Challenge Quassy (June 6, 2015)

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I’m such a slacker. I started to write this race report back in June and have made zero effort to finish it until now (November). As I have no desire to beat my previous best of 11.5 months from race day to blog posting, so perhaps it’s time to do some work here.
Despite being so late with this race report, I would still like to throw an extra special thank you to some key sponsors and supporters of HRRT:

Challenge Quassy — Olympic Distance Triathlon


Arrival
On Friday after work, five of us hustled to Quassy from Albany wanting to arrive there before registration and transition closed at 8pm. We made the quick 2.5 hour drive arrived with plenty of time to spare, which allowed us to rack our bikes overnight….and importantly, avoid managing them at the hotel later. I also had to weigh in as I was racing in the big boy division. The woman working at the Expo Store immediately remembered me from my lost wetsuit debacle last year. She was happy to see that I had returned to Quassy. I should mention that this time I drove and made sure to install my cargo box on top of the van specifically as a place to stash my wetsuit (also because we had gear for five guys heading to this race, but mostly the wetsuit thing).

After a stop at our favorite italian restaurant, it was off to the hotel suite where we watched with amazement as one member of our party tried to organize his gear, obviously having packed for a trip to the top of Kilimanjaro rather than an Olympic-distance triathlon.
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Note: Given the amount of kit, equipment, gear, bars, gels, swag, and miscellaneous things found in the back of triathlon magazines that had exploded over the hotel room, there is no possible way he could have forgotten anything.
Despite the comedy and the panic related to this situation, I was able to catch some shut eye before the alarm clock went off seemingly moments after my head hit the pillow.

Race Morning
As expected, the alarm went off much too early for my liking, particularly since I woke up once an hour throughout the night. I really can’t explain why. I had some eager anticipation for the race, but was far from my usual level of nervous anxiety. I always hate race morning. Each and every time I end up going through the same thought process….”why do I do this?”, “I hate this sport, everything about it has to happen so damn early”, “I wish I was just lounging and eating waffles and drinking coffee all morning”, “Who am I kidding? I’d be miserable if I didn’t have anything planned today, and it’d be worse when I looked at the photos and race results if those didn’t include me”, “I know it’ll be fun later….just not now”, and “Crap, is that alarm going off again already? I just pressed snooze a few minutes ago…..”
I soon realized that I had overlooked breakfast and hadn’t packed anything, so I figured a quick stop at the Dunkin Donuts next door would suffice. However, I quickly changed my mind as I didn’t really want coffee before the race, or anything else for that matter. I’ve spent the past year mostly waking up and training on very few calories, typically just a cup of coffee, which has worked well enough usually. Instead of Dunkin, I settled for a Bonk Breaker bar as my breakfast. In retrospect, I should have planned ahead (see the above list re: procrastination).

Arrival at the race site was routine. I had the good fortune to meet Brooklyn Dan, who was set up right next to me in transition. He even taught me how to properly yoke someone into a wetsuit, I had been doing it all wrong for years now.
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1500 yard Swim Leg – 26:48 (1:38/100yds)
I got myself a short but worthwhile warmup swim. Lake Quassipaug wasn’t quite as cold as I had anticipated, with an official temp of 66F. I started in the green cap-wearing third wave. As the horn sounded I was sitting about three deep away from the water. When the horn sounded, the jerkoff guy in front of me took three small steps forward and then just stopped and began playing with his GPS watch. I was confused for a second and then realized I needed to hustle around him.  I was feeling inspired, so I dolphin-dived my way to the deeper water. Trying to settle in it was hard to find my rhythm. There was no clean water early, in fact it was congested all the way through the first turn buoy. At that point I finally found some feet to chase which matched my speed and we got into open space. At the 2nd turn buoy I found the perfect guy to draft and stuck with him for this entire stretch back towards the shore. Never sure whether to stay in a draft or try to pass, I finally grew anxious that I should be moving faster and passed him near the swim finish. It turns out that this was my best swim ever, all thanks to Coach Kevin @ Excel Aquatics.

