Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cranberry Sprint Race Report: Going fast.

After a whole season of races that take more than two and a half hours, it was really nice to have a race that I finished in just over an hour. That's not to say that I wasn't sore after this race or I didn't take a mondo nap. It's just nice to go fast and be done.

[Bikes racked, goggles checked, ready to race. ]

I had planned on it being a wetsuit legal race, but when I got there, the water temperature was 79 degrees. At that temperature, wetsuits are allowed, but you're not eligible for prizes. The swim was supposed to be a half mile. I had estimated that without a wetsuit, I'd probably finish in about 14 minutes.

Another change: I had decided to try out a different top this time around. Both my head coach and one of our assistant coaches race in the "running singlet" rather than the tri top, so I thought I'd give it a go (the tri top zipper sometimes chafes).
I started the swim on towards the front and on the left with all the other women in 30-34 and 35-39. When the horn sounded I started swimming hard. Quickly, I was out ahead of the mele. I could see about 6-7 girls ahead of me all swimming together, but I was mostly alone. Without my wetsuit the top swished around a bit in the water. Not a big deal, but my heart rate strap also came dislodged and started inching its way down my waste. Just at the final buoy, I saw another woman from my wave come up on my right. I held onto her as best I could, but she got out of the water about 5 seconds ahead of me. Paul was waiting for me on shore and told me I was less than a minute behind the leaders and in 8th or so place. My watch said 7:30. That swim was short! Afterwards the officials said it was closer to 0.3 miles.

[trying to get the heart rate strap back in place]

[I had pretty decent rack positioning, near the bike out, though a bit off to the side]

I beat the woman who overtook me in the swim out of transition by about 40 seconds, and successfully mounted my bike. The bike route was two loops of 5.5 miles, and it went pretty fast. On the first lap, I was passing people, but never sure if I was passing people in my age group. I saw a few 25-29, at least one 35-39, and I was pretty sure one 30-34. I did get passed by the elite woman toward the end of the first lap. On the second lap, all bets were off. I was passing people a lot, but I stopped even trying to keep track of age groups. I didn't get passed by any other women.

[heading out on the run]

Paul was waiting for me at T2. I asked him how many girls were ahead of me. He said he thought I was in 5th place (out of 30-34 and 35-39). Off I went. Got about 300 yards outside of transition and decided I really didn't need to be running in my visor. It was cloudy and misty out, no need to shield my face. So as we rounded the corner of the parking lot, I tossed it onto the fence post.

I got passed by a few men but mostly just focused on picking people off. At the one mile mark, I saw a guy pull over and star to walk. As I made the pass, I reminded him, "Only 2 more miles, dude." He said thanks and started running again.

I got to the hill and saw a female runner up ahead of me. I forced myself to up my cadence and direct my eyes down at the pavement. Whew, made it to the turn (the halfway point in the hill), and I've gained some ground on this woman. Eyes down, cadence up, and we've cleared the top of the hill and come into the water stop. Just after the water stop, I caught up to her. I asked, "Are you 37?" She said, "yes, and you?" I told her 32. She said, "oh, well done then." I said, "you, too." She said she would have wished me luck even if I had been in her age group. Isn't that nice.

My next mark was a 50 year old man, but I just couldn't seem to pass him. I followed him all the way back to the park. Just as we were about to turn in, I finally catch him. The volunteer rightly tells us, it's about two tenths of a mile to the finish (I hate it when they throw out completely inaccurate numbers). And I try to squeeze out every last drop.

[my favorite shot from the race: the finish line, just after I had crossed it]

Paul tells me he thinks I was 4th in my age group. But I ask if that included 35-39 year olds, and he wasn't sure. We wait for Andrea and Rachel to finish up and snap this shot:

The results come in: 3rd place in age group. We find a dry spot in the tent for the awards, just as it starts to rain.
[Third place and looking pretty short on that podium]

It's not quite the win I'd planned, but I feel like I really went hard, and I'm very satisfied with the outcome.

Analyzing your results

I took 3rd in my age group yesterday at the Cranberry Sprint, and I'll post a full race report tomorrow. Today, I wanted to talk about analyzing race results.

You see, this morning, I awoke to find the full results from the race posted to Cool Runnings. I wanted to find out how my discipline times stacked up against the rest of the girls in my age group, but with the raw dump of results it's hard to figure out. You can use excel, but excel is, let's just say, not very graceful with this kind of data. I had to use a handful of tricks to massage the data to a usable format. Here's how I did it.

