Who is Ted?

I'm the father of two beautiful daughters and an amazing wife. For fun, I enjoy the long hours of seemingly endless suffering that endurance sports (mostly running, cycling and triathlon)provide. During my "down time" I'm an avid beer snob and self-described gourmet chef (in other words I like to burn things on a stove or grill).

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

HITS Sterling 70.3 Race Report

Start Here!
I set off from the aid station and back into the sunshine with three more miles to go.  The unrelenting sun had turned this part of the race into some bizarre and brutal torture test.   My watch read "5:30:24," and normally, I would feel just fine having an entire half an hour to cover the final 3.1 miles.  Normally.  But this afternoon wasn't normal.  After 12 minutes of running/ shuffling, I managed to make it to the aid station at 11 miles where two very friendly and helpful volunteers gave me ice, sponges and cold water.    Again I moved on.  A little less than 20 minutes later, I crested the final hill on the sweltering course.  From that vantage, I could hear the announcer's voice echoing down at the finish line. Down the hill I went, around a small bend, and up a final stretch of sidewalk.  Just like that,, I was crossing the finish line.  My watch read "6:05:58." Nowhere near my race goal, but I didn't really care because I had just finished my first half-ironman triathlon.
The HITS Sterling Triathlon was my "A" race this year, and it wound up being much different than I originally anticipated.  Back in January, I decided to register for HITS after its original location had changed from Galena, Illinois to Fort Collins, Colorado.  The course promised to be difficult given the mountainous terrain, but I was excited for the challenge.  However, the course changed again after one of the largest forest fires in Colorado devastated the mountains west of Fort Collins.  The new location in Sterling promised a flat, fast course, even if it might be a little hot.
Getting to and from this race required 500 miles of travel!
 Triathlon is very much a lifestyle, and folks embrace that to varying degrees.  But apart from the many fitness and health benefits that dedication to the sport creates, I also love many of the elements of racing triathlons.  Having a good race requires planning all the way leading up to, and through the event itself.  Off season training, a healthy diet, a multi-week/ month training plan, and a well thought out race plan are all components of this planning.  The successful execution of a race plan requires that you carefully evaluate and consider what you will do at each portion of the race.  In addition, you must have several contingency plans for dealing with the inevitable things that will go off-track during the race.  The longer the event, the more planning required.  In my opinion, all of that strategizing, before and during the race, is half the fun.   Looking back on the event now, as well as all of my planning, I feel like I was able to execute an effective strategy for this race.  And now, after this  unnecessarily long preamble, here is a report from my weekend of racing.
My triathlon checklist: Note the last item under "Other"
Friday, July 27th, 2012:  The training is done, and the packing commences.  Triathletes have a lot of gear and I'm no exception.  I always use a basic checklist for the gear that I plan on bringing and I modify that according to the race that I'll be doing.  For an "A" race, especially one of this distance, there is an unending combination of items to bring.  How many extra goggles? water bottles? What kind of nutrition?  Do I go with a hat or a visor?  So many, many small decisions that seem to have such an impact on race day.  But finally, by early afternoon, the car was ready and Melisa and I were on our way to Parker to meet up with my brother Paul, and his wife Tisha.  Unfortunately, someone thought it would be a good idea to do a lot of road construction . . . on the interstate . . . in the summer . . . on a Friday afternoon.  What normally takes about 80 minutes to drive stretched to nearly three hours.  Fortunately, a nice dinner at Armando's in Parker, soothed our nerves and our appetites!
The Packing Begins
Little Transition Area on the Prairie
Waiting for the start of the Race Meeting
Saturday, July 28th, 2012: After a good night's sleep and a leisurely morning, it was time to head to Sterling (139 miles).  The trip went quickly and before we knew it, we were driving through Sterling, Colorado.  I think it's the first time I've been back in this town (other than passing through) since I was a high school senior, twenty-three years ago.  When we arrived at North Sterling State Park around three p.m., it was hot.  We checked in at the pavilion and after reviewing our packets, I walked my bike up to the transition area.  We also went down to the reservoir to get a sense of the water temperature.  The lake at that moment seemed quite warm, and we were greeted by the site of two dead fish floating just off the shore.  Not exactly something you'd want to see before getting into the water!  At four o'clock the pre-race meeting started.  The race director,  Mark Wilson, explained all of the relevant details for the event.  When he welcomed us all to Sterling, there was a bit of chuckling and snickering from the group.  That seemed to stop when Mark pointed out how the folks in Sterling, particularly the Lion's Club, had been very generous in their support and volunteerism (more volunteers from Sterling than any of the other events to date this year).  While I understand that Sterling isn't the most exotic location for a triathlon, that is where the event was moved.  If folks are unhappy about it, so be it, but please use manners when visiting a guest in their home (Rant over).  Around five o'clock we left the venue and headed back to town to stay at the Comfort Inn, which is conveniently located between the Interstate and the Sterling Correctional Facility.  It certainly made for an interesting combination of people staying at the hotel (travelers, triathletes, and folks visiting friends and family who were being corrected)!
The four of us grabbed dinner at a local restaurant called Gallagher's River City Grill. They had a wide-ranging menu and I settled on a pasta with chicken, pesto, and fresh vegetables.  To top it off, Melisa and I shared a very delicious Apple crisp a la mode.  Then it was back to the hotel for final preparations and a good night's sleep (hopefully).
Considering Race Nutrition options at the local WalMart

