Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tinman Triathlon race report

This year's Tinman can be easily summed up in a single word: hot. One of my goals was to push hard and not slow down, no matter what. The run up Monsarrat was harder than I remembered. By the time I got to the Elepaio aid station I knew the heat was going to leave a mark. It was at the start of the run up Diamond Head when I saw the old, bearded man in a red skin suit waving a trident and yelling incomprehensible profanities. I knew I had seen him somewhere. The Tour de France. For sure. But why was he here? It was at that point I realized I had found a what that mattered, so I slowed down and walked up the hill. Right where the road arrives at the first lookout the grade relaxes a little, and by then the old man was gone so I started running again. I was not fleet as I had hoped, but I made it all the way to the finish line.

Step back and broaden the view and we could say that weather played a significant role in this year's race. A typical summertime south shore swell transformed what had been all week a calm swim course into something better suited to American Ninja. The lack of wind made the bike leg exceptionally easy and quick -- as much as we like that tailwind pushing us back to Waikiki, you never get back everything you lose in the headwind going out. This year the reported winds were 3-5 m.p.h., which is as close to dead calm as this route ever gets. Clear skies and the absent trade winds baked the south side of Diamond Head in 94F heat, sucking whatever energy that remained from the runners.

My favorite thing: the sponges at the run aid stations. Someone had the foresight to put ice in the sponge water. I passed on the first station, because it is placed so close to the start of the run. I never need a drink at that point having topped off on the bike. The next station was at Kapiolani Community College, and that was where I found the ice cold sponges. Having just climbed Monsarrat and at the threshold of overheating, the cold was the perfect setup for the run down 18th and Kilauea. Next opportunity was at Elepaio, and again I felt terrific for at least the next two minutes. The heat really set in on the way up Diamond Head, and sadly the organizers did not put an aid station there. I was planning to stop at the drinking fountain halfway up the hill only to discover a lovely family had set up their own aid station at that point. One more at the top would have been perfection.

But I am ahead of myself.

My swim took just a little longer than my plan, but the GPS track from my new Garmin Fenix 2 has me covering 1,400 yards, whereas the course is supposed to be 750M. I know I did some zigs and zaps, and sure enough those show up on the map. But my Fenix has me turning around smack in the middle of the old Waikiki Natatorium. Roughly 180 feet beyond the actual turn buoy. Double that to 360 feet makes 120 yards extra out and back. That means I only swam 1,280 yards. Oops, that is still a lot more the 750M, which according to my conversion app is 820.209974 yards. Obviously I did a lot of zigging and zagging.

Last May at the Honolulu Triathlon I knew the swimmers starting in the wave after me would catch me before the turn around, because I am slow and that was a 1,500M swim. For Tinman I had similar expectations because I was in the first age group wave, the old folks. The young hot bloods were certain to come crawling over us at some point. I expected it to happen just before the turn around, and it did. For the Honolulu Tri my strategy was to stay outside -- to starboard -- to give the faster swimmers a straight line, then change course to port as I approached the buoy. My mistake then was to over correct, so that I ended up in the return lane and was forced to make a fast sprint to starboard. The Tinman course is too narrow to allow that. My goal was to stay in the middle of the lane outbound so that my usual zigs and zags would not carry me into the return lane on the port side or over the reef on the starboard side. I was sighting often and had no difficulty seeing the buoy or my landmarks, yet somehow I found myself once again over in the return lane. I believe that this time it was caused by currents. This part of the course is called the washing machine, and for good reason. I am sure I was pointed in the right direction, only the ocean decided to move me off to port.

None of the techniques I practiced for buoy turns came into play. As I approached the buoy I was engulfed in a thrashing school of eager young swimmers, some with panic clearly visible in their eyes. I went wide, then walked around the turn with by back against the wall. Once I was far enough past the swarm I set off again, but not before spotting another gray capper (my wave) clinging to the rocks, exhausted, assuring the lifeguard that all she needed was time to catch her breath. It looked to me like her day was over, and I allowed myself to feel a touch of pride that I was feeling quite good in spite of all the mayhem.

My main concern for the return leg was to stay out in the channel and not come in closer to shore, over the reef where the waves break. I breath on the right so I had picked out some landmarks to help me judge my progress, and was surprised to see quite a few people struggling over the reef. I was sighting on the twin tower high-rise I had used before and moving really well, then it seemed as if all forward progress stopped. That mean old washing machine. All I could do was keep swimming and wait. Apparently the same current that pulled me in on the outbound leg now spun me around. I felt a gentle knock on my hard, popped up, and found a lifeguard advising me to change course or be lost at sea. I thought she was wrong until I looked around. How did that happen? Looking at the map I would say they were right, I was swimming out to sea. So, mahalo to whoever that was.

