Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Two steps forward, one step backward

The time since Ironman has been very busy and uncertain but also exciting.  In the midst of preparing for the Miami 70.3 this past weekend, the last couple months have been a gradual process of making some fairly major choices and changes in my life in general, some of which are still ongoing.  The most relevant to triathlon is my job change which was just made official last week.  I'm going to start working for SBR Coaching, a local triathlon coaching company starting next week.  I'm really excited about this opportunity and feel honored for the offer.  On one hand I'm going to miss Endurance House.  I enjoyed my time there and I think they have a great thing going.  However all things considered I believe this move is going to be a good thing for me and create a better situation in many respects.  For one thing, I am excited to be able to take on additional coaching clients in the future and help pass on what I've learned from study and experience to help others reach their sport and fitness goals.

My new job!

It's been a busy time but I have been determined since Rev3 to stay on top of sleep, getting my workouts in and eating well.  My diet continues to improve, and I can feel when I slip up for a few days which helps to stay on track.  A few workouts had to get scrapped in favor of sleep (can't get anything out of your training if you're over tired) but all in all I am happy with my preparation for my most recent race.  The most important thing was that I arrived in Miami on Thursday well rested and ready to go.

Getting on the plane I wasn't sure if we would get all the way to Miami or if we'd have to land early because of Hurricane Sandy which was in the general area.  It turned out to be totally fine, although Friday was a little rough down there.  That was the worst day for the storm, and packet pickup was cancelled that day.  I didn't want to get blown over on my bike or sick outside so apart from a rather large trip to the grocery store, I stayed in my hotel all day doing things like relaxing, eating, relaxing, building my bike, relaxing, reading the bible in the hotel room, relaxing and sleeping.

Big storm, luckily we didn't get hit too badly

Saturday was a little more eventful and I got out for a short test ride on the bike.  Everything was in working order except for my Powertap which was not getting a reading on the joule.  The racing wheel hub most recently worked at Ironman, but I'm wondering if maybe it needed a new battery.  I discovered this pretty late at night so there was no time to fix that, but it's ok.  I've been training with power all year so I have a pretty good feel now for efforts.  Not ideal but something I can roll with.

Race morning came and just a little bit of wind remained from the storm but nothing more than what we regularly experience riding in the Madison area in the fall.  It was going to be a headwind on the way out, tailwind on the way back.  I felt fortunate that the storm had passed just in time.  With weather conditions seemingly worsening on a yearly basis and more triathlons being threatened with swim cancellations all the time, I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed and made the most out of this day.

The swim started and I was out in the top group of 4 in my age group wave.  I felt good sitting in the group and as we approached the first buoy, 200m in we ran into the back end of the previous wave that left 4 minutes earlier.  Our group split up to weave through and wasn't able to come back together so the rest of the way I was on my own.  Now I don't blame any other swimmers and certainly don't feel ill will towards them but I do wish that Ironman would put an elite amateur wave in their 70.3 events.  It would make the event both safer and more competitively enjoyable.  I did an ok job sighting but there was a current in the bay so at times I found myself a little off course.  There was also a time coming back into shore when I saw a gigantic barge being towed into shore, ~300m away from us going parallel with the swimmers.  It was at least 100m long and uncomfortably close to us.  I didn't realize there was a canal going into the city that it was aiming for so I stopped a couple times to make sure that it wasn't going to turn into us and kill us all.  My swim time of 28:15 didn't quite reflect my fitness, but I probably only lost about a minute or so, so not a deal breaker.

After an average swim I hopped on the bike and had the ride of my life, at least at this distance.  Starting in wave 14 there were literally over a thousand people ahead of me on the course.  Combine that with a pancake flat, fairly narrow course and it was a recipe for large packs to form on the bike.  This was a ride where you had to be on alert the whole time.  The way out of the city was pretty turny, and with so many people everywhere it was impossible to really push hard or corner fast.  At one point I had to slow to ~5mph to navigate a small lake that was forming in the road due to an open fire hydrant.  The water fully submerged my 65mm rims.  I just took the race as it came, made sure I didn't hit anyone and got through it the best I could.  Once we got onto the main road, a 20 mile straight shot to the turnaround, things got interesting.  I had picked up a couple cheaters who latched on just inches behind my back wheel.  Another guy had passed me and was sitting about 6-7 bike lengths up and was beginning to pick up tails as well.  I got frustrated and went to pass, but when I did he pulled up behind my group and before I knew it I looked back and I was pulling a train of about 20 riders.  About half were in my age group (we were split into two waves, I was in the second) but there were also plenty of 40+ guys and even a few girls.  Normally I don't see women blatantly cheating like that.  Every time I got ahead, the group would catch and pass me.  I had to basically coast for 30 seconds to allow people to go by until I was on the back end of the train, hanging 4-5 bike lengths back.  I was the only one allowing any space at all.  I could still feel a bit of a draft but I was within the rules.  As it got too easy on the back I'd pass the entire group only to be caught again once I was facing the full headwind and they were trading pulls like an organized paceline in front.  This went on for a very frustrating 10 miles.  I was clearly one of the strongest riders in the group but not strong enough to pull away from all 20 of them on my own.

It's cool if it's the ITU and you signed up for a draft legal race.  Not cool if it isn't.

At that point I decided I had to do something about it.  I didn't want to do anything that would compromise my race, but at the same time if we hit the turnaround with this group intact, there would be no way to split it with the tailwind and I was looking at coming off the bike with 10 other guys in my age group.  Since I was aiming for top 3 overall amateur, this was not an option I could allow.  I started by making my way to the front and accelerating the pace of the group.  Not fast enough to pull off the front, but I wanted to make everyone work a little bit harder so that the strongest riders would naturally end up in the front, or in other words I wanted the 4-5 strongest riders to be the 4-5 guys immediately behind me.  I pulled at this accelerated tempo for 5-10minutes to let things settle out behind me.  Once I thought the group was comfortable at this pace, I started to slow down ever so gradually.  My goal was to frustrate the strong riders right behind me and tempt them to try to drop me.  This worked, and gradually, one by one, someone would ride around me and get about 5-6 bike lengths up the road.  I let the leaders get further and further ahead, very gradually, until there were 4 guys about 10 bike lengths ahead of me working together.  I looked behind and everyone else seemed comfortable sitting in behind me, so it was time to make the move.  I turned on the small amount of fast twitch muscles that I have,  dropped the group and within seconds I was sitting ~4 bike lengths behind the faster riders with a big gap behind me.  The main group tried to bridge up but couldn't and fell apart in their efforts.  Two of the faster guys up by me couldn't maintain the pace for long and I hit the turnaround with one other guy (the original one who passed me at about mile 5).