Just the basics

First, copy and paste. I usually paste results in as text (Using excel, 2007, from the Paste drop-down, select Paste Special, then choose Text.) Depending on how the data is organized it may pasted into individual cells. If not, from the the Data menu, use Text to Columns to quickly spread the data into columns.

I then use an autofilter to view just my age group results (from the home menu, select Sort and Filter, then Filter to add the filter). In the column labeled div (i.e., division), use the drop down to select just your age group.

Then I can sort by each discipline to see how my times stacked up. Sorting by swim, I see that I had the 5th fastest swim in my age group. By bike, I had the 4th fastest time, and by run I had the 4th fastest time, which led to my overall 3rd place age group finish. Nice.

With a race where each of the discipline times is under an hour, this works well. But try sorting by Tottime (Total Time) smallest to largest. You'll see the folks who completed the race in under an hour end up at the bottom of the sheet, not at the top.

Fixing times
Excel is looking at the times for the top 9 finishers and thinking they did a 50+ hour race, not 50+ minute. To fix this you need to use several time functions: TIME, HOUR, DAY and MINUTE. Here's the equation you can use (where E2 is the Tottime):


TIME takes 3 inputs: hours, minutes and seconds. Basically, this says, set hours to 0, set minutes to the hours field (plus days because the HOUR function doesn't return values great than 24), and set seconds to minutes. You can use this function for everyone in the top 9 in a separate column, then copy and paste-value to the Tottime field.

I use similar functions to this one to convert each of the discipline times, so they are comparable.

Fixing the rankings
Excel tries to be smart. When you enter 1/18 in the Div/Tot field (i.e., your rank within your age group), it reads that as the date Jan 18, 2011. This is probably helpful much of the time, but doesn't work when you're trying to show that a person was the first out of 18 in his age group. You'll notice for people in the top 12 of their age group excel is replacing the rank with dates, but after 12 it displays them properly. The short answer for how to fix this is:


Basically, this function first checks if the entry has been converted to a date, then it recreates the ranking as a text item. (There's also a little funny business in there about the year being outside of 2011.)

Cumulative time

Finally, I like to look at my positioning in the pack at relevant points in the race. Having fixed each of the discipline times above, I create a cumulative time exiting T1, entering T2, exiting T2, to see how I'm fairing versus the competition. It's pretty simple: Exiting T1 = swim time + T1 time, Entering T2 = Exiting T1 + bike time, Exiting T2 = Entering T2 + T2. I then graphed the resulting ranks in powerpoint (I'm in orange!).

You can see the first woman out of the water held onto her lead throughout the race. I came out of the water 5th, passed one person in transition and another on the bike to put myself in 3rd place, which I held onto for the remainder of the race.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cranberry Sprint Race Plan: The Encore

It seems like it was just last week I was planning for Age Group Nationals. Ok, it doesn't just seem that way. This weekend, I've got the sprint at Cranberry.

Every year since I returned from Australia, I've done the Timberman Sprint with my good friend Andrea. She and I did our very first triathlon together way back in 2005, so it's sorta special to get to do Timberman with her each year. This year, unfortunately, Timberman Sprint was scheduled for the same day as Nationals. Andrea competed in Timberman without me last weekend (and beat her previous best course time by five minutes!), while I raced at Nationals. We decided we'd need to find another sprint to do. Enter the Cranberry Sprint. We chose it because it was close enough to our A races that we wouldn't really have to train for it. In fact, since Nationals I have trained exactly once: a 20 minute or so open water swim yesterday.

I raced Cranberry Olympic last year. This year, I'm pleased to be doing the sprint because (a) it appears we'll be able to get it in before the hurricane hits (the olympic distance may not be so lucky) and (b) it's my only sprint for the season. Last year's Timberman plan was to have fun and go hard. Plan for Cranberry is the same. And add to that a win. We'll see how I'm feeling race day, but from this comfy couch, it certainly feels doable.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

USATAGN Race Report: My best meets the best

2:41:20. Not quite the 2:35, that I still believe I'm capable of, but still a PR by two minutes. The short story: bad swim, great bike, hit the wall on the run. Grab a snack, cause this recap may take as long as the actual race.

