June 2013 Archives

Trying tri: the Spiezathlon

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Ever since I started this crazy fitness project, I've had the vague intention of trying triathlon at some point. Today, in fact, was that day.

My initial intention to try a sprint triathlon in early spring was shoved aside by the half marathon program I got myself into - there was no way I was going to train up from beginner-runner to HM distance and also work in enough cycling and swimming at the same time, especially in the appalling late winter we ended up having, to even think about any of the early-season tri events. But I was still interested in the whole triathlon idea, so set my sights on the Uster triathlon in late August.

And then at the beginning of June I found out that there was a sprint-distance event happening in Spiez in not very long, and I couldn't resist signing up. 20km is easily doable on the bike, 5km of a run is peanuts after half-marathon training, so all I needed to do was prove to myself that I could swim 500 meters in a pool without stopping (much like the Thames Turbo sprint series, the sprint at Spiez uses the local heated outdoor pool for its swim portion.) That duly done, I made the arrangements and coaxed a somewhat put-upon Mike into coming along with Sophie. She was very excited to hear that we would be taking a TRIP in a CAR and she'd get to see Mummy going swim AND bikey AND runrunrun!! But it was still a disruption to her routine, and she is big into the Terrible Twos at the moment, so there was no guarantee of a smooth family weekend getaway.

Spiez harbor

Spiez: Not flat.

Spiez is close to the middle of Switzerland, a little west of Interlaken, with all the northern-Alpine bumpiness that implies. I was clever enough to check the cycling course profile before signing up, and although it did have a decent amount of climbing it wasn't some sort of neverending uppy-downy horror story like it could have been. Once there I had a walk down to the harbor area that was triathlon HQ, and so by this morning I had a pretty good idea what I was in for.

Registration began this morning at 7:00, and the sprint triathlon began at 8 so there was no time to waste. Up at the crack of dawn, into my ridiculous triathlon garment, all gear I might need in a carrier bag, and off I went with my bike. There is really no other word to describe the weather than "shitty". Steady rain, 10C, transition area all outdoors with no cover, wet wet wet grey wet. Then again, if that's what I faced for my first triathlon, then proving I can cope with such gross weather was a good mental boost!

The first bit of head-scratching weirdness for this triathlon newbie came when I went to rack my bike in the transition area: the marshal there required all competitors to wear their helmets while depositing the bike, before the race! I have no idea if that's normal, but if so I have to say it's pretty absurd.

Swim: 14:34 (+1:24 from pool to T1)
After some more flailing and faffing I found the list with start times for the swim. As far as I can tell they seeded us in reverse order of our projected swim finish times, so I went off relatively early with my 15-minute estimate. The water was much warmer than the air, so I got on in and tried to calm my nerves by doing a bit of gliding drill. It didn't work very much. From the stats (and, a little, from memory) it seems that I held it together for the first length but then started letting my nerves get the better of me, pushing too hard and as a result both slowing down and making it harder to keep my breathing rhythm and oxygen capacity under control. After 250m I switched to breaststroke, not only to catch up on my breathing but also because it was easier to keep my place in the lane that way! (Yes, my breaststroke is as fast, or faster, than my freestyle.) I alternated freestyle and breaststroke for the rest of the swim: the one taxed my breathing and made me feel fatigue that way, the other taxed my upper body muscles that I needed for the bike leg. To be honest I was glad when the swim was done, and even gladder when I saw I'd made it in under 15 minutes. But I should be able to do better than that, and I'm sort of lost for how to get there.

Transition 1: 3:20
Bike: 42:35 (18.5km)
I had brought a towel to use in the transition area, but all the rain made the towel laughably pointless. I had at least had the foresight to drape the carrier bag over my shoes to keep them as dry as possible out on the grass, so even though my feet were wet I had some dry socks to put them into, which felt great for about a minute. I worked my gloves onto my hands, put a couple of fruit bars into my back pocket, got my number on and went. As I jogged out of transition I heard a familiar "Mummy!!" and saw that Mike and Sophie had arrived to cheer me on my way, which gave me a nice boost. Only a minute or so later did I remember to inform my Garmin that I was through transition and on the bike.

The bike course was fairly seriously uphill for the first kilometer or two, though I was extremely relieved to see that they were starting us up a 5% grade rather than the 15% grade that would have been the more direct route to the road. After climbing to highway level it was a lovely downhill mostly-straight for 6km. I passed several people, and got passed by several others on shiny time-trial aero bikes. To be honest I have a hard time understanding how it is that I pass people on such a nice straight gradual downhill at all, especially when they are heavier than me, and when it feels so effortless. Surely they should be going that quickly too since they have the same advantage?

