Thursday, July 14, 2011

REV3 Portland

It's been seven days now and the dust has settled after my latest adventure in the Pacific Northwest. Albert and I loaded up the car with camping and triathlon gear, settled the dogs down in the way back and headed northwest for a week-long race-cation in Portland, OR. We were lucky enough to have family to stay with for the majority of the trip (спасибо Edward and Valentina!), and even more family and friends to come out and cheer on race day. Many thanks to the REV3 crew for their impeccable (albeit inadvertently so) choice in race locations!

The days leading up to the race were filled with similar activities to what we normally do at home; some swim/bike/run mixed in exercising the dogs. Our "challenged" dog does not have very nice manners around other canines but we're working on improving that flaw. There is a really great dog park close to Gresham where we took Sherman and Suzzie almost everyday for some much-need social skills training and hiking. It was just what the doggie doctor ordered! Suzzie is not 100% cured but she's doing a lot better's a relief to know she's not going to eat every single other dog we come across---just the smaller tastier ones. ;)

Back to the race. I was much more relaxed going into this race than I have been for the last few events and was able to sleep soundly the night before. I chalk it up to being in a familiar place doing familiar things. For once race morning did not come early! A solid night's sleep, plus traveling one time zone west and having a rare 8:00am start time made for a nicely relaxed morning. The big question mark as everyone was setting up their gear was whether or not it would be a wetsuit legal swim for the pros. The answer was no which was fine by me; I had packed my trusty BlueSeventy PointZero swimskin just in case and I prefer a cooler swim anyway. The women's pro field took off at 8:05am, five minutes after the men. I chose a spot to the far right of the field for the beach run-in because I prefer to avoid the tangle of arms and legs and find some clean water as quickly as possible. The sprint to the first buoy was FAST. After the first turn the pace let up and I was able to swing around a couple of girls and settle into a nice rhythm in second place. The leader's feet were too far away to catch (holy smokes Meredith, that was a great swim!) but I focused on keeping my turnover up and my head in the game. Ha---keeping the turnover up is all relative of course; I saw some footage of the swim and compared to the other girls my arms move in slow motion! But then again, my wingspan is about twice as wide as any of the other ladies who were racing...that makes a difference, right?!

I exited Blue Lake about a minute behind Meredith but with another minute lead on the next pack of swimmers. The run to transition was almost a half mile long, the highlight of which was seeing my sister and her husband cheering for me somewhere along the path through the park. Have I mentioned how great it is to race in places where I've got family/friends to come out and whoop it up?! T1 went smoothly and I got out onto the FLAT FLAT FLAT bike course quickly. The original course was going to be extremely hilly with the swim/transition/finish all in downtown Portland but there were some last-minute permit issues and the REV3 crew had to scramble to find a new venue so that the show could go on. They did an incredible job bringing it all together and the REV3 experience did not suffer one bit from the eleventh-hour changes.

The bike was two out-and-back laps on a road flanked by the Columbia River on one side and the Portland Airport on the other. There was a nice view of Mt. Hood on the second half of each loop---if you had the presence of mind to lift your eyes from the road for a minute to see it. (I did.) Some people might assume that a flat course is an easy course, but staying focused and keeping the pedal to the metal for 56 flat miles is not a walk in the park. There wasn't much wind to speak of, but there was a section of rough and "humming" road that took some mental fortitude to endure. I rode a good part of the first lap keying off of two of the slower pro men, trying to control the damage that Meredith was doing to the rest of the field while increasing the gap between me and my pursuers. I knew I would need a considerable cushion going into the run because it is my weakest link and there were some fleet-footed ladies on my tail. On the second bike lap I focused on catching whoever was up the road, which happened to be a string of age-groupers on their first lap. At one point I even tried racing an airplane that was just revving up for take-off...I thought I had it for a minute but then it kicked into a higher gear and left me in the dust. :)

The run: it was probably in my best interest that it ended up being a flat run course. I've been working hard at sealing this chink in the armor but there's still a lot of work to do; at this point it's easier for me to hold my form and pace together on flat terrain. I was greeted at the start of the run by my cheering squad which was a nice boost and put a smile on my face. The first few miles ticked by pretty quickly and I was pleased to settle into a relatively comfortable 6:45 pace. If I held it together I would be able to break 1:30 which would be a first for me in a triathlon. The initial out-and-back section of the run gave me a good look at who was behind me and what kind of gaps there were. Time for some mental math! I figured it would be a real battle to hang onto second place and even third place might be questionable, so I buckled down and kept my feet moving as fast as I could. It took Kate until mile 8 to catch me which is 2-3 miles longer than at Quassy so there's an improvement! Coming back from the far turnaround I got another look at the field and knew that barring a complete blow-up I would come in third. Miles 11 and 12 were long straights that were mentally challenging, but they were followed by the nice surprise of a somewhat short mile 13. Rounding the last bend into the finishing chute was awesome and I'm sure I was grinning like the Cheshire cat. At the end of the day I ran a 1:28+ split with an overall time of 4:25 and change, both of which were significant improvements for me.

