Monday, June 29, 2015

CTS: 10 years later

I had been planning to participate in the NC/SC combined regional time trial championship for quite some time. Only last minute did I realize the TT was the day before the 2nd race in the infamous Charleston Triathlon Sprint Series. It was a bit of a no brainer to sign up for the triathlon too. I was planning to stay the weekend and I was bringing all the bike crap so why not toss in a tri kit and a pair of running shoes?  In planning this little adventure I was unaware this weekend marked the 10-year anniversary since I last stood in a shallow dog pond in the center of James Island County Park. 10 years! Where did the time go??

2005: A beast in my own mind
For those of you not familiar with the Charleston Triathlon Sprint Series let me give you a little bit of background. 2015 markes the 26th year of this series's existence. I believe it started out as a 3 race series stretching out over the summer months. Eventually it became 4 races and now tops out at 5 races. Each race can be considered the World Championship of Charleston just like Charlotte's Latta Plantation Sprint in its hayday but the true piece de resistance is in taking home the series. The who's who of the Charleston triathlon scene shows up every year, every race, to duke out the 600yd swim, 12 mile bike, and 5K run. I can name a number of people who built their entire athletic and professional reputation on the back on this sprint series. The ironic thing is these races have never and probably never will be USAT certified. That means the rule is . . . there are no rules. The swim is in a shallow pond that is bordered by the largest dog park in the city . . . rain the night before race day is not a good thing. And as the water temperature continues to rise (along with the pond's fecal content) during the long hot Charleston summer it is not uncommon to catch at least 1/3 of the participants in wetsuits. Why? Because they can . . . There are no numbered bike racks, no officials monitoring drafting, and no DQs for not having your bib number in front. In fact I do not know how the race organizers could justify giving out any kind of penalty whatsoever.

And the beautiful thing is no one takes advantage of this . . . at least not like they do at some of the other events I have been to . . . 


I guess in a sense there is a bit of an honor system at play. You know some people are going to wear wetsuits and some are not. You get to choose the route you want to take. You know if you jump on someone's wheel and ride there shamelessly the other competitors will call you out. No doubt about it. You don't want to be that guy/gal do you? Everyone wants to go fast and a number of people want to win but at the end of the day is a a fun race that builds and unites a community. This race is a reminder of what triathlon once was before it got commercialized and diluted. Participants aren't inundated with cheap goods and generic finishers' medals. People participate in this race because it is a challenge, because it is fun, and because their friends are doing it too. While the players are constantly changing, the game stays the same. It is for this reason the Charleston Triathlon Sprint Series will hold a special place for anyone who is fortunate enough to race in one.

Now on to the race!
Thanks to Athlinks I was able to find the results to my last CTS race back in 2005 which incidentally was my fastest time on that course ever! And thanks to Picasa Web albums I was able to track down this picture of me still chubby from my swimming days racing proudly in my Go Tri Sports two piece. I wanted to rock a 2-piece this past Sunday to really throw it back but triathlon ready 2 pieces are extremely hard to find.

What are you looking at fella?
2005 - 6:43
2015 - 7:31
Every CTS swim starts out the same with at least one participant remarking "I don't remember the buoy being out that far. I think the course is going to be long today." I heard it 10 years ago and I heard it again Sunday. This is one thing that will never change. The course is relatively uneventful. It is a 3 buoy narrow ended rectangular course. When the gun when off I took off fast. Mainly because several dudes tried to squeeze in front of me at the last minute and I wasn't in the mood for a freestyle fight. I kept a watchful eye on James who was swimming to my left leading his pack of one. I had a feeling he would challenge me at "my" race. I swam shoulder to shoulder with a bearded gent who ultimately decided he would rather draft off me than fight with me for the lead position (I know this because he later told me so). By the first buoy I had taken the lead and rounded the remaining 2 without incident. James was no where around when I exited the water so I was all smiles and feeling triumphant as I ran past the remaining waves of racers.