The second hill was just as steep as the first, but shorter; the return trip was a long and slightly wearing gradual up where we'd had the nice gradual down, and then a technical (so not too speedy) descent back into transition where Mike and Sophie had returned to be my personal Anglophone cheering squad. Overall I managed a reasonably decent speed but was probably a little too conservative, and definitely let my pace slacken a few times when I didn't need to just because I was letting my mind wander. I never touched the fruit bars and I sat up to take only a single swig of water, around the halfway point.

Transition 2: 1:44
Run: 28:07 (5.44km)

I don't know if I can really quite describe the sensation of starting a run after you've been riding a bike for a while. It is WEIRD. The first time I tried it was only last weekend, a 30km bike ride followed by a 6km run with only a shoe change and a good swig of water in between. Your legs feel wobbly, sort of a cross between 'like jelly' and 'like you've been on a boat for a month', and your rhythm is all out of whack for how you're moving your feet compared to how you were moving them on the pedals five minutes before. So imagine my surprise when my first kilometer was about 10s slower than half-marathon race pace, and I was able to maintain that for the rest of the run and run the second-to-last kilometer well above that pace?

Well, if the legs felt like jelly last weekend after a bike ride, it was even more the case today after a swim and a hilly bike ride. Just to add to the 'fun', the first kilometer and a half was a 4% average uphill grade, and there were numb spots on the soles of my feet from the cycling shoes, so it really felt like I had someone else's legs somehow! And yet, just like in last weekend's run, I was able to run much faster than I would have guessed was possible so late in a race. In this case I ran my fastest-ever time over 2 miles (and each of the shorter distances measured by Strava).

Annoyingly, I didn't realize it was a 'long' 5K route until about 400 meters after the "3km" sign, when I saw a sign saying "Noch 2km [2km left]". "What?!!" I thought, "we passed the 3 sign ages ago, there should be well less than 2 left!" And that's when I realized that I was not going to make my target of sub-1:30 for the whole triathlon, but I came as close as I could! The final 3km or so was flat, along the shore of the lake, and I had a merry old time picking people off to pass them. Sophie was very excited to see Mummy come running, and then Mike shouted "Go go go!" so fiercely that I thought he was telling me off for waving to Sophie!  My final time was 1:31:38, and given the hills and the horrible weather and the fact that it was my first triathlon ever, I'm pretty pleased with that.

I bumbled through the finish, collected my things, had some water and some watermelon, and if there was a place I was meant to pick up a finisher's shirt I never found it. I was particularly pleased to be done with enough time to get back to the hotel and have a shower before facing the rest of the day. All in all I have to admit I enjoyed it, especially the whole passing-people-on-the-run part! The only downside, as ever, is the swim. If I'm ever to do more than a sprint triathlon then my swimming needs to stop sucking, but I just don't know how to get from point A to point B.

Wylandlauf (ZKB ZüriLaufCup)

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On Saturday I ran my third race in the ZKB ZüriLaufCup series, which is a local and not particularly easy set of races that gets held every year. Apparently you get some sort of prize if you do six of them, and evidently I can't resist a prize, so off I went.

I can't say that I have greatly enjoyed my previous two races in this series--they are Swiss-level hilly and go over woodland trails where I have to pay much more attention to my footing and not stepping on loose stones or in little holes, etc. It is really surprising (to me) how much my physical running energy can be sapped by the mental effort of having to pay constant attention to where I step. Nevertheless, dammit, I set a six-run prize as my goal and I want my prize, so I persevere. In fact I think these races can make very good race-plan exercises: you have to conserve your energy for the inevitable hills and adjust your pace expectations for when you're running up them.

The Wylandlauf claims to have 90m of climbing over its 14.8km, which is nothing compared to some of the others; when I uploaded my Garmin data, both Garmin Connect and Strava claimed that it was actually twice that. This is not the first time that the official estimate has been unduly low for these races, either. That said, in this case the elevation consisted of a single longish main climb (roughly 6.5% with a break in the middle) in kilometers 4-5 and then some bumpiness around kilometer 10, followed by a symmetrically steep downhill and off across the mostly-flat. As such it was much easier to plan for than some of the other races that are more aggressively undulating, so I was looking forward to giving it a shot.

The big scary climb started in kilometer 4, and so I was determined not to push myself, to really rein myself in, for the first 3K. My real #1 goal was to not need to stop and walk for any of the hills. I didn't really have any time goal in mind, though at the start I was confronted with the signs "bis 60 min", "60-70 min", "über 85 min" and in the end I decided that I would put myself just in front of the 85-minute sign and be happy if I was right.

