Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Expedition Man Long Course 2012 (August 25th) Race Report

Overview of the race-
This is a great home-grown race.  2012 was its first year and the race director is already doing a lot of things right.  As with any race, there are things that could be improved, but this crew is on the right track.

It is a unique adventure through Western Nevada.  This race has a lot to offer the endurance athlete that is interested in a moderately challenging course with some great scenery.  The swim is in Zephyr Cove which is located on the Southeastern edge of Lake Tahoe.  From there you ride west to Carson City and then north to Sparks.  The run takes you on a beautiful trail from Sparks to Reno and back.  

This is considered a "festival" of events which means they have several events going at the same time.  In this case, they have a "Long Distance" (Half Iron) and "Ultra Distance" (Full Iron) triathlons as well as Aquabike events for both distances and they have relay divisions for each event.  This is not uncommon for new races to have several different options for participation.

The professionalism of the race is tremendous.  While it may not quite be up to the standards set by some of the behemoths in the industry, this race is head and shoulders above many other races and race series that have been in existence for years.  The event is well supported by truckloads of volunteers and the race has (at last count) over 35 sponsors.  The swag was quality and the marketing/promotional materials were very well done. 

The Swim - 1.2 miles
Air temperature was in the high 50's and the water temperature was in the low 70's (71 the day before).  You would think this would make the water feel warmer than the outside air, but it didn't.  Regarding my swim gear, I wore my sleeveless Xterra Vortex 3 wetsuit and Zootz neoprene cap (just to be on the safe side.)  I found the neoprene cap did a great job of keeping my head warm, but also effectively muted my swimming metronome, so I will need to find a different solution for this in the future.  The sleeveless wetsuit was sufficiently warm and buoyant while still leaving me with plenty of flexibility through my shoulders.

Swimming in Lake Tahoe in late August was an enjoyable experience.  The water was calm, clear and cool, but not cold.  The swim started a little later than publicized, but started shortly after sunrise and I would rather not swim in the dark, so I was not too bothered.  This is a picture of what it looked like at roughly the time we were originally supposed to start. 

This is what it looked like when we actually started.  If you look very closely, you can see the first red triangular buoy about 1/4 of the way into the picture from the left.

My plan was to start hard for the first 200ish yards and then find some feet to draft off.  When I picked my head up to look around, there was one guy about 30 yards ahead of me and no one else around.  I figured that if he was in my wave, I had no business trying to catch up to him, and if he was in the wave ahead of mine (that left 10 minutes earlier) I would zoom by him shortly.  After 20-30 strokes, I was not getting any closer to him, so I concluded that I would be swimming by myself.

By the time I rounded the first buoy, I started to feel the altitude.  The difference I could tell is that it was harder to get a good breath.  I felt like a "big" breath was only getting me about 80% of the air I needed.  It was not devastating, but noticeable.

I swam through several of the swimmers in the wave ahead, but as it was a small race, there was not any real "congestion" and there was plenty of room to swim around.  Recently in my swim training, I had been focusing on swimming more with my back muscles than my arms and I think this mental focus helped to make the swim feel easier and perhaps a little faster.

I exited the water just under 23 minutes.  This is 4 minutes faster than my previous personal best.  Debbie told me as I ran by that I was second out of the water, so I was pretty excited.  Even though my initial thought was that the course may have been about 300 yards short, everyone racing that day has to race the same course and the folks I spoke with after the race felt like it was the correct distance.   

Due to the cool air temperature and a substantial descent in the first third of the bike (1400ft over 9 miles), I thought it would be best to put on some arm warmers in transition.  As I had to wrestle them on over wet arms, my first transition was longer than it needed to be.  I saw a few guys run by me, so I knew I had lost some time against the field in Transition, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

Bike – 56 miles
Plan – Break the ride up into three 18.6 mile sections.  Attempt to keep the power output at 220 watts throughout each section.
This ride starts with a fair amount of climbing out of Zephyr Cove (6300ft) to get you to the top of Spooner Summit (7100ft) over the first 9 miles.  While there was some construction on this portion of the road, there was very little traffic. 

