Racing Tri-Cal Style

Posted on September 18, 2011


Racing Tri-Cal Style

My past two races have been the San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz on August 21st and the Triathlon at Pacific Grove, CA on September 10th. Both races were put on by the veteran race company Tri-California. I love doing these races. I always say that Tri-Cal is a big-time race company with a local feel. As a professional triathlete, I am greeted with warmth and hospitality from the staff from the moment I arrive in town to collect my race packet, throughout the pre and post-race procedures to receiving a personalized thank-you letter in the mail several weeks later. What separates Tri-Cal from other big-time race companies is their ability to connect with the communities where their races take place. The community in Pacific Grove particularly stands out to me. There are so many great families that volunteer at the races, and on top of that they open up their homes to pro’s, such as myself, to stay free of charge.  Tri-Cal’s races are so longstanding because they care about these communities, and, in turn, these communities care about Tri-Cal and want to help them grow. Hospitality and warmth are reciprocated. In no other pro race series are each and every athlete greeted by name and given a welcome gift bag. At Pacific Grove, the pro’s are introduced the day before the race at the expo. Nick Tuttle does a good job of providing a brief background on each athlete. Everyone is interviewed, giving all of us an opportunity to connect to an audience, show a bit of our personalities, plug our sponsors, and market ourselves to a crowd that cares about triathlon. Tri-Cal is a race company that “gets it”. They are in the sport of triathlon for the right reasons. They focus on putting on a quality race experience, including some cool schwag for the age group triathlete, and also provide a stage for pro’s from all over the world to battle it out for some prize money. I would encourage you to try a Tri-Cal race if it fits into your schedule. I also want to say a big “thank you and I’ll see you soon!” to Tri-Cal.

Solid Day at Alcatraz

Alcatraz is one of those landmark races in the sport of triathlon where all the greats have competed at one time or another. As of last year there exists two Alcatraz triathlons:  The famous and uber competitive Escape from Alcatraz and the relatively new San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz put on by Tri-California. I competed in the latter. I’ve always wanted to do this race because the conditions and course suit me well. The temperature is mild, the swim and run are long relative to the bike, and the bike course is hilly, favoring a power-to-weight ratio rider. This was my first race since I completed my summer base phase, which consisted of lower intensity training and strength work. I was not in 100% race shape due to the lack of speed work, but I felt I would perform okay in such a strength-based race. I also did this race at the end of a tough training week with minimal rest. Nevertheless, I actually felt rested (enough) and good-to-go on race morning.

Diving into the 56 degree water from the boat. Photo compliments of Slowtwitch/Timothy Carlson

I setup my transition area in the pitch-black morning at 4:30 AM and then boarded the bus which took us to the boat.  We were herded onto the boat, which then set out for Alcatraz. When it was go time, the pro’s lined up on the side of the boat and then dove into the chilly bay. There was a strong current and a decent chop, which made it tough to get into a rhythm. I eventually found myself on the feet of Kyle Leto and decided that was a good place to be. Leto and I are solid front pack swimmers. We seemed to be veering off on our own in the choppy waters. We were going on a slightly different path than Tommy Zafares, Dustin McLarty and the other lead swimmers, but it appeared to us that we were taking the shortest line. It may have been the shortest line, but the current didn’t agree with us. Leto and I uncharacteristically exited the water around 2.5 minutes behind the leaders. It had been a brutally long swim, taking the leaders 31 minutes and me 33. That’s the “X-factor” about Alcatraz: The swim can be favorable and take just over 20 minutes or it can be 15 minutes slower with the wrong current. We got the rough conditions.

I made the half-mile run to my bike and set out upon improving my 10th place position. The long swim had essentially made it a swimmers race. I spent the first 15 miles of the bike on my own. Leto, a strong cyclist, had taken off, and I was left in no man’s land trying to chase down the tiny specs up the road that I could only see on long, flat stretches. Finally, when we entered Golden Gate Bridge Park I passed someone and moved into 9th with two other riders not too far up ahead. I played some cat-and-mouse with them for the next few miles but was finally able to pull away in the last few miles of the bike. I completed the hilly, 25 mile bike in 1:05 and was currently in 7th position.

Running up the Sand Ladder. Photo complimentary of Slowtwitch/Timothy Carlson

Out on the run I sighted Dustin McLarty not too far ahead. The run was 7 miles with the first and last 1.5 miles flat, but other than that it was more of an adventure race as I climbed sand ladders, ran under bridges and up and down stairs on single-track trail. I was able to pass McLarty a little over a mile into the run. I knew that there were a couple other guys about a minute up ahead but it was tough to focus on pushing forward because I could never see them. I ran strong but comfortably and finished in a solid 6th place. It wasn’t a fabulous race but it went about as expected given my current fitness. I’ll take it!

