Monday, August 24, 2009

Portland Tri-Where-The-Heck-Am-I?

Let me begin by apologizing for the readily apparent lack of photography in this race report. My personal photographer Jessa, to whom I trade sex for photos, happened to be volunteering on the race course.

I was up in Toronto speaking at Can-Fit-Pro on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (and traveling with the new "Cucumber-Mint" flavored nuun - holy cow!), but after flying home and getting a solid eight hours of sleep on Friday night, Jessa and I packed up the car, dropped the kid's off at Grandma's and rolled into Portland on Saturday afternoon, rushing into the downtown Marriott just as they were closing down packet pickup.

When I picked up the packet, I decided it would be prudent to ride the three loop bike course, which promised to be technical, as it was an "urban" race through downtown Portland and the university district. Sure enough, I counted six nearly 180 degree changes of direction in just one eight-mile loop of the 40K bike, not to mention several very fast descending corners. I do not consider myself a skilled bike handler, so this made me a bit nervous.

At the end of the ride, I tacked on a preview of the two-loop run course, which was a more basic "rectangle". Seemed pretty simple.

We spent the night at our gracious hosts and team members of the Ironheads - Dave and Ann Ciaverella. Not only did Ann have my stand-by sweet potatoes ready to cook on the counter, but Dave gave me a rundown of my potential competition the next morning.

I slept well. I've been using topical magnesium oil prior to bedtime before races, and literally sleep a solid eight hours easily, with no waking. It's especially effective combined with Millennium Sports Somnidren GH.

My plan was to attack this race by staying in the lead swim pack, and riding hard for the first loop, since I knew the course would be congested with both Sprint and Olympic distance athletes on the second and third loops, and it would be tough to sight my competition. With the cluster that was sure to happen on the run (over a hundred Sprint triathletes would be out on the run course by the time the Olympic athletes finished the bike), the trick in this race would be to know exactly who you were chasing and who was chasing you.

Fuel would be light - just 300 calories of GU Electrolyte Brew on the bike, with Delta-E, Enerprime, Cordygen VO2 Ultra, Hammer Race Caps, and a few sprays of magnesium on the legs 30-60 minutes prior.

This was a six wave start, and my wave was first. From the get-go, my plan worked pretty well. Near as I could tell, I was third out of the water, and basically drafted second place the entire time. I didn't even feel like I worked *at all* on the swim, but my rule is that if I have to sprint to pass someone I'm drafting, there's no use wasting energy swimming side-by-side for 1500m.

Rather than running 200 meters to transition from the dock, I sat down on the dock immediately out of the water and stripped my wetsuit, then carried it to my bike. This was my first mistake. By transitioning apart from the rest of the field, I had no clue who was "transitioning with me". So when I headed out on my Specialized Transition, I was a bit bewildered about my overall standing in the field.

When I passed Jessa, she gave me a 2 minute split on the leader, but not an overall placing, But it didn't matter - 2 minutes was the rabbit to chase, and I felt like I was riding strong, descending well, and avoiding, for the most part, the surprsingly high number of vehicles on the race course. Beginning lap two, even with the congestion, Jessa managed to give me a 90 second split. If I kept this pace, I could come off the bike 60 second behind the leader, and run them down.

Unfortunately, the rest of the bike ride turned into a series of failed attempts to pass swerving cyclists, avoid oncoming bike and vehicle traffic, pass cars on the left side of the yellow line, and place all my focus on "not crashing". I had no clue who passed me or who I passed, and whether they were Sprint or Olympic athletes (suppose this could be remedied by adding a simple "S" or "O" to the calf during body marking). My weakness and lack of experience in group bike racing really showed through in this race, and my bike split was weaker than usual compared to the other leaders in the race.

By the time I got off the bike, I didn't know where the heck I was in the overall standings, so I just shrugged my shoulders and decided to turnover my Avia Bolt running shoes as hard as I could and see where things stood when the smoke cleared. As expected, the double-loop run course was literally packed "shoulder to shoulder" with athletes. Another weakness of mine during a race is self motivation. If I don't have someone to chase or someone chasing me, I tend have a hard time pushing myself, and this was indeed the case.

Quick note: I notoriously throw my sunglasses aside in transition due to fogging and discomfort during the run, but I'm using the new Zeal Optics out of Boulder, Colorado, and I honestly cannot even tell I am wearing them. Zero fogging, light as feathers....

My 10K time, although 45-60 seconds faster than I've been running this year, was nowhere near fast enough to catch a 35 and 36 minute, 1st and 2nd place, although I came close to catching 3rd place. Since I'm writing this report in the car, I don't remember most of their names, but a fast fella named Grant Folske won, even more impressive based on his stellar performance in the Hulaman Half-Ironman the weak prior.

When the smoke actually did clear, it turned out that was 4th place overall and 1st in my division. My only consolation is that the next fastest overall athlete was 5 minutes back, and the next fastest division athlete was 11 minutes back! So I was able to hang with most of the big boys...but I'd rather they have been behind me.

Post-race, I fueled up with Recoverease, Mt. Capra protein powder, and, in this case, a ginger doughnut dipped in cafe chocolate gelato. My overall impression of the Portland Triathlon is that they're doing a fantastic job with sustainability, offering bamboo t-shirts, biodegradable cups, and even the opportunity to "buy off" your carbon credits from traveling to the race.

I actually wouldn't mind having another shot at this event, once I get a chance to work on my cycling skills, which could probably be accomplished by hitting the cyclocross circuit this fall and winter, then trying to work in a few crit races. Seems like every event this year I'm learning more about how to make it to the top of the podium. But with a growing handful of second, third and fourth place overall finishes, it appears I'm gonna have to keep learning those hard lessons, which ultimately helps me become a better coach and athlete!

Thanks for reading.


Diane Swift said...

Wow, the congestion on the bike sounds nuts!
Congrats on your race!!
#1 overall is in your future for
sure....You Rock !!!

Spokane Al said...

I agree with Diane Swift concerning the bike congestion - that sounds like it made it a tad sporty.

I always like reading your stuff because I take away some lessons learned as well.

Keep racing and keep rocking!

Matt said...

great effort Ben, sounds like you had a great race and pushed thru a mental race as well! Nice work! Mtn biking has been helping my handling alot..should join us!

Chris said...

Thanks for the race summary. =) This was my third downtown, and there were a LOT more folks this year, with the sprint gaining popularity (everyone be nice to the newbies!). Best event yet put on by Jeff, his staff, and volunteers (share feedback with him at Looking forward to next year- no podium for me, but I'll see I can at least stay on the same run loop as you leaders. =)

jessithompson said...

Totally hear you about congestion on the bike, that throws a whole new dimension into the ride... not to mention not really trusting how other people are going to ride either. I run into this *all* the time especially when the women's heats start behind the men's field. It can be downright frustrating.

Glad the run went well and you finished strong regardless.

Hope the Greenfields and Thompsons can get together to play soon. :)