The American Triple T XT Triathlon is a unique event consistent of four triathlons over a three day period. Friday evening is a super sprint, on Saturday there are two Olympic length races, and Sunday morning the final race is half Ironman (70.3) distance.
Race Priority: A / Race Execution: B-
Performance Summary, based on estimated times and actual results:
My Garmin Activities can be found for each race, in the hyperlinks above.
• What went well: I came into the race ranked 38th overall based on historic races, and finished in 38th, in spite of running related issues. The bike course is technical and challenging, and I really enjoyed racing in that environment. I executed my cycling projected power and intensity targets well, resulting in speeds very close to predicted goals. My nutrition and recovery plans between races worked well, helping me to as prepared as possible for the subsequent races. I really enjoyed the event and particularly having several friends racing (and collective suffering) as well.
• What could have been better: My running was really rough, resulting in performance well below my expectation.
• What I learned: Confirmation of the following quote: “Never underestimate the human capacity for self-deception.” – Mark Wetmore
ATT is a fantastic race. The format is very interesting, and I felt it was very well run.
Besides being well organized, the value you receive relative to the race entry fee greatly exceeds what you get in an Ironman branded event. Keep in mind the entry fee is for four races, and you get a hat, long sleeve finishers shirt, medal and your racing shirt (note it runs a little big). They also provide food near the finish line after all the races. I can’t think of another race that exceeds this event for “bang for your buck”. The announcer / race organizer is a great guy, and goes out of his way to try to make the event special for everyone.
Race Report Commentary:
Last year I raced at the St. George 70.3 and had a tough day, based on challenging conditions. But, that situation didn’t curb my desire to test myself with something “more” and started looking for something a little out of the ordinary. Remembering that some friends had talked about the American Triple T (ATT) triathlon earlier in the year, I did a little research and thought the race could be a unique and interesting experience. Often ATT is described as being harder than an Ironman, due to the intensity of the races and the challenging terrain. I didn’t ponder it long, and after signing up, convinced several friends to sign up as well. As part of the “negotiation” to having partners in crime, I agreed to create an ATT specific training plan for everyone to follow.
The plan I created started after New Years, and was 22 weeks in duration. Not quite an Ironman plan in duration, but more than a half Ironman plan, the plan focused on
higher intensity work (relative to IM training) to help prep everyone for the higher intensity efforts of ATT. I also had two unique “double brick” days, where I had morning and afternoon bricks, to help everyone practice multi-race fueling and recovery for the unique configuration of the Saturday race schedule. This was followed by a solid brick on Sunday, to again provide opportunities to test fueling, recovery as well as pacing. Overall, we saw some great results from the group… fitness was growing and people continued to set testing PR’s along the way.
Personally, I had to vary from the plan, and that came back to haunt me on race day. After my accident and one of my subsequent surgeries, I have a large defect (meaning gap) in my articular cartilage in my right knee. To compensate, I have to modify my running form (and I use the term form loosely to describe the way I shuffle to simulate running these days), it has created stress in a lot of other areas of my legs and hips. After St. George my sports medicine doctor prescribed me a break from running, so I turned my focus to gravel cycling for other A race last year, the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra and did almost no running through November. Once I started back to running in December, I kept the intensity pretty easy and didn’t do a lot of brick work to avoid aggravating my injuries. This
strategy worked until March. When doing one of my longer runs (around 10 miles), my Achilles flared up again. I finished the run, but it was suddenly a big problem again. A few days later it was so bad, I had to call it quits, 3/10 of a mile into a run. That week (mid March), my total running distance for the entire week was 4 miles. I was having trouble walking without a limp, and truly thought I wasn’t going to make the ATT start line. I regrouped. After research I found that some people have more issues with Achilles problems with low drop shoes (compounded by my form)… so I went back to more traditional heel toe drop of 10mm. I also knew that the treadmill wasn’t bothering my Achilles as much as running outdoors. I then scaled back my running further from plan, with the goal of simply building up what I could in mileage, to get me to the start line. It worked… in terms of getting me to the start line. Gradually I was able to build up miles, and started doing some runs outside as well. In general, long runs were a portion outside, and then the remainder indoors (e.g. 1 hour inside, 45 minutes on the treadmill), and sometimes on an Octane Fitness Zero Runner. My Achilles seemed to be holding up, although I started having issues / pain in my left hip/glute. It was manageable, and I pressed forward. Prior to the race, I peaked with a 14 mile run outdoors (on flat trails) and felt I was as ready as I would be. Then came the delusion on my part… that the scaled back, modified running on a treadmill / flat trails would translate “okay” into running off road on rough gravel roads in Ohio… setting me up for unrealistic expectations.
