Buffalo Triathlon Race Report
Race Day: Sunday, June 7, 2015 – 9am
You never know what is going to happen on the first triathlon of the year. Preparing for a tri is so stressful. Compared to a running race, there is so much more equipment to pack and so many more opportunities for mistakes during the race. That pre-race stress, however, makes the feeling of executing the perfect race just that much better. I executed a nearly perfect race in Buffalo.
After Gear West, I wanted to start swimming more, and got into the North Shore Swim Club MWF swims. Instead of doing 1,500 sloppy meters by myself, I started doing 3.5-5k of quality pool swimming and was feeling good. Week to week, I don’t think I’ve every swim Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, though, and it was easy to skip! On Tuesday of race week, we did a cold open water swim at Pike Lake near Duluth, and it was cold. Really cold. We did maybe 6oo meters of swimming… about 5 minutes out and back. The way back wasn’t terrible, but my face hurt bad right away. Needless to say, it wasn’t really a quality swim workout. So I was a little iffy with my swim fitness, despite the expectation that the big pool yardage (even though only one or two days a week) will pay off.
I had a killer chunk of biking since Gear West, where I was already super pleased where I was at with my duathlon bike split. Also, I bought race wheels and some fast tires. I’ve caught a lot of flak for racing with Gatorskin tires, which are apparently very slow! I was super excited to let it rip on the bike, and I knew it would be hard to limit my effort level.
I’d been feeling a little beat up on the run. Quality running was spotty and I wasn’t pleased with the volume and consistency of my running leading up to Buffalo. I left my dog Diamond at my parent’s house after Gear West. Is that a coincidence that my running wasn’t on point? I think not! On the other hand, there were a few workouts that I did in preparation for Grandma’s Marathon that were major confidence boosters and fast. Fast for a marathon… I think that my half ironman run pace should be pretty close to my marathon pace. 10k off the bike is a different story, and I wanted to run pretty fast off the bike.
There were a lot of Duluthians racing Buffalo and a lot of friendly faces in transition. That makes it fun! I wanted to contend for the win, which would net $300 and chip away a chunk on my credit card from those new race wheels, but Buffalo is historically really competitive and a few fast dudes signed up last minute. There were a lot of other mulitsport races in the Twin Cities that weekend, though, and that spreads out the speedy dudes a bit instead of being condensed into the one weekend race. Time wise, I predicted a 24 minute swim, one hour bike, and 36 minute 10k, plus a minute a piece for the transition. That would put me at 2:02 on the nose. I learned that the bike was bit short and the transitions were pretty long, so it would equalize and I’d do a bit less on the bike and bit more in T1 and T2.
Race morning was pretty ideal, but a bit warm. The roads were dry and the wind was a little blustery off the lake riding the first mile of the bike course to warm up. After setting up transition, I did a little ride, then popped my running shoes on and tried to loosen everything up. The body was feeling good and I was ready to rip. With a half hour to go, I slid into my wetsuit and started to warm up in the water. My stroke felt OK and I was excited that the water temperature was really nice. The reported temperature of 68 was balmy!
I registered in the elite category and we had the first wave.
We lined up on the beach to start the 1.5k swim and when the crowd countdown got to one and then “GO!”, we sprinted into the water.
I tried to do a few dolphin dives to start and then get into my stroke. I was breathing on my left side only and trying to jockey for a position up front. I tried to sight ahead and thought I saw a guy jetting HARD out front. I figured that it must be Dylan, a collegiate swimmer from Bozeman, MT, who was pegged by Jerry at Minnesota Tri News to win it all. I liked that the buoys were on the left and I continued to breath on one side only in order to drop my racing heart rate and get into a fast but comfortable pace.
The rest of the swim was uneventful. There were people around me the whole time, which was relieving to know I was falling far behind or going off course too bad. I knew there were some fast swimmers in the elite wave, and if I could stay with a few of them I’d be in mint condition. After turning the last buoy for the straight-line home, I got lost in the glare of the morning sun. I poked by head high out of the water a few times and would get run into from behind. Someone was right on my heels for sure. Me and a group of swimmers took it home and I exited the swim with three or four other guys. I hit someone in the back trying to a dolphin dive out of the water, and probably looked like an idiot! I felt like one putting on the clothesline… oops.
On the beach, I ripped by arms out of the wetsuit. I noticed that Nick was right there with me. I was surprised he had such a good swim, but glad! This was shaping up to be a good race. I peeped my watch and saw 24 and change. Right on the money.
I may have taken an illegal shortcut in the transition by taking the bee line through the sprint bike racks, which saved me approximately 1 second. I should have listened to the race meeting instead of running! I had a faster transition than Nick because I didn’t see him until the bike turnaround, but was clipping in at the same time as Brooks Grossinger. I got going a bit faster than him and he never passed me.