As I turned around I could see the remains of the large pack, which was now about 3-4 smaller groups which made me happy.  The field had thinned out drastically by then so I could now put my head down and really just ride my race without worrying about everything else going on.  With the tailwind I was flying.  I was likely going about 30mph for 20 straight miles.  Things were going great until mile 50 when we crossed train tracks that were covered with a mat.  I hit a jarring bump and something wasn't right.  I had a moment of deja vu and realized that my saddle nose had dropped, just like the last time I was in Miami.  I rode the last 6 miles sliding off the front of my seat, which was over stretching everything in back and cramping up everything in front of the hips.  With 2 miles to go I went through the water section again, which was now much smaller, however I hit a concealed pothole or something that I couldn't see which dropped the seat more and also this is likely where I flatted my rear tire.  I didn't recognize the flat tire at the time because all I could notice was the seat position which was so messed up.  The last 2 miles were pretty slow and very painful but I came off the bike last April and had a good run, maybe I could do it again.

This is not a fun way to ride, even for short times

My bike split was 2:20, or 24mph average, which is a 56mile PR by a good 2 minutes.  I was aiming for a ~2:18 and think I would've been right there if not for the mechanicals in the last stretch.  I am psyched about my ride, especially considering the circumstances.  There were certainly times when I was riding a little faster than I would've been totally on my own, but there were also times I was going much slower than I would've on an open course so I think things evened out.  I also came off the bike as the 15th overall amateur which I'm happy about considering how many were drafting out on the bike course.  However it turned out that even though I was able to run well enough off a 40k earlier in the year with this seat problem, after the longer ride I just wasn't able to overcome it.  The first couple miles were ok.  They felt slow and tight, but apparently I was running mid 6's.  Then at around mile 4 everything in the hips started to cramp.  I suffered though it for awhile but was running 8s and the pain was getting worse and worse.  I knew that my goal run time of 1:25 and/or pro card was now unattainable but there was still a chance if I could get rid of this that I could at least PR.  When I turned around I seemed to come around and started running in the 6s again.  I was getting excited that I might be able to break 4:20 for the first time but it was not meant to be.  The cramps came back stronger than ever at about mile 7-8.  Once a PR was impossible, I decided to throw in the towel.  I could feel things pulling in weird ways so to avoid injuring myself for nothing I walked the next 15-20 minutes or so.  I jogged the last mile just because I didn't want to walk across the finish line.  Final time was 4:38, with a 1:45 run split.

It was a humbling experience but I'm not upset about it.  I know I did everything I could control and raced smart.  I made a big step forward on the bike, however now that the season is over I will need to address this saddle issue.  I haven't had any problems with it at all since April.  I tightened it down as hard as I could before the race, too.  However because my bike is slightly too long for me I've had to slide the seat very far forward on the rails which puts my weight in front of the pivot point.  It wouldn't be a problem if the seat was further back and my weight was directly over the seatpost.  I either need a different attachment system or a different bike.  But right now I'm most excited about the off season and taking some time to relax, if only for a short time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Re-ignited

As every triathlete around the area is already well aware, yesterday was Ironman Wisconsin.  This is an unusual post, as this race report isn't one for me, as I was watching the race from the sidelines.  No, this is about 3 other athletes and their journey towards this day.  I am honored to have coached these 3 athletes over the past 3months-3years and even though I personally much prefer racing the Olympic distance over the long stuff, yesterday's full day of spectating and coaching brought just as much of a thrill for me as any down to the wire sprint finish or perfectly executed race I've been in myself.

The three athletes I helped to prepare for this race are Summer Ohlendorf, Zach Lammers and Jami Klagos, listed here in the order I began working with them.  In this post I want to summarize and highlight each of their races, as well as give some insight into what each of them had to go through to get to this point and what different strategies were used for each one of them and why.

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I've worked with Summer for the past 3 years.  This Ironman was her 2nd, as she did one 2 years ago in 2010.  That year was her second year as a triathlete, which meant second year as a cyclist/runner also as she had been a swimmer for a long time before that.  That year she finished in 11:58.  To many that would sound like a great time, but she felt that she underachieved, so she basically has had a chip on her shoulder for the past 2 years.  I agreed that she had the ability to go faster, but that's no guarantee it would happen and this race isn't purely about fitness, it is just as much about race execution.

We figured that with two years of almost year round training, dropping somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 min would be pretty doable just with the increased fitness she would have.  But that wasn't good enough, she was determined to cut a full hour off her time.  As a grad student studying for a phD, she just doesn't have the time to train like a pro athlete and drastically increase fitness in relatively short periods.  The fitness would be sure to build gradually but in order to accomplish her goal it was going to take more than that.  When she toed the line yesterday she was not only a fitter athlete, but a smarter, wiser athlete with a better plan.  

That plan was executed to a T on race day.  I don't understand how it happened, but her swim was the exact same as in 2010, a 1:00:55.  We were expecting a 58-59 but some chop and wind on the back stretch and going a bit off course derailed that.  However, this time she was instructed not to look at her time coming out of the water, since the difference between a good and bad swim didn't really matter for her. It was only going to be a 3-4 min swing at the most.  The only thing the swim could do was affect her mentally for the rest of the day, and it was key to put the swim behind her no matter what.  Because the key to the bike ride was pacing and putting out very even power on the hilly course.  This is something that is hard enough to do, but is made even harder if you are worried that you have time to make up after a slow swim.  Training and racing with power and understanding how that effects not only your ride but also your run has been a huge part of Summer's preparation.  Lots of practice keeping the wattage consistent over varying terrain helped her to nail it on race day.  I won't say what her wattage was :) but I will say that her average power was the same for the last 56 miles as it was for the first 56.  When she told me in a surprised way, "I still feel good" at mile 90 of the bike, I knew it was going to be a good day.  2 years ago she could barely acknowledge my presence at that point.

