Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tour de Tamarack Bike Race

My friends and co-directors from the DamTri, Steve and Nina Bell, have been putting this race on for over 10 years now. It is not a USCF event but they offer a 20 mile novice race, 30 mile intermediate race and a 40 mile expert race. In my return to road racing in 2006 I did this race and finished 12th in the 20 mile event and 2nd in my age group. I have not done a road race since then and other than Spain and my occasional group ride every training ride I've done has been geared toward triathlon and not competitive cycling.

I had planned to do this race all summer and was going to do the 30 mile race, as most of the top road racers from the area, Ohio and New York come to hammer each other in the 40 mile version. Coach John, however, told me to do the 40 mile race and use it as training.

The week leading up to the race was far from what you would call a good prep week for a hard 40 mile elite race. Monday was a long run, 16 miles, with the first7.5 as a warmup at 7:45 pace and the last 8.5 hard at 6:45 pace. Oh and it was a hilly run. Tuesday was a swim with 90 minutes of hard intervals on the bike in the evening. A 7+ mile hill run Wednesday at sub 7 min pace, then another swim and hard interval set on the bike again Thursday. Friday brought another hill run, this time 8 miles including one long grinding hill in under an hour and to top it all off I was to ride a long hill ride Saturday followed by a 1 hr run. I got 66+ miles of hills in Saturday on the bike at a nice steady but not too hard effort, and decided if I was not going to embarass myself Sunday I needed to skip the run. Also, my run I did Wednesday was an unplanned run so I was still on pace for the week. I had put up on Facebook earlier Friday that my legs felt like noodles and I was probably bowing out of the Tour de Tamarack but enough people 'urged' me on with the final push being John telling me that Rideout (from the Spain trip) would do it, so I had no choice now but to go and enter the 40 mile elite race.

I tried to rest as much as possible Saturday and get some fuel in the tank after the long ride and got my bike ready for the race. Got up early Sunday and rode the 5-6 miles, mostly downhill, to the park for registration and got signed up for the elite 40 mile race. A lot of people from Meadville and Erie were there as it was a perfect day for a nice race. My legs felt just ok during the warmup and before the race, but I knew I had no snap to them so I had no idea what the day would hold.

The elite wave started first, at 9 am which was nice as I hate super early starts, with the 30 mile and 20 mile races starting in 5 minute intervals behind us. About 50 riders, most on teams with several teammates there, lined up to start the elite race.

The course is basically 4 loops around Tamarack Lake. It starts with a short but steep climb up Devore Rd, which you end up climbing 4 times. At the top of Devore you make a right and continue a slight climb up Pettis Rd and then it becomes a long gradual downhill until a hard right onto Freyermouth Rd. for a short fast downhill, then a right onto Tamarack Drive for a 5-6 mile flat to slightly uphill section another right onto Williamson Rd for a small false flat/slight Hill and then a right back onto Devore Rd where you have a steep fast downhill to the start and then it's back up Devore to begin the next lap. For the 40 mile course on the 2nd lap there's a bonus hill, Phelps Rd, that comes about halfway down the flat section of Tamarack Dr and on the 3rd lap you continue straight on Freyermouth and go up a steep, hard hill for another bonus climb.

The course profile shows this is not a flat race by any means, with 6 good hills that although they are somewhat short are rather steep with all of them being over 10% in at least some sections and the beginning of Phelps pushes 20% for a little while.

The first lap was rather boring. Almost the entire group of 50 stayed together up the 1st climb up Devore right off the bat, and then it was simply a very fast large group ride around the lake. The descent of Devore was fun and although it was a large group most of these guys were seasoned riders and there were no twitchy bike handling skills on display.

