The goals I wrote down for this race were:
- swim smooth and strong
- fuel every 30min on the bike and take in 2 bottles of fluid
- negative split the run
Basic scouting report:
- great weather for a race
- went into this one with a better mental state than White Lake, and with a more focused approach to training, especially the swim
- knew nothing about the bike course other than it was rarely flat, with a total elevation gain of around 3200 feet, and a net uphill on the second 28 miles including a big climb at mile 42
- the run set up well, as a 2-loop course with 300 feet of climbing on the outbound leg (twice, obviously).
Here are the details:
Lake Logan is about 20 miles SW of Asheville. It’s a small lake formed, I think, by damming Pigeon Creek. Right out of a postcard, it’s flanked by steep, wooded hills on the east and west.
The morning set up perfectly for a race–about 65 degrees by 5am and overcast, expected high around 78. The swim was wetsuit-legal with good visibility–the fog was high up on the hills. Only about 400 folks were racing, but the swim waves were bigger than I thought they’d be, especially since my own AG was the largest at 43 racers.
We were set up to swim clockwise around a course shaped like an inverted U. I lined up to the left, because I breathe to the right and this would enable me to see other competitors. I planned to swim in the top third of my group, so got on the front line and went out a bit fast, but not hard, at the gun. Strokes were smooth and strong, but a bit short, as I did my best to keep clear of others. I went right away into sighting every 6, 8, or 10 strokes.
My line was good, and I passed a few guys who had gone out too hard. One of them didn’t see me on his left, and brought a heavy left forearm down on my right shoulder as my right hand went into the water, which spun my halfway underwater. I recovered quickly and he backed off; I didn’t get mad or give it much thought, but it had cost me a few breaths, and I took fifty yards or so to recover.
At about the 700yd mark (judging by the buoys), I managed to get on the feet, and then on the left hip, of a guy in my AG (same white cap as me) with a long and graceful stroke who looked as if he were out for an easy cruise. I stayed on his hip, drafting well for the first time ever in a race, until we hit the first turn buoy. I turned well, but nearly t-boned a confused slower swimmer from the first wave, and lost the guy I’d been drafting for good.
The base of the U was short, and I made the second turn for home, swimming smooth but not feeling real efficient. I let my stroke lengthen out a bit and engaged the legs more. It didn’t cost me as much oxygen as I thought it would, and I felt smoother in the water, but at every sighting, I was pulling off to the right instead of swimming straight, and I think my line suffered on the home leg of the swim. Seemed like the last 500yd took a while getting to the dock, but there, with river rocks underfoot, I saw other swimmers flopping up on the dock or getting hauled out by one arm by a volunteer … I put all the deck-ups I’ve been doing to good use (thanks Jim and Gerry at TOWER26!) by springing up onto the dock–to the excitement of the volunteers–unaided and trotting off towards transition.
I think the swim course was a little long. My Garmin doesn’t track OWS well, and said I swam 2.2 miles. Others on Strava had about 2200-2450yds. Anyway, my time was 33:51, good for 9th out of 43 in my age group.
T1 was fine, no issues, nice warm day already and a warm water swim, so I went with no arm warmers. I do think all the deck-ups in swim training really helped, because I did not have a heart rate spike or any huffing and puffing as I went from horizontal (in the lake) to vertical (jogging into T1).
I clipped in, choked down a few shotblox, and got into an easy gear to start a short steep climb right out of T1. The ride was really just all over the place for me. My self-talk was of the “stay in the box” variety, trying to think only of the moment and what my legs were telling me. My lungs and heart felt great, but all the short steep hills kept me from generating any sustained efficient speed.
The ride had 30(!) turns and was all windy two-lane roads, plenty of corn fields and cows and chip-seal. Beautiful country to ride through.
I kept the calorie intake on schedule, but my Garmin had never picked up any satellite signal, so, apart form the big climb at mile 42, I had no idea how far I’d ridden at any point. Since I am usually stronger relative to the field on the swim than the bike, I’ve gotten used to getting passed by a lot of guys on the bike and not feeling the need to chase them down–that tactic does not work for me in the long run. I did pass a few other riders, and wondered how in the world they could have swam so fast ….
My position was good on the bike, the machine was running well, and I kept this positive thought the whole bike and run:
Not “I can’t”. Not even “I can”. Just, “I WILL”. And you know what? It worked.
I kept a positive attitude toward the other cyclists out there (except two guys who were blatantly working together). Everyone raced safe, as far as I saw. But after that brutal climb at mile 42–probably a good mile long–there was still 13 miles of racing to be done after the descent, including the backside of the hill we faced out of T1, probably another half-mile climb. I had been in an easier gear for awhile, trying to set up the run and take it easy on my hip flexors, but it took me longer to get to T2 than I’d thought: 2:59:13, good for 14/43 in the AG.
T2 was quick. Shuck off helmet and shoes and shirt. Swig a 5-hr energy. Put on singlet with race number pinned to it. Put on shoes, grab visor, and head for the run exit. In fact, it happened so fast that I paused to think about anything I’d forgotten. But you don’t need much to go for a run …
The plan was to negative split the run, yes, but also take the first 3 miles very easy and find my running legs, if they were still there after that ride. I was careful to lean forward and keep my stride short. I hoped for a strong and steady cruise in the middle six miles, then go all out with whatever was left on the last three.
I’d fueled and drank well on the bike and figured I could get down 2 gels on the run to get me home, with only as much water as needed–I’m sure most others have the same sense as I do of heavy-sloshy-belly when there’s too much liquid in there, and it feels TERRIBLE running like that. So I took nothing at aid stations one and two, then took down a salted caramel gu bit by bit before chasing it with water at aid station three. Feeling in control, I cruised downhill to the turnaround, on a big grass field that brought me within thirty feet of the finish line before I headed out for the second loop.
Muy mileage splits are not reliable because Garmin didn’t track the whole distance of the run (notice a theme here?), but I don’t believe I was able to negative split the two loops. I started to suffer on the outbound, uphill leg of loop two. Took in another gu in the same fashion–slowly, chased by sips of water, at aid station number five. Felt desperate and sipped Gatorade at aid station six, dying to reach the turnaround and head back downhill.
At this point the positive self-talk assured me that I would finish in control, and I wanted to ride the limit of going as fast as possible on the downhill three miles without having to stop and walk at mile 12. There was a guy who had passed me at the turnaround that I was dying to catch, but he slowly faded away out of sight in front of me around a few turns. I would definitely say that the limiting factor was muscular endurance. I did not feel TIRED in this race like I did at White Lake, I just couldn’t get my legs to take much more of a beating.
Once I fought through miles ten through twelve, I could hear the race announcer from the other side of the creek. As I made the turn back to the field, I heard people rooting for a racer I’d just passed who was trying to catch me. I hit the gas, at least whatever was left in the tank, and got to the first turn and saw that there was no one behind me anymore.
About halfway along the back stretch there, my wife came running up beside me, and I felt good enough to muster a smile and some banter. She ran with me after the turn down the home stretch. I didn’t quite manage a sprint and I’m glad I don’t have a video of how I looked, but I was definitely able to empty the jar without bonking. Finished with a smile on my face. A cold can of Sprite never tasted so good. Run 1:49:13 for 17/43.
I’m completely surprised that my bike ride was better relative to the field than my run was. I will be chewing on that for a week or so as I figure out how to use that data to craft the next 8-week block of training before back-to-back races on October 1-2. Anyway, total race 5:26:40, good for 12th out of 43 in my age group.