Monday, August 24, 2009

Race Report and CFE Review: Portland Triathlon

First of all, I'd like to state that although I am not superstitious, I lost my lucky triathlon towel this year. It was big and purple and had a cute dolphin with punk rock sunglasses on it and has been to every race with me for 20 years. Well, all but one other. I didn't take it to Ironman Florida because they just have that transition bag system instead of an area. And look what happened there - dislocated toe! Not that I blame anything that happened yesterday on its disappearance, but still...

Second of all, I have to say this up front: PORTLAND TRIATHLON IS AN AWESOME RACE. Seriously, if you're looking for a really fun metropolitan triathlon to do, consider this race. No, just register for it and do it. The course was very challenging (river swim, massively hilly bike course with technical turns) but also very pretty, it was extremely well organized, well marshalled, tons of volunteers, every twist and turn of the course was marked or covered by volunteers or police or both. The run was on a riverside path and crossed two bridges with great views of downtown Portland. You really couldn't pick a better urban race. The post-race BBQ was pretty darn nice to boot, and really, they had FREE BEER and FREE GELATO for athletes. Doesn't get any better than that. My only negative experience with this race is that they failed to close the transition area when they said they would. They shooed all of the athletes out of the transition area and down to the water for the start, but continued to allow latecomers to rack their bikes. This resulted in someone racking their bike RIGHT ON TOP OF my transition area, which made for a pretty infuriating T1 for me. Rest assured that the race directors will be getting an email from me on this point since the rest of the race was such a positive experience.

Thirdly, as anyone who has been reading this blog this summer might already know, this race was my watershed moment to see how well the much-touted "Crossfit Endurance" training program would stack up. You can visit their website to read all about their program, but their main selling point is that you can train for endurance events much more efficiently by training in shorter and more intense sessions instead of in longer endurance-based slower sessions (like the traditional long bike/long run weekend that most triathletes put in). I've been doing only Crossfit Endurance training for the last four months, and have not put in any longer endurance sessions, not adding in anything that was not in their program. I also followed their prescribed taper for this race. Also, I was curious to find out how adding Crossfit training into my regimen might affect my swim, bike, and running abilities.

So that being said, on with the race report... The swim is in the Willamette river, which was about 70 degrees on race morning, and beautiful in the sunrise I might add. The men's wave went first, exactly 3 minutes in front of us women. I don't care for that arrangement because it means I will have to swim through the obstacle course of the men's wave. In fact, it meant I had to pass all but a few of the male swimmers which was a pain in the ass. 5 minutes between waves would've been a lot better methinks. Maybe I'll add that to my email to the race directors, LOL.

When I started out swimming, it just felt so darned good. I started to wonder if maybe the downstream swim start was throwing me off and I was going to end up with a slow swim time. It was hard to figure out pace because I felt like I was flying along, but also didn't feel like I was putting out a whole lot of effort. Still, I could only see one or two red caps (women) near me and the rest of the women's wave was behind me, so it seemed as if I was doing fine. Unfortunately, my goggles got knocked a little off in the start and they kept fogging up. I had so little visibility that I actually had to stop cold and rinse them out several times, which I've never had to do before. I knew that was slowing my swim time down, but it was that or run into a concrete bridge abutment or one of the 200 male swimmers in my path or something. Turning around at the buoys and heading back upstream didn't seem to slow me down noticeably, and that felt great. Hubby said I looked like a shark cutting through schools of fish, my red cap swimming around the herds of silver caps in front of me. The end of the swim was at a dock and there was a traffic jam of men crawling up the netting that we were supposed to use to haul ourselves out. Also a slight disadvantage to the faster women's swimmers as the fast men didn't have to worry about slower people in front of them. Still, all in all even with the goggles and treading water waiting for my turn to get out, I had a killer swim time: 21:58. 10th fastest overall swimmer (male or female or relay) YAH! I'm going to chalk this one up to Crossfit because my swim times in the pool have been getting noticeably faster with every pull-up-and-push-press-laden Crossfit workout I've been doing.

Into T1, I mentioned before that some lame-ass latecomer racked his bike right on top of my transition area. I couldn't easily get to my stuff, and my bike was totally stuck behind his, which was also wedged against the triathlete to my left, leaving both of us struggling with locked handlebars trying to escape T1. 2:22 for T1 was slower than it needed to be.

Onto the bike, I've been doing some of my CFE intervals on hills to prepare, but looking at the course profile was a bit daunting with that 2100+ feet of elevation gain. Still, it didn't seem all that bad once I got out on the course. Most of it was a long gradual climb, and then there was one steepish bit towards the end. I felt pretty darned good on the first round, which took me 26:19 to finish. That seemed like a good pace, felt very much within my usual Oly comfort zone, and would put me under 1:20 for the bike course which was what I was aiming for. I zoomed down the back side of the hill, and into the U-turn for the 2nd loop. This is a great course for spectators with a 3-loop bike and a 2-loop run, and hubby was cheering loudly right before the turn-around which really got me smiling. The 2nd loop breezed by because now I wasn't worried about it, 26:48 was the pace for that one and I was soon watching hubby cheering again. By the time I hit the 3rd loop, the course was getting more crowded with folks from the sprint race all hitting the bike course.

This last loop on the bike was also when I noticed that now that I was about 90 minutes into the race, I was slowing down considerably. I just couldn't seem to get any steam on that last loop, which for me is unusual. I'm usually an endurance specialist. Not particularly quick in the short run, but generally the longer I go, the better I feel. This race was starting to not play out that way, and I could feel that my snap was going. It was a really odd and new feeling and I didn't think I liked it. More and more women were passing me on the bike (this is unusual, usually it's maybe one or two total!). Last bike loop took me over 30 minutes, way slower than the first two, for a total bike time of 1:23:30.

