Welcome to the second annual Trevor’s Apartment Sprint-ish Distance Triathlon! I started this race last year when I had planned to be in another race on the same day but had missed registration. So far I have been the one and only participant, which means I’m the champion two years in a row! I’m very honoured! Here’s a photo of my trophy….
The race is held in and around my apartment complex. Starting with a 1000m pool swim (because this week in my training calendar requires a 1000m time trial, so kill two birds with one stone), then an elevator transition to a 20km trainer ride, followed by a second elevator transition to a 5km run around the Vancouver seawall.
Now make no mistake, being the only participant doesn’t make this any less of a race. You don’t need people to race, you need an attitude to race! I look forward to this event for weeks. I am race-prep nervous the night before. I get “race bowels” the morning of. I hydrate, eat, prepare and most importantly, put in the very same kind of effort I would in any other “race”.
This is in every way a race. And so here’s my breakdown this year.
So triathlon is an interesting sports. It can be both cruel and rewarding, and it can be both at exactly the same time.
By the numbers, I improved my cycling time by a little over 3 minutes from where I was last year. This is great! I’ve been really focused on my cycling, and I consider 3 minutes over 20km a solid improvement.
But my run and my swim were negligible improvements (or no improvements), meaning my base training level this year (minus the cycling) is about where it was last year in these disciplines.
Or was it? Because in reviewing my heart rate numbers, I actually had to work harder in the run this year than I did last year. With an average heart rate of 180 bpm and cadence of 167 this year vs and average heart rate of 168 bpm and average cadence of 168 last year, my overall performance is actually worse than I was a year ago. And honestly that’s a bit disappointing.
So here are some thoughts on each segment, and where I go from here. Because dealing with disappointment is a very real and very important element of this sport, and in the end will make you better.
After a brief warm up I was pumped for a solid effort. I checked the time, set my watch, took a deep breath and pushed off hard for my first length. My triathlon had begun!
Now I have the same pattern in all three sports. I start off fast, I flail around for a bit, I flail around some more, I get a bit gassy, and then I settle. I would not recommend you follow this pattern, it is not a good way to race. But nonetheless that’s what ends up happening and the more I’m aware of it the more I can improve.
So this effort was no different. I started out splashing around like ‘Lil John in that Men in Tights movie when Robin Hood tried to “drown” him in the three inches of water. I’m sure I looked awesome ….
Swimming is a funny sport because you can’t see anything, can’t hear anything, can’t really feel anything, but you can drown. So it’s the most lonely and (in my opinion) the most likely in which you will die of your own inadequacy (I mean you could get hit by a car riding, but that’s different; there are less cars in the water). As a result of the “sensory deprivation” element, swimming gives me a lot of time to think--mostly about not drowning for the first bit, and then about life for the rest.
I know I’ve hit my rhythm when I stop focusing on every element of my stroke and just swim. Usually that’s between 200 and 300m in. Unfortunately, this time that was about 750m in. Three-quarters of the way through a 1000m segment is not an ideal time to “find your groove”. But that’s what happened in this race, and that's what I had to deal with.
Before that, I was an uncoordinated mess. My feet were doing this weird super fast kick thing. I couldn’t figure out my stroke timing at all, so I was sucking water, and I was again reminded at how bad I am at this sport when this elderly gentleman joined me in lengths and absolutely cruised by me over and over and over. I think he even passed me doing breast stroke at one point. I actually laughed about it, and then by laughing I inhaled more water. Top Tip: Do not laugh underwater.
Like I said, by 750m I had settled into a solid rhythm. My heart rate was too high, but it was manageable. For the last 250m my mind turned to the bike segment as I finished up the swim and prepared mentally for the next leg. I exited the pool, put on my amazing Team Unicorn Sparkle Adventure tank top and began my T1, sprinting through my apartment building like, well, the amazing triathlete I am.
T1 is hard because you’re wet. I’m pretty sure I tore my amazing running tights trying to heave them on over wet legs. My heart rate about 2 minutes in to T1 was still 165bmp. That is too high. But go time is go time. No smoothie breaks in T1.
