Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Am A Triathlete, Revisited (Race Report: Kansas City Triathlon 2011)

Just a warning:  This isn't just a race report but a recap of my entry into triathlons.  If you want to jump down past the exposition, scroll to "May 20, 2011 - Carb Loading".

Three or four years ago, TKB and I were invited to watch our friends Joe VI and Kyle participate in something called a "Triathlon".  We knew they were the active type and wanted to see them in action.  We knew we were going to have to get up at the butt crack of dawn but we were excited to see what this was all about.  Unfortunately, TKB discovered she had an even earlier wake up call waiting for her, an ovarian cyst landed her in the emergency room at 3:00am.  She went through a lot of pain and tears that morning.  Seeing our friends finish one of these "triathlons" would have to wait.

Fast forward a few years to summer of 2010, the year I went from four to twenty-six point two.  During an e-mail conversation with Joe VI, Kyle, Danny, and Ben regarding our marathon planning session, I made the following comment:

2010: Finish a Marathon
2011: Finish a Triathlon

That was the first time I ever referenced doing a triathlon.  Hopefully when people talk about me after I'm long gone they will say that "Scotty B was always true to his word".   The wheels were set in motion and the mental typewriter started producing a checklist of things I would need:
  • Bike - I could use my hybrid but decided a road bike was in order.
  • Wetsuit -  No, wouldn't need this because I wouldn't do a race in cold weather.  At least not the first few years.
Yep... that's it.  This would be easy!

December 2010 I purchased my Felt Z85 road bike.  Nothing too fancy with the aluminum frame and Shimano 105 components.  I really don't think I went overboard with this purchase and I absolutely love the bike.

January 2011 - Time to get serious
  • Started the blog and twitter account - I wanted to surround myself with other age group triathletes.  I loved reading race reports, so this was the next evolutionary step.
  • Setup a training plan (fail to follow it and incorrectly blame it on work)
  • Purchased Triathlon 101 by John Mora.  At first I thought I was a dork buying this but have read many other "startup triathlete" blog posts indicating this book helped them.
February - Time to Fine Tune

  • Being someone tied to corrective lenses, I realized that it would be much easier to see in Swim to Bike Transition (T1) if I could see my bike.  I purchased prescription swim goggles, as well as my first pair of jammers.

March - Getting Back At It

  • A major project at work had finished up and I found myself getting out on the bike more with open road sessions (previously I went around in circles at the downtown airport).  So now I was getting in a couple two-a-days a week.  This was also when I decided to change up my schedule and move my first triathlon to May 22.
  • This was also when the weird panic attacks started when I went to bed.  My best diagnosis was overtraining and they finally subsided about the first week in May.

April - Refining the Schedule Again

  • My overtraining concerns caused me to cut back my training. Instead of 10 - 11 hours a week, I went down to 5 to 6 hours with only one two-a-day sessions per week and a big brick session on the weekend.
  • Moving up my first triathlon to May meant a wetsuit will be needed.  I completed this within a timeframe in which I could return it if I didn't like it.  The triathlon related costs were increasing.

May - This Sh!t Is About to Get Real

  • Countdown is getting into single digits.
  • First Open Water Swim done!  I think this helped out with the panic attacks.
  • Transition bag purchased and checklist prepped!

In the weeks leading up to the Kansas City Triathlon, I started having my first issue. I've mentioned before that the "lap" button on my Garmin 405cx was getting stuck in the pressed position and even though I attempted to fix it, no dice.  My brother was obligated nice enough to loan me his for the race.  Hopefully this would be the ONLY issue for the race.

May 20, 2011 - Carb Loading
The race coincided with my wife's parents and older brother and wife visiting from out of town.  TKB, her parents, and I went to Cafe Trio for dinner on Friday night.  I've decided that carb loading should be had two days before the race.  I read that somewhere.  One order of "Mac Daddy" down and carb loading a success!