Summer killing it on the bike

The thing about triathlon in general, but especially Ironman is that while having a good plan is important, what really makes the difference is being able to adapt, and to make the right decisions at key points in the day.  Something will inevitably go differently from what you planned, no matter how meticulous you are ahead of time.  How you react is what will determine the outcome of your day.  One of the biggest problems with Summer's Ironman 2010 race was nutritional, which caused her to walk a fair amount of the marathon.  One example of reacting to the situation was that during the run this year, her primary fuel source was Coke for much of the run (easy to digest sugars when blood to the stomach is lowest) and salt tablets for electrolytes.  She was using more salt than expected and ran out with a ~10k to go, so made the decision to make the switch over to sports drink towards the end.  Blindly sticking to the Coke plan would likely have resulted in the last 3-4 miles run at a considerably slower pace.  In the end she hit all her goals.  Although her swim was the same, she had faster transitions, her bike went from 6:10 to 5:49, she felt much better starting the run and dropped her run from 4:37 to a 3:53.  Her final time was one hour and 6 minutes faster for a 10:52.  I'm pretty sure that chip is gone. 

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Zach was the youngest competitor in the race.  So they don't get sued out of their minds, WTC requires everyone who does the Ironman to be at least 18 so they can sign for themselves.  I've worked with Zach (literally, I mean we are employed at the same store, Endurance House) for a few years, and I started working with him as a coach last season.  Since he's been in high school, I'd work with him over the summer, then if he was in cross country or swim season we'd take a triathlon break.  With Zach's training, a theme that seemed to come up again and again was injury management.  Coming off of a cross country season there was a stress fracture, early in this season we had a long running race to train for and after the race there was another stress injury.  As we built the run volume up again he was hit with a knee injury this time.  After the initial stress fracture in cross country we looked at the shoes he was wearing and his running mechanics.  This was around the time he started at Endurance House too, which was nice to have the equipment to look into this.  There were some things to clean up with the mechanics, and he did a great job of making those changes.  His form was better and he was running better without pain, but when you want to run an ultra marathon and you get a late start due to an earlier injury, you have to ramp mileage up faster than would be ideal to get through the race.  We played it as conservatively as we could and he got to the finish line but was back to resting it afterwards.  Not a full stress fracture, but another setback on the run.

Luckily he was very proactive and thinks outside the box.  We brainstormed different ways to approach  figuring out what was going on.  After seeing massage therapists and chiropractors the consensus was that there were some significant muscle imbalances going on.  Work was done to balance it out, and although it didn't become pain free until the end of this July to start running again, it has been better ever since.  Because of all of this the longest run in Zach's Ironman build was only 13 miles.  This is not usual but the primary goal was to get to the starting line injury free and rested.

The nice thing about triathlon is when you have an injury in one sport, you're not reduced to sitting on the couch thinking about how screwed your season is.  There are two other sports to train and while his run was resting we were hammering the swim and bike.  Particularly the bike.  Zach had a good amount of time to train once school got out for the summer and is very motivated.  He'll consistently get up at 5am to get his long workouts in if he has to be at work later.  We made huge fitness gains on the bike, and it showed as his races improved significantly throughout the season.  The gains on the bike translated well to the run.  I wasn't actually too worried about his running ability because that is his primary background.

Race day came and he was calm, ready and had a good plan.  I always try to steer first time Ironman participants away from getting caught up in race times.  Until you've done it, you really have no idea how your body will react and what you are capable of.  I had ideas of course, based on training, but if you're wrong and overestimate your ability you will pay dearly in this race.  Best to play it conservatively.  Zach's strong and steady approach paid off and he blew away all expectations.  I was thinking in my head 10:30 on a good day, 10:50 on an average day, and who knows on a bad day if his knee gave out (although I didn't tell him this).  He told everyone he would be happy with an 11hr time at the banquet when they called him on stage as the youngest competitor.  He ended up going a 10:13.  Even the announcer said something about it at the finish line.  His lack of run volume showed in the second half of the run when his form started falling apart, but his mental toughness and overall high fitness level kept him going.  Most importantly of all, he is feeling no pain after the race, which based on past experience likely means the injury problem is solved.  An Ironman marathon would have surely set it off earlier in the year.

Zach at the finish line

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Jami contacted me at the end of May.  I had never met her before, and she was referred by my friend Jess who works for Jami's dad.  I think Jami's dad was looking for a coach so she would stop asking him what to do, haha.  I met up with Jami to talk about potentially coaching her at the beginning of June.  I knew she was signed up for the Ironman, and it would be her first one and that's about all I knew.  One of my first questions was what kind of experience did she have in the sport.  The answer was a little surprising... "I'm doing my first one this Sunday".  Under most circumstances if someone came to me 3 months before an Ironman and had never even done a triathlon of any distance before I don't think I could take them on.  It's just not enough time to put together a good training plan for a race of this distance and I don't like to do things half-assed if at all possible.  I know that every situation is different though, so I was interested to hear what her background was.  While not a competitive runner, she had trained for and run a marathon last year and had been on a swim team when she was younger but it had been years.  Normally I don't consider running a marathon to be a prerequisite for doing the Ironman but in this case it was a huge plus.  Her swimming experience at least meant that we could start right away with building fitness rather than swimming lessons.  She was an athlete in non endurance sports, so she came in with some good strength.  She had been putting in pretty consistent training, although without a clear direction and no where near enough volume.  But what really swayed me was her clear excitement about the whole thing and willingness to work hard. Well, maybe this could work...

The summer was a crash course in triathlon, both in terms of training and education.  She got her sprint out of the way right away which gave us benchmarks.  An olympic distance race the following week gave a good opportunity to put the lessons learned from race #1 to the test.  Gaining as much race experience as possible was key, so she raced a half Ironman in July and another olympic in August.  Total training volume couldn't get too high at any point in the season as she didn't have the base for it and there was nothing we could do about that.  Instead we focused on weekly key long workouts on the weekend that progressed throughout the summer with very focused, intensity-based training during the week to help improve strength and O2 capacity.  These workouts were for fitness but also for learning what it would feel like during the Ironman.  There were a few rough ones but overall things progressed very well.

Jami with her dad on one of the hills

As such a rookie triathlete we were not focused on race times.  Jami's only goal as far as that was concerned was to not have to worry about making the 17hr cutoff.  At first I was concerned she would have to worry about it, but after her half Ironman in July I knew things were going in a good direction and that wouldn't be a concern unless something very bad happened on race day.  She ended up finishing in 13:09, no where near the cutoff and actually fast enough to finish 5th of 17 in the 18-24 age group.  

