Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Good Times in the MWCTC

June is coming to a close, and the racing season is now well under way in the Midwest Collegiate Tri Conference!  The Midwest conference is made up of schools in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin.  In all there are between 12 and 20 schools depending on how you count, with official membership reserved for teams that are USA Triathlon member clubs in good standing with their schools.  Collegiate racing and my recently completed term as the conference commissioner have given me the chance to meet some fantastic people from across the region.  It's fun to have an added team element to racing in this mainly individual sport, and to have a network of friends at races throughout the year.  This year the first two conference races were in our neck of the woods earlier in the month, so I took the opportunity to help the Badgers start earning some points!  Since I was racing for Wisconsin as well as Team Rev3 these 2 weekends, I did my best to represent both with some kit mixing and matching :)

Team pre-race cheer. Look at all those sexy BlueSeventy suits!
Elkhart Lake Triathlon
Wisconsin had a pretty big group head up to represent us at this race.  It was my third time there, and this year was by far the coolest (yay).  Our collegiate wave started 3 min behind the elite wave, and the rest of the age groupers began in time-trial fashion after us.  After a fairly rough first few hundred meters, I found some clear water and settled in by myself for pretty much the whole swim, knowing that a few people were way too far up to catch and not really knowing where anyone else was.  I swam a little too far right of the buoy line on the way in, but could tell I was catching the back of the elite wave so things had to be going decently well.  I came out of the water with my teammate David, who had a fantastic swim.  With a very quick wetsuit removal thanks to my Trislide, though, I passed him before transition even though he is a much faster runner.  I did my best to calm my breathing after climbing the steep hill to the racks and had a pretty smooth transition onto the bike.

One of the nice things (for me, anyway) about this "Olympic" distance race is that the bike is slightly longer than normal- 28 miles of rolling hills.  A couple of fast guys including Iowan Jack Parr and super runner Patrick Brady whizzed by me in the first 5 miles, but aside from that it was a pretty lonely ride with just me and my PowerTap.  I felt strong and just focused on holding speed wherever I could without spiking the effort too much on the hills.  The ride flew by quickly, and before I knew it I was back at transition sliding into my new Pearl Izumi Tri N1's.

Thanks to PB's "Paularazzi" for catching me out of T2!
On the way out of transition, a friend yelled that a female was 30 seconds up.  I had no idea whether this person was elite or collegiate, but I got to work and tried to start reeling her in.  My stride actually felt pretty good, and I felt under control on this cool day- a nice change from past races here.  The woman up ahead looked very strong, but to my surprise and delight, she wasn't getting away- I was inching closer.  I knew all of the hard parts of the course were still ahead in miles 2-5, so I tried to keep myself in check instead of getting too excited.  I saw a lot of friends on the out and back section, and cheering for them helped to keep me cheery as well- funny how that works!  On this section it became clear that one woman (Lauren Jensen) had a sizable lead, but the two of us were the next females.  We hit a section with a few short steep uphills that took quite a bit out of my legs, and I fought to hold the margin.  The big hill on this course is at ~ mile 4.5, so I prepared to take that really hard and see where it got me.  It turned out I didn't have quite enough left- my companion slowly slipped farther away.  I've still got some work to do on my hill running.  I ended up turning in the second fastest time of the day, though, after accounting for start times.  Since I had entered the collegiate division instead of elite, I wasn't eligible for prize money and instead won the "age group" race.  But it was nice to be out there representing the Badgers and know that I was right in the mix with some fast women! Congrats to Lauren on the win- she's an inspiration, and a reminder that I have plenty of time to improve.
splits: 23:10/ 1:57/ 1:18:02/ 1:40/ 45:32, total: 2:30:21

As a side note, it's really useful to repeat a race multiple years as a way to track progress.  Conditions are a bit different for every race, obviously, but some comparisons can still be made.  Bike splits tend to be most stable from year to year since swim courses must be re-set every year, and the run is most affected by differences in temperature.  Here is a slice of data from my races at Elkhart:

2011- bike 1:24:05, total 2:42:14
2012- bike 1:20:25, total 2:36:50
2013- bike: 1:18:02, total 2:30:21

The lesson... consistent training pays off!  Sometimes it's hard to see the improvements we are making until we take a step back.  Trust your coach, trust the process, and be patient!

Rockford Triathlon
The drive was only an hour to this one, so I decided to wake up dark and early (3a.m.!) to drive down with a couple teammates and take the opportunity to sleep in my own bed.  It rained for most of the drive, and the forecast didn't look promising, but this year I've gotten quite used to racing in dreary conditions.  The major detrimental effect of the rain on the race seemed to be that it scared away many volunteers, leaving it pretty short-handed.  More on that soon...