May 21, 2011 - Packet Pickup x 2
With the entire family finally together, we went to a museum in KC for some entertainment.  Eventually TKB's Dad and I cut out to go to Bike Source to pickup my packet.  The fun was really about to start.  A 10 minute commute to Bike Source from the museum turned into 45 minutes as the Google navigation on my phone somehow got confused and took us to a different Bike Source.  NEVER again will I neglect to move my Garmin Nuvi to the car when I know I'll need navigation.

Once we got there, I immediately knew I was screwed.  In my ever need to be prepared and having things laid out in advance, I decided to lay out my USA Triathlon Membership card as well.  Guess where it was when I was walking up to the sign-in table... at home.  #$*@#&!!!!

As everyone knows, gas prices aren't cheap these days.  I had the option to pay $10 for a single day license or spend $15 in gas to go home and get it.  No question as to what I decided to do.... go get my membership card, of course.

OK.  So Garmin and now this.  These were my big issues for the race.  No MORE!

May 22, 2011 - RACE DAY
With my checklist fully sussed out, packing was really easy.  Everything was laid out and then packed the night before.

Everything is here!  Including my new transition bag.  Comfort in planning.

Let me just say this bag is HUGE.  I don't think it could be used as an airplane carry-on.
Alarm set for 3:30 am, 3:45 am, and 4:00 am (alarm clock, egg timer, and cell phone, respectively).  I woke up with the first alarm.  I slept surprisingly well.  Bagel with peanut butter and banana for breakfast.  I was out the door by 4:40am.  I realize that there is no need to show up that early, but with this being my very first triathlon, I wanted to make sure I was in charge of time and not the other way around.

Arrived at the beach around 5:15am.  I was able to park relatively close to the transition area (probably a quarter mile walk).  Your transition area was based on your bib number, so there was no benefit to getting there early simply to get a choice spot.  Being #42, I was real close to the swim exit but a far jog to the bike start.  No problem.

I racked my bike and set down my bag.  I surveyed the lay of the land/water.  There might have been 50 - 75 people there at the time.  I picked up my timing chip, hit the port-a-john, and walked down to the beach to checkout the swim area.  This is one thing I had NO idea what to expect.  What does 1500 meters look like?  There was no fog so it was easy to see the course.  Surprisingly, no panic set in.

Around 6:00am I started to get the transition area setup.  When I do new things, I like having a friend along for the ride to help tell me what I'm doing right/wrong.  I knew going into this I was on my own so I try to learn from what other people are doing but, ultimately, I stuck with my plan.  It provided a sense of accomplishment doing that.

I made a couple passes by Transition #154 where fellow twi-athlete, tberkley, was to setup but he wasn't there yet.  After another round of pacing I spotted Joe VI!  I knew he was going to be volunteering that day and he was assigned to the transition area!  Sweet!  Someone to knock down my competitors cheer me on from within the transition area.  We chatted for 10 - 15 minutes when I decided to hit the port-a-john a second time.

Around 7:00am I decided it was time to get things going.  I wrangled on the wetsuit and went for a practice swim.  The water was a chilly 64 degrees.  It felt good to have the wetsuit on.  I decided to stay on the beach until the start, knowing that I probably missed my opportunity to see tberkley (Travis) and my family, who were to arrive soon.

The olympic distance elites were to start at 7:30am with the male 30 - 44 age group (me) starting at 7:34am.  I strategically lined up in the back and to the right, as the course was a counter-clockwise loop.  I didn't really feel like getting kicked in the face the first time out.  As I stood there a gentleman took up position right in front of me.  Unlike me, he was wearing a sleeveless wetsuit so I could see that he was #154.  Travis!  So we chatted as the countdown was headed towards 7:34am.

Do you see me?
Once the horn went off it was a surge to the water.  I got as far as I could before I made that final commitment and dove in.  I was no longer training, I was racing.  My heart was racing as well.  I focused hard to use my normal stroke rate but it was left, right, breath, left, right, breath instead.  I was concerned I'd hyperventilate but I was comfortable with it so I just kept it up.

