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Welcome back to racing, wow Europeans are fast!

Racer: Chris Rohde
Race: St. Polten 70.3
Date: Sunday, May 17, 2015
Location: St. Polten, Austria
Race Type: Triathlon - 70.3
Age Group: Male 45-49
Time: 4:56
Age Group Place: 41

Introduction

My club in the US (about 500 members) has an email group (similar to 21cc) where members can post "race reports" on their experiences and results both good and bad for any type of race.  It gives other members a chance to hear about new race venues as well as what athletes had go well and maybe did not go as planned. While I have never posted a report, a US mentor and role model of mine is always encouraging me to do so. As my first triathlon back from my achilles tear and since Jane asked for some thoughts, I figured this was a good time to start archiving information of my races hopefully learning from my mistakes.  While I will never be as fast as my US mentor (he is a multiple time Kona placer), as funny or informative, I will do my best to paint the picture of the experience I had in Austria a few days ago.  I am a little fearful that Google Translate may lose some of my details and humor, as I often miss when I read 21cc emails. 

Travel/pre-race

Joining me on the Thursday to Monday trip was my wife Jurgita who I am thankful for being so supportive and considerate of what is helpful for a racer (it helps that she races too). This was my first time flying to a triathlon with my bike, which added a little more stress.  After arriving at our hotel,  located about 40k from the race area, I managed to put together my tri-bike fairly easily however there was a problem with a big bolt in the head set (I did not have a 7mm wrench in my travel kit) and the shifting was not to my liking. Luckily, I stumbled upon a local bike shop (sponsor of the race) mechanic just before they were closing for the day.  He agreed to look at my issues, fix them and quickly re-cabled my rear derailer. That was a big relief.  I really wish I could handle all those bike issues. Still so much to learn. 

Coach Kirill had me bike on Thursday and Friday and I took that opportunity to ride the 3 climbs of the bike course and take a look at the descents which both Jane and Marko said were fast and tricky.  The weather cooperated and I was also able to get in a short run and 30 min swim in the lake. I honestly felt fresh, fit and ready to race. 

Race check in and bike drop off on Saturday was smooth and was uneventful. I should mention that when I showed the check-in table my Estonian Triathlon Federation card (I'm a proud card carrying member), it got passed around to several individuals while they tried to figure out if it was legitimate or not (no other Estonians were listed in the race guide, but 2 Latvians and 2 Lithuanians were). I attended the English language race brief which was very professional and informative. I was impressed when the presenter/official pointed out the fast dangerous bike descents on a map.  I remembered the locations since I rode the segment the days prior.   The presenter then showed a short go-pro video of a motorcycle driving the sharp turns.  Additionally, he mentioned that if you are not sure where this turn is "you will on race day by the ambulances on the side of the road".  The brief was by far the most thorough and helpful I have ever attended. 

Race morning

I woke up before the 4:00 alarm, and did everything I could to eat the yogurt, fruit and bread we had in the hotel room. Nerves made it hard to eat anything, but I knew I had to get calories in. We were out the door at 4:35 and in a great parking spot by 5:10. Transition areas opened at 5:30 and I was one of the first racers to check my bike, turn on the Garmin, pump up my tires, fill my water system, double check my bike/run transition bags and put baby powder in my bike and running shoes.

Swim

The race claims to be the only 70.3 triathlon in the world where you swim in 2 lakes, having to run between the lakes over a wooden bridge. While it sounded fun and unique, I was a little disappointed that the time spent running between the lakes counts towards your swim time, however the distance does not.  The swim start was a in-water wave start and my age group, 45-49 was the 7th wave, 10 min behind men 40-44.  I made sure to get in the front of the corral as they let us in the water, I attempted to swim around to warm up in the 18 degree water and hang out near the front where most men were assembling. It was my first race in my TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit and I was already surprised how much higher it floats me in the water than my prior wetsuit as well as better range of motion in the shoulders.  I really wanted to swim sub 30 min if possible. 

Coach Juri wanted me to be near the front of the group and not go out super fast as many will do.  I positioned myself in the front row and after the horn blew, I did my best to find feet. The first lake was much cloudier than the second lake.  I felt like I was moving along at the back of the front group and tried to keep a comfortable tempo while staying on someone's feet.  After about 500 m we started to swim into the slower swimmers from the waves in front of my wave.  It was congested and getting worse.  I tried my best to stay on someone's feet and avoid being kicked by the swimmers doing breast stroke kick.  The exit of the first lake was only about 5 m wide and there were plenty of other age groupers taking their time exiting. I dodged my way around the casual exiters, ran up the hill and on to the wooden bridge.  Marko mentioned to me to be careful on the bridge as it gets wet and slippery. He was right and I did my best controlled jog.

Getting in the second lake I again navigated around some age groupers enjoying their swim and dove in once it was deep enough. Finding feet was easier in this lake as it was clearer. The entire swim I felt good, was happy with my pace, but was not sure if it was too slow or too fast (doubtful). 

After coming out of the second lake, I checked my watch which read 31:47 (made another mistake by failing to hit the transition button on my Garmin) but disappointment was  short lived because I saw Jurgita who told me I was 13th swimmer out of my wave (I have never finished the swim that far up out of almost 300). That information was really uplifting and encouraging, despite the watch showing a slower time than I was hoping for. The original race results, show the first lake 1.1k to be competed at a 1:30 pace which is exactly where I wanted to be for a 29 min swim.  I’m confident Coach Juri will get me there one day!

Bike

The transition to the bike was fairly uneventful. I should mention that both of my transitions, 3:30 and 3:30 (no prize for identical splits) gave me 7 additional minutes of time.  The distances of the transitions were long (distance) and Kirill reminded me that typically they are closer to 4-5 min (or faster for him and the pros).

