2015 0808 – USAT Nationals Olympic Triathlon

Executive Summary:

Race Priority:        A
Race Execution:   A

.                        2011PR      2015        2015
.          Dist        Time           Goal        Time       Stats      Notes
Swim  1500m   0:28:52       0:30:00   0:29:01   Link      Okay swim for my training
T1                     0:03:22      0:01:25    0:02:40               Decent transition (long run)
Bike    24.9mi   1:06:45      1:06:30    1:03:55   Link      Controlled ride, good speed.
T2                     0:01:54     0:00:45     0:01:19               Good transition.
Run    6.2mi     0:45:52      0:52:30     0:49:22    Link     Great run for my fitness.
Total                 2:26:43      2:31:00     2:26:19


  • 1 GU in the morning with caffeine, 100 cals.  One Kind Bar 190 cals.
  • 1 GU before swim with caffeine, 100 cals.
  • 2 Scoops of CarboPro in my water bottle + electrolyte, drank 2/3 of bottle, 133 cals.
  • 1/3 GU with caffeine eaten on the run, 30 cals.


  • What went well:  One of my best races.  In spite of my knee and my associated running fitness loss, I had my fastest Olympic event at the most competitive event I’ve attended.  Who could ask for more?  🙂
  • What could have gone better:  Not much on this day.  With more consistent swim training and a few more months of running, those times could improve a bit.
Race Report Commentary:

I apologize in advance… this is even longer than my typical rambling race report.

“Why do I even do triathlons?”  I found myself pondering this as I sat in my hotel room Friday night before the race.  The time between Bluff Creek and Nationals was hectic and my training suffered. Three weeks prior to the race we were on vacation for a week. While at our cabin, I managed to get a nasty infection in one of my feet from the bloody blisters I had gotten at Bluff Creek, so I missed a week of swimming, doing only short runs and a couple of trainer rides.  Two weeks out, work was a challenge and I wasn’t feeling well, so I cut workouts short and took a couple days off from exercise.  The Saturday, a week before the race, I thought I had re-broken one of my wrist bones that had split in my accident, as I couldn’t even hold a water bottle.  Fortunately the X-Rays showed no break, so it was just connective tissue damage.  I ended up scaling back workouts a bit more on my already low volume taper week, so I was pretty sure I had some detraining (fitness loss) since Bluff Creek.  I really did very little planning prior to the race (uncharacteristically)… basically I tossed my gear into my truck on Thursday night without a lot of thought and headed out for Milwaukee Friday morning.  It was raining when I arrived, the traffic was very busy and nearly every road in the entire town was under construction.  After detouring for several miles, I finally made my  way downtown to pick up my race packet and get my bike checked in.  I grabbed dinner at my hotel and had a beer.  I felt discombobulated… and I had very low expectations for the race.  I wondered why I put myself through all this “nonsense” for a “silly” race anyway.

Although my alarm was set at 5:00 am, I woke promptly at 4:00 am.  As soon as I looked at the clock, I could feel my adrenaline starting to surge a bit and knew I was up for good. I felt surprisingly rested and ready to race.  The negative thoughts from the night before were gone and I simply embraced that I’d make the most whatever fitness I had that day.  I took advantage of the extra time to review the course maps one last time, find a better way to get to the parking area (avoiding the closed exit ramps) and then left early to give myself a little more time to avoid having to rush through setting up my transition.  This worked really well.  I had plenty of time to get my gear set up and ready to go, walk through swim in to bike out, bike in to run out several times, chat with friends and time to walk my excess gear (bike pump, etc.) back to my truck.  The non-hectic busy work helped to keep nerves at bay and pass the time for me in a constructive manner.

Nationals is a big event, with 17 waves -the first wave starting at 7:30 am and the final wave starting at 10:12.  I felt fortunate to be in a wave at 8:14 as one of my TriRacer team members didn’t start until 9:50… I was literally in the bike to run transition when I heard the gun go off to start her swim wave. For the number of people and waves involved, it is a very organized event.  They called us up about 10 minutes before our wave was schedule to start and allowed us to jump in the water to get warmed up.  Actually, we got in the water to get “cooled down” as the water temperature on race morning was reported to be 65 degrees.  I swam a little bit and then got back out and simply sat on the edge of the dock in our designated area until our wave started.  With a couple minutes to go we all got in the water and held onto the dock and waited for the starting gun to go off.

Attached is the USAT Video showing the swim start for my wave (I’m about in the middle of the dock at the start):

Swim course.

Swim course.