Still, steaming downhill into that last u-turn was great fun, knowing that the big hills of the bike course were behind me and all I had left to do was the run. Normally, the run in an Oly race is pretty fun for me. It seems like I usually run my best after an hour or so on the bike to warm up, and this run course was flat, scenic, and the temperature was balmy and pleasant. After wrestling my bike onto the rack (strangely, there was now a different bike racked right over my transition area!) I was out of the chute and onto the course. About halfway through mile one, it became apparent that this wasn't going to be the race I had hoped for. I just had nothing left at all. It was the weirdest feeling, like running out of gas in a car. Hubby saw me after the first loop and knew I was just having a really tough time of it. The 2nd loop was more or less a death march, just couldn't get going Not really able to even enjoy the scenery. Final run time: 57 minutes, about 5 - 6 minutes slower than I should've been.

So, bottom line report card on the training protocol I've been following: I think I have gained a lot of strength and power, and I could really feel it on the swim and in the fact that the big hills on the bike seemed pretty easy, despite not putting in a lot of mileage on hills like I've done in years past. I felt that I really came up short in endurance though, and for me at least I feel like I can definitively say that short intense training does not train my body in the same way as endurance training. I don't think I would follow this protocol for anything longer than a sprint triathlon. While it might be a fine way to train for someone with limited time who just wants to complete a race, I don't think it gives enough endurance to be able to be competitive. Case in point, this is the first race shorter than Iron distance that I haven't placed in my age group in many years. It was actually kind of humbling to go through that, and probably good for me in many ways. At the very least, it told me something about the way I've trained this year and the way I've trained in years past. I can take the good parts from this year and move forwards, and chalk the rest up to experience.

Swim: 21:58
T1: 2:22
Bike: 1:23:30
T2: 1:28
Run: :57:03

Total: 2:46:21


cherelli said...

Boy but you would have kicked butt in a Sprint! good on you for seeing your experiment through, sounds like a good mix of Crossfit AND Endurance would be preferable (or a reverse periodisation - I guess Crossfit would be great for the off season/early season?)...well done!

Genetic Potential said...

interesting that the swim and the bike went well, but as soon as the run occurs you shut down and the training program is to blame. You crushed the swim, and the bike, and from what im gathering were close to PR's??? This is not a case of lack of endurance. This is a case of nutrition and mental fortitude. You might also want to learn how to pace with that new found power, because if you aren't nutritionally making up for that when you blast your swim and bike, guess where you are going to suffer?

Robin said...

Um, I guess you've been reading my blog for what, one day?? The swim and bike were nowhere near PRs (last Oly bike was 1:08, this was 1:23). Pacing was fine, swim felt too easy, but endurance fell apart during the bike part and continued to deteriorate during the run. Let me reiterate, I almost never get passed by women during the bike. I got passed by lots in this race. It wasn't just the run.

As for mental fortitude, hmmmm, I once biked 112 miles and then ran an entire Ironman marathon with a dislocated big toe, passing out shortly thereafter from dehydration caused by taking ibuprofen and wrecking my stomach with the NSAIDS. I don't really think mental fortitude has ever been a problem for me. If anything, I have the opposite problem, I will push myself to the point of near-death if not careful. And nutrition? That's been dialed in pretty well for about, oh, the last 20 years of racing or so. I can't remember the last time I had a nutrition problem in an Oly race.

So let's see, not a problem with "new found power", not a nutrition problem, not a pacing problem, not a fortitude problem. Only race in a decade that I've felt lack of endurance on, only race of this distance in a decade I haven't placed in my age group or placed overall. BTW, I qualified for age group nationals last year at this distance. And the year before. And probably the year before that...

Yeah, I think I've narrowed it down to the training plan, dude.

Robin said...

And BTW, I didn't say that this training plan wouldn't work for other people or other distances. It just doesn't work well for *me*. I'm an endurance specialist, and by only training short and intense I removed what's probably my biggest advantage in a race - the fact that though I'm not terribly fast, I tend to speed up over time instead of slow down. That's just how I'm built, and this was a good reminder that I should train to my strengths, as well as addressing my weaknesses.

Also, I think I learned a lot from the training plan that I will take forward with me. There were certainly some great workouts that I'll keep in the repertoire. Not everyone has to train the same way though, this just isn't for me.

Pdx76 said...

Thanks for the race summary- this is definitely the best race, and the only one I've stuck to in the area the last three years. Super spectator friendly, and it's getting better every year. (Hagg Lake is pretty damn fun/beautiful, too, but it's a long drive out there...) Try some dive shop google drops for the fogging- my older lenses all fog up unless I use that stuff. As for bonking on the run, I do a couple higher intensity bricks 3 weeks and then 2 weeks before racing- helps a little, but I also had a super tough second lap this year. =)

Warrior said...

Hey nice report, sorry it didn't work out as you hoped. I have been dipping in and wondering about the cross fit thingy. I have problems with a disc and sciatica, and it's problematic to get my endurance up. I was intrigued to find you had more power in the swim. I have a question though, do you think it could have possible to get a better result if the swim was slower. You are an inspiration by the way, thanks for just being yourself, and bothering to write up this stuff.

TriGirl 40 Something said...

It kind of reminds me of the phonics/whole language reading debate. I've always wondered why it had to be one or the other for some people - when in fact - it is often finding that unique winning combination. Sounds like you've added another weapon into your training arsenal - and now just have to get it fine tuned to work with the others.

pucha11 said...

Great race report I did this race as well, the times were not as good as yours though good job! The sunrise was so perfect that morning I have a similar pic to yours with the sunrise
I have been considering the whole cross fit thing kind of built a gym in my garage....
Again, good job, maybe I will see you in the portland are tri circuit.