Many of you know I’m a highly competitive person, which lends itself well in…competitions. By some stroke of genetic luck I’ve passed this competitiveness to my oldest daughter Sarah. The same day I was racing Tri for Real Olympic distance triathlon she was racing the 400m and 100m in her first track meet. This was an impromptu decision and took some coaxing from her parents. Sarah was concerned she had not prepared for the race and may not win, or worse finish last. I explained to my uber competitive daughter that the purpose of the race was just to try something new, and focus on controlling what only she could control which is her effort.
This leads me to Tri For Real Olympic distance triathlon this past Sunday. This race would be the culmination of a focused 14 week block of triathlon training. I’ve definitely been in better individual run shape, individual swim shape, and maybe individual bike shape, but I’ve never felt this good in terms of pure swim, bike, run triathlon shape. I was rearing to go and my goal was to smash myself. After Folsom International, I recovered well, maybe too well which left me wanting to push my limits more. What I didn’t know coming into this race was the field would be stacked. I put down my best Olympic distance time and it was good enough for 11th place overall, 3rd in my age group.
At first this didn’t sit well with “Competitive Manny”…and then I remembered my conversation with Sarah. All I had control over was my effort and I put down the best swim, bike, run race I’ve ever done. Put into further context, this was after a three year layoff from triathlon. It’s really easy to define success in a narrow, rigid, cold, and binary manner. Getting 11th place was probably the best thing for me, as it reminded me to redefine success. Success is getting the best out of yourself within the context of your life. Tri for Real was a massive success. Enough musing, on to the race details!
The Rancho Seco venue is desolate: settled east of Galt surrounded by barren land, yet somewhat of an oasis. As you approach the park, you can see it’s two decommissioned nuclear power plant towers. The lake we swim in was the back up cooling system for the power plant. **Insert jokes here** The run course is all on exposed trails around the lake. Nor Cal was experiencing its first heat wave of the year and temperatures were predicted to be in the 90s by run start. This was a slight concern for me, so I made sure to bring two bottles on the bike just in case I lost one and I grabbed an extra electrolyte gel for the bike and run. I also filled my Yeti tumbler with ice and a small towel for the transition area. This was especially helpful post race.
I’ve been struggling to translate my swim fitness/training to open water swimming, so I decided to change up my warm up. My best swim sessions in my training have come after a morning long run. Also, I traditionally do a good warm up/pre-main set in my swim workouts. Therefore, I got in the lake about 20 minutes before the start and swam 7 minutes which is about 5 minutes more than I usually do. This definitely helped get rid of the pre-swim nerves, initial shock, and loosened me up. I was in the last wave which started at 8:10am, so I knew there were going to be a lot of bodies to pass, which was nice as misery loves company. I definitely felt better in the swim because of the warm up. I ended up swimming just under 22 minutes. It’s really hard to compare swim times to other courses because it’s notoriously hard to measure swim courses and the conditions vary. It was definitely my best Olympic distance swim. I had the 7th best swim for the guys who ended up in the top 15 overall. Also, I was about 2 minutes behind a former NCAA D1 swimmer, so I feel great about this swim.
My bike training has been the best that I can remember. I invested in a Wahoo Kickr last winter and it’s the best training tool I’ve ever bought. It’s allowed me to be incredibly consistent with my bike training. In hindsight, I probably did too much indoor riding and not enough outdoor riding. The Rancho Seco bike course is flat and fast. You’re in the aero position 90% of the time. The course favors people who can push big power and who ride aero machines. I was measured, weighed, and found wanting. I got smashed, but I rode according to my ability. I ended up with a normalized power of 275 watts, which is about 92-94% of my FTP. Here is an interesting question to the scientist (talking to you Greg Watkins and Eric Ayers). After the race, I found out that I rode almost the exact same power as a fellow competitor but he rode over 2 minutes faster than me. How does that happen? I know aerodynamics is a big component. My theory is I didn’t carry my speed effectively. My stock compact crankset (52) did not do me any favors. I was struggling to find rhythm in my 2nd to largest gear. I ended up with the 13th fastest bike split from the guys in the top 15. I can’t be upset about this because again I rode to the best of my abilities, and I learned a lot. I need to do more outdoor riding in the aero position, revisit my bike position, and buy a new crankset as I’ve outgrown my compact.
Coming off the bike and after my first few steps, I knew I had not sandbagged the bike. My legs felt heavy and I had a sharp pain in my left glute, thankfully not debilitating, just annoying. The run course was undulating. The elevation gain is actually similar to Folsom International except at Rancho Seco the elevation gain is dispersed throughout the course more evenly. I always talk about overcoming the first mile and I proudly did it again and felt better much better during the middle miles of the 10k run. I was hitting 6:30 mile splits and passing a fair amount of people. The temperature was much cooler than anticipated. I started the run in 76 degrees and finished in 82 degrees. My 41 minute run split was 7th fastest.
My total time was 2:08:13 which is a personal best at the Olympic Distance. The level of competition at this race was impressive. There were 7 guys at 2:05 or better and the winner broke two hours. Like I said above, it could be easy for me to be dissatisfied with 11th place, but I performed according to my ability on the day and I learned a lot. Also, my body hates me right now, which is a good sign that I put out a more than fair effort. This was a fun and fast race. I’ll definitely be back next year. I’m ready for a mini break before my next race in September. Time to break out the mountain bike and boxing gloves.