[Pigtails do not enhance my tough-guy, pre-race face]

Things that worked well:

Mantras. I mentioned how I used the "If you want to get faster, you have to go faster" mantra at Griskus. Here, I had a transition mantra: "Quick, but not in a hurry," and an overall mantra "Get behind me, Unbelief." You see, I had a lot of doubts coming into this race. Last week, Paul reminded me of this speech from a Notre Dame pep rally last year:

On the bike I'd been going back and forth with a guy on a yellow cervelo (my oxygen-deprived brain was really entertained by that phrase). At mile 10, I checked my average speed: 17.2. I started thinking, "Guess I'm not gonna hit that bike split either." And, then I realized that was just Unbelief talking. Get behind me, Unbelief. And while I'm at it, Get behind me, Yellow Cervelo. I passed the Yellow Cervelo and dropped him.

Nutrition. Followed the plan exactly (Clif bar at 5:30, gel at 8, 200 calories of heed on the bike, plus gels at miles 5 and 20, water on the run). And it worked great! No stomach distress despite the high heart rates.

Hydration. The new speedfil bottle worked like a charm. I had forgotten to bring the cap for it when I racked the bike on Friday afternoon. Saturday morning, there were a few bugs hanging out in there. I rinsed them out, and I'm pretty sure I got them all. I had pre-mixed my heed in a 24 ounce bottle, poured that in, then topped off the the speedfil with another 10 oz or so of water. This worked surprisingly well, the heed and water, didn't completely mix, so as I drank, the solution got less sweet, which was refreshing. It also meant, I got more calories earlier on the bike. I was so well hydrated out on the run that I peed myself. Generally, I would think it a failing to not make it to the bathroom, but in triathlon, I'm actually sorta proud of it.

Hotel. Comfort Inn people let us stay an extra hour. I had set us up for a 1pm check out, but we didn't make it back from the course til 1:20. We came in prepared to plead and bitch and moan, but instead they just told us to take our time, which meant I got to have a shower before the long drive home. Win! Especially considering the last bullet point.

Things that didn't work so well:

The swim course. It was a big fail, not just for me, but for a majority of the athletes. I think a few things went wrong. First, I'm pretty sure that the course we swam was different to the one we planned. As best I could tell, here's the difference: The turn at the third buoy was much more acute than it had looked in the course map. Second, making that turn, you started swimming directly into the sun. When I came around the third buoy, I couldn't find the fourth buoy. I even breast stroked for several strokes trying to spot it. No luck. The pack I had been swimming with was getting further away from me, so I decided I should just follow the pack, but I kept looking up and trying to spot that fourth buoy. Finally after another 60 strokes or so, I switched back to breast stroke, and finally located the fourth buoy WAY OFF TO MY RIGHT. Ugh. Not much USAT can do about the blinding sun, but they could instruct their watercraft to help people make that turn. Why they weren't steering people back on course, I don't know, but it was very frustrating.

Speedfil. I lost a screw on the speedfil, and it rattled for much of the ride. Also, I had set up the straw too short. Each time I went to drink, my visibility went down to about 15 feet in front of me. Not ideal

The run. The first two miles, I reeled people in. Ran a little better than 8 min miles with a super steep first half mile. But after that, things started getting harder. My legs felt heavy, and the miles were just so far apart. Worse still, when we had ridden the course the day before, we hadn't gone all the way out to the turnaround, we thought we had, but no. So the run just kept going and going. At the final water stop near 4.5 miles, I walked through it. I picked it back up again, but my pace suffered. My heart rate was consistently around 190.

With nutrition and hydration squared away and weather out of control, what can I do to improve run performance? It's still an endurance race. I need to find the right balance of bike to run.

If I want to do a 2:35 (assuming 25 minute swim, 5 minutes of transition), then I need to average 18.8mph on the bike and 7:20 min miles, or 19mph and 7:30s.

One thing that did seem to work: form on the run was looking good even in the final shot:

Warm ups. I had a solid hour between when transition closed and when my wave went off. I did a quick warm up and some dynamics just before transition closed, but then sitting around for an hour seems like not the best thing. Any suggestions here?

PS. Only burned 1600 calories out there. I still don't understand what "workout" that fitbit person was doing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

USAT Age Group Nationals Race Plan: Here we go

Well it's finally come together. The final touches have been put on the bike. The bags are packed. The list of morning items is complete. Here we go.

I've been thinking about and planning for this race for over a year. Since they announced the AGNC would be in Burlington. I watched some of my teammates compete for spots in Team Australia in 2009, and I've been wanting to get to go to the US champs ever since. With all this time to ruminate, the pressure had really been getting to me. Earlier this week the stress was making me feel like I might come down with a cold (and I'm not the only triathlete who experienced this). But after some good talks with my teammates and coaches, I'm feeling confident and rested, if not relaxed going in.

