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August 20, 2007

Numerology

“That's it. It's not the money, it's the numbers… Dude, don't look at me like that, I'm not crazy. This is real."
- Hurley, from Season 1 of Lost

A guy can get a lot of things done during a two-week post-race layoff.

The period of forced rest is a great opportunity to spend some lunch hours with coworkers who were kept at arms length for the past few months of twice-daily workouts. It’s an ideal chance to tear through the entire second season of Lost on DVD (more on this later … but something tells me those folks are going to have a hard time getting off the island).

Or if you’re the excessively compulsive type, it allows you to spend a ridiculous amount of time going through the results page of your previous race, trying to extract as much information as possible from the numbers.

Sometimes I feel foolish for going back through race results to see how I could have fared if I had tinkered with my training strategy, or if I had handled some particular situation differently on race day. I understand that what’s done is done, and there’s no sense rehashing what might have been.

Other times, something inside the numbers hits me like a slap in the face, and I can’t believe that it escaped my attention for so long. This is what happened when I looked through the Vineman results.

First, by way of full disclosure, I have some corrections from the original report of my overall and age group standings. When I left the finish area on race day, I scanned my chip at the results tent, and the computer told me I had finished 17th overall, and second in my age group. However, when the official results came in, I was bumped down to 19th overall, and 4th in 35-39. I’m not sure what accounted for the error, and I don’t really care about it (except to reinforce what I’ve always said: I’m not nearly as good as a lot of you seem to think. So there.)

But that’s not what struck me about the numbers. It was the breakdown by discipline that revealed the glaring weakness in my training plan, and showed me the secret of improved race performances in the future.

The easiest way to explain is to just show you the results:

Swim: 26th fastest split overall, 7th in age group
Bike: 36th fastest overall, 7th in age group
Run: 19th fastest overall, 8th in age group

These were generally what I expected. My relative weakness is on the bike, which is the area where I felt my training was relatively inadequate. I was strongest on the run, which makes sense because, um … have you seen the title of my blog? In a previous life, I was a fairly dedicated runner. The swim ranking was somewhere in between.

Further analysis revealed that, aside from the professionals, there wasn’t anyone who placed higher than me in more than one discipline. It reinforces my theory that amateur triathletes typically aren’t great at any particular event; they just need to be somewhat decent at all three. In other words, it’s OK to be mediocre, as long as you’re mediocre across the board.

None of this information was particularly surprising. Here’s where the numbers made my jaw drop:

T1: 58th fastest overall, 12th in age group
T2: 152nd fastest overall, 41st in age group

Oh, man … I’m getting my butt kicked in transitions!

I’ve discussed in previous race reports how I’m typically slow in the “fourth discipline” of triathlon, but I never quite realized how far I lag behind the curve. Apparently while I’m rubbing sand out from between my toes in T1, or relaxing in the shady grass in T2, the rest of the field is making up time on me in droves.

There’s an old adage in triathlon that says, “train your weakness, race your strength.” If that’s the case, my training regimen is in need of a complete overhaul.

This summer, I foolishly spent all of my time logging laps in the pool or miles on the roads, trying to improve in areas where I’m already relatively strong. But now I see that I’ve been going about it all wrong – because I should have spent more time training my weakness.

Swimming, biking, and running? Completely overrated. What I need is to spend those training hours taking my wetsuit off while running, or doing sprint workouts in cycling shoes while pushing my bike alongside me. I should have practiced my cycling-shirt-to-singlet technique more often, and done many more lace lock and number belt repetitions.

Obviously this is the area where I have the most room for improvement. Just think: if I were to shave about two minutes from my T2 time, I’d rank in the top 100 for that transition period. In the final overall and age group standings, the improved finishing time would have placed me … well, it would have placed me exactly the same. But at least I would have the satisfaction of knowing that I could fasten my shoelaces faster than 200 other competitors.