The swim course was interesting.  It was great in that it was in a protected bay so there were no waves at all.  The challenge was that although we started out spread out at the dock we had to condense together about 250 yards into to the swim to a narrow canal going under a pedestrian bridge.  I expected this to be a mess, but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated.  I dodged a few feet but contact was minimal.  Once past this point I settled into what seemed like a quick but sustainable pace.  I felt like I was swimming reasonably straight and taking good lines along the course.  Somewhat like Bluff Creek, things got a bit worse near the midpoint of the race.

Before the race I kept looking at the GU pack that I had put in the little pocket on my right leg (for the run) which created a bump... wondering how much time it was going to cost me in the swim...

Before the race I kept looking at the GU pack that I had put in the little pocket on my right leg (for the run) which created a bump… wondering how much time it was going to cost me in the swim… you can even see it in the picture.

Again, as I got fatigued I started swimming off to the left, which required a lot more sighting and correction.  I could feel my pace dropping and tried to just swim close to a couple other swimmers to allow me to sight off them a bit.  Gradually I got into better form and picked up the pace to finish a little stronger.  Overall it was not a fast swim for me, but it was actually a little faster than I had anticipated based on swimming only about 5000 yards total in the 3 weeks prior to the event.  My total time of 29:01 for 1500m is approximately 1:46/100y.  I came out of the water in 107th place in my age group out of 168 competitors.

T1 was okay.  It’s really a long run back to transition (I actually missed the timing mat on my Garmin data) and a fairly long run in transition.  I fumbled around a bit getting my wetsuit off, but got my glasses and helmet on quickly and headed out.  I picked up 5 spots in transition, crossing the timing mat in 102nd position.

Feeling good... sacrificing a little aero for the photo. :)

Feeling good… sacrificing a little aero for the photo by giving the thumbs up. 🙂

My “gliding” mount went fine and I quickly got my feet into my bike shoes.  I settled into a very controlled and conservative power range.  I decided not to be too aggressive on the ride (targeting around 88% of FTP) so as to not implode on the run like I did at Copper Creek this year.  I had run a few models in Best Bike Split and knew that adding 10 more watts of output would only get me about a minute of time savings overall on this course… but could create a lot of excess wear on my currently weak running legs.  This power level felt very sustainable and I was pleasantly surprised with my HR running in the low to mid 150’s (threshold around 163-165).  To take advantage of my lower HR, I ran a higher cadence for the day to further take pressure off my legs.  I really felt good at this output… it wasn’t easy but I didn’t feel like I was using myself up either.  I then simply focused on keeping a good aero position with legs behind tucked behind my elbows and my head as low as possible and then it was just a matter of finding a good line to pass people.  Over the course of the ride, I was passed only twice… both within a few blocks of the start by two women battling for the lead in the 45-49 age group.  I caught and re-passed one of them about 5 miles into the ride.  The other gradually rode away from me and ended up winning her age group.   I passed 30 guys in my age group on the ride and 181 people overall (averaging 1 person passed every 21 seconds).  That makes for a very engaging and exciting ride.  For the most part I rode without a lot of surges, although I had a few while passing people who felt the need to get racy when getting passed.  One surge was just for fun… they had a radar sign with your speed on the climb up the bridge heading north toward the race area and I pushed it a bit to see my speed listed as 20 mph on the climb.  By the numbers… with a time of 1:03:55 my average speed was 23.4 mph, my average power was 238 NP / 231 AP, average cadence 103 and a variability index of 1.03.  Overall it was a great ride and I came off the bike with a successful flying dismount in 72nd position in my age group.

T2 went well.  I racked my bike and got my helmet off with no issues.  I put on my shoes, grabbed my race belt and ran out of transition.  I picked up 3 spots in T2 and now was in 69th place in my age group as I crossed the timing mat.

Articular cartilage damage, pre-surgery.

Articular cartilage damage, pre-surgery.  The light color up my femur is indicating some of the bone on bone damage happening at the time.

I fully expected that the majority of the people that I had passed in my age group would sweep by me on the run.  Before my accident I could typically run around a 7:25 average on an Olympic.  After my knee injury and surgery last year, I was told my running days were done… but I could do whatever I could tolerate.  I debated whether to start back to running.  Through some experimentation, I found that if I modified my running form (not fully extending my right leg), I could run with minimal pain most of the time.  In March I finally decided to ramp up my running so I could compete in triathlons again this year.  I very gradually built my mileage (from 4 miles a week to 12-18), just doing slow sub ventilatory threshold runs to build some fitness at the lowest stress on my knee and joints as possible.  I avoided speed work, hill work or bricks to avoid potential damage to my knee.  Although I was seeing some gains in my training runs, I did not see the speed reflected in my races.  At Bluff Creek I had averaged 8:43 per mile (on a hot day), but felt I should be theoretically capable of sub 8:00 based on my estimated running threshold.

