Posts Tagged ‘Sprint Triathlon’

Sunday morning’s alarm clock was set for 4:40 a.m. giving us  enough time to get up, grab a nice, long, hot shower to loosen up the muscles – apply our body glide and hop into our triathlon race gear.

I would have time to toast a bagel, load the bike, cooler and transition bag and make my way over to Walter E. Long park for the start of the Couples Triathlon shortly after the transition area opened.

As I drifted off to sleep I was relaxed, feeling confident that my bike and run were in great shape heading into the event, even my swim had been coming along recently.  No stress, no worries, just another race day ahead I told myself.  No different than any other.  So what if I was going to have to swim 60% further than I had at Jack’s or Lake Pflugerville.  What was an extra 300 Meters ….

At 12:40 I was awakened by the sound of thunder rolling overhead and rain pounding on the bedroom windows.

Really?  Another wet transition area to navigate and a sloppy run course like we had at the Rookie TRI at the same location earlier this spring.  My streak of lousy race day weather seemed to be holding true to form for 2012.

I rolled over, shrugged it off with a “whatever” and went back to bed.

At the sound of the alarm I hopped out of bed, checked the weather station in the bathroom and saw that the overnight temperature had dropped to just under 70 degrees – but the humidity was hanging at 98%.  Off to the shower.

After all the usual rituals of brushing, showering, dressing and packing the last few items into my cooler I loaded up the truck and backed out of the driveway at 5:20.  On time to the very minute.  It was going to be a good day I thought.

Pre-Race:  The rain had moved off to the East and left us with a downright pretty nice July morning for Central Texas.  There would be virtually no wind to deal with and no chance of rain showers until the late afternoon.  They would return with a vengeance later in the day with more than 3 inches falling in most areas around Austin, but they would not be a factor for the race at all.

I rolled into the parking lot, grabbed my transition bag and cooler, my TRI bike and headed over to get body marked and find a spot in transition.

I got my race number “91” down both arms, across the tops of my knees and a “45” on my right calf – a gentle reminder that I was racing as a 45 year old still 16 days away from that milestone birthday.

For the Couples Triathlon I was partnered up with my friend Ed Cortez.  We would be competing in the “Male Friends” category placing us with some of the more serious Austin Area Triathletes.  Our rack space was closest to the bike out, bike in area – which was perfect in my opinion.  Where you rack in a triathlon is basically all relative as you are either close to the swim entrance, the run exit or the bike exit.  Every athlete has to navigate the same distances at one time or another, but the shorter distance that I need to cover in my bike shoes the better.  I would much rather run in bare feet or my running flats than try to toe-run in my cycling shoes.

I found a spot on the end of the race, strapped on my headlamp and set-up my transition area in the dark about 20 minutes prior to sunrise.

Bike on the rack, helmet and cycling glasses on the bars, my bike shoes opened up fully with my socks rolled up and placed inside to be pulled on after coming in from the swim.

Just behind my cycling shoes I had my run flats, my running sunglasses and my race number belt on top.  I pulled my frozen water bottle out of the cooler, placed it on the bike and got it started on the way to thawing out before we hit the bike course.

I got my swim cap and goggles ready and we were ready to rock as Ed arrived. We got Ed set-up next to me and we had about an hour or so to kill before the safety meeting.  Everything was going very smoothly as I ran a rubber band through my left pedal to the front of my front tire to hold it in place for me to hop on at the mounting line and literally hit the ground “cycling” as quickly as possible.  After a trip to the porta-potty it was go time.

The Swim:  After the Star Spangled Banner I strapped on my goggles and decided to place my swim cap over them to hold them in place.  This was going to be the most “competitive” group of swimmers I had raced with in a wave start.  I was determined to not be too passive and swim out wide on Sunday.  I wanted to swim close to the buoys and tangent the course which was going to require me to swim “in a crowd”.  I wanted to guard against having my goggles knocked loose by an errant arm, leg or elbow.