Last year, when I told my coach I wanted to go, I believe her first response was "those girls are fast." Now, 36 hours away, I'm thinking they better be fast if they're gonna help me get a PR.

Other than all the bike changes (a detailed list follows for your amusement), I'm planning a similar strategy to Mass State. Same nutrition plan, with a bit more fluid on the bike. Temperatures are only slated to be 72 by the time I finish, so I shouldn't have the same heat issues I had before. The swim is a strength for me, so I'm gonna try to use it to my advantage. On the bike, it's all about keeping people in my sights and hanging on. The woman I passed on the bike at Griskus will be at this race, so I'm gonna make it a goal to catch her again. The run will just be going crazy, pushing my limits and seeing what I can do. The Garmin has been acting up, so I won't have pace readings on the run, but I will still have my Polar. Go hard and go fast. That's it.

How to get a tri bike a month before your A race:

  • Decide you want a tri bike, 29 days before the race
  • Get the bike from your coach, 23 days before the race
  • Ride the bike for 40 miles and discover the computer is set up for 700 wheels instead of 650s, so the speed and distance are off (also swear that you will never ride that saddle again), 21 days before the race
  • Try to schedule a fitting at your favorite bike shop, only to have them tell you they can't fit you in til 5 days before the race, 19 days before the race
  • Schedule a fitting at another bike shop for 18 days before the race, 19 days before the race
  • Work from the road, so you can go to the shop for the fitting, only to find out that you've been double-booked and they won't be able to fit you for another week - But will give you the $300 fitting for the trouble, 18 days before the race
  • Take the aero pads off the bike to allow them to dry in the house rather than the basement after getting drenched, only to realize that I had separated the pads from the velcro, 18 days before the race
  • Order replacement pads online, 17 days before the race
  • UPS loses the pads, call the vendor to call UPS, discover that it's going to take a week to look for the package before they'll send you out a replacement, 14 days before the race
  • Attempt to change the wheel size in the computer only to discover that the you have to hook up the bike computer to a real computer to reset it, 14 days before the race
  • Go to the fitting, replace the stem, the saddle, add rear cages, replace the aero bars because the ones on there aren't adjustable (briefly consider taking the bars off the old bike to put on the new bike, until you're told the ones on the road bike are probably too short anyway) (briefly get excited that you at least have replacement aeropads that you could use with the new bars, only to discover profile designs changed the design), 11 days before the race
  • Decide to get a speedfil instead of using the rear cages, call around to many and online retailers because they are about to launch a new model so nobody's got the old model, find an old model, then order the seat-tube-mount-adapter kit online because your bike doesn't have a downtube bottle mount, 10 days before the race
  • Cancel the lost order for replacement aero pads, 10 days before the race
  • Call to see if you can pick up the bike, no, you cannot, 9 days before the race
  • Have your boyfriend rent you race wheels, 9 days before the race
  • Call at noon (might not be ready til tomorrow), at 4 (he's working on it now), at 5 (eh, probably another 90 minutes) to see if you can pick up the bike, finally at 7:30pm, pick up the bike, 8 days before the race
  • Get a mile away and realize the bike shop didn't give you back the old saddle, aero bars, etc, turn around and go back, 8 days before the race
  • Attempt to afix the new waterbottle with the seat-tube-mount-adapter, only to discover that the cage you have actually doesn't fit with the adapter, 8 days before the race
  • Freak the fuck out, 8 days before the race
  • Boyfriend contacts speedfil, gets them to send out another cage that will fit with the adapter, 8 days before the race
  • Take the bike out for a 25 mile loop, ooh, it feels so good, but I'm so thirsty, 7 days before the race
  • Decide I'm just going to have to replace that bike computer cable if I want accurate speeds, so order it too online, 7 days before the race
  • Bike computer cable arrives, 4 days before the race
  • Race wheels are attempted to be delivered, but no one is home to sign for them, have them redirected to a kinkos, 4 days before the race
  • Have an awesome send off dinner with the team, 3 days before the race
  • Pick up the wheels, 3 days before the race
  • Take wheels into yet another bike shop to have the cassette swapped over, 2 days before the race
  • Receive the water bottle cage and finally successfully mount the water bottle with limited water spilled, reset the computer to 650 wheels and put the race wheels on, 2 days before the race
  • I think that's it. I think I'm actually completely ready, and I've still got 36 hours!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fitness Marketing Hall of Shame

I came across this image on the fitbit website site, and it was just so ridiculous I had to comment on it. Fitbit is a pedometer that wireless connects to the internet uploading steps, distance and calorie burn information. So far, so good. They also have a website where you can enter additional information about what you're eating and your exercise routines. Also great - what gets measured gets done.

