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September 7, 2006

Big Kahuna Preview

“Strike us like matches…’cause everyone deserves the flames…
We only do it for the scars and stories, not the fame … “

- Fall Out Boy, “Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends”

Remember how I said that triathlon training is a lot like dating Shakira? Well, over the last few months I’ve seen an amazing amount of action at all hours of the day. It’s been more than I could take at times. Borderline unhealthy, honestly. I’ve been sleep deprived and physically exhausted, and usually when I’m getting down to business in the morning, I still feel aches and soreness from the same activity the day before.

It’s been an absolute whirlwind, and an absolute blast. God help me, but I think I’m falling in love with the girl.

This weekend the relationship comes to its apex at the Big Kahuna Triathlon, a half-Ironman distance event in Santa Cruz, CA. It’s my last race of the year, so there will inevitably be a letdown of sorts when it’s all said and done.

In that regard, race day is a bit like the senior prom: it’s the defining moment of a memorable courtship. You look forward to it for weeks, imagining how perfect everything’s going to be. It’s an emotional high water mark, and you desperately try to absorb as many feelings and memories as possible, so when summer vacation comes and you go your separate ways, you’ll still remember all the good times you shared. (That’s right … I’m taking Shakira to the prom. The analogies fly fast and crazy around here sometimes.)

But above all else, the prom is one heck of a party. And that’s my primary approach to this race: I’m just in it for a good time.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m definitely going to have my eye on the clock. I’ll race as fast as I’m able to, but since this is my first time at Kahuna, I have absolutely no expectations about my finishing time. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not pondering it with every waking minute.

Here then is a rough prediction of what I anticipate at this weekend’s race, broken down by discipline, with some workout details to back up my estimates. But keep in mind, above all else … do I need to keep saying this? … that I’m an idiot. Don’t be surprised if these estimates turn out in hindsight to be wildly inaccurate.

Part 1 – Swim 1.2 miles

Historically, this is the hardest aspect to predict, because I’m always unsure of how much carryover the pool training has to open water racing. On one hand, ocean swimming is much harder because of the waves, the chop and swell, poor visibility, and contact from other swimmers. On the other, I’ll be more buoyant with my wetsuit, and the adrenaline of race day might help me go faster. Not to mention, I’m going to draft behind as many pairs of feet as I can find.

It’s nearly impossible to gauge my speed on the few ocean swims I’ve done this summer. I’ve swum in the pool about three days per week, and one day per week I’ve timed a 2000 meter “cruising” piece that usually ends up between 36 and 37 minutes. So let’s guess this number at 38 just to be conservative.

My main goals for the swim are to stay relaxed, use my upper body as much as possible, and avoid going anaerobic at all costs. If I exit the water in the middle of the pack, I’m OK with that – because I tend to get stronger as the race goes on.

Transition Area 1

T1 includes a run from the ocean to a nearby park which is the main staging area. Looking at last year’s results, T1 times range anywhere from 4 to 11 minutes, and the average is somewhere in the 5-minute range.

I’m traditionally a slow transitioner – I’ll take the extra few seconds to put on socks and lace up my shoes so that I’m more comfortable on the course. So let’s guess 6 to 7 minutes for this transition, and anything below that is a bonus.

Bike – 56 miles

The bike course goes out-and-back to the north on Highway 1, with a few gentle hills but no major climbs. There’s typically a headwind going north, which would become a tailwind on the return.

On training rides I usually average just over 20 mph on rolling terrain. Assuming ordinary wind conditions, I’m hoping to push that average closer to 21mph on race day. But to be conservative again, I’ll estimate a 20.5 mph average which would have me on the bike for 2 hours and 44 minutes.

Transition Area 2

Last year’s T2 times are much faster than T1: under 1 minute in some cases, with the average between 2 and 3 minutes. Knowing me, I’ll be closer to three.

Run – 13.1 miles

The run course is also fairly flat, but includes a couple of beach crossings, and a series of turns on the coastal recreation trail. Although I know my legs won’t be feeling very snappy at this point in the race, I’m hoping the run segment is where I’ll find my comfort zone.

I’ve done bike/run brick workouts and hit 6:40 pace for a few miles, but on race day I anticipate this will be closer to the 6:50-7:00 minute per mile range. Taken alone, I can bust through a half-marathon in 83-85 minutes. Optimistically, during the tri I’m hoping to get close to 90 minutes for the run segment, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s more like 95 minutes instead.

