Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time Off

Every athlete needs some time off every now and then, just not every athlete knows it.  The word "recovery" has been thrown around a lot in the last few years in triathlon and sports circles.  So what does that mean?  I think some athletes take it too far (including myself at times), while others neglect it completely (including myself at times).  I'm not going to spill all of my thoughts about recovery, time off and their effect on training now, because that is not really what this post is about.  I just want those triathletes out there reading this to think about what they are doing during their off season to best prepare for 2012.  Are you sitting on the couch, eating pizza and playing Mario Kart for 8 hours a day (ah yes, I remember fall 2008)?  Did you start training the day after your last race this year?  Or maybe something in between?  During the off-season, ask yourself why you are doing what you're doing, and how that is preparing you for next season.  If you can find a good answer to that question, you're on the right track.

Yoshi is totally the best character in Mario Kart

It's also been quite some time since my last post here.  It's not that I haven't wanted to write.  It's not that I haven't had anything to write about.  And it's definitely not because I wasn't happy with my final races:  1) I was.  2) I'm not afraid to write about a disappointing performance, just as I'm not afraid to put myself in a race where I'm the underdog.  So to those of you who have been compulsively checking my blog for updates on a daily basis J, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting.  I've been very busy with other things going on... training, racing up until October, working, and figuring out how I'm going to structure things for this coming year.  There's really been a lot of news over the last few months, so I will try to get it all up here, although it may span a couple of posts.

I think the best place to start is where I left off, with my final races of the 2011 season.  After Lifetime Fitness, I had three left on the calendar, and they were all important, travel races:

Age Group Nationals- Late August
Age Group Worlds- Early September
Branson 70.3- Mid September

From a training perspective, the challenge was to get myself ready to race well at all three of these races, despite the fact that they are too close to peak for individually, yet too far apart to peak 100% for all 3.  It was decided that the training peak would be planned for the Worlds/Branson combo, since they were only a week apart, and Nationals would have a smaller recovery leading into it.  From an organizational perspective, the challenge would be just as much if not more.  The races were in Burlington, VT, Beijing, CN, and Branson, MO.  The Beijing to Branson week was going to be key to get right, since I would be trying to fend off major jetlag in addition to all of the travel stress.

This race went well, but not very well.  I felt really good in the water for the first time in a while, but then proceeded to follow a group off course.  I realized it before the rest of my group, but unfortunately I probably swam 200 meters out of my way.  It's really hard to put that mistake out of your mind as you are trying to focus on the bike and run, but I did a pretty good job of it.  I definitely was able to focus more in the moment than the other race this year with a major swim mishap (Texas 70.3 and the goggle disaster).

On the bike I felt strong and was riding well.  I ended up probably not riding hard enough, as I felt a little too good coming off the bike.  My run was solid that day, but I started to fade as the temps rose.  I ended up finishing well enough to re-qualify for Age Group Worlds with a roll-down spot.  However, for the first time that I’ve qualified, I won’t be going.  More on why later.

This was my third time at Worlds, and each time has been a unique experience.  I enjoy testing myself against great competition, meeting triathletes from other states and countries, and also traveling to new places.  Beijing did not disappoint.  I was looking forward to this trip even more than my previous Worlds for a few reasons.  First, while Germany and Australia were great locations, China was going to be completely unlike anywhere else, and, unlike the first two, I’m unlikely to ever go back if not for a future race.  There’s so much history there, and a completely different culture than what I’m used to.  As far as the race itself, in Germany I was ecstatic just to have squeaked into the race.  In Australia I showed some promise but couldn’t put together a complete race under pressure.  Going in, I was confident in my abilities and felt I was ready to put together a great race on a big stage.  Did I think I could win?  Unlikely, but I was ready to compete with the top group of guys.

The Great Wall was my favorite sightseeing destination

Racing on the 2008 Olympic course was incredible.  It was quite a rush.

And then I crashed.

It was pretty surprising.  I realized I was going to hit the fence a few seconds before I did, but I was expecting to fall sideways into it.  I didn’t expect to flip over the handlebars and land on my back on the road.  At 25mph. 

It could’ve been worse.  I saw another guy later who did pretty much the same thing as me in about 5 different casts and wraps with cuts everywhere.  And we were in China.  So I was counting my blessings that I came out of it with only a small cut on my forehead and a scraped and sore left shoulder.  The first two thoughts in my head as I hit the ground were “Holy shit, that just happened!” followed immediately by “I need to get off the road before someone runs me over!” So I stood up, grabbed my bike and walked over to the side as riders screamed down the hill by me. 

A race doctor ran over to me (“Great, so they expected crashes here…”) and asked me if I was ok, pointing at my head with a weird look on his face.  “Yeah…” Then I took off my sunglasses and used them as a mirror and sure enough, there was a stream of blood running down my face from my forehead.  I felt fine, but wanted to make sure I didn’t have a concussion, so I sat there for a few minutes just thinking about stuff.  I seemed to be fine, so I wiped the blood off, the doctor rubbed some iodine on it and covered it with a band-aid, and then I looked down at my bike.  It had landed upside down so the saddle and handlebars were bent in odd positions, but that was fixable.  A few minutes later I got back on the bike and took off, to many cheers.

From then on I was riding like a total wuss, braking on all the downhills and corners, just thinking that my main goal was to get to the finish line intact.  After an uncomfortable, slow ride I got off and actually ran pretty well, despite an increasingly sore hip.  I felt proud of myself for fighting through everything and getting to the finish line.  I wouldn’t have been happy just to jog in, though.  If I was going to do that I’d rather throw in the towel after the crash.  I pushed hard to the end, competing the best I could along the way.  For the first time in 5 years, I was actually proud of myself for finishing a race.

Crash aftermath

Branson 70.3:
This race was all about overcoming obstacles.  I’ve read about that before.  Every time Ironman comes around you read articles about someone who overcame something just to get to the starting line, or who dropped 100lbs training for the event or something similar.  You hear a lot of these people say that the event means so much more to them because of what they overcame to start or finish it.  Well, I’ve never really felt like I’ve overcome anything too significant before or during a race.  I used to be much slower and less skilled, and have steadily gotten stronger and faster, but there has really been nothing specific until this fall.

First there were the expected obstacles.  Jetlag, travel and post-race soreness from Worlds.  I admit that signing up for Branson only one week later was not ideal for racing well, but I did it because I figured most of my competition would be thinking that as well.  The thing is, I selected Branson because of when it fell on the calendar.  ITU Worlds was the week before, 70.3 Worlds was the week before, Hy-Vee US Championships was 2 weeks before and Kona was only a couple weeks later.  My thought was that anyone who was racing any of those events wouldn’t want to do Branson.

Not that I shy away from competition, but when you’re trying to meet qualifications it’s important to choose your races to give you the best chance of success.  I knew there would still be good athletes there, just less depth in the field.  And I was right.  I had looked at the 2010 athlete guide and saw that last year the prize purse was large enough to make it a pro qualifying race.  Prior to Worlds, I thought that despite racing in China a week before, I could recover and race well enough to qualify.  I did a great job timing when I would sleep on the plane so that jetlag was minimal when I got back.

I didn’t expect not to be able to swim after Worlds, though.  My shoulder got worse and worse for a few days and it wasn’t until Friday that I could even swim down the pool.  I was sweating it, the race was in two days and my shoulder was still really sore. 

