Monday, August 9, 2010

Top Notch Tri 1:48:54

Did the Top Notch Triathlon in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire this past weekend (official race results  This is a very cool race with an unconventional format and unforgettable scenery.  For starters it's a trail race.  It is also a bike/swim/runnish-hike-thing race so the order is a bit different.  It's very loosly structured...kind of a local yocal race with no rules.  But, that's also what makes it so much fun.  It also has CRAZY elevation gain compared to most races...somewhere in the order of 3000 vertical feet that take you from the base of the valley to the top of Cannon Mountain!  Just for fun I included the elevation charts for the race below.  Overall this was a very fun, laid-back and challenging race.  I didn't do as well as I had hoped, had some crazy leg cramping issues to deal with, but I can't wait to go back and do this again next year. often do you get to run up a ski mountain?!?!

I decided to get up to Franconia the day before the race so I could scout out the course and avoid the long race-morning drive, so I stayed Friday night at Lafayette Campground.  Got to camp around 4, setup shop, and then decided to take my bike for a spin to check out the transition areas at nearby Echo Lake.  Good thing I did, because it was immediately clear that my front derailleur wasn't all!  The cable was super loose leaving me with only the small chainring functioning.  At the time I thought that was the end of the world and frantically drove to nearby Lincoln to the only bike shop to get it fixed.  No dice, it was closed.  I called a place in Franconia and they were open early the next morning because of the race.  Happy day...the bike gets fixed, the race is on, but little did I know I wouldn't need much more than the small chainring after all!  Rest of the night was nice...dinner...little campfire ...get my gear together for the race...then headed off to sleep on the ground for the night.  Unseasonably cold that night too (40 deg)...good thing I had my down bag to stay warm!

Race Day
The day started early (5:30..there goes the staying-close-to-venue-sleep-in-advantage) with me breaking down camp and getting packed up.  I had to get to town early so I could be first in line at the bike shop when they opened at 7.  Well, I was first in line I was there at 6:45 when the shop owner showed up...greeted him at the door with a cup of coffee in hand.  He patched up the loose cable and I was on my way in 15 minutes...thank god it wasn't anything more serious than that!  I proceeded about a mile down the street to get my registration packet.  Smooth sailing through there since it was so early.  I then headed back up to the mountain to get my transition area setup.  No need to setup T1 as it just involves dumping your bike and gear and tossing on some goggles (which I carried on the bike with me).  I setup T2 which involved tossing some trail shoes and a water bottle in the woods where nobody could find them.  I mentioned that this was a loosely structured race, right???  I then drove back into town for the race start.

Bike (6.5 miles, 46:47, Garmin Log
Best and worst bike race of my life.  The good:  I survived and it was an awesome combination of technical MTB and fast paved trails.  The bad:  I've never had calf cramps like this in my life.  The ride starts out flat and fast as you make your way from the town of Franconia to the hills of the notch.  The first 1.5 miles are relatively flat and we were cruising through here.  Then you hit "Butter Hill", which must get its name from what it does to your legs.  The climb goes from gradual to frickin steep in 1 second...somewhere around an 18%+ grade (not kidding...look at the skateboard ramp looking thing on the chart above).  I dropped into low-low gear (granny) and was spinning like crazy trying to save my legs for later in the race.  Evidently a side-effect of higher-than-normal-rpms is that your calves freak out!  Within minutes both of my calves cramped up badly.  I was able to work them free each time, but every few minutes I'd be cramping up again.  Fortunately I only had to stop once on the hill to stretch them out.  I figured out how to pedal forward leading with my heel instead of my toes...that put the force more on my quads than my calves.  That helped me through, but it's far from a normal way to ride. 

