Sunday, July 13, 2008

Perfect Paces Make Perfect Races...

I only want to say, "Let it be known that I do on rare occasions actually race triathlons, versus simply writing about training and taking pictures."

So going into the first race of the season for me, I was thinking about the phrase "Perfect paces make perfect races" a lot. I decided I wanted this race to simply be a dress rehearsal for the pace I would like to hold for the 70.3 race I'm signed up to do in October. As such even though my first race of the season was a sprint which would normally be a license to push as hard as I possibly could, I decided I would work on a little self discipline and maintain more moderate intensity levels. I set some heart rate goals and wore a monitor to insure I stayed within my preset limits for each event. I also would not use the big ring on the bike unless my cadence got above 110 RPM. So basically no big ring, no mashing of gears, and no heart rate above 157. This heart rate is about 10 beats below aerobic threshold so I would be able to sing while racing if asked. Fortunately for all concerned, I wasn't asked.

What did happen however was that as I was stretching prior to my swim start one of the race volunteers saw me do a Deep Prayer Squat, which is basically squatting down between your knees, with the feet remaining flat on the ground and your bottom as close to the ground as it can go without falling over. You can bring your hands to a prayer position and use your elbows for some leverage against the shins to really open things up. So anyway, the volunteer came up to me and asked me about the stretch so, I explained its benefits of opening the hips, loosening the shins and ankles as well as being a nice stretch of the piriformis muscle. At which point, he proceeds to tell me, and I'm not kidding you, the stretch reminds him of a jingle on a kids TV show in the 50s that went something like, "Plunk your magic 'twanger' Froggy!"

Now I don't know about you, but that was probably the last sentence I expected to hear come out of his mouth. Now understanding the context of this reference, I can honestly say I find it a little bit funny. But I have to admit before learning of the phrase's meaning, I thought it was some sort of secret agent code signifying a shared agenda. You know like, "Don't eat the red strawberries." And then you respond, "Of course, everyone knows they taste better when they are blue."

And if that first meeting wasn't funny enough, this eager volunteer proceeded to greet me with said secret phrase each time I entered or left the transition area as well as at random spots on the race course if I happened to go by. I do have to admit it did help to break the single minded focus that can be a two edged sword on some multi loop courses.

So at any rate overall I think my race went pretty well. I maintained a very even effort from start to finish that felt "quick" though not fast, and gave me a sense of the type of pace I want to have in my first 70.3 attempt. The swim went really well for about the first 75 meters or so to the first turn. In fact I felt so good I actually sprinted out to the first buoy and backstroked around it in a flash. It was so quick and I saw so much open water in front of me I sort of freaked for a second. Then I settled into my stroke but for some reason I was having a really hard time sighting the buoys to the next turn so I had to breast stroke to get my bearing a lot more than I would have liked. (To be honest I would have liked to have not breast stroked at all). But it was what it was and after the awesome start I was a little disappointed with my swim time -- it was off by about a minute and a half of what I'd predicted. I pretty much assumed I was well behind everyone else in my age group at this point. But given my meager swimming this year, I was happy to be swimming at all.

My transition was uneventful, except for the volunteer screaming about "Froggy." I opted not to attach my shoes to my pedals so I didn't really have any issues mounting and riding. The ride was pretty flat but it was a little windy. I kept my cadence at about 100 and my heart rate as averaging 155. About a third of the way into the ride I started noticing I was riding my way up into the age group ahead of me. By the turn I had ridden well into the next age group also. I was feeling pretty good on the bike and it was cool passing all these folks even though I was also remaining deeply aerobic.

I came into the transition area with two guys in the age group just before mine. The bigger of the two took off like a rocket, while the other opened up a 30 meter gap which would hold to the turn around. Off the bike my legs felt OK but my turnover was a little slower than I would have expected. But I just kept telling myself that I wasn't running distressed and that soon that idea should creep into my legs. Just before the turn around it did. At this point the challenge became not speeding up but slowing down to keep my heart rate goal. I caught the first guy I left the transition with and then started passing anyone in sight at will. I came across the line with a lot left in the tank and feeling pretty good.

I have never done a race at completely aerobic pacing so the feeling of not being spent at the end of a race was new though not unwelcome. I must say it was really hard to let some folks go and stay focused on my larger goals. But I learned a lot from it and I do feel like the workout/race made me a stronger triathlete in a couple of ways. The biggest is the sense that I race for me and my own reasons. Not to prove anything, or beat someone. I can race just for me and that too is satisfying. And I did learn there is some truth in the whole "Perfect paces makes for perfect races" thing.

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