As we entered the water I could feel the nerves building.  Much more for me than a run event as I feel strong and confident in my race flats.  But in the water I still feel like the rookie that I am.  Cautious and wary – feelings I am trying my hardest to lose and turn into competitive fuel.  It’s coming, but I am still a long way off.

Being the very first wave of the event was pretty cool as we looked out on the pristine, glassy water of the lake where our strokes would be the first of the morning.

At the horn I let a dozen or so swimmers take off, then hit the buoy and took my first strokes out onto the lake.  20 or so strokes for 25 Open Water Meters, 4 X 25 Meters per hundred, 800 Meters Total, we were looking at 640 strokes back to the shore.  Ad another 20 or so due to course adjustments and that should get us home.  I found my rhythm quickly, searched for some clear water to swim and settled in.

The first 200 meters always feels clunky to me, trying to get my breathing, stroke, catch and pull coordinated and working smoothly.  Sunday was no different as I did not find any type of groove until we were approaching the second buoy.  But as I settled in the longer swim seemed to calm me down.  Instead of searching for the turning point and thinking about heading back to shore – I just swam.  Calm, cool, collected.  I got shoved a few times, my right arm landed on the back of another swimmer a few times – but I just stayed the course.

At the first left turn which came about 275 meters into the swim I cut the buoy close, found my new bearing and swam on.  I bumped with a swimmer to my right again, but did not slow – just keep pulling I told myself.  The second straightaway had the sun behind and to the right of us.  I could feel it warming me on my rotation out of the water to breath.  I relaxed my face and stayed smooth.  We hit the second triangular buoy which marked the 550 meter mark, further than I had ever swam in competition and I still felt fresh and solid.  Because I am not yet at the point where I am pushing it in the water, for fear of blowing up out there, I was still very strong to this point and decided to pull harder a bit and try to make up some time on the swimmers ahead of us in the water.

The final leg of the course came quickly and as I pulled over the final 50 meters we were gaining a bit on the swimmers immediately ahead of us.  My hands hit gravel and I popped out and tore off my cap and goggles.

800 Meters in the books.  Time to move.

Transition 1:  The run from the lake to transition at Decker is far.  1/4 mile long and of course uphill from the lake.  Luckily we were the first group in the water, so the run out was not a muddy mess – yet – but finding your running legs after popping out of the water is a bit disorienting.  Going from horizontal to vertical can through you off a bit.  But by the time I reached the top of the hill I was running on my toes and picking off athletes.  I found our rack with no trouble and got to work.

Water bottle on the feet to clear off the grass and dirt.  One Sock, Two Socks, One Shoe, Two Shoes.  Bike glasses, Helmet and I threw my run watch on quickly so I would not have to deal with that coming off of the bike.

Transition time 2:43.  Solid given the run out distance.

The Bike:  I ran to the mount line, hopped up and coasted as I snapped my feet into the waiting pedals.  Having the rubber band holding them in place has proven to be a great help in getting underway quickly.  I banked hard into the first turn exiting transition and put the hammer down.  Woosh.

Having only our wave of athletes ahead of us and a couple of the top female competitors who had caught us on the swim after starting 4:00 minutes behind us (monster swimmers) – the bike course was much less crowded than I have been used to.  Traditionally I have been starting in the 6th or 7th wave in the Male 45-49 age group.  But on Sunday we had plenty of road to ride, but less competitors to chase ahead of us.  I wondered if that would help or hurt us as we tried to push hard on the bike.

We flew through the opening mile of the course in 2:34 and got ready for some climbing.  Only 11.2 miles the course sounds like a snap, but with more than 500 feet of climbing and sharp 90 degree turns leading into the larger climbs, the course is highly technical and difficult.

The next 4 miles came in 2:53, 2:38, 2:20 and 2:44.  I approached the first and most difficult short-burst hill on the course, switched to the small front ring and dropped into a high gear for spinning as I banked the more than 90 degree turn.  I stood on the pedals and started pushing.  As I got to the meat of the hill I saw my partner Ed up ahead of me having put down a swim more than 2 minutes faster than me.