Due to my placement at the start, I really didn't have to contend with too many bodies.  I could tell I was on someone's toes as every few strokes I'd touch their feet.  Eventually, I'd edge to the side and pass.  I was breathing to my right and as long as I could see people too my right, I felt comfortable that I was on target.  Sighting wasn't too difficult but the sun was in my eyes.

I never felt that onset of panic that people mention simply because it's an open water swim.  At one point I did take in some lake water and had trouble breathing.  The nerves did go a little crazy when this happened the first time but I just slowed down to collect myself and took right back off.

When I did breathe left to look, I could tell I was quite a distance from the buoys and at one time got close to a kayak.  I eventually took a sharp angle to the course but still stayed away from most of the swimmers.  There was a 90 degree turn towards the north and I rejoined the pack.

About the time I was 50% done I decided to get back into my swimming form and take four strokes between breathes. While this did help, I still mostly went with a breath every two strokes.  As long as I was still content, I kept it up.  For some reason, I started focusing on my wedding ring.  I rarely take it off but it felt like it was slipping.  I might take it off for future triathlons, just in case.

When nearing the turn back towards the shore, I noticed that I had been passing quite a few people, which made me feel pretty good.  As part of my swimming technique, I rarely move my legs.  In the pool I really only kick to keep the lower half of my body afloat.  I do this to save my legs for the rest of the event but it's nice to have if I need to power by someone.  By the time I got roughly 500 meters away, I did start using them more but that was mostly to get blood moving through them so they'd be ready for the bike.

I could see the shore getting closer and closer and thinking, in two minutes you will be out of the water.  I tried to visualize my transition: wetsuit off 50% during the run, goggles and swim cap off, sunglasses on, wetsuit off 100%, helmet, something, eat chomps, something else, grab the bike?  Eventually my fingers started brushing the sandy muddy floor and I pulled myself up and started running!

Time: 29:45 / 1:59 Pace (minutes per 100 meters)
Position: 27 of 54

Transition 1
I fumbled around for the zipper cord on my wetsuit and started pulling it down just as I was getting out of the water.  It was AWESOME hearing the crowd cheer people on and even better when I saw my family cheering me on as well.  Some high fives and off I went to the transition area.  Joe VI was near the entrance and shouted out my time sub-30 minutes!  Holy crap!  I was easily expecting over 30 minutes.

I do not remember having a problem taking off my wetsuit.  I ate a couple chomps during the process and grabbed my gloves.  All of a sudden I heard "GET MOVING SCOTTY!!".  Joe VI keeping me in focus.  I decided the gloves were unnecessary.  I wasn't wearing socks so why gloves.  Maybe in a longer race.  Helmet on, bike off rack and "GO, SCOTTY, GO!", as Joe VI yelled.

I love the space age aero helmets (dude on the right).  Maybe someday I'll look that cool.

Is this guy putting on hair spray?

Photo Credit: Mike K

The first malfunction of the race occurred in T1.  I put on my race belt and "rrrripppp", one hole on my bib ripped and so only one side was connected.  

Time: 2:56
Position: 43 of 54

I knew my mount was going to be horrible.  I didn't practice a fast mount.  I just tried to get off to the side so I didn't impede someone who knew what they were doing.  I completely met my expectations and ended up having trouble getting clipped in and just started pedaling.  I clipped in during the ride.  I guess in reality that is what I should have planned on doing.

My next course of business was dealing with my bib.  I didn't want it to fly off so I stuffed it under my belt and miraculously it stayed. The wetness from my bike shorts kept it glued to my body but I spent some of my ride deciding how to handle it for my run.

The bike course was one full lane of road plus the shoulder.  Being a strict follower of rules, I road as far to the left as possible on the shoulder.  I had followed a guy out to the bike course, who was riding in the road.  He wasn't going very fast as he was messing with something on his bike.  I eventually noticed I had passed him... on the right.  Crap.  I looked back at him and I could tell he was watching me, so I throw out a weak "sorry!" and kept going.  I knew the guy would be flying by me in a matter of minutes.

