Challenge Quassy served as a test for IM Whistler in racing conditions. I wanted to race Quassy because it was the only drivable half distance triathlon that was hilly, and was also early enough to give me time to recover and fine tune my training if need be. The race, and the day leading up to it turned into a comedy of errors in regards to my bike, but I had a strong swim and a breakthrough run.
Friday morning (race day was Sunday) I was getting my bike ready for the race. I needed to change the batteries in my Powertap. I didn’t have the cap removal tool with me, but I assumed it worked just like my wired Powertap so I turned the entire black cap. It took some force but I was eventually able to turn it. When I lifted the black cap off I knew I’d done something wrong, small white plastic pieces fell out. As it turns out when I twisted the entire black cap I tore out a plug from the computer chip inside the Powertap. This was not a good start to my weekend. After some choice words for myself I decided I’d just go ahead and use my old wired Powertap. My old wired Powertap didn’t give me the same level of data as my wireless Powertap paired with my Garmin bike computer, but it would give me watts and that’s what was most important. I picked up Lisa from work and we hit the road.
We stopped in Syracuse for the night. At the hotel I installed the wiring harness on my bike and confirmed that it would give me power. I was still frustrated by my careless mistake, but this would be a workable solution.
Saturday morning we woke up early and made the rest of the trip to Middlebury, Connecticut. Just before noon we stopped for a lunch, we split a pizza and spaghetti and meatballs, before making the rest of the trip to the race site. I’m usually not too keen to do a swim the day before the race, but I decided I’d do one here. They had a supervised area to swim around a couple of buoys. I swam a loop of the buoys, and felt good. From there it was kit pickup, and then a quick 15 minute ride to make sure the bikes were in good working order. Both Lisa and I had stubborn rear derailleurs that needed to be adjusted, but other than that the bikes were good and my Powertap was working just fine. We checked in our bikes, and it was then off to the athletes meeting. Like most athlete meetings there wasn’t really any new information. From there Lisa and I were off to drive the bike course. This course is notoriously hilly, and it had a few treacherous downhill’s. Driving the course was worthwhile because we were able to note a couple particularly tricky descents. After that it was finally time to check into our hotel for the night, get some dinner (which was lousy), and relax for the night.
We were up at 3:40AM. I had a bagel with almond butter and honey and began working on a bottle of Powerade. We were out the door before 5:00AM at the race site by the time transition opened at 5:15AM. Transition area for the race was pretty cramped. I pumped my tires, set up my shoes and helmet (I didn’t mount my bike shoes on my bike), and filled my bottles. I came back to transition at 6:20AM, 10 min before it closed, to make sure nobody had knocked over any of my stuff, and for a final check of my Powertap, brake alignment, and that my bike was in the proper gear. Everything looked good.
My wave was set to take off at 7:00AM. At 6:45AM I got into the water and did a quick warmup. I was ready to race.
I lined up on the left side of the swim start area towards the front, the race was a beach start. The swim was a clockwise triangle. I had a hard time hearing the announcer but I did hear the gun and took off into the water. The first 100m or so I just focused on finding space and moving forward. I’ve found my chest would get tight at the start of previous races, but that didn’t happen here. I was calm and I got onto some feet to draft. I managed to swim straight to the first turn, and I stayed on a pair of feet almost the entire way. When I made a turn around the first buoy we were headed directly into the sun. I couldn’t see any buoys so I focused on following splashed I could see in front of me and I hoped that they were headed straight. Rounding the second turn and heading back to the beach I saw a big gap in front of me to all the other swimmers. As I approached the shore I began going over my transition routine in my head: waffle, helmet, glasses, shoes, bike.
Swim – 31:14, 1:37/100m pace, 31 of 657
On the run up to T1 I was surprised the area didn’t seem to have been swept, there were small rocks everywhere. I made it to my bike and I chewed on a waffle while I put on my helmet, glasses, shoes, grabbed my bike and I was off.
T1 – 1:55
I knew that the bike course was going to be very challenging. I didn’t have all the data available to me as if I had my G3 Powertap and Garmin 500 head unit, but I was going to make my wired Powertap work. I left transition and I got to work. Very early on in the ride I thought to myself that I was very happy to have power. The whole course was short climbs, and my power meter let me pace it evenly, while other riders blew past me with big efforts going up the hills. It wasn’t long after I had this thought that my power meter went dead!
