The 2018 Big Bear Triathlon was the last race in my first block of racing before switching my focus to the Ironman specific training. I rested for about three days prior to this race but at this point it is hard to back off too much with the Ironman about five weeks away. An added variable for the weekend was the 7000 feet altitude of the race venue. I had never raced at high elevation before but was certainly well aware of its effects as soon as the race started.
The swim start was off a dock into a two loop course. Pre-race I had been warned to take it easy at the beginning of the swim due to the altitude. Heeding such advice is easier said than done when the gun goes off and I started the race with a strong dive and about 30 seconds of hard swimming before starting to relax. I immediately noticed how much more difficult it was to breath than I had been expecting. I swam with two other athletes for most of the first lap, choosing to try and catch my breath and wait to see how their pace developed. At times it actually felt a little scary how hard it was to catch my breath. When you are on land you have the chance to at least increase your respiration rate, while swimming, you are tired to your stroke rate. I found myself debating whether it made more sense to shorten my stroke and breath more often or relax and swim catch-up but with a longer interval between breaths. In the end I spent the middle part of the race swimming a very relaxed catch-up stroke with no kick, just trying to get my my heart rate down. Around the start of the second loop I started to feel normal again, the ache in my muscles faded and the sensation of being behind on my breath eased. The second lap was far more enjoyable than the first half of the swim. Now that I felt comfortable I pushed the pace the last five minutes and was able to come back to the dock at the front of a group of three swimmers. Big Bear Lake, like all lakes in California, is low, so that meant a long run on a dock from the swim out to the transition area. I did my best to pace myself and watch my footing over metal docks and uneven concrete.
I left T1 at the front of the same group of three. This was my first race on my new Ceepo Viper, which I had gotten only two days before. This race would be my third ride on the bike. In many ways, using such new equipment is foolish, but I almost immediately felt comfortable on the new bike and I had already switched both of my sets of wheels to 11 speed hubs so I did not really have a choice anyway. The Big Bear Olympic bike course consisted of a rolling ride around the southern end of the lake, a very hilly out and back off the west side of the lake and then a fast flat run back around the northern section of the lake and finally back into transition. I did not really know how the altitude would impact my performance so I kept a few different plans in my mind, power and pacing wise. The biggest change position wise with my new bike is being more stretch out in the front. This was a welcomed change as I had maxed out the adjustability of the Felt, but change still takes time to get used to, even if it is better. Up the two larger climbs in the middle of the course I definitely felt a bit unnatural and the power was not coming as easily as I had hoped. I had my first chance to see how the race was unfolding about 30 minutes into the race as I started to head back toward the lake. At this point I had what I thought was about a three minute lead and started to feel a lot more confident about how things were going. Even when you are in the front it is hard to keep out all the moments of doubt. Is my power low because of the new bike, or the altitude or am I just having an off day? Assessing your competitors and getting a sense for how the race is unfolding can go a long way towards calming those inner discussions. The down hill back towards the lake was fun and very fast but I definitely had to have my wits about me due to the open roads and clueless California drivers. The ride around the northern section of the lake was a lot of fun. A slight tailwind and strong back half effort wise meant I spent most of the last 10 miles above 25 mph which is always a lot of fun and can even make you forget you are the one doing all the work at times. Overall numbers for the bike were 30.8 miles in 1:15.07 with 1500 feet of gain. Normalized power was 279 and average HR was 155. Overall I thought it was a strong day on the bike but I definitely could have cleaned up a lot of details. This course was unique in that there were at least four places where I had no option but to be coasting for extended periods of time. This made using metrics like normalized power during the race less useful and also provided genuine opportunities to recover, but also fed the temptation to go too hard right after that recovery. The biggest difference I perceived on the bike, due to altitude was a very high respiration rate. Even at relatively moderate levels of perceived exertion I was more or less panting to keep up with the effort. In the end I had the fastest bike split of the day and came into T2 with about a six minute lead over my competition.
The run was a simple out and back over rolling terrain on a small peninsula in the lake. For at least the first three miles I struggled to get my heart rate up. Just like on the bike my breathing rate was much higher than usual but the effort did not feel uncomfortable. It was a very strange feeling because your mind associates breathing at such a rapid rate with VO2 level efforts, on the contrary I was struggling to get my heart rate out of the 150’s. I focused on what I could control, leg speed, form and breathing, just finding little ways to up my pace. Much like in the swim, the second half of the effort was much better than the first, the last couple miles actually felt like running and I really enjoyed the effort. I ran a 39:15 for 6.06 miles at 162 HR. I was pleased to finish the race in a strong manner and ended up taking 1st place overall by about ten minutes in a time of 2:17.02. After this race I certainly have a greater appreciation for what altitude can do to the body. I am glad to have managed the conditions and continued to perform but there were definitely times in that race such as the 1st half of the swim and run where I felt less than in control. I can take a lot of good lessons from the race and I am very happy to have completed my first block of racing with three wins. That being said I am very realistic about the level I need to achieve to race competitively in the professional field so it is right back to work. Up next is an Ironman specific block for the next five weeks followed by Ironman Canada at the end of July and USAT Nationals two weeks later. But first, a quiet, pace night in the woods.