I encouraged Ed as I slid past him and he told me to “Go Get It”.  Seeing him there could not have been more perfect entering into the tough middle of the course.  I continued to climb, reached the top and powered down hill loading up for the next hill, less steep – but much longer.  Navigating the next two miles of climbing we posted miles of 3:08 and 3:04, just a tick under 20 mph.

Mile 8 allows the cyclists to take a little bite back out of the course and we crushed it in 2:18.  Then the course takes a swing back at you along the TX 130 Frontage Road – a monster hill that the Decker Half-Marathon Course punishes runners on each winter.  We slowed to 3:22/mile here and then powered over the top and got our revenge over mile 10 in 2:40.

Just Quadzilla remained – as I settled into the first 200 meters of the hill I picked out a few competitors and only looked at the back of their shirts.  I never shifted my eyes from them, never looked at my bike computer, never looked at the hill itself.  Only their backs, reeling in one after the other.  The final climbing mile came in 3:34 as I stood on the pedals and made my way to the dismount.

Bike time 32:17 – 1 minute and 4 seconds faster than our effort on the same course at the Rookie Triathlon.  20.7 mph for the ride.

Transition 2:  I ran the bike in after the dismount line.  Slid the seat over the bar, took off my helmet and glasses and switched from my bike shoes to my race flats.  I decided to tear off my triathlon top and run in just my shorts as the sun was fully overhead now and heating things up.  I hit my water bottle for a final drink, grabbed my race number belt and started out to the run course.

The Run:  I hit start on my run watch and settled onto the course.  On my left the overall winner of the event Jamie Cleveland sped past me as he was racing with his wife (another professional triathlete) in the married division.  I had held Jamie off until the run course which was a pretty big win.  He was going to post a time under 1 hour in the event.  Truly amazing.

The run course is a trail course at Decker, which makes it very challenging to post a fast 5k time.  There are long high grass sections, rutted trails, loose large wood chips and a long hill to navigate.  I decided to just run my maximum, sustainable “uncomfortable” pace shooting for something just under 20 minutes for the run.

The course was heating up so I tried to run under the cover of the trees the best I could.  The first mile came in right at 6:20, which was where I was hoping to hold it for the duration of the run.  Mile 2 would be a quick one with a downhill section, but the final mile would prove punishing with a long, tough hill to close things out.

I decided to make hay while I could and dropped my pace down to 6:05 over the second mile in the areas where I could push, but the pace felt dangerous over the loose footing at times.  I tried to stay even, but needed to pack off slightly at times to make sure I didn’t wipe out.

At the beep mile 2 came in at 6:11.  Not bad, but the heat and the course were starting to fight back a bit.  The final mile started with a nice long downhill and sweeping turn – I backed off a bit to reload and try to run the final mile a bit more strategic than a usual 5K where you just fire away and hang on.

I saw “the hill” ahead with a few runners already walking.  I lengthened my stride a bit and dug in at the bottom of the incline.  Battle, battle, battle I thought as we picked our way to the top.  I glanced down at my watch quickly and saw my pace at 6:50.  I was surprised that it was still under 7:00 min./mile as it felt as if I was crawling, but finally we hit the top and started the final 1/4 mile to the finish.

I had passed the last of the competitors I was running near, so this would be a solo mission to the line to wrap things up.  As I approached the race announcer was calling out all of the competitor’s names, something I really love about the Triathlon.

“From Austin, TX, running on the iRuniTRI Guys team – Joe Marruchella”.

The run came in spot on at 6:20 pace – 19 minutes 37 seconds.
A sub 20 Minute trail 5K at the end of a tough day of swimming and biking … I’ll take it.
Results:  Team iRuniTri Guys finished with a time of 2:43:26 which was good enough for 12th place in the competitive Male Friends Division.