About 45:00 min into the bike my Powertap stopped giving me a power reading. When I attached the sensor in the hotel I just used zip ties, as opposed to double-sided foam tape and zip ties, and I think the rumbling of the rough roads shook it loose. The sensor is very sensitive and needs to be in just the right spot or it doesn’t pick up a reading. I quickly learned that this posed a much bigger problem than just not giving me power date; I was relying on the Powertap wired computer for time, speed, distance, and cadence. Since it wasn’t reading power it couldn’t give me speed, distance, or cadence, and the head unit assumed that the Powertap isn’t being used, so it stops giving time. I was less than 25k into a course that was very hilly, and I had 0 data. My plan for the race revolved around fuelling at specific intervals (half a waffle every 15min and 1 bottle every 45min), and pacing myself so I would be set-up for a good run. That plan quickly went out the window, I was going to have to just ride.
There was no point at getting upset, all I could do is ride to T2 and make the most of my day on the run. In the first 20k of the bike ride I’d moved up to 16th, from 31st exiting the swim. Over the next 42k (20k-62k) I’d dropped back to 28th. With 0 data I can only speculate, but I did consciously think that the ride shouldn’t be feeling like work, I shouldn’t feel my quads straining on up hills. I may have backed off too much in this segment. To add insult to injury, at the aid station around 30k I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and when I went to take a sip the cap wasn’t screwed on and I poured it all over myself; I’d be sticky for the rest of the day.
As I approached the out and back on Alan White Road I could see in front of me two riders, one who was blatantly drafting the other. Not long after I noticed it a drafting official whizzed by me up the road. I thought, “Perfect, that guy is going to get caught.” I was wrong, the bike didn’t even appear to slow down as it came up on them. At this point I began to increase my perceived effort. It took me a few minutes, but I did eventually catch the pair. As I road up I noticed the drafter was clad in a Challenge Team tri kit; really classy that you’re supposed to be an ambassador for the race yet you’re doing this. As I rode past them I asked the guy in the Challenge kit if he planned to team time trial all the way to T2? And he just responded yea. I continued down the road, and I tried to focus on my riding. When I made the turnaround and headed back up the road I did notice that the two drafting were separated, whether the first guy dropped Mr. Challenge Kit or not I don’t know.
I recognized the roads as I got close to T2. I was excited to get onto the run; both because I’d have my watch so I would have data and could get an idea of my overall time, and because I’ve put a lot of work into my run. I had taped a gel to my bars which I took to set me up for the run. Less than 1k from transition I pulled to the left to pass 1 more rider and just as I did that his tire kicked back a small rock. Next thing I knew my chain had dropped off my crank. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly hopped off my bike, pulled my chain back on, and finished the last bit of my ride. Between my Powertap(s), Gatorade, and this I’m hoping I got all my bad bike luck out of my system. I rolled into T2 ready to run.
Bike – 2:42:51, 33.3km/h, 16 of 657
T2 went without any drama. Racked my bike, took off my helmet, slipped on my shoes, and put on my race bib and watch as I ran out.
T2 – 0:58
The bike is known as hilly, but the run course even more so! I left transition and within the first km I passed the guy who I was coming up on when my chain dropped. He had a 25 on his calf, so I knew it was a pass for position. I stopped briefly just before 1k to adjust the tongue on my right shoe. I’ve had some pain and swelling on the top of my right foot recently, but I didn’t think about it again until after the race.
As I approached the first aid station it looked like there was someone in front of me that was walking, but the course was full of turns, and after the next turn I could see that he was back to running, and at quite a clip because he was up the road. I was focusing on running tall and keeping an even effort. In the hills I knew some splits would be fast, and others would be slow. I had it in my head that I’d like to do sub 1:26 for the run, but I didn’t know if that was realistic, especially given that I didn’t have any data to pace the bike.
About 3k into the run a faster runner caught me and ran on my shoulder for a couple minutes. He looked really strong so when he pulled ahead I moved in behind him to try to pace off of him. I was right behind him for a couple km’s and we passed a couple of other runners before he picked up his pace and I couldn’t go with him.
I was having trouble getting nutrition at aid stations. They were using plastic cups instead of paper. I usually squeeze the top of a paper cup and drink from the side, but you cant’t do that with plastic. I picked up coke at every aid station and just threw it towards my mouth and tried to get down as much as I could. I’d also take a splash of water to help cool off and wash away some of the stickiness. That was my only nutrition for the run.
