or more simply put… My Swim Redemption!
This is a race report for my second triathlon event, a sprint distance. It consisted of a 500m open water swim, a 30km ride, and a 5km run. It takes place entirely within the US Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. It is located just North of San Diego – a known hotbed of age group triathlon activity.
I am a 49 year old new to triathlons. I was a competitive swimmer 30 years ago, I’ve cycled on and off for about 5 years, and I am new-ish to running. This is the first sprint distance triathlon for me. I have been training for triathlons for about 8 months now. I felt pretty good going into this one. Since my last humbling experience at my first triathlon race, I have focused on open water/wetsuit swimming and especially speed and endurance with running. I’ve actually come to enjoy running in the process.
Camp Pendleton is a Marine Corp Base that hosts a number of events open to both the general public as well as encouraging the military members to participate. It was a very well organized event (based on my vast experience) with plenty of assigned, uniformed “volunteers” throughout the course.
PREPARATION: As mentioned, my emphasis has been on getting accustomed to swimming in the open water with a wetsuit. There is a local beach 3-4 miles form my house, and so there really was no excuse not to get in occasionally and swim. There always seemed to be others out there with the same idea. The water in Southern California is typically about 66-67 degrees in the summer. A good temperature for a wetsuit. Still a bit brisk on entry, but feels good as you warm up. You never feel overheated though.
I’ve done more running, and smarter running, I think. I have balanced longer runs of 11-13 miles, with tempo runs around the neighborhood. One lap around the block is almost exactly 3 miles, with no stop light or need to stop. I’d usually do 6-7 miles at a faster face with the goal of negative splitting those two laps. My focus on both types of runs has been form (cat-like, non-traumatic, mid-foot landing running) and higher cadence. I typically train with headphones listening to “Podrunner”, a free podcast that sets a specific cadence rate. I don’t run with any cadence slower than 176 now. That music forces you to keep going, when it might be tempting to slow down otherwise. Regular music, regardless of the genre, changes bpm all over the place and is inconsistent for this training purpose.Also new and different, I have done a bit of plyometrics and core strengthening such as with planks and some dynamic warm-up and stretching. I have not done weights or specific strengthening exercises sorry to say.
Overall, my training during the month of July is way down compared to months previous. I have had important family and business obligations that have taken priority. It has been frustrating, but that how it goes. This sprint event was not a huge priority and so my only “taper” was staying away from the longer distance running for several days prior.
OBJECTIVE: My first goal was to redeem myself from the awful, panicky, anxious-ridden swim I had at my first triathlon. My overall goal was to place in my age group. (Ha!. Little did I know how competitive my age group would be).
THE SWIM (500 m): Success. A swim redemption. Of the 72 men in my age group in my swim start wave, I came out the water first!. Overall, by split times 18th/934. I am very pleased with that. I started off reminding myself that it was just going to be a warmup for the rest of the race. I had done a bit of a warmup in the water beforehand, got a feel for the side current, and simply found a comfortable pace during the swim. Everything about it was just right – no racing heart rate, no constriction around the chest like last time. I wish it were a longer swim, I could have used a better time advantage for the rest of the race.
T1 TRANSITION (T1 time: 2:00 – a little sluggish): TT1 and T2 transition were located in the Amphibious Assault Craft Landing Zone service area. There was a long run up the beach to the this area. T1 was pretty unremarkable. I drape a towel over my handlebars to help me find my bike. I quickly use it to dry my face a hair. Glasses, helmet, Talcum powder, then Shoes, and then a run up to the mounting area. I did not use arm warmer sleeves this time – really didn’t need them. I did place my gloved over the padded forearm rests on my aerobars. I could take off riding and then slip them on later. Maybe in retrospect, I didn’t need the quick pour of talc, but I do want to smell fresh when I compete!
THE BIKE (30km => 22.2mph ave. Time: 51:59): This was not a particularly challenging bike course. I was in the seventh wave behind younger competitors, and so there were plenty out there ahead of me. The ride was an open course, but there were very few cars out on the Marine Base this early on a Saturday. Overall there was a gradual climb going out to about 260 ft elevation and a nice overall decline coming back. There were a fill mild hills interspersed and just a few opportunities to get out of the saddle. There were some really fast riders that passed me like I couldn’t believe. These were probably the “mid-life guys” in my age group. They smoked me. Overall, it was my fastest ride. Prior to this, I could never really break the 20mph barrier. On this ride (no drafting, of course) I averaged 22.2 mph. I am really happy with that. I was watching my heart rate and although I was faster in the second half (downhill, mind you), my heart rate gradually declined as well, and I felt comfortable. I tried to save a little something for the run. Overall, I drank 12 oz. of Cytomax. I did not take any gel or other supplement.
T2 TRANSITION (1:10): This could have been a little faster had I not started running in the wrong direction out of T2. Nothing to see here otherwise. Elastic speed laces on the shoes – a nice touch. I forgot to take off my bike gloves. Oops. I run with an 8 oz. hand-held runners water bottle. Clipped onto that is my Polar HR monitor. I also clipped on a small electronic metronome to the back of my hat. It was preset to 178 beats/minute in a high-low tone double beat (“CHIP-CHIRP-CHIP-CHIRP…)
THE RUN (5km => 6:49 ave. mile pace (via GPS). Time: 20:31): With the metronome chirping, I am sure I was the most annoying runner out there. Too bad. I kept a robotic178 steps per minute without any faltering or change. This obsession with cadence has been a huge factor, I believe, in the improvement in my running. Although it is not a direct comparison, the average pace for my Olympic triathlon 10km was 8:06/mile ( It was a hilly course and a longer distance ) but this time my splits were 7:13, 6:50, and 6:16. I am really pleased with the improvement in the run. All self-coached. I was not passed on the run except by maybe one or two others. I drank maybe 2 oz. of fluids. No gels or supplements.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT/RESULTS (68TH PLACE OUT OF 934 COMPETITORS): I would not change a thing. I improved where I focused my training. I felt good throughout the race. The swim was a real confidence booster. The sprint distance is suited to my presumed fast-twitch psychological makeup. I was a sprinter swimmer long ago. There’s lot’s of room for improvement, but overall a success. I did not place in my age group. In fact I finished 11th in my wave/group. If I had competed in the 35-39 yr. age group, I would have place first! There were simply some really fast cyclists and runners with more endurance, strength and speed. I’m still waiting for the individual splits to be posted. That will be interesting. I did a little lurking about and looked up the first place finisher in my group, a one Rusty Robertson. He has done about 60 races over the years! And fast, too. I can’t quite expect to compete with that king of experience and training. Not yet. I’ve got to earn it.
I took in only about 14 oz of fluid (Cytomax) during the event. I really didn’t feel thirsty or bonk-y throughout. I think that when my heart rate is sustained that high, food or calories will not sit well or be digested well in the stomach. The reality is that for a sprint event, there should be enough available glycogen that extra calories are not necessary. The weather was overcast and cool (about 69 degrees F) – same a water temperature. There was little visible sweating noticeable so fluid loss in this instance was not significant.
THE VENUE: As mentioned, it took place within Camp Pendleton. T1 and T2 took place at a “landing pad” for the hovercraft assault craft. These are massive pieces of machinery, and it is pretty cool to be able to walk up on them and see them up close. Coming out of the transitions there is a climb up this long concrete ramp and it really gets the heart rate up at the beginning of the bike and the run. I found it took me a while to get my HR back to desired rates on the bike after the long run off the beach and this climb up the ramp. I look forward to competing again next year.
I wish to thank the Marines who “volunteered” their Saturday morning to marshal the course and offer drinks along the ride and run. Hoo-Rah!