6/21/15

Challenge Williamsburg Race Report - 56 mile bike




I had only one goal for this race on the bike and that was to break 2:40. In 10 half ironman races, I can't recall myself ever riding faster than 2:42 in a half ironman and based on how strong I felt at Challenge Knoxville, I went into this race with confidence that I could achieve a PR bike. All I wanted to see was a 3 behind 2 hours and I would be happy. 

Aside from my first three half ironman races (at Disney), the majority of my races have been very low-key events. Rather than racing with 2000+ athletes, the typical athlete count is around 500 or less. 

Because of the low number of athletes on the course, this always provides a very fair race yet also an very individually paced race (with minimal drafting). 

With most of my rides averaging around 16.5-17 mph in Greenville, I went into this race with excitement to see what my body could do on flatter terrain. Karel has worked really hard to help me learn how to "chase" athletes but still stay within my own abilities. After feeling like I was able to "stay" with others on the bike (yet still drafting legally) at Knoxville 4 weeks ago, I really wanted to settle into a rhythm but still feel like I was racing and taking smart risks at Williamsburg. 

The entire bike course was beautiful. Tall green trees and miles of green grass surrounding us whereas we turned. The course was not entirely flat  but instead, there were several false flats, just a  few gentle rollers and punchy climbs and then one long-ish climb (well more like punchy if you had good speed on the previous downhill) within the last 5 miles. 
All in all, it was not a "hilly" course by no means but it was not pancake flat.

I really enjoy this course - in addition to the well-paved roads (well, most of them), there were minimal cars on the road and the volunteers at the aid stations were outstanding (throughout the entire race). I don't know if it is just me but I find the athletes at Challenge races extremely nice. Maybe it's because athletes are not chasing "slots" but I have felt such a great vibe at the last two Challenge races. 

For my endurance triathlon races, my strategy when I get on the bike is to wait 15 minutes until I drink from my first of three bottles (each containing ~300 calories) and to allow around 10 minutes for my legs to wake-up before settling into a rhythm. 

Within 10 minutes of the bike, my legs felt heavy. I wasn't anticipating super fresh legs but my legs were not feeling good on the bike when I started my ride. I felt like my RPE was higher than what I wanted. Looking back, I ended up riding my highest power and speed in the first 20 minutes of the bike (177 NP watts/22.5mph) but in the big picture I do not feel it compromised my race as I was trying whatever I could to wake up my legs. 

I ended up using the first 20 minutes to do a few fast and heavy gear intervals. There was no specific time for each interval but just to help wake up my legs on flat terrain, I would electronically shift into a heavy gear and that would slow down my cadence to around 80 for maybe 30-90 seconds and then I would switch into a lighter gear (all still in the big chain ring) for 30-90 seconds at around 95+ rpm. I was not focusing on my Garmin, just listening to my body. After around 20 minutes, my legs finally began to wake up. 

Somewhere in the first 20 minutes of the bike, Karel passed me. It was great to see him but he was too fast for any type of conversation. Because he was doing the aquabike, he could take as many risks as he wanted but seeing that Karel was never a good time-trialing cyclist when he raced Cat 1, he didn't find himself crushing the bike like he wanted. 

Around 10 miles into the bike, a guy passed me and then I found myself right behind him - staying 3 bike lengths behind him, I told myself to just try to "stay" with him as long as possible. It felt like we were a good  match and sometimes I would pass him on a climb/hill but it always seemed like he would end up ahead of me and I was just unable to pass him and ride away. 

Three times I noticed a race official passing us while riding along the course and never getting a look as if we were doing something wrong. This guy and I really rode well together - still always staying draft legal between one another. Whereas in a bigger race, there may have been 10-20 people around us, it wasn't until around 25-30 miles that another guy passed us and it was great motivation to know that I was able to stay with 2 guys on the course. 
Most of the time, we were riding alone. I can't recall more than 5 guys passing me on the bike course. 

Although drafting legally did not provide me with an "easy" ride, it did push me to not let up when I found my mind questioning if I was riding too hard. This is exactly what Karel has been trying to help me with and finally I felt as if I was taking smart risks and really racing. 

