Race Report by Zach Jones
I’m back for my penultimate race report of my collegiate triathlon career (at least as we currently know it)! Firstly, I’d like that acknowledge and appreciate the encouragement I’ve received from doing these reports. It’s not often that the analytical and reflective edges of my personality seem to benefit people, but in this case I am glad that my teammates, friends and coaches have been able to gain so much from these briefings.
Now onto the actual racing. It was good! If you read my previous report, you’d know that I expressed a good deal of worry that my fitness would not translate to the double-distance Olympic races in the late season. Well for the most part, I think I had nothing to worry about! I was definitely amazing fatigued by the end of that race, there’s no question about that; but not more so than many of my typical racing rivals. I’ll discuss the specifics down below, but overall I think I paced the race fairly well and gave it the best effort I could offer. I should mention that the course was wack last year so it will be pretty much impossible to compare performances based on time, except in the bike course. I can try and make a few estimations if
a assume that places reflect similar athletic performance year-to-year. By this I mean that if I take the 105 time this year at 2:47:33, I can use that as a proxy for what my time last year would’ve been last year at full distance. In this case, with my time this year at 2:23:47, this would translate to about a 24 minute improvement over last year. It’s hard to say how accurate that actually but it sounds pretty impressive so I’ll just leave it there. Placewise, I can get a bit better grasp on my improvement. Last year, I was 105th out of 137 male racers. This year, I advanced upwards 60 places up to 45th out of 136 male racers. This was an incredible improvement, which in my research has only been triumphed by Prashanth’s improvement from 2016 to 2017 where he also started at 105 but leaped all the way up to 33 in 2017 (and 18th in 2018). I also noticed that Eric Hallman, Joey, Korbi, Clayton and Rohan all also had pretty significant leaps up this year, so I’ll issue some quick congratulations to them for the hard work (I’m sure there’s plenty more, but these were names near me in both years so it was easy for me to notice)! Now I’ll continue with the usual reports on each sport and how I want to refine my performances in the next 4 weeks (!!!) before Nats. Then I’ll come back for a more holistic look at what I’ve learned about translating your performances and making sure you are ready to race Olympic distance.
2017 Rank-78, 2018 Rank-31
The swim was apparently pretty short last year so you can’t directly compare (but even so I swam about 1 min faster than last year). I thought it was a good swim and it continues my trend of being really surprisingly good at this. I came into the swim with a main goal in mind– don’t rage and burn yourself out because the bike is gonna be really hard. And I think I accomplished that nicely. I just kept thinking to myself “long smooth strokes” especially in the first half of the course. Once I rounded the second set of red buoys I went re-assessed and picked it up a little bit but still came of out the swim in good physiological state (below LT) and ready to hop on the bike and do work. I intend to keep this plan into Nats, but I may choose to swim in a bit faster throughout and try and play to my strengths a bit more.
2017 Rank/Time- 103/1:21:14, 2018 Rank/Time: 60/1:17:50 (3min, 24sec improvement)
The dreaded bike leg. I remember so vividly getting passed by so many people, both male and female racers but at the time I didn’t think much of it–I just couldn’t go any faster. It wasn’t until this year that I started to be more frustrated with my weakest leg and trying to improve it the most I could. And it seemed like it helped. I improved here almost as much as the swim in terms of rank (47 vs 43 places) but it definitely hurt. And it clearly hurt for everyone. Last year, 8 men went below 64 mins, and this year, only one did. That might indicate that the wind and cold hurt everyone else this year too. For Nats, I can do a few things I think. Firstly, get fitted and get very used to riding a TT bike. Comfort in aero is the key to pushing power and staying focused in a Olympic race. Included in this should be practice with hydration and nutrition on the wheel, as in a race. When the going gets stuff, stay aero. I’m not gonna be able to gain many more Watts in just four weeks, so the best strategy is to make sure I am aero, efficient and make use of every Watt I can push.
2017 Rank- 90, 2018 Rank- 55
Again the run was way short last year and was actually long this year so a side-by-side won’t help, but placewise it was still a decent improvement (35 places). But man was I tired. Pretty unbelievable tired really. I felt like I was crawling along and I was shocked that I didn’t get passed more than I did. It was pretty amazing how different it felt from something like cruise intervals, which is a shame because I’ve really been nailing my track workouts recently. It’s like I’ve hypothesized before, know how to run fast helps, but it is not the ultimate factor influencing run performance in races. That in fact, I believe is being comfortable in the incredibly different circumstances presented during the run leg of the triathlon than during a fresh, simple track workout or run. So at least two sessions a week should be devoted to furtherance of that belief until Nats: those will be a transition run after Saturday ride and a long run on Sundays, both of which push the limits of exhaustion and really put you in the mindset for how the run will actually feel during an Olympic race.
One of my biggest takeaways from an Olympic distance race is that you can’t cheat your way through an Olympic. Unlike a sprint, you need substantial base and you need to be proficient in all three sports to really succeed (pretty much). If I were to have another Olympic season ahead of me, I would definitely pay more focus to strengthening my endurance, especially during off-season months like summer. This summer I got on a bit of a speed kick in running, which was super fun but it probably would’ve benefitted me more to do more long runs so that I could feel confident in running 25-30 miles a week. The other big thought on my mind for Nats is heat acclimitization. Much like transitions or flip turns, I think acclimitization is a smart hack to shave minutes off your time relative to your competitors. So start early. Dean suggested 14 days, but I’d start this week or next week. It might sound hard or goofy, but it will make you strong when race day comes.
I’m excited for Nationals. I’ve given this sport everything I could for the past year or so and regardless of finishing time it will be an honor to compete in Tuscaloosa alongside my friends in a few weeks. So until then , I will remain focused and go get out there and keep training.