The 2011 Pacific Grove Fiasco

Pac Grove run. Photo compliments of Slowtwitch/Timothy Carlson

Last weekend I flew out to San Francisco and was greeted by my friend and fellow competitor Steve Sexton. We made the easy two-hour drive to beautiful Pacific Grove, CA and arrived at the Ahart Residence, our gracious hosts for the event. The Aharts made sure Steve and I had everything we needed to have a good race – wicked comfortable beds, fresh, home-cooked meals, and best of all: a huttub! I went into Pacific Grove as the defending champion, and I thought that the way the field stacked up I had a good shot at repeating that title. My biggest worry was a late entry into the race, British triathlete Ritchie Nichols, who recently won the London Triathlon and has blazing run speed. However, I was confident that I could outswim him, and hopefully I’d be able to hold or grow that lead on the bike and take his run out of the equation.

On race morning Sexton and I had a leisurely breakfast and relaxed before what we thought was a 12:15 PM start time. At 11:00 AM we went for a warm-up jog, packed up, and then rode our bikes down to the race venue, which was only about a mile away. Upon our arrival at 11:45, we learned that the race actually started at noon. Woof! This sent us into a frenzy trying to get our wetsuits on as fast as possible and still have time to warm-up in the cold, kelp-infested waters. We luckily had just enough time to get in the water for a few minutes. In my haste, I tucked the zipper strap on my wetsuit into my wetsuit. I didn’t want to have anything dangling around for fear it would get caught on the kelp. This decision would come back to haunt me.

The race started and we ran into the water and began sprinting towards the first buoy. The kelp was particularly thick this year. The field would string out when we had clean water, but during the kelp sections the field rapidly bunched up as the pace slowed. This kept a lot of the slower swimmers in the race. Things really didn’t even begin to string out in the small, 20-man field until towards the end of the first lap. As we exited the water to run around a rock on the beach and begin our second lap, the women’s race started directly next to us. All of a sudden we had 10 women in the midst of the men’s lead swim pack. It was chaotic for a while as the other lead men and I navigated through kelp patches and female triathletes. I stayed in the draft of Brian Rhodes for a while on that second lap, and when we finally hit clean water I realized I was sitting in fifth place. I held that position as we exited the water.

As I began running up the stairs to t1 I reached back to grab my wetsuit zipper. I couldn’t find the strap. I had completely forgotten what I’d done with it! I kept hopelessly reaching for it and began to slow down as I got more frustrated. A few guys passed me in that run to t1. By the time I got to my bike, I still hadn’t figured out where the zipper strap was. I finally reached back down into my wetsuit and felt the strap and grabbed it. Wrong one! It was my tri-suit zipper strap. After standing there for about 20 seconds all the other lead men were out on the bike course. It was the worst feeling ever. Pure hopelessness. I knew that was the race right there. I finally figured out that my wetsuit and tri-suit zipper straps were tangled together. I got them separated and was able to peel off my wetsuit, but the front pack was long gone. I quickly ran out of t1 with my bike and began chasing as hard as I could. I bridged up to some remnants of the front pack and settled into a group of four with Lamar, Pellow, and Oskutis. We were the first chase pack, but the lead group of eight contained many strong cyclists, and we began losing massive amounts of time to them. It was a frustrating ride for me. I knew I was in damage control mode. To make matters more annoying, I had a bottle cage come loose and start noisily bouncing back and forth on my bike frame. My only saving grace was that the British triathlete Nichols was in a two-man pack behind me. At any rate, I adjusted my plan and decided that I would work with this group as best I could and then give it everything I had on the run and hope to catch someone from the lead pack.

Shaking hands with Tommy Z.

We finished the 40k ride and entered the run course over three minutes down from the lead. I took it out FAST in that first mile. I easily ran clear of my pack and began closing in on the front pack. The run course is mostly flat and three laps. As I hit the second lap I began to pay for my aggressive efforts in that first mile.  I was running out in no-man’s land and it became tough mentally to keep pushing the pace. I eased back a bit and tried to recover some. Luckily Ritchie Nichols was another two minutes behind me coming off the bike. I knew I had nothing to lose by taking the run out hard. As I came around to begin the final lap, I heard the announcer say that Brian Rhodes wasn’t too far up the rode and he looked like he was hurting. This info got my head back in the game and I began to pick up the pace. I spotted Rhodes at the run turnaround and didn’t know if I had enough real estate left to catch him. I just kept the pace high and went to work. With a little less than a half mile to go, I caught him. This moved me up into seventh place, about as best as I could’ve hoped for given the circumstances. I crossed the line and was greeted with a handshake from Tommy Zafares, the race winner.

Obviously I was very disappointed with this result. My run split (32:32) was faster than everybody in the lead pack despite my lagging second lap. On the bright side, at least this is an easily fixable problem. Not being able to get my wetsuit off has nothing to do with my physical abilities, and I really feel like I’m in a good spot right now in terms of race fitness. Luckily I do not have to wait long to redeem myself. I have Elite Nationals coming up in Buffalo. After losing to race-champion Tommy Zafares at Alcatraz and Pac Grove hopefully I can get some retribution there!

Meh! Not as big a paycheck as I wanted but I'll still take it!

As always, I would like to thank my sponsors – Team Psycho, Fit Werx 2, Parlee Cycles, TYR, PowerBar, and FuelBelt – for supporting me every step of the way as we head into the Olympic year!

Our homestay gave me and Steve passes to the Monterey Aquarium, where we were lucky enough to see a Great White shark in captivity.


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