Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mazatlan Pan Am ITU continental cup : Race Report

Most importantly it was a good day for my Riptide teammates. Jordan finished 11th overall to earn ITU points, the first time a Riptide athlete has done that in a while. He had a great run. Dan and Matt followed Jordan a little bit further down the pack, also decent performances, yet we all know they have more in them as well. The 3 of them were able to get in the same bike pack, which I just missed by about 20 seconds if I could have swam with more fury. Amy also finished her first ITU race. Cyrus barely missed a bike pack and had to ride solo for a while and unfortunately was lapped out. He'll be back for the next race and will be able to get in a pack.

My first ITU race was a lot of fun, even considering my horrid & painful run leg, which consisted of bad quad cramps forcing me to stop often, trying to shuffle to the finish. I struggled to run a 38:12 10k, so a good 4+ minutes slow. I had to take 3 days off of running after the race, as my legs were still a painful mess, but am now ready to get back at it. That being said, I was able to enjoy an hour long swim to an island and back to our beachfront hotel with Dan, and enjoy the hot tubs.
I learned a lot from the experience, and it was awesome to be part of a big international race. At the day's end, I finished a disappointing 40th place out of 52. It was a stacked field with various Olmpians (Shoemaker, Serrano, Plata), and countries represented included the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, & Israel.

I knew coming into the race that my fitness was not where I had hoped it to be, due to up and down training due to 2 bouts of sickness, a slight hamstring strain, but mostly other life happenings and distractions, which are all part of life and must be dealt with. I put my doubts aside and focused on giving 110% effort and nothing less, and I knew my swim fitness was still better than it's ever been so had confidence in the swim. For ITU racing, the swim is everything..well kinda. If you can't swim fast, you have no chance in ITU racing since the bike leg is draft legal, and a slow swim will leave you alone and likely to get lapped out of the race on the bike.

Race recap: We lined up on the beach for the 2 lap swim start. It was an awesome environment. A TV helicopter over the water covering the swim. The announcers introduced us one by one as we took our starting spots. There were quite a few locals watching as they held a local race prior to ours, which started at 11:30am. My first 500m of the swim hurt me, as I was not near aggressive enough, and I struggled to get around a few slower swimmers I was trapped behind. I had planned for a crazy start, but I still didn't get out quick enough. I had a ton of trouble trying to get around people, and got my head fully palmed and dunked under by someone, right before getting my leg pulled on, which got me a bit frustrated. It's like slapping people in a washing machine and getting pulled for the first 400m or so. This is racing, and it's important to stay calm and focused. I tried to push the 2nd 750m swim loop harder than the first, struggled with a crazy chest cramp, but made sure I had my eyes on the guys right with me so I had a group to work with on the bike. I exited the water feeling too fresh. Part of it was coming to sea level from altitude, which felt great, and part of it was my swim fitness. I was encouraged to feel fairly fresh out of the water. Yet at the same time, this meant I hadn't left enough in the water.

I sprinted to transition, grabbed my bike, and tried to TT my way up to the large pack, which I just missed by 18-20 seconds. Problem is often in ITU racing, and in this case, this 20 seconds meant a finishing time of 2-3 minutes slower, since that huge bike group biked a 1:01 and our smaller group clocked a 1:03. Again, lessons learned. The swim is what it's all about. I waited for a few miles until I slipped my feet in my shoes, as I knew I needed all the speed I could maintain and to give it my all to try to catch the group. After spending myself quite a bit, I realized the group was gone, and I wouldn't make up the time as I was riding into a crazy headwind as well. The bike course was 6 out and back loops, and we averaged about 7-8 mph slower on the way out compared to the way back to transition, to give you an idea of the wind. I ended up joining up with my friend Henry Hagenbuch (USA, All-American steeplechaser for UCLA) who was just behind me, and we worked together to catch Americans Jimmy Archer, Sean Jefferson (ex-pro miler for the Oregon Track Club), Victor Plata (2004 Olympian), 2 Mexican athletes, and another rider. Our group worked together for the entire bike. Henry and I did a lot of work for our group. Draft-legal racing is a ton of fun as you still have to hammer, but get breaks here and there when on someone's wheel. Still hard, but not the same effort as TT'ing for 100% of the time. I got to use my Spanish a lot and often yelled at the Mexicans to do their share of the work, who were found slouching in the back here and there.
I came off the bike with super-runners Henry and Jefferson, cramped badly about a half mile into the 3 lap 10k, and was forced to hobble a bit. My legs simply wouldn't let me run, so I had no option but to try to rub it out, stop and stretch, and try again. This was the trend on the run. Jimmy Archer and I shared similar experiences, as we passed each other often, and then cramped often. The run course was crazy hot, and I had only taken 2 salt tablets on the bike. They had about 6 aid stations per lap, with bags of water you bite into to break open. Before that race I thought that seemed crazy, but the last lap I took water at every station to pour on myself as I was really overheating.
Although it was not the perfect race, I am happy to finish my first ITU race and excited to take the lessons learned into the next race. I will continue to attempt to figure out my cramping issues, and plan on experimenting more with salt, nutrition and diet, and am planning on getting a Vo2 max test, sweat rate test, and other tests done to see if I can narrow things down a bit more. I've talked to a few people about it and have gotten some great recommendations. I think a big part of my muscle cramping is the need for more runs off the bike, and the need for that muscle memory. I am adding more brick workouts to my training, and am confident that is a great place to start.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend. Dan's wife Beth took some great race shots, thanks Beth!

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