Although very frustrated with my performance at the World Championships in Hawaii, I knew I was very fit and had a great season of racing to date. With the aim of ending the season on a high note and in the process switching training gears for a few weeks, I picked the HITS Olympic distance race in Palm Spring, CA. Many things were enticing about this race, it was in the desert with a beautiful mountain backdrop, it was going to be cold and as I stated above I was looking forward to the challenge of a shorter race after a few months of focus on the Ironman distance.
Race morning was chilly but beautiful as the sun rose, illuminating the mountains on either side of the valley floor. Pre-race I was calm, I knew the work I had put in over the last month would pay off and I was excited to end the season on a high note. Warm-up was uneventful and went to plan. I let myself slowly warm up with some light jogging and then eventually into some building strides around a conveniently located loop in the parking lot. The scenery was beautiful and I was excited to race so it was not difficult to stay relaxed. With about 30 minutes until race start I put on my wetsuit to lock in the warmth of jogging and headed to the start.
To summarize, the swim was cold. They said 58, maybe I am just soft but it felt pretty unbearable. Knowing the importance of getting in the water to acclimate especially on cold days, I forced myself in about 10 minutes before things got underway. Everything hurt and I was eagerly waiting for the first rush of warm blood; not sure it ever came. Now thoroughly awake from the water, it was time to race. I lined myself up on the inside of the start line with the shortest line to the turn and waited for the gun. I swam hard right from the start and was able to quickly distance my competition. The water was so cold, I never warmed up. I had planned to take it easy on the swim and let myself ease into the effort but that was not in the cards. I tried as hard as I could to generate body heat but by the end of the two loop course I had certainly slowed; breathing and generally moving my arms was becoming labored. I was glad to get out of the water and also glad that I had built a strong lead through the first leg of the race. I was eager to get on the bike and start my effort, hopefully warm up a bit too.
Once out on the bike I immediately felt like I was in control. My plan was to ease into the first 5 minutes and then really allow myself to start pushing in the desired range - 315 - 330. The course was simple with only a few turns and minimal elevation gain over the 24.5 miles. As I expected, the only real discomfort I was feeling was from numb feet. I was pretty sure this would happen after a cold swim and chilly air on the bike so I wore my socks with that in mind, but the feet were still quite cold. As the minutes started to tick away on the first half of the bike, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was still able to produce my desired power and if anything, the effort was becoming more comfortable. I have been able to produce power like this in training for at least two years but have often failed to fully replicate that potential in a race. Even during my bike split, it was hard to control my excitement, I was almost surprised at times that the power just kept coming and the effort felt very sustainable. Since Hawaii, I had spent a lot of time on the trainer and the benefits of this solid work were obvious at the Olympic distance intensity level. Another benefit of time spent on the trainer is freedom to think about your form without the stress of traffic or the mental engagement of actually riding a bike. I was pleased that the changes I had made to my training over the previous month showed up not only at the beginning of the bike split but also towards the end as things started to require that little extra bit of focus. Half way on the course was marked by a simple cone, police officer and an aid station. Having successfully clipped, and regrettably knocked over the cone on my U-Turn, I quickly assessed where I was energy wise as well as compared to my competition. I knew I had a decent lead out of the water and was pleased to see that the lead had grown. At this point I knew I would be alone for the duration so I switched my focus to executing a great back half of the bike and finally being able to run a decent split off a strong bike split. The back half of the bike surprised me even more than the first half. I was able to maintain and even felt like I was controlling at times, as I got closer to 40k I started to gain more confidence that even though these were great numbers, I was actually in control and would be able to run a strong split. Another breakthrough in this race was maintaining the lower cadence I had been working on throughout a bike split. Normally when things start to go off the rails I will revert to a higher cadence, for perhaps the first time in the Olympic distance this was no longer the case. As usual, in the last 5 minutes I took an opportunity or two to have a quick stretch and finish my nutrition, which in this case was a simple 1 bottle with 2 scoops carbo pro and 1 scoop scratch. I still have a lot to learn and room to grow when it comes to long distance nutrition but I can safely say I think 280 calories on the bike with 1 gel pre race sets me up well for an Olympic distance event. I got off the bike proud and a little giddy about the power I just put out, but also eager to complete the race and make sure this was not just a bike split but an entire race. Detailed data on the split below.
I spent most of T2 checking whether my feet were really there as they were completely numb and you easily could have convinced me otherwise. Numb feet is a strange feeling at any time but especially while trying to run quickly off the bike. The route out of T2 was through a lumpy field, then on pavement for about a mile, followed by a slightly longer section on gravel, done twice for a 6.2 mile course. Early on, my stride felt strong and I was able to keep the cadence high. In a perfect world I would have loved to be running 5:30’s but that wasn’t the reality on this day, or any day yet, but I promise it is coming. I knew that I would not be stressed from anyone behind me so I tried hard to stay committed to the effort and keep running strong after a successful swim and bike split. I decided to cap my effort at 170 beats per minute for the first half and then just give it anything I had left for the second loop. In the end that pacing turned out to be more or less correct as my pace faded slightly and the effort became difficult to sustain towards the end. Although I will always want the pace to be faster, I was happy because if felt like I was able to work hard and push all the way through the triathlon.
I finished in a time of 1:55:02, which was a course record as well as a PB for me at this distance. I swam 1500 meters in 19:34, I biked 24.5 miles in 56:26 and I ran 6.2 miles in 35:35. This race was the sort of race I train for, day dream on the trainer about but seldom actually get to complete. There is always something that gets in the way of a perfect race and there are always things you can do better, but on this day I was alone and no one was responsible for my pacing other than me. The Palm Springs Olympic Distance tri left a good taste in my mouth and helped frame 2018 as a great season with just two bad runs at inopportune times. Back to work, up next Ironman New Zealand on March 2nd.