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I totally didn't expect all 3 of them to finish in the top 5 of their age groups and get called up at the awards, although I think it's pretty awesome that it played out that way.  This is a testament to each of their individual work ethics and attention to detail.  These are two of the most important qualities I like to see in athletes and it always makes a coach look better when they get to work with those types of athletes.

I started coaching awhile ago and have always enjoyed it.  At first it was easy, I had no other commitments and could put my full attention to it.  I love working with driven athletes, those wanting to work towards a goal and willing to put in the work to do it.  However, motivation and enthusiasm can fade when you start dealing with time strains, other commitments, politics of sport, athletes who don't want to be there and other stresses.  I've continued coaching in smaller capacities over the past year or two so that I could give those I do work with the attention they deserve.  My love of coaching has slowly started to return, and after spending the day darting around the course following my athletes at Ironman, I feel like I have sparked a renewed passion for it.  I got a message after the race that said "That was the best day of my life".  I won't say which one sent it but it's that kind of thing that really makes it all worth it.  What this all means for the future, I'm not sure yet but I know that I want to make coaching a larger part of my life again. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rev3

I've heard good things about Rev3 over the past year as they've been growing more and more.  When I heard they were adding a race in the Dells, I jumped at it as there aren't that many bigger races close to home.  Talking to some friends earlier in the year who have done Rev3 races they told me to prepare for a tougher course.  As a Rev3 official mentioned, they don't go out of there way to make the courses hard, but they don't purposely avoid hills either.

Racing close to home allowed me to ride the course a couple times this summer.  That was an advantage, especially with a course like this.  I got to work on the technical sections and prepare for the hills.  When race day came and it was only in the mid-60s, I got to experience a much easier course than the one I remember training on when it was in the mid-90's.

The race started in a time trial format, which is good and bad.  Good because it reduces swim congestion, although generally if there is an elite amateur wave that solves that problem for me.  Bad because when you're on the course you don't necessarily know if you're ahead or behind the people around you.  I started near the back so I could be confident that anyone around me was actually behind me as the day went on.

My swim was just not that good.  It wasn't the worst swim I've ever had; I did swim my lines well but I just didn't have energy in the water.  The barely wetsuit legal temp probably didn't help but I didn't feel quite like myself in the water.  Probably had to do with my recent swim training, or lack thereof, so I'm not surprised.  Luckily this race turned out not to attract many swimmers outside the pro field, so I exited in a good spot.

On the bike I started to feel better.  I was having trouble pairing my powertap computer to the hub in the morning so I wasn't getting a reading on watts, so the bike was all based on feel this weekend.  After all my training and racing with the powertap this year, I actually think I did a good job with pacing and holding back where I need to.  This was verified with my good run off the bike.  The roads were uncharacteristically smooth for this area of Wisconsin, and I felt strong the whole way.  It wasn't easy, and I feel like I wasn't putting out quite the same power that I did at High Cliff earlier in the year, but I rode steady and started the run in a good spot after a killer T2.

Early in the run I was caught by a group of 3 and stuck with them for almost the first 5k.  At that point I wasn't able to keep the pace anymore.  I had to let them go, but hung onto the hope that they would fade.  They didn't, but I ended up having a very good run nonetheless.  Not an easy run; I was suffering the entire way but I was able keep the turnover high which led to a 1:26 on a very hilly course.  The uncharacteristically slow swim times overall were made up for with the disproportionately large number of very fast runners at the race.  I finished as the 9th overall amateur, with 5-10 coming in the span of just a few minutes.  As of writing this on Thursday following the race, I'm finally walking normally without extreme soreness in my legs.  The relentless hills definitely beat me up.

Overall I am very happy with the way I raced, given my preparation.  What I need to do better is my preparation.  I feel, and showed, that my training going into High Cliff/Pleasant Prairie was much better than it has been for the past month.  Things slacked off for a variety of reasons, but I just need to do a better job of staying on the horse no matter what else is going on around me.  Rev3 was the last race I was signed up for this year, so the last few days I've been looking around at races and deciding how I want my season to wrap up.  I've decided to head down to Miami at the end of October for the 70.3 race.  That gives me a little over 2 months to refocus and sharpen back up. I still have my huge base fitness from earlier in the year so this should be doable.  I'm getting to know that area very well by now, and the course should suit me very well.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Unpleasant Prairie

Have you ever had one of those races that goes by without flaw for the first 95%, only to go completely to hell?  That's the kind of day it was at Pleasant Prairie this morning.

Had some great things happen this morning:
-First time leading the race out of the water
-First time with a 25.0+ mph average on the bike in a triathlon
-Personal best "10k" run off the bike

But I'm getting ahead of myself here

My coach Blake and I decided to try something different this year and block races back to back, so a week after the High Cliff Half I was back out there racing an olympic distance.  Back in January he told me if I was really fit by this time I could pull off two great races but the key would be recovering between.  This proved to be spot on.  Truthfully I felt terrible after high cliff.  I hardly did anything until Wednesday of this week training wise, just active recovery for 30min at a time.  That was the plan though, so I wasn't too worried, I just felt so fatigued when I was out there.  I started coming around Thursday but my first jog of the week didn't go well, so I didn't run again until race day.  I was tired constantly and took naps W/R/F when I didn't work and that helped.  I was also constantly hungry all week (more than usual).  I just tried to listen to my body and give it what it was telling me I needed.  This weekend I finally felt pretty good.

This swim course was unique in that there was a turn buoy just 10meters into the race.  Yes, that's right 10 meters into the race meaning you have all the 29 and unders running in from the beach  and they are all aiming for a small space.  Getting out to and around this buoy was going to be critical.  I decided to go for it, started front and center, and at the gun sprinted as hard as I possibly could into the water, dove forward, used my pool swimming background to get a good breakout and took a good 4 strokes without a breath and I was at the buoy at my first sight.  I was first there and as I used my corkscrew turn to get around it quickly I saw that just at my feet were 5 guys already running into each other, some going vertical behind them.  I easily opened up a gap of a couple body lengths coming off that buoy in the glass smooth water, took a few easy strokes to recover from my sprint, then settled into my pace.  I sighted really well and held my lines today, except for some small issues sighting into the sun on the way back in but it wasn't too costly at all.

One guy managed to pull up to my feet in the second half of the swim and coming out of the water he passed me as I took off my wetsuit.  Without a wetsuit on my legs, I quickly overtook him again by the time we got to our bikes and he still had to take his wetsuit off.  I got onto the bike first and started going.  T1 was flawless.

