Friday, August 17, 2012

Rev3 Wisconsin Dells Triathlon Race Report

Rev3 Wisconsin Dells - where do I even begin with this one?  For starters, I wasn't going to skip out on the opportunity to sleep in my own bed the night before a major pro race.  Even though I was hesitant about the rolling run course with my ever healing Achilles, I knew it was a great opportunity to see where I was at with my swim and to gain valuable course information with the hopes that one day I could return and vie for the win. Going into the race, I knew that I was not going to beat race favorite Richie Cunningham, but I did think a top-5 finish was possible. Unfortunately, on this day I did not play my cards right and I ended up finishing 8th.  Here is a recap of the day:

Warning in an effort to develop a case-study for future athletes who are curious about the differences between a pro and amateur race, I have decided to highlight some additional items in this report.  As a result it is significantly longer and more detailed than previous reports.

Pre-Race Planning: This goes for anyone racing, but the pro ranks in general are much more tactical and personally I research every single competitor on the start list.  You never know when knowing something about a person's background, their motivation, and their strengths & weaknesses may work to your advantage.  In this case, I identified Devon Palmer as a guy who would likely be a deciding  figure in my own race.  As a superb, and very underrated biker, I knew that coming out of the swim with Devon was a possibility and that it could be a good insurance policy to help bridge the gap up to the faster swimmers.

Swim Start / Finish at Tommy Bartlett's
Swim (27:25): Coming into the race I had two of the worst weeks of swimming ever. Seeing that swimming is also my weakness, it didn't exactly leave me with a lot of great expectations about it. With the water on the brisk side and the air even cooler, I opted to skip the warm-up for this non-wetsuit pro swim.  Some of the other professionals opted to do a warm-up swim with their wetsuit, and then dried off, before getting into their speed suits. A few others opted to go with a swim and just deal with the cold before the real swim began.  Although a warm-up is always beneficial - you do need to be able to go hard from the gun - in this case I just didn't know what to expect from the swim and the cooler weather really caught me by surprise. As a result, I waited and remained dry until it was actually time to seed the pro race.  

Once the pros got in the water I lined up and made note to pay specific attention to how Devon Palmer and Patrick Davis looked.  I knew it was likely that one of the two guys would give me the tow necessary to swim as fast as I could while saving as much energy as possible for the bike and run.  One thing I learned from Matt Reed is that you never want to peg a swimmer, just swim hard from the go.  If you try to react to someone in particular at the start of a race then you will likely find yourself a step behind from the get-go.  As a result, my actual plan was just to swim and see where it took me.

My very own transition Poster
Shortly after we were all seeded into the water the gun fired and we were off.  For a few short seconds the pace seemed relaxed and I felt like I was in a good position. Then the group formed two distinct sides and I made the decisive action to go left.  At that very instant the pace accelerated but I was able to hang on to some feet as I awaited the typical slow down that occurs about 400 meters into a pro race.  As expected the pace dropped and I started to sort out the race in the mind. Based on tattoos of the person in front of me, I had identified the swimmer as AJ Baucco, and I was reasonably certain that Patrick Davis was leading our small pack of the three.  I could see the main pack just ahead and off to the right, and for a moment I thought our group had the better line to the turn buoy and that we would all reconnect.  However it was not meant to be.  I was reasonably certain that Devon was in the main pack, but there was nothing I could do about it as our pace continued to diminish. For a split-second I debated about pushing the pace, but it takes way more energy to lead someone than it does to swim behind them and it wasn't worth the 10-15 seconds we would gain. Patrick did take great lines and we exited the water 3 minutes down from first and a little over a minute down on the chase pack.

T1: I ran up the steep incline out of Tommy Bartletts and towards transition with a smooth pace.  I wasn't worried about AJ or Patrick riding away and I knew at this point I would rather just work into the race more than anything.  On this day it was the wrong move, but you live and learn.  As I entered transition I took note of which bikes were gone and which ones were present.  It told me that I had a lot of work to do.  As luck would have it, I forgot to properly rubber band my shoes as I fumbled to get going on to the bike.

Bike (2:23:13): On to the bike I went.  Simply put, the pros bike insanely hard and do so at all times including descents.  Although the increase in speed may not be great, the increase in energy expenditure is.  From the beginning, Patrick seemed like he was a hurry.  I wasn't sure if he was trying to get away or trying to work toward bridging to the next group, but I had already decided I was going to work into the bike.  I watched Patrick pedal away but I was content with that for the moment.

Ben Cagle / Lindsey Heim representing Madison triathletes.
In the coming miles I would pass AJ Baucco, and then before you knew it, 30 minutes had passed and it was time to step on the gas.  I worked to reel in a shifting Ian Mikelson.  Each shift Ian made across the lane - even though still 1/2 mile in front - meant that I needed to shift lanes as well.  In the pro ranks we work off the stagger rule and we can never be directly behind the competitor in front of us whether they are 10 meters, 100 meters, or a 1000 meters ahead.  It is a complete waste of energy making sure you stay staggered at all times and is one big difference from the amateur ranks.  I made the decisive pass of Ian - we can't slipstream around riders either - on a steep climb on the way to the top of Devil's Lake.  That would be the last I would see of Ian until the run.