Then on my drive down I got the news that came closest to breaking me.  The new athlete guide had just come out (yes, only days before the race) and the prize purse had changed.  It didn’t change in a good way, and now the race was no longer an elite qualifier.  I was doing this for nothing.  “What’s the point?  I’m tired, sore and slightly injured.  I don’t need to prove I can finish this thing.  Even if I win it doesn’t matter, I can’t use it for anything.  I’ve raced a lot and have had a long season.  The weather is horrible, it’s not worth it” These are the thoughts that went through my head upon hearing this news.

It would’ve been really easy to just go through the motions, or even easier to just turn around and drive back to Madison.  Luckily, I had a great support crew who talked some sense into me.  Summer had decided to come with me down to Branson and while she was disappointed too, she encouraged me to give it my best shot.  After all, it’s not worth doing something if you’re not going to give it your best, and we were already here.  I’ve come this far, it’s time to finish what I started.

And so that’s the mindset I went into the race with.  While it didn’t have any future implications, this was a race and just like any race, an important one.  I’m a triathlete, and that’s what I do.  I race.  It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past, or what the future holds.  When the gun goes off, the only thing that matters is the task at hand. 

I’m not sure how, but I was able to swim the entire way.  My shoulder felt 90% and I biked well.  If it weren’t for my electrolytes flying off my bike halfway through, this may well have been the breakout race I’ve been looking for.  While things went downhill from there, I managed to hold it together well enough for a 5th overall finish.  While the depth of the field wasn’t as strong as some races, I am very happy with that result and even more so because of what I had to overcome to do it.

As a side note, my sister wrote a great article about the China trip, which USAT actually put in their newsletter and posted on the front page of their website:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lifetime Fitness

7/9/11- Minneapolis, MN

The race started from the beach with all the elite amateur athletes charging into the water.  Since I am more comfortable breathing on my left I positioned myself near the outside right of the group with a straight path to the first turn buoy.  The first 200m went by quickly and I was feeling good.  I noticed that the main pack was veering way to the left, so much so that I spotted a few extra times just to make sure that it was them and not me drifting.  Lucky start, I thought.  "Seems everyone else wants to swim further...  fine by me." The water was a balmy 82 degrees and thus we were not wearing wetsuits.  This was something else I figured would be advantageous.

After feeling strong for the first section of the course, I rounded the turn buoy and that's when I met Mr. "I'm a horrible drafter".  The rest of the swim was the most annoying 15 minutes of my life.  He was swimming on my right side with his head about 6 inches from my hips and was literally running his left arm into my ribcage every single stroke. That made it really hard to hold my body position, not to mention at this point my stroke wasn't feeling good anymore.  Because I was not going to swim off course I had to put up with this guy ramming into me the whole back stretch.  After the second corner I was really getting sick of this so I tried to sprint a little.  At first I thought I lost him but then he started tapping my toes every single pull.  I veered right, he followed.  Veered left, same.  I didn't want to red-line the last 500m of the swim so I settled back into my pace and again he was on my side.  I somehow lost him in the final 50 meters so I didn't have a good chance to punch him in the face when we got out of the water.  Oh well that probably wouldn't have worked to my advantage in the grand scheme of things...

Coming out of the water, my mom, who travelled up to watch the race (Thanks!) told me I was in 9th.  That got my spirits up, since even though my swim felt slow (and it was but so was everyone's) I remembered that last year I got out of the water in 11th at this race.  So I hopped on the bike excited to put the swim behind me and hammer the bike.

Getting on the bike I passed a few guys in the first miles, but soon found myself struggling to find the power that came easily just 2 weeks ago in my workouts.  I don't race with my power meter and I'm glad I don't know what my average was because I don't think I would be very proud of it.  The bike course was technical, which didn't bother me, and it was on poor quality roads, which at least I was ready for and set my tires to 110psi instead of 120 like normal.  As the ride went on it became more of a struggle... there wasn't any specific part of me that really hurt, and my breathing wasn't out of control, but I just felt achy all over and was having trouble finding strength.  I came off the bike with a split of 1:04, which is my slowest 40k in awhile.  Last year was a 1:01 on the same course.

Again, going into the run I thought if I could find my form that I could have a good run split that would get me back near the place I thought I could be.  It was a flat, fast run course so a 36 should've been doable, and in the back of my mind I knew I could run a 35 on a great day.  However, it soon became apparent that it just wasn't my day when my turnover and stride length just weren't there.  I ran a low 39 and finished with a 2:09.  I gutted it out the best I could but there was no snap in my legs this weekend.

Initially I was pretty disappointed, but not because my time was bad... a 2:09 is a good time. I was bummed because I had been biking and running much better during workouts a couple weeks ago than I did on race day.  After going back to the house I was staying at for the weekend (Thanks Dave!), passing out for a few hours and then hanging out at the Mall of America for the rest of the day, I had plenty of time to reflect on the day and the season so far.

This race had been high on my priority list for this season since it started.  I knew the course well and was in the middle of my season.  I was fit and motivated going into it and thought that this might be the time when I break through to the next level.  I track my workouts and the trends were all there.  I don't think I did anything wrong on race day or race weekend.  Actually my race plan was executed very well.  I think, and more so after talking with Blake Becker, that I pushed my workouts too hard recently.  I, like many athletes, am very motivated to train hard and sometimes I can overdo it.  It's tough because the days you feel the best are sometimes the days you need to hold yourself back the most in training.  After a long season, which this has been (I started training in earnest back in January) you need to make sure you are giving your body adequate recovery time.  Blake tells me this a lot, and I know it too, but it's always easier said than done.

While I wish every race I do would be one of my best efforts, that will not always be the case.  The really important things for long term success are how you progress in your training, the consistency and adequate recovery time.  Basically it is a lifestyle.  Lifetime Fitness.  I haven't gotten to where I am by training hard during workouts and then having an unhealthy lifestyle outside of training.  My good overall health is a huge part of my continual improvement in this sport.  To reach your true potential you have to live it.  That does NOT mean that triathlon or sport should be the only thing in your life.  I would consider that unhealthy and many athletes who take that path don't last long.  Some do but sacrifice so much outside of sport to do it.

As I was lining up on the start line, they introduced the woman who would be the honorary race starter.  She was 93 years old, and at the age of 89 completed this triathlon.  As I was in line to pick up my packet, the lady checking us in thought she grabbed the wrong packet because she didn't think I could possibly be 25 years old.  The mayor of Minneapolis competed in the race, as did over 600 first time triathletes, as happens every year at this race.

I didn't perform my best on Saturday, but I am not worried at all because I know that once I rest up I will be back stronger than I have ever been.  I know this because I have seen myself improve this year in key workouts across the board and have had some of my best races ever.  I also know this because it is a lifestyle, and will continue to be.  I don't know if I'll be able to do a triathlon at age 89 but I will certainly have lifetime fitness.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The calm before the storm

It's been some time since my last post here.  Unfortunately I haven't had too much time to sit down and write over the last month.  There has been a lot going on, just not too many race results to report.  My biggest focus over the past couple months has been preparing for the second half of my season, which begins in just under a week at Lifetime Fitness, and continues through September with Nationals and Worlds.

So what have I been up to since St A's?  Here are the highlights...

1.) I'm famous!  For the first time that I'm aware of I was featured on another triathlete's blog!  Actually, it wasn't me, but my car.  And it had nothing to do with the car itself, but rather the 3.1 sticker on the back.  Thanks to Jack Dudley for getting those custom made!