Joe Marruchella 1:16:35
Ed Cortez 1:26:51

Post Race:  Looking back on the event, the number one thing is that our mission of “having fun” out there as a team was absolutely met.  Ed and I had a blast on Sunday and have made plans to return next year again.

Individually I put together my best swim time per 100 Meters yet by a handful of seconds which bodes well for my half-ironman swim of 1.2 miles.  I may not have sprinters speed in the water, but I can sustain my swim over distance and that will hopefully help us in the longer event.  I know our bike and run will play a much bigger role when things stretch out to 56 miles on the bike and 13.1 on the run.

As it was we posted the 34th best swim time, 17th fastest bike and 3rd fastest run among the Male Friends Competitors.  Clearly once on land we have a thing or two to say about how the race will play out – time to swim more often, longer and faster than we ever have. 

The next finish line we cross we will be adding Ironman 70.3 finisher to our resume.

Sunday was a big day.

Not only was it my 44th birthday and first birthday as a Dad, but it was the day when this marathoner would become a triathlete.

Jack’s Generic Triathlon or JGT as the folks at Jack & Adams refer to it, was to kick off in New Braunfels, TX at 8:00 a.m. sharp.  At 8:18 I would wade into the water for the Men’s 40-44 year old age group wave along with 63 other athletes.  The event called for a 500 Meter Swim, 13.8 mile bike and 3.1 mile run.

All distances I have covered time and time again during training, but never back to back to back.  I was ready.  I was confident.

I was also scared sh#%less standing in that water before the horn sounded.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit.  Afterall, this is our first triathlon race report.  I’m better than that.  You deserve all the details.


I had an hour long drive more or less to the race site at the Texas Ski Ranch and I wanted to get there shortly after they opened the gates so I could get a good transition spot for my bike.  I was hoping to be near the bike out, bike in area so I would not have to run very far in my bike shoes.  This meant a 4:10 a.m. alarm clock to pack up my cooler and make my way down to New Braunfels arriving at 5:45 a.m. when the parking lot opened.

I had packed my gear the day before, everything was looking good, until I went to put my bike in the truck.

Flat back tire.

Really?  Really.  Not the omen I was looking for.

I quickly phoned my friend and cycling guru Ed and asked if I could swing by and try to get to the bottom of why the tire wouldn’t hold air when I pumped it.  I would be racing on Ed’s Zipp carbon fiber wheels on Sunday – I didn’t want anyone touching them but him.  We discovered that the stem on the back tire was bad and replaced the tube.  No muss, no fuss we were back in action.

Ed gave me a few last minute tips and I was ready for the big day.

After a pretty restless night of sleep I woke to the sound of my alarm, got into my TRI gear, grabbed my bagel, power bar, bike bottle that I had filled with Gatorade and frozen the previous night and a few last minute items.  I left the neighborhood and made my way down to the ski ranch.  Very little traffic, no issues, arrived on-site about 5 minutes early.  Perfect.

Setting Up:

I got body marked with my Race Number 89 on both arms and my age on my left calf “44”.  I had only been awake about 2 hours and already I was a year older.  I was able to score a great spot, right on the end of the row for my bike very close to the exit/entrance to the bike course.  I got my gear laid out according to plan and met some of the friendliest athletes I had ever met at an event before.

An entirely different vibe than a typical large running event, where there is a lot of tension and a lot of quiet runners.  This was much more festive.  Much more family-like if that makes sense.  Everyone was there to lend a hand, give some advice and even compliment me on my transition area for being a first-timer.

Transition Area - All Set

After an hour or so it was time to get in line for the final porta-poty break and make it down to the water for the national anthem.  After the announcements were made and the Star Spangled Banner was played live on Acoustic Guitar from the stage it was time for the Open Division to kick things off at 8:00 a.m. sharp.

18 minutes to go time.

The Swim:

O.K., here’s the part where I’m starting to feel scared to death.  I know you’ve been looking forward to this.

Starting line of the Boston Marathon?  Piece of cake.

First time chasing 2:59:59 at this February’s Austin Marathon?  Not a problem.

