Monterrey Ironman 70.3

I wrote a race recap a week ago on my flight home from Mexico, but at the time I was still really confused about my race and I didn’t know how to describe the race without sounding like I was making up excuses. Now that I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what happened I’ll tell you about the race and then how I diagnosed several issues that kept me from riding my bike like I normally do.

I was first out of the water in the swim. The swim in Monterrey is actually why I wanted to do the race. I went to this venue for a World Cup in 2010 and I consider this swim course to be one of the three most unique and fun swims in all of triathlon, with Escape from Alcatraz and the 2011 Hy-Vee swims being the other two. I really like technical swims that favor an intelligent race to get ahead. The swim for the Monterrey 70.3 was in a shallow manmade canal that is kind of like a two mile long swimming pool. It’s clear, chlorinated water, about 4ft deep and 20 yards wide. it meanders along like a lazy river and when there aren’t races going little tour boats run up and down the canal. Unlike most swims, there’s a real advantage to being in front at this race. The stone walls throw wakes around and people farther back often complain about the choppy water. Plus, if you do a little homework and figure out the best line through each of the curves you can really shorten the swim over someone less prepared.

An interesting fact I realized as I was writing this: this is only the third time as a pro that I have won a swim, and in all three of those races it was wetsuit legal and I was in a Blue Seventy Helix – I thought swimmers were supposed to do worse in wetsuits? Maybe not all wetsuits are created equal?

Out of the water the race changed course – so to speak. I slipped on the wet soap stone and fell on my butt. Tim Don – who eventually won the race – ran by me and I never saw him again. I got back up but managed to get stuck in my wetsuit (not enough lubricant on the ankles) and several more people passed me. I wasn’t really that worried, I mean, it’s kind of nice to let someone else set the pace for a few miles as I get in fluids and nutrition at the start of the bike. I put on my helmet and sunglasses and ran out to the mount line.

The bike course looked on paper like a great course. Flat and rolling with nutrition every 10km. I thought this course had the potential to be a sub-2 hour course. Saturday as I was running around getting ready for the race I realized the flaw in that plan. There was about 2 miles of rough cobbles on each of three laps. The aid stations were located at the bottoms of hills (meaning in order to get a bottle you have to give up all the momentum you gained going down the ramp) and with 2800 people the second and third laps were not conducive to head-down, super-aero riding. Still, the course should have been a sub-2:10 bike segment, and it was for the podium contenders.

My estimations were correct, but I was not one of the contenders. Things went really poorly and – while I normally love racing my bike – I felt like I was fighting my equipment the entire day.

I came off the bike alone and frustrated and it took a lot to convince myself that a half marathon was worth doing. But things turned around quickly.

I started the run at a moderate effort, but I felt good running. Pretty soon I started seeing some of the guys that had passed me on the bike and I focused on inching toward them. By half way through the run I had moved up a couple of places and was coming up on another athlete. I ended up with the fourth fastest run of the day, and moved back up into a 10th place finish.

So what can I make of this? My swim and run show that I’m coming into fitness for the season as planned, but my cycling – normally my strong point – was horrific. I honestly wanted to find a brake rubbing or a flat tire or something clear and mechanical, but when I returned to transition to pick up my bike I couldn’t find anything obvious. After a week of diagnostics, however, I think I have an answer to the perfect storm of not-my-day.

First, I had a problem with my front brake the day before the race and had to use a borrowed cable brake in place of the hydraulic calipers that the Cervelo P5 is designed for. About half way through the race I noticed that every time I used the brake it was pulling sideways and rubbing slightly, forcing me to reach down and manually adjust. The rear brake seems to have shaken loose on the cobbles and was also not in perfect alignment. Those were quick and easy fixes, but even together they wouldn’t have accounted for a bike split 20 minutes slower than the leaders.

This week I took the bike into Running Away Multisport in Chicago. I had the hydraulic brake fixed and asked George, the head mechanic to look over the bike to see what he could find. He spent hours going over the bike, and gave it the most attention it’s had since it was new at the end of 2012. There were a number of “issues” but I’ll summarize by saying it’s worth finding a great mechanic and spending the money to give your bike some serious TLC.

The bike itself may have had a few problems, but at the end of the day it’s the person who throws his leg over the bike that makes it fast. In Monterrey I made a few rookie mistakes leading up to the race that had my legs more fatigued on race day, standing around at a bike shop rather than sitting, running around town more than normal and which contributed to my inability to handle the accelerations and intense efforts required to properly ride the short hills along the course. Part of that poor preparation was due to an ambitious bike fit just 13 days before the race. At the bike fit I wasn’t really planning to race so soon, and I anticipated having several weeks to adjust to three big changes: a short cockpit, shorter cranks, and oval chain rings. The problem is between travel and having maintenance done on my P5 I was only able to ride the new setup four or five times before leaving for Mexico – clearly not enough.

All of this together meant that on race day I was fatigued, and fighting extra resistance through a setup that I was not yet efficient with. Lessons for the future? Even an early season race to “test my fitness” should be approached professionally and with the rigor of detailed planning that goes into the most important race. Just because I plan to train through a race means that staying off my feet when I am able is even more important than when I’m fully rested. My body may have been fit enough for a good race, but my brain was clearly not ready for the task. Next up is the Lifetime Fitness Series opener, the Nautica South Beach Triathlon – I will be prepared.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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