About those lines on the map -- the Garmin only catches GPS radio when the HRM is out of the water, meaning when my left wrist is out of the water, and the signal pulse does not always arrive when my wrist is in the air. This results in a lot of rounding errors. What appear to be straight lines are in fact curves. For instance, that long, straight line to the finish was a curve starting out parallel to the shore, then gradually turning to starboard as I got closer to the buoy. Again, I wanted to stay out past the shoreline reef.

Here is the same map using satellite imagery. This was not taken on race day, but even so you can get an idea of where the reef is. The darker the color the more shallow the reef. Keep in mind that my Garmin placed the turn around well past the natatorium wall.

The bike segment went exactly according to plan. This is reasonable since I have been riding for years. My HR was higher than expected at the start while my RPE was much lower, so I just kept a brisk but comfortable pace towards and up Diamond Head waiting for my HR to stabilize. I had no problem maintaining around 18 m.p.h., which was a shock every time I glanced sown at my Edge 800 given the speed sucking headwind we normally fight against. The Tuesday Tantalus rides taught me to work harder on Heartbreak Hill right from the bottom. I stuck to my plan, pushing hard and even climbing out of the saddle for the last, steep section. I felt great. Even better was the little band of friends going crazy ringing cowbells and shouting encouragement. Not as wild as Alpe d'Huez thank goodness, but much appreciated.

Looking at the data from Training Peaks I especially like the constant spin (yellow) and the flat HR (red), signs of a well paced time trial. My goal was to push myself, and I held mid zone 4 or better throughout most of the ride, peaking at high zone 5 at the top of Heartbreak Hill. The grey shaded line is altitude, and the big "M" in the middle is Heartbreak Hill, out and back.

Training Peaks has some nice charts that let you see your data in a number of ways. Here is my HR By Zone chart, showing that I spent most of my time in zone 4 and going all the way up to 5C, at which point I was seeing stars.

A different view of HR data is given by the Peak Heart Rate chart. Here the X axis is time on a logarithmic scale and the Y axis is HR.

The last part furthest to the right is the long time I spent in zone 4 (136-144 BPM). Zone 5A (145-148) comes in at the 20 minute mark and as you move left you get into 5B (149-152) and 5C (153-158). For that two minute stretch -- roughly half the chart -- I was at or above 90% MAX HR; that is really kicking it. No wonder they call it Heartbreak Hill!

I have already said about all there is to say about the run. I started of really well. In the past my HR would spike as soon as I started running. This time it was under control. Credit all those bike-run brick workouts. The climb up Monsarrat was challenging, but still under control. I felt some pain at the top of my glutes, which is to be expected when running after a long hard bike ride so I was not worried about it. The fatigue started to appear at the bottom of the 18th Ave. - Kilauea decent. By the time I arrived at Triangle Park I felt overheated. As in heat stroke; nothing to laugh at. I adopted a run-walk strategy, all about cooling off rather than resting my legs. Actually, my legs were fine the entire run except for that tightness at the top of my glutes. Not so much as a twitch of a calf cramp.

My HR charts for the run do not look anything like the bike charts. My run HR By Zones chart shows I spent a lot of time in zone 3, which was my goal. I am surprised how much time I spent in zone 2.

My run Peak Heart Rate chart actually shows something desirable in an endurance event. Consistency. The Tinman is not a head-to-head race. Maybe for the elites, but not for me. The subtle shifts in pace that occur in a head-to-head race should not show up, and in this chart you can see I kept my HR within a fairly narrow range. Maybe I just need to get comfortable maintaining a higher HR. Maybe I can do something to get more speed from the energy I am expending.

Here are my planned and actual times and rankings, for my age group and overall.

Segment Plan Actual AG Rank (of 5) Overall (of 409)
Swim 0:20 0:29 5 403
Bike 1:30 1:31 4 333
Run 1:30 1:39 5 403
Overall 3:30 3:48 5 403

I see two important lessons to take away from this race. First, I need more practice at running in the heat. I know I was right on with my fuel and hydration. What I really need is more experience, to learn what I can tolerate without seeing devils dancing on the side of the road. Second, I need to settle into a swim groove a lot sooner, and swim a lot straighter. Practice, practice, practice.

The bottom line is that in spite of the heat I had a blast, and that is why I do this.

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