But staring out at the water for those 500 Meters around the island and back to shore on the small lake.  Pretty scary.

It was not the distance at all that I was worried about.  I had swam 2,250 meters continuously out on the Quarry Lake on several occasions without stopping.  It was the element of swimming in a crowd, throwing elbows and having other athletes literally swim over you on the way to the first buoy.  It is every man for himself out there and it really lends a lot of stress to the environment.

To top things off the TX Ski Ranch lake is very shallow.   Only 9-10 feet at its deepest.  This means that the swimming churns up the silt bottom of the lake.  The water is essentially black.  you cannot see a single foot in front of your eyes under water.  Every foot, arm or elbow that strikes you is a complete surprise.  It is impossible to see anything coming.  You are swimming entirely by feel.

Rookie in the water

I decided I would start in the middle of the pack and try to stay right there.  As the horn sounded we were on our way and the chaos of the open water swim began.  I fell into a pretty solid rhythm for about 30-40 meters when I could not reach out fully without hitting a swimmer in front of me.

I tried to swim slightly right or left, but there was traffic everywhere.  No clean water to be found.  I did the best I could to stay calm, let the swimmers go in front of me and tried again.  There was a swimmer on my right that kept swimming into me angling for the buoy.  We would hit arms and shoulders a half-dozen times before we reached the 200 meter mark.

I did a good job keeping my composure, never needed to break stroke and my sighting was solid, but I couldn’t really “swim” as hard as I was hoping to.  I knew I was going slower than I had hoped.

We made the turn around the island and things got a bit more open.  That signaled to me I had simply fallen back from the pack, but I stuck with it and kept on pulling.  With about 100 meters to go I had caught up to a group of swimmers and things got congested again.  I navigated to the buoys and finally saw the beach ahead of me with volunteers helping the athletes out of the water.  I got to my feet and started to pull off my goggles and swim cap.

Holy Moly

I had no idea what my time was, I only knew that it was time to get up to transition and get on that bike.  Ed was there at the water exit and told me to get it in gear.  It was just the jolt I needed to get moving and I started to run barefoot up into the bike area.  I saw Dawn and Landry on my left as I got underway and Dawn was able to snap a quick photo.

11:53 Swim Time. 374th out of 626 Athletes.
It is probably a good thing that I swam without my watch as I had no idea how fast my swim was.  Or how slow I guess I should say.  I was hoping to get out of the water in 11 minutes or less.  I was out in 11:53.  I was in 374th place out of the water.  Man did I have some work to do.
Tranistion 1:
I found my bike with no trouble at all.  I got on my socks and shoes.  Strapped my Garmin on my wrist.  Turned on my bike computer, put on my glasses and helmet and tucked my gels into my shorts. 
I pulled the bike down and ran out onto the bike course.  All in 1 minute and 52 seconds.  I was hoping to be out in 2 minutes or less.  Just about spot on perfect.
The Bike:
I made it to the mount line, threw my leg over the bike, clipped in and started hammering away.  The course was straight uphill out of the ski ranch and I could see a ton of cyclists up ahead of me.  It was time to make up some time on the swimmers.

