going to cramp, but I couldn't afford to back off with Brian running me down like that. I was starting to suffer quite a bit and my legs and lungs were both ready to explode. At some point I started thinking about walking for a small section. But as quick as that thought hit me I squashed it knowing that would mean 2nd place. So I hit the last hill and just focused on leaning forward and taking smaller faster steps. To my surprise my pace stayed really good up the hill and I made the left turn to the downhill/flat section of the course...the last mile or so to the finish with no hills.

At that point it was go for broke time. Everything left was down or flat and I could hit a fast pace doing that. Certainly fast enough to keep a 20s lead over a mile or so. So I kicked it into gear and rumbled down the hill towards the golf course. As I made the right turn onto a long straight away I looked over my shoulder and could see Brian coming down the hill and gaining on me. I had maybe 20-30 seconds on him. At that point I just kept telling myself that if I couldn't keep this lead over 3/4's of a mile or so, I didn't deserve to go to nationals and just kept telling myself to get moving. I looked at my garmin and was doing about a 6:30ish pace, maybe faster. I made the left turn to towards the finish, looked back and Brian was basically only 10-15 seconds back, right there. I started cursing myself and sprinted as best I could. I managed to cross the finish line with about 7 seconds to spare. I finished with a 45:02 or 7:15's. Not where I wanted to be, but fast enough. Last year I did a 54:11, so I dropped almost 10 minutes there. Considering how hard this course is compared to one like Tri-ing for Childrens, I am happy overall.

I wasn't sure about the overall results since there could have been a stud in the water I didn't see, but as it turns out I took first in the 30-34 age group. There were a few elites that beat me, but they also won money.

I was 7th overall in the age group race. About 26th overall counting the elites and pros. With the win I qualified for USAT nationals, so that goal is accomplished. However had the elites been included I would not have qualified. I know the elites never count in terms age group qualification, but I still don't know how I feel about qualifying knowing there were several guys in my age group that were faster, knocking me out of the top 10%.

The Aftermath:
First off I am very sore. Not just muscle sore. My ankles both ache, my hands hurt, one finger is swollen. The right side of my rib cage is rather sensitive. Flexing my core to sit up brings pain. It isn't horrible and I can breath fine. But it is there. So I took off Sunday and will take off most of Monday. I did a light swim and felt ok (except for the roadrash).

I need to assess the damage to my bike. Thus far it's been scratches only with a slight bend to the handlebar which took the entire brunt of the fall. I need to assess any potential damage to the fork as it is carbon, and the wheels. Although I did not spot any scratches or issues with the wheels.

After that I need to work on a training plan.
At this point in time I am inclined to drop my swimming back slightly to 3 days per week to maintain what I currently have...and really focus on my biking and running. I've come to the realization that I am not nearly as fast on the bike as I thought I would be after all the off-season work. With an FTP of 320 I really thought I'd be holding above 23.5 for sprints and not too far off that for Olympic races. Granted Elkhart is a slower course, but 22mph is not where I want or need to be. Perhaps Pleasant Praire will yield higher speeds as it is a flat course. We'll see. Many hard interval sets are in my future.

I think my plan will include 3 swims per week, 5 runs per week and 4 rides.
I'll have 1 interval run, 1 long run, 2 interval rides and 1 long ride.

Now that I have qualified for Nationals I don't have to worry about other local races in terms of resting. So with the exception of Racine 70.3 I won't be tapering at all and won't be taking much in the way of recovery afterward. That includes Pleasant Praire. Even Racine will be done on minimal rest.

Nationals is September 25th. That leaves me with about 3 months of summer to train hard and get to where I want to be. Ideally I'd like to see my FTP get near 345ish. I'd also like to get my 5k down around 19 minutes. In both cases this will take consistent injury free training. So I will be carefully monitoring my fatigue levels.
I am rather anxious to knock out some harder bike intervals. I haven't in a while due to the extra running. But it is time to plan properly and execute the plan. (And stay upright on my bike)


  1. Awesome!, but boy are you proned to wiping-out on the bike. Nevertheless, congrats on qualifying.


  2. Nice race Eric...great job meeting one of your goal's of qualifying for Nationals!