Outside the training aspect, ATT is also extremely interesting from a race planning perspective:
- Pacing. Like an Ironman, targeted intensity is critical. After reading various race reports and talking to a few people who had done the race previously, the most common approach was to downgrade intensity target of each race, one race length. So, the sprint would be paced more like an Olympic, the Olympics more like a half Ironman, and the half Ironman more like an Ironman. The only exception is the swim portion, which can be paced closer to normal race intensity.
- Nutrition. If you want to have a decent race on Sunday (starting with reasonable glycogen stores), you have to be focused on your nutritional intake on Saturday. For me, I knew I’d burn around 6000 calories on Saturday. This meant fueling most of the day on Saturday, while racing and in between races. It’s important to know what your body can tolerate in terms of calories per hour while racing, as well as what you can ingest between races and not have GI distress in the second Olympic. The double brick practices in training can help provide some opportunity for testing different fueling options. For a list of my fueling plan, see this link. Note that I did end up substituting some foods from the event (pasta, bananas, etc.) to fill my needed calorie quota for Saturday.
- Recovery. Besides getting enough calories (and carbs) from nutrition, the next most
important component of recovery between races is sleep. Once I got my race done Friday evening, I grabbed some food and got back to my hotel, organized my things for the next race, and got to bed as soon as possible. Saturday between Olympics, I went back to the hotel, and took a short 30 minute nap. I also used my recovery boots and Compex as well. Similar routine Saturday night… grab a bite to eat at the event, get back to the hotel to prep for the next race, eat more, recovery boots and sleep.
- Bike selection. I chose an aero road bike for this race (Cervelo S3 with aero bars, in a relatively aggressive position), rather than my TT bike (Dimond). I love my Dimond racing bike, but felt with the hills and technical nature of the course, that
I’d be more comfortable on the S3. My S3 also has a compact crank (50/34), and with a change in the rear derailleur to mid-cage, I was able to put on an 11-32 cassette. I also went to 25mm Continental GP4000 II’s (from 23mm) for a little more grip and a little softer ride on the rough roads. In my latex tubes, I also added Flat Attack sealant, for a little supplemental flat protection. I had modeled both the Dimond and Cervelo in Best Bike Split, and knew I’d lose a little time on the Cervelo, but felt I’d realistically make up some of the difference with confidence in the descents. After finishing the race, I was happy with my choice and would do it again. The handling made the descents and corners fun, and I was frequently happy to have that 34/32 gearing combination… spinning hills while others were grinding.
- Gear selection. Since you are racing over three days, you can run into a lot of
different weather. For me, this meant packing rain gear, cold weather gear, warm weather gear, and multiple pairs of shoes. You need to be prepared for nearly everything. I did wear three of the four pairs of running shoes I brought on the trip.
Super Sprint (Friday pm)
I arrived in Portsmouth Thursday night, and spent most of Friday getting my gear ready, and previewing the bike course with friends Jenn & Luke. There was a group of seven of us from the Des Moines area were doing the race, and everyone was excited to get started on Friday evening… with some more excited than others. 🙂
The super sprint is listed as 250m swim, 6k bike and a 1 mile run. For one of our group, it was his 3rd year of doing ATT, and he forewarned us that often the swim on the sprint was a little long. He also casually mentioned that the water may be a little nasty coming into the exit.
As part of the entry process, you submitted your fastest Olympic and half Ironman time, which was used to rank everyone even before the race started. This determined your race number, and also set the order that you started each event. They weren’t terribly strict on this, I was 38th but probably started most race somewhere between 30th and 50th place. Overall this worked well.
The big question going into the sprint was wetsuit or not. The water was in the mid 70’s,
but with such a short swim, most people didn’t wear wetsuits. I chose to go without as well, which ended up being my first mistake. The actual course was long (over 400y), my tri top was too large and inflated like a parachute in the water, and the water depth near the finish (which was probably 300y of the 400y total) was so shallow that our hands were hitting the bottom and digging up every leaf, piece of bark, dirt, etc. and the water was a murky / chunky mess (all of which ended up inside my shirt and shorts). The swim itself was uneventful, other than the nasty water. My swim time was just over six minutes, and I felt my parachute-like tri top had slowed me considerably. My swim data is located here.