Bike Mount

I flew through the gears and powered to the top, flying by numerous athletes on the way up.  I was looking at their calves as I passed them, searching for my competitors from the 40-44 age group.  The first three miles flew by on the bike as I was recovered now from the swim and starting to churn those leg muscles as hard as I could go.
It seemed like I was gobbling up the course in big chunks, riding in the passing lane mile after mile chipping away at the leaders. 
A 3:00 minute mile on the bike is equivilant to riding 20 miles per hour.  My opening 7 miles were at 2:49, 2:32, 2:34, 2:27, 2:49, 2:28, 2:23 before we hit the second major hill on the course.  It would be uphill for the next several miles and my splits were:  3:33, 3:22, 3:19, 3:35, 3:12 until we reached the final pinacle of the course for a hard right turn back downhill to the ski ranch.
I hammered away at the pedals and covered the final mile in 1:57, well over 30 miles per hour hitting a new top speed for me of 36.9 at one point.
I hit the dismount line and felt like I had put together a very solid bike.
My time was 39:17 – the 36th fastest time of all the competitors, averaging 21.1 mph.
Transition 2:
I ran back into the transition area, racked my bike and Ed told me that I was in about 12th place in my age group.  I had made up a lot of time from the swim, but the run course was not going to be long enough for me to catch the really top age-groupers.  I switched into my run shoes, got a quick sip of gatorade, snapped on my bib number belt and hit the course. 
Transition time of 1:08.  Very solid.
The Run:
Finally, the run.  I felt strong heading out, I just needed to get my legs back under me and lengthen out my stride.  After a short run through a field at the Ski Ranch, we made it onto the road of the run course.  An out and back with a turnaround at the top of a small hill.  Straight shot, only one turn and plenty runners up ahead to reel in.
I was hoping to run 3:15 half miles which would put me right at 6:30 pace.  Not my typical 5K pace, which is closer to 6:10, but I don’t usually warm up with a 500 Meter Swim and 13.8 mile bike ride before a 5K.  The sun was high in the sky as it was now close to 9:30 in the morning, the temperature was pushing 90 degrees and I was feeling it.  I just focused on the runners ahead of me and picked them off one by one.
My first four half-mile splits were:  3:02, 3:11, 3:13, 3:19.  I was just about where I wanted to be with one mile to go.
I hit the final water station and poured the cup over my head to cool me off.  There was one more small hill to get up and over and then the race was all but over.  Mile 2.5 came in at 3:16.  Time to go. 
I hit the last turn and sped around the lake.  I could feel a runner on my left shoulder, no clue at all what age group he was in, but it was time to go into my kick anyway.  Might as well do it now I thought.

Finally, something I know how to do

His footsteps fell away and I closed with a final 1/2 mile in 3:08.
My total run time was 19:11.  The fastest overall run time in the 40-44 age group and the 6th fastest time of any competitor. 
The Finish:
After making my way through the chute I found Ed, Tiffany, Dawn and Landry.  The post-race party of hamburgers, New Belgium beer and various other drinks and snacks was getting underway.  One of the most festive post-race events I have ever been a part of.
They posted results after a half-hour or so and  I learned my fate.
Total Time of:  1:13:23
8th place Men 40-44
38th place overall
I left the water in 374th place and caught all but 37 competitors.
I would like to say that I was disappointed in my swim time and that I should have done better, but honestly, the number I had in my mind before the race started was 1:15:00.
If I could finish my first TRI in 1:15 or better, I was going to call that a win.  A big win.
Having better more experienced triathletes beat me on Sunday was supposed to happen.  There would have been something seriously wrong if I found myself on the podium (1st, 2nd or 3rd) in my first event in my age group.
I learned quite a few lessons on Sunday.  Lessons that are going to pay huge dividends when I show up for my next event of this kind.  The first is that I simply need to keep swimming.  A lot.   I have a lot of room for improvement, and just like running, it is going to take hard work and dedication to get there.  There are no short cuts or magic beans from a bean stalk that are going to help me.
I have to do it.  Nobody else.
I also learned that we’re pretty dangerous when it comes down to the bike and the run.  If we continue to work on the bike and continue to focus on our speed work and hill training, the sky is the limit for us.
Lastly, I learned that being a 44 year-old new Dad is a pretty amazing gig.
I’ve got a beautiful, loving, understanding and amazing wife who follows me through all this craziness through thick and thin.  Never asking me why I choose to do these somewhat crazy things.  I think she knows why I do it better than I do. 
I’ve also got the absolute coolest 11 month old little girl who thinks I’m pretty amazing whether I am racing or I’m making funny faces at her at the dinner table.
No matter what, fast or slow, with those two ladies, it’s impossible for me to lose.
Oh yeah, and I learned that I’m a triathlete today.
Pretty darn good birthday if you ask me.