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NJ State Triathlon 2012 - Another Amazing Race

Posted Jul 23 2012 1:59pm
On July 22nd I did, for the 6th year in a row, the NJ State Olympic Triathlon. It's pretty much the only Olympics tri I'm doing every year, and since it has a very simple, flat course, it's easy to track my progress over the years. What's usually particular about this race is that it always seems to be on the hottest day of the year, and if often got over 90 degrees by the time we were running, especially on the 2nd, unshaded, half of the course.

Course, PR, goals

The bike course changed several times over the years. Now it's two identical loops, 25.5mi total length, so a bit longer than the standard. In 2008 and 2009, when I had my best performances, it was 24mi, so short of the 24.8 regular distance. Therefore, I always thought it would be impossible to PR again, due to the difference in bike course length, which could easily translate into 5-7 minutes, hard to make up on another leg. Plus, I was much stronger on the bike back then (when I did the 1:08 bike I also had rental race wheels). So for now I was just hoping to have a PR for the current course (3:19, last year), which shouldn't be that hard considering that the past 2 years I didn't exactly have good races here. I figured it would be a decent performance to finish under 3:15.

Swim

I don't need to repeat that I'm a pretty bad swimmer. In the previous NJ States, I swam around 50 minutes (I know, pathetic...). Only once I did 42 minutes, but I think it was the only time that it was wetsuit legal. And lucky me, this time it was the coldest day ever for NJ State (below 70 at the start), and the coldest water, definitely a wetsuit race! As I noticed in my other 2 races this year, the wetsuit really gives me a huge advantage (about 20%) - which can only mean I have bad form without it.

Another thing I noticed was that this year, despite a lot less swim training than ever before, I had very strong swims in my first two races! They were both among my fastest ever (JerseyMan was my 2nd fastest), and both gave me the highest percentile ranking among swimmers. So I figured that if I train less, I'll get better. Stupid idea, isn't it? So after the Stafford Tri, I decided to do minimal swim training for the month before NJ State. I'm not kidding. About one swim per week (rarely 2), in the 500-1,000m range. In fact, I hadn't swum 1,500m since the 2011 NJ State, and I only swam 1,000m twice this year. Stupid gamble, right?

Well, let me cut it short. Swim went well. The only thing I feared (my endurance, since I haven't done long swims in training) was a non-factor as I never got tired. No cramping, no fatigue, just a very steady swim all along. Total time was 0:38:32, which is my 2nd fastest Olympic swim ever, and a record for this course. 15 minutes faster than last year. So my gamble worked. Train less, get faster! I also got out, for the second straight time, just in front of my training partner who's normally 20% faster in the water (thus re-confirming the edge that the wetsuit gives me, since he didn't wear one).

Taking off my wetsuit was a real pain, I had a lot of trouble getting it off. Which meant my T1 was 4:52, but at least I enjoyed the extra rest after the swim.

Bike

I'm never sure about my total time in triathlons, since I don't wear a watch while swimming, so for someone like me who always keeps calculating his finishing time compared to goals, it's a bit frustrating. But I estimated the swim was under 40 minutes, and I was already fancying a PR (3:03:56 from 2009). I planned to have a very strong bike, and then run hard, taking advantage of the cool weather.



"Strong" bike is relative. Like the swim, my bike training lagged a bit this year, and I think it's my weakest in the past 5 years (due to work, weather, kid, etc.). I did 1:19:48 last year, so I was hoping to get not too much over 1:20. With so much motivation, I started off very fast. I was surprised how fast I was rolling. After the first loop, I was averaging 20.4mph and I was way ahead of that 1:20 goal. But it was obvious I wasn't gonna be able to hold on for too long. And shortly into the 2nd loop, my legs were friend and I had to drop the speed. It was getting harder and harder to maintain a decent speed, and some people I had easily passed were now getting by me. But according to my calculations, I was still within my goal so in the final few miles I stood up and took it easy so I save some strength for the run.



Final time was an astounding 1:18:45 (19.4mph), which is a personal course record, and my 2nd fastest speed in all my triathlons (excepting that one when I had the race wheels). Really didn't expect that, considering that I really wasn't well trained for cycling. T2 went much better, 2:44, which is my fastest Olympic T2.

Run

Finally the run... The only discipline where I really trained this year. I was coming off an amazing 7 minutes Half Marathon PR. I did all I have to do... long runs, tempo, speed work. So right now, my math centers of the brain were in overdrive, trying to estimate how much time I have left to get a PR. And the result was that if I run in 55 minutes, I should get not just a PR, but a sub-3 hours finish time, something that I never expected to happen on this course, but was a very long term goal for me.

55 minutes for a 10K doesn't sound like a big deal, except when the 10K starts after over 2 hours of hard racing effort. My standalone 10K PR is 48:13, however in Olympic tris I never went under 56 minutes, and the main reason is the heat that torments the racers here. Year after year, the run turns into a slow procession of suffering, sweaty, dehydrated people who walk and crawl over that open final 3-mile stretch. But this time, the weather was perfect, probably under 80 degrees, so I had all the conditions for a good run.



My first mile was way too fast - 8:21. After an 8:49 second mile, I settled around the 9-minute pace. And according to my calculations, I was on track to go way under 3 hours. But I wasn't exactly sure, so I had to keep going as hard as possible. Then after 3 miles around 9 minutes I decided to let it all out and not risk missing such an amazing goal. Last mile was 8:49 and as I sprinted to the finish line, those last .2mi were at a 7:30 pace.

Running time was 54:30 (8:47 pace), my fastest Olympic run by a large margin. And I went anxiously to the timing computer (this year, you could check your time, or anyone else's, in real time on the web), to find out that indeed, I broke 3 hours, more exactly 2:59:23. I was much closer to 3 hours than I had estimated, however the result still amazes me. It's more than 4 minutes faster than my previous PR, with a lot less swimming training, and in a worse cycling shape. Not to mention, on a course that is almost 2 miles longer!

Final thoughts

Like at the LBHM, not only I obliterated my goal and PR, but I beat one of my long-term goals (that was 1:50 at the HM, and 3:00 here). I'm happy that I was able to peak twice just on time for the two big races of the year. Training cycle periodization is a complicated science, and I achieved almost perfection this year. I went through 2 hard cycles, and everything worked out perfectly.



The weather obviously helped a lot, assisting me in overcoming some training problems, but the swim, bike and run results are all outstanding for me. I can now say for sure that it's the best year of my athletic career, having PR'd by big margins in short-distance (5K) and long distance (HM) running, as well as in the Olympic triathlon. Taken separately, swimming and biking are very close to my fastest ever performances.

Again I have to appreciate the amazing work by CGI Racing, which puts out some of the best races around here. And I'm also thankful to the Tavern on the Lake in Hightstown, which sits on our way home and where we stop for beer and burgers every time we go to the Mercer County Park to train or race.

After all these PR's I don't think I can ask for any more from this racing year. Just hope to stay healthy and be able to continue to swim, bike and run strong.

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