The collegiate wave started first.  It was a joint conference race with the Mideast and Midwest conferences, so the wave was pretty large and it was fun to see some different teams represented (Illinois, etc) in addition to the usual suspects (Iowa State and friends).  The swim was 2 loops in a small lake that was very weedy on the back stretch. After 1 loop, each athlete had to run out of the water across a timing mat on the beach before heading back in.  It was nice to see this in place to make sure that everyone did the full course- I'm always of the opinion that the more timing mats on the course, the better!  I felt okay but was excited to get out of the water.

There was a long run up to transition, and part of it wasn't marked so I wasn't sure which path to take.  Fortunately some people at the top of the hill (volunteers? spectators?) spotted me looking around and starting to follow the sidewalk, and yelled to redirect me straight up the hill. At least one speedy runner (my friend Kris, the eventual collegiate winner!) passed me in transition, but in general it went smoothly.
Trying to get my bearings leaving T1, and looking
pretty thrilled with the rain (ha!)

The bike course was a gently rolling out and back with a narrow turnaround in the middle of a 2 lane road. I've improved my cornering confidence a lot lately, but wet roads are still enough to kill it right now.  I lost a good chunk of time unclipping to scoot around the cone safely.  Oops.  Aside from that I seemed to be holding my place in the field well- I passed two very fast swimming Minnesota girls early, and not many guys were coming by me.  I was struggling to get my power up where I wanted it, and after a while just stopped looking at the computer and rode by feel the best I could.  My cycling legs showed up the last week, but they must have stayed in bed today!  It's hard to nail every piece of the puzzle each time. A quick T2 and I was out for the most challenging part of the race.

Unlike the run at Elkhart there were no giant hills on this course, but the small hills were one after the other with barely any flat stretches.  The run was a big loop with a short "stick" to and from the transition/finish area and a short out-and-back at about halfway.  My teammate Jim had passed me late in the bike and was still relatively close at the beginning of the run, so I did my best to keep him in sight as long as possible.  The roads around the lake loop were quiet, and I quickly noticed that there were no directional arrows or signs at the places were other roads split from or crossed the course.  I had looked at the maps the night before, but it was still a bit disconcerting not to have confirmation that I was going the right way.  I relied a large part on which way the guys in the distance turned in front of me.  No mile markers either... I was relieved to reach the out and back section to know how far I was!  The course was pretty, though, my legs felt strong even on the uphills, and I was holding the distance to a Minnesota male a little bit in front of me.  In fact, I saw him glance back periodically throughout the run, which made me think I had a chance at catching him and helped to keep me pushing hard on the lonely stretches.  I held things together well and still never caught him, but it was a good battle!
splits: 23:13/ 2:14/ 1:08:23/ 0:45/ 43:57, total: 2:18:35
Heading into the finish. Another perk of having friends from other teams?
More people to take pictures.  Thanks Matt!
A minute or two after I finished, I was confused to see a couple of Iowa guys who had been a decent bit in front of me halfway through the run just crossing the line.  Huh?  As it turned out, a number of males had overshot an unmarked turn and added about 3/4 mile or so to their runs. As a USAT sanctioned event, it was a race rule that it is the athlete's responsibility to know the course... but this was an unfortunate situation since there were no markings.  A number of athletes wanted times adjusted, which I understand, but there was no fair way to decide how much time to give to particular athletes, even if the USAT rule wasn't in effect.  The bike course had been very well marked, so I'm not sure what happened with the run course.  I felt bad for the race staff, though, who were clearly working hard and doing their best on the day with the very limited help available.  Unfortunately without enough volunteers to help corral the relay racers, too, timing had also gotten very confused due to athletes walking across mats when they shouldn't have.  The end result was that times and splits couldn't be finalized quickly enough to determine placings and awards that morning.  So we finished catching up with our fellow racers, enjoyed some warm post-race sandwiches (welcome on the still fairly chilly morning), packed up, and headed back home. 

As a nice surprise, I was finally able to meet Rev3 teammie Laura, whose husband was racing that morning too.  Pretty cool!

These races wrapped up a big block for me. The next one on the calendar right now is Pewaukee in mid July, then Rev3 Wisconsin Dells in August!  I may not be able to resist sneaking something else in there too, we'll see.  For now it's time to get both some solid training done and some good academic work in.  I'm actually currently visiting at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to work on a project- but I'll have to wait until I get back to Wisconsin to post pics, since I forgot my camera cord and my phone camera pales in comparison.  Something to look forward to!

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