It's such a great feeling to FINALLY have gotten my act together in training and to see the consistent hard work paying off. I've definitely got some good momentum going right now and I'm eager to keep it rolling through the second half of the season. Five races down, five to go!

Thanks go to: Charlie, Eric, Krista, and the rest of the REV3 staff and volunteers for making this race happen; Stu, Jen, and the entire camera crew for the great coverage; Albert, Valentina, Edward, Val, Kira, John, Rachel, Nathan, Marie, Daniel, Dave, and Kara for all coming out to cheer; the ladies field for the strong competition; my clients/athletes for understanding the week-long absence; and to my sponsors PowerBar, BlueSeventy, Rudy Project, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center for continuing to support my athletic endeavors.

Results so far:
REV3 Costa Rica 8th
REV3 Knoxville 5th
REV3 Quassy 8th
Dino Tri 1st
REV3 Portland 3rd

Giant Eagle Tri (Olympic)
Mountain Tropic Tri (Half)
REV3 Cedar Point (Full)
REV3 South Carolina (Half)
ITU Long Course World Champs (a really weird longer-than-half-but-shorter-than-full distance)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Getting It Done At Dino Tri

Last weekend I competed in the annual Dinoland Triathlon in Vernal, Utah. I must say it certainly is nice to do a "local" race every once in a while, with minimal travel logistics to organize beforehand. Nothing like packing up the tent, hopping in the car with the dogs, hitting the road for a few hours and're there! This race is fun to do for several reasons: it's well-organized, has a nicely challenging course with a unique finish on a high school track, and it features a bit of a prize purse which typically draws in some quality athletes from Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. This year was no exception. There were some slight changes to the bike course due to road construction and the run course was entirely revamped (which I LOVED!), but the heart of the event stayed true. So did the finishing sprint around the track!

I came into the Dino Tri in the middle of a big block of training so I was not exactly fresh on race day, but my mindset was to get out and race hard to get in a good tune-up going into REV3 Portland (on July 10th). The swim is held at Red Fleet State Park in a gorgeous little piece of water with sandstone walls. The elite men and women started together, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the size of the field. This is a smaller race so it made for a relatively friendly swim---not much clobbering going on. I was in a little pack of 3 or 4 swimmers for the first lap, then was able to build my effort and create a bit of a gap on the second lap. I came out of the water in 4th position, with two men and one woman up the (steep) boat ramp ahead of me. I peeled off my BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit and transitioned quickly, hitting the mount line ahead of the girl who out-swam me. So I was sitting in first place among the ladies, a position I was determined to hold for the rest of the day.

The first two miles of this bike course are downright tough; the climbs are reminiscent of the hills coming out of the water at Wildflower, only they occur as soon as you get your pedals moving. This was my third time doing the Dino Tri so I knew what to expect but it's a humbling experience nonetheless. I'm sure the altitude has something to do with it as well---I believe Vernal is about 1000 feet higher than Salt Lake, and coming out of a hard swim and having to tackle those hills right away on the bike makes you acutely aware of your lungs!

The other challenging part of this bike course is the false flats. After the initial climbs out of Red Fleet there is a nice bombing downhill section, then a long section where you wonder why it suddenly feels like your brakes are rubbing. Once you hit the turnaround it becomes obvious that you were actually going gradually uphill the whole time; then you can really turn it on and feel like a rockstar! Overall I was able to put in a solid effort on the bike and built about another minute onto my lead over the next female competitor. Two men had passed me early in the bike leg, so at this point I was sitting in 5th place overall.

Once I hit T2 I was ready for a good run. I had seen at the bike turnaround that my friend BJ (who is a helluva runner) was riding with the second place female; my goal was to hold him off as long as possible. So I took off like a bat out of hell to see if I could be "out of sight, out of mind". It worked until maybe 2.5 miles in when BJ came roaring up behind me. Then my strategy changed to hanging onto his coattails as long as I could...which wasn't long, but I was pleasantly surprised to keep him (almost) in sight the rest of the run. The final 300 meters on the track was a blast, and hitting the finishing tape first among the ladies (and 6th place including the men!) felt great. I found out afterwards that my official run split was 39:45---my first time ever under 40 minutes on a legitimate 10K run course. I know that's nothing compared to what the top ladies in the sport are running, but it's a step in the right direction and a good sign going into Portland.

Thanks go out to the following for this race: Mark Mason and the entire Dino Tri team for putting on a great event; BJ for the extra motivation out on the course; Albert, Suzzie, and Sherman for their cheers and woofs; my training partner Rich for humbling me into running hard off the bike; BlueSeventy, PowerBar, Rudy Project, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center for their continued support; and to the community of Vernal for supporting this awesome event. Can't wait to come back and defend the title next year!