Lap 2 started with a much harder effort up Devore Rd and we dropped about a dozen or more riders. The pace was hard but the longer the climb went the better I felt and I had no problem holding the main group. We continued around the lake to the first bonus climb, Phelps, which is a hard left turn and is immediately a steep 20% grade for the first couple hundred yards. Having ridden this road many times I knew to just make sure I stayed with the lead group at the start and that the climb eases up after the initial ascent and that is exactly what I did. I think we lost a couple of more riders going up Phelps and the group split up into several smaller groups for a short while but with the rest of the lap being flat to slightly downhill everyone came back together like I knew they would.

Lap 3 was again hard up Devore, but the third time up this hill comes fairly quickly after the hard climb of Phelps so the pace was not too hard. I again just made sure to stay with the leaders and did not have much trouble doing so, and although my legs were tired and had very little power to them my energy level and endurance felt good as I'd been fueling up on Clif Shots and Infinit during the ride. At the end of the long downhill we got the 2nd bonus climb up Freyermouth for our 5th hard climb of the day. This hill is steep at the bottom, has a short easier section in the middle before getting steep again and then one more easy section before a short hard section with a long drawn out top that eases over the hill. As part of my long ride the day before I put this hill in as it seemed like a good idea at the time. The accelerations on the steep parts were hard and the lead group, now about 30 guys, quickly got strung out and I found myself at the back of the pack. I kept my tempo under control and slowly got back in touch with the group until one more hard acceleration at the last short steep section spit several of us back out. I was now about 30-40 yds behind the tail end of the lead group with 2-3 guys and I knew once the leaders got over the easier top part of the climb it was a long downhill stretch to the start of lap 4. I knew I needed to be with them when they started this section as I could rest then and if I did not join them I would never see them again so I dug down and sprinted as best I could back towards the leaders determined to catch back on. As I did this I passed two riders from Erie and I told one of them to get on my wheel and they needed to catch up or they, and I, would never stay with the lead group. They did not react so I kept going and joined back up to the group just as we began the long gradual descent back to the start of lap 4. I used this time to rest and knew I just had 1 more climb up Devore to not get dropped on and I would be finishing with the lead group. I recovered well and felt good starting lap 4.

The 4th lap is the same as the 1st lap, and the starting climb up Devore was the best I felt all day. I stayed near the front of the group and had no problem with this climb. I think after 30 miles and 5 climbs I was finally warmed up. On the way up the climb we got a split that the two leaders were 1:10 up the road, and I honestly had not seen where they got ahead of our pack. After the climb up Devore there were 1 or 2 attacks on the long downhill but with everyone going along at 25 to 30+ mph no one was going to get away. Once we made the final turn onto Tamarack Dr for the last 4-5 miles of basically flat road the pace really picked up and there were multiple attacks with none of them successful. The final turn before Devore road was a bunch sprint to the top of Devore followed by a 50mph descent and then a short climb about 1/3 of the way back up Devore to a hard right hand turn then a short 150 yd sprint to the finish.

I got a little out of position at the turn at the top of Devore and was too far back in the pack. I tried to make up a few spots on the descent but so did everyone else and when we started the mad dash back up Devore I found myself at the tail end of the group as we made the right onto the finishing stretch. I sprinted hard and passed 7 or 8 people and finished right with the main group, which was now strung out. I really should have made sure to be at the front at the start of the descent of Devore.

Final results 40 miles in 1:47:11, 22.39 mph avg, 18th overall, 6th Male 30-39.
Given the week I had leading up to this race, lack of rest and lack of training for road racing I was very happy with the results and the fact that I stayed with the group all day. Later, while checking my HR file, I noticed that I never got much over 180 going up the hills which is slightly low for me as in training if I have the legs to really push things I can always hit 190+ going up short steep hills. The spread from me (18th) to 3rd was only 9 seconds and the two leaders only finished 30 seconds or so in front of our group. Oh, the two guys from Erie that missed the train at the top of Freyermouth finished next 3+ minutes back.

For a first road race in 3 years and on a strictly triathlon only training plan I was more than happy with the outcome. Next year I might actually train for this race.

Picture: The final sprint up Devore before the hard right onto the finish road.