Off we went and I was ordering myself to take it nice and gentle and easy, so one can imagine my mix of "wow really?" and "argh" when my watch buzzed the first km in 5:10, somewhat faster than my average pace for last month's half marathon. And then the second in 5:11. I have a hard time understanding how I could go that fast while feeling that slow (and indeed letting various people pass me, knowing that everyone around me had lined themselves up at roughly 85-minute finishing times)--it was net downhill, but less than 1%. I slowed to 5:34, which was a more reasonable starting pace, for km 3, although I'm not sure how much of that was intent and how much was me having to cope with the woodland path. Then I took it very carefully for the climb, and was sort of surprised to see people walking even before they'd got halfway up the first hill, but okay those were some nice boosts for the ego. I was delighted to see that kilometer 4 went by in 6:15 when its first half or so was this reasonably steep but steady uphill, so then I started feeling pretty good about myself.

There was more uphill (similar grade, but shorter) in kilometer 5, which I knew to expect, and I managed the K in 5:55 which I was also fairly pleased with. By the middle of the race I was feeling pretty darn good, and knowing that the second half (with the exception of the bumpiness in 10) should have no further nastiness made me fairly confident. So kilometers 7-9 passed in 5:16, 5:23, 5:23 and I felt great. I did my best to cope with the bumpiness in 10, and I tried to be careful not to fling myself down the reasonably steep hill in 11 as I was still tired from 10 and didn't think I could cope with an all-out session of downhill speed racing. (I do tend to pass people on downhills, not because I'm pushing but because I try to concentrate on not wasting any energy putting the brakes on. Then again I also tend to bomb down hills on my bike after I've crawled panting to the top, so maybe I just live for danger? Certainly it was "exciting" in the March race when there was SNOW on the 5-10% downhills that had been trampled smooth by the 300 runners in front of me and I decided the best way not to slip was to make sure I stayed on top of my momentum...)

Had the race ended at 12km, I'd have felt great. Unfortunately I had 2.8 more to go and I have to say that they pretty much sucked. I'm not sure what happened there. It wasn't hitting a wall, not by a long shot, but I was just tired and wanted to be done and couldn't make myself push any harder than "yes I know I will finish." I'd picked out a couple of race targets whom I wanted to overtake, but by 13.5km I just couldn't force myself to make the effort and stopped for one last water swig, letting them disappear, before making my final push. Once I actually saw the finish line I was able to accelerate a bit, but that was only about 500 meters. Still, I had a nice surprise to see the clock reading 1:21 when my stated goal had been 1:25, so evidently I hadn't completely fallen apart by the end. To be honest, if I'd realized at kilometer 13 that I had a chance of sub-80 minutes, I probably could have found it within myself not to stop for that last water break after all.

When I rounded the final corner I could hear the not-so-dulcet tones of my daughter screaming for Mummy, about 25m from the finish. I guess Daddy was trying to take pictures and she was furious that Daddy wouldn't let *her* play with his big expensive camera and Daddy was furious that he was missing the photo op of me heading for the finish...have I mentioned that she is two? So I crossed the line and then turned around to beckon her to me (the finishing straight was not too crowded so it was reasonably safe) and cheered her across the finish line and everyone thought it was adorable and then she got much happier. Well, except for the bit where she was insisting I go run run run some more so that she could run alongside me--she is not yet old enough to understand that Mummy has limits.

One of the things I actually do like about this race series is that their finisher's prizes are interesting, and edible. For my first race in March the prize was a fairly large slab of what tasted vaguely like Lebkuchen, chocolate-covered and extremely tasty. When I ran the Flughafenlauf in early May, the prize was a jar of local honey. Today's sponsorship theme seemed to involve some local butcher's shop, so the prize was a small slab of cured pig that I enjoyed as part of a breakfast fry-up this morning.

Those who are that curious may examine the wiggly lines of the race stats. What with the screaming kid I forgot to stop my watch for a minute or so, but my official gun-to-line time was 1:21:12 and I reckon (assuming that they fired the gun precisely at 15:00:00, which being Swiss they almost certainly did) my line-to-line time was 1:20:49, making me #76/129 women--inching ever closer to that coveted top 50% in these idiotically fast Swiss races. I'm fairly pleased with the time, despite not breaking 80 minutes, and I'm very pleased at how strong I felt in the middle after the big hills. I only wish I knew why I started to lose it there at the end when I should have felt free and clear.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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