This is a picture of one of the brief descents in the first 9 miles of the course.  Due to the small field size and limited traffic, my wife and "team photographer" was able to stop on course and take a few pictures.

This is where the ride gets really interesting.  From the top of Spooner Summit you ride down Highway 50 to Carson City (4687ft) over the next 9 miles.  Better and more confident riders would be able to bomb down this hill and really enjoy it.  I on the other hand, was not exactly confident and chose to stop twice as the bike felt like something was wrong with the rear tire. 

In retrospect, I think it was the cross winds blowing through the canyons and making the bike feel like it was slipping sideways.  My top speed on this section of the course was 44.6 miles per hour.  I am not exactly familiar with the aerodynamics and handling of my bike at speeds like this, and this probably contributed to my anxiety.  This is something I should work on before my next race with substantial descending.  I am really glad the race director did not allow disc wheels on this course as I am sure it would have made things much worse.  My power numbers in the first lap were way off target (174 watts) but I rationalized that to the variability of the terrain and coasting for the majority of 9 miles.

The Second section of the bike took us through Carson City and through some of the bike trails on the west side of the city.  As I was going through one of the neighborhoods, one of the volunteers told me I was in 7th and was about 1:50 back from the next rider.  I knew I lost a couple of spots in transition and could only remember being passed twice in the first section on the bike so that sounded about right. 
About a quarter mile later, I passed the 6th cyclist getting some assistance with a flat tire from what looked like a race mechanical vehicle.  As I have been there several times myself in the last couple months, I felt for the guy.
Within the next few miles I heard another rider coming up fast on my left.  I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could pace off of him for a while to pick my speed up, but as he went by I was reminded of the “festival” atmosphere.  The rider was dressed in what appeared to be a head-to-toe spandex-ish kit including white zippered shoe covers.  This was obviously a relay team member as no self-respecting triathlete would take the time to put on a kit like that in transition.  I was able to keep him in sight for several miles and I felt good about that.  Eventually, he went off into the distance and I went back to my solo work. 
The power on my second lap was an average of 209, but the effort (perceived exertion) felt right.  There was more climbing on that lap than I had anticipated, so I decided not to race solely by the power meter.  I stuck with my plan and did not do anything drastic.  The split time was 54 minutes and as such was about 8 minutes longer than I had anticipated for that section. 
Toward the end of the third section I went through an intersection at the same time as a police officer on a motorcycle was moving between intersections.  I effectively got a police escort through a couple intersections in southern Sparks which was coincidental, but very cool.  I imagine that has got to be somewhat like Crowie or Macca feel like as they are leading a race. 
I finished the third section with watts averaging 206 and at a time of 44 minutes.  This was a lot closer to my time expectation, but my watts were still a bit low. 
The sheer number of volunteers on this course was staggering.  Almost every corner between three different cities had volunteers pointing the right way to go.  While the last few volunteers’ sense of direction left a little to be desired (they directed me in the “Run Out” part of the transition) it was a very well supported section of the race.
Overall bike split was 2:33:45 with average watts of 196.  I thought I was in 6th place at this point.  As it turns out, my power meter is actually out of calibration and I believe that is why my race watts were low for the level of effort I thought was right.  Hopefully I will be able to get that squared away before Arizona in November.