On the bike I had my watt numbers I wanted to stay near for the first lap, and did it very well. I also hit my turns well and held speed through them.  I've been working more on that since triple t exposed that weakness.  Just after the turn around for lap 2 I was passed by Chris Meewes but he didn't get too far ahead of me.  I kept him in sight until the final mile and came off the bike about 1:20 down, but well clear of the rest of the field.  The most important part was that I felt good coming off the bike.  The course was short due to construction on the original course causing a change, but my time of 52min for 21.7mi gave me a 25mph average which would normally put me just under an hour on a true 40k, something I haven't done before.

T2 was great and I was off running.  I felt good, and after about 800m we got onto the long highway stretch and I could see Chris off in the distance.  After about a mile I decided that it looked like I was getting closer.  Once we hit the turn around he saw me and it seemed like he started going faster, or maybe it was just my imagination.  I was making slow progress towards him at this point and it was hard to tell if I was making progress at all, but one thing I know is that no matter how fast I'm running I do it at 90 footstrikes per minute rate (single leg) +/- 2.  So when he passed a cone I'd count how many times my right foot hit the ground until I got to that cone.  First time was 45.  Then 42, 38, etc.. so I was gaining and eventually I had closed the gap to 5 sec.  This was at about mile 3.5.  So I had put almost 1:20 into him in that time.  I don't race with a watch but he was and afterwards told me he was running ~5:55's which means I was going about 5:35's or slightly faster up to that point.  Yes it was hard but didn't feel like I was drilling myself to just run 5k.

Once I pulled up behind him I eased up a little to sit on him while I recovered a little.  I wanted to make the pass decisive so he wouldn't be too tempted to go with me.  We ran at this just sub 6 pace for about a mile then I felt good enough to go so I ramped it back up and made the pass at 4.5mi.  I knew I didn't have it won yet, but I had just moved back into first, was running fast and felt like I could hold it to the end.  Then I started to feel a twinge in my side and within two minutes it felt like both sides were splitting open.  I tried to lose the cramps, but my pace was slowing to somewhere around a 7min/mi and  in the last mile Chris ran by and ended up taking the win 25 seconds before I crossed the finish line.

Some might say I took it out too hard, and maybe I did.  Or maybe it was residual from High Cliff or maybe a little of both.  Regardless I'm glad I went for it.  I'd rather challenge for the win than take a comfortable 2nd.  At the finish line we were 4min clear of 3rd and another 4min ahead of 4th.  While tough to see the race slip away at the end like that, all in all I had a great race and I can hardly say that 2nd with a $250 payday (I've never been paid for racing yet) is terrible.  Frankly I was pretty pleased with the day and happy to have raced well two weekends in a row, basically my best ever half followed up by my best ever oly.

So why did I say it went to hell?  Because when I looked at the posted results it showed that I ran a 32 min 10k.  I felt fast, but not that fast.  Knowing the bike was short, I asked the race directors how long the run actually was.  "10k exactly, we measured it twice".  Not wanting to call them liars, but in my mind thinking they're wrong, we started going over the course.  That's when I realized that I had totally missed a .6mi out and back section between miles 4 and 5.  I cut the course.

To be fair to the race directors, they had a sign there and had volunteers signed up at that turn who were supposed to be there to direct.  To be fair to me and Chris, the volunteers were late so there was no one there when we went through (second week in a row leading a race has had it's issues with late volunteers) and it was an odd intersection as we were supposed to make a hard u-turn around to the bike path while the sprint athletes took a shallow left.  There were sprinters there and I was likely looking over my right shoulder to see where Chris was so I totally missed the sign and followed the sprinters in.  I could've not said anything and they may have missed it, but I couldn't accept an award knowing I had cut the course so I reported my missed turn, hoping they'd be lenient and add time but I was disqualified from the race, along with Chris and 3rd place who had a run time of 26:45 listed (no idea what happened there but that would've won the Track and Field olympic trials this past week).  I understand that it is by the book the thing to do, it's just unfortunate that even with 5 extra minutes which is more than what it would've taken to run that section we still would've had 1-2.  Oh well.  It is the athlete's responsibility to know the course, and I did on paper, but I had a one track mind at that point.  I don't care too much for not being listed in the results or getting the medal (I know how I did) but the mistake cost me $250, it cost Chris $500.  This would've been my first overall podium at a race offering prize money which is the more frustrating part.  At least I'm not in this for the money though, so it's just more fuel for the fire now.  My run pace ended up being 5:50/mi for 5.6miles, which translates out to a 36:30, which would've been my best off the bike 10k.  If I can not cramp like that in the future I should be well into the mid 35's which would be spectacular.

Next up for me is a focused training phase before my next race in August.  I'll try to get some non race report posts up in that time.  Thanks for reading

*Edit- 8/16 title changed, credit goes to Kayla Moses for the idea

Thursday, June 21, 2012

High Cliff Half

Last Saturday I travelled not too far north to the High Cliff Half Ironman triathlon.  If you don't count the Triple T, which I don't, this was my first half since last September down in Branson.  While I did well there, finishing 5th amateur, over the last couple years I've mostly been "dabbling" in halfs while maintaining focus on my olympic distance racing which has been my bread and butter for the last 6 years.  It was harder for me to train for halfs in the past, as my longest rides were pretty much the races themselves.  I put up some good finishes, but my strength was still clearly in the short course.  In 2012, with my new schedule that allows increased training volume and recoverability, I felt ready to tackle the distance with more confidence and show that I can be just as competitive in the long course as the short.  This year I'm doing about an equal number of short and long course races.

The swim is held on Lake Winnebago, which is the largest lake in Wisconsin.  It's also a pretty shallow lake apparently which means it can be easy for the wind to kick up waves.  We got a pretty windy day, so despite looking relatively calm from shore, once we got out there the swim was not easy.  I didn't know what to expect for a time as some years the course is as fast as 17min for the top finisher and other years closer to 30.  I felt like I was out there for awhile, and despite a recent good streak of sighting well and holding my lines, I was all over the place out on the course.  I missed the front pack as I wasn't ready for the sprint that occurred out of the gate, and that group slowly but steadily pulled away from me over the course of the swim.  A few times I had to stop and make sure I was still going the right way since I was being pushed off course by the chop.  I also had some uncomfortable wetsuit issues that needed to be addressed mid-swim, but that's all I'll say about that...