Presque Isle Sprint Race Report

Saturday, August 29th was the Presque Isle Sprint tri in Erie PA. This was a race I did my first year in the sport in 2006 but due to conflicting with Ironman Wisconsin I had to skip the last 2 years so despite only being 6 days after the Cannonman Half I still wanted to do this race and do well. In fact I had e-mailed coach John and told him I wanted top 3 or was going to be very disappointed. I registered the week before and was lucky as the race sold out with about 350 entries and I had been planning on just signing up race day.

The week after Cannonman I took easy, with a few recovery rides and some easy spins on the bike and just tried to concentrate on re-fueling the body and letting the legs recover, although my legs did not feel sore or tired at all. I got up Saturday morning and drove to Erie in the rain to get ready for this race. Oh, did I mention it rains EVERY year for this event for some reason??

Swim .35 miles: 10:13 (1:39/100, 9th Overall, 7th Male, 2nd Age Group)
The swim felt long, as there is no way I was almost at a 1:40/100 pace. It was also held in the bay instead of the lake this year so the water was relatively calm compared to years past. All males and females 39 and under went first, so it was a pretty big wave. Nothing really exciting happened in the swim however I did feel a little drained energy-wise which would be a sign for things to come.

Bike 12.5 miles: 31:32 (23.8mph, 11th Overall, 11th Male, 2nd AG)
This was a huge disappointment. The bike was held on the exact same course the yearly time trials are held on and it's a dead flat single loop course. Both times in the time trials this year I've gone just a few ticks over 28 minutes, so I was thinking anything around 29 would be acceptable for today. The rain was light and steady and not really a factor and I got off to an ok start but did not have much snap to the legs. I had passed a couple people in transition and on the course quickly worked my way up to 3rd. Dan Pierce, of course, led the swim and based on my times vs his on the bike at Edinboro and or the time trials I was planning on getting at least a minute back. Unfortunately around mile 7 I simply ran out of gas and the half the weekend before was catching up with me. The legs felt fine, but I had almost no energy. Finished the bike disappointed with my time and would later check results and see that people I've been easily beating on the bike all summer finished ahead of me and that did not make me happy. Despite this I was in 3rd place and anxious to see if I had anything for the run as I had a really bad bike a few weeks ago at the Yellow Creek race but a good solid run.

Run 3.5 miles: 23:50:35 (7:01/mile, 19th overall, 19th male, 4th AG)
Unfortunately the legs were fine but the gas tank was on empty as I started the run. I had no turnover, no energy and was just slogging away in the wet and rainy conditions. Also the run felt a little long as I am pretty sure I was doing better than 7 minute miles, but maybe not!

I saw two guys coming into T-2 as I was leaving and held them off for about the first mile until I got passed by a young guy in the under 20 age group. He was going along at a clip I should have easily been able to match but I just had nothing. The run was a basic out and back and we saw Dan coming back running strong but 2nd place looked to be lumbering so it appeared that maybe we'd catch him. On the way back I got passed by the second guy that came into transition and he too was going at a pace I should have easily been able to top, so by now I was just mad and wanted to be done. I followed him by about 5 seconds to where the last 300 or so yards of the run splits off the road and goes through a wooded bike trail to the finish. I didn't see anyone behind me so I was just going along until just around the corner from the finish I heard footsteps and I frantically tried to kick it in. Some young kid came barrelling by me with about 100 yards to go and got a step ahead of me. I dug deep and caught back up to him and we were shoulder to shoulder going as fast as we could with about 50 yards to go. I was on his right and the trail made a slight right hand bend to the finish and at this point the people cheering were crowding the finish and he was drifting right going around this bend. I had three choices: elbow him off, wipe out someone in the crowd or just say f@#k it and let him go, which I did and finished about 1 step behind him. I don't know if I could have beat him to the line as he had youth and a winged-foot tattoo which in my book makes him fast, but I know I could have given a little more that last stretch if not for getting crowded but by that point I just didn't care and wanted to be done. My run was almost 3 minutes slower than at Yellow Creek which was also a 3.5 mile run but was on a tougher, rolling course. Oh well.