OK … perhaps the upside isn’t significantly tangible. But triathlon is a competitive sport - and when I’m on the course, I’ll take any minor victory I can claim. However, those victories don’t come easy, and they don’t happen overnight: they’re the result of preparation meeting opportunity.

So when I start blasting out of the pool and sprinting to the locker room after each swim workout, or spending 30 minutes per day switching back and forth from cycling shoes to running shoes, that’s not just me acting like an idiot - that’s me raising my game, baby.

It’s not crazy. It’s all about the numbers.

13 comments:

Laurie 8/20/07, 12:30 PM  

You're too funny!

Anne 8/20/07, 12:43 PM  

Funny you should bring this up now. Last night I was catching up with a woman (via race results) I once competed against who now does triathlons almost exclusively. Her swim/bike/run times remain about the same as when we were a wee bit younger, but she's still ranked No. 1 in her age group. And it's because she has nailed the transitions. So, I think you and Hurley are on to something.

momo 8/20/07, 1:26 PM  

did you see my t1 and t2 times from my last races? i think they were in the 15 minute range... :-)

did you get a kona spot???

Backofpack 8/20/07, 5:46 PM  

So...you are not going to leave this triathlon foolishness behind and return to the pure and good sport of running? Now you want to swim, bike, T1, T2 and run? Oh, Donald, we've lost you to the dark side forever...

Never fear though, I will remain your loyal blogging buddy, reading through posts on (yawn!) swimming and (double-yawn!) bikes and biking. I'll persevere in the hopes of finding little nuggets of running, or the utter foolishness of pop-culture and the essays on family life. I am a devoted Running and Rambling fan, and I'll read on, in the hopes that someday, I'll be reading about running again.

robtherunner 8/20/07, 9:20 PM  

Just remember, there are no transitions in running, however, there are aid station times to worry about at ultras. No standing around at Firetrails, remember your weakness.

Thomas 8/21/07, 4:28 AM  

I can see you tearing through your transitions in your next triathlon only to semi-collapse on the beginning of your bike/run, because you overexerted yourself in the transition area.

Matt 8/21/07, 6:40 AM  

I've read so many posts where people have won or lost races in transition. I practice mine enough to keep pace. I'm not going to stress myself out over it though. Good post.

Phoenix 8/21/07, 1:12 PM  

Donald, Donald, Donald. Just a week ago you were happy with your results and, here you are, rearview mirror analysing. And obsessing about transition times. What are we going to do with you?

Granted, transition is free speed (listen to me talkin' like I know somethin'). Whatever you decide to focus on, find the joy again, friend, you did awesome.

Journey to a Centum 8/21/07, 9:25 PM  

Thanks for your comment to Michelle regarding the cutoff time for Big Sur. I think she will have no problem making the 6 hour limit but we all have our bad days.

Cheers!

rick 8/21/07, 10:05 PM  

Donald you are as good as I thought you were but those transition placings are surprising, not that I'm any quicker mind you. You might have to do some workouts where all you do is transitions. We do this with our groups. They set up their transitions then practice changing out of the suit, doing a lap on the bike then practice transitioning for the run. Remember this video. That was a transition exercise/game.

Sharpening your game eh. I love it. I've been going through my run results as well and I've decided, ironically, to do much less triathlon and more ultra training to shave off those precious minutes. In ultra it's the aid stations. Beware the aid stations, I've been practicing quick in, quick out strategies.

Annette 8/22/07, 2:08 PM  

I would love to be your neighbor for the next year. I can just see you running down the street trying to rip off your wetsuit. The neighbors will be calling 911 - oh what fun! :)

I enjoyed the Lost quote. I can't wait for the season to start back up. You'd better get cracking on those episodes. You've got some catching up to do.

olga 8/23/07, 7:33 AM  

If you need practice in T1-T2 (or AS at ultra) - give me a call and come with me for a race. I'll have no problem kicking you out of standing around (or eating, or putting your shoes on) - just ask Rob or Rick:)

Makita 8/23/07, 11:47 PM  

too funny - don't be so hard on yourself, though. :)

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