Coming out of the water I took a short break from my race mentality as there was a person getting put onto a stretcher on the beach.  I would've stopped to help but there were plenty of medical personnel attending so I just wanted to stay out of their way.  Once I was around, I started running up to transition.  My swim time of 29:57 was 3-4 min slower than I was expecting but it turned out to be a slow day for everyone.  That's why I don't wear a watch when I race, because no two courses are the same.

After a very quick T1 I was out riding in about 6th overall position.  Early in the ride I passed two of the fast swimmers and then was in no man's land for awhile.  The course was flat, fast but the day was windy so that made it more challenging.  I felt great on my new CycleOps race wheels that were making their debut.  I saw two guys in the distance and after a 5-10mile chase finally caught them.  This was the part of the ride when all the action happened, because as I was about to make the pass, I was overtaken by someone (Dana Reiderer) and then a couple minutes later again (Mike Lavery).  Then it was no man's land again for the second half of the ride.  I was happy to have my powertap on so I didn't get complacent riding alone.  My goal was to ride a steady effort that was challenging but low enough that I wouldn't get off the bike feeling shot.  I missed water at the second aid station because I didn't slow down enough, but decided to press on as I still had enough to make it to the third and final aid station.  Unfortunately, when I got the third station no one was staffing it and the water was underneath the table in boxes.  Frustrated, I kept going, now totally out of fluids with 12 miles to go on the bike.  The temp was picking up and it was probably in the mid 80s.  I made the decision to dial back my power by 20 watts for the last 12 miles so as not to completely dehydrate myself.  It probably cost me a minute or two on the bike but it was the right decision, as I pulled into transition in  a state that could still be salvaged without losing major time on the run.  My bike split was 2:22, which is my fastest half bike, despite backing off and the extra .7miles.  But no bike split matters if you can't run afterwards...

I came into T2 and was out soon after.  I ended up having the fastest combined transition time of the day.  I was told I was about 3 minutes behind third place off the bike. Going out on to the run I felt good, but the spring in my step didn't last long as we hit the large hill going up to the trails that we'd be running on for most of the day.  At the top I remarked to the volunteers that it was much easier to ride up a couple hours ago.  After a couple more minutes my legs got back under me and I started clipping along at what felt like a pretty good pace.  There were lots of twists and turns, and some sections of poor footing, but I enjoyed the trail run.  Not as fast as a road, but different and it's nice to mix it up.  The sections in the prairie were uncomfortably hot but I was wearing a hat that I would dump water on and stick ice inside so it kept me on the right side of the ledge.  Getting into the shade again you could feel your pace quickening without meaning to.  I passed Mike Lavery around mile 4 or so and he tried to go with but was having some cramping issues so I moved into third.

The second lap of the run was more crowded as there were many athletes getting started with lap 1.  My first lap was pretty quick, and the further I got into lap 2 the more I started to feel the fatigue.  I think I could've pushed on at my pace if pressed hard, but it was becoming more obvious all the time that no one was going to challenge my current position.  I was also too far behind second place to make a realistic shot at it, so since I was racing again in a week I decided to limit any muscle damage and ease up on the gas (periodically checking back just to make sure).  The last couple miles were not pain free though, as I had some decent blisters forming on my feet.  I was happy no one was around on the descent into the finish line so I could spare my knees a beating similar to the one they got at Door County two years ago in the dive bomb to the finish to hold off my co-worker.

Descending down to the finish

My run split ended up at 1:31 which was one of the better times on the day.  Maybe it was the trails but only 2 guys ran under 1:30.  One was my friend Paul Eicher, who used an incredible ride and strong finishing sprint to hold off a hard charge by Dana Reiderer for the overall win.  I came in third overall, which is my best finish in an elite amateur field.  I'm very happy with my time of 4:25 on a course which slowed things down for people in a lot of ways.  There is hardly such a thing as a perfect race but I feel I raced smart and it paid off with a good finish.  There are things to improve on and I'll have to perform better in future races with more on the line, but this was a good step in the right direction.

The downside of the day came after the race when I heard the news that the participant who was pulled from the water had passed away.  At the time I was hearing drowning, but it has since been discovered that it was a heart attack.  I don't know any more details than that and don't want to presume anything, but I want to send my condolences to the family and friends of Doug Witmer.  It's a terrible thing when something like this happens in this or any sport that is meant to be a fun, positive experience for the participants.  Speaking as both an athlete and race director, please be safe out there everyone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Triple T

This past weekend I travelled down to the Portsmouth, Ohio area for the Triple T triathlon tour, or so I call it.  This is a unique event that I have done once in the past.  Here are the specifics and rules:

Race #1- Super sprint Triathlon.  250m swim/4mi bike/1mi run.  Start time 5pm Friday evening.  Individual Time Trial.

Race #2- Olympic Distance Triathlon. 1500m/40k/6.55mi. Start time 7:30am Saturday.  Individual Time Trial

Race #3- Olympic Distance Triathlon. Start time 3pm Saturday.  Format Bike/Swim/Run.  Those on a 2-person team may draft off of each other on the bike.  Slowest teammate's time is recorded.

Race #4- Half Ironman Triathlon.  1.2mi/56mi/13.1mi.  Start time 7am Sunday.  Those on a 2-person team may draft off of each other on the bike.  Slowest teammate's time is recorded.

For teams, results are figured out by adding the times of each person on the first 2 individual races plus each person on the team is given the slower time and then those are added to the total.

So this is not the type of event I normally do, or one that I have trained specifically for.  For the last 4-5 years my training has been geared primarily towards the Olympic distance and to some extent the Half distance this past year.  However just the years of consistent training have helped to increase my aerobic and muscular endurance so I was confident I was going to put most of my 2008 times to shame this weekend.

This weekend in my mind was a training camp.  And for the price (only $200 for all 4 races, and they feed you well after each) it's a very cheap but effective training camp.  I wasn't rested for it and didn't bring my race wheels.  I wanted to use the powertap to help pace the race and also to gather data and useful info for the future.

The last time I came down I had just graduated from college and my training was not the best that final semester.  After a strong 2007 season, I came into that weekend a year later relatively unfit.  Thank god I partnered with my friend Carl who pulled me through the last day, as I pretty much broke after #3 that time.  The first time I heard of this event, I figured everyone there was either crazy fit or just crazy.  That's not too far from the truth.  It's a very challenging event, and not just because of the distances.  The terrain is VERY hilly and technical, it's usually over 80F by noon, and the water is usually very cold (53 degrees in '08, coldest I've ever raced in).  This event tests not only your fitness, but also your strength, skill, smarts, and mental toughness.  Depending on how you race it, you can make this much harder on your body than an Ironman.

