The Official Word

by Rich Savitt



* The Free Lap Rule

* Race Numbers 101


by Ryan Mongan

branson1This is a race report for a pair of triathlons I did recently. These were my A-priority races for the year and now I'm resetting and getting ready for next year.

Up until a couple of years ago I was a dedicated bike racer. I did my first tri 2 years ago and this last weekend was my 14th for the year. I have done most of the distances but have never done a full Ironman length race. I really enjoy the shorter distances. They feel more like a race and less of an endurance competition. However, never say never. I'll probably sign up for a full Ironman in the next year or two.



The first of my two recent races was the Nautica Malibu International Triathlon (Olympic Distance). They also run a sprint race the next day which is Hollywood celebrity heavy but the international distance is the 'athlete's race'. There were about 1250 finishers in the international race. In full Ironman races, the starts are mass starts but in all the other distances, the starts are in waves. This makes it a bit challenging to gauge how well your day is going overall since there are competitors spread out over the course. My wave had about 150 people in it but this spreads out pretty quickly in the water. So, by the time you get to the bike there isn't a big group starting out all at the same time. The swim was at Zuma Beach and the surf was about 3-4 feet. My strategy in the swim is to go out fast – faster than I can maintain -- and then look for some good feet to draft on. Drafting in the water is not only legal, it is a huge advantage. I would guess the energy savings are comparable to drafting on the bike at about 20 mph. When the gun went off, I got in the water with the lead group. That was fortunate as a good set of waves started coming in. A handful of us were able to swim over a breaking wave that split the group. We turned around the first buoy and started heading parallel to the coast. I found a good pair of feet to draft on and we started working our way through the prior waves. When I got to transition, I had done the 1500m in 23:45 which was by far my best swim. I would have been happy with 25 min so that put me in a really good mood for the bike.

The age group categories are split in 5-year increments and I race in 45-49. During the swim it is difficult to know how you are doing as everyone looks the same in their wetsuits, caps and goggles. Once the wetsuits come off, everyone has their age on the back of their calf. So, on the bike and run you can see if you are racing someone in your category or not. I had done some extra recon and identified three race numbers of some of the strongest finishers from prior years. They are all stronger swimmers than me so I figured I had to make it up on the bike. When I left transition on the bike, I spotted my first target. This was far earlier that I expected so that put me in even a better mood. The course is 40k along PCH with about 600' of rollers. I spotted my second target about ½ way through the bike and left him behind. A few miles from the finish of the bike I came upon another person in my age group. He wasn't one of my targets so I figured I needed to start watching him. He spotted me as well and started pacing me from behind. That is perfectly legal as long as you stay 4 bike lengths back. He wasn't going to let me go easily. I spotted my last target as we finished the bike at the second transition. I finished the bike in 1:01 which was the 3rd fastest bike split of the day in all categories including the pros.

I could feel I put a lot into the bike as I started the run. I started off beside the winner in the category from the prior year. That year he averaged 6:09 miles for the 10k. That is faster than I can do so I let him go and tried to hold my spot. The unknown person who was pacing me on the bike came by me at mile 2 and I couldn't lift the pace to stay with him. Now I knew I had slipped to 3rd and was concerned about being caught from behind. The course had several out and back sections which helped me spot my other targets. I could see they weren't gaining which gave me a bit of strength and I finished the run in 41 minutes for a total time of 2:09. I ended up 15th overall and 3rd in a very tough age group.

branson2The following weekend I traveled to Branson, MO to do a half Ironman event. Because of the bike, it is rated as the most difficult half Iron event in the US. The bike has 5,200' of climbing over 56 miles. The run was flat so I figured this course really suited me. Once again I identified a couple other race numbers to watch. The swim this time was in a lake. The water was nice and warm at 74 degrees. I felt like a had a good swim. I was swimming loose and found some good feet for about ½ of it. However, when I came out of the water, the clock was a 35 minutes for 1.2 miles which was about 3 minutes slower than what I expected.

The bike was challenging – not much flat at all. They had closed down a divided highway for us. I caught the last year’s age group winner and we started taking turns at the front. The two of us passed my other target but he didn’t stick with us. At one point I drifted off mentally and let my competitor get some distance on me. I snapped out of it and closed the gap before we started heading back to town. I had been noticing that he was tentative on the descents and quite often got off of his aero bars. So, with about 5 miles to go I started hitting the descents hard and got a gap. I got back to transition about 30 seconds in front of him. I was able to average 20.0 mph on the bike.

Ideally the way to tackle the run is to start off easy and build into it – negative splitting each mile. However, I’ve never been able to do that. I am always excited coming off the bike. There are people cheering and I go out way too fast. Then the course gets away from the crowds and the painful reality sets in. My first mile was 6:45 and then I started positive splitting the miles all the way to mile 10 when I ran an 8:20. Last year’s winner came by me at mile 2 and gave me some sincere encouragement. At mile 9 my other target caught me. I was still going physically downhill at this point. In the last few miles I started increasing the pace but I couldn’t pull him back. I finished the run in 1:42 which, surprising to me, was the 3rd fastest in the age group. The first two were the guys who passed me. The overall time was 5:08 and the next guy was 12 minutes back.

branson3I was really happy since it was a goal of mine to make a podium in an Ironman race. I've had difficulty with these longer races and the best I had done previously was 16th at Vineman 70.3 earlier this year. I had gone out to Branson with a group I do one tri a year with. This is not a very competitive group, there are a lot of families doing it together and they are more focused on completion. While I was excited about making the podium, they were ecstatic about my placing. When my name was called, they rushed the stage and I was hoisted up. This was a bit embarrassing at first but quickly turned into an emotional moment for me. As a bonus, I also found out that I qualified for the 70.3 world championships next year, which take place in Las Vegas. That should be a humbling experience.

I'd encourage anyone on CV to give a tri a shot. You spend about ½ of the time on the bike. So, coming from a bike background really helps. Two and a half years ago I couldn't swim. I could make one length across the pool but then I would have to stop and pant for a while before heading back. Running was also something I didn't have in my quiver. When I started training for my first tri, I could only run for one minute and then I'd have to walk for a minute before running again. Now, swimming is still my weak suit but I feel comfortable in the water and open water races have gone from panic attacks to being really fun. My running has really come along and I think it has helped my cycling strength.

To the uninitiated, the majority of tris fit into one of four different lengths. Each length is roughly ½ of the one just longer. At the top of the heap is full Ironman distance. This will take a strong triathlete about 11 hours to complete. Next comes 70.3 or half Ironman. These are about 5 ½ hour races. At this distance nutrition and calorie intake starts to matter. You can make a nutrition mistake with this distance and still finish as opposed to a full Ironman but it's going to hurt. Shorter than the half Iron is the Olympic or international distance. As the name suggests, this is the distance run in the Olympics and is comprised of a 1500m swim, a 40k bike and a 10k run. The shortest distance is the sprint tri which are flat out efforts that last a bit over 1 hour.



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