Friday, September 18, 2015

Best in the West: Sprint Tri Recap

Long story short - I did everything faster than my goals and finished 23 minutes faster than last year's sprint! On the swim and bike in particularly I'm not really sure where it came from, but the speeds I kept up felt way easier than I would have anticipated. It's still not "fast" in the grand scheme of things, but starting to approach middle of the pack. (Actually in top 50% of my age group and women! Though the race is very beginner friendly and thus attracts some slower finishers, it's also associated with the OSU team and some (I'm not sure if the sprint was included) of the events were some kind of championship races, so it also has some very fast participants. The website didn't have a way to view all - men and women - results together, but comparing to the men and adding up the pieces, I was in the top 55% overall.) 

(Separate post coming of spectating Abe's half ironman the remainder of the day, and general thoughts on the race itself. Also check out a guest post recap by Abe of his race!)


Best in the West takes place in Sweet Home, Oregon, a little town just east of I-5, sort of near Corvallis. The park where the race is held is also a bit east of town, so about a 1 hour 45 minute drive from Portland - I suppose doable to drive out in one day, but not an early morning I'd be excited about. There's camping available on site, but I prefer indoor plumbing and a nice bed before a race. There are only two motels actually in Sweet Home (one promoted by/affiliated with the race), but they were booked up by the time we got around to it. Instead, we found a Best Western in Lebanon, about a half hour west of the race. (It's a newer hotel and probably the nicest Best Western I've ever stayed in! They even have turn down service. I'd definitely recommend it - it was a smidge expensive for the area (the only one we looked at that was over $100); but location aside, for the amenities included it was a really good deal.)

We left Portland around 1:00 (so as to beat Friday rush hour heading out of town), and arrived in Lebanon to check into our hotel before 3:00. Packet pickup didn't open until 4:00, so we decided to have a late lunch/early dinner, at a pizza place. We then continued on to Sweet Home, checked in - packets had race bib/bike stickers, wristband, ankle timing chip, t-shirts, and a few flyers/coupons - and then got in the lake for some swimming practice (including getting re-used to a wetsuit). We then stuck around for an athletes' briefing - which wasn't super organized (lots of "let's see, what else... oh, you should know...") but provided some helpful general information, including specifics of rules like drafting on the bike.

We then headed back to the hotel, ate leftover pizza and oreos (that I insisted we stop to buy on the way back - they just sounded like the perfect race carb at the time), watched crap TV and went to bed reasonably early.

Race morning

With Abe's race starting at 8:00 and mine at 9:00, we wanted to arrive no later than 7:00. The hotel breakfast started at 6:00, so we got up in time to dress and pack the car by then, eat a quick breakfast as soon as it opened, then be off to the race. I got my stuff set up in transition, helped Abe a bit with his, and then watched the half iron swimmers start. Then headed back to transition for final preparations including putting on my wetsuit (the real first leg of a triathlon), and headed to the lake with plenty of time to get in the water and again remind myself how the wetsuit felt, that I could still breathe, etc.

How cool is the garmin data for multi-sport recording now!? It didn't have this last year.


Goal time: 15:00
Official time: 14:15 - 13/20 AG
Garmin time: 13:12 

After warming up in the buoyed off park swim area, we had to get out and enter the water one by one for our wave (all sprint women) (they were counting so they'd know if anyone was still in the water), waited for a minute to head off (the people in the front may have had to tread water, but there was plenty of room to stay in the shallow area to stand while waiting). I stayed near the back right - to stay out of the way - but shortly in I ended up basically smack dab in the middle of the back of the pack. 

I felt pretty good the whole time - the wetsuit was pressing against my neck as I knew it would, but I was able to ignore the sensation reasonably well. I was able to, mostly, put my face in the water and do a real freestyle stroke (versus weird combinations of side stroke and breast stroke which I'm prone to do in open water to avoid freaking out) (not with good form - I mostly breathed up/forward instead of side, rather than doing real sighting in coordination with side breathing like one should, but still something clearly resembling freestyle). The whole time I was keeping up with the same people, and not infrequently actually passing people! It was ridiculous. I kept glancing at my watch and being amazed at how fast I was going, sure from half way through that at least I'd be way under 15 minutes, the question was by how much.

The water was amazing - I guess the lake is partially man-created, it's a reservoir from a dam, but it's ridiculously (relatively speaking) clear (not like, pool clean, it's sort of tinted dirty, but you can totally see the bottom through it, even in the middle of the swim, farther from shore, I think I was still seeing the bottom). The entrance/bottom of the normal park swim area is concrete and large rocks, so pretty easy to walk into. The first half of the swim there wasn't even really any plant life at all (uh, not sure what that means eco-system wise, but it's a positive for swimming!); nearer the end (which was the opposite edge of the park swim area) there were some plants, but small and relatively spread out, so you weren't constantly getting whacked on your limbs with stuff. 

The lake was pretty much the best situation I could possible imagine as a beginning swimmer and someone adverse to open water swimming. I almost kind of regret not doing this last year as my first triathlon (the tri group I was involved with last year had people doing it, so it was on my radar in a general sense); I think the experience here, especially for the swim, would have been a lot better for a first tri.

