We arrived on Maui on a week before the race (Monday) and my goal for the week was to pre-ride the course twice, run the course once and swim most every day for 30-45min while getting used to using the new Garmin 910xt. Our trip was uneventful and the bike arrived with no issues as my SciCon Aerocomfort Plus continues to be a perfect case for my MTB.
Coming into the race week, I had come down with a mild head cold and the symptoms were peaking on Monday/Tuesday, but I was hopeful that by the weekend I would be clear of any drag on my body. I had no other issues other than my bruised hand (from my fall in the rock garden a week earlier) and my mysterious shoulder injury (hurts all the time, except when I am swimming, biking or running.)
On my training ride on Wednesday, I cut my rear tire at about 15 miles into the ride, which was not a great thing to happen considering the drama with my poor tire choice in 2011 and the challenge of getting the tubeless set up working on occasion. This was concerning but I was hopeful when I found what looked to be a good tire at the race expo. It turned out to be a good tire, but a tough one to get set up and I went into Thursday morning needing more C02 (larger 25gram ones) to finish it. I ended up spending all Thursday morning working on the bike and decided to ride on Friday (which was not ideal). I needed to ride the descents again, but did not want to work that hard 48 hours from the race (my plan was to do a short run and an easy swim). Needless to say, I am still glad I got in the second ride (the descending is that important for me at the moment), but I am also quite sure I had a bit of fatigue in my legs on Sunday morning.
Pre race thoughts
My goals for the race was to have an improved swim, ride better on the descents and finish higher in my AG. I did not have great confidence in any of those goals, as my swim training has been quite abysmal, recent crash on the MTB was due to my own lack of skilled riding, and overall my training has been less than stellar for the last 7 weeks. The one advantage I had to combat these limiters, was that I knew the race and would be ready to swim hard and ride with no fear, regardless of the fitness I brought to the race.
The race course is slightly modified over last year’s totally new course, with a M-shaped swim off of DT Fleming beach. There was so much chaos in last years 2 loop triangle swim (all 700 athletes converging on the first turn at 350m made for a massive jam up, while on the second lap faster swimmers were impeded by (or swam over) slower swimmers. This year we were to go out 350m to a set of two buoys, hang a left, then a quick left again back in to shore where we had a 50m beach run before turning back out for another out and back leg of the M shape. The swim finished under the big XTERRA arch and it was a much longer distance to T1 than in 2011. Transition was moved up the hill this year, as the finish line was moved down away from the hotel pool, which made the T1 journey about 30-45seconds longer and shortened the run by about the same (a wash I suppose).
The bike course was 90% the same as 2011, with a change from a section that was a fireroad climb to a singletrack climb through the trees that was so steep and loose at the top that it was un-rideable. There was also a cool new addition near the top of the first climbing portion that traversed a ridge line (with great views off either side). The rest of the course was the same (they had a new section cut in at the bottom that went over a dam and down the back side in a very technical section, but cut it out for the race). Overall, the bike course was about 18.4 miles (29.7km) with over 3400ft of total climbing, with two big climbs (straight out of T1 that peaks at the 6 mile point), then a fast 1 mile descent before a steep 1 mile climb to the high point of the race. From there is a long 2.5 mile descent (more on that) that goes nearly back to sea level before the last few climbs up over a few ridges and into the same singletrack at the entrance of the trails. Thanks to Strava, there are a few segments on this course that I can compare my training efforts to my times last year and with other people’s times. There is along descent that is a key focus here as I lost over 2-3 minutes to faster riders on that descent in last year’s race (due to my horrible tire choice and the dust clogging up my vision).
Once back to Transition, the run course followed the same trail as in 2011 and remains a brute of a run with the first 2.8 miles being primarily uphill (with two super steep pitches that most people walk). The next bit is the technical/fun part with some loose descents, fallen trees and rock gardens that are tossed in to keep it real and then a miserable black top paved road that is set at about a 20% incline that comes as a shock in the last 1.5 miles. After climbing the black top road, it is a super fast off camber descent back to the beach were the course goes down a creek bed and twist and winds through the trees and rocks before bending back left to the beach and the final stretch along the beach and then up the hill to the finish line. Ouch.