Gradual building of running fitness (estimated threshold pace over time).

Gradual building of running fitness (estimated threshold pace over time).

On my way to a good run.

On my way to a good run.

The run at Nationals started out following running paths along the water.  I really tried to focus on getting my posture correct for a more efficient run… or as efficient as I can be with my modified form.  My stomach was a little crabby and I decided to go with a minimal approach on fueling, just taking a little bit of GU in my mouth prior to taking a sip of water at the aid stations.  Often just swishing a little carbohydrates in your mouth will allow you to continue to operate at a higher intensity level.  With the clouds and cool temps, I felt surprisingly good during the first mile and it was reflected in my pacing with my first mile clicking off at 7:49… I was thrilled.  I briefly considered pulling back… but this was Nationals!  I thought it was better to take the risk of a meltdown than to reflect on why I didn’t push harder.  My goal from that point was to simply try to hold on to a sub 8:00 pace.

Finishing up... nothing left in the tank.

Finishing up… nothing left in the tank.

Mile 2 clicked off at 7:53 and mile 3 at 7:57.  I started doing the math (which is hard at high intensities) and realized that I would be under 2:30 if I could just keep a melt down at bay.  Mile 4 at 8:04 (into the wind) and it felt like I was running forever to get to the last turn around point.  Was that slower mile the start of a blow up?  I couldn’t let up.  Mile  5 popped up at 7:55 (with the wind).  I was tired but needed to hold on to this pace… more GU swishing.  I realized that not only could I finish sub 2:30, I could possibly beat my fastest Olympic time.  My Garmin beeped at mile 6 with a 7:59 and I could see the finish line.  I used up what I had finished up the remaining distance at a 7:15 pace.  I ended up with a 49:22 10k (7:55 average pacing on my Garmin) and lost 7 age group spots.  This was well ahead of my original projection of 52:30 and I was extremely happy with the results.  

After the race... feeling good... and now remembering

After the race… feeling good… and now remembering “why” I do triathlons!  Photo credit Angie Thornton.

My total time for the event was 2:26:19 which put me 76 out of 168 in my age group, finishing in the top 50% of some of the best 50-54 year old men in the country.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better day of racing, or a better experience at USAT Nationals.

So… after a bit of reflection the answer to “why I do triathlons”:
  • The Community.  The Triathlon community is a great bunch of people… which extends to the families of triathletes as well.  It has introduced me to some of the nicest, most supportive and encouraging people I’ve ever met.  Two of my best racing experiences were the suggestion of Steve Cox (IM AZ and Nationals), who timed these perfectly when I was literally wondering what to do next.  I get a lot of inspiration seeing
    Part of my community... Steve Cox who prompts me into big races and Elizabeth Waterstraat who coached me through my recovery.

    Part of my community… Steve Cox who prompts me into big races and Elizabeth Waterstraat who coached me through my recovery.

    the success of others as they overcome their challenges and see them continue to improve overt time.  Triathlon also bridges the gap for other communities as well, such as cycling and running.  It’s given me the opportunity to meet and learn from elite level people in other sports, as well as help those who are primarily runners or cyclists become better triathletes.

  • The Journey.  Sometimes it’s not the goal itself, but the journey that is important.  Triathlons can help create positive lifestyle changes.  For me, having a race on my schedule keeps me motivated to exercise regularly.  Without it… it’s way too easy to come up with excuses as to why I can’t exercise today.  It also has helped me better focus on healthier eating and weight management.  In the end maybe racing itself doesn’t make me healthier, but certainly the training and proper eating to support the racing does.
  • The Destination.  And sometimes it is about the goal or result.  There is a certain satisfaction out of testing your limits or meeting/exceeding your expectations.  How hard can you push or how much discomfort can you tolerate?  In the end, triathlon is about you meeting your goals, your expectations and not someone else’s.  It’s being the best that you can be on a given day.  And I believe it is absolutely okay for you to be proud of your accomplishments as in the end… you invested the time and energy to earn them.
A part of my community... the TriRacer's celebrating a good day of racing with many PR's today.

More of my community… the TriRacer’s celebrating a good day of racing with many PR’s today.  Photo by Jamey Cox.


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