Buffalo Triathlon 2021 Race Report:
This was a B race that I put on my calendar mainly as an entry back into racing after a 19mo COVID layoff. My main goals were to try out some of the things I had been playing with in training over the last year in a race environment. Additionally I wanted to knock some rust off my transitions and see what I really needed to practice. Then of course I also wanted to use this as a measuring stick against some stiff local competition to see where I stood.
This race thankfully did contain quite a few of the local fast guys as well as some pretty tough conditions. I got myself into the elite wave to race directly with them and it was also nice not having any waves of slow swimmers to contend with. However I gave myself some blisters trying to do a longer sockless run on Monday to “toughen up my feet” but it backfired spectacularly. The rest of the week I was stubborn and kept training on them, taping them up but it just made them grow. By Friday I shut everything down and went into full on treatment mode and I was starting to suffer from quite a bit of anxiety about what I was going to do. Saturday I spent the day soaking my feet in Epsom salts and applying climbers balm to them. It seemed to work a bit.
Driving to the start line at 5am I noticed the thermometer on the local bank reading 80F. Yeah it was going to be a hot one. But probably more unique was that it was also forecast to be very windy, with sustained winds over 30kph and gusting to around 50kph. I gave myself a little extra time to get into transition and set things up considering I hadn’t done that in a good long while. I had been practicing my flying mount, but considering my rack was only 15m from the bike mount line and given the blister situation, I decided to put my shoes on in T1 and go barefoot in the race as things were feeling OK. I did have some socks and if things got really bad some KT tape as well but barefoot was going to be plan A.
The lake was a rather large lake and the swim was pretty much at the far end of where the wind was coming from which meant waves. I’d done my fair share of ocean swims dealing with swells and choppy water, so I wasn’t too worried. In the elite wave there were roughly 30 people both men and women so my plan as a relatively weak swimmer was to latch onto some feet in a “slower” group and hang on. What actually happened though was I think I found myself on the front group as finding the different groups in the water was tough with the waves. And consequently I went out way way way too hot going anaerobic. Once I realized this error I slowed down and found that second group I was originally looking for, but I had already gotten myself into the red zone. I needed a little more time to regain my breath but the waves were making it hard to take in the oxygen I felt like I really needed. This is when something new happened to me. I begun to panic just a bit.
I took a couple strokes with my head up out of the water, sacrificing all aspects of fundamental swim form and wondered what I was even doing out there. What was I doing signing myself into the elite wave. I’m not elite. I have no business here. I’m going to get caught by all the age group waves. My bike will be the last one in the elite rack. How embarrassing. I put my head back in the water and resumed swimming. Panic returned. Head came out. Then I noticed a couple other small groups of swimmers to my left. OK, so I wasn’t in last. Maybe I can do this. I again put my head in the water but again it wasn’t the time. So I resolved to swim with my head up until the first turn bouy. Once I rounded the turn the wind was now at my back and instead of hitting me from the side, the waves were behind me. I put my head in the water and got motoring again.
I eventually caught a couple other swimmers and latched onto some feet to come back in. When I got out of the water and crossed the timing mat my watch read 28min and some odd seconds. Damn. That was…slow.
There were still bikes in the elite rack! I wasn’t last! But there were not many. I slipped my feet into my shoes and the blisters didn’t object. Awesome. Had a swig of some of my watered down decarbonated redbull in my transition bottle and headed out onto the bike course. Time actually at my bike rack 55 seconds. I can do better but not too sad about that. The two people I came out of the water with had run a bit faster from the lake to transition so I was a couple seconds behind them.
Lap 1/2: I was in a bit of a bad mood getting out onto the bike course. Yes I wasn’t last but I also wasn’t very happy with my swim. I’d later find out that aside from a couple uber-swimers, the majority of the elites finished the swim in around 24min. Yeah, conditions were that bad. But I didn’t know that at the time and just assumed I was already something like 10min back so I was feeling a bit deflated. I did manage to pass my swim mates pretty quickly and that gave me a little bit of a boost, but then the bike course turned uphill and into the winds. I was having trouble settling into my goal power for the day and was wondering if the swim took more out of me than I thought, or if I was just having a bad day. Either way, I pushed on staring at the empty road ahead of me with no rabbits in sight.