The bike course was relatively flat with a few monster hills.  Wind wasn't too bad but you could definitely tell it was there at times.  People were flying by me but I didn't mind.  I'm trying to just take it all in!  For the most part, it was pretty thin of athletes.  I figured I had a pretty good swim time and people were going to be flying soon.  The route travels through a neighborhood section and there were people out cheering athletes.  By now I started passing people on the bike course.

On the south side of the bike course, there is a nasty hill.  I'm in the easiest gear and struggling up the hill but what goes up, must go down. Flying down the hill, I yelled out "Let's go 40!", trying to hit 40 mph.  I got close.  The rest of the first loop was flat.  I saw one guy drop his water bottle, wonder if he knew?

For those who follow me on twitter or friends on Facebook, you'll know I posted a link at the start of the race that allowed you to follow me on the course.  This software, Glympse, will display a map on your screen with a little arrow showing my location.  I set this up to run on my phone with GPS and data. It reduces a lot of stress for my wife as she knows when I'll be crossing the finish line for that all important finish line photo! I also use it on training runs/rides so TKB can keep tabs on me.  If you did follow me, you probably have noticed that I stopped on the south side of the lake.  Or rather, I heard my phone reboot on me, which meant my Glympse stopped transmitting.  Oops.

Knowing that this had stopped, I knew my wife would have a sense of panic for the rest of the bike course.  What compounded this even further is as I passed the entrance to the park I just missed a Fire Truck pull into the park, sirens blaring.  This might have freaked out TKB even more.

The second loop had more people on the bike course as I picked up the later waves, including the sprint distance athletes.  This made me happy since I could pick-off more riders.  There were a few sections of the ride where we had a bit of a traffic jam.  If I were truly competitive, I would have been yelling at people to pass but instead I stayed back until it cleared out.

I got to the monster hill again and I was ready this time.  I hit 45 mph this time.  Love it!   Pulling into transition 2 was interesting.  The dismount was not as comical as the start but I came to a complete stop.  Better to be safe this time.

Time: 1:17:41 / 19.2 mph
Position: 43 of 54

Transition 2
Run the bike to the rack, shoes off, get yelled at by Joe VI for, uh, encouragement (Thanks!), heckle from Mike (Brother) and Mike (Father in law), socks and shoes on, hat on and GO!!

Once I turned around my bib it just stayed in the position so I decided to leave it as is.

Photo Credit: Mike K

Photo Credit: Mike K

Photo Credit: Mike K

Action Shot!
Photo Credit: Mike K

Dear #68 - Don't wear the shirt until you finish the race, noob.

Time: 2:01
Position: 45 of 54

My legs felt OK for the run.  Definitely sluggish but not wobbly.  In the first mile I did feel pressed to breathe, almost asthmatic.  It was fairly humid out that morning, but by the time I reached the top of a fairly nasty hill at the end of mile 1 I was back to normal.

70% of the course was on a trail which was small gravel/dirt/mud.  It was nice to have some cushion but  possibly slowed me down... a tiny tiny bit.  I was going a little slow.  How slow?  Well, we will get to that in a bit.

Olympic distance participants travel the loop twice, just like the bike course.

Aid stations every mile.  Supposedly each would have water, gatorade, and gels; however, I only saw gels at the first station.  I had planned to pick one up at the second station but alas, none.  By the time I the second loop, the gel would have been pointless.

Second Lap!

Watch out for the puddles.  It rained on Saturday and some of the previous week.
Photo Credit: Mike K
Joe was timing me on his cell phone and showed me I was around 2 hours and 17 minutes coming around for the second lap, which meant I had an opportunity for sub-3 hours.  It would have taken a lot NOT to get sub-3 hours.