Photo by race photographer

I lapped my watch into transition as soon as I got out of the water (there was even a little finish arch there), but the timing mat was up the hill at the actual entrance to the transition area, so that reflects 1:03 between exiting the water and entering the transition area. But 13:12 of time actually in the water! Less than 2:30 per 100 yards (actually, 2:11 per the slightly long distance on my garmin due to not swimming tight against the buoys), which is completely in line with what I swim in the pool (just the slower end of normal for me)... which is ridiculous! 

Goal time: 4:30
Official time: 3:17 - 13/20 AG
Garmin time: 4:18 

I felt like my wetsuit took an extra long time to take off, but other than that just had to put on shoes, shirt, gloves, glasses, and helmet. I took my garmin off my wrist and onto my bike handlebars so I'd be able to see it (and hoped I wouldn't forget it for the run leg!) (that was a nuisance last year to not be able to readily check my speed - I'd kept it on my wrist for fear of forgetting it in transition), and ate a couple shot bloks and drank some coconut water. The timing mat (and I lapped my garmin) was at the exit to transition, but we had to walk our bikes a short distance off the grass area and over a curb to the mount line.


Goal time: 55:30
Official time: 46:03 (16.4 mph) - 9/20 AG
Garmin time: 44:54

The bike was fairly flat overall for the sprint distance (the longer events had some more significant hills). A couple miles in was the biggest downhill, over the dam, but that wasn't too scary. There was one woman in particular that I passed and was passed by a few times, but for the most part I was passing people and actually not being passed back. The course was out and back, so that hill was an uphill a couple miles from the finish; I slowed down to at least 8 mph that I saw during the hill, my legs were definitely tired by then, but I even passed a couple people on the hill! 

While I'm generally anxious and uncomfortable riding on the road, a lot of that goes away on a closed or semi-closed race course. I wasn't worried about someone shooting out of a driveway or at an intersection and having to effectively handle my bike to avoid them. Passing other bikes is easy when there aren't any cars. I think biking on the trainer even though I tended to avoid getting on road was still reasonably effective training, I did a lot of high cadence work on the trainer, which translated well when I wasn't stopping and starting as I do in a neighborhood on a typical training ride - I had an average cadence of 60, which way higher than I ever do a road, but the lower end of normal for a trainer ride.

I didn't bother eating or drinking anything during the bike leg, since I can't do so while moving. I knew since I'd be well under an hour even for this longest leg I should be fine with doing so only in transition. I lapped my garmin at the dismount line, after which we still had to run our bikes down a path and around into transition, so there's 1:09 between dismounting bike and entering transition area.


Goal time: 1:30
Official time: 1:23 - 9/20 AG
Garmin time: 2:31

Helmet and gloves off, bike racked, race bib (pinned to my spi belt) on. I intended to eat a couple more shot bloks here, but based on how many were left apparently I didn't. I did drink some more coconut water. My legs felt so fatigued coming off the bike - I could barely get myself to do more than the occasional slow job while walking my bike in from the dismount line. But I hoped they'd loosen up once I got going on the run.


Goal time: 34:15
Official time: 30:11 (9:42 pace) - 8/20 AG
Garmin time: 30:12

My legs were exhausted to start, but loosened up reasonably quickly. The run course felt less flat than the bike, more rolling hills with a fairly steady uphill of half a mile or more leading up to the turnaround point, but nothing too terribly steep. For the first half or so I was leap frogging with a 9-year-old girl, so my goal became to beat her. (My fear was that we'd continue leap frogging the whole time and I'd look like an asshole sprinting past her at the finish.)

Started slow-ish - 10:16, was able to pick it up even on some uphill and then more on the downhill - 9:50, and finished really strong with my second-fastest mile as an adult in 9:14 and allegedly a 7:29 pace for the final 0.1! That beats my current 5k PR, so I was definitely proud of that! While I didn't acknowledge so in my goals post, I'll admit that in the back of my mind, I thought I might be able to get really close to that PR pace. Once I was in the second mile and keeping below a 10:00 pace, I really really wanted it, and that kept me going just as much as beating the 9-year-old (who eventually slowed down and came in a few minutes after me).

Photo by race photographer

Total time: 1:35:09 - 8/20 AG

I know this this really a rather pedestrian time in an absolute sense, but for me, it's freaking amazing. Everything went perfect, really, on race day - good weather (it was hot later in the day, but still pleasant by the time my race was finished), I had the right amount of caffeine, no digestion issues, etc. The race adrenaline pushed me faster than I ever do in training and really approach my limits, not stop short of what I'm capable of doing. 

I'm really glad I decided to do a tri this year to show how much I've grown in these disciplines since last year, and I think this was a really good beginner-friendly course to do so on. 


  1. Congratulations on beating your expected/goal times!

  2. Incredible! Really great job! I'm not familiar with the swim or bike portions of a tri, but your run was so strong even after first completing those two portions of the race. Way to go!


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