My car is awesome

The funny thing is that this photo was taken while my car was parked at the Triple T in Ohio over Memorial Day weekend.  While I had originally signed up to do this race with my girlfriend as a team, I didn't actually end up going due to Summer breaking her hand.  However I had some friends from out of town that were originally going to hitch a ride with us, so I lent them my car for the weekend.  Definitely a good decision!

2.) The great June triathlon!  This race was so epic that it took two whole weeks to get from start to finish.  It began at the Lake Mills sprint triathlon early in the month.  After a good swim and great T1, I hopped on the bike in 5th overall, excited to race some of the best local athletes in a very competitive Wisconsin season opener.  However, it quickly became challenging the hold my pace.  It felt like I was riding through mud.  After pushing through it for a mile or so it kept getting worse so I stopped to check my tires... sure enough the rear one was flat.  After getting sagged back to T2 I watched the 3 pro's and multiple All Americans in attendance finish the bike and run. 

Two weeks later my triathlon resumed, when morning storms caused the cancellation of the swim at the Verona Triterium.  We started the race on the bike and despite the wet descents and corners and a dropped chain late in the race, I came off the bike over a minute faster than I did in 2010.  The run was less than stellar but I held on for 3rd overall.

3.) Madison Marathon pace team and Capitol View Triathlon! The MMPT was something new that I got to tackle this year.  Endurance House was sponsoring the race, and I was put in charge of organizing the pace team.  Even though I had never been a race pacer before it was a lot of fun.  I split the 3hr marathon w/Justin Pernitz.  I got us through the halfway point at 1:29:50 and then got back to the Capitol to watch Justin come in at 3:00:04.  Perfection.

A couple weeks later, the 4th annual Capitol View Triathlon went off without a hitch.  With as much as I race, it's fun to be on the other end of a triathlon once a year.

4.) Coaching summer swimming!  Actually this is something that I'm not doing for the first time in 3 years.  Honestly, with as busy as I am I can't imagine trying to fit it in my schedule and don't know how I managed last summer with my full time job and training.  Hopefully I can get to a meet or two in July, though.  Don't want to miss out on all the fun...

Also, a quick note on bike safety:

Every year I hear of multiple bike accidents, some of them resulting in deaths.  Most are in training, as in the case of the 2010 Collegiate Cycling National champion Carla Swart.  Every so often it happens in a race, such as Wouter Weylandt in this year's Giro d'Italia.  Over the past 7 years I've done this sport I've seen multiple friends, a roommate and my girlfriend wind up in the hospital after going out for a ride.  Now that I work at Endurance House and have met or at least talked to the majority of triathletes in the Madison area, the likelihood of someone I know getting in a bike accident is much higher.

While some bike accidents involve only the rider, as in the case of Summer's broken hand (although that involved a squirrel too I guess) and my slide-out in my second year cycling, the majority of bike accidents involve vehicles.  Unfortunately those are the most serious.

In my seven years of riding, I have never once been hit by a car or gotten myself in a situation where I would be forced off the road.  I fully realize that some of this has to do with chance, and no matter how safe you are there is always a possibility that something could happen to you, but I do have a few rules I live by on the bike that keep me as safe as possible.  I want to share them with you so that hopefully you can avoid any unfortunate situations...

1.  Be serious and focus on the road and what you are doing.  You are out there for a reason and that reason is not to goof around.  Not saying don't have fun, but it only takes a lapse of focus for 1 second... If you're unable to do this, find a different sport.

2.  Assume every automobile driver is distracted and/or an idiot.  Of course this is not true, but it is not the majority of cars I worry about, it is the one or two distracted/stupid ones I will cross paths with over the course of any given ride.

3. Make eye contact with every driver stopped at an intersection that you think is waiting for you before continuing.  It can be a costly mistake if you assume they see you and you are wrong (also, they might see you but not realize how fast you are going.. most people equate bikes with going slow).

4. When passing a line of parked cars on the side of the road, give at least 3 feet.  I've heard bad stories of car doors opening...

5. Remember that it doesn't matter who is correct, vs a car you will always lose.  This applies in multiple situations, but one that comes to mind is riders who are two abreast on the county highway while there are cars around... while technically legal it's dumb and angers drivers.

6. Put safety ahead of your workout.  It won't kill you to stop and wait for a car to move out of the way during your intervals, and honestly it won't mess up your training either.  I've seen some cyclists make some pretty high risk maneuvers just to keep their wattage above lactic threshold for that extra minute.

7.  WEAR YOUR #$%^ HELMET!!!  It's mind boggling to me how many non-helmeted heads I see on bikes all over the place.  Most cyclists and triathletes do wear them while training but I see some of those same people commuting around town without them.  What makes you think you're safer in town?  You are likely less safe because there are more cars, they're not looking for you and many are in a hurry.  Most cycling accidents occur close to home or while commuting, not out on the county roads in training.  It's really annoying when I see a mom out with her kids and the kids have helmets and she doesn't (not discriminating... this goes for dads too).  Horrible example for your kids and the pavement doesn't care if your skull is 4 years old or 40.  Actually the 40 year old one has further to fall...

On a related topic, a bunch of motorcyclists recently put together an anti-helmet protest ride in New York state due to a helmet law that is either being passed or just got passed (not sure, didn't look into the legal side of this story).  The ironic thing is that one of the protesters died after flipping over his handlebars and hitting his head on the road.  Medical personnel said he would have likely survived had he been wearing a helmet.

I didn't make that up, google it.  Seriously.

Finally... athlete of the week!

Summer Ohlendorf

The second athlete to be featured here, and she made the cut with her determination and toughness.  After a rough Collegiate National championships in 95 degree weather, she came down with a respiratory illness that turned out to be pneumonia.  This took her out of all physical activity for over a week and when she was ready to do her first easy ride she fell victim to the vicious squirrels of the arboretum and broke her hand.  Not to be deterred, she decided that this was not going to keep her out of training so she was on the trainer almost every day despite her apartment being a toasty 80 degrees on a good day.  Besides the trainer the only thing she could do was run but not long after the bike accident she aggravated her foot and couldn't run for awhile.  She had plenty of reason to give up on the season but never did and despite all of that found a way to keep strong and active.  Now that everything is all better she has recently placed in her age group in both June races she entered, and is looking good with Lifetime Fitness and Racine 70.3 not too far away.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

St A's

The Race:

St. Anthonys triathlon was the final race of my spring season.  It was an "A" race, one where I try to peak.  I've raced very well so far this year, and training has been going great.  On top of that, I've traditionally tapered well so I was excited to see a breakout performance!  I backed off on my workload the week leading up to the race, flew to Tampa and proceeded to have an average race....

Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad.  Actually, by last year's standards it would've been a very strong performance.  Just not up to par with what I was expecting and what I have shown so far in 2011.  As a coach in a sport (swimming) where the final meets of the season are put on a pedestal compared to the rest of the season, I've seen some incredible tapers, and others that just seem to flop.  At the high school level where I have coached, the latter is generally followed by some sort of tantrum, embarrassing to all in the area.  It's understandable why one would be upset, after putting so much time and effort, so much sweat and pain into training just to show no significant improvement at the end... but there is no crying at the finish line, or at least there shouldn't be at high levels.  Feel free to go home and throw a fit in the privacy of your own home.  But just remember, at the end of the day it's just a race, it's not your life.  You still have a roof over your head and there can always be another race.

