Monday, September 18, 2017

Chattanooga 70.3 World Championship Report

I honestly don't know how folks who travel for work do it. Being away from the family for just two nights was hard, and I know it was very hard for Katie back at home with Hannah and Jackson. Doing this race wouldn't have been possible without Katie's love and support, and I am in debt to all of the time she spent with the two little ones while I was away! In terms of travel, I flew south on Friday morning, renting a car, and then driving to Chattanooga from Atlanta.

Wetsuit legal. That's a phrase I usually love to hear as a rather weak swimmer, and one most folks weren't expecting in the lead-up to for this race. The thing is that cool nights have a way of lowering the water temperature, and it managed to just sneak under WTC's 76.1 'legal' temp. The unfortunate part was that I hadn't packet my wetsuit due to only taking carry-on bags and assuming it wouldn't be needed. Sure, in the week leading up to the race there was some speculation about wetsuits being allowed, but I was calling bs. This was my second time in nine years of doing triathlons that I was left in this situation, and being the world championships, it kind of sucked. Looking at my swim time compared with others I've raced in the past, it seems like not having the wetsuit cost me in the four minute range. Looking around as my wave headed towards the water, I think I may have been one of only three sans wetsuit. The moral here is simple - always bring the wetsuit!

Other than the wetsuit my biggest worry heading into this race was non-race logistics. I was cutting it a little close with my flight getting into Atlanta around noon on Friday with check-in closing at 5 pm. There ended up being an accident on Rt 75 heading into Chattanooga, and I only had an hour or so once I parked to get to registration. On the tail-end, I was a bit worried about getting home due to Hurricane Irma's approach. It wasn't supposed to get to the Atlanta area until Monday evening/night, but I was more concerned about connecting flights. As it turned out everything was ok.

This was my third time doing the 70.3 World Championship, and my third location. In 2012 I was pretty much a rookie when I raced in Vegas. In 2014 I was battling through an IT Band injury and had pretty minimal run training heading into that race. This year I was healthy, but my run fitness wasn't where it was last year. I felt if everything came together I could be right around 4:30 for an overall time.

As I said before, I arrived on Friday afternoon, and I immediately ran into a Team Zoot teammate - Bryan Dunn. We hung out for a bit, and, after registering, I went for a short 25 min run, hitting a bit of the run course. The hills didn't disappoint, but the legs felt great. On Saturday morning I got up an hour before my alarm was set - my body is wired to get up for early workouts and in setting the alarm for 6 am I knew I'd probably be getting up earlier. I ended up doing a short looping run around the hotel parking lots in the dark in the area of my hotel, had breakfast, then searched for where to get in a short swim. I found a location a bit upstream of Chattanooga and got in a quick 600 yards in the swimskin at 1:30 100/yd pace - I was hoping that would carry over to the race.

Daniela making it look so easy

Following the swim it was down to the transition/race area to spectate for the women's race. I was able to see Daniela Ryf absolute demolish the race and cruise into the finish. Her time was only topped by a couple age group men, and she was apparently not at full throttle. If she's anywhere near 100% in Kona, barring any bike issue, the race is probably not in doubt - the battle may be for the other two spots on the podium. I was psyched to see that my friend Jana placed 4th in her AG and had one of the top bike times.

I was then able to head over the Tri Bike Transport and begin to get it race ready. Around 2:15 I went for a quick 20 or so minute ride on a little bit of the first few miles of the bike course. That section was in pretty rough shape. As I was returning from the ride I was stopped at a light and I chatted with a woman who had raced earlier. She gave me a few tips, which included: the roads were in pretty poor condition and to err on the lower side with PSI, the first climb was hard, but there were several more miles with harder climbs before the 'top,' and to take the first lap of the run easy to have a solid finish. These were definitely helpful ideas to have in my head.

After returning to the transition area, I got my bike and gear bags all set and checked things in. 70.3 World Championship events are a bit like IM's with gear bags needing to be checked in the day before. It's a little more work, but it makes for a little less work on race morning. When everything was set up it was time to head back to the hotel to rest up, have some dinner, then get to bed. Of course sleeping isn't always great prior to a race. However, I feel I got a decent night's sleep. I think I was less nervous about this race simply because I knew I wouldn't be vying for a podium spot or attempting to qualify for another race. I probably got 6-7 hours of sleep, which is about average with
two little ones at home.


Jorge Gomez - 2x 70.3 WC Champ!
On race morning I was up around 4:30, having my usual HIM/IM breakfast of applesauce w/raisins, Gatorade & a Cliff Bar - that's around 700 calories. Over the next few hours I also had a Powerbar and another Gatorade, then a Powerbar gel 15 minutes before the swim, for a total of around 1200 calories. I set my bike up pretty quickly, with my shoes on the pedals, 700 calories of Infinit in an aero bottle, one BTA water bottle, half a Powerbar on the base bars, and the bike computer. I then went back to where I'd parked my car and did a short warm-up 1.5 mile run in different shoes. It was cool to see all the pros and I took a pic of who I thought would win - turns out I was right!