Around 7k we made a turn that brought us back onto a road that is shared with the end of the bike course. Lisa started 25min behind me, so I was hoping we’d see each other here. When I looked down at my watch I realized I’d averaged 3:59/km pace to that point. I was happy with how my run was going, but I still had a long way to go. The road I was on was relatively straight and I could see 3 guys at least 500m up the road, and the guy I’d been pacing off of well up the road trying to bridge the gap. I was all on my own, and I didn’t seem to be making up time on the guys in front of me, but I remembered how hilly the bike was, and how much some of them would be hurting by the end of the run. I pushed on, feeling good about my run, and staying positive about the prospect of catching the guys up the road.
Just before 11k Lisa rode by and cheered me on. This was a big mental boost, and it gave me a shot of adrenaline to keep pushing. At 11k the course turned and headed downhill. I don’t remember a lot of this section of the race. I don’t think I looked at my watch once from this point until the finish line. The guys in front of me began falling off the pace and I kept picking them off. At some point I passed the guy who had passed me earlier in the race (so I wasn’t passed all run!). The course had some really short, steep, and curing ups and downs, and I just kept pushing. I was hurting and feeling great at the same time. What I do remember is with about 3k to go one more guy came into view. When I saw him I tried to count off how far ahead of me he was. At first he was well over a minute. Then after another sharp hill I counted again, under a minute. Then a sweeping downhill he was 0:40. With 2k to go he was about 0:30 ahead. I figured I lost about 0:30 to my dropped chain, and I wasn’t going to let a dropped chain cost me a position. I ran hard on a flat to get within striking distance of him, and then as we made a left turn for the last long climb to the finish I pushed even deeper to run past him on the outside, just as we passed the last mile marker. I tried to run confident and pass with authority because I knew there was no chance I’d be able to hold this pace to the finish. I didn’t look back, I just ran as hard as I could. That km, running uphill, was my 4th fastest of the run at 3:56. From the top of the hill it was only a short run to the finish chute. I took a look back when I reached the top and I couldn’t see anyone behind me. I ran to the finish happy to salvage my day with a breakthrough run.
Run – 1:24:23, 4:03/km pace (my Garmin said the course was 20.8, not 21.1), 3 of 657
Overall – 4:41:22
After the race I had mixed feelings on the day. I was really happy with my run, and I had a good swim, but my bike sucked. I knew this was a slow bike course but I expected to ride closer to 2:35. This estimation was based on my power, but without power data I don’t know if I just really under biked, if the course was slower than expected, or if my expected time wasn’t realistic with my goal watts (240-250W). And without knowing that I don’t know if I had a great run because I didn’t bike as hard as I should have, or if it was in fact a good run off a solid bike. What I did learn is that I heavily rely on data, especially when it comes to the bike!
So for takeaways I learned I need to get my Powertap fixed ASAP. I also learned I should be better prepared. I had a bike computer and a watch that could have given me speed, time and distance, just sitting in my car. If I had better prepared for the race I would have identified the Powertap sensor as a potential problem and come up with a plan to deal with it. But despite that I did also learn that I don’t need to have everything to go according to plan on the bike to have a good run.
After the race my right foot was swollen. I went into the medical area where they taped it and gave me ice. It didn’t hurt to touch, but it did hurt to move my toes or flex my foot. This is something else I will need to get straightened out.
I don’t have another race planned until Whistler. My next big test is my 2nd Ironman simulation day June 27.
The Challenge Experience
This was my first Challenge Family race, and I’d call the experience underwhelming. There were a few issues I had. The first was at packet pickup. The process was very slow, and it didn’t seem well organized. Lisa and I didn’t know we had to go to the next tent to get our chip, we only realized that when we wandered around the expo. Second, the run from the water to transition, as well as the transition area, was full of debris. I would have expected the race officials to sweep this area, they know the athletes are running barefoot. Finally, I had an issue with course markings. On the bike course there was a left hand turn. The arrows pointed to go to the left of the traffic median and then make the turn. The problem was that left of the traffic median there was a traffic barrier that had been put up. Most of the course was well marked, and I hope this was just a miss-step that was fixed for all the athletes behind me.
One area I will say Challenge did a great job was controlling traffic at intersections. There was always a police officer there ensuring vehicles stopped and it was safe for the athletes.