Sunday, July 29th, 2012: A little before five a.m., I awoke and began to get ready for the race.  Overall, I had a decent night's sleep.  It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't terrible either.  For breakfast I had a banana and about half a bottle of Starbucks Frappucino, along with a bagel smothered with peanut butter and a touch of honey.  Conventional wisdom says that it isn't the best idea to consume much solid food before a race, but I didn't want to be distracted by hunger pangs coming from an empty stomach.  At any rate, this is pretty much my typical pre-race meal, so I figured I'd go with it.
Paul and I left for the race venue around 5:30 as the sun was rising and we reached the event with plenty of time to set up in the transition area.  HITS has a beautiful transition area that includes plenty of room for each athlete with pre-marked spaces, a storage bin, and even a stool to sit on.  Since this was such a small race, we had no trouble finding our location and setting up with enough time to spare.  Before I knew it, we were standing on the beach in our wet suits, and getting ready to start the day.
The Swim Portion of this event was done in a counter-clockwise direction, and it was an average swim for me.  I felt pretty comfortable, but it is easy to get disrupted in open water, and I'm always challenged to find and maintain a rhythm.   As we started out, I had to pause for a moment and remove the timing chip from my ankle as it was poised to fall off.  I stuffed it in the front of my wetsuit and moved on.  Perhaps the distance of the swim was a little longer than anticipated as I emerged from the water after about 38 minutes, which is a slower swim time for me.  At any rate, I decided not to become too concerned about it, and moved onto the bike.
The Landing
One of my goals for this event was to have a stronger Bike Ride than in previous races.  My training this summer has been dedicated to getting stronger and faster on the bike.  The course for HITS was a nice fit in that it was very similar to a lot of the riding that I do around Pueblo.  My hope for this race was to finish in just under three hours which would put me at an average pace of about 18.7mph.   My actual time was 3:05:18, which gave me an average speed of 18.1mph.  Slightly slower, but I was satisfied with that time.  The breakdown for the Bike portion was like this:
The first 10 miles:  The course was "rolling hills" for this portion of the race, and I felt comfortable throughout.  I managed a steady clip above 20mph for a lot of this section of the race.
Miles 11-28: Although most of this section involved a very, very gradual uphill ride, I was in a rhythm, and I felt very strong through this section.  The culmination of this portion involved a steep hill at Pawnee Pass just before the turnaround.  I took the hill as best I could, seeking a balance between a steady effort, and not wanting to ruin my legs on a hill only halfway through the course.
Heading into Transition
The next 10 miles:  This was the hardest part of the race for me.  I really expected that the downhill would allow for some easy cruising, and I would be back to the transition area with a negative split.  However, I found more uphill than I remember, and a slight headwind slowed me down and left me feeling somewhat slow and fatigued.  With that, my pace dropped to about 17mph for a much of this section.  Later I described this part of the race as a "dark place" for me, and I had to do a lot of self-talk and keep encouraging myself.  Fortunately, this feeling eventually passed.
The final stretch:  I didn't get a lot faster, but my pace did pick up in places, and I concentrated on enjoying the ride as much as possible.  This was, after all, my "A" race, and I reminded myself that I was out here to have fun and enjoy the race.  This helped my attitude a great deal, and while I didn't crack three hours on the bike, I wasn't way off of the pace.  Besides, I still had my strongest portion to go, the run.
Out for a run in the 90 degree heat!

