Iroquois Point Triathlon – Yeah, Finished That.

O.K., so here’s a race report on the Iroquois Point Triathlon.  To my devoted readers (Hi Mom!) I apologize that I haven’t blogged the run-up to the event very thoroughly (or much at all).  To be honest I’ve been a little busy and, sort of unmotivated to blog over the last several days, for various reasons.  But the race deserves coverage (and if I don’t post soon I’ll lose the 6 readers I have) so here goes…

 

The Lead Up…

So in the weeks leading up to the race I had been focusing on running, but also knew that I had to do something about my swim.  Traditionally the way my triathlons go is fairly predictable: I struggle in the swim a bit and get out of the water at the back of the pack.  Never last…but often well back.  I get on the bike and hammer…passing quite a lot of people.  Then on the run some of those I passed on the bike pass me again and I end up finishing somewhere in the middle or towards the back of the pack.

A couple of weeks ago I started working out with Joe, one of the Masters swim coaches at "The Oahu Club", to see if he could do anything with my stroke.  I haven’t had any professional swim coaching since I was 9 years old at the YMCA trying to get my "Tadpole" card.  Somehow I don’t think that counts.  A year or three ago I read Terry Laughlin’s book "Total Immersion" which I found very helpful but the book doesn’t really give you any live feedback on your stroke.  So I wanted a pro coach to watch me swim and try to help me correct my many deficiencies.

Joe’s been relatively gentle.  He says my balance is good and praises other elements of my stroke, but wants to fix my timing, wants me to roll better and to swim more elongated by not starting my pull stroke too quickly when I breathe. (What Laughlin might call "Front Quadrant Swimming" or "Lengthening My Vessel").  So we’ve been working on that and I’ve been doing some drills on my own.  Of course all of this training has been taking place in the pool – remember that, it gets important.

I haven’t spent as much time on the bike because, at least in part, the bike is my strong segment so I didn’t figure I needed as much work on it.

I didn’t do a brilliant job with my pre-race planning and nutrition but I did have fried rice and get my gear laid out the night before (thanks Michelle for your assistance and delightful company!).  Not great, but o.k., especially for a relatively short race.

I also took the bike over to IT&B for a tune-up and to fix an issue I was having with my front chain ring.  James did a brilliant job of getting it straightened out and by the time I left the bike was running just as smooth as can be.

One thing I discovered that was a little awkward was that I had missed packet pick-up.  I had expected it to be on Saturday before the race.  Turns out it was on Friday.  Oops.  Guess I’ll have to get to the race a little early and pick-up there.

The Morning Of…

Bike was already in the truck, so I just had to get dressed, pack up the rest of the gear and get on the road.  I got a little later start than I’d planned to, but still got to the race in plenty of time.  Picked up my packet, found a transition spot for the bike (after a lot of looking) and started getting ready. 

One of the unique experiences of triathlon (and biathlon I guess) is having your number written on.  I have to admit – I like it.  There’s just something about having them take that black marker and scrawl your number on your arms (and sometimes legs) that makes you feel like a real participant.  Moreso than just clipping a paper number to your shirt somehow.

Ooops – Didn’t realize initially that I had to use THEIR swim cap and left it in the truck.  Planned to just wear my own.  Well…they wanted me to wear theirs, so with 10 minutes until start I had to jog back to the truck and get theirs.

Ooops 2 – Got halfway from my transition area to the water when I realized I’d left my swim goggles hanging on the bike.  The swim was going to be tough enough without forgetting those.  Had to go back and get them.

And They’re Off – The Swim

The swim at Iroquois Point is a 750 meter ocean swim.  It’s a clockwise course out from the beach, around a pyramid buoy, parallel to the beach to a second pyramid buoy, then a right turn back towards the beach for the exit.  I always start at the back of the pack in the swim – I know I’m not a fast swimmer and I don’t want to have to deal with a dozen other guys swimming over the top of me.  I’d just assume let them go ahead.

I was really curious to see how this swim was going to go for me.  Swim is my weak segment, always has been, but hopefully my work with Joe and recent pool drills would start to pay dividends.  They did…a little.

One thing that’s important to realize is that pool swimming and ocean swimming are very different animals.  For one thing, on the ocean swim you have to contend with waves and currents – which the pool doesn’t prepare you for.  Maintaining a steady pace is a lot harder when you’re getting tossed around.  Breathing is sometimes tricky if you happen to breathe when a wave breaks over your head.

Iroquois Point’s swim course is a little wavy-er than I’m used to.  It’s not exactly rough, but it’s aggressive.  One nice thing is that the water is clear and not super deep so you can see the bottom during most of the swim.  Being able to watch the coral go by helps give you a nice sensation of movement that is reassuring when the waves make it feel like you’re not making any progress.

Out to the first buoy I was doing o.k.  I have to admit that the unfamiliar ocean conditions and some "first race back" nerves meant that some of Joe’s technique work went out the window and I fell back into some of my old habits.  I rounded the first buoy and headed for the second.  Looking around I could see that, as expected most of the pack was ahead of me, but I was reassured to see at least a few yellow swim caps in the water behind me and a glance at the beach showed that nobody was out of the water yet.

