Friday, June 15, 2012

Elkhart Lake Triathlon Results Race Report

Every year I do the Elkhart Lake Triathlon and every year I seem to put together a dismal race that is only validated by USAT giving me my lowest score of the season.  This year, expectations were no different given that I was coming into the race with an Achilles injury.  In addition, Elkhart Lake always attracts a solid field with its prize purse and this year that included top elite amateurs: Scott Bowe, Jake Rhyner, Cameron Knuth, and Adam Brown.  It also included fellow professionals: Blake Becker, Nick Early, Ryan Guiliano, Michael Boehmer, and Greg Thompson.

With my Achilles injury, and a deep field, I ratcheted down my own expectations.  My race day plan was to swim hard, bike all out and hope it was enough for the bike preme, and then race-jog the run.  Fortunately on this day, a solid swim and a monster bike afforded me the luxury of being able to cruise the run in route to my first ever Olympic distance triathlon win.  Here is a recap of the day:

Couldn't get the wetsuit off quicker
Swim (21:11 / 6th Place):  My plan for the swim was to go out hard and see if I could hang on the front pack.  Unfortunately I nearly missed that opportunity before the race had even begin.  After numerous delays, I was told the collegiate wave was going first so I headed out to find some water and Powerbar gels before the race began.  Upon coming back I realized that the elite wave was in the water and awaiting the firing of the gun.   My heart sank - my triathlon nightmare of missing the swim start was real.  I sprinted toward the beach, crossed the timing mat, and starting high-stepping through the water.  The gun went off just as I got on the back of the pack.  I struggled to catch my breath, but I was determined not to lose sight of my goal.  We headed toward the first buoy and I worked hard to get back in good position.  The fight was tough, but I managed to close the gap and got back in contact with the lead group.  However, the price was steep and I was badly overheating in my wetsuit.  The combination of the sprint run, warm water temperatures, and frantic start, had me flushing my 2XU V:2 wetsuit in the first 200 meters.

I continued fighting and I was determined to see how long I could last.  After a few hundred meters I could tell that the person to the left of me was Jake Rhyner.  He was drafting off some feet but then he let them go.  I instantly made the decision to surge and catch back up.  I managed to draft for another 50 meters and then I was simply broken by heat overload and I made the tough decision to let the group go.  I knew it was going to be warm day and the battle might become one of hydration - it was the smart thing to do.

I swam the remaining 900 meters solo as I watched the distance to the lead pack grow.  By the end of the swim they had managed to gain more than a minute on me.

T1:  The run through T1 is always tough at Elkhart Lake.  It has a steep uphill pitch that always leaves me gasping for air.  It didn't help though that I was asking for water and was passed a cup of sports drink. There is nothing like a glass full of sugar stinging right into your eyes. I backed it off and tried to wipe as much liquid off as could but got passed by Jake in the process.  With him now in front I would be the 6th person out of transition and would have to make up the ground on the bike.

Bike (1:06:27 / 1st place):  I hopped on my bike and used the first minute to warm-up the legs.  I wanted to get out of the city and onto the main country road before stepping on the gas.  Problem was that my Garmin was not reading my powermeter and I still wanted to ride the first five minutes under a controlled pace.  After resetting my Garmin I was able to get my power readings back online.  At that point I took a look behind me and then stepped on the gas.  It was then when I started creating some separation with Jake and started reeling in the other competitors.  One by one I played leap frog as I worked my way on by Scott Bowe, Cameron Kanuth, and Nick Early.  Then I was left with passing the legendary Greg Thompson.  I made all the passes quickly and made sure to make them decisively so as not encourage anyone to come with.  I had rocketed to the front and made up over a minutes time in less than 5 miles.  In cycling that is a lot of time to make up in a short period.

I continued to push big watts and made sure to put in surges coming out of all the turns and as I crested the rollers on the course.  I knew that with a bum Achilles that I would have to work hard on the bike and so I rode like a man possessed.  I don't really know what inspired me on that day.  Maybe it was the V02 Max intervals that I had done less than 36 hours earlier or maybe it was out of respect to the bike course director, Andrew Starykowicz, who happens to hold the 70.3 bike split record.  Or maybe it was the mentality that I could bike as hard as I wanted to with no expectations on the run.  Nevertheless I road well - almost too well.  Something had to go wrong and something did.