T1 3:37(! – ugh)
I swam until I grabbed sand on the bottom of the lake. I popped up and got moving on my feet. While the thought crossed my mind, I did not experience any lingering issues from the bout of vertigo I had suffered a few weeks prior. As I started to run up the chute to T1, I remembered the heel bruise I received at IMLP while running barefoot. Instead I walked quickly to my bike. Quickly, I stepped into tri jersey, realizing then that I needed to don my HRM first. Putting socks on when wet is such a pain in the ass. I really ought to race without them, but I am never ready to make that leap. I do love the insurance my HRRT colored Swiftwick socks provide against chafing, blisters, and any other troubles. I did remember to put my bike shoes on before I stood up, so this transition could have been worse (somehow). The same issues with struggling includes putting on my cycling gloves — again I was wet and a little bit cold. Helmet strapped, sunglasses on, finally I was set to get out of T1. It took me 3:37, which does include the time spent hiking up from the beach…but wow….that whole thing took forever (as usual).

25.7 Mile Bike Leg, 1:30:20 (17.07mph)
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I had raced this course before and I had also studied the elevation map prior to this day. I thought I knew where every climb was. I was wrong. The climbs were everywhere. I was aiming for a steady power output, tracking it by normalized power (NP). On the first real climb I overshot my target of 230W (~82-85% of my FTP). I forced myself to back off, taking it easy for a while watching that NP number come back to the target zone. I also kept reminding myself to be sure to pedal all the way through the top of each hill. A steady, consistent effort was much more desirable than being erratic. I wanted to maintain a constant level of perceived exertion from the bottom of each climb through the top and even into the next descent. Doing this, I was pushing through each of the downhills, not coasting unless I was going well over 30mph. The hills on this course were just relentless. Steep and more numerous than I could count.
There was one terribly annoying guy consistently blocking as we played leap frog, I didn’t bother to say anything. There was a substantial presence on the course from the race officials. I did see a girl get a violation for littering, though she immediately and loudly protested that it was not her but someone else in her pack.
At one point I hit some rough road and heard the sound of something metal bouncing on the road. I had no idea what I had just lost, but was that my CO2 inflator? Better hope that I don’t flat today (I didn’t – realized after the race that I had lost a CO2 cartridge, still leaving me with one spare, no big deal).
I sighted a mile marker indicating mile 10 of the bike leg, but it was pink meaning it was not for us at the Olympic distance. Eventually there was another 10 mile marker in sight, this time appearing in proper yellow. I just kept pedaling, shifting, pedaling more and more. The course just kept going up and up followed by a few quick, punchy downhills. I did my best to maintain my momentum into the next hill, it didn’t often work though. The next hill always chewed up my momentum. I started to feel fatigued and tried to eat, but was not really hungry. I had barely eaten breakfast and for some reason didn’t want much on the bike either. This is a strong theme in my racing over recent years, a problem I have not taken the time to solve.
Maybe 3/4 of the way into the bike, an older guy passing me didn’t hold his line. As soon as he got his front wheel in front of me he veered to the right and nearly ran me into the ditch. I said something to him. He said quite few things back to me about how I was in the wrong since he had passed me. I was immediately ready to mix it up with this A_hole  competitor but just as quickly realized that arguing with him wasn’t going to help me get up the next hill (or the one after that) and finished with this race, so I shut myself up. This was followed by still more climbing. They must have added some hills since I last raced here. Oh how I hate this course.
Final tally: 25.7 miles / 1982 ft. elevation gain
NP = 237W (target = 230W)

T2 1:26
Pulling into the amusement park, I immediately saw super spectator Frank. He told me Pat Keith Greg (who?) was just four minutes in front of me. Hopping off at the dismount line, I tried to run with my bike but my legs refused. One of my hamstrings was crying out for relief. Moving somewhat slowly but steadily, I got in and out of there “quickly”, relative to my T1 debacle.