So where does that put me overall? Using the above estimates, I could be anywhere from 5 hours to 5:15 or more.

Now here’s a big disclaimer: about 650 words ago, I said I was just doing this race for fun. But if I come out of T1 ahead of schedule, or have stronger bike legs than I guessed, I may be knocking on the door of sub-5 hours heading into the half-marathon.

And if that’s the case, I’ll kick fun to the curb in a heartbeat, and bring on the pain.

One of my easily predictable traits is that if I’m close to a milestone time in a race, I’ll battle all the way to the finish, regardless of the physical toll it takes.

I drive myself insane this way sometimes - but as much as I try to ignore the clock and enjoy the last miles of a race, I frequently end up inflicting horrible agony and misery upon myself just to shave a minute or two off my finish time. So it’s 100% reliable that I’ll turn the run into a sufferfest if the conditions are right.

Whether or not that trait of mine is an admirable one is open to question. Whether it ultimately makes my race experience satisfying or disappointing may depend on how successful I am in reaching the goal.

But in either case - if it comes down to that – I’m sure I’ll have a lot of scars and stories from the race to share next week.


Anne 9/7/06, 3:49 PM  

Best of luck to you, Donald. Just remember, those 'hips don't lie' so hopefully you'll feel alright and smash that 5-hour mark. If not, just make sure you have the car back on time. :-)

Mike 9/7/06, 5:31 PM  

Don't forget a flask of whiskey - spike the punch!

Annette 9/7/06, 6:21 PM  

Good luck with the final event of the year! :) I hope it goes smoothly and you make it in record time without beating yourself up too badly.

And good luck with the week after. I always have trouble with motivation after it's all over. But, rest is a good thing afterwards, too!

Maybe Shakira will write a song about your blossoming relationship. . . . ? :)

backofpack 9/7/06, 9:46 PM  

Good luck Donald! Remember, we like pictures of the battle wounds... or at least pictures of the athlete in action!

Is this really the final event of the year, or is it just the final tri of the year?

Darrell 9/7/06, 10:43 PM  

Are you sure you aren't a salesman. You could make the biggest couch potato want to get out there and "tri" this. You make it sound like so much fun. I can't wait to read about how right the conditions were and the sufferfest! Go, Donald, Go!

olga 9/8/06, 9:10 AM  

I love your "I’ll battle all the way to the finish, regardless of the physical toll it takes" attitude, I'd like to get more of it. This is what makes a chamption regardless of finishing time, not to mention this is why your finishing times what they are. You are truly inspiring. Go for it!
Honestly, if any sport was only for "enjoying the course", why in the world would we train so hard? So I believe most of the time we go out there and tell ourselves and others "I am only going to have fun" we're lie and rob off the great unknown.
Donald, thank you for being bold. I will take your words with me. But for now - you kick ass!

Thomas 9/8/06, 9:35 AM  

Of course you're going to race. Why else would you pay the registration fee?

DREW 9/8/06, 9:55 AM  

As a completely no tri guy I don't quite understand the allure of your mistress. I do know that you'll give her a weekend she'll never forget!

rick 9/8/06, 11:27 AM  

Hey Donald, Olga referred me to your blog. I'll be out there too this Sunday. Shooting for under 5:30, maybe a high 5:20's. Did this race last year at 5:38. I'm a slow swimmer so it's a chase from the first event on.

I'm with you on the fun to sufferfest thing. I'm out just to enjoy myself esp. since I'm a bit under trained for this race but if I'm feeling good I'll turn it on and leave it all out there. There's live Hawaiian music afterwards to assuage spend bodies. A nice laid back race with plenty of competition.

Deene 9/8/06, 12:43 PM  

enjoy the prom and best wishes. i'm looking forward to your report. so what color swim cap will you wear? ;)

Richard A 9/8/06, 4:46 PM  

Great article, Donald. May you suffer to your full potential.
(Who's Shakira? Do I have to be under 40 to hear the siren?)

Mike 9/9/06, 2:55 PM  

Here's wishing you calm seas and a tailwind on the bike. No favors on the run though because you don't need any! ;-)
Have a great race out there!!

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