Here's a great post game explosion, but this guy actually won:

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be upset, or try to figure out why the taper didn't work.  In my experience with swimmers, 90% of failed tapers are due to having nothing to taper from.  In other words, you have to put in the work during the season or training block in order to give yourself something to come back from.  The coaches are often blamed for the athlete's lack of work ethic.  Many athletes don't understand what hard work really means.  But many do.  And I do.  And my coach does.  So if it isn't that, then what is it?  That last 10% really could be caused by anything.  It could be just a bad day, it could be poor race execution, it could be a mental breakdown, it could be due to any number of other, unidentifiable factors.

At first I just chalked it up to a bad day... but it turns out I was sick, I just didn't know it until I landed in Milwaukee that night.   Of course that would explain why every time I tried to shift into that extra gear I couldn't hold onto the effort for more than 5 minutes.  It explains why I lost focus towards the end of the run and finished looking "defeated" according to one of my friends who spectated the event.

I'm not sitting here making excuses, I hate excuses.  I am very analytical about how I train and race, and look for reasons why things happen.  My performance was what it was, and you won't find me saying I could've beaten so and so if this or that hadn't happened.  It's all part of the sport.  I compete with myself, always have.  Sunday I raced a 1:58 in an olympic distance triathlon where the swim was shortened from a 1500m to a 1000m due to water conditions.  At my swim pace, that's ~2:04-2:05 on a true course.  Like I said... very good if this had been last year.  It's just that I opened this season with a 2:00 and felt great doing it, then rested more for this one and felt worse.

When I think about it though, it's not surprising really.  It seems like everyone I know and spend time with has been sick in the last few weeks.  My girlfriend had pnemonia, my boss at work has been sick all winter, and almost all of the people I train with came down with something recently.  So this race is going in the books and it's forward from here.  Time to rest, recover, and then get back to it.

The future:

To plan your future training, I like to look at the past.  Specifically, I asses myself and my performance in the past training and racing block.  I think all athletes would benefit from doing a personal self-assessment.  The problem is that too many athletes are ego-centric and would not be totally honest with themselves.  (which is what you need to improve)  Continually give someone a bunch of gold stars, and they will think they are doing a great job and coast along.

*Based on zero scientific evidence, this is the system of how I asses myself, everything on a scale of 1-10

Early 2011 Self Assesment-
Overall Physical Training: 7.8 (an straight average of all the following categories)

-Swimming: 6
Training-wise, I feel I have done worse here than the other 2 in hitting my key workouts and getting through everything.  If there is a time constraint due to outside commitments, swimming is the first to go. I've completed almost all my workouts here, just not all in their entirety.  Lots of workouts got cut short this training block and I need to get the rest of my schedule under control in order to fix this.  This would probably be a 7 if I could swim straight, but it seems that it is something I fixed last year that once again needs work in open water

-Cycling: 9
My cycling has made the largest improvement from last year.  For years it was my weakness but so far it has actually been my strength in triathlon.  I have been moving up the field from where I exit the water, which was unprecedented in prior years.   Last year I tended to hold my position and before that I'd lose spots.  I credit much of my cycling gains this year to using a power meter w/a coach who knows how to.

-Running: 9
Running has also been going really well.  In open, non triathlon running, it's probably my strongest single sport at the moment.  My legs feel stronger and my form is better than it has been in the past.  There's always room for improvement, though.

-Running off the bike: 8
This gets its own category since it is almost a different sport.  A lot of it has to do with how hard you bike, and a lot of it is training your body for the transition.  I've done some bricks this year but have had to split a few of them into separate workouts, again due to time constraints.  I have felt ok off the bike this year, but have felt better at times in the past.  This is something I expect to improve throughout the season.

-Consistency: 8
I've hit most of my workouts this year, but there have been times when I've needed to skip or re-arrange things.  Consistency is key to continual improvement so I need to address this immediately to keep up with my goals.

-Speedwork: 9
Probably the reason I have been running and cycling so well this year is because I have done a very good job at hitting the key sessions and workouts in these two sports.  I've made a point to go into these sessions ready to go and have seen improvement during the season in the workouts, which has translated into success in racing.  The only reason this isn't a 10 is because every so often I have underperformed in a swimming speed session.  This is probably due to lack of swim fitness due to low volume.

-Volume: 6
It's much better for short course racers to have a 9 in speedwork and a 6 in volume than the other way around, but it's still important to put in the mileage/yardage.  Again, due to time this score is low.  I'm not saying that you should do as much volume as you can... actually that will make you slower but there is a certain amount you have to do, and I found myself cutting short some of the "aerobic" or "junk" mileage this season so far.

-Core/Strength: 8
I have a pretty strong core, which is essential for performance across 3 sports and staying injury free through training.  Early on in the season I would've given myself a 9 here.  I was doing TRX classes twice a week with Kari Woodall and I felt it was making a big difference.  But as racing started I haven't been to a Trx class (I have been doing some at home but it's not the same).  I have definitely retained much of what I gained so it paid off.  It's just hard to find time to do those classes and also get all of my swim/bike/run training in.

Sleep: 7
This score is just the average amount of hours I got per night, but I think it corresponds well to the 1-10 scale in how it effects performance.  Sleep is crucial and is overlooked often.  The workouts create the stimulus, but they break you down and in order to build back up there must be adequate recovery.

Nutrition: 7
This number is the average of race day nutrition (9) and day to day nutrition (5).  A great training plan can unravel on race day if you don't do a good job with your nutrition plan during the race, as I have showed in the past.  I've done well with that this year but my day to day is awful.  It's improving and is a primary focus of mine for the rest of the season.

Mental: 10
This is the one area where I believe I excel and that there is no room for improvement.  Maybe that sounds cocky, but if you look back at my athletic history it makes total sense.  The only reason I'm competing at the level that I am today is because of my attitude towards the sport, my analytical approach to training, my belief that anyone can improve (even if you were super slow like I was) and a never-give-up approach.  In 6 full seasons of triathlon and 4 before that of swimming/running I have never once given up on a race, workout, or goal.

Total Score (ave. of physical (x2), sleep, nutrition and mental): 7.9

So this isn't bad but could go up.  It's also interesting that it is extremely close to the physical score (7.8).  Here's a theory.... your physical score is directly affected by your scores in the other 3 categories, and as they rise or fall, so will your physical.  It makes sense... You'll be able to hit your workouts better, and therefore make improvements if you are recovering well and are motivated.

Almost done

Athlete of the week:  Gerard Hubbard

More like only athlete I've featured thus far.

Gerard and I first met a few years ago at the Purdue triathlon.  I was injured and spectating.  I think it might have been his first triathlon, or at least one of his first.  He looked like a power lifter, 5'8" and over 200lbs of solid muscle.  He finished the olympic distance that day in around 3 hours.  3 years later, we raced at Age Group Nationals last September, where he raced a 2:10ish, still ripped but closer to 150lbs.  That raised my eyebrows and I started paying attention to what he was doing with his training.  Based on the facebook news feed, I came to realize the total dedication he put into his training.  His focus was 100%, he seemed to get up before 6am almost every day to train, and the one thing in particular I noticed was his dedication to his nutrition.  Personally, I consider myself to have come further that almost anyone I know and compete with at the elite amateur level to get there.  I have to say almost now because Gerard makes me look like a natural. (no offense)  On Sunday we went head to head and I beat him.  But only by 2 minutes.  Just last September the difference was 6 minutes and 3 years ago it was 45.  I guarantee he will continue to surprise and also has really inspired me to take a good look at my nutrition plan and fix it.  Maybe I can have similar results...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A big week

16:57, 3, 7th, 13th, 4:16.  There were a lot of numbers in my head Saturday night as I tried to fall asleep the night before the Texas 70.3.  It had been a busy and eventful week, that's for sure.  What I consider one of my talents, though, is the ability to focus on the task at hand when it requires it.  As I jumped into the Gulf of Mexico to move towards the swim start my mind was clear and I was calm.  I was just waiting for the gun to go off to flip the switch.

