This is the third year in a row I’ve done the Pitch Pine Challenge Olympic Triathlon. In addition to being run by a great race director and having awesome volunteers, the race is literally at one of my favorite places in New Hampshire. The race is held in White Lake State Park. Every time I go to this park I see a beautiful lake, white sand beach, and a stunning mountain view from the shore. Last year, while winning the men’s 30-34 age group I still didn’t feel like I had a “good” race.
This year I changed a few things about my training, equipment, bike position, etc. This was all in an effort to truly improve on prior years results. I was originally a bit concerned that this race followed close on the heels of Ironman Maine 70.3 where I had an excellent race. As I looked back on how Maine went, I had high hopes I could do very good here, but still, I surprised myself at this race. I’m pleased to say that this year I won my NEW 35-39 age group (12th overall) with a significant amount of time cut off last year. Here’s the official results. Below are my splits and read on for my 2017 Pitch Pine Olympic Triathlon Race Report.
The last race I did was Ironman Maine 70.3 just two weeks before this race. After Maine, I took a week almost fully off. I did that for a variety of reasons. Part of the time off was to do a lot of yard work which involved spreading 5 cubic yards of dirt by hand, grading the back yard, aerating, seeding, fertilizing, etc. Each evening I spent a few hours outdoors doing the work. It was awesome to see the final product, but still strenuous work. In addition, before Maine I had an unexplained black toenail. I chalked this up to loose shoes and running in thicker socks than I normally run in. Either way, I wanted a week off to recover a bit.
The week of Pitch Pine, I did a few rides and a run just to prep my body. This olympic distance race was considered to be a C race for me, so it while I’d race it hard, it was basically a training day. The two days prior to the race I had some personal matters to attend to which resulted in more sitting than I usually do in a day as well as not doing any workouts. That said, I was rather fresh for race day given the time off after Maine and only a few workouts leading into this race.
White Lake State Park is located about an hour and a half from where I live. Registration and transition opened at 7 am. Doing this race for a few years now I knew the lower parking lot fills up fast, but is only like 100 feet from transition. In order to be in the parking lot at 7 am, I left my house at 5:20 am which meant a 4:30 am wake-up call. I ate my customary oatmeal with maple syrup and a banana as well as a Starbucks Double Shot of espresso. It agrees with me.
After throwing all my pre-packed items into my car I had an uneventful ride. The TrainerRoad podcast kept me company. Some people listen to music, others the radio, but for me, this podcast always gets me in the right frame of mind. It helps me focus on the task at hand. Sometimes I download older episodes I’ve already listened to that have particular topics of interest. This time it was episode 63 with the guys from Flo Cycling. Call me a dork, but just listening to the amount of research and testing that goes into the bikes, wheels, tires, etc. that we all ride each day and take for granted makes me want to just ride my bike fast.
Upon arriving at the parking lot, grabbing my race packet, it was time to load up the nutrition, liquids, pump up tires, etc. There was a group of guys parked next to me that commented how much they liked my RoadID hat. I’m fairly certain they had some prior discussion about RoadID, but either way, I always race in one of these hats. My theory goes that should anything ever happen to me, a first responder should totally understand he or she should look to my wrist for identification. I was an early adopter to wearing a RoadID several years ago. After several friends, teammates, and competitors have been incapacitated during a ride or in a race, I’m a HUGE believer in the power of wearing one of these. Seriously, if you don’t have one, they are super cheap. Just get one. Click here…it’ll bring you right to their website.
The air temperature was very cold. It was 47 degrees when I pulled into the parking lot, but knew that the weather was forecasted to be sunny with a high around 60 during the race. Like Maine, it was quite likely that I’d do well as I’m always better in cooler weather. After dropping my bike in transition, I sat in my car for a while as it was much warmer. I hung out here until it was time to go back to transition and put on my wetsuit.
The water temperature was a balmy 66 degrees. Many people were complaining how cold that was. It was 6 degrees warmer than Maine so that’d be like a heat wave. For some reason I totally got the day’s schedule wrong. I thought the race was going to start at 9 am. I took a gel as I normally do around 8:30 (30 minutes before scheduled start). Turns out the race wasn’t scheduled to start until 9:15 and we actually got started at 9:20. So, total nutrition fail which came back a bit to remind me about this on the run.
I did hop in the water briefly around 8:45 in anticipation of a 9 am start with the purpose of acclimating to the temperature. As the race wouldn’t start for nearly a half hour, I started getting cold. Eventually, after pre-race rules it was time to go. We all entered the water one by one as they counted us. The countdown began and then it was time to race!