This year I was on a coed team with Summer.  Because of our relative strengths and weaknesses, our race strategy was different than when I did it with Carl.  At the time between Carl and I, I was a little stronger swimmer, Carl was a little stronger on the bike, and we were pretty close on the run.  So we intended to do the whole weekend at a steady paced effort and help each other out on the swim/bike by drafting.  With Summer and I, I'm stronger in all 3, but she can stick with me on the swim and bike with a draft for the most part as long as I don't hammer the climbs.  The run is our biggest difference.  We knew her run speed was our limiting factor for the weekend as a team, so we constructed our strategy around getting her to the half marathon on Sunday with the freshest legs possible while I tried to drop some time on the early races.

Everyone had to wear the same top.  It was kind of like everyone was on the same team.

Race #1- We lucked out on the swim this year.  The water was in the low 70s.  Since it was only a ~4min swim, most people decided not to wear their wetsuits.  I did wear mine and it was a great decision.  The tri tops we had to wear created a lot drag and while I started 23rd (5 second intervals every 2 ppl) I was in the top 10 out of the water.  Once I got my feet into my shoes on the bike I started hammering.  It was only going to be a 10-12 minute bike ride so I was thinking I'd be ~350 watts.  I turned on my powertap but didn't look at it for ~30 seconds.  I biked by feel, it didn't feel horrible, then I looked down and saw that I was averaging well over 400 watts.  Knowing full well I've never even been able to ride for even 3 minutes over 400, I dialed it back down to 350.  This got hard fast and by the end my normalized power average was under 330.  I had been intending to use my powertap to pace longer distance races this year, but wasn't sure about whether to use it for olympic distance races.  This was a very strong cue that it would probably be helpful in keeping me from going overboard during 40k races as well.

The bike course was basically flat for a couple min, then a huge climb, then flat for a couple min, then a fast decent back down to transition.  I had been passed by a couple people early, but also passed one more on the way up, but then lost about 8 -10 places towards the end of the bike leg as I wasn't comfortable bombing down this hill without brakes.  So in an 11 minute bike ride I learned 2 very important things that will help me in the future.  Working on my descending skills will be very helpful and using a powertap will not only help me in long course racing.

I started running feeling like I hadn't biked.  Having coasted the final minute of the ride I felt almost as good as I would in an open road race.  I ran hard and passed a handful of guys, giving me 14th overall for the sprint.

2008-26:32
2012- 22:49

Race #2- Swim felt great again.  I held my lines perfectly and didn't add any distance, which is a big deal for me.  Everyone was wearing a wetsuit now, but I continued the trend I started Friday and moved up lot.  I think I got passed by one guy.  Getting out of the water I had a quick transition and got going on the bike.

This bike course was the most technical of the 4, and included the steepest hill about 10 miles into the ride.  Since this was the last individual time trial before the team races, I was planning on going hard, but holding back just enough so that I could push again in the afternoon.  On the flats and most climbs I was riding around 260 watts which isn't too far off of my projected 40k power.  It was a tough ride but not horrible.  Definitely could've pushed a little harder but I'm glad I didn't.  It was nice to have the powertap again because with the climbs and false flats it was easy to spike up over 300 without intending too, so I could catch myself and dial back.  Normalized power ended up at 249 since there were about 4-5 miles of coasting downhill.

Again a big weakness was exposed in my descending skills on these roads.  I didn't realize it was a big problem because I usually race flatter courses and don't notice if I lose time on my competition, but if I can improve my cornering by 3-5s per turn that would make a big difference even in my typical races.  I got passed by many going downhill, but in particular I remember the pro Christine Anderson who I originally passed a few minutes into the ride on a hill.  I remember because 1. she was the only female on the first bike rack, and 2. she had a pink aero helmet I could see from a long ways off.  After passing and putting her out of my mind, she shot by me so fast on the next descent a few minutes later that I almost lost sight of her, but could see the pink helmet off in the distance.  I chased that pink helmet for a good 5-10minutes, slowly reeling her back in.  Then we hit the steep grade where you have to totally disregard the powertap, I made the pass, and we had flats for awhile.  After some switchbacks and couple more fast descents I was back at transition and again she passed me on the dismount line, over half an hour after the big climb.

The run felt a little bit more like a brick than day 1, but once I got into it after the first mile I felt good.  I'm not a very good uphill runner and the course was very hilly, so the climbs hurt a lot but unlike on the bike I can fly on the downhills.  I don't like to do it except in races because it puts a lot of pounding on your knees but at least it was off road.  That helped with the stress but you had to watch every step so you didn't turn an ankle on the rocks that were everywhere.  I ran hard but was careful to hold back some for race 3/4.  No finish chute sprint this time.

2008- 2:31:22
2012- 2:20:03

Race 3- It was getting hot.  It was 92 when we started the race, which opened with the bike.  This time Summer and I got to draft off of each other.  The plan was that I would pull about 80% of the time to save her legs for the run.  This worked really well and we had a great ride.  It wasn't as technical as the morning race so we didn't lose a lot of time there.  The only mishap was when Summer's joule computer popped off her bike and we had to stop, go back and get it.  That probably cost us a minute or two but we still had a very solid bike split.

I like this one.

Putting the wetsuit on was part of T1, which is something you don't normally try to rush.  I got into the water and just felt terrible.  I swam strong the first 2 races, but this time every pull hurt.  After the first half of the swim I was spending so much effort pulling that I couldn't even really kick.  The plan had been to swim just ahead of Summer so she could catch my draft, but even though she later told me her swim felt really bad too, she was dropping me.  This was unexpected but there was nothing I could do.  I came out of the water ~30s back but luckily she had a good sense of where I was and knew how to adapt to the situation properly.  She left transition without waiting for me, which was absolutely the right thing to do for the team.

In transition I put on my fuelbelt stocked with water, gels and a lot of salt.  Then I took off to catch Summer.  It took me about a mile to catch back up, and from there it was an interval run.  My job on the bike was to pull us along and deliver Summer to the run with fresh legs, then act as a mobile aid station during the run.  So I'd run with her between aid stations, then as we got there she would go through, grab what she could but keep moving.  I'd stop, refill what we needed and then push the pace until I caught back up.  It was very hot, but since we always had whatever we needed at all times, we kept a steady pace and didn't fade in the heat.  At this point we were starting to see some hanging heads, blank faces and fast guys walking, but the real carnage never happens until Sunday.