"Two minutes!, wave 5", I heard the race starter say.  Cap was on, wetsuit adjusted, goggles just had a bit of water trapped inside.  Shake the goggles out, suction them back on.... wait, why did they just fall off my face?  Uhhh.... oh #$%& they just broke! Cap off, get the strap off me, take a look.  Plastic piece connecting the strap to the frame on the right side is cracked.  No way to fix that.  Oh I am screwed if I don't think of something.  Can't swim in saltwater w/contacts for 1.2 miles.  I'd have to lifeguard swim it... that would add at least 10 min.  Ok, think of something now!  Pull the right strap out of the connector in back... wow that just took a minute, the gun is about to go off.  Ok, see if you can shove it through the frame where the plastic piece is supposed to go.  Thank god that worked...quick knot.  10, 9, 8... put the googles back on, just one strap now, rest of it dangling in my mouth... 3, 2, 1 gun.

So I was thrown out of my zone before the race began.  When newbies ask me for advice I tell them that 90% of the time, no matter how long you've been doing this, that something will happen that you didn't plan for or expect.  The best athletes will adapt and adjust on the fly and roll with the punches while others let it bring them down.  Experience, studying the sport and knowing how your equipment works is the best way to make yourself adaptable to different situations that arise.

Going into the race I knew I was fit and ready.  Earlier in the week I had set a new personal record in the 5k run, my first time ever under 17 minutes, in an individual time trial.  I had the confidence going in that my training has been working and I was ready to race well from a fitness standpoint.  However, I was also quite tired from staying up later than usual for a few days as I built up Summer's new bike to be ready for the Collegiate National Championships, which was held the day before my race in Alabama.  (she had a great bike split, by the way!) I had also very recently resigned as the head coach of the McFarland swim team, a team which I have had 3 great seasons with.  It was tough to leave, and I will miss the team.  However, it was the right decision... the stress of the season with my job was not good for me.  This was still heavy on my mind as well.  I rested the few days before the race and then Saturday got to follow the Nationals race online.  I saw the team do very well (7th women's team, 13th overall) but noticed that almost all of them suffered pretty badly on the run.  Why?  It broke into the 90's with humidity in Alabama.  They did great for a team from the north (1st overall team in the Midwest conference) but without the heat training as some teams had we couldn't run with them.  My race wasn't going to be quite as hot (just low 80's) but it was humid and twice as long.  That's a lot of time to fold.  So in light of that my race plan was to hold back on the bike so that I made sure I showed up to the 13.1 mile run feeling good and well hydrated.  If I ran to my potential I could make up a lot of time.

After a very crooked swim in which I probably added ~200m to the distance, I came out of the water in 28:40.  I probably wasn't able to focus on my swimming as much as usual with my annoying goggles.  But in the end 2 minutes isn't the end of the race but 10+ would have been so I'm not upset with my swim performance.  On the contrary I'm happy with myself for minimizing my time loss and my goggle fix.

On the bike we had 20 mph crosswinds the whole way.  It was one big out and back along the seawall next to the ocean.  On Thursday I had to make the decision to bring my rear disk/front 808 combo or my normal training wheels.  Speed or stability?  Confident in my bike handling skills and thinking it would be a waste to go all the way to TX not to go all in, I showed up with my wind sails.  (If I ever get rich or really heavily sponsored to have multiple race wheel sets, the best choice of wheelset probably would have been something similar to 404's... aero and fast w/out the wind issues.)  

Overall it wasn't too bad.  There were only ~3 miles towards the end where we got right up on the ocean where I thought I was going to crash about 5 times.  I was trying to relax my upper body but my shoulders were definitely worked harder than usual trying to keep me in a straight line.  Halfway through the sun came out, and I felt a significant difference immediately.  I rode a 2:22 (23.6mph, a 56mile PR), with a huge negative split (1:17-->1:05) due to the slight tailwind on the way back.  The winds did keep riders from forming packs as easily, and I was only passed once in the 56 miles.   During the bike ride I went from 6th to 2nd in my age group.  Due to lots of fluids, calories and electrolytes on the bike I got to the run feeling relatively good and ready.  

If I had been really worried, I could've just increased my stability by using two disks like this guy...

Coming out of T2 a guy in my age group I had just passed jumped out and I was tempted to follow, but due to the heat and my lack of acclimation to it, I let him go and reminded myself that I'll cut through the crowds at the halfway point if I can hold it together.  It was a good decision, as 400m later he was already behind me.  I honestly felt good on my first of 4 laps, and my average for the first 3.2 miles was 6:15/mile.  On a better day I feel I could've held very close to that.  However, despite my best efforts the fact is I just wasn't adapted to racing in hot and humid conditions and I started feeling it pretty badly at mile 4.  I did manage to keep it from spiraling out of control and held a steady 7:10 average the rest of the way in.  It was incredibly difficult and I felt absolutely awful as I finished, but I am very happy with my 4:25 for 3rd in the age group and 15th overall amateur (field size ~2000).

It wasn't quite a PR (4:23) but that was set in better conditions and in the month of July.  For a half Ironman at this time of year I am thrilled with the results.  Yes I had in the back of my mind that a 4:16 was the elite qualifying time last year at this race and I think I am capable of that under better conditions, but I feel I raced tactically smart and very strong. Turns out that it took a 4:10 this year to go top 3 amateur.  I did everything in my control to have a good race and that's all you can do.  Besides a cool trophy and a pretty bad sunburn, I took back lessons that will help me (and hopefully others that read this) to do even better in future races. 

Now that I'm back, it's time to get a half Ironman tattoo, like this guy.... 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Taking my talents to South Beach

No, my talents aren't on par with LeBron's, but yes, they went to South Beach this morning.  The Miami International Triathlon was the first of WTC's new 5150 series of non-drafting, olympic distance racing.  This wasn't why I signed up, I actually found that out after I decided to register.  What did this mean?  Well, the field size actually shrunk from what they had last year, and from what I expected.  The $30 price increase that comes with the M-dot tag probably had something to do with that.  However, it seemed to only trim the local, recreational participation numbers... the competition in the top half was just as fierce as previous years results indicate.  Because of the massive amount of prize money at the US championships later in the year, the pro field was stacked (they're trying to earn enough points to qualify for it).  Apart from the World Championships, this race had the strongest pro field of any race I've competed in.  A 1:50 wouldn't get you top 10.

I really enjoyed this race.  The weather was perfect, ~75 by the time I hit the run, which is just under the point where a winter's worth of training in Wisconsin's winter would be rendered useless.  They started us (elite amateur wave) about 5 min after the pro women's wave, and 7 after the pro men.  The swim was saltwater and wetsuit legal, so I suppose I was probably pretty buoyant.  I know I'm faster in a wetsuit, because I've clocked myself in a pool with one, but one thing you kind of lose is your feel for the water.  You just have to trust that you're getting a catch.  My time of 19:27 on the swim indicated to me that yes, I was catching water even if I hadn't been sure during the swim.  I did feel strong though, I didn't lose steam in the final 200-300 meters as I have in the past.  Just kept on chugging, and swam a decently straight line.  Coming out of the water, my parents told me that I was in 9th in my wave.  This was motivating, I'm usually not that high out of the water at this caliber of race.

