Race Report: Montclair Sprint

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I didn’t want my first tri of 2017 to be the WIlliamsburg 70.3 in early July – both as it’s an A race and that’s a big distance to do without a swim-bike-run tune up. So the Thursday night before the Rev3 Montclair Sprint I decided to throw my visor in the mix and see what would shake out.

Much like last year when I worked towards a spring marathon all winter and then turned focus to multi-sporting spring/summer, I’ve had to shift gears after Boston. I only got back outside on Koopa Troop (my tri-bike) the weekend before Montclair and I’ve been trying to rededicate myself to swimming the last couple weeks. Happily Montclair is perhaps the closest-to-DC tri out there with the exception of Nation’s Tri so given my middling swim-bike prep at least the day felt low-key and logistically easy. And Josh and a number of my Speed Sherpa teammates would be there so friendly faces assuming I didn’t annoy Josh too much in the days leading up to race morning!

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of my legs but I was vaguely optimistic based on last year’s results that I could podium on what I believed was a flat and fast course if I had a good day. My optimism was slightly tempered when Josh broke the news that it was actually a pretty hilly course, (I have to stop assuming courses are flat just because I want them to be) but as I compared Montclair’s elevation chart with charts for Chattanooga, Rev3 Poconos 2016 (because of course this year the mountain-climbing there has been mitigated,) and the NYC Tri, I wasn’t intimidated. Maybe I’d be slower than I envisioned when I plugged in my credit card info but at least the race still felt low-pressure – nothing to soil my bike shorts over.

I tried to get all my water bottles ready the night before and made a checklist like Ellen taught me so the morning would be easy. After laying everything out I was in bed by 10 which is only an hour after I planned to be in bed so, I dunno, typical. At 4:15am the alarm began serenading me with musical theatre – I’ve been setting alarms lately with songs I really love to keep myself from snoozing, it actually kind of works – and I was up before the 4:16am alarm could sing. (To Scott’s delight on days I really need to get up I set alarms to go off every single minute for about fifteen straight minutes!)

I ran through my checklist several times confirming repeatedly that I had every item. I made myself a PB&J, loaded Koopa and all my checklist-triple-checked gear into Yoshi and hit the road for the easy 40 minute drive at 5am.

Here’s the thing about checklists: they only work if you make sure everything you need is on the list. Otherwise you wind up in transition only to realize you have no race belt i.e. no way of affixing your number to your tri kit. Luckily, Josh was there and whether or not I’d annoyed him in the race-preceding days, he was being very nice. He took my bike to maintenance to confirm that the pesky back wheel I’ve had such trouble with was indeed well-affixed to Koop, and then he tracked down a belt from Speed Sherpa teammate, Justin – all while I picked up my packet and used the porta. I imagine the feeling is far from mutual but I want to do all my races with Josh from now on! (In an allusion to my previous ponies and P3s piece, I felt like one of those stuck up horse kids who does nothing but the actual riding, handing off the animal to grooms and staff as soon as they’re out of the ring!)

Once properly-accessorized, wheels, race belt, and all, I set up my transition spot. I love the ground racks that Rev3 uses. They’re clearly marked with our names and numbers and they don’t discriminate against tiny bikes like KT. The hanging racks at most races are often so high his poor front wheel just dangles precipitously above the earth.

Set-up was quick and I was able to get in a 5 minute warm-up run before getting ready for the swim leg. Around 6:35am I switched out my sneakers for goggles and swim cap and headed down to the beach for a water warm-up before the 7am start time. The water was 82 degrees and so my no-wetsuit streak continues. Maybe one of these days I’ll invest in a skinsuit but my swim-to-bike transition is still so weak it seems silly to add more to do in that time. After a couple hundred meters in the balmy lake water we were called out for the anthem and race start.

Montclair asks athletes to self-seed which ends up working out exactly the way feminist/gender scholars would probably predict: the men all over-exaggerate their swim-pace while the women are more more self-effacing. I’ve been pulling down mid-1:50s/100m in the pool so I filed in behind the 2:00min/100m corral marker, knowing I would slow down in the open water.

As we approached the beach we were further parsed into pairs and then sent into the lake two-by-two, a pair entering every five seconds. I really liked this approach. It didn’t feel bottle-necky or aggressive. The woman I ended up with and I hit a pretty identical pace for around the first 100m at which point she pulled ahead. Josh’s race plan like always had commanded me to start strong and like always, I started pretty medium. I definitely could have dug in a little harder those first few moments, but in the water I always choose security over pushing too hard – I do not like the aquatic pain cave. I can hang out in pain on the bike and in agony on the run, but I’m still working on owning that discomfort in the water.

So I missed (didn’t even attempt) the aggressive opening but at least I got into a good rhythm quickly, and after some strong pool workouts the last couple weeks I was feeling pretty good – even taking the time to work on longer intervals between breaths and getting a good hip rotation and pull.

As I congratulated myself on what felt like a good(-for-me) swim pace I didn’t realize I was sighting the wrong buoy and managed to veer pretty wildly to the left down the first straightaway. After a few minutes I looked up and realized I was pretty far from any other swimmers and had to course-correct. I tried to drop the hammer some to compensate for my stupidity and got myself caught up with some other racers.

Here’s where my gender theory studies come in: As we rounded the first turn buoy, I started passing a good number of people, and almost every last one was a man. I think I passed two women the whole swim – one of whom was actually my time trial partner so I stand by my meek start since ultimately her bold opening was less sustainable than my steady pace. On the trip back to shore I passed many many men – many of whom were breast-stroking or back-stroking. I know (so well) that things go wrong and you have to adjust your plans during the race, but I don’t think that many of these dudes were really sub-2:00/100m swimmers who suddenly had to abandon their race plans to breast stroke through glass-smooth 82 degree water. I’m pretty sure they all just jumped in the front of the line regardless of their fitness.