Somewhere around mile 4 we got off the pavement and headed into the woods.  It was nice to have a change of scenery, and I was happy to be on the trails as I'm more comfortable there, but man it was hard keeping my calves in check on singletrack.  On the trail you're usually all over the gear range and very quickly go from very high to very low, but I had to keep from spinning too much because my calves would wig out.  Needless to say this part of the ride was challenging....but it was, to quote my Boston area friends, "wicked pissah".  Very cool passing people flying downhill on singletrack while you're bouncing over rocks and roots.  Almost made me forget about my calves...almost.  Soon we broke out of the trees and arrived at the Echo Lake parking lot where we proceeded to a sketchy arrival at T1.

Transition 1 (T1)
T1 was sketchy.  There were tons of people everywhere, mostly waiting around for their relay partners to show up.  I flew into T1 down a crazy gravel road and almost ate it a couple time (big gravel...fist sized rocks).  I dismounted my bike and as soon as my legs hit the ground both calves froze up.  So, I hobbled over to the bike racks, tossed mine on the rack and attempted to get my shoes off...again with frozen calves.  I got my shoes and other gear off, took a couple extra seconds to stretch out, then pulled my swim cap, gps watch and goggles out of my backpack.  I then walked towards the lake shore...jogging/running was not an option at this point.

Swim (0.5 miles, 15:11, 1:55/100 yds pace, Garmin Log:
This swim was all thumbs up.  Garmin transferred well from the bike to the swim (first time I didn't screw it up), swim pace was good, water felt awesome after the bike, and I could finally let my legs hang loose and relax (I don't kick during tri swims).  My Garmin log shows the swim at 13 minutes, so I think the official time includes my T1 transition time.  Anyways...quick wetsuit free swim then we were out and running towards T2.

T2 was funny.  Nothing organized at all...just a bunch of piles of gear in the middle of hilly field.  I stashed my gear on the edge of the woods near a fallen birch tree (white bark helped it stand out).  Getting to my gear was a bit of a challenge as I had to dodge other folks' gear as well as spectators, a picnic table, a kiddie pool, a big event banner, and even a dog (I think, or was that a kid, not sure...).  T2 was quick, and getting dry socks on wet feet went surprisingly well.

Run/hike (2mi, 43:53, 23:47 pace, Garmin Log:
This leg of the race was really the biggest surprise for me.  I had trained for hills, did lots of hill repeats, did a lot of trail running, etc, but none of that was good enough to get me ready for this.  I ran about the first 1/2 mile and then decided (ok, my body decided for me) that it was time to hike.  I tried kicking it up a bit every now and then, but the grade of those ski slopes is a killer.  Just ask anyone who's skied Cannon...steep and scary.  The hike was fairly uneventful, just kept my head down and tried to speed hike my way to the top.  Stopped every now and then for some water and to check out the view (which was amazing this weekend).  The final 1/4 mile or so is steep and under the tramway, but you had a great view of the finish line and the tram building at the summit...when I saw that I emptied the tanks and pushed hard.  Seeing the crowds at the finish line shoot was a big motivator, but seeing one of my brothers there taking video was a complete surprise...had no clue he was coming!  Funny, I felt like I was moving fast(ish), but looking at video of it the only things moving were my legs were like boat anchors :-)  After crossing the finish line I met up with family and fellow Riptide members, and took some really cool shots with ski trail signs and the White Mountains in the background.  Pretty awesome way to finish up a tri!!!!

Crossed the finish line at 1:48, which was right in my target range. I was shooting for 1:40, but considering my leg issues (and I'm not making excuses here) I'm happy with the day.  The MTB was fun, and I definitely want to do another MTB race again.  Maybe Xterra tris next year?!?!  The swim was my best open water pace yet.  The hike was physically AND mentally tough.  All-in-all it was a great challenge and a great feeling of accomplishment. Post-race celebration was at the delicious Woodstock Inn Restaurant and Brewery...wings and wheat brew were the perfect way to finish up a day in the mountains!  The only question I have is why it took me 1:48:00 to go only 9 miles ;-)  Better start training for the 2011 race now! 

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