Time: 54:19:00 / 8:55 minutes per mile
Position: 38 of 54

Coming around the final turn, I knew there was a guy behind me and I heard people cheering for him to pass me.  I don't think so.  I kicked it up a notch and finished strong.  Now that I think about it, I should have done that much earlier because that really energized me.

My goal was to finish, so it was success!  It was an amazing experience!  Looking at my times I do see a ton of improvement in training.

Time: 2:46:43
Position: 37 of 54

Lessons Learned
1. I decided a long time ago that I would put the Garmin 405 on the bike mount and then move it to my wrist for the run.  Well, check out the results of that plan:

Well, at least it would register my heart rate once during the run as I ran by my transition area.

So my plan is to replace my broken Garmin Forerunner 405cx with a new Forerunner 310xt that I will wear from the start of the race to the end.

2.  Race Belt - In the long run I didn't mind the issue with the bib tearing but I did put it on my belt upside down.  Oops.

3.  Mount/Dismount - Maybe not for the next race but start practicing more fluid mounts and dismounts.  Obviously I'm on the second half of the finishers, so saving 10 to 15 seconds there isn't going to blast me up to a higher finishing position but the more competitive I get, this will be on the list.

4.  Better nutrition management.  I had originally planned to take some Gu with me but left it at the last minute.  While I did eat chomps during my transition, I didn't take anything on the course.

Race Critique
So this race report is more or less about my experience, so here are my critique of the actual race:

  • Communication: Being my first race, I would have appreciated more information about the event.  Hospital Hill is my gold standard for this.  I believe I got two e-mails leading up to the event with nothing more than copy and paste from the website, which I had devoured 15 times over.  They have a Twitter and Facebook account but rarely use it to convey information.
  • Event: I didn't know what to expect from my first triathlon.  I had nothing to compare it to but there weren't any big surprises or situations where they did something different than what was on the web site.
  • Course: There were a couple hills on both the road and run but I didn't find it too challenging.  If I had more hill experience with the bike I probably would have had better times.  While I don't blame my run time on the lack of watch but I think I would have been up to tell myself to harden up if I saw my heart rate.  I shouldn't rely on it.
  • Post-Race Grub:  The food was provided by Hy-Vee.  Yogurt, Oranges, Energy Bars.  While the Yogurt was great, the oranges weren't pre-sliced.  No bagels or donuts which I thought was lame.
  • OK t-shirt and great participant medal.  According to the web site, the first 700 participants receive a tech t-shirt.  There were 608 finishers, so I'm pretty sure I registered as one of the first 700 participant and it was a cotton t-shirt.
  • Swag Bag - Energy Bar and Gels.  A very nice pint glass, which is something I would have paid for.

  • Would I do it again?  Likely.
My orange swim cap.  ORANGE!

A few of my cheer squad!  Ella, Sam, Amanda!

Cleaning up my transition area.  Luckily #41 didn't show up.

Joe "Mr Volunteer" VI

My body markings.

Trying to exit the transition area.

Finally applied my USAT Sticker!  It's official!

One of two new bondiband, TKB bought me.

The sign was my visual check-off to find my transition location.


  1. Congratulations Scott, really impressive. I'm doing the Topeka Tin Man short course a few weeks after Hospital Hill if you want to join me. I typically don't put my race belt on until the run, but I don't know if that is technically against some rule. When my cousin is in a tri where he is wearing a wetsuit he stitches his number to his shirt under his wetsuit, just one stitch in each hole of the number. I've never done it, but it seems like a good plan. Also, consider eating on the bike to save time in transition.

  2. I agree with Shane. Never underestimate the importance of your transition times. I tape Gu to my top tube and put my gloves over the ends of my aero bars so that I can eat and dress out on the course. At the last Chicago Tri, Danny had faster bike and run times but I still beat him overall because of my transitions. They really are the 4th discipline in triathlon. One of these days I will bust my bike back out and we can work on your mount/dismount at speed. If the volunteers aren't frantically yelling at you to dismount, you aren't going fast enough.

  3. Congraduations on the Olympic