Friday, July 5, 2013

New England TriFest: Olympic

Our last race reports, from the Rev3 Quassy, were a full month after the race itself. Let's try for some greater diligence, now. Our most recent race, the New England Trifest, was just last weekend.

The New England Trifest is an Olympic and Half-Iron distance tri that takes place in and around Lake Fairlee in Vermont. In some ways this is a new tri, but also an old one. There has been a triathlon of some sort for many years at Lake Fairlee, but there was also a bit of a dry spell when no race was held. We signed up for a Lake Fairlee triathlon last summer - only to have it cancelled and (only partially) refunded a month or two before race day. This year's triathlon was being put on by Sun Multisport Events, which runs a handful of other races in the NE. New management, new course, same location.

As with Quassy, because the race is close by, Hilary and I did some reconnaissance a few weeks ahead of time. The course is overall a lot less hilly than Quassy, which is a nice change. We did one circuit of the 28-mi bike loop. This is a bit longer than a standard Olympic-distance (40 km, or 24.9 mi), but done so that the half-iron race could be accomplished by looping it twice. After leaving the transition area at Camp Horizons on lake shore, there are a few miles of easy ascent, followed by a long and fast descent down to VT rt 5. The course follows along rt 5 for a long while, during which it is relatively flat and fast. The race organizers added a goofy 1-mi out-and-back halfway down rt 5 to pad the mileage, but surely they could have picked a better spot for it. When the course reaches the Ompompanoosuc River (I love that name!), it makes a hard right and moves inland further into Vermont. After passing through a one-lane covered bridge at Union Village, the course begins a long ascent to the top of Thetford Hill, followed by a bombing descent down into Thetford Village. The following few miles could be considered flat and fast, if the road were not in such shitty and pockmarked shape. (This is Vermont, right? Unlike New Hampshire, where crummy roads are the proud mark of a low-taxed, anti-gub'mint state, you would think the socialist paradise of Vermont would have the tax structure to keep its roads in good shape. Ah well.) Just when you start seeing the "Caution: Bumpy Road" and "Road Construction" signs in Post Mills, and think you are really in for it, the course makes another right onto rt 244, providing a final 2 miles on smooth, flat pavement next to the lake and back to transition.

Hilary and I did not preview the run: it is 3.1 miles out on a relatively flat and uneventful paved road, followed by 3.1 miles right on back. It's about as boring a course as one could image.

As it happens, Hilary and I were already pretty familiar with the course. During my final year at Dartmouth, we frequently used these roads to travel between our home in Norwich and our friends' blueberry farm in West Fairlee; it is the place where we were married. This is how crazy triathletes celebrate their anniversary.

Going into the race, we had no good notion of how we would fare. We knew enough about our own abilities to guess at when we might finish, but no sense of the competition. Would we, like at Quassy, be small fish in a big (1000+) pond? Would it be just a few hundred, where we might have a shot at the podium? We did not learn until race day that it was somewhere in between. There were approximately 150 racers for the half-iron, and some 250 for the Olympic. Judging from some of the equipment we saw being pushed around, it was clear that some very serious contenders would be there. We later learned that there were even a handful of professionals racing.

Race Day
Swim: 1500 m (0.9 mi), 23:48, 3/18 in age group

Because there was a half-iron race going on simultaneously, the swim course was a bit confused. The Olympic course was a straightforward, 1.5 km rectangle. Within that, marked by other buoys, was a squarish course that the half-irons would loop once in order to reach the 1.2 mile mark. Those racers were released first, and many had completed that funky loop when the Olympic waves were sent off. The water temperature was around 70 (it would have been higher, but two weeks of seemingly endless rain had cooled things right down), and although the sun shone down through partly cloudy skies, siting was not difficult. Unlike at Quassy, where seeding myself at the back of the pack meant my first few hundred yards were a difficult scrum passing slower swimmers, this time I seeded myself right at the line, and faced very little crowding. I was even able to do a little drafting behind some other swimmers, something that I rarely do.

And yet, my swim split this morning was identical to what it was a month ago. Guess I could have left a bit more out there. No time to fuss with that, though - onto the bike!

Bike: 28 mi, 1:25:11, 19.7 mph avg, 7/18 in age group
This bike was a lot of fun. I passed a bunch of people during the ascent from Lake Fairlee, and really enjoyed the long downhill to rt 5. My legs and my gearing max out at around 35 mph; on some hills around Concord I can coast to just over 40. So when I looked down near the bottom and saw 47 mph I had a brief "Holy Shit!" moment. The cruise along rt 5, which is slightly downhill in a lot of places, was also pretty enjoyable. It was a kick to see my instantaneous speed of 23 mph pulling down my average speed. The out-and-back was a pain in the butt, mostly because that side road is in lousy shape. On my way back I had a brief flash of anger when I saw a pickup in my lane slow down to a stop and start chatting to the pickup in the other lane, while cyclists on either side were trying to squeeze past. WTF? I can understand locals asserting their territorial rights, but that's just plain obnoxious.

There was a bit of a pileup just after the covered bridge, where the road immediately turns and starts steeply upward. I had planned for this by downshifting on the bridge and, being a decent climber anyway, was able to get around most of it. The rest of the ascent went well: I was able to keep up a steady, but hard effort, and made pretty good time for those 2.5 miles. The descent off Thetford hill was another screamer, but I had to reign it in a bit, knowing that there was a turn onto utterly shitty roads waiting at the bottom. I think that, next year, the race organizers should offer the entire village free race entry if they would just fix that damn road.

I had been hoping to have an average pace over 20 mph - something I haven't hit since a sprint-distance race last spring. I can make some allowance for the long distance and the long ascent in the middle, though. Overall, I felt pretty good about it.

Run: 10 km (6.2 mi), 48:47, 7:53/mi avg pace, 10/18 in age group
I was determined to not have a repeat of my dismal run at Quassy. That was my over-arching strategy for this final part of the race: finish strong. I tried to push some additional calories in during the bike. I had taken a salt tablet just before the race, and another on the bike. This course was flatter, but also pretty uninspiring, with long stretches of pavement under the blazing sun in 80+ degree heat. I consciously tried to not go out too fast, I wanted to be sure to have something left for the finish. Overall, the strategy worked - I was able to run the entire course without stopping to a walk or having my quads cramp up. It also meant that my average pace was not what I would usually call fast. Still, this was a success, and something to build on in future races.

In the early miles I was passed by an older fellow from the Boston Triathlon Team, moving at a good clip (7:00/mi or so). He passed me; I offered no challenge. A little ways past the turnaround I came across him again, this time walking. I continued at my own pace, and heard him break back into a run shortly afterwards. He soon passed me again, only to slow back to a walk half a mile later. I caught him; he started running again. This repeated another two or three times coming in towards the finish. For a stretch in the final mile he and I were shoulder to shoulder: he was pulling me to a faster pace, I was pulling him to a slower pace. That seemed to work pretty well. Eventually he pulled away for a final time close to the finish line. It seemed a strange way to run, but I was not about to lecture him.

Overall, I ended up 6th in my age group - in the top 3rd. I had been hoping to finish just a bit higher, but I'm pleased with the result. I had also been hoping to break that 2:30:00 mark, but the added miles on the bike course put that out of reach.

Next up: a sprint triathlon in our hometown. It'll be fun to be racing on home territory. The sprint distance will be a welcome change - the entire race duration could fit into what is nowadays a long bike workout. I think that having that deep training base will allow me to push pretty hard. We'll see!

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