By the time I reached the second buoy I was pretty tired, and sure that my time on this segment wasn’t going to be good.  But I was surviving.  And still not last.  I was hoping that rounding that second buoy we’d get a nice push from the waves on the way back into the beach.  Boy was I in for a surprise.  In fact, the rip tides coming off the beach meant that the coral down below didn’t move a bit for long seconds.  It started to feel disturbingly like a swimming treadmill for a while.  I tried to refocus on my swimming technique and I could almost hear Joe bellowing from the pool deck ("When in doubt, catch-up stroke it out!").  So I focused on trying to elongate myself and not surprisingly it did feel a little more efficient.  Before my next race I need to get a lot more time in the water in order to try and make these techniques more intuitive so that I don’t have to think about them so much.

Navigation on the way back in was tricky and many of the athletes were wide left of the exit.  Normally the tactic for the water exit is to keep swimming until your hands touch bottom.  Then get to your feet and run out.  Honestly I was too tired at that point and didn’t feel like I was swimming very effectively, so I stood up when the water was hip deep and waded ashore from there. 

Clearing the water, I trotted up the sand.  A large crowd of spectators applauded as I ran over the mats and into the transition area.  I smiled and gave them a small wave of acknowledgement.  There were still quite a few bikes in the transition area which was surprising and reassuring.  A glance at my watch revealed that my time on the segment wasn’t quite as bad as I feared, though certainly much slower than I’d like.  Something to continue working on…

T1 – Swim to Bike

At several points on the morning I felt like my experience in the sport really helped me out.  Getting from the sand to my bike was one of them.  I had paid attention to the route before the swim so I jogged easily and confidently thru the area right to my spot without any problem.  A few other athletes looked like shoppers in a mall parking lot – jogging up this lane and down that one trying to remember where they parked.

The T1 transition is the more complicated one – in addition to the basics of getting your helmet on, bike shoes on, and so forth there is also the matter of rinsing off your feet (and maybe drying them just a bit) to get the sand off them before you get into your bike shoes.

Tip: Don’t bother with socks.  Bike shoes are designed to be comfortable in bare feet and socks just waste a lot of time.

Bike jersey on, helmet and sunglasses on, bike shoes (but no gloves; too short a ride) I headed for the exit, just behind another athlete.

 

My Turn – The Bike Segment

The bike segment has always been my strong suit.  I always felt like the swim was just a warm-up to get me to the bike and once I got there…it was all good.  Today’s race was on a flat course that I knew well (since it’s just a mile or so from my house and I ride it frequently as part of my training) and it was my first race on the new bike.

From the very outset one thing was apparent…the new Felt F5 is FAST.  I could feel the wind drying me off as I flew into the first turn.  Looking up I saw the backs of some of my competitors ahead.  I felt at home on the bike and confident.  I settled into a comfortable gear that allowed me a good cadence without too much effort and got down onto my aero bars.   The ride was VERY smooth, I even felt comfortable taking most of the turns down on the aero bars.  Out of Iroquois Point and onto the navy road we went…about 13 miles in all.  It was a little windy which, to be honest, gave me an advantage.  Down on the aero bars and being conscious of my tuck I was probably more aerodynamic than most so I didn’t have as much trouble with the wind.

As I rode I felt myself being very tactical.  I evaluated each upcoming turn in the road and attacked the course well.  I know where most of the potholes are on that road and deftly avoided them.  I sized up each of my competitors in turn as I approached: evaluating their cadence, track, listening to their bike and their breathing.  I felt like by the time I got up on each one I knew pretty well what their situation was.  An inconsistent cadence; an awkward track showing fatigue and lack of control.  One guy’s bike was making a noise that made it clear that he wasn’t cleanly in gear – that means he’s losing a lot of efficiency and working harder than he needs to.  Also meant he’d have a harder time shifting gears to come with me if he chose to after I passed.

I chatted and encouraged each cyclist as I passed.  One fellow chirped back that he was doing pretty well for a first timer.  And he was.

I can honestly say that during the bike segment I probably passed more than 40 competitors and was never passed by any.   I really couldn’t have asked for a better bike segment.   I felt fast, comfortable, confident.  The Felt performed great, and I thought I had a strong time with very little effort.  I never had to press or strain; never came out of the saddle; rarely shifted gears.

The bike is my turn.  Those other athletes might kick my butt on the swim, but they’d better get moving out of T1 because I’m coming for them on the bike. 🙂

Unfortunately for me the race doesn’t end with the bike…

T2 – Bike to Run

One of the big challenges of this transition is getting your legs back after the bike.  After a fast ride your legs tend to be a little rubbery.  One trick for that is to pedal backwards as you enter the transition area.  I did some of that this time and I undid my bike shoes as I glided in.  I didn’t manage to step OUT of my bike shoes, unfortunately, but that’s something to work on for next time.

I re-racked my bike, pulled on my socks (a luxury I allow myself for the run), running shoes, clipped on my race belt with my number, took a sip of water from my bottle, and away I went. 