The best support crew ever (and me.)
I got through the second transition fairly quickly and was very happy to see my support crew there.  Debbie, Grace, William and my in-laws (Jerry and Pam - not pictured) were all there to cheer me on (and to give me sunglasses I had neglected to put in my transition area the day before – oops).  I am very lucky to have a family that is so supportive of me and my athletic obsessive compulsion.   
Run – 13.1-ish miles  Temperature was in the high 70’s to mid 80’s.
As you leave the transition area at this race you start by running over a fairly substantial overpass.  The run course then takes you along a bike path that follows the Truckee River to Reno.  It was very scenic and not crowded.
My initial goal was to try running at my open half marathon PR pace and to see how long I could hold that pace.  It became apparent early on that I was not ready to run at that pace for any length of time.  I had not done any training at this pace, I was simply being too ambitious in my race planning.
The back story to this ambitious thought…Two weeks ago I was guiding a good friend, Richard Hunter, through the Tri Santa Cruz Olympic distance course.  I thought I was going to be running a leisurely 10k at the end as Richard had been coming off a significant amount of recovery time and had not been doing any speed work…or at least that is what he told me. 
Richard set (what was for me) a blistering pace and “led” me through 99% of the run.  As I was very concerned about “losing” the “blind guy” I was running with and supposed to be guiding through the course, I really had to push myself to keep up and not slow Richard down.  At the finish, I missed my open 10k PR that day by about 5 seconds.  This led me to believe that perhaps I am just not pushing myself hard enough in the triathlon run and should really push to see what I can do.  So much for ambitious plans without the trainging to back it up...
My original plan had been to break the run into 4 sections and I had determined that my open half marathon pace would have been 23:15 per quarter (roughly 7:05 per mile). 
By mile 3, I was able to see the next racer ahead of me.  I saw him walk through an aide station and try to do a calf stretch, and I knew I could take him.  While I was not running fast (~7:30 minutes/mile at that point), I was running and I knew I could catch him.  From the first time I saw him to passing him was less than a mile and I tried to cheer him on a little bit as I went by. 
As I ended the first section in 24:17 (7:25 per mile), I knew I was averaging about 20 seconds per mile behind the pace I had hoped for and determined I should just do the best I could do on the day.  Perhaps I need to have Richard pace me though one of these half Ironman distance runs…
I did not see another runner until about 5 miles into the run.  This was the first runner I had seen coming back from the turn around.  In passing, he mentioned the course was a mile short.  If that was the case, he was only 2 miles ahead of me.  Don’t get me wrong.  At this point in the race, 2 miles is a LONG way, but I was surprised to learn that I was only 2 miles behind the overall race leader.
As I got closer to the turn-around, I noticed one other runner running toward me but we were just at the point where the “turnaround” became a loop.  It was a counter clockwise loop around a large parking lot and then you ran back to the finish along the same trail you ran out on.  My fellow racer was leaving the loop as I was going in. 
The “turnaround point” (according to the volunteer standing there writing down race numbers) was at exactly 6 miles on the run.
My second lap ended with a time of 24:49 (7:36 per mile).  While this was still quite a bit slower than I had targeted, my average heart rate was getting closer to the range I had hoped for.  On my long training runs, I had been working off heart rate targets as pace can change quite a bit due to terrain and environment.  If I couldn’t push my open half marathon pace for very long, I at least wanted to get my effort level right.  Running at altitude should take more work to get the same pace anyway.
A couple miles into my third section, an oncoming runner said “you are in third.”  This completely blew me away.  I had never been third overall in any race anywhere, and here I was.  I was past half way on a half iron distance run and I was third OVERALL.  I didn’t know what had happened to the other racers, but I figured since this guy really had no reason to lie, it must be at least possible. 
I immediately tried to assess my overall position.  I had gone by several runners between the turn around and the guy that told me I was in third.  I wasn’t paying attention at the time to how close behind me they were, so I might have some runners coming up behind me.
If this is a shot for me to end up on a podium at a long-course race, I am not going to lose that to some guy sneaking up behind me.  I started watching for long straights or open bends in the road that would allow me to look behind me and see if anyone was coming up on me.  I did this several times and then had another thought. 
If I saw someone behind me, what would I do differently?  I pondered this for a moment and decided that if I have enough energy to worry about and look for a racer coming up behind me, I was not doing everything I could to race the best race I could that day.  I needed to put all that energy into going forward faster.
At around mile 9, another runner going the other direction informed me I was about a minute and a half behind the second place runner, and that is just what I needed.  I needed to put my energy into catching number two rather than being concerned about being caught by number four.
At the end of my third section, my time was 24:23 (7:26 per mile) and my heart rate was now in the range I was looking for.  I was pushing as hard as I wanted to and all my energy was going forward.  Sure enough, by the end of the lap, I was able to see the second place runner ahead of me.  I was making up time on number two.
I kept pushing hard and was getting pretty close by 10½ miles.  I started considering race tactics (or at least what little I know about race tactics.)  I had a few options:
1)      Try to fly by this guy, and “break” him.  Hope he doesn’t try to chase and recover after I get a gap on him.
2)      Cruise up close behind him and try to out sprint him in the finish chute, or
3)      Let him have second place and hang back because I was already hurting.
I immediately ruled out option 3, because this is a race after all and I was making up time on him.  I would need to decide between option 1 and 2 by the time I reached the overpass going back to the finish.  It was 1 mile to the finish line.  I had ½ mile to see how things would unfold.
He and I came to the overpass together, and I decided to play it cool.  My comment to him was “does this run course seem short to you?”  I tried to give him the impression I was kind of disappointed by the short run and I was ready to run longer.
As we went up the overpass, I ran as smoothly as I could and pushed a quick turn-over.  I figured that if I didn't feel good, I would try to make my stride look good.  I didn’t look back until I took the left turn at the bottom of the overpass and I had a gap of about 80 yards on the guy now in third place. 
A few more turns running through a parking lot and I reached the finish line.  My time was 1:30:02 for the run and yes, the finish line was at 11.96 miles (roughly 1.1 miles short).  Again, you have to race the race you are given and since we all ran the same course, I will call it a successful race.  Besides, I wasn’t about to go run another 1.1 miles around the parking lot for my own good.  I was darn tired and happy to be done. 