T1 included a 200m run into transition, so my time of 2:00 was actually one of the best in the race.  Getting on the bike I was excited to test my indoor training and hopefully make up some ground.  The bike course was two loops, first through the downtown area and then across a large bridge to Miami Beach (and South Beach).  Everyone told me to expect a flat course, and for the most part it was, but this bridge (actually an interstate, first time biking on one of those!) had two quite large hills in each direction.  Each lap was an out and back on this road, and with two laps it meant we had eight (8) grinders that were big enough to get in to the small ring and out of the aerobars towards the top.  The pro's were saying that the new course this year was more challenging than last year's.  Towards the end of the first lap, I passed the leading female elite amateur (and thought about how badly she must've killed me on the swim as I went by)  As I went through the second lap, I knew I was moving up the field.  It was hard to tell exactly where I was because we were going through the athletes on their first lap.  I figured I was in 5th or 6th as I got off the bike. (Turns out I was in 6th)  My bike split was a 1:00:57, which is excellent for this time of year.  In the past, I have ridden at around 21-22mph off the trainer, but this was almost 25.  I intend to drop this consistently as the year moves forward.

Getting off the bike my legs weren't exactly excited to run, but they weren't toast either.  My lack of bricks due to the time of year was obvious, as my legs really kicked in around the 5k point.  The run course was flat and fast, with a few turnarounds on each of the two laps.  I enjoyed it, you got to see everyone and that keeps you motivated.  I developed a side cramp in the final half mile or so that lasted ~2minutes, but my pace dropped from sub 6 to around an 8 minute mile.  I managed to lose it for the final kick and saw my clock time listed at 2:00:07, with a 36:58 run.  So close to breaking two hours, but a great PR for a true olympic distance race.  My previous best time is in the 2:03's.  Something my friend Jack Dudley says he does after a PR race is think about what you would have time to do while you wait for your former, slow self to finish the race.  Today I probably could've done an easy sudoku, or perhaps eaten a small sandwich.  Not quite the same as the movie I could've watched between my first and second half Ironmans, but I'll take it!

This is the sudoku I'm talking about, btw

A quick glance at the unofficial results told me that I had finished 6th overall in the amateur field.  Sweet!  My previous best finish at a race this caliber was 10th at Lifetime Fitness last year.  Also, and more importantly, I was just ~2.5 minutes away from 3rd place, which is the final place that meets elite qualification.  No official progress was made towards that goal today, since the winning pro was a 1:44 and I don't think any of the amateurs were within 8% of that, but definite progress was made.  It's so close I can smell it now.  Just makes me hungrier.

Well, after hanging out of awhile, deciding that I wasn't going to throw up or pass out, and getting my bike checked out of transition, it was time for awards.  I knew I wasn't going up on stage because they just gave awards through 5th, but the top 10 qualify for the hy-vee championships later in the year.  I already know that I'm not going to go this year since it doesn't fit in my schedule.  However, my mom wanted the visor that they gave you in the registration packet, so I went over to the tent to grab it.  Upon telling the guy my name, he looks at his sheet and says, "hmmm, don't see your name here"  Ok.... how about checking the 25-29 age group then?  "Nope, not listed in the top 10 here either"  Weird.  After walking away a bit confused, I decided to go check the referee's list of penalties.  Maybe I got a drafting penalty?  Which wouldn't make much sense as I don't stay in the 3 bike length draft zone more than 5 seconds to pass usually.  When I checked the list I actually saw my number... My first penalty!  Wow, big day for me.  But it wasn't a drafting penalty.... instead it was an illegal pass.

When I saw it I knew exactly when I did it.  There must've been a motorcycle right behind me.  Not like I am purposely passing people on the right... I'm not that dumb.  Here is what happened.  Towards the end of my second lap, I was passing a bunch of guys on their first lap.  This put me in the middle of the road with the people I'm passing on my right.  As I'm going down the street at ~25mph, I come up on this person, by himself, riding in the middle of the road. (I really hope the guy at least gave him a blocking penalty too or something)  So I'm about to go around him to the left but then someone started passing me on my left.  Well, since this guy is in the middle of the road we can't fit two bikes to his left.... since he's going about 18mph I whip around his right, rather than slamming on my brakes.  Did I technically break the rules? Yes.  Was it really my fault?  Probably not that much.  Would I do it again?  All it did today was add 2 min to my time (Officially 2:02:07) and drop me out of the top 10, which doesn't matter to me since I'm not doing Hy-Vee anyway.  However, the scary part is if I had been in the top 3, it would've dropped me out of it... so I think next time this odd situation comes up, I'll probably just have to suck up the couple seconds of lost time.

This is an example of why it's important to pass correctly.

However, sometimes you have to think on your feet and bend the rules a bit to be safe

This weekend was great, both the race and getting to be in the perfect warm weather of Miami in the spring.  I'm really excited for the season after this great opener.  My next race is April 10th; a half ironman in Texas.  Hopefully I'm not stuck inside till then!

PS. I'm going to bring a book with me to my next Ironman

Friday, March 18, 2011


It's not a UW Tri team road trip without some sort of unexpected car trouble.  Thankfully this year, for once, my car wasn't the problem.  After a 15hr trip that should've taken 11, I'm down in TN for the week.  I'm here with the UW Tri team on their spring break trip.  It's definitely nice to get outside on the bike before my first outdoor race of the year.  Up until this morning, every ride I've done since October has been on a trainer.  This is the 7th year in a row I've travelled with the team for break (4 as a student, 3 as an alum) and it has always been a great week of training for me.  I almost feel it's an essential week in my season, this point I'd actually be nervous for the season not being here... basically I'm living like a fully sponsored pro triathlete.  I can get 9-10 hours of sleep a night, train 3x/day (each workout ~1-3hrs), eat unlimited amounts of good (tasty and nutritious) food, nap if I need to, and still have time to hang out on the lake, recover, talk about bike aerodynamics, etc.  It's the perfect kick start to the outdoor season.

You're probably asking, what does this have anything to do with the title of this post?  This is an example of an opportunity I have because of my present and prior involvement in the UW Tri team.  The team has done a lot for me over the years.  It basically got me going with the sport, and due to the team structure and the individual members of the team in my early years I went from a recreational, averagely talented triathlete to where I am now.  Not that they forced me into being more competitive, but that is the beauty of it.  There was never a chance of burnout.  The encouragement, support and opportunity was there and I took full advantage.  The Tri team is a huge reason I am where I am today.  I know for a fact I would not have gotten to this point on my own, or even as a part of a lot of other groups.  There are very few like it.  No matter where I go from here, I'll always have a UW Tri sticker on my racing helmet.

