Saturday, November 8, 2008

San Francisco Triathlon (olympic) race report

I concluded my 2008 race season by competing in the Olympic distance 2008 San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island today.

In all, given the fact that for the last month I've been sick with the cold and flu more than I've been healthy, I'm rather pleased at my 3:11:50 finish time (the picture shows the overall time... I started 30 minutes after the first wave)

My splits (as seen on the full SFTri results list):
  • 1.5km swim: 37:43
  • T1: 4:20
  • 40km bike: 1:23:41
  • T2: 3:24
  • 10km run: 1:02:41 (yes, I walked stretches of it)
And this meant I placed 265 out of 333 men who raced today and 60/71 in my age group M35-39. Definitely not the fastest in the bunch (the winning time was 2:04:49), but I was racing to finish this thing, my longest race yet, not to place.

The skies were overcast this morning, with a fog hanging over the city of San Francisco, but not covering Treasure Island itself. Temperatures were cool (mid 50s?), ideal for spending multiple hours on the course. The sun was trying to peak through the clouds, but without much success.

Thom and I had picked up our race packets the night before, so we were able to go directly to the Transition area to rack our bikes, set up our gear and get marked with our race numbers. The transition area was plenty big enough, and the racks actually were marked with our race numbers, so there wasn't any jockeying to be had for the spots closest to bike in/out (thankfully).

As an aside, I couldn't believe how nervous/anxious/tight I felt before the start of the race today. While I thought I was pretty calm, my stomach was doing flip-flops and I felt tight all over. Very unlike me to get so worked up over a race like that, but then again, this was my first season racing and my longest one yet. I swallowed the butterflies and pressed on.

Then it was down to the waterfront to start the swim. Two waves went off before us, so we were able to see how they swam the triangle course (two laps) and listen to the announcer chide the swimmers for swimming outside the midway markers in addition to the corner markers (you just have to stay outside the corners).

The swim start is a "bobbing" start which means instead of leaping from a platform or running into the water, you just swim out to the designated buoy line and float there until the horn sounds marking the start of your wave. Having learned my lesson from prior triathlons, I made sure I started from the far edge of the wave so there was a minimum of swimming on top of others or getting clobbered by others. The water temperature was a chilly 58 degrees, but with my wet suit and neoprene cap I was actually quite warm and with my open water swim practices at SF Aquatic Park (closer to the Golden Gate) in colder water this felt quite nice.

With only 71 guys in our wave and 1.5km to swim, it actually felt like I was swimming alone for all but a few pinch points rounding the markers. Once I was making my way past the final marker and heading for the steps out to transition, I got a shot of adrenaline with the knowledge my most feared part of the triathlon was almost over!

Once I made the stairs it was time to try to engage my legs again, which was no easy feat. All I can say is thank goodness there were plenty of volunteers on the stairs to help us swimmers out of the water. If not for them, I'd have tumbled backwards into the water as I lost my footing on the second step. But, they pushed me in the right direction and before you knew it, I was trotting through the transition area to my spot to get ready for the bike.

It didn't seem like I spent that much time in transition (but it was 4+ minutes), and then I was running my bike to the mount line before saddling up to set out on the first of six laps around the island. Talking with one of the elite racers the night before, I'd gotten the advice to keep track of laps by tearing off six bits of Power Bar (you know how sticky they are) and affixing them to your handlebars. Then, as you complete a lap, you peel off one of the Power Bar bits and eat it and know how many laps are left.

On each lap, there were 26 corners to navigate (21 of them 90 degree turns and one 180 degree turnaround) which made for quite a technical course. All but a quarter mile of the course was flat, but there was a nasty bit of a hill leading to the turnaround and it seemed to get steeper with each lap completed. Throw in the fact that the condition of the pavement itself wasn't too grand and some of the corners were surprisingly dirty with rocks and sand and you had quite the recipe for a challenging course.

My pace was significantly slower than prior races where I'd easily stayed above 20mph. This time around, I averaged slightly less than 18mph, and I attribute that to the fact I took the corners cautiously given the conditions and didn't do a good job of accelerating out of the corners anyway.

I was more than happy to climb the hill for the last time and then bomb on down to the entrance to the transition area to start the run.

My T2 was a minute faster than T1 and aside from having some troubles transferring my Garmin from the bike to my wrist, it was rather smooth.

I hit the pavement knowing I had three laps of out-and-back flat running along the eastern shore of Treasure Island. Thanks to my training for the half marathon, I actually felt a lot better running than I thought I was going to after the previous two legs of the race.

The first lap went pretty quickly although I could feel my energy plummet as I worked through the second mile. When it came time to do the turnaround closest to the finish, I got confused and almost turned to early. If not for the helpful cry of a spectator saying NO!NO!NO!NO! I'd have failed to know to keep running through the gates by the finish line so as to cross the mat at the turnaround. When I emerged from the gates I gave her a running ovation as thanks for the help.

As I neared mile three, I could feel my calves start to tighten up, so I slowed to a fast walk for a bit and tried to zen my way back to relaxation. I took on quite a bit of endurance drink to try to help the situation. It helped marginally but for the first time ever in a race, I worried that I might cramp up so bad that I couldn't finish.

Nevertheless, I pressed on in my running with a few walking spells and made it to mile five before my quads joined the about-to-cramp party. At that point, the finish wasn't too far away, so I picked a hare in front of me and closed the gap to beat him by six seconds at the line.

I can't recall having been so happy to finish a race as I was today. Yes, the half marathon was an accomplishment, but that was only two hours out on the circuit. I'd just put in three-plus hours at race pace and I could feel it. I had no blisters or anything like that, it was just my leg muscles were so spent and my body was tired.

The apres-finish setup was good with lots of yummy food, plenty of water and Joint Juice and, the best part: free 10-minute massages! While I was on the massage table getting my legs worked over, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

The Tri-California folks put on a great event, well administered and staffed with plenty of volunteers. My only complaint was about the condition of the pavement on the bike ride, but I think that's a bit beyond their realm of responsibility.

  • Accelerate out of the corners on the bike
  • Feed/hydrate consistently throughout the bike and run legs
  • Relax and enjoy the entire experience
And with that, my first triathlon season comes to an end.

If you'd asked me a year ago whether I'd be doing a triathlon in SF Bay in November, let alone an olympic distrance tri, I'd have denied I'd be crazy enough to do such a thing.

I'm glad I was crazy enough to do it. It was a ton of fun and feels like a real milestone in my getting in shape via extreme sports.

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