Soon the road turned and I was now into a cross-headwind with rolling hills and got my first rabbit to try and pick off. That motivated me a bit to get going and soon I had passed them, though I was noticing a fair amount of body tension while riding in the crosswinds. I’ve been taking my bike out in the winds this year to practice just this thing but I could obviously use more and never had something like this to practice in. Looking back at the race, I think this took more energy out of me than anything else on the bike. Anyways another turn and now I had mostly tailwind and hills. For these downhills I got down onto my basebar and kept my general aero position, just with a little extra stability in case a big gust came from the side (which did happen occasionally) and I didn’t feel it was worth the risk to stay in the aero bars. Another turn and now the tail-crosswind. Found a couple more rabbits and again fought with the wind, but I caught them by the time I hit the second lap. I was sitting at an Average Power of 290W, NP of 301W, and Avg Speed of 40.2kph. Short of what I was targeting but considering the wind and my crabby mood earlier I understood it. But getting done with my first lap all things considered over 40kph I was feeling a bit better about myself.
Lap 2/2: Now I had bike traffic to contend with and it was pretty dense. However it did make the “game” a bit more fun to constantly have somebody to pick off. There were times when I ended up passing somebody who in turn was passing somebody else but the roads/shoulder was wide enough to accommodate. Once I got into the cross-headwind the density of traffic was getting a bit lighter which was wonderful as I wanted to give people a wider berth on the downhills given the winds. The really cool thing at this point too was that I noticed my avg speed was still just about 40kph with the majority of the headwinds done and dusted. Onto the tailwind portion and really opened up, I was starting to enjoy lap 2, though I was noticing something that almost never happens to me on the bike: My arms were covered in sweat. Yeah, it was getting hot out, and even the winds I was experiencing were not enough to keep me dry, which is usually the case for me. Into the cross-taliwind section and I made some more passes getting my avg speed up to 40.7kph before I had to slow down to come back into T2. Avg power 296 with NP of 310. IF of 0.86 so the 2nd lap was closer to my goal of a 0.9IF on the bike. Also turns out that I had the 2nd fastest bike split overall as well.
Feet still felt pretty good so I slipped my bare feet into my running shoes. (I went with my Altra training shoes with the big wide toebox instead of the Carbon plate Nikes I usually use for racing) Had another sip of the redbull, put on my hat, grabbed my race belt, and headed for the run out. It took almost until the actual run course for me to get my racebelt clipped in, but no biggie. 35 seconds at the rack. Could be better again but not bad.
The run started up a pretty steep incline and there were the blisters! If I slowed down a bit it wasn’t so bad, and even once it flattened out, if I went much faster than a 4:30/km the pain went up a fair amount. Now, this seems like a great excuse for why my run time was as slow as it was, but I’ll be honest, even if the blisters did not exist, I don’t know if I could have sustained a much faster pace given the heat, wind, and terrain. There were a couple guys that passed me by on the way to the turn around (which was all uphill, into a headwind, and with zero shade…ugh) but the cool thing was that I found myself in 9th place as I was counting back and really not all that far from the leader from what I could tell. Which also meant I got off the bike 4th overall! Woah!
By the time I hit the turnaround I was starting to struggle with the heat and keeping up my pace, but I soldiered on just focused on being mindful. At one point another guy passed me pushing me to 10th but he began run/walking so we went back and forth for a bit until the last km where I went past him for good. Being honest with myself, I’m actually glad I was limited to that 4:30 pace because crossing the finish line I knew I was able to maintain that pretty consistently and didn’t have much left in the tank. All in all my run was right around 45min for an overall time of 2:15.
I was really hoping coming into the day to be more in the 2:05 range but I think those calculations were based on a more idealized course and conditions. I’m pretty sure that I’d be able to claw back 3-4min in the swim given no panic attack and smaller waves, another 3min I’d think on the bike for a less hilly course with less wind, and at least 4min on the run without the heat. So I’m pleased. I finished 9th overall, 9th in the elite division, and as it turns out the 8 guys in front of me wouldn’t even by in my AG anyways, so I was the fastest M35-39 on the course that day. It was hard, it was a struggle, it was miserable, but I’m happy!