I have four cages on my bike and in a half, 3 cages are for bottles (one cage is for my spare tubular tire in a cut water bottle). I consumed 1 bottle sport drink each hour and grabbed two bottles water on the course (at aid station 2 and 3) for sipping and cooling. Although some sections of the course were shaded, the majority was not but instead, in open fields or roads and it was starting to get very hot. 

I wore COOLA suncare spray (SPF 30) and it always seems to protect me in the heat for long races and I never feel sticky with it on. 

When I got to the out and back section of the course, around mile 42, this was the first time that I was able to see athletes ahead of me. I first spotted Karel and gave him a big thumbs up - he later told me after the race that he couldn't believe that I was so close to him. Over the past two years, we have seen some huge improvements in my cycling. Training in Greenville has contributed to most of those improvements as well as strength training and continuing to get dialed in with my bike fit from Karel (with his RETUL fit system). Karel last fit me in late April and since then, I have been riding much more efficient and stronger. 

I spotted Amy and another girl (Jen) who were leading the women's amateur race and all of a sudden, my goals shifted. I didn't want to lose sight of my two time goals of breaking 2:40 on the bike and finishing sub 5 hours for the first time but I questioned if maybe, just maybe I could squeeze in top 5 amateur female. I didn't push my luck thinking I could be top 3 as I wasn't sure what would happen on the run and with the heat, this would not be the race to "race" the run - it would be all about survival and managing efforts. 

For the next few miles, I found myself with a lot of mind games, wondering what kind of run times would be needed for a top finish by the athletes, also not knowing the run course, how much of the course would be shaded and how technical would the gravel section actually be? Gloria always tells me not to jump ahead with my thoughts so I made sure not to convince myself that I would fall apart on the run just because I was pushing the bike. All my thoughts were bottled into one big thought to help me race smarter. 

Miles 50-53 were welcomed with a nice downhill and then long-ish uphill before heading back out on a main road for the last two miles of the 56 mile bike. 

Within 56 miles, I easily finished all three of my bottles (600 calories) plus a small bite of my wafer (100 calories) and consumed about 1/2 bottle of water (between the two aid stations where I grabbed water and sipped and cooled myself). I hit lap on my Garmin every 20 min and never looked at my total time....until the last 2 miles. After turning on my Garmin 910 to get ready for the run, I switched my Garmin 510 over to the main screen (instead of my interval screen) and I couldn't believe what I was seeing for my total time. 


As I rolled into the Sports Complex, I eased up just a bit and then unclipped my shoes, stopped my Garmin and got off my bike at the dismount line. 

I rolled my bike to my rack and there was Karel at the fence talking to me.
It felt like I was taking the longest time in transition but for some reason, I was in no rush to start running. I really wanted to compose myself before running 13.1 miles in the hottest temps I have ever experienced (including Kona - somehow it felt hotter than Kona). 

Karel told me that Amy was a few minutes ahead of me so I counted her out as a good target. Karel said that he thought there was 2-3 girls ahead of me which was exciting knowing that maybe I could place top three amateur. I told Karel that I biked 2:32 and he said "That's great - you were so strong I couldn't believe how fast you were riding."
As I put on my dad's hat and running shoes, I put on my race belt and then grabbed my Nathan hydration belt and started to make my way from the first race for bike-in all the way to run out on the other side of the transition area. Again, I took my time and was just not ready to run yet. 

Karel reminded me that I do well in the heat and this course was perfect for me but I wasn't quite ready to believe him just yet. My legs were not too excited to run but once I crossed that line for run out, I started running (with my hydration belt on) and I grabbed water at the first aid station around 10-20 yards or so from the run out to cool myself on my head.
I also grabbed ice and dumped it in my sport bra and took a few pieces in my hands to hold to try to keep myself cool. 

As soon as I hit the gravel and felt the shade, I was instantly relieved to feel some shade. Although it was still hot and the gravel terrain was far from being flat, it only took a few minutes before I felt myself excited to see what I could do to see if I could come close to achieving my sub-5 hour goal. 

It would be a few miles before I would see any of my competition so I shut out the thought of placing on the overall amateur female podium and decided to just run happy for the next few miles of our 4-loop run course. 

Marni stats - 56 mile bike2:33:02 (21.95mph)

Karel stats - 56 mile bike
2:20 (23.78 mph)
Stay tuned for my 13.1 mile race recap......surviving the heat, staying fueled/hydrated and running my way to overall female amateur winner!