Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Race Report Buzzards Bay 2015 -- José Alvarado

Ah, Buzzards Bay. This race was special for me. For those that don’t know me well, here is a brief history of my involvement with sports:

1983–2006: I avoided all sports at all costs
2006–2013: I started dabbling on-and-off in hiking, casual cycling, easy swimming, speed skating, and cross-country skiing
Summer 2014: I joined the MIT Triathlon club and started training at age 30
Sep 2014: Buzzards Bay sprint (1:35:24)
Apr 2015: Season Opener sprint (1:16:30)
Aug 2015: Cranberry Trifest olympic (3:10:39)
Sep 2015: Buzzards Bay sprint
Oct 2015: Cape Cod half-marathon

So as you see, racing Buzzards Bay 2015 was an important benchmark for me. I had a clear goal: to do better than Buzzards Bay 2014! Now, I’m not a competitive person at all. I recognize others have many more years of training. But I can absolutely enjoy racing against my past self. I’m a generally positive person, and I firmly believe that many years— even decades!— remain before I reach any sort of “peak” in my life. I always learn, evolve, and improve and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past two triathlon seasons as a way of broadly advancing mind, body, and soul. So Buzzards Bay 2015 is my first opportunity to cleanly quantify this advancement. How did I do?

2014: 1:35:34.3
2015: 1:28:42.9

Indeed, success! Seems I shaved 6:51 off my last race. When I glowingly boasted to my loving and supportive husband, his reaction: “hmm, so after a whole year of consistent training, you improved by only seven minutes?” Ha! (Note that an understood irony playfully accompanies his statement: he himself has not and could not currently finish a triathlon. Our relationship thrives on our mutual ability to produce self-defeating sarcasm, cf. the art of chindogu.)

What does bug me though, is that it turns out that the 2015 times did not include the mini-run, whereas the 2014 times did. I don’t know why. Accounting for this blunts my 6:51 reduction to only 3:44.

But “only” ~four minutes? Triathlete please! I know well enough that I am in the “well, at least he tried” stratum of my competitive age category. But I remain 100% proud of my accomplishments. Besides, digging through the data, it turns out I mostly wasted time dawdling in transition. I still improved my pace on all three disciplines. And I yet have room to learn and grow, which is what I thrive on most. Here are the lessons I learned:

2014: 2:33 per 100 yd
2015: 2:18 per 100 yd

Technically, I improved my swim performance. But I expected to do better. My 2:33 pace from last year reflected how bad I was at open-water swimming. I couldn’t swim straight. I couldn’t sight well. My stroke technique was sloppy. I lost my breath, panicked, and frequently reverted to back- or breaststroke. Training over the last year yielded great results: I vastly improved my stroke technique with Coach Bill. I trained more frequently in open water. I’ve increased speed. I can swim longer distances. I’ve learned to breathe on either side. I sight more efficiently. Based on all this training, I expected big gains. In fact, I raced my first olympic distance triathlon a few weeks ago at Cranberry Trifest. There, I swam 0.9 mi at 1:57 per 100 yd. That was a very satisfying performance! But there I swam in a calm, freshwater lake, and began on a gentle time-trial start. Meanwhile, Buzzards Bay was a feral mass start. I did everything wrong: I positioned myself toward the front of the pack and rushed. I pulled and kicked as fast as I could to get ahead but soon my body felt a shock from the sudden sprint. And while swimming away from shore to buoy 1, I breathed in a healthy mouthful of seawater, had a coughing fit, and panicked. The following several minutes were torturous. I alternated between freestyle and kicking on my back to regain breath and nerves. But by buoy 2, I recovered my rhythm and felt better. I did a great job sighting buoys and was able to swim straight. I didn’t push it, to prevent another panic, but I regained a healthy pace and passed some of the slowest swimmers. Lessons learned: Position myself at the back of the pack and let the beasts at front duke it out. Warm up gradually at the beginning of the race and conserve energy for a bit, and then ramp up effort. Importantly, do not kick hard! Or it’s also possible to use a two-beat kick, which I only remembered was an option as I was finishing up the swim.

2014: 3:03.9
2015: 3:06.9

I spent ~15 sec while emerging from the water to unzip the top of my wetsuit with the idea that this will shave off some time on the mini-run. Ha.

