Sunday, May 8, 2011

Race Report: 2011 New England Season Opener

It's 8:30 PM as I begin to write this blog, and I still don't know how I feel about the race that I finished hours ago. (For a story from someone who knows how she feels about the race, read Rachelle's race report. But read mine first, because well, you're already here).

A year ago, on a gloomy, cold, and overcast morning Rachelle and I (and a few dozen other triathletes) ventured into the frigid waters of the Hopkinton Reservoir for what was to be quite the adventure. This year, the sun shone brightly for most of the day; though the water was still really cold as we've only had a couple weeks of good weather to warm it.

A few weeks ago I set some fairly aggressive goals for this race, thinking my months of training would allow me to meet them. I've reached each of those goals in previous races, but not all in the same race before. They're goals that would allow me to advance from the back of the pack to the back of the middle of the pack at short races smaller races like todays. 

Sadly, I didn't reach those goals today. Of the 6 goals I set, I didn't reach any of them. 

Goal: 12:00
Last Year: 18:59
This Year: 15:17
Last year, the conditions were pretty dreadful for the swim. The race directors prepared for that possibility by moving the swim from an out and back format to a straight line along the shoreline. One of the things I thought I had in my favor was that I've lost enough weight to fit into the new XTERRA Vortex 3 wetsuit I got for Christmas last year. Rach and I went for an easy swim in the Upper Mystic Lake to get some acclimation to the cold water in preparation for the race even, and I thought I was ready for this morning. 

For some reason while I did ok with last years swim considering the terrible conditions, this year I simply couldn't control my breathing and had to take some breaks to catch my breath. I had been so busy talking Rach through getting through the cold swim, I didn't expect at all to be dealing with the breathing issues myself. It wasn't any kind of panic, just an inability to breathe deeply and evenly. On the plus side, I was 3 minutes faster than last year, I didn't feel overly tired when I left the water, and I managed to let only 4 or 5 of the ladies in the wave behind me to pass me. I still need to lose some more weight to feel like I can really use the new wetsuit; it felt a bit constricting in the chest which probably didn't help with the breathing.

Transition 1:
Goal: 3:00
Last Year: 6:32
This Year: 6:31
I don't know if it's nerves, confusion, being tired from the swim, or the fact that I have to take off a wetsuit, put on clothes and bike shoes, gloves, and helmet, but I really seem to have problems with the first transition at this race. I think some of it stems from my wanting to be so diligent to ensure I haven't forgotten anything important (which I managed to do anyways). It could also be that it's the first transition of the year, and I'm a bit out of practice. Either way, a 6 minute transition is stupid long, and it shouldn't take more than 3 minutes to do all that. A one second improvement over last year is just sad.

Goal: 40:00
Last Year: 56:50
This Year: 52:43
 Biking is my favorite part of racing and what got me into it in the first place. In my mind, a bad day of biking is still better than a good day of running (not that I'd know what that's like). We had rollers and a trainer this winter, and I was determined that even if I didn't get better at anything else, I was going to make this my best season of riding. I forgot just one thing; hills are the devil, and for a short race this course has quite a few of them. I was better prepared this year, but still not "gooder" (shout out to Gain and Tropicana commercials) enough. 

At the top of two climbs, I had to stop and catch my breath for about a minute each time, and I wound up walking part of the biggest hill. On the plus side I only walked for about a minute and I gutted through some of the climbs I was quick to dismount and walk last year, and my low gear spinning is a lot better. The fact that I still weigh about 12 pounds more than when I did the race last year isn't helpful, but the fact that I performed 4 minutes better in spite of that tells me I'm at least moving the right direction. (Shout out to the nice guy working the bike service who made this ride possible; I banged my derailleur with a heavy door earlier in the week and need a new derailleur hanger. He used skill and some brute force to get it to shift smoothly this morning.)

Oh, and I wasted a minute after dropping my Garmin because I was trying to put it on while riding, which was the important thing I forgot to do in T1.

Transition 2:
Goal 1:30
Last Year: 3:22
This Year: 3:08
Bricks. I need to do more bricks. My transition from bike to run is a little bit because I wear normal bike shoes instead of triathlon specific shoes, and far more that I'm simply not an accomplished enough runner to do much more than walk as fast as I can from the bike rack to the transition exit. There's a lot of easy things I can do to speed this up, some of them are even free (take the zip laces I already own and stick them in my freaking shoes!). Still being a little faster when I blew up some on the bike says progress is being made.

Run (Walk):
Goal: 39:00
Last Year: 45:33
This Year: 43:35
I'm gonna be honest, this goal was ridiculously ambitious. My best ever 5k in a triathlon was 42:39 on a pancake flat course in South Carolina. I've been working on my run, but with a hilly course that has some off-road running mixed in, I was shooting for the moon with this one. Usually, I'm either most disappointed in my run, or accepting of the fact that I'm still not much of a runner, so I sort of shrug and say "oh well". This time, I actually am kinda stoked. On a hilly course, at the end of a hard swim and bike, I put in a pretty good effort for my current skill level. I was able to run for stretches of time picking random goals for where I'd stop. I need to push my way through the rest of my Couch to 5k, especially with the half-iron now just over a month away. I did manage a negative split on my second mile, of which I am pretty proud.

Overall, I was 2:01:13. I had really hoped if nothing else to be under two hours, so I missed out there too. It's 10 minutes better than last year, so I'll take it, but I wanted a lot more. 



  1. Congrats on your season opener! I always say that if you don't learn something on race day, you were not paying attention :D
    There are always opportunities to get better, find "free time" (get those zips!) and make improvements--
    from what I have read here it sounds like you were able to identify what you need to do and where you were successful!

  2. Congrats on your PR!! 10 minutes is freaking AWESOME.

    Maybe try practicing transition? I mean, that is an area where you can save time and not have to sweat more to do it. The thing is, it is your first race of the season, so there are going to be some bugs to work out.

  3. Congrats on finishing your first race of the year! Great improvement from last year! I know you will improve as the year goes. Sounds like you already know what you can do to improve the transitions. Enjoy the 10 minute improvement!

  4. I do appreciate the sentiment gang, but it's actually just a 10 minute improvement as opposed to a PR. My best sprint is still from 2009 where I did a 1:50 minute race of a very similar distance (though with a far flatter course). That said it is something to be positive and upbeat about. I looked more at how far i was from my goal than how much faster I was than last year. Plus the conditions were so much better, that it was an easier race IMO.

    I'll take the improvement, and know that I have areas still to work.

  5. Ben, I gotta tell ya - I tried to get into that water in Hopkinton last Fall to do the point-to-point at the Title 9 tri without a wetsuit and I BAILED. Starting horn went off and I turned to the nearest volunteer, told her I was out and swam back to the boat dock. After weeks of sun and heat, that was when it turned really cold. I just knew I couldn't spend another 10 - 15 minutes in that water.
    I was freezing and so mad that I wound up buying my wetsuit a few weeks later.

    I definitely have unfinished business in Hopkinton but there was no way I would even consider signing up for Season Opener and it's a testament to your fortitude that you and Rachelle did it again after what happened to you last season.

    Awesome job!

  6. Nice work, Ben! Even though you didn't hit your ambitious goals, you still improved on each and every time you put up last year. Improvement is improvement. Now that you have the first race of the year behind you, you will surely nail your goals in future races! Congrats!