I never got around to giving a report for last year’s Mass State Triathlon. It was the weekend before I left for RAGBRAI, and writing up a lengthy post about the race wasn’t at the top of my priority list. So I didn’t tell you about how I discovered Chrissie, my tri bike, had a flat tire the morning of the race, so I just grabbed my road bike. Or that—just like the year before—it was really hot. Or how I had a pretty good swim and ran a 10K PR to finish the Olympic-distance race in two hours and twenty eight minutes. But there it is in a nutshell.
Last Sunday, the 12th, Lisa and I went back to Winchendon to do the same race, my last one before Ironman Wisconsin, which was nine weeks away on race day. At the beginning of the season the Ironman was very abstract, but it’s become more and more real as the spring progressed into summer. My training load is getting bigger, my body has become more tired, and I’ve been ticking off the races until there was only Mass State between me and IM Wisconsin. The fact that this was the last race beforehand had me feeling a little anxious in the days leading up to Sunday’s event. Have I biked enough? Have I run enough? Can I successfully ramp up my running? Even if my body is ready by September 13th, it’s going to be an immense day of racing. Will my mind and my ‘betes be ready for it? There are only so many races available to prepare. How will this one shake out?
After a mild couple of weeks, the temperatures ramped up over the days before the race. This race always seems to be hot, and the high was forecast at 92°F (33°C). And it was warm on race morning as the various swim waves waited on the beach for the race to start. But at 75°F (24°C) it wasn’t as oppressively hot as it was last year or the year before . . . at least not yet. I tried to follow the same nutrition and insulin plan that I found successful at Quassy, but the insulin timing turned out to be different than the previous race, and my initial BGs were a little higher, too. We’ll come back to that.
The swim went very well. I had been seeing good splits at the lake recently, and this was my fastest open-water swim ever. As usual, I started nearer to the front and sprinted the first 100 yards or so in order to get clear of as much of the crowd as possible. The swim field was very strong—the race is typically a USAT National qualifying event, so it draws fast swimmers—and it took over 15 minutes to get some separation within the field. There was a lot of jostling and swimming up onto people’s feet as they slowed down after going out too fast. A couple of times I had to skip a stroke to get room to maneuver to some unoccupied water. More often, though, I just had to assert myself and hold the line I had been following, even if it meant nudging someone who wasn’t sighting well out of the way. Coming around the second of four left-hand turns, the swimmer to my left kept swimming straight, so I kinda had to swim over him. I got back to shore and into transition after swimming the 1500 meters, or 0.9 miles, in 26:36.
My Ironman and 70.3 bike plans have me biking at a pace to keep my heart rate between 135-145 beats/minute. That’s about 75-80% of my maximum heart rate and just below threshold, which I can only sustain for about an hour. When I race a sprint, I aim much closer my lactate threshold heart rate of 155 BPM. How to approach the Olympic-distance? I decided—after getting a couple of miles into it—to treat it more like a sprint than a long-course race. It wasn’t a complete hammer-fest, but I definitely pushed the pace. From last year, I remember a couple of big hills, but they never seemed to materialize. Evidently all of the climbing in the Quassy Half altered my perspective a bit.
I passed people. I got passed by others. One particular rider passed me and then immediately slowed down. This is my biggest triathlon pet peeve. There are a few key “position” rules in triathlon:
- Keep 3 bike lengths between you and the rider ahead of you unless you’re passing. Otherwise, you’re drafting.
- You have 15 seconds from when you enter the drafting zone to complete the pass. It’s up to you as the passer to complete the pass, not the person being passed.
- Once the front the passer’s front wheel passes the front of your front wheel, you’re passed. It’s now your responsibility to fall back out of the 3 bike length zone.
Ideally, when a fellow triathlete passes you, he or she is going fast enough that you don’t have to do anything and can just keep going your original pace. Sometimes, they pull directly in front of you as they pull away, giving you 2-3 seconds of unintentional drafting. I don’t look this gift horse in the mouth, by the way, but I don’t try to exploit it by stretching it out either. The fact that it’s my responsibility to leave the drafting zone quickly after being passed is why it’s so annoying to have people slow down after passing. Technically, I have to drop back 15 feet, just to ramp up to a passing speed to get back to my previous pace.
The worst thing is when someone actively stymies your attempt to pass. I had one guy do this a few times on the back half of the course. He caught me and then slowed down. I dropped back. I sped up to pass, and as I pulled even with him, he pushed the pace to make it hard to pass. Over the span of a few miles, this happened three times. Once I actually had to drop back, he sped up so much. Technically, I could have gotten a two-minute penalty if one of the referees had been there. Eventually, much to my relief, I got past him on a fast section and didn’t see him again until the run.
I surprised Lisa coming back into the park to transition to the run. She spent a good deal of my ride listening to a real-life edition of “Shit Triathlon Coaches Say.” She was just tucking into a freshly opened granola bar when I spotted her in her bright orange “Team Jeff” shirt. I heard her swear through a mouth full of granola bar, grab the camera hanging around her neck, and take a few quick photos. When she asked before the race how long I thought the bike would take me, I overestimated by quite a lot, saying “about an hour and a half.” And here I was, back from covering the 22 miles in just 1:03.
It was warming right up by the time I headed out onto the run course. The first time I did this race, the course seemed interminably long and convoluted. On my third time around, I knew what to expect. I knew where the fast downhills were, where the aid stations were located, which parts of the course were shady or sunny, where to kick it up a bit, and where to hold back. I definitely feel that I race better when I know the course. When I was still in my first of ten kilometers, I saw the eventual winning man coming back, more than 9 kilometers ahead of me.
I ran well enough, but I never really engaged with it mentally. Perhaps I pushed too hard on the bike and my body was just ready to be done. Perhaps I was slightly dehydrated. I hydrated well and ate a few times on the bike, but I had trouble getting water on the course. There weren’t enough volunteers handing out water, and I ended up having to run through half of the aid stations without really getting any. Perhaps all of the Ironman training was catching up with me. Or perhaps after ramping up my distance and expectations for the Ironman, I needed to spend more time telling myself to be serious about this shorter race. Nothing felt bad while I ran, but I also felt pretty “flat.” I pushed myself over the last mile, saw Lisa on my way into the finish, and stopped my watch at 2:21:33, a new Olympic-distance PR.
Only 56 days until Wisconsin!
Here are some of Lisa’s awesome photos.