If you asked one of the participants what was the most difficult part of this triathlon, I would guess that nearly all of them would say that it was The Run.  In my opinion, 13.1 miles is no small task after the swim and bike portions.  They can certainly deplete you and impact your performance. But for this event, the heat definitely had the biggest effect on the racers.  I would estimate that when I started the run around 11 a.m., the temperatures were in the low 90's and that slowly crept up to the mid to upper 90's within a couple of hours.  I felt pretty good for much of the run, because I was doing everything I could to keep cool.  In addition to drinking fluids, I doused myself with cold water
Staying Cool was key to a successful run
 at every aid station, and took advantage of ice and several sponges along the  way.  I think one of the keys to my success is that I really prevented overheating the whole time.  By staying cool, I was able to maintain a stronger pace throughout much of the run.  My original goal for the run was to finish in under 2 hours which I'd expected to do without too much trouble.  My final run time however was 2hrs, 14min, and 17seconds (about 10:15/mile although this all includes stops at all 13 aid stations).  This is well below my anticipated pace, but like I said, the weather was brutally hot, and so went the goals for time.
Just a few more steps to the finish line!
 In my race plan I had set three basic goals for this race.  The first was the desire to "complete" the 70.3 distance, rather than just survive it.  In other words, I wanted to know that the training I'd done this summer prepared me to do the race, rather than just suffering through it.  Although I was definitely suffering at times, I did feel like I was up to the task.  Based on how I felt after the race, and my recovery during the last couple of days, I think I met this goal.

My brother, Paul at the finish, with Rob Archuleta
 The second goal I set for myself was to race somewhere between a "good" and "epic" time frame. on the Bike portion.  Based on my race plan time goals, I rated a "good" race on the bike.  I think that this is an area where I can continue to improve and get stronger.  I plan on doing more riding during the off season (both on the trainer and off).  I also hope to do one or two longer bike rides this fall.  Still, my time fell within the parameters I'd established and so the second goal was also met.
The third goal was to complete the run portion in under two hours.  I didn't meet this goal based on the reasons I've outlined above.  Still, two out of the three isn't bad, and it was definitely an experience I can learn from.
Post race
I will definitely do another 70.3 race, although it won't be until sometime next summer or fall.  I had planned on doing an X-Terra triathlon in Pueblo in September, but unfortunately the race was cancelled last week.  For now I've decided that HITS Sterling will be my last race for the season, and while it's a little early, that will allow me to focus on some other things in life.  I may jump into a race later on if I get the urge, but I won't be doing any specific training for another event at this point.
No dinner until you clean up that transition area!
 Plans to do a full Ironman distance race in a few years are still out there.  Now, I have a much better idea about what it will require to do something like that. I've decided that when it's time, I will be selecting a race that takes during the Fall with a cooler climate than what I experienced today.  For now, I'm not going to worry about it.  Instead, I'll just  sit back and savor this most recent  race experience.
Feeling good after a long day in the sun!

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