As, the entire run was about 4,000 feet higher elevation than I train at, I also thought it was a good experience to see how my effort level can still be in the right place, but the pace/result not be what I expect. 
Shortly after I crossed the finish line, the announcer confirmed that I had finished second overall and I was pretty fired up. 
My finish time (adjusted for correct running distance) would have been very similar to my time at Vineman 70.3 in July.  However, this was my best relative performance and I was happy to take home a bit of hardware for being the first finisher in my age group.
I guess it is beneficial to race at smaller races sometimes.

 Lessons Learned
1)   Tapering correctly can help you fell better when racing, but if something goes wrong with your taper, don't sweat it.  One week prior to the race, I was planning on this to be a “long training day” and not really “race” it.  After a short exchange with my coach, he convinced me that my “A” race for the year was still 12 weeks out and I should go race as hard as I could.  So with very little adjustment to my last training week, I raced the inaugural Expedition Man Long Course triathlon.

2)   Racing at altitude (4410-6300 ft) is more challenging than training at 195 ft.

3)   You need to listen to your body and know yourself.  There are some great technologies out there, but you need to know yourself well enough to be able to take that information with a healthy bit of skepticism.

4)  Pushing yourself is significantly more about mental toughness and perspective late in the race.  Your body is going to be pretty trashed if you have done it right anyway.  There is a lot to be said for being able to continue to push when your body hurts and being able to focus on the right things.

Thanks for reading my personal therapy session.  I hope you enjoyed it and are able to take something away from it that will help you in your racing/work/personal/ professional lives.  If you found it valuable or think someone else might, please feel free to pass it along.    
If you would like to learn more about Expedition Man, click here -
And last, but certainly not least, many thanks again to my lovely wife, Debbie.  As "team photographer" and IronMate/IronSherpa extrodinaire, I could not do this without you.  Thank you for all your love, support and tolerance.  I can't wait to be sitting on a Kona beach with you someday.  (Hopefully sooner than later...for both our sakes.)
Next race report will be for Ironman Arizona in late November.  I hope I have something good to write about...


  1. Awesome Race Justin, nice to see you didn't have a mechanical on a 1/2 Iron for once :)

  2. Good job Justin !! I got hungry reading it :)