Tuesday, February 2, 2016

June 2004 By Gordo Byrn

June 2004
By Gordo Byrn

In an era when many races are getting flatter, shorter and softer, it’s great to see that certain race directors are stepping up to fill a clear void in the triathlon world. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the Triple T Triathlon Tour that took place last weekend in Southern Ohio. Check this out for a weekend line-up…
-> Fri PM – Swim 250m, Bike 5 Miles, Run 1 Mile
-> Sat AM – Swim 1500m, Bike 25 Miles, Run 6.5 Miles
-> Sat PM – Draft Legal Bike 25 Miles, Then Swim 1500m, Then Run 6.5 Miles
-> Sun AM – Half Ironman Race

Over three miles of swimming, 27 miles of running (none of it flat) as well as close to ten thousand feet of climbing on the bike course. A pretty gnarly line-up but don’t think about complaining because the race director (Shannon Kurek) is going shoulder-to-shoulder with you all weekend long, gotta respect that!

I heard of the Triple T a couple of years ago and it caught my interest. I figured that I’d do well at any event that ends with a Half Marathon that’s done when totally shelled. I certainly got my money’s worth. Given the challenging nature of the course, there was an element of self-selection in the field and I got to meet a number of the best age-group athletes in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The Triple T has two main categories – Team and Solo. The teams division consists of three team members. The first two races count as individual TTs and the last two races count as team TTs. So there is a lot of strategy involved in getting the best overall time – and if a team member melts late in the day then it’s pretty costly.

The solo division scoring was simple – best cumulative time – and that’s where I signed up to race. For the solos, the race is essentially a broken Ironman race. Truly fantastic training for any athlete targeting a mid or late season Ironman (the terrain is especially good if that happens to be Placid or Wisco).

So how do you train for something like this? Well, Baron (my Swedish wing-man, www.ClasBjorling.com) and I decided to swim-bike-run across the US. Ironman training involves a lot of miles. We figured that a massive point-to-point trip would be mentally easier, and have better weather, than our other options. The trip was far from easy but it certainly was good training – we averaged 100K per day for 63 days; plus the running… plus the swimming… plus the racing… We are planning Portugal to Italy for next spring so we must have enjoyed ourselves.

I’ve never done a series of “short” races following an extended period of Ironman base training so the weekend was an interesting experience for me. Given that my goal was to optimize my pace across all races, my race plan was quite a bit different from a normal Ironman race. I put my greatest effort into the swim legs – not because I get a big time benefit but because as one of the strongest swimmers in the solo field, it gave me a chance to get out of sight (and, hopefully, out of mind). As a high volume swim guy, I also recover quickly from swim efforts and that’s a big part of stage racing (and IM training).

My cycling was done between easy and mod-hard pace. Putting it another way – between easy pace and Half IM race effort. Most of my riding was done at IM race effort – which is close to my best average aerobic pace. As the weekend progressed, it became tougher and tougher to elevate my heart rate on the bike – similar to my experience when I started IM racing a few years back.

Our run course consisted of a 6.5 mile out-and-back circuit. It was about 2.25 miles up and a mile down to the turnaround. It’s a course that favours aerobic fitness and overall strength – rather than leg speed. Athletes could take advantage of the down hills but I figured that they’d pay (in muscular damage) come Sunday’s run.
So how’d it play out?
The prologue went well for me – it was the fastest that I’ve gone on a bike, ever. I was the fastest solo competitor but my Ironman Transition skills (a bit slow!) saw me finish behind several of the team participants – short stuff’s not really my game.

Race Two was a non-drafting event with a TT-style start, each of us headed off at 5s intervals. I had trouble getting myself moving and latched onto the second place solo guy until I sorted myself out, recovered or warmed up. About half way through the swim, my lead-out man got a little disoriented (at the time, I thought that I might have hit his feet once too often) so I headed out on my own. The solos started behind the teams and, once I exited the water, I played follow the leader and reeled folks in one-by-one. I like to think about the Matrix when I am chasing people down (“Do you hear that? It’s the sound of inevitability.”). Some of the teams were already “working in harmony” but I’m used to seeing that so went about doing my thing. I love running hills and enjoyed my first full loop of the run course.

Race Three was really neat. Imagine a large group ride where nearly everyone is tired and has bar end shifters. Then imagine a course with a couple of tight turns and three decent climbs… I was a little concerned that there could be carnage! It turned out a lot different with a couple of highly motivated guys towing us along the flats at a very good pace. A buddy of mine (Rob Allison from Epic Colorado) and I kept the pace honest on the climbs and our bunch managed to out-split the team race. The work of my fellow solo riders combined with a solid swim and run and I won this race overall. To be fair though, the team times are based on their slowest member so I only had to beat one out of three team members in the results.

By the time Race Four rolled around on Sunday morning, I was starting to feel much more “normal”. My freshness was gone and I felt like my regular training-for-ironman self – i.e. half shelled as I roll out of bed. I knew that everyone felt the same way and was counting on the race atmosphere to get me rolling. I had a solid swim and was holding off my competition for the first half of the bike. However, two of the guys caught me on the second lap. They played a game of work-the-ultraman-over and I had to pick it right up to stick with them. We rolled into transition together and I was left relying on my run. Fortunately, my legs felt solid and I put together a strong run to win the Half and seal the Solo division title.

More than where I finished, what made the Triple T special for me was a chance to pack a lot of race experience into a single weekend and meet some new friends. It was also an excellent test of my fitness as I look towards Ironman Canada in twelve weeks time. I had a chance to give my ‘small room’ victory speech last Sunday (might write it out as an article some time) and I’ll be training to give myself every chance to deliver the ‘big room’ version in the near future. So it’s off to Boulder for a couple months of Ironman training. Baron will be joining me in mid-July to help get me ready.

See you at the races,