2014: 3:34.5 
2015: 4.53.8

My focus was to improve pace in the three disciplines, not necessarily to micro-optimize transition. OK, OK, a 5-minute T1 is one of those guilty pleasures that compares to a 40-minute hot shower. But I allowed myself indulgence after that swim.

2014: 17.9 mph
2015: 19.1 mph

Consider that I do not have a road bike. I always mean to save up and buy one, but I spend way too much of my money on travel. (That and Fluevogs.) Also, I am very happy with the Jamis Coda Sport I own. It’s a sturdy hybrid bike that does everything, including commuting, bad roads, and heavy loads. But it is heavy. It is not optimized for top speed. It doesn’t even have drop handlebars! So I’m really pleased that I broke 19 mph on this clunker— especially considering that I cannot stop enjoying the beautiful landscape around me rather than zeroing in on a target to pass. Clearly, training has helped: coffee rides, spinning, hill repeats, leisure rides, and daily commuting all continue to make me stronger. Lessons learned: Keep it up! In the winter, I will continue to commute. I’ll keep attending— and also leading!— spin class. But I find rides on icy roads are unenjoyable and dangerous. Instead, I’ll return to TRX strength training. This will also help with my favorite wintertime cross-training activities: speed-skating (with Bay State Speedskating) and cross-country skiing (with friends, sometimes on my own). I might get my act together, too, and finally buy a road bike for the next season. But I still feel my most worthwhile gains come from improving my body’s performance and strength, not in purchasing expensive gear.

2014: 1:19.0
2015: 2:28.7

I needed extra time because this year I decided to put on socks in T2, not T1. Next time I may just forego socks entirely.

2014: 8:22 per mi
2015: 7:44 per mi

OH YES. The run went just the way I wanted. Breaking 7:45 is a great milestone for me. I felt great throughout the entire run. My form felt spot on. I maintained high cadence. I was mindful of firing my glutes, raising my knees, and elongating my legs. I often recalled Coach Bill’s advice to lean forward from my ankles. That said, I still find it non-trivial to feel out the right 5k pace. (Contrast this to my ongoing half-marathon training, where I quickly learned that a 9:00 pace is comfortable and sustainable.) I do want to push it and run hard. But three things prevent me from going all out: 1. I don’t want to exhaust my energy too early. During 3–5 mi runs, I too often forget to pace myself, and my split times slow down by 20% or more over the course of the run. 2. I race to do something healthy for my body, not to destroy it. Running can easily lead to injury. I often choose safety over speed. 3. I don’t want to trigger breathing problems. They happen when I alternate between running very hard and recovering, particularly on either cold or hot, humid mornings. Sometimes my chest tightens (asthma). Sometimes my sinuses get stuffed up. So, as before, I finished this run thinking “what if I pushed it a little more”? Then again, I’ll happily take an injury-free 7:44 pace. It also compares well to the 9:01 I pulled at Cranberry. Lessons learned: Train more strength. Keep pushing it on short runs. Determine what my 5k pace should be. Keep practicing running form. Extend my legs further. (I’ve recently started stretching once an hour at my desk. This should help.)

  • Half-iron triathlon: cross the finish line
  • Marathon: cross the finish line
  • Open-water swim races: find comfort racing in open water, ~1:45 pace over ~1 mi
  • Olympic triathlon: ~1:50 swim pace, ~8:00 run pace
  • Buzzards Bay 2016: iron out transition wrinkles, ~1:45 swim pace, 20+ mph bike (preferably with my clunker for benchmarking), 7:00–7:15 run pace
Finally, as much as this report and journey has been inwardly focused, I couldn’t have done it at all without encouragement and guidance of the fine folks around me at MIT Triathlon. It was a pleasure racing with Sam, Brian, Jordan, Lisa, Cheng, and Alex. Furthermore, I’ve enjoyed training with everyone on the team so far, and look forward to continue alongside veterans and newcomers alike.

Time (2014 → 2015)
Pace (2014 → 2015)
14:53 13:26
(2:33 2:18) per 100 yd
3:03.9 3:06.9

3:34.5 4.53.8

46:51 43:58
(17.9 19.1) mph
1:19.0 2:28.7

25:55 23:58
(8:22 7:44) per mi
1:35:34.3* 1:28:42.9**

*includes mini-run     **does not include mini-run

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