I had a bit of technical difficulty and ended up riding for about 4 minutes unrecorded. I stopped, reset, and started again. I didn’t discount this time however because in every race I’ve been in I’ve had technical difficulties. Murphy’s Law is real. And Garmin technology always lets you down when you need it. But you know what? You need to prepare for that. Because if you’re 60km into Ironman and your watch craps out you don’t get to stop and get another one. If you rely on technology it will be let down. So use it, love it, and if it fails you don’t pay it a second thought and keep those legs turning.
The bike was great. I started fast and furious again and then settled down. I’m a weak cyclist, so my target was a heart rate around 155 bpm with a power output of about 105w. I managed about a 160 heart rate at 115w, so I stuck with it.
When I race I try and put the watch away for just this reason. I felt strong, my numbers were strong, and I wasn’t going to blow up. So 5bpm higher for a km or two/hour faster was worth it for me. My body could do it so I didn’t need a computer to tell me I couldn’t.
I had prepared an Inifinit bottle for the bike. I did my best to remind myself to drink regularly and not gulp. I know from experience that at a heart rate of about 174bpm my stomach stops digesting. The only thing worse that an empty stomach in a race is a full one that won’t digest, where everything just slops around. So it was imperative that as I pushed I stayed below 170bpm.
Easier said than done. In all of my events, whenever I change something up (like I drink, go to an aid station, even change position on the bike) my heart rate spikes. Being aware of this allows me to prepare mentally for these spikes. Slow breaths, calm the heart rate, switch position, drink, drink, heart rate spike, settle back down, repeat as necessary.
As I neared the end I pushed, and I pushed hard (well, for me). I really wanted to bring this bike in under 50 minutes, but it became apparent at km 19 that I wasn't going to make it. So in the last 500m I shifted to an easier gear and increased cadence substantially to flush the legs and get them ready to turn over in the run.
All and all, I was very pleased with this bike leg. And it shows in my time, my heart rate and my power output.
This was my first run off the bike since my last sprint triathlon in September, and it felt like it. But it also felt good.
Last year I really tried to keep this run in zone 2, which for me (at the time) maxed at 158bpm. I failed miserably. So this year I went on feel. I wanted to feel strong and cover the distance well, and not be gasping or hurting too much. Polished intensity, so to speak.
All of my events I try and run a “negative split”. The last half faster than the first half. In the run in particular, I want each km to be slightly faster than the last. I did a good job of this this year; much better than last year.
But my heart rate numbers show that I was working a lot harder than I did last year too. And that sucks, because I wasn’t really faster overall.
Now I’m not super concerned about that. My maximum heart rate has actually increased from 195ish last year to 201bpm this year, so a marginal increase in zone 2 heart rate is expected. But this race effort represented a substantial increase in heart rate over last year. And it felt like it. So of the three events, the run was probably most disappointing. Not because I didn’t go faster, but because I had to use more energy and work harder for very very limited gains.
So where do we go from here?
This was a great race. It really was. Even though some elements were disappointing, it gives me so much information to build upon, refocus, and adjust training as necessary:
- My swim technique needs more work. A lot more work. I need to find my groove early and swim smooth and powerful. Maybe I can recruit that elderly guy to be my swimming pace bunny.
- My bike is showing promise. I need to keep the consistency in my training up. Consistency will get me the biggest gains over the next few months, and I need the biggest gains on my bike.
- My run needs work, but the answer is not to go out and increase my mileage substantially. They key is to increase my consistency in training and that will show me an increase in speed and a decrease in effort. Guaranteed. I also feel that I would benefit from more long, slow efforts outside, and so I will add those back in to my regular training. I have faith, hallelujah.
So the most important lesson I can pass along? Go race!! You will not gain race knowledge if you just “train to race” all the time. And it doesn’t matter if you race yourself or race 1000 people. Set your attitude right, focus your mind, and you will come out with more information, experience and satisfaction than you ever could have imagined.
And hey, being back to back defending champ feels pretty damn good too.