By mile 13 my competition was completely out of sight out of mind.  Unfortunately so were my fluids.  The hot day and the long delay to the race start meant that my bottle was empty by mile 13.  With over 14 miles to ride to transition I knew I was in trouble.  I was starting to the squeeze, re-squeeze, and shake every last drop out of my bottle.  I was already planning to have some of the famous parties that Hillary Biscay is always talking about during Ironman aid stations, but there was nothing I could do. Frankly it was just poor planning on my part.  I rode back to transition with the help of a little tailwind and gradual decline back to transition.  I hopped off the bike and I hoped that it was enough for the bike preme.

Run (39:24 / 1st place):  I racked my bike and headed out on the run.  I knew it was going to be a real scorcher and I was hoping the conditions along with the hilly run course would nuke the running legs of some of the better runners. The field included some speedy guys who can run 30 min open 10k and 32-33 min 10Ks off the bike.  I was hoping at this point just to be able to finish in the top 5, but I had set a limit of myself to run no faster than 6:30.  The benefit of this was that my fitness was not the limiting factor for my run speed - my Achilles was.

Finishing with the win 
Before I could even get focused on the run I needed to address my fluid and hydration needs. Unfortunately leading a race often means that volunteers are simple not ready for you because often times they don't expect you.  As a result I got no fluids at aid station #1 and I was immediately feeling the effects.  For the first time my calves start to pulsate and I felt like I was on the verge of major cramps.  Nonetheless I ran strong and focused on moving forward.  At the second aid station I was shouting "sports drink, sports drink"  but only got a response I wasn't prepared for.  It's "nasty" a young girl replied.  "Nasty" I thought.  "Nasty" is what I look like right now.  "Nasty" is what my form is going to turn into if I don't get in some calories.  I didn't get any and soldiered on.

I continued on running and could feel the powerful sun radiating down on me.  I hit a downhill section and my legs had forgotten how to turnover quickly and I struggled to hold form.  Then I finally hit aid station #3 where I was able to get some much needed sports drink.  I instantly felt better.  It was also at this point on an out-and-back that I passed by my competition.  I was 1 minute and 20 seconds ahead of Jake and had 2 minutes and 40 seconds on Early.

Now I should point out realistically my head was not in the race.  I had no expectations I could win and I figured Jake would catch me but I thought I could hold off Early.  I must say that it is a little different midset going into a race when you are not even close to 100%.  With that being said, with each step my motivation started to increase. Near mile 3.5 I saw Blake Becker and he informed me of my split.  I'm not sure exactly if it was true or how he got it, but if it was correct it meant that Jake was not gaining that much time on me and I started having thoughts that I could sneak out a win.

I headed toward the big climb that takes place between mile 4 and 5 and tackled it with ease. Coming back down the hill was not easy.  Clearly not running fast in training was taking away my neurological ability to turn over the legs quickly.  I reached the bottom of the hill and made the turn to head back into town.  I took one last look behind me and I couldn't see Jake.  I knew at this point I could fight to the death if I had to, but I decided to cheat a little instead and dropped my pace to 6:00.  I figured with 1.2 miles to go, I would make Jake run a sub-5 to make up the difference but it didn't happen and I cruised in for the win.

Men's Podium with Nick Early and Jake Rhyner
Overall (2:09:40 / 1st place): Frankly I got lucky with a little bit of wind on the bike and a hot run.  Without those two factors I'm not sure the race result would have been the same but sometime it just pays to be lucky and I couldn't be happier with the result.  I never expected to win this race, and even though I knew I didn't race to my potential, it was a nice change of pace to be able to lay it all on the line during the bike and then not have to worry about expectations on the run. Going forward, the big wild card is my Achilles, and although I was able to make it thru this race, it certainly needs to get much better in order for me to be competitive with the rest of my pro races on the schedule.

As always I want to thank you for taking the time to read this and I also wanted to thank Trisports, 2XU, and Powerbar.


3 comments:

  1. Congratulation Thomas! good performance on the run despite of that bike split!

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  2. This is only the beginning for you, Gerlach!!! Way to stay true to the plan.

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  3. Nice write up. It was a tough, fun day!

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