My swim goal here was just to get into a comfortable rhythm, sight well, start near the front of the pack, and attempt to stretch out my legs in the water. Let me explain. First, I noticed in prior events that I’d lose some time trying to maneuver around people starting 3-4 bodies deep. This time, I was pretty much on the inside front row. My swim pace is fast enough I don’t need to be at the back for a smaller race like this. I also made a conscious effort to bend my knees in the water and stretch out my hamstrings and hips. I was willing to sacrifice swim time to not destroy an otherwise good bike ride and run. The last few races I noticed coming out of the water with super tight hamstrings and glutes. In evaluating why, I think this was because I was so focused on keeping straight and strong legs scissor kicking. This was also likely a result of limited pool time. So I just took some time to stretch it out and boy did it work. I felt no tightness at any point during the swim.
It is odd though watching how some people sight in the water. Every race I see people on both sides of me swimming both far wide and far inside. I have people who swim diagonally into me. I know I’m swimming pretty darn straight as my sighting has gotten very good. My sighting motion is fluid as my body starts rotating my head pops out, sights, breathe, and back into the stroke all with a fluid motion. I sight ever 5-10 strokes. My neck doesn’t ever hurt now, nor does my back. That’s how I know I’m nailing the sighting. This course was shaped like an arrowhead. It was pretty easy to follow, but required a little bit more sighting than simple boxes.
All that said, I felt comfortable in the water and was able to push strong to the swim out. Again, I was laughing in the water because I was swimming directly for the swim out banner which was right at the lifeguard stand on the beach. There was a huge pack of people 20 yards off to my right. I’m not sure if they just didn’t see the stand, but my advice to anyone doing triathlon is ALWAYS recon the swim, bike, and run entrance and exit points. In my case, I was sighting the lifeguard stand as soon as I went around the last turn buoy. I exited the water with a time of 28:18 or 2 minutes 30 seconds faster than last year. Holy smokes…we’re off to a great start.
The run to transition was over a pile of very rough and sharp wood chips. Transition itself was in the parking lot which is normally full of gravel and rocks. The race director has been putting a carpet down the middle of the racks, but you still feel the sharp stones underneath and as you exit the central channel out to your bike. Knowing I’d experience this, I placed a bottle full of water in transition just to get as much of the stuck on dirt and pebbles off as possible. After spending what felt like an eternity getting my wetsuit off, I quickly exited to start my bike.
It was at this point I realized that it was going to be chilly for a while. The air temperature warmed up a bit, but I just felt chilled. Putting power to the pedals hurt more than it should have and I attribute that to the cool water temperature and air temperature not allowing my muscles to warm up more. It took at least a half a lap to properly warm up.
The cool thing about this race director is that there are multiple different races happening at the same time. There are sprint distance and olympic distance on the course together. There are also aquabike, duathlon, relay teams, etc. all sharing the course. While this makes tracking your age group difficult, they are kind enough to keep the numbers for olympic athletes (black) different than the sprint (red). This bike course is a very simple two loop, all right turn course for the olympic distance. As with prior years, my goal was to warm up as soon as I could and negative split the second loop.
Out of the park, we hustled down a brief downhill onto some great roads. The first half of the bike loop is pretty flat, but there is a decent hill that starts just after mile 7. As you can see from the graphic below, it’s not a terrible climb, but it’s long enough to hurt.
It was on this hill that I started to warm up. Interestingly too, right after this, my heart rate recovered for the remainder of the ride. Once we got back to the park entrance, all the sprint distance athletes got to head back to transition. Us olympic athletes had another lap to do. My focus was to keep the power strong and consistent, push the hill a little harder and see if I couldn’t catch anyone out there. On the course, I consumed two Stinger Waffles, Stinger Chews, and approximately 1.75 bottles of liquid. The waffles and chews were in my XLab Stealth Pocket which worked great. No wrappers to fiddle with or struggle to get open.
I succeeded in all my goals on the bike. My first lap averaged 205 watts (20.2 mph) and the second lap averaged 210 watts (20.7 mph). It’s interesting that a 5 watt average increase resulted in 0.5 mph increase in average speed. Normalized power was 218 watts with an IF of 0.839. My original plan was to target 0.85 – 0.88, but given how chilled I was for the first lap, I think this was more or less on target with expectations.
I did have a slight mechanical issue with 2-3 miles to go on the bike course. I was shifting and dropped my chain off the cassette and got stuck between my wheel dropout. My drivetrain needs to be replaced as it has far too many miles on original equipment. After a minute or so stopping to get the chain back on, we were back in business.