Run Forrest Run – The Run Segment

Out of the transition area we passed our first aid station and headed across a small grass lawn onto a nearby street.  Iroquois Point has one of the prettiest run courses I’ve ever seen.  The run is not a true 5K; it’s actually 3.7 miles, but virtually all of it is either along the beach or past the lagoons.  What isn’t is thru a nice neighborhood of quiet houses.

I had already decided I wasn’t going to exert myself too much today.  I didn’t have a target time to beat (it has been more than 7 years since my last Tri) and I just wanted to get back into the flow. So I strode out on the run at a fairly easy pace.  I didn’t have my GPS on but I’d guess I was just slightly under 10s as my legs loosened up.  A few of the stronger runners that I had passed on the bike caught up to me and passed, but for the most part I felt like I held my own on the run – especially since I wasn’t working hard at all.

At one point we passed the finish area (something to look forward to) and there was a big crowd of people cheering.  Some of them were seated in comfortable looking beach cabanas and for just a moment I thought "Gosh, I’d like to change places with you.  Sitting comfortably in the shade, sipping your drinks and cheering for these crazy people running by."  But then I realized…no, I wouldn’t like to change places.  As nice as it looked in those cabanas I would much RATHER be the guy running by, with my race number inked on my shoulder, getting cheered for like a hero.  There are lots of spectators on the curb, but only a relative handful of us who strapped up and got out there doing it.  It was way cooler to be the athlete they were cheering for.

The run was pretty uneventful really.  I chatted easily with a few other racers as we went.  Marveled at the beauty of the course and what a perfect day we had, and tried to focus on the positive things in my life instead of those things that were causing me sadness.  This too shall pass.

With about half a mile to go I found myself running alongside a young woman competitor.  She was working pretty hard and her breathing was labored.  Still I chatted a bit with her as we went.  As we approached the finish line there was a final left turn and then just a 40 yard charge to the finish.  Rounding that turn I started to run harder, and turning to her encouraged her to come with me.  She did.  We ran shoulder to shoulder the last 40 yards, me exhorting her the whole way ("Come on, let’s get it!  Strong finish!  Let’s go!").  At the last moment I backed off just slightly, letting her cross the line first before applying a congratulatory hand to her shoulder.  "Great finish!"  She thanked me profusely and staggered off to find refreshment and perhaps her friends.  I never did get her name, but she did great.

Yep, Finished That

The finish area was compact but efficient.  A food tent held water and Amino Vital along with muffins, brownies, and a little fruit.  Across the street was a tent where they were doing massages and passing out finisher’s t-shirts.  A DJ was spinning music and announcing the names of folks on the loudspeaker as they approached the finish.  I didn’t hear him announcing mine when I finished with the mystery woman, and sort of wished I had listened.

Suitably refreshed I took my new t-shirt and started the quarter mile walk back to the transition area to collect my bike and other gear and head for home.

I did what I wanted to do.  Accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.  Learned what I wanted to learn.  A big success.

Lessons Learned

  • Mostly I just wanted to assess where I was.  Sure enough –
    • The swim is still my tough segment.  The coaching from Joe helped a little and will help a lot more with time.  I need more time in the ocean and I need to swim longer stretches – the 50s, 100s and 200s Joe has us do isn’t enough to prepare me for 750, 800 and 1800 meter swims that I’ll have to do in triathlon.
    • The bike is still my strong segment.  The Felt F5 is worth every penny and my confidence in that segment is still very high.  I’m looking forward to seeing what my bike split actually was when those numbers get posted.
    • My run has improved.  I felt strong and comfortable the entire run – never really pressed and still turned in a split I’m happy with.
  • There are some little things I need to do a better job of:
    • Pre-race nutrition in the days before.
    • Sleep – this was a little out of my control.  Some stress in my life and other factors resulted in not getting quite as much sleep as I would have liked in the days before the race.  Before Tinman I need to be aware of that.  It wasn’t a critical factor – such a short race and I had so much adrenaline going anyhow.
    • I should have brought a basin for rinsing my feet.  I always have in the past, but just didn’t take care of that this time.
    • I should have brought a bottle of Gatorade for my transition area.  Didn’t really hurt me much, but I should have known better.
    • I forgot the water bottle for my bike.  The ride was fast and cool so I think I got away with it, but in the future it would be good to be able to hydrate if I need to.
  • Not wearing gloves on the bike was fine and saved me a few seconds time.  For the longer rides, like Tinman, I probably will wear them.
  • I didn’t bring my visor for the run, which was fine – again short run and not too hot.  For Tinman I will wear it.

Acknowledgements

  • Thanks to all of the friends and family who sent along words of encouragement.  Especially Michelle, Patricia, Sonya, Regina, Janeen, Brian, John, Craig, Mike, Lori and Sue-Baby.
  • Thanks to Brian and Joe, my running and swim coaches respectively, for all of their counsel and enthusiasm.  We’re getting there!
  • Thanks to James at IT&B for doing a great job on getting the bike in racing shape.
  • Thanks to Shoko for her race-day assistance on-site.

Next Up

The Ford Island Bridge Run.  Next Saturday.  A 10K.  I ran the very first Ford Island Bridge 10K back in…1997?

-B-

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