After getting out of the water, I made mistake number two… putting on my bike shoes in T1 rather clipping my shoes to my bike. This made my transition shuffle run even slower, and I had trouble clipping in once I got on my bike. I had decided not to leave my shoes on my bike as the entry / exit out of transition was pretty narrow (lined with cones), but in retrospect, clipping in was worse.
Once out of the transition area, you simply hammer the bike to a short out and back with a U turn in a parking lot. I managed to pass another guy going into the U turn… one of the advantages of having a road bike. Then you start the climb up the hill. It’s not that tough, just a consistent climb. You U turn at the top, and fly back down. My goal was simply to push over threshold power while I could, realizing I wouldn’t have a lot of power going back down to the transition. The downhill is pretty fast… I hit 45 mph over a pretty short course. My bike data is here.
The run is a quick out and back, slight uphill and back down, mostly paved. The only notable things about the run for me was that it was a little slower than I hoped, and my left hip was bothering me on the run, but I had no Achilles pain. My run data is here.
Olympic #1 (Saturday AM)
The real fun begins with the Saturday races. There is a lot to organize with two races in one day, and I began the day hitting my nutrition as planned… from the hotel all the way through the day.
The water temperature was cool enough that wetsuits were allowed. We again filed out
to the swim roughly by race number, so I entered the water pretty early. I hung behind one of my teammates for a while (Andy’s a faster swimmer than I am), and then simply got into my own rhythm. With a time trial start, contact wasn’t bad, and sighting wasn’t that bad considering part of the course is into the sun. It’s a two loop course, and when I hit the second loop, I ran into a bit more traffic, as the higher number swimmers were just starting their first lap as well as those in the sprint version of the race. It was a decent swim for me as I felt pretty good and my pace was okay at 1:42/100. The course was short, resulting in what was a “fast” swim for me at around 25 minutes. My data is here.
I love cycling, and I found the first Oly course to be a lot of fun. I was concerned about being cold, but in the end simply put toe warmers on my shoes. I left my shoes on my bike this time, and that worked great. The water was warm enough that in a wetsuit I came out of the water warm rather than chilled. I was generating enough power to keep myself warm, and hypothermia wasn’t an issue. My goal was to simply be around 80% intensity (around 230w) for my two Olympic bike legs. I started out a little quick from excitement, and then settled down into my power targets. There’s some nice climbs in the route, but nothing really that hard. The descents can be fun, although I felt like I really needed to stay focused. Some of the corners were pretty tight and the road did have some rough patches, but they were generally pretty well marked. I was happy with my power at 232/209w (NP/AP), and felt good at the finish. My bike data is here. Interestingly, Best Bike Split predicted my ride time at 1:19:53, and my actual was 1:19:09 (output here)… not bad!
I got out on the run and got to see the run course for the first time. I had heard about
ruts, gravel, rocks, and hills… and the course was all that. I did feel okay on this first run (foreshadowing not feeling okay later…), although I was running slower than anticipated. Once I got to the first hill I found that my hip/glute went from nagging to stabbing pain. I plodded along the run, only stopping briefly to grab water at the aid stations. The temperature in the woods was warm, but fortunately mostly shaded from tree cover. On my way back from the turn around, I saw the rest of my teammates (Andy was ahead of me), and Jim and Mike told me they were going to catch me on the run. It was just enough to keep me pushing a bit on the way back. Overall, it was an okay run for me… but my glute/hip was getting to be a much bigger problem, seriously hampering going uphill. My run data is here. My plan was to be around 55 minutes on the run, and I was around 58 minutes… so a bit slower but not a disaster.
Olympic #2 (Saturday PM)
To make it interesting, the second Olympic is bike, swim and run. The bike starts at the transition exit, and you roughly follow your race numbers. I was happy to start near the
front, and am always excited to be on my bike. Like race #1, my target was around 230w for this segment, although I knew it had some slightly harder hill sessions and was slightly longer (by roughly 3 miles) than the first Oly. Overall, I was able to be pretty consistent with my power (of course spiking on the hills some and dropping on the descents), but I was able to keep my NP in the right zip code. I found myself passing people most of the ride… the most memorable on the hardest hill on the course. Although I’m not a great climber, you do almost a hair pin corner into a steep but relatively short climb. The 34/32 gearing combination worked great, and I was easily able to pass a couple of people in this section. Again, I really felt great coming in off the bike… not tired or overworked… it felt like a training ride. I ended up at 235/216 NP/AP, and my bike data is here. My Best Bike Split run had predicted a 1:27:37 ride (here), but I was happy to ride 1:22:58 (but I also had assumed I’d lose some power in race #2 at 218w NP which was nearly 17w less than my actual).