Still, the time trial start had kept the course evenly-populated and I only had to really dodge a couple guys on my way in. If anyone got in my way in the back half of the swim it was me as I veered less-wildly but still-stupidly off-course again. In the end I swam 893m on what was supposed to be a 750m course. If I could learn to swim in a straight line and if I looked at the correct buoys I could have knocked a couple minutes off my 19:19 time.

I booked it back to transition – I always run T1 fast as I can to make up time – and was on Koop and heading out a mehhhh 2:50 later.

The bike takes off up a legit incline. I’d made sure to rack Koop in the correct gears thanks to Josh so I had a pretty strong ascent and got in front of a number of other climbers before we turned right onto the two loops that comprised most of the course. The whole thing is rolling hills.

There’s one pretty big one (well two since it’s a double loop) but none are too terrible – the only thing is that they don’t stop. The bike is pretty devoid of any extended flat stretches, so my winter-rusty shifting skills were put to the test. I appreciated having the two loops so that I could correct any mistakes I made the first time through. After my first ascent over the one big climb I got into my big rings and tried to stay there.

A few times I started to relax and ride too easy at which point I tried to mentally boot myself in the pants and tell myself that if I wanted any hope at a podium spot I had to heed Josh’s race plan to embrace the pain. He’d said on a short sprint like this I should feel like I was at 90% pretty much the whole way through – until the last 1.5 miles of the run where I should feel like I was at 100%. I was pretty successful in dropping the hammer every time I reminded myself to – that mental game is crucial, and I managed an 18.09 mph average over those hilly 12.1 miles. (Short even for a sprint!)

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After a pretty tight 1:03 T2 I hit the run which started up that same incline that opened the bike leg. I took it intentionally easy up that climb not wanting my heart rate to spike too early. It was starting to get quite hot and I was afraid if my BPM got too high right off the bat that I’d never get it back under control. Even holding back I passed a lot of folks and felt confident that I was in my best discipline. I thought even on this tough course I should be able to lay down a 23 minute 5k based on some really strong run workouts lately, so once I crested that first big climb I opened it up and settled into the low-7s.

I felt strong. It was hot as hell with very little shade, but I thought I could hang onto around a 7:05 or at worst a7:20 the whole way in. (On a bit of descent I even got sub-7 for a bit.) I kept reminding myself to stay at 90%, that it was only twenty minutes, and that I could definitely rock this level of exertion for twenty minutes.

A lot of the run mirrors the bike course and as I approached the big bike climb-cum-run-climb I tried to slow some and get my heart rate a little lower before the climb would surely spike it. I thought I knew what to expect from this hill since I’d biked it twice, but obviously it’s a lot longer on foot and about halfway up I realized I was in trouble. Most people were walking and I refused to do that, but I did slow down a lot.

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I tried to take deep breaths and urge my heart to pound a little less desperately but even as my legs slowed my BPM did not drop. By the top of the hill I was feeling dizzy and bad memories of Ironman Chattanooga started to take over my brain. I tried to physically shake them away grabbing water from an aid station around mile 2. I walked a few steps to sip it and then threw the rest onto my overheated noggin and started running again.

Those couple steps had brought me from the 180s back to the 170s and the worst was behind me so I tried to pick up the pace. We had a little bit of decline and I got my self back into the mid 7s/mile but quickly the rollers started back up and back up went my heart and back down went my pace. My right side had also started stitching which was making it really painful to lean into my gait. If Josh wanted me at 100% and in agony for the last 1.5 miles he was getting his wish – we had just both assumed that my 100% would be much faster than it was turning out to be.

Josh was working the last aid station where I grabbed water and gritted my teeth for the last .3 miles. I got back into the 7s once more and tried to hold on for dear life. A hundred meters before the finish line there’s a sharp switch back and then deep, slow, mean sand which robbed me of any plans to sprint in. I crossed the finish line with a 24:53 run and 1:28:10 overall.

No sprinting down the finish chute when it's composed of deep sand!
No sprinting down the finish chute when it’s composed of deep sand!

It was hot out but as Josh predicted, I recovered quickly from the short distance as I met up with several Speed Sherpa teammates who were congregated near the finish line. We chatted a bit and I got to meet a few folks in person who I’d only met online previously, so that in itself always makes a race worth it. It was Father’s Day and a lot of them were papas who had family brunches to get to, so once we made sure our whole team had finished we headed over to the results truck to get print outs of our times.

I knew I’d gone sub-1:30 and I was very happy with that in spite of a really slow 5k. What I hadn’t expected thanks to that slow run was that I could actually still podium, but as the computer spit out my stats I looked down and saw 2nd place in my division! I was pleasantly thrilled! As the Speed Sherpa dads headed off to celebrate their day with all their future triathlete progeny, I got some grub and waited around for the award ceremony.

(The finisher food was french toast which sounded fantastic, but as I took my first bite I realized what I should know by now: with the exception of wine, I don’t want anything sugary after I race. Gimme saltsaltsalt!)

At 10am Rev3 held the award ceremony. This is my 3rd podium ever but my first time actually getting to be there for the awards so I soaked it up. I wished Scott and the pups could have been there, but I enlisted the help of a kind stranger to be my impromptu photog so the moment can live on in social media infamy.

I hope this isn't the last time I'm up here!
I hope this isn’t the last time I’m up here!

 

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