Last year, the course was a mile longer due to construction, but I was happy to cross the line with a bike split this year of 1:18:26, almost 10 minutes faster than last year (7.5 minutes when normalizing for different course length). Still, I felt really good coming into transition and was pleased to see there weren’t many bikes in transition for olympic distance athletes.
After racking my bike, I grabbed my hat, number belt, and Nathan waist belt with Nuun and started running to the exit. I’ve learned the lesson that if you can do something while moving, do it. Putting on a hat, number belt, and your hydration pack can certainly be done while moving so that’s what I did.
The run is where I’ve struggled the most in the past. I’ve tried very hard in recent months to get all my scheduled runs in AND do them outdoors with hills. So far, this has payed off HUGE. The run course was modified slightly to drop us onto Depot Road faster. Depot Road is a single road that is used for an out and back run course. Much like the bike course, sprint distance turned around sooner than the olympic distance.
Out of transition my legs felt a little heavy, but my pace on my watch was registering a very slow pace for what my perceived exertion was. It took about 3/4 of a mile after exiting the woods of the park for my watch to display a more realistic pace. As I exited the woods onto Depot Road and got away from trees and power lines, my watch was reading 7:45 – 8:15 pace. Ok…this is WAY faster than I planned on running. Last year I could barely run a 9:15/mile average and fell apart. At Ironman Maine 70.3 I surprised myself with how I felt compared to the pace I was actually running.
So I decided to go with it. At this point I had no idea how many people were in front of me in my age group, but I did know that there weren’t many bikes back in transition when I left. I began plucking off people left and right. Some were sprint distance, while others were olympic distance. As the miles kept coming, my pace surprisingly held and were pretty much all sub 8:00/mile. I was right on track to finish the race with an 8 flat pace. My mind at this point is blown as I’m thinking to myself “guess that running paid off” and “glad I did those tempo runs on those hills”. Around 1.5 miles into the run, my shoulder felt like a cramp was coming on and perhaps a side stitch too. Due to the incredible generosity of a teammate, I now sat on a pile of Hotshots for which I consumed one. I originally brought the Hotshot due to the way the cold water and I reacted at King Pine on the run. A minute later, all signs of cramps were gone.
While I can’t say I felt good, I certainly wasn’t letting off the gas. In the last mile or two I saw several people in front of me and worked steadily to pick two of the three off. I swore from a distance one of the men I wanted to catch had a 39 on his calf. Turns out it was a 29. So while I didn’t need to catch him, it still made me happy. Within the last two miles I felt really hungry which I attribute to not enough calories on the bike as well as taking the gel too early on the swim. I knew I could muscle through the last two miles as it wouldn’t affect my pace. After turning onto the short trail by the lake, I crossed the line very strong with a run split of 48:28 (7 and a half minutes faster than last year). This run split was also 1 minute 28 seconds slower than my standalone 10k PR. I was not passed a single time by anyone on this year’s run. On top of that, I finally have a finishing picture with both feet off the ground!
After smiling and laughing what I had just accomplished I still had no idea where I fit in the overall results, my age group, etc. At the King Pine Olympic Triathlon (by the same race director) in the spring, I did not make the top three in my new and older age group 35-39. I knew I had a great performance here and was curious how I’d stack up. While I was encouraged by the performance, I know that 35-39 is one of the most competitive age groups so I didn’t know what to expect. I kept checking the posted results but they only had the sprint distance.
While I waited, I decided it was time to grab some food which was eggs, ham, fruit parfait, and hot coffee. This certainly hit the spot. I continued checking for results bit didn’t see any. I decided I might as well wait until the awards because you never know. After going through many of the overall winners on sprint distance, age groups for sprint, it was olympic’s turn. They announced the overall winners and I remember thinking, “ok so I saw him on the run. He was a few miles in front of me”. Then they announce the 25-29 age group and I think “I passed him on the run”. When they got to the 35-39, my name was first. Top step baby! I also won the 30-34 age group last year. Man, how I love this race. Yes it is small, and yes, the competition isn’t as fierce as an Ironman, but it’s great to grab the top step.
What I Learned
I always love reflecting on what went well and what to do different in future races. This race was no different.
- Running outdoors…proven this is the way to go. Treadmills are fine for winter, but get outside as soon as practical.
- The TrainerRoad triathlon training plans (mid-volume Half Ironman to be precise) have worked incredibly well for me
- These training plans while improving my bike also trickled over into the runs.
- I’m still good just swimming “naturally”. I do well-enough.
- I under fueled a bit on the bike. Next time, I’d probably do another waffle.
- Trying to stretch the legs in the water worked out beautifully.
- Hotshots work.
- Dropping my run time is and will be key to progress into 2018, but don’t lose the bike fitness.
With that, thanks for reading!