US Masters Swimming

Mountain View Masters

2005 San Jose International Triathlon

San Jose, June 26, 2005

by Patrick Wright

Warning - this is long. Fetch coffee before reading...

In my last installment, I told you about my race at Wildflower Half Ironman Triathlon at the end of April. I had a good race there, and set a personal best. About 3 days after the race though, the gnawing sensation of 'could have done better' came to visit. As I got back into training, and let my body heal a bit, I decided to do two things: to drop some weight, and to increase my training volume, particularly on the bike.

With these goals in mind, I started weighing myself every morning, and then avoiding calories all day. This proved to be easier than I'd first thought. I started out at 210 pounds, and with a noticeable gut. I dropped the bag of chips with my lunchtime sandwich (300 calories), beers during the week (plenty o' calories), part of my mid-morning snack, and second helpings at dinner. I didn't reduce what I ate when I trained, because my body needs those calories there and then.

I also started biking more with a bunch of guys from Applied Materials. We ride very early on Saturday mornings, so we're done before we miss too much family life. These rides are never gentle, and usually include some big climbs somewhere along the way.

I managed to get in 10+ hours of training for 6 weeks straight, about 30% more than I had been doing, and somehow fit it around work and family life. I found I could handle more volume provided I was careful to get plenty of sleep, and didn't make every workout a hard effort.

By a week before the race, I'd dropped about 7 pounds, and was feeling super-strong on my bike, with running going well too. My swimming has held together ok, it just hasn't improved dramatically. I had high hopes of doing well, and I tapered my training a lot to be sure I was well rested. I also bought a used disk wheel for my race bike.

Come race day as I set up my transition area, I realized I was ready. There were about 1200 racers all setting up, and most of them looked more nervous than me. I pulled on my wetsuit, and headed for the swim start. The morning was cloudy and cool. I swam a quic warm-up as the first wave of racers went off, then watched the leaders zigzag their way around the buoys in Lake Almaden. The 1250 meter course mostly followed the outer edge of this rather small (and dirty) lake, eventually leading back to a sandy beach by the transition area.

Four more waves, including two waves of women racers, went off before my group. Each wave would quickly spread, as the faster swimmers pulled away from the slower, until the course was a continuous line of splashes stretched from start to finish.

I lined up with my age group. Rather than tread water at the start line until the gun, I hung back 5 yards and stood on the silty lake bottom. The gun went, and the first 50 yards were the usual cluster of thrashing. Quickly the fast separated from the slow, leaving me drafting a clump of guys. I'd resolved to keep the swim easy if I could, so I'd have some strength left for the bike and run. Soon enough we' caught the back of the wave in front of us. There were bodies everywhere, swimming all kinds of strokes, clinging on to marker buoys for a rest, bumping into each other and getting ducked. It wasn't pretty. It paid to look ahead carefully every 10 strokes or so to be sure I wasn't about to plough into someone. I kept my pace steady, not working too hard. Soon enough I rounded the last buoy and headed for the end of the course, a 20 foot high inflatable arch on the beach.

As I ran out of the water and up to the transition area, I realized I wasn't nearly as gassed as I usually am at this point. My time wasn't stellar (so I thought), at just under 22 minutes, but my pulse wasn't north of 170 either. The transition area was a horseshoe shape, with bike racks on both side of the U. Each transition required running all the way round the U, stopping at your spot to dump whatever you had and grab the next things you needed. There was an unbroken line of racers all the way through. At my spot, I got rid of my wetsuit, put on my bike helmet, and was gone. My bike shoes were already clipped to my pedals. This meant I could run to the bike start, jump on, start pedaling, and then put my feet in the shoes. I'd practiced this extensively on the top of the parking structure next to my office, and it worked like a charm.

As soon as I got my feet in, I got to riding hard. The first 10 miles of so of the course led south out of San Jose, and into a building headwind. Once beyond the city limits, in the open fields towards Morgan Hill, the wind was maybe 15mph right in our faces. Lots of riders were struggling with this. The road was fairly crowded. I focused on keeping my heart rate around 160, so as not to blow up, and on keeping my legs turning over fast. A few guys from my age group came by me, working very hard. I ate a Gu, and had a drink. I was averaging about 22mph into the headwind. Any more was going to hurt a lot.

10 miles in, the course turns back on itself for 2 miles. I was in a big clump of riders going into the turn, so I punched it hard on the way out to get myself clear. Suddenly the speedometer was reading 31mph, and I was flying downwind. Riders were much more spaced out in this section, so there was plenty of room to go hard. Then the course turned left, and after about a mile started to climb. I'd pre-ridden the course, so I knew the hill was a steady 5-6% grade for just under a mile. Normally I'm left for dead on climbs. Today nobody passed me. I held a steady tempo, staying seated all the way up. I passed maybe 80 people on this section alone.

The remainder of the bike leg was flat to downhill, with a couple of small rollers, and a building tailwind. I hit 42mph for a short while on one downhill stretch. The riders were thinned out by this point, so there was plenty of asphalt to use in the turns and climbs. I kept my rhythm going, and swallowed another Gu. As I rolled into the residential area just before the bike finish, I noticed that I'd been riding for just about an hour. As I'd never gone under an 1:08 for a 40k bike leg before, I got pretty excited! I hit transition in 1:03:02, with my feet already out of my shoes. I ran barefoot round the U to my transition spot, pulled on my running shoes and hat, and headed for the run course.

Normally, meltdown occurs about 2 miles into the run on an Olympic course. Fatigue catches up with me, my motivation weakens, and I lose interest in doing much of anything. Not so today. I was running 7 minute miles, occasionally passing people from earlier waves, and occasionally being passed by people from my wave or the 40-44 year-olds who started 4 minutes behind us. The course was almost completely flat, along a bike trail beside the lake and adjacent creeks. About 3 miles in, my feet started to complain. I was running without socks to save a few seconds in transition. I'd practiced this, and figured out which toes had to be wrapped in tape to prevent chafing. I hadn't practiced having lots of bits of grit stuck to my feet when I did this, though. There was one sore spot per foot, each exquisitely tender every step. I stopped a couple of times to see if I could rub the grit away, but the damage was already done. I kept going, a little more slowly, counting down the minutes to the finish line. As I approached the end, I tried to chase down a guy from my age group 20 yards in front of me. I sprinted hard, but ran out of trail before I got to him. I was done with the race in 2:13 even, getting the run over in 44:18, only 90 seconds slower than my 10k personal best!

I ended up 67th overall (of about 1100 starters), 28th of 160 in my age group. This is the best performance I've ever had in a triathlon, so I must be doing something right. Next up I'm going to try to drop some more weight, and get ready for a half ironman in September some time.

Thanks for reading, Pat