YIKES!!! Look at that time!
I changed into my sandals, left my phone & wallet in the rental car, and 'hid' the car keys near the car. I didn't want to take the chance of leaving them in my morning gear bag and somehow having the bag go missing. After all of this I still had around 30 minutes before my wave went off at 8 am. I was a bit lucky in this regard because some waves weren't starting until nearly 9:30. I believe that this race was the first one where they went to time trial starts within each individual wave. There was around 10-12 minutes between each wave, and I think the format worked pretty well. If I was a lot faster my only gripe would be not knowing exactly where you were in relation to racers you see on the course due to not starting in a wave start, but this wasn't an issue for me.

I dove into the water of the Tennessee River a few minutes after 8 am, and it was game time. I actually felt decent in the water, but I could tell that lots of folks were moving faster then me. The course was a net up-river swim, and although the flow was lessened for the race via a dam, it was still noticeable. I was hoping that I'd still come out of the water in the 33-34 minute range, but seeing 37:xx when I climbed the steps was an 'oh crap' moment. Already a few minutes down from what I was expecting. My transition wasn't all that speedy, but eventually I was out onto the bike and onto my strength.
My climbing buddy, David Cruz and I traded
positions on the way up Lookout Mtn

The four or first few miles were pretty flat, and this section had quite a few turns, railroad crossings (it's Chattanooga, right????), and pretty crappy roads. All of the road hazards were well marked, but it was pretty bumpy. Eventually we made a right turn and were met by a pretty short 'wall' that marked the beginning of the Lookout Mountain climb. I was aiming to ride the climbs at or slightly above FTP, and that's pretty much what I did. Most of the climbs were in the 330-350 watt range. Other than the first section and a few sections later on there wasn't anything super step. It was just a pretty long grind, but very doable.

At the top of the first climb there's a decent downhill section, but then there is another good stretch of ups and downs with some short steep pitches to deal with. The climbing really didn't end for good until just after mile 20, which was also right around an hour. At that point I was a little concerned that I was a bit over my power targets. I was right around 285 AP, but the NP was at 304. I didn't need to worry, because on the next set of long descent the average power dropped by nearly 20 watts. It was also during this 4-5 mile section that I got stuck on two occasions different cars. I had to slow down significantly - from fully tucked at 45+ mph, to riding their bumper closer to 30-35 mph. It was quite frustrating, and in both situations I was able to eventually pass, but I think these two instance easily cost me 1-2 minutes.

I had been hoping to finish the bike in just under 2:20, but my time ended up being a bit over 2:21. The traffic definitely played a role in the slightly slower time. So, it was then onto the run. I planned to be pretty conservative on the first loop and feel out the course. The basic course was out about two miles on a highway-ish road, then back on a path, over a bridge, immediately followed by a steep up and down, turn around, repeat the steep up and down, back over a different bridge, then repeat it all another time. The steep section on the opposite side of the Tennessee River was not insanely steep, but it was a good climb, which was essentially done four times. It was definitely a change from the Eagleman run, which is pretty much pancake flat!

At the end of the first loop I was feeling good and decided to up the pace a bit. Miles 8 and 9 were around 6:45 pace, which I felt I hold through to the end. Unfortunately, I ended up getting some abdominal cramps starting around mile 10 and the pace dropped a bit as a result. In the end I ended up running 1:32, about two minutes slower than what I felt I could run based on fitness. My final time was a bit over 4:38. Given the challenging course and quality field, I feel like I finished about where I expected. Had things gone perfect (and I'd brought along my wetsuit) I could have been closer to 4:30. It was a good way to end the season, and stepping stone for next year. I've signed up for Lake Placid in July, so training will be focused on that race, starting to ramp things up around March or April of next year.

One part of logistical worry was being able to leave quickly after I got my bike. Transition wasn't opening back up until 2:30 pm, and I would need to be on the road by 3:00 to have enough wiggle room getting back to Atlanta for my 7:45 pm flight. I was able to get my gear bags and bike, quickly drop the bike off with TBT, then get back to my car. Traffic was fine on the return to Atlanta, and I was home and in bed by 11:30 pm that night and back to work the next morning. Of course when I shared with my third grade students they asked me if I had won the race!

With the school year starting up, and Katie going back to school after taking a year off last year with Hannah, it will be hard to fit training in. We'll make it work somehow! Hannah just turned one and Jackson had his first day at pre-K!

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