Final Result 1:07:29 (7th overall, 7th male, 1st AG)
Not the result I wanted, and in fact almost 5 minutes slower than I thought I should have been going into the race. The overall winner, Kevin Park, started in the second heat so I was 7th overall and 6th in my heat. My legs felt fine, I simply was still drained from the half just 6 days before. Got a picture for winning my age group, which is normal for this race and I don't understand why they could not at least put a tag on the picture saying what you won. Also, wish there would have been mile markers on the run, although it probably would not have made any difference other than to tell me how slow I was going.

The only good thing to come out of the day was the McDonalds Angus Bacon Cheeseburger I treated myself to on the way home. That was pretty good!

Cannonman Half Ironman Race Report

Cannonman Half Ironman race, August 23rd.

This was kind of a last minute entry. A friend e-mailed me the details a week or so before and I looked it up. It was a first year event put on by Piranha Sports and was about a 3 hour drive away from home and looked to be in a nice little state park. I had been looking for a late season half to get in because I was still mad about not going sub 5 hours at Jerseyman after all the course problems there, and knew sub 5 at the upcoming Savageman Half was going to be out of the question so I talked it over with Coach John and we decided to do a mini 1 week taper and use the race for a tuneup to Savageman, which is to be my A race for the year. Drove down the night before, scouted the course, got some pasta and pretty much relaxed most of the evening.

Swim 29:30 (1:24/100 yds, 3rd overall, 2nd male, 1st age group)
The swim was a 1 loop course in a nice little lake. Got off to a quick start and soon found myself on the feet of the lead swimmer with only 1-2 people behind me and another group about 5 seconds back. The pace was good and hard but the guy leading was swimming all over the place. It didn't help that the RD had used very few buoys and the lake was foggy. Compoudning this was the young kid in the lead kayak was going along side us until we made the first left hand turn and could not see the next buoy. I yelled for him to lead us from buoy to buoy and he did. At this time the lead swimmer followed the kayaker and was just a touch too fast for me to hang onto and opened up a small 5 second or so gap. As we got to the last buoy to turn and make the long stretch back a woman came flying buy me. I got on her feet for a while but she was on a mission to catch the leader about 10 seconds in front of us. The rest of the swim was uneventful except for the last 2-300 yards where it was really poorly marked as to where to make the turn to go into shore for the finish. I felt good the whole swim and with a few more buoys and better marking think that this should have been a sub 28 min swim easily. Note to the RD: You need more than 5 buoys for a 1.2 mile swim!

Bike: 2:30:16 (21.6 mph, 4 oa, 4 male, 2 ag)
After a long run up the beach and to transition, very reminiscent of the Damtri, I got on the bike and began the climb out of the park on the park roads. One guy that was not too far behind me on the swim caught me and he and I left transition together. I followed him out of the park, we quickly passed the female that led the swim, and we were about 20-30 seconds behind the leader/lead vehicle.
The bike started with the climb out of the park then a nice little climb before a fast descent on some pretty windy roads. The two of us traded 2nd place a couple of times until we got through the descent and onto the first of 2 loops of the main course where I sat in 3rd, just riding legally behind 2nd with 1st about 30 seconds up the road. The bike course was a two loop affair with the first 10 miles or so of the loop a constant uphill. There were only a couple of semi-steep climbs but nothing too bad but it was a never ending grind that just kept going up and up. Finally there was a short steep straight downhill where you lost all the elevation you had spent the last 30 minutes climbing in about 5 minutes and then a long flat open stretch before the second loop.
I rode behind the 2nd place guy for the entire first loop, then at the start of the second loop he motioned for me to come to the lead and followed me for about 3-4 miles at the start of the climb. Apparently my pace was just a touch too slow for him because he passed me back and I again just stayed behind pacing off him. About this time a dot appeared in my rear view that grew faster and faster until it went by me at an impressive clip. This turned out the be Josh Beck, who would go on to win the race. My 'rabbit' tried to go with him for about a minute or two but he got dropped and then just stayed several hundred yards up the road where I continued to pace off him for the rest of the ride.
The bike course was a nice fair course, but it was at least 1.5 miles short.