I knew going into the race that if a move was going to be made it was going to be made on the major climb on the course on Bluff and Tower Roads.  It was at this point where I actually reeled back in Patrick.  In the matter of 10 minutes of climbing I was able to knock off 40 seconds.  I don't know if this means I biked that much harder, or simply I am that much less aero on the flats.  I always said I would worry about aero when time was right - maybe the time is right to start the investigation into my position in search of aero perfection.  Regardless I am now the Strava KOM on that segment.  



Patrick and I would ride side-by-side for many miles as we kept each other and the pace honest.  Unfortunately two riders riding side-by-side two meters apart does not ride as a fast as a nicely formed and well-executed staggered group of 6.  Just before we headed over Interstate 94, I would create a gap that would stick.  I forged ahead solo in pursuit of the next rider and worked to reel in a struggling Courtney Ogden.  I caught Courtney on another uphill section, but again in order to create separation I would need to push watts on another downhill section.  I did just that and created a nice gap and rolled into transition with a nice lead over Courtney and was 4:20 down from the lead pack of six who all came in "coincidentally" together.

One rider does not beat six in formation



Run (1:28:01):  Coming on to the run I knew I was only 4:20 down from the Richie and the rest of the pack.  I totally expected someone or multiple people to crack on the run and I would keep running an aggressive pace as long as I felt it was necessary.  Going into the race I had no idea if I would even finish given my Achilles, but early on I clipped off low 6 minute miles.  On the way out, Jared Milram, AJ Baucco, and Ian Mikelson would all pass me going the other direction the bike.  It told me I had a 9 minutes on Jared, 10 on AJ, and 13 on Ian.  All were well out of striking distance.  I continued on the rolling course and down the long descent into town.  It was here where Patrick Davis would catch back up and make the pass.  It was also at this point that I could feel a lot of pressure and tension on the Achilles as I was reminded of where the pain began - on the up-and-down run course that is Ironman St George.  For those that have been following my progress you know that I don't run above what my Achilles can handle.

I let Patrick gain a little gap on the descent in to town and then I focused on putting forth the effort on the ascent and catching back up.  I told Patrick I would run with him until we caught Devon, but when we passed mile marker 4, I was told we were 5 minutes down from Devon. He was in 6th place and it was at that point that it no longer made sense to me to race this race. I shut off the gas and went into typical lock-down mode.  I had some of those famous aid-station parties that Hillary Biscay is always talking about as I got in some solid Ironman training.  I jogged back to transition putting in some 7:40 miles, but in the last bit of stretch AJ Baucco actually had caught back up.  Although AJ Baucco is a good friend, I wasn't prepared to hand him 8th place without a fight and instead we got in a sprint finish with 1/2 mile to go.  The sprint was pretty pathetic from a pace stand point, but he was pretty gased from a solid 1:18 run and in the end it netted me an few extra Rev3 Series points.  Not sure if those points will do me any good but better to have the points in my opinion.

Picture with the true stars of Rev3 Dells
Overall (4:21:17 / #8th Place):  Where racing out of the amateur ranks is usually one of racing your own race - or at least it was for me - I find that racing out of the pro ranks is much more tactical.  Even though you can forge ahead it does not always make sense to do so.  In this case I saw Devon Palmer as the strongest rider of a group, but was also the weakest runner.  Looking back on the race it would have been nice to have Devon working with myself and Patrick, but the race didn't shake out that way.  Instead, all the racers in the main group of six had decided they were going to leave it up to the run. Personally, I think this played right into Richie's hand, but I don't know what everyone else was thinking.  I do know that I worked very hard to get back into the race and it was a losing effort.  It certainly wasn't for lack of bike fitness though and is simply a testament to needing to be able to swim in the pro ranks.  If you are a strong runner, but can't bike or swim, then forget about it.  If you are a strong swimmer, but can't bike then forgot it about it.  You have to be a great swimmer, or an uber-biker, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  Everybody has to be able to run.

In my own case, I learned to swim at 25 and I have to be incredibly proud at how far I have taken my swim.  In this situation, just like the majority of pro races, the pros didn't get wetsuits and the amateurs did.  That makes a huge difference and especially so for the disadvantaged swimmer.  Overall, I was happy with my swim but I will continue to make it the focus of my development as an athlete.

Adventure River at Noah's Ark w/ AJ Baucco
A lot of this is still learning and is part of the reason I am a big advocate for racing often.  In this case I learned some valuable information on the swim, gained some biked fitness, and ran a few miles before calling it a day. I pushed my Achilles enough to continue to promote growth without pushing it over the ledge.  While many of the other pros were banged up by the effort, I seemed to survive with nothing more than a minor, single blister, and I was able to spend the rest of the day at Noah's Ark Waterpark.  On Monday it was back to business as usual as I set a 100 meter PR in the pool and Tuesday I was back to doing 800 repeats at the 2:30, Wednesday it was a 200 meter PR in the pool, 6x8 on the bike, and Thursday I was back to 800 repeats at the 3:00. All of this was is still very much an experiment as I continue this journey at Ironman Steelhead 70.3.  The last time I was there was 2010 and I won my age-group.  This year, well who knows. I'll see you Sunday.  Cheers, -TG

Video to racing down QuadZilla @ Noah's Ark with AJ Baucco 


 Rev3 Pro Recap - Camio @ 0:06 - 0:10



Rev3 Pro Bike Recap - Camio @ 0:13 - 0:16

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