If you look at any pro athlete, you'll find a large support system around them.  It's not possible to reach your athletic potential completely on your own.  A great intrinsic motivation is essential, and will get you far on it's own, but it can't get you all the way.  Age group triathletes can have a similar situation as the pro triathlete, it just takes some extra work, luck, and cash in some cases.  If you want to reach your true potential, you have to have or find the right people, and then allow them to help you. (an important step that many don't take due to pride, etc)  I call these people an athlete's "team".  I am very thankful to have the team around me that I do.  I certainly couldn't do what I'm doing at this level without them.  Before this race season gets underway I wanted to acknowledge those who have, and continue to, help me along my athletic journey.  I have noticed that many athletes only thank their support team after they have won, and fire/get rid of/walk away from them if they lose.  I don't want to do it that way.  These people and groups have helped me along the way, and whether or not I reach my ultimate goals in the sport, I'm thankful for their help and encouragement.

My triathlon support "team":

UW Triathlon Team- See Above

Family-  I have been very lucky to have the kind of support I have from my family.  I could write a whole paper on the importance of family in the success of an individual, but for now it's just good to know that I will never have to worry about being pressured hard to quit or get a certain time/place.  The best support a family can give is encouragement at all times while making sure there is a plan in place so that you are smart about things.  I believe that a good coach should fill those same roles, but in a different realm.  The grounding my family gave me has been the primary factor in influencing the way I approach sport, which has paved the way for any improvements or successes I've had since winning my heat (heat 4 of 50; earlier being the slowest) in the 50m free at All-City as an 11 year old swimmer.

Coaches- I've had lots of coaches over the years, beginning with my Cherokee Country Club swim team and going through high school swim, track, XC and beyond.  There's too many to list everyone here, but I am happy to have had so much variety in coaching over the years.  It has shown me that there is not necessarily one best way to do it, but that it is important to have a good, thought out plan and stick to it.  My current triathlon coach, Blake Becker, has been working with me for the past 3 seasons.  I am very pleased with  how things are going and the improvements in fitness, speed and race tactics since beginning with Blake. He's a pro triathlete and it's a great thing to have a coach who knows what it takes to get to where I want to go.  Our philosophies on training and racing are pretty similar, too, which is a good thing.

Endurance House- Working at a triathlon store definitely has it's perks to a triathlete.  As far as jobs go, I believe that there are few full time, 40+ hr/week jobs out there that would give me as much flexibility to race throughout the season like I am, while at the same time having hours that allow me to train at the level I do.  Not to mention I get to work on bikes and talk triathlon all the time.  Of course like any job it's not all fun and games, there is lots of responsibility and work involved, but I am glad to be working within the sport.  Besides the gear discount, another plus is that I have made lots of friends and important contacts in the sport since starting there.

Friends and Training Partners-  Almost every athlete trains with training partners.  Maybe not all the time, but as stated earlier, I don't believe anyone will reach their potential without someone pushing them day after day in training.  I've had lots over the years, mainly provided by the teams I have been a part of.  I don't want to list any of my training partners here for fear of forgetting someone.  I will give credit to one of my friends who got me started in this crazy sport.  Brent Vidulich was always a step ahead of me in high school swimming and track, but we trained a lot together.  During the summer after sophomore year in high school he convinced me to do this sprint triathlon in Madison with him.  I think I got passed by everyone in the race on the bike, but had a lot of fun and from there the seed was planted.

Bike Mechanic- Every triathlete needs a mechanic that they trust.  Tim Gattenby is our head mechanic at Endurance House and also is the faculty advisor to the UW Triathlon Team.  I've gotten better at bike mechanics over the past few years but whenever I need a fit or something done that is beyond my skill I can always count on Tim to do a good job.

Massage Therapist-  I can't believe that I was a swimmer and runner for 8 years before my first sports massage.  I was so tightened up due to training at my first appointment that the next day I unintentionally set a new 10k PR in a training run.  Since then I've been going fairly regularly, to great results.  I haven't had any injuries, and flexibility (which means range of motion, especially important for the swim and run) has improved.  I encourage all triathletes, or just athletes in general, to have fairly regular massages.  With all the money that goes into maintaining your bike and other gear, remember that your body is your most important piece of equipment as an athlete.  Keep that running smoothly and fluidly and you will see more improvement and success than you could get with any equipment upgrade, short of getting your first bike.  My personal massage therapist is Heather Rizzo at Return to Balance, LLC.  If you're in the Madison area she is one I would recommend looking into.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A good start

It's hard to sum up today's race in one word or phrase.  That tends to be the case in any race with so many variables, such as triathlons.  There were some high points, low points, unlucky breaks, as well as excitement and hilarity from my teammates.

I guess the best place to start would be this time last year.  The format of the race is an 800yd pool swim ~9am, a 20k computrainer bike ride ~noon, followed by a 5k track run ~4pm.  Last year I posted a 9:11 swim, 33:34 ride and a 17:38 run for an overall time of 1:00:25.  I had individual goals for each discipline, but the primary overall goals were to a.) beat my times from last year and b.) go under an hour overall.

I'd been having some really good workouts towards the end of this past week, and then woke up on Saturday sniffly and with some stuff in my lungs.  I took the day before the race to take it easy and try to lose whatever I was coming down with.  I think I did a pretty good job of it as I felt a lot better Sunday, but still not great.  That's the way it goes though, no one's going to postpone a race for you so might as well give it your best shot. 

The race:

For the swim, I took the first half of the race at my pace and was feeling pretty good.  I actually came through the 500yd point at ~5:33, and felt like I had a lot left.  Then suddenly my legs started to hurt... pretty badly.  I wasn't even kicking very hard so I'm not sure why it happened.  I limped in at a painfully slow 1:15 pace from there and finished the swim in 9:15.  My swim has been going really well this year, so I wasn't too happy about adding 4 seconds from 2010, but it also wasn't a disaster.  I should be able to sustain that effort on a better day.  I was determined to hit the ride hard and make up time, since I was 45 seconds behind the leader and in 6th overall.

The bike ride was much different than your normal outdoor ride.  The computrainers allowed heats of 8 people to be head to head, with all of your data displayed up front for all to see.  The ride began and I started strong, but held back enough where I thought I could sustain my power the entire way.  The ride was very hard, with some incredibly difficult "hills" (where the tension on the computrainer is increased) but I held it together and moved into first about 2/3 through the ride.  My chain actually fell off twice towards the beginning of the ride, each time taking 10 sec or so to reset and get back up to speed.  This would have panicked many athletes, causing a subsequent above threshold effort in an attempt to catch back up quickly, but I stayed calm and kept to my plan.  There was plenty of time left, and things like that are in the nature of the race.  You roll with the punches for best results.  I finished the bike ride in 32:00 (from 33:34 last year) with an average power higher than I have ever done for a race of that distance.  Success!  The bike has been my achilles heel since I started the sport but today it was my strength.  My winning bike split moved me from 6th to 3rd overall.

The women's heat on the computrainers.  Makes for a very spectator friendly bike course.

Over the past year or so I have made some real progress with my running, to the point where it has been consistently my strength.  Today, however it let me down.  I actually posted my slowest 5k in over a year, an 18:08.  Two weeks ago I ran a 17:01 and was looking to beat it... but today was not the day for that.  The first mile was good; I actually felt comfortable running a 5:21, but not long after really started to hurt.  My calves screamed and the energy just left me.  I held on just enough to keep 2nd place in the run, and moved into 2nd overall for the time trials.  Congrats to Alex Dean for putting together 3 great legs to win!