I awoke early (which was easy and the norm for the whole trip), checked the bike (rear tire was losing a bit of air pressure overnight that causing a bit of concern – too late to really worry though). We were nearly out of yoghurt, so I had a very small usual serving of yoghurt with nuts, granola and berries along with some OJ (small glass too) and a venti coffee along with a mini vanilla scone (to get in a few more calories). I sipped an OJ 90 minutes prior to the race to keep my blood sugar high, and just before starting my swim warm up, I had a Gatorade Prime. We arrived at the race site (hotel parking this year) early and I got the best spot in the transition rack, then went through the body marking process reasonably quickly. From there is was just some relaxation and review of the entrance/exits to transition and some thought on my race tactics.
Rough water, and it seems I swam about an extra 150m over the measure course. I felt really good overall, and the chaos was not bad except for a few moments and the start, and the first turn. The water was very rough and the swell was up which made my second entrance a bit of a hash as I dove just as a big wave crashed down on me. I sighted better on the second lap, but I was feeling a bit of fatigue set in despite my energy being quite high. The official timing has me doing a 29min 1500m swim for an average of 1:58/100m
I felt good going up the hill into T1 as my swim time was not displeasing (anything less than 30min was going to be a positive), and most things went smoothly save for getting my speed suit off and then getting the GPS race belt on. Both caused me to waste 15+ seconds but I did not stress too much (My placing was in fact less than a minute to the 5th place guy in my AG…). My T1 time was 2:52 which was a minute slower than the best.
I felt good for the first hour or so, then felt really sluggish for about 25min then good to the finish. I had good power and sensations on the climbs, nice skills and balance on the descents and only the flats left me feeling weak and lethargic. I had a few issues (the bike noise continues but it worked fine with nothing to note), which included dropping my water bottle in the first 7km (I stopped and ran back up the hill to pick it up – I dropped it as I casually tried to re-insert it into the cage and hit a bump). The other was when I dropped my first gel (I think energy played a role in the finish of the race). Overall, I am pleased with this year’s ride as I climbed well, descended much better (no issues with the glasses this year) and finished strong.
I came into T2 well prepared for a fast one as I had my gloves off and got my feet out of my shoes just before dismounting. I did a reasonable job of getting my running kit on and was on my way without drama. I was worried that my stomach would rebel and cramp, so I took off at a very easy pace to try and mitigate any potential issue there. Time here was 1:07, which was pretty good and about the same as most of the elite racers.
This run hurt and I had nothing at the end to fight for a higher place on the podium. I had the fastest run of my AG and one of the fastest overall, but I was cooked after each climb and nearly came to a walk on the last steep climb at the high point of the course. At about 4 miles into the run, I felt my right hamstring tighten up and I had to slow down (on the descent primarily) to keep it lengthened. It loosened up about a mile later and I ran fine to the finish, but was shelled and had nothing left as I ran across the sand and up to the finish line. The good news was I had no stomach issues and no physical issues (Knee). I did have some cramping in my arms (elbow – bicep muscles) but that wasn’t much of anything really.
Post race thoughts, stats, good/bad, etc.
7th place again! Despite a better swim, much better riding and the fastest run in my AG I was essentially in the same position as 2011, but finished lower in the overall competition at 44th. There are three big culprits for the limits to this race, with swimming being the obvious first choice. I cannot give up 5-7 minutes to other strong guys and expect to pull it back on the bike/run at this level of competition. It may work at the local/regional level, but here it is a hopeless strategy.
The second was my overall fitness level, which showed in my weakness towards the end of the bike and in the run. In looking back at 2011, I did not get weaker the bike towards the last 5 miles and ran hard to the end of the run. Here, I suffered quite a lot on the flats on the bike and did not have good climbing legs for my of the second half of the bike, and on the run, I was shattered after each of the climbs and could not recover to pick up my pace on the flats/descents.
The third issue (which impacts the second) is my nutrition during the race. For a race that lasted essentially three hours, my consumption of one Gu gel, and a couple of sips of Gatorade look really foolish. That is a consumption of less than 150kcals. I did not have an energy crisis, but I did feel quite flat which is very likely due to insufficient energy taken in during the bike and run.
One other issue that may have had an impact was my cut tire and decision to delay my second training ride until Friday, rather than do it in the afternoon on Thursday. Upon further reflection, doing that ride in the afternoon would have given me an additional 20 hours to rehydrate and rest. That seems like an obvious decision that I got wrong, but at the time my thoughts were to the fact that I did not have any food (breakfast was at 6am, and I only had a bit of snack while I was sorting my bike out).
Overall, this was a tough race with a good, but not great result for me. I improved on the really problematic things, went backward in some ways and ended up with about the same result. Two steps forward, two steps backward.
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