Onto the bike, it was time to crank. My legs felt like sausages. It’s surprising how you don’t feel very fresh starting the bike after just swimming, even though that’s probably not quite the same muscle groups. After two miles, I passed an elite woman. A few miles later, I reeled in another guy, who I found out later to be Josh Blankenheim, a fellow Duluthian. I was riding good, but felt like I was burning matches. There were windy spots and some rolling hills, and I definitely pushed to the point where my legs were burning on more than a few occasions. I stood up on a few hills. On an out-and-back stretch, I saw Dylan, who was approximately six minutes ahead of me. That wraps up his win! Not far after that, I surprisingly reeled in Jake Cooley. I felt fast zooming past the sprint course athletes on the last five miles, and took it home hard. Jake was pretty close behind me and we entered transition pretty much together.
I was anxious starting the make-or-break run. At this point, it was me and Dylan. He was at least six minutes up. Fat chance that he’s running slower than 7 minutes per mile! I tried to take it out hard and wanted to stick 5:45 pace. When I hit the first mile, I hit the split on my watch and it was under 6 minutes. Perfect. Running off the bike is a bizarre sensation. I can’t get the same spring in my step and my stride feels labored. I tried to focus on my form and fluid motions. I remember thinking about an excerpt I read from Craig Alexander the day before, who said that the best Ironman runners had a very robotic form. So I tried to be robotic. 30 seconds later, it was too tiring and I resorted to running like an prison escapee.
At around mile 1.5, the 1ok course continued and the sprinters turned around. I almost toasted a woman while trying to grab a water. I took Gatorade and poured water on my face. I don’t think anyone was close behind me at this point, but I knew they were coming. There’s no way that Nick isn’t charging hard, and I wasn’t feeling very fast. At mile two, I split the time and saw a slow mile. It was perhaps 6:20 or 6:30, and way off pace for a 36 minute 10k. Could I crank down and go sub-sixes? Do I conserve my energy until the turnaround? How much gas is left in the tank??
After the sprint turnaround, it was a lonely road out to the turnaround at around mile 3. I started hearing footsteps and before I knew it, I was passed. I recognized the race kit from the guy I passed earlier on the bike, who I ultimately found out to be Josh. Ouch, what a crushing blow. I figured that I could maybe stick with him, but decided to race my own race. If I have what it takes, I’ll catch back up. I’d rather get 3rd place than push too hard now, wither and die for 6th place. Nick and Brooks out-ran me on both 5ks at Gear West, and I know they are right behind Josh.
Dylan came cruising past me once I neared the turnaround, and I didn’t even bother to calculate his margin. He was way too far up. Josh was putting time on me for sure, and I was deathly terrified to turn around and see who was behind me. I did it anyways, and there was a decent gap. I saw Larry Hosch next, who had a faster split than me on the run last time we raced at Green Lake Tri in 2013. He was coming for me and the $100 3rd place price purse. Maybe a minute back, Nick was just cruising. He looked like a Olympic 5k’er making the last lap on the track. Super powerful looking… how scary. Brooks was back there, too. The goal was to hold them all off. I cranked it down.
Every other split I took had a six in it. Not good… Once I could see the sprint turnaround, I had lost Josh already. He was too far up. At this point, I was giving it all I had. I started to get into the mental zone that I figured would push me past my preconceived limits. This is where the anger comes into play. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the anger. I told myself that this is all I do and if I didn’t get 3rd place I’d be a nobody and my life would be for nothing. This probably isn’t the most positive mindset to have, but it seemed to work OK. I know I was making a really ugly face and my form was painfully sloppy. There was an uphill grind for the last mile until we turned onto the finishing chute, and I was weaving throughout the sprint athletes. I couldn’t run a second per mile faster, and I was at a dismal six minute per mile pace. I tried to get the anger. Looking behind me, all I saw was a swarm of runners. I couldn’t tell if anyone was charging up on my rear, so I kept it up. They could be right behind me, I thought!
Turning the last corner, I slipped around some sprint athletes and bombed down the bike path into the finish line.
I remembered to stop my watch and it read just a tad under 2:01. The grinding 10k was enough to hold on for 3rd place and $100! I saw my overtaker Josh at the finish line and we chatted for a second. A minute back, Nick ran in for 4th place.
Buffalo Tri was a super fun race. The Duluth contingent killed it, with Elaine Nelson winning the women’s race, three of the top four overall and the three fastest run splits from Duluth. Everyone was in good spirits.
I feel like my race at Buffalo was perfectly executed. My run isn’t as fast as I thought, but the big bike split strategy actually paid off. I think that more brick workouts could tie together the new bike speed and improved run, where as I felt a little bit of a disconnect there during Buffalo.
I recovered fast and I’m feeling good for a few more races in June: Capitol City Sprint triathlon and Grandma’s Marathon.
Swim pace: 1:31 per 100yd
Bike speed: 24.7mph
Run pace: 6:05
Shoes: Saucony Kinvara 5 size 11.5
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78 clincher back, Roval ~40 clincher back (thanks Paul!)
Food: Cherry Cola Honey Stingers and Salted Watermelon Gu (on the bike)