Finishing off a triathlon with a strong run has been the one puzzle piece that I have put the most mental and physical energy into for the past couple years.  My open run is great, but until last year my triathlon run seemed random.  Would I have a good run, or terrible?  I never would know until I was at mile 2 in the race.  I made lots of progress towards conquering this problem last year, with really only 1 sub-par triathlon run last season, as opposed to ~50% as it had been in the past.  I also used my run to consistently move up in the field in 2010, as opposed to just trying to hold on.  So at first look this performance was a setback and might send me back to the drawing board.  However I'm not really looking at it that way because there were some unique factors yesterday.  First I did wake up feeling sick, perhaps I just didn't have the energy to last through the day at top shape.  Secondly, I was wearing some track spikes that I have used to success in workouts of 800m intervals or shorter, but had never worn for a 5k.  They get you on your forefoot but place a lot more stress on the calves than even a racing flat or the vibram 5-fingers.  I've been working a lot on strengthening my feet/calves but I don't think they're quite ready for that yet.

Overall my time this year was 59:23, so just over a minute better than 2010.  My primary goal was achieved!  However in this sport there is always something to improve upon.  That run split cannot be repeated and the swim really wasn't what I need, either.  However at the same time I really outdid my expectations on the bike and am very pleased with how my weakest discipline is moving forward.  So "A good start" is probably the best way to sum up this weekend.  I'm happy with it for now, but it's only the beginning.  Nothing more.  It boosts my confidence and lights a fire at the same time.

Before I sign off today I also want to congratulate my teammates on the UW Triathlon team.  (even though we're technically not teammates we train together, therefore I consider us teammates)  This was really their day, not mine.  A great group qualified for Collegiate Nationals, and I can't wait to see how they improve and perform in April.  I'm feeling UW's best finish in some years.

If I had awards to give out for the trials, these would be some of them:

Chain Breaker: Dave Nguyen- Your quads have earned you this award... first time I've ever seen it happen and also a much better nickname than your last one.

Sleeper: Jordan Hibbard- Didn't see that bike split coming, but that really changed things up.

Best post race vomit I've seen in awhile: Will Weggel- made even better by the look on the Shell staff's faces when they saw it.

Top single discipline performance- Kristin Doster on the bike... you chicked over half the guys

Most improved overall: Michael Zorniak- 1:18 to 1:11 in one year?!?! You've been doing something right, that's for sure.

Top overall performance: Gotta give it to Alex Dean for having no weakness and made even more impressive considering he broke his neck less than two years ago.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Race Schedule and Goals

Well, we're a little over a month into 2011 now, and my first "triathlon" is already fast approaching.  I put triathlon in quotes there because the UW Time Trials is not a true triathlon, as it occurs in the Wisconsin winter and therefor is non-continuous.  This competition was started a few years ago when Collegiate Nationals grew large enough and popular enough that USAT put a limit on how many athletes one school could send to the race.  As I am a UW Alum I'm not eligible for Nationals, but I always enjoy some good competition, and I'm sure this event will provide a good early season challenge for me.  I consider this my first race of the year, although technically I have been doing some races.  The difference is that the races I have done up to this point in the off season are really just checkpoints... small events that serve to keep my motivation up through the long, cold winter where it's easy to decide to cut your trainer ride in your living room short, or not go out in the 10 degree weather for that half hour run.  So far the strategy of including small 5k's, swim meets and a time trial on the computrainer has paid off... I'm fitter and faster than I have ever been in February (and faster than I have ever been period in some events).  On a side note, there is a big difference between the terms fit and fast, and understanding that over the last few years has really helped me to become a better athlete.  More on that in future posts.

So now that the race season is close at hand, I will share what I know of my 2011 season.  The big races are set in stone, with some smaller, local races up in the air at this point.  Here is what is on the docket for this year so far:

Miami International Triathlon- Mid March
Texas 70.3- Mid April
St. Anthony's- Early May
Triple T- Late May
Lake Mills, Verona- June
Lifetime Fitness- Early July
Racine 70.3- Mid July
Age Group Nationals- August
Age Group Worlds- September

Every year I set up my racing schedule with specific goals in mind.  As with previous years, this schedule is not random, and yet it is nothing like any previous year's race calendar.  Every race I sign up for is with a reason.  Sometimes that is just to have fun, other times it is to keep motivation during a long stretch between important races, and other races are put on the schedule because they can qualify me for something if I do well enough. Those are not the only reasons I would do a race, but some examples.  There are definitely a few key differences between this year's schedule and previous years.

First, I am racing early and often.  My first actual triathlon usually isn't until April, but this year I am traveling to Miami in March already.  I normally have 2, maybe 3 races before June, and this year I have 4 (unless you count triple t as 4 in itself, in which case I have 7 pre-June)

Here is the bike course profile for one of the olympic distance races in the Triple-T:

And here is what my friend (and Kona Qualifier) Carl looked like after the race:

The second major difference is I am racing, on average, longer distances this year.  No, there are no Ironmans this year, but for the past 2-3 years I've been doing about 50/50 sprint and olympic distance races, with the primary focus on the Olympic distance (1.5k/40k/10k).  Last year, as a "test run", I did my first half Ironman in 3 years.  The 20 minute PR I posted showed me that I was ready to compete at the level I want to at that distance if I shift my focus to be a little more distance oriented.  This year's race schedule includes 2 70.3's as well as the Triple T.  My focus is still going to be primarily the Olympic distance, but I will probably only compete in 1 sprint tri this year.

The big goal for this year, and the major reason my race schedule looks the way it does, is to qualify for an Elite License.  It's something I've been inching closer and closer to since it struck me as a possibility a few years ago that I might have what it takes.  Everything I've been up to during this off season has been with the goal of setting myself up to be in a position where this is possible with a great day (or a few really good days).  I might post more in depth in the future re: all of the changes, tweaks, and new techniques/ideas I've implemented into my training and life this year, but for now suffice to say that I have made some changes to my diet, sleep schedule, technique, etc that when done consistently over months have, and will continue to, make a big difference in what I get out of the hard work that I have always put in.  Rather than putting my energy into focusing on the big goal of earning an Elite card (and turning pro in the process) I focus on the small, daily goals that will add up to the big one.  Put another way, instead of trying to determine the outcome of where I will be at the end of the season (which is focus easily lost because that is so far away), the focus is on the outcome of the next 1-2 hour workout.  How can I make the most of it?  What are my goals for each individual workout?  Those are more important questions than "Where will I be at the end of the year?"  Of course I have a plan laid out to get where I want to be, but the daily focus is on the short term.

So how does this schedule help me to make the jump to the next level?  It gives me multiple opportunities over the course of the season.  I don't think I'm at the level yet where a mediocre day will be good enough.  Heck, even a good day.  It'll take a peak performance.  There are so many variables in the sport that it would be foolish to put all my eggs in one basket.  The Elite qualifying races are the ones with a large pro prize purse and a large field.  There are only a handfull in each area of the country which means to give myself lots of chances I will be traveling quite a bit this year.  This is something I'm excited about, since I'll be racing in a lot of new venues, while keeping a few favorites from past years.  The big races also attract the best competition around, which tends to bring out my best.  Specifically, in order to qualify for the license I'll need to finish as one of the top 3 overall amateurs at one of these qualifying races, or finish within 8% of the winning professional's time at 3 of them.

So that's my season schedule and goals in a nutshell.  I'm looking forward to the experience and the challenge!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Up and Running (and swimming/biking)

Hello everyone,

This year I decided to create a blog as a way to publish my race reports, as well as any other triathlon related thoughts that pop into my head.  I'll be posting here periodically, hope you enjoy it.

I'll keep it short tonight and leave you with one of my all time favorite post race pictures.  This is what it means to give it your all: