Keuka – a perfect cobweb shaking, rust-busting kind of race.
written by Ericka Hachmeister – 2014 Keuka Lake Triathlon Olympic Distance Champion
It’s the end of December and I’m writing about a race that will be here before we know it – Keuka Lake Triathlon. With the current chilly temps and gusting winds, it’s hard to imagine dipping my toes into Keuka Lake or cresting my bike on top of the ridge jetting out into the lake. I find that an early season race keeps me motivated and focused when another hour on the bike trainer seems beyond mind numbing, when the layers of running clothes has my washing machine begging for a vacation, and worst of all, when the cold dry air joins forces with the extremely irritating chlorine resulting in swimming torture lasting long after I’ve completed the last lap of the day.
Well, now I’ve probably talked you out of winter training all together! It’s not that bad, really, and having a solid race day at Keuka in early June makes it worth it.
So what makes Keuka Lake Triathlon an ideal early season race and how can you make the best of it? Read on, dear friend!
My approach to rocking the swim:
The Finger Lakes in early June equals cold. There’s no way around it. Be prepared mentally, buy or rent a wetsuit and consider a neoprene cap and booties if you’re a slower swimmer or especially susceptible to the cold.
Warm up properly – I did a fair amount of jogging around prior to the swim warm up. Once we were given permission to swim, I warmed up in a swim suit and wetsuit. I would have to wait about 30 minutes between swim warm up and race start and I knew I’d need to dry off and get warm during the waiting period. I changed under a towel and put on my racing kit – tri shorts and top – and kept moving, fueling and hydrating to stay warm.
Focus on the process – It wasn’t long before the Olympic distance women were lined up and we were taking that cold plunge into the lake. Within the first 30 seconds I wanted to quite. I let my mind drift to what was ahead. I thought about the cold choppy swim that would take 25 minutes to escape. I thought about the 2+ hours of discomfort that was in my immediate future. I remember thinking, “This is stupid. Why am I doing this?” Then… I remembered to focus on the process. Catch and pull. Catch and pull. Catch and pull. Sight. Repeat. Taken one stroke at a time, the swim was something I could handle – even something I could conquer. When the cold, waves, and kicking feet get to you, withdraw and forget about the big picture. Catch and pull one arm at a time and your first open water swim of the session will be behind you before you know it!
How to prepare – At least four weeks out, add some sighting work into you laps at the pool. When we’re out of practice, sighting can really through off our body position. Also, be sure to work on breathing to your non preferred side. In open water, the chop can force you to breath to one side and if that’s a side you can’t breathe on, then things are going be quite a bit more challenging.
Some triathlons have very short runs from the water to transition. Not Keuka. It’s not the longest, but it’s far from the shortest. Don’t let this detour you- it’s really a blessing. The run to transition is helpful for getting the blood flowing to you chilly feet! The transition is well marked and the volunteers are helpful. Just be sure to take extra care exiting and mounting your bike. In the past there has been some larger gravel and there’s an early left turn that can sneak up on you if you’re starring at your feet.
How to prepare – It might seem silly, but I suggest (and do!) setting up your bike and run transition and practicing a few times before race day – helmet, shoes, nutrition, socks, race belt – anything and everything you’ll be transitioning to/from on race day.
The ideal early season bike:
There are lots of pros to the bike course, but do not be fooled – it has its challenges!
The course pros – Chances are that most of your training going into this race will be done on the bike trainer. The bike trainer is an incredible tool that can build fitness and strength as well as or even better than riding on the road. The one thing a bike trainer isn’t good for – bike handling skills. This Keuka course is great for those of us that are a bit rusty with or are still developing our bike handling skills. The course is full of wide open views, few turns and long stretches in between shifting. In short, it’s not very technical and perhaps even a bit forgiving.
Personally, I dropped my chain just a few minutes into the bike. A technical mistake made while shifting to my big ring. There’s no point in panicking or getting worked up over this sort of thing. I just hopped off my bike, flipped my chain back on and reminded myself that I needed to be mindful when shifting. Feel it, don’t rush it.
Things to note: The sprint does have one hair pin turn and the Olympic has two hair pin turns. The first you can see for a while as you’re coming down hill into it and will turn around to climb right back up. Break early and take your time. You get the entire width of two lanes to make your turn and remember to lean lightly inward towards the cone. It’s smart to downshift before the turn, coast through and be in a smaller gear for the long climb back up. The second hair pin turn (on the Olympic course) comes at the top of a small roller on top of a beautiful and windy ridge. It’ll slow you naturally and again you have the entire two lanes to make your turn. Get your legs turning over after you turn- it’s nearly all downhill from here!
Be patient – I really wanted to go out and hammer this course, but the long climbs early on demand respect and patience. While some of the climbing slowed me to 12 mph, the late downhill sent me flying at over 28 mph. I wasn’t as patient as I could have been, but I tried to “let the ride come to me.” When it was time to go, I was ready – and I still had some solid run legs leftover.
How to prepare – The climbs are long and gradual and you’ll need to build some strength over the winter months to prepare for them. I suggest inserting some low cadence (60-70rpm) work into you’re longer rides. Aim to keep you effort the same, this will require that you find a pretty big gear. If you normally ride with a cadence of 60-70rpm, I’d suggest experimenting with a higher cadence for a bulk of your riding. A cadence of 85-95rpm tends to be the best for riding in a triathlon since we have that pesky run afterwards!
The transition from bike to run is reverse from swim to bike. As mentioned before – practice your transitions and practice running off the bike. A bike/run brick completed once per week is ideal. I favor a short easy run after my Saturday long rides.
A run that pulls you along:
The Keuka run course is a busy, rolling, fan lined, out-and-back with adequate aid stations, enthusiastic volunteers, some shade and more views. The Olympic race starts first, followed by the sprint which means that by time you’re on the run – no one is running alone. If there wasn’t someone in front of me to key off of, there was some one heading in the opposite direction. Not being alone out there really helps me forget my pain and push my limits.
Set yourself up for success and believe – Hopefully you ride a patient bike leg and fuel properly throughout. Being patient on the bike and tending to your needs promptly will set you up for success on the run. Once you get off the bike, it’s time to believe. It’s been a long time since you’ve gotten to experience that one-of-a-kind race-intensity-discomfort. When you meet it, don’t back down. Believe and charge on.
Pushing smart – Don’t get me wrong, there’s stupid fast and then there’s uncomfortable fast. Stick with uncomfortable fast and save stupid fast for the very end. If you’re doing it right, you should be uncomfortable. This discomfort feels more foreign due to the effects of a long winter. Lean into the discomfort and relax. Believe!
How to prepare – While the run course is barely rolling hills, some hill work for a few weeks will help you develop some of the strength that you’ll need for finishing strong. About 6-8 weeks out you can add some simple hill sprints to your weekly long run. Half way through your run, insert 6-8 30 second sprints up a moderate hill and then easy jog or walk down. Build from a “strong” effort at first to a “fast” effort as you progress. Finish you’re run strong and smooth.
I hope that you’ll consider racing Keuka Lake Triathlon and I hope that these tips help you prepare for this early season, cobweb-shaking, rust-busting race!
Ericka Hachmeister – 2014 Keuka Lake Triathlon Olympic Distance Champion
Check out the Strassburg Sock Keuka Lake Triathlon: http://keukalaketri.com