And then they have this copy: 80 calories in lunch, 2154 calories burned in work out. WTF. Who has an 80 calories lunch? Who does a workout that burns 2154 calories after that 80 calorie lunch? Let's put this in perspective, that apple she's holding, that's about 95 calories. Her lunch would need to be less than one apple. When was the last time you got most of the way through and apple and thought, "Whew, I'm stuffed!" I burn about 2000 calories in an olympic distance triathlon. I eat way more than 80 calories during that race. And, let's remember that this is a pedometer, used primarily for walking. I would need to walk 10 hours to burn 2000 calories. How many curls do you think this model would need to do with her 2lb dumbbells to get to 2000 calories?

The problem with this copy is it sets unreasonable expectations. I'd imagine the core demographic for fitbit are exercise newbies. One of the most challenging things about getting fit is understanding how much you burn and how much you take in. If you've bought a fitbit, it seems like you're really interested in gaining that understanding. But, then their website tells you that you should be having an 80 calorie lunch and burning 2000 calories at the gym. Either it will make your estimates totally off (that salad must have been less than 100 calories - it's a salad, afterall!) and you will not see the results you expect, or it will make you feel bad that you only burned 300 calories on that elliptical at the gym.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


One week from right now, I will have completed my first showing at the Age Group National Champs. At the moment, however, it's all about the pre-race jitters. I am constantly thinking about this race.

Two weeks ago, I tweaked my ankle. I'm not exactly sure what's up with it. I rolled it during a hill workout, and two days later it started hurting on my track workout. It's generally fine to walk on, only when there's significant impact does it get sore. I've been ginger with it since then, and it's improved, but it's not 100% back. I'm a little suspicious that it might be another shin splint, just much lower. I'm not worried about running on it next weekend. I will run on it, but it's definitely impacted my training the last two weeks.

Then we've got the bike. After my last race, I decided I needed to get a proper tri bike. Conveniently, my coach has been looking to sell her old tri bike. Best practice, of course, is not to change horses two weeks before the race. But then again, I'm not gonna get any faster over the next two weeks, but on this bike, I will go faster. There are lots of details that come with changing the bike: getting it fitted, replacing the saddle (ouch!), replacing the aero pads when I separated them from the velcro, trading out the aerobars for adjustable ones, returning the new aero pads since they don't fit the new aero bars, installing a new water bottle system, realizing the new water bottle cage will not fit on the new bike, replacing the power meter cable so I can change the wheel diameter in the device so I can have accurate speeds on the bike, renting race wheels (hooray, birthday presents). Each on their own is a small tweak, but taken all together, they begin to feel like there's no way I'll be ready to race on this entirely different machine.

Finally, there's the race goal. I had been hoping to come top 25. For one thing, last year, there were 55 women in my age group, so coming top half doesn't seem unreasonable. Also, Nationals qualifies you for Worlds. There are 18 spots for each age group, rolling down to the 25th place finisher. Worlds are in Auckland next year. So if I got offered a spot, I would go.

This year, however, there are 97 women in my age group (so far). Where did all these ladies come from? Upon registration, you are asked to submit an estimated finish time. Of the 71 athletes who submitted them, I would come 51 if I hit my target. I was feeling good with my performance at Griskus, but it's occurred to me that perhaps New England is not the hotbed of triathlete competition I had thought it was. So, I started googling people who I might have raced before. The first one comes up with a news article "Local Triathlete Heads to Kona." Ok, maybe that was a fluke. The next one was a 3rd place finish at Duxbury last year. Sweet, I won that race, so I'm feeling good. Oh, wait, that was 3rd place female, not age group. She beat me by several minutes.

Thinking about the competition out there sorta makes me queasy. So new goal: PR. My current PR is 2:43:05, set at Cranberry almost exactly a year ago. I've improved my run substantially since then, and the Cranberry ride is long. If everything went to plan, I think I should have a 2:35 in me. I'm putting Auckland out of my head and focusing on having best race I can and letting the fastest in the country push me.

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