Friday, June 3, 2011

Race Preview- Keuka Lake Triathlon

There's only a few times in my life I can remember this happening. Most of them are repressed. I am at a loss for words. I'm kind of giddy with anticipation. Triathlon season in the New England has finally arrived.

It feels kind of weird to say that. First, I am not used to saying I live in the 'New England' area. I am a mid-Westerner at heart, having been born and raised roughly 45 miles outside of Chicago for most of my life. I'm not even sure what the main difference is. Most everything here is the same there, right down to the accent. Still feels weird to say it though.

Second, it's been a long, cold, crappy winter. With more than our fair share of below average temperatures, more than out fair share of precipitation, more than our fair share of the Banter whining about life bike workouts in the basement as opposed to on the roads. Triathlon off-season here is roughly 8 months long. It hardly seems fair to endure 4 months of triathlon freedom. I may need to change my 2-hour commute rule.

My History with KLT
After the long, hard wait, triathlon season kicks off with the Keuka Lake Triathlon. This race will mark the 4th time I've competed at KLT. I did this race a few years back as a sprint distance. After my second bout with the event, I dropped it from my schedule. I know it's highly unpopular to post negative comments about an event, but I'm really into sincerity. So, in all honesty, I hated this race. The swim course was frustrating. The water was cold back then (58º) and I had to rent a wetsuit. (I was a rookie and had not discovered the wet-suit advantage.) The bike portion was amongst the worst, if not at the top of the list, of bad surfaces. The run course was on the Keuka College campus and was confusing. I had nothing but negative emotions and I promised myself I wouldn't do that race again.

Soon thereafter, I caught the Ironman bug. Pre-IM, I was really into sprint distance triathlons. They are still my favorite. But, since the M-dot events are long and drawn out, I started to put longer distance races on my calendar. In 2010, I made the move to put Keuka Lake back on my calendar. Am I an oath breaker? Not in my mind because I upped the distance. I would no longer do the sprint distance but now will hit the olympic/ intermediate distance race.

The 2010 KLT was my first oly distance triathlon and it sucked. I wasn't about my fitness, though. Whatever issues I had in the past with the swim course were solved and the improved swim was welcomed. The course was a modified triangle. Swim out to the first buoy, hang a left, swim short to the next buoy and another left, then swim a long, long way until the final left that sends you home. Given that Keuka Lake is a finger lake, carved out by glacier movement, there is quite the steep slope leading from the water's edge to transition. You have to cope with a nice stair climb to get to your bike.

I find that transition at the KLT is smaller than necessary. The space available for racking your bikes is close to infinite. Keuka College is a beauty with lots of green. But the bikes are sardined. Still, it wasn't that challenging to find your bike should you have a clue as to what you are doing.

The bike course still sucked. Route 54a, in my opinion, was the worst kept road in the state of NY. A long stretch of the course was on this every-15-feet hit a bump, hole, expansion crack, groove, etc. There was absolutely no way to stay comfortable on your bike. Luckily for most of the competitors, there were not many race officials out on the course. If so, there would have been more people serving time penalties for dropped gear/ littering on the course. Water bottles could not stay in their cages. Mesh splash guards from aero bottles (including mine) dotted the course like a herd of small, yellow road kill.

Once I turned off of this disaster-pit of a route, the road was freshly paved. It was like pure heaven... Until my flat tire. A nice little piece of glass wedged itself into my rear wheel with about 4 miles left in the ride. I dutifully changed the tire. After another mile, I got back into my groove. Psst. Flat tire #2, this time due to a sharp rock which embedded itself into, again, my rear tire. Luckily I pack enough fix-it gear to handle 2 flats. This is mostly for training purposes but it came in handy during the race.

One nice aspect of a small transition area is fast transition times. It doesn't take too long to traverse a dinky plot of land. If you rack your stuff correctly, transitions of under 30 seconds are highly possible.

Whatever those people were smoking a few years back when they mapped out the run course seemed to metabolize out of their systems. The 2010 run course was along the lakeside road. If you looked to the east, the beauty of the lake serenaded your eyes with its nature music. And, because of of it's proximity to the lake, it was flat. Pancake like. If you ran the sprint, go out for a mile and a half, turn around, and come back. For the oly, go 3 miles and come back. You can't get lost.

My Future with the KLT
The current swim course for the 2011 will feature the new and improved course that I enjoyed a year ago. It's just shy of a mile, or about 1400 yards if you wanted to swim along at home. This year's water temp is still well below the USAT wetsuit cutoff temp, sitting on 62º as of June 2nd. I'm still a bit out of shape for swimming but I've done longer distances on less training. To compensate for my lack of yardage, I will be testing out my new Xterra Vector Pro long-sleeved wetsuit. This is, hopefully, an upgrade from my previous Nineteen sleeveless suit. But, that's the purpose of these races in my schedule. I need to test out the gear and learn my lessons before the big day. Since this will be my first open water swim of the season, it's as good a time as any to learn.

I was fretting the bike until I got wind that the state finally decided to dump some asphalt down on Rt 54a. There's even a rumor that they sent in someone with a roller to make it smooth. No more will the course feel like a featured event at 6 Flags. I still think that my biking speed is down from a year ago. But, if I can avoid any unnecessary tire changes, I should do good. The bike course features some rolling hills early with a beast of a climb about halfway through. The climbing is over 1000 feet total. The positive is the decline on your way back setting up your legs for a nice run.

My running is faster in 2011 than in last year. I ran an average of 7:15 off the bike. Granted, I had the pleasure of a couple of large biking breaks taking some of the strain off my legs. The run course, as advertised is quite flat, featuring roughly 75 feet of ascent. It feels like less. I'm hoping to hit 7:00 per mile or better. 

The 2011 triathlon season is here. With new roads and good weather in the forecast, I couldn't be happier. It's the itch that I finally get to scratch. With a totally revamped course, I will probably keep this race on my schedule for years to come. I may even rescind my "won't do the sprint" vow. Bring on the tri!

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