Next was the swim. Some people were concerned with getting a wetsuit on while sweaty, but I was more concerned about how much time I’d lose in the water without it. I have a
sleeveless wetsuit, which makes it a bit easier to get into. I used bags to get my feet and legs in, and just wrested into the rest of it. They do have volunteers helping you as well. This went reasonably well, and I jogged to the swim start and walked in as far as I could and started to swim. I had read and heard people talking about the potential for cramps. I really tried to not kick at all during the swim. I found at one point when I did start to kick, I started to get a calf cramp. After I relaxed, the swim was non-eventful and I thought I had gotten through without an issue. And then I tried to stand up to exit the water. I immediately got cramps in both hamstrings, and fell back into the water. The volunteers tried to help me up again, and as I was able to straighten my legs, my right quad cramped and I fell again. At this point… the volunteers were just laughing at the spectacle of me trying to exit the water. Third time was a charm and I was finally able to stand up… legs still cramping, and exit the water. I saw Andy next to me struggling with cramps as well. I made it back to T2, got out of my wetsuit and started the run. My Garmin read the scheduled distance and had me at 1:40/100, which I think was probably optimistic… total time around 28 minutes. My data is here.
I was worried about continued cramping on the run, which turned out to be a non-issue. Unfortunately, my hip/glute problem returned with a vengeance. I struggled up the first few hills, and decided to bite the bullet and walk the uphills. Not long after I found that even walking the hills, I still needed to completely stop and stretch frequently, to keep the pain manageable. My
“run” became a rather sucky slogfest. It was simply a matter of getting it done. The only thing that made it tolerable was the encouragement of my teammates and new acquaintances along the way. As I was running toward my teammate Jennifer, I stepped on a rock and rolled my left ankle, almost going to the ground. As I hobbled toward the finish, I looked back and saw my teammate Mike. Not being competitive or anything… I pushed what I had left toward the finish. Mike easily caught me in near the finish… and let me stay in front for the photo at right (which he was nice enough to tell me…). Then he pulled ahead and I ran after him as fast as I could… “possibly” calling him names all the way to the finish line. 🙂 Again, I had planned to be around 55 minutes on the run, and this time went 66 minutes… ouch. My data is located here. After the finish, I found myself wondering how I’d do a half marathon the next day. A big part of me getting somewhat functional again was my teammate Carrie, who is a PT. She graciously worked on me a bit (tired of hearing me whining), calling my stabilizers a “cramped mess” (or something like that). She at least got me so I could walk without pain, making me feel better about the next day.
Half Ironman (Sunday AM)
Before the last race on Sunday, the announcer called me up to the front to recognize that this was
my last long triathlon. I had included this in my bio, and they briefly discussed my accident. It was pretty cool, and I had a lot of people shake my hand and chat with me later on the run. They also recognized veterans and cancer survivors. It’s great to belong to such a supportive community. The other cool thing was that on the very first day, the music to the Star Spangled Banner wouldn’t work, and the crowd simply sang it (following the lead of a racer with a real voice), and we ended up simply singing it together each day thereafter.
My last swim was uneventful. My form felt okay given some accumulated fatigue. I
started having some shoulder pain (separated shoulders from my accident) that had been nagging me in training, but nothing too bad. I came out of the water, looked at my watch and was sure the course was short. I swam 32:35 and my Garmin showed the course around 1900 yards at 1:43/100 (which felt about right for pacing). My swim data is here.