Brian Fancher Photography
2005 - 35:36
2015 - 29:25
I was first into transition but I was edged out by the leading male. I had stopped to put my cycling shoes on in transition. He had not. This was a great test to see which transition style is actually faster. I have never been one to place my shoes on the bike. I have watched people struggle to get their feet in their shoes while time and time again. I am also uncoordinated and clumsy so I tend to take the more conservative route when there is one available. Yes, he got out of transition faster than me but I was able to glide by him as he struggled to get his feet in his shoes. YESSSSS! I WIN! I WIN AT LIFE! I WAS RIGHT! I AM RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING!  I made it around the lake before James passed by me. Back to reality, whomp whomp. The first mile of the course was flat but had a lot of turns. I didn't remember these turns and awkwardly tried to flow through the lefts, rights, and sweeping turns as I watched James make time on me.  I was reminded, AGAIN, I have to work on my bike handling skills. Once we got out of the park it was basically a straight shot to the turnaround which incidentally included another set of tight turns. I had been maintaining my distance behind James up until that point in that I could still see him. After the turnaround I got a good snapshot of everyone behind me and was quite surprised by the lead. I will admit I was hopeful that I might just finish this race in 2nd place overall.

2005 - 21:51
2015 - 20:58
I came back to the park and headed out on the run after one of my fastest transitions ever. Unfortunately a mile in I was passed by a guy who made me feel like I was out for an afternoon jog. I made it another mile before I got knocked off the gender neutral podium completely. Oh well, it was a fun little game while it lasted. I had no idea where I was race time but I was beginning to think I might actually crack an hour so I tried to keep my legs moving. Luckily I wasn't feeling as sluggish as I expected after the TT but there were moments when it felt like maybe, just maybe, my quads could cramp.

Brian Fancher Photography

2005 - 1:04:10
2015 - 59:16
Well I did not cramp and crossed the mat under an hour! I can only remember one other female doing this race under an hour and I may be wrong because I can't find the evidence to prove it. When I first got into triathlon Pat Loggins had already secured her seat as a legend in Charleston's triathlon community. She consistently won races and was the only local to have ever qualified to go to Kona. She had a bit of a cult following and I, like many others, were inspired by her athletic accomplishments. I distinctly remember making it my goal to get under that hour bench mark because Pat had. Unfortunately I also quit racing in 2005 and for the next 10 years I didn't give that bench mark much thought but looking back I am struck by how cool it is that one person with one race can show everyone what we are capable of. People often ask the question "What drives you?" like there is a cozy little answer at the other end. There might be a canned answer waiting in the shuck but the truth is drive is complicated. It takes people like Pat, and people like you and me, to set the standard for someone else to aspire to. Be inspired. Be inspiring.

This race capped a great trip to Charleston. I want to thank James and Andrew for their constant entertainment and Johnny Zecopoulos from helping me stay hydrated throughout the weekend. It definitely was a hot one!

Let's take a second and just talk about the pictures by Brian Fancher. See his sports portfolio here and the entire CTS #2 gallery here. These are real race pictures. You should find out where he will be shooting next and do that race. I have no doubt you will walk away with an incredible photo (after paying for the download of course).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Caturnalia: Own it.

I promised my two most favorite people I would bring back Caturnalia today.

I am a glorified cat lady. I have 4 cats. There's no way around that fact. I also have a big fat compassionate heart. There's no way around that either. Time to own it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

NC/SC Regional Time Trial Championship

(photo credit: James Haycraft)

When I first heard about the NC/SC combined championship I was excited. One year I did both races separately and I really enjoyed them. I like riding my bike but I am no road racer. Time trials give me a chance to test my bike strength without having to contend with the swim and bike. Since the race would combine NC and SC athletes I knew it would pull quite a bit of talent from both states. Plus it would take place in Charleston. While I do not always need an excuse to go back to Charleston the chance to race on a flat and fast course I happen to know is compelling.

Next step: Convince some people the race is a good idea. Luckily I was able to talk James Haycraft and Andrew Lerner in joining me in this little road trip. I also took the opportunity to plant a seed to maybe do a short sprint triathlon the next day with the justification that we would already have all our bike equipment so why not? Luckily they proved to be more than willing and seemed to have me matched in enthusiasm.

Weekend travel hams . . . I mean companions
We left Charlotte a little later than we intended. The good news is we missed all of the Friday night traffic. The bad news is we arrived to Charleston much much later than intended. Luckily the race did not start sending off participants until 9 AM so we were able to sleep in a little bit and grab what seemed like a leisurely breakfast and coffee on the way.

