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!