The bike course was a one 90k loop, with almost 800m of vertical climb (I obviously did not know how this would effect me). The bike race plan was to try and average 220 watts and keep my hr in the 160's (I was hoping that 220 watts or 240 normative power would give me something around 2:30 total time). I have raced 2:27 twice before on very flat courses, but never ran well after that.  Thinking I could go that fast was also before the 2 days I rode the 3 climbs and on race morning veteran riders told me the segment along the Danube River would be a headwind and the times would be slower than last year (most went 4-6 min slower).  

The bike course started in a residential neighborhood and you then merged on to a highway that was closed to vehicle traffic.  It was really cool, fast and fun.  I was trading places with several guys for the first 20k before we exited the highway on to the first climb. I was happy to see that in holding 220 watts I was riding around 42k/hr.  I knew that average was going to get smashed very soon. 

I made it up the first hill and to the first aid station with no issues.  I grabbed a water bottle and filled up by hydration system which I was sipping a combination of Carbo Pro and EFS.  I had a gel schedule of when Kirill wanted me to take them.  One by 10 min, 40 min, 1:10, 1:40 and 2:10.  I had those times written on tape on my aero bars should I drift into endurance purgatory. 

The first major decent had a big left turn half way down the hill and just as the official at the briefing stated you will know this turn by the ambulances. There was one on each side and they were treating 2 riders who must not have been paying attention at the briefing. After the race I found out that no one was seriously hurt during the race, which is great, especially since I read someone in the US was killed on the bike in a triathlon race this weekend. 

As I was completing the long 8k climb, at about 65k, I started calculating that my time was not going to be as close to 2:30 as once hoped (possibly erroneously).  Luckily the back side of the last climbs had some nice descents that I hit 70k/hr on (pretty sure thats the fastest I have gone in a race).  Feeling a little discouraged by not riding as fast as hoped, I was a little relieved that my normative power, average power and heart rate average were where Kirill wanted me to be.  

My bike stats, averaging the Garmin watch and bike Garmin yielded the following; average speed of 34k/hr, average heart rate 167, cadence 78, average power 220 watts, normative power 233 for a race time of, yuck, 2:39. 

Run

The run was a 2 loop course that was on crushed stone, sidewalk and some cobblestone (a little smoother than old town Tallinn). The transition to my run gear was fairly smooth and per Kirill, I put on compression ankle socks for the first time ever putting socks on in a race. Luckily the technique Kirill showed me worked well and I managed to get them on with no bunching. Socks on, shoes on, sunglasses on, grabbed 4 gels and off I went.  I was hopeful to run well since my bike time was slower than hoped.  Not really.

The run starts by going past the stands of the finish line which were full of screaming friends (not all mine), family and even cheerleaders with loud music playing.  After about 400m I checked my watch and saw my pace was 3:55 and I felt good.  Not the plan coach Kirill wanted, so I backed off to the recommended 4:25-4:30 we agreed would be a good goal.  I managed to hold that pace for the first 5k feeling confident.  The next 10k I felt myself slowing down and had a parade of age groupers passing me.  It was very discouraging especially since I used to consider the run my best segment.  Not anymore.  The 9 months of not running, really set me back and I was suffering. 

I would like to point out how impressed I was with the run aid stations at every 2k. By far the most organized and supportive I have ever experienced. Each station had great over head signage (in English) that offered, in this order; sponges, water, gels, coke, energy drink, Red Bull, water, sponges.  What a great system with really friendly volunteers.

Kirill suggested that if I was having trouble in the run (after about 5 k!), I consider taking coke or Red Bull. I did feel like the race was getting away from me (as the parade of runners continued past me).  My legs wanted to walk and my head wanted to be at the finish line. Hoping for a magic solution, I negotiated with my body to grab a sponge at the start of the aid station, place it in the back of my jersey and stop at the coke table, grab a coke and walk about 10 meters drinking the coke till the end of the aid station. For some reason, I have trouble drinking coke while jogging and to avoid half of it on my kit, walking a few seconds seemed like a great idea. I did that routine for several aid stations and tried not to get too depressed every time my 2K watch alarm alerted me that I was going much slower than hoped for.

At about 16 k I decided to try a Red Bull rather than a Coke.  I knew Red Bull was from Austria and I could of used “wings” to get to the finish line.  I am not sure if it was the Red Bull or the eventual finish line sighting (and cheerleaders!), the last 4k managed to pick up my pace to 4:40’s.  Finally, the stadium style finish line was in sight and I finished, hitting stop on my watch, fearful of the time it may display.  Within a few minutes of finishing I felt pretty good.  Not “go run more now” good, but at least I could walk around the finish area and enjoy the outstanding food and beverage offerings of the race.  That too was impressive.  Nice job St. Polten.

Post race

I am very lucky to have a wife who enjoys triathlons as much as I do and she really helped as my Sherpa. I hired her one more time in 2 weeks when I get a chance to race Ironman 70.3 Kirachgau, Germany. I will return the favor as her Sherpa when she races Ironman Barcelona in October. 

Overall I have mixed feelings about the race.  I am happy with most of the race plan execution and enjoyed the venue, however I am disappointed with my bike and run splits. I guess that is common among us triathletes who strive to go faster than before. I am relieved and grateful my repaired achilles behaved and feels great post race. I am appreciative of Kirill and 21cc coaches and teammates who were encouraging and helpful with my road to recovery and racing. Its great to be back in Tallinn and I'm hopeful I can go faster next time!

 

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