Mt. Pleasant Velo does a great job of putting on these races. If you have yet to attend one I highly encourage you to do so. The races are low key but well organized. Unfortunately the location of the start of the time trial had few amenities and by few I mean none. They had a couple of porto-potties but the race site was 20 miles from the nearest store. There was no shelter and no shade so you had to be prepared to handle racing, recovering, and relaxing in the 95+ degree heat and humidity.

We got there, I checked in, prepared my bike, blew a tire, prepared my bike again, and then headed out to warm up. Being on the bike was definitely preferable to hanging around the minivan. I hit a side road which I was told was "good long flat road" only to find it turn to gravel in the middle of my first interval. I knew something like this would happen but I trusted the input from a stranger instead. There is no such thing as a good side road in SC. Everyone knows this. Luckily I did not blow another tire but with 20+ minutes of warm up under my belt I decided to head back and start circling the start line.

I was last to go of the Cat 4 ladies and would be followed by two Cat 1/2s, Samantha Bendt and Erin Burton. The last time I did one of these I started dead last so it was going to be interesting to have fast ladies both ahead and behind me. When I rolled up to the start line I did not have much of an action plan. I knew I was not going to do the push start and immediately told the bike handler to back away from the machine. One day I will let someone hold me and my bike. When that day comes I doubt it will be a stranger and it will have to be someone who can handle my unjustified panic episode.

I wasn't sure exactly how my legs would feel during this hard effort having just raced Challenge Williamsburg less than a week prior. Early in the week my legs felt heavy and sluggish but I succeeded in hammering on some hard efforts Thursday so I was optimistic I would not feel that deep seated fatigue that sometimes lingers around after a hard race.

Nevertheless I made a point to start off conservatively and settle into a pace I knew I could sustain for an hour. At the end of the first quarter my average speed was exactly where I wanted it to be but I was shocked at how low my watts were. Knowing I could afford to push harder I upped the effort for the second quarter. I averaged 10 more watts the 2nd quarter and I still felt comfortable so when the third quarter started I pushed even harder still averaging below my FTP.

While it was not a windy day by any means I could tell we had a slight tail wind going out and would have a slight head wind all the way back. This allowed me to continue building my watts but I also knew it would make the race harder for anyone who went out a little hot. I was finally starting to pass the ladies ahead of me. I gave each a shout out as I passed as everyone seemed to be riding very very strong. Finally I entered the fourth quarter and made a decision to go as hard as I could for the remaining 13 minutes. My shout out to Jane West, a Charleston cycling legend, came out as a mere gasp as I put my head down and tried to make the most of the last few miles.

I crossed the line in 54:24. I knew I put down a tough time to beat but I also knew Erin Burton would probably put down a hard effort as well. I knew she would beat me but I just didn't know by how much. I ended up first in the Cat 4 ladies and 2nd overall to Erin. She got me by :40 seconds. I will take it!
Overall Results
Erin Burton - 53:40
Jenny Leiser - 54:24
Gail Kattouf - 57:57

The highlight of my race, however, is when James sauntered over in that way he often does. "So how'd you do?" he asked. When I told him I think I did a 54 something his face paled slightly despite the heat, "Wait, what? Really? I need to check my computer." He ran off and moments later returned triumphant. "Phew, I did a 53:18" Be afraid James. . . be very afraid. 

I have been a little slow to get in the groove this year. There are a number of reasons and I am happy to talk about them under a different blog post. I have had to make a couple of changes to find my mojo and I am just now finding a bit more pep in my step. I currently do not feel as fit as I have in the past but I feel like I am making progress. While gaining fitness will always be an uphill battle there are things you can do today to make gains on race day. For starters, it might be time to take a serious look at your bike position. I have had my Cervelo P2 for 5 years now and I am no where ready to replace him. You bike should fit you like a glove and the only way to do that is to have a serious discussion with a bike fitting professional that knows fit and aerodynamics on a time trial bike. There are a lot of great fitters out there but there is only one in Charlotte who capable of making you faster. Take a moment to read these two posts and then make an appointment with James at Inside Out Sports. He has helped me tweak my bike position over the last 3 years and I can honestly say my position is simultaneously the fastest and most comfortable it has ever been.