Run 1:44:00 (7:56/mile, 19th OA, 19th male, 2nd AG)
I came off the bike feeling good, in 4th place, ready to run and determined to go 1:3x for my run. The run also reminded me of the Damtri with a nice mix of park roads, trails and run across a small dam. Unfortunately, like the Damtri, it was a hilly run and in fact was one of the harder runs I've ever done. Like the bike it was a 2 loop course, starting with a nice climb out of transition on park roads, a quick downhill to another climb, on a trail for a brief spell, then a short steep uphill to a meadow to another short very steep rocky climb up the side of the dam, across the dam, onto more trails going up, up a short steep grassy trail to a park road that was an out and back up a hill, then it was through some more rolling park roads to a short downhill on a trail that followed the lake down to the dam, back across the dam and then split from the trail out to a gently rolling trail back to the second loop/finish.

I ran steady but not too hard the first loop because after seeing all the hills I wanted to save something for the second loop. About 3/4 the through I got passed by 2 guys a few seconds apart, neither were in my age group and I now knew I was sitting in 6th place overall. I finished the first loop in about 46 minute so I knew I was on pace for a 1:3x run if I could just hold it together. Then my mind started doing math and I was thinking a 4:3x overall time was very much within my grasp. The second loop started ok, but it was starting to get hot out and the hills were taking their toll. I ran all the way to the out and back section about 2/3 way through the loop but then I had to walk a short ways up it but I figured that was better than blowing myself up. I continued on the trail but I was really starting to get loopy by this point and was trying to take in Gatoraide and Clif shots to keep fueled as I knew I had blown my nutrition on the run. About 1/2 mile from the end of the dam on the return trip I ran up a small incline on the trail and just stopped. I was shot, wanted to lay down right there and nap by the trail but knew I only had less than 2 miles to go. I forced myself to get going again and unfortunately got passed by another guy at this point. I got across the dam, took in some water and Gatoriade at the last station and tried to run the last mile home. While passing a couple of people on their first lap they told me I looked good and so on, but I was a wreck. The legs felt fine but I had screwed up and not taken in enough calories and was really goofy by this point, and at one section where there is 2 way traffic I almost ran into some poor girl coming out as I just never saw her. I got to the part where the trails split and then went up the last few rollers until I crested the final one and could see the finish line about 200 yards away and all downhill. At this point my body was done and I simply stopped, bent over with my hands on my knees and unable to move within spitting distance of the finish. I thought about just walking in and then saw someone running strong coming at me also trying to finish, so I just focused on the line and ran as hard as I could to the line holding off the guy that was coming from behind. I finished and collapsed in the grass after they got my timing chip completely drained of all energy and unable to move for 20 minutes. After getting a coke and some Gatoraide from a volunteer I finally started to feel human again and was able to get up and get moving after laying there for what seemed like forever, got some recovery drink and went and floated in the water at the beach for 20 minutes.

Final Result 4:47:06 (7th OA, 7th male, 1st AG)
While this was still a 20 minute personal best at the half iron distance race it was still a little bit of a let down as I know I can go faster. The combination of a really tough run course along with not taking in enough nutrition on the run really hurt me. I estimate I lost close to 10 minutes in the last 2-3 miles that would have put me in the 4:3x time zone.

It was a fun race however, and the run was perfect training for the upcoming Savageman run that is also tough and hilly. The park where the race was held had a really nice beach, nice showers and changing area and the run course was tough but fun. The only complaints I would have is that there were no markings on the run and post race food and extras were pretty minimal for a half.