Back on the bike, and I was happy again. My target was simply to be around 200w on the bike on this last leg, and to feel good. I didn’t want to be overly aggressive on any of the technical sections, as I had some fatigue from the prior races, and didn’t want to make any careless mistakes. As I was coming down one of the descents, I saw a guy standing on the side of the road waving at
me. I slowed down and asked if he was okay, and saw a woman laying in the small ditch next to the road in the fetal position. The guy told me to let the police know where to send an ambulance. I noted my distance and pushed down the road to the next town, two miles away. I stopped and talked to the Sheriff who was directing traffic and told him about the accident and where it was. He called it in and I was on my way. (Later I found out she got patched up with just road rash and was okay). Although there were the typical hills and twisty roads, there were more flat areas on the half Ironman course. I simply put it in autopilot in these areas, sticking to my targeted power. I did catch and pass my teammate Andy, although I knew he’d return the favor on the run (which didn’t take long). I passed a lot of people on the bike leg, including a guy on a Dimond TT bike… again making me feel okay about having my road bike. My actual power was 197/183 (NP/AP) for a time of 3:03:33, versus Best Bike Split prediction of 3:03:56. My ride data is here, and the BBS data is here. I came into T2 feeling good again, with less fatigue than I had anticipated.
The run was basically what I expected… a continuation of the slogfest from the prior day. I knew I just had to spend the next couple of hours in the “land of suck”. I was doing
math in my head… what’s the worst case if I have to walk most of it, etc. I wanted to salvage what I could of the race and not spend the entire day on the course. I simply ran what I could, walked the remainder, and stopped and stretched as necessary to relieve the pain. Looking back, I had to completely stop 26 times on the run, which destroyed my already slow pacing. I had periods where I could manage it better than others, with the low point being around 9 miles. Once I made the final turn around, I just had to suck it up for a few more miles and finish it up. I had a new 70.3 PW (personal worst) on that run at 2:30:08… really ouch, which put a damper on my enthusiasm about my race.
Conclusions / Reflections
My initial thought was to give myself a “D” on implementation on the race, as I was feeling bad about my run. After further consideration, I have to acknowledge that my expectations were not realistic. I did successfully alter my plan to allow myself to get the start (and finish), but my loss of running fitness and lack of stability preparation meant that my running body was simply not up to the task… leading to a somewhat predictable result. As analytical as I can be with others I coach, it’s sometimes hard to apply it to yourself. With my age and chronic injuries, I need to come to grips with the reality that I’m on the downside of triathlon performance curve over time. As noted in the initial quote, “Never underestimate the human capacity for self-deception.” – Mark Wetmore
Also as I reflect, I truly appreciate the fun of my group and their spouses. It was fantastic getting high fives on the course, shouts of encouragement along the way, and of course the photographs as well.
These people are what made this race fun for me… the competition, camaraderie, shared misery, etc…. it was all great! 🙂
I think this is a fantastic race, and should get more interest in the triathlon community. Great people, well organized, super-interesting event, and a worthy challenge. Note that they listened to the feedback, and will be changing the start / finish of the swim to avoid the shallow nasty area of the lake.
Is it harder than an Ironman?
I’ve read and heard a lot of debate on this question. Some people said it’s harder than an IM others say it isn’t. If raced at the edge of your capacity, the overall intensity of this race is higher than an Ironman… that’s just reality. You can do this because you get some recovery between the events, and additional opportunity for fueling. From a Total Stress Score or total energy burned, it’s also higher than an Ironman as well. But, it’s over approximately 40+ hours rather than less than 17 hours so the physical stress is distributed over more time.
My thought is that’s it’s a moot point, as “harder” is really relative to the individual. In my experience, if you are really close to your physical limits in any event this length (e.g. 10+ hours)… be it a Ironman, ATT or even an ultra cycling event…. it will feel hard and you will probably be really really uncomfortable or possibly in pain during the race and feel like crap after the race. In all of these types of events, I’ve felt equally shitty at the end… flu like symptoms for extended periods of time, difficulty walking, everything hurts…etc. I think most people who felt one event was easier than another likely didn’t push themselves as hard (relative to their limit at the time) in what they perceived to be the easier event (or pushed harder… or too hard, in the perceived hard event). If you push your absolute limit in an ultra length event, racing is tough… no matter what the format.
In the end… it’s a great race… just sign up an do it.
ATT Training Plan:
I was pleased with the results that I saw from the ATT training plan I developed, both via increases in threshold power/paces during training, as well as race specific performance. I received good (and constructive) feedback, and will be making a few tweaks to the plan going forward. I will offer it as a 24 week plan for the 2018 ATT, via TrainingPeaks, for anyone interested (expect it to be in TP by September). Out of our seven Des Moines area participants, Carrie was 2nd in her Age Group, Jennifer 4th in hers, Andy was 3rd in his AG and top 20 overall, Mike was 3rd in his AG, Jim and I were both in the top 25% overall, and Scott had a 16 minute PR over his fastest prior ATT… solid work by everyone.