10K Run, 54:56 (8:52/mile)
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Initially I had refused to look at my watch for pace info, figuring that information just couldn’t help me go any faster. Rolling out of the amusement park, I quickly settled into a rhythm. But I found that I was getting passed constantly and wasn’t passing anyone else. The first mile was nearly all downhill, I ran it in 8:00 flat. Beautiful, I thought, that came pretty easily. Over mile #2 I stopped for a short nature break in the woods, but I got myself back into that previous rhythm. That pace on a flat course was nearly 30 secs slower per mile and I didn’t have the gusto to crank it up any faster. At mile #3 the course start climbing, and in Quassy all climbs are the brutal kind. I found it was time to ignore my pace again —– here I was slower than 9 min/mile pace due to the hill. I just tried to stay smooth and relaxed. Mile #4, another steep, punchy climb. I just focused on this moving truck parked at the top and worked towards reaching it. There was another racer walking this hill nearby to me and it almost seemed like he was easily keeping up with me. But, I refused to break stride, knowing that the first time I walked meant I was giving in, and it was going to go poorly after that. I finally reached the top and was quite relieved. At the water stop there I grabbed a bit of Gatorade. Then I found myself descending back down a similarly steep hill. That descent hurt, it was very difficult trying find a soft running rhythm. I had lost all ability to run gracefully. I became convinced I was going to feel that later. The stretch from mile #4 to #5 was nearly all flat. I was able to pick up my pace from “dogging it” to “tempo”,  but I just couldn’t find the switch taking me to legitimate “race speed”. The next split ticked off at 8:22. I was quite pleased at that, thinking I was sitting in quite slower.
Finally it came time for the last climb on the course, a sharp and painful hill which brings the athletes back out to the main road approaching the amusement park. Knowing it was the end of the race helped my attitude quite a bit. As I worked my way to the top I kept reminding myself to just keep pushing, staying smooth and relaxed. I made it to the section which goes under a bridge (ie. that road above –> my goal) and I knew the top was close. Here I really started to pick up my effort. Feeling strong, I found that I had plenty left and experienced no signs of cramping (that hamstring issue earlier was now fine). From here the course was flat to the finish line, a spectator said to me “250 yards to go”. “I’ve got that, no problem” I thought. Adrenaline surging, I dropped the hammer. I found myself moving fast and passing one particular guy of note because he had a “C” on his calf, a fellow big boy in the Clydesdale division. In my mind I heard him pick up the pace, “Oh crap, I think he’s responding, he’s coming after me” I thought. Fear of the dreaded re-pass got me to push harder all the way through the finish line. I made the turn into the chute, crossing the railroad tracks, turning into the grass, I saw my cheering section (Keith, Pat & Greg had finished already, relaxing and smiling waiting for me to come through)….I finally hit the finish line with everything I had left….
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It turns out that passing that guy at the very end had put me in 3rd place in the Clydesdale division. Per the race results I had moved up from 5th place , passing two Clydesdales, in the last half of the 10K run. Looking at the results later, the gap between the two of us shows that he probably hadn’t actually tried to re-pass me. But…when in doubt, run faster.

My finish time of 2:57:07 was well shy of my 2:50 goal, but faster than my 2012 result (3:00:50 — which was really a 3:03:50 due to a timing error). I was 14 minutes off the 1st place Clydesdale, all of that on the bike and transition…no real surprise there. I also learned later that Clydesdales no longer get invited to USAT Nationals because there is no national team in that division.
But I was proud that I had earned myself a spot on the (hopefully reinforced) podium, finding myself alongside another Hokie even:
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Post-race celebrating, we only later realized that Frank hadn’t appeared in a single photo during this trip:
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Back home, celebrating with homemade sliders (in the background) and a well-earned Ubu, served in my podium prize of a Challenge-brand mason jar:
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