2008- 2:30:53
2012- 2:37:55

Race 4-  This race weekend is all about how well you can take care of yourself and recover between races.  Having suffered the consequences of screwing this up last time, I took it seriously.  As soon as one race was over, it was food, water, ice bath in the stream, compression socks on, cooldown ride back to the cool cabin, then rest and foam roller and more food.  You can't eat too much during this event.  I had no problem doing this after races 1 and 2, but because 3 was so hot, even though I felt good during the run my stomach started going south that night.  I had to force feed myself even though everything looked gross to me.  I went to bed early without getting my stuff ready for the next day, then in the spirit of the event I got up just an hour before race 4 started and very quickly organized and packed my stuff.

Our strategy for the half was basically the same as it was for race 3, except the swim was first again and I was pretty much going to pull the entire bike ride.  After race 3, I wasn't sure if my swim was bad because I put the wetsuit on too quickly, because I biked first in the aero position, or just because it was the 3rd race and I was getting tired.  Well the swim on race 4 felt way better than 3 so I'm sure it was just something to do with riding first.  We swam well; Summer got my draft for most of the course, and then we rode well together.  I was going through food on the bike much faster than usual.  Everything I put in was just getting immediately burned up.  I was almost out by the end of lap 1, but luckily they had cookies and pretzels at the aid station (the only aid on the bike).  That sustained me, along with some extra that Summer had with her and didn't need.

When we got towards the end of the ride Summer yelled up that her legs felt better than they did at the beginning of the ride!  I certainly couldn't say the same thing... I pushed hard to do it but this was the best possible spot we could be in entering the 13.1mile run.  The run was the same strategy as the day before.  It was hot again by the time we were off the bike and my "intervals" didn't have the same snap as they did Saturday.  My legs were definitely feeling it, but I just made sure to stay focused on my nutrition.  Even though I'm a faster runner, I am perfectly capable of blowing up and becoming our limiter on the run.  It was either that or spraining an ankle on the trail that I had to make sure I didn't do.  I actually took a couple mis-steps late in the run but nothing came of them. Summer ran steady, strong and stayed just under the point where she'd blow up.  She suffered well out there and we crossed the line as the 4th overall co-ed team with a big PR on this course for both of us.

2008- 6:07:16
2012- 5:32:35

The weekend was a great training camp.  The biggest positive was my swimming, although there were lots of positives.  I also go away from it with some things to address and work on in the future.  I'm not nearly as sore as I expected to be a few days later, either.  I'm excited to carry this momentum into my upcoming races in June.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Fear

"I've never met a champion who was afraid to lose"

This is a quote from Gary Hall Jr, and if you don't know who that is just do a quick google search or talk to a swimmer.  It's very true, you just can't reach your potential if you're afraid to put yourself out there.  From personal experience, I have seen many athletes much more talented than me fall victim to the fear of losing.  Take swimming for example.  Most swimmers get into the sport before they are 10 years old.  There are many who are successful at a young age, when everyone has the same amount of training under them (zero), but then at some point winning becomes harder.  For some it's high school, others college or as a professional.  Talent can take you to a point, but it is a poor indicator of long term success.  Those who are afraid to fail tend to quit or lose their passion for the sport when the going gets tough.  If they do stay in it, it's likely they won't ever achieve all that they're capable of.

I think one reason I've stuck with the sport and have reached the level I have is because I'm not afraid to lose. (Please don't confuse that with not wanting to win)  I used to lose all the time, so I know that I'm not going to explode, the world isn't going to end, etc.  I became a swimmer at age 11, well after many of my friends and on top of that I had no natural talent whatsoever in the water.  It was 5 or 6 years before I legitimately won a race, and generally I got beat pretty handily.  In fact, I used to sign up for the butterfly at dual meets, even though I was terrible at it, because there were usually fewer than 3 people in the race so even if I got last (almost guaranteed) I'd still get a ribbon as long as it was legal (questionable at times).  This was impossible in freestyle, where everyone raced.

Don't let your sport define you as a person.

I'm a triathlete; I compete in triathlons and I take them seriously.  When I'm on the starting line I want to do the best I can, I want to do better than what I've done in the past, and I want to win if possible.  If I win, it means I won the race, nothing more.  It doesn't make me a better person outside of sport just because I was fast.  I'm not somehow more important than those I beat.  If I lose, all it means is that.  I don't think of myself any less than I did before, and no one else better, either.  When people define themselves by their success in their sport, that is when you get all sorts of other complexes I see all too often in athletes.  Arrogance, under-confidence, dislike for those who push themselves to try to be competitive (never understood that one) or even various levels of depression sometimes.

On a mostly related note, I was once asked by a friend before a race, "So are you here to have fun, or are you going to try to win?"  Unfortunately this is an all too common thought process, as if somehow you have to choose one or the other.  My answer, "Both" was immediate and automatic because it is how I always approach events.  Pushing myself, working hard, improving and competing is enjoyable to me.  It wouldn't be though if I was constantly afraid of what might happen.  If that were the case, competition would oftentimes be a very unpleasant and uncomfortable experience.

I've come a long way as an athlete, which has actually helped me come a long way as a person, although it's not because of what I've accomplished, but what I went through to accomplish it.  As I progress and get faster, it's becomes easier to fall into fear of losing, because of expectation.  However it's still just racing, the same as it always has been.  When you remember how you got somewhere, by being fearless, then you know how to move forward.  Don't let your accomplishments or burden of expectation hold you back by worrying about what other people think.

While I have never succumbed to the fear of losing in racing, I realized late last year that I did have some deep seated fears involving triathlon that were holding me back.  I didn't even fully realize it until I really thought about it and tried to identify it, but once I did it became obvious.

As I've made public for some time now, my current short term goal in triathlon is to earn an elite license and race as a pro.  These were my two primary fears-

1.  How long is it going to take?  I've been at this for awhile now.
2. Once I turn pro, will I be able to compete and/or continue to improve?

Since the sport has improved along with me, it's taking me longer to accomplish this goal than I originally expected.  I've given up a lot to chase this, and I was starting to try to rush things.  By reminding myself to focus on what I can control, try to improve a little each day, and to realize that it will happen when it happens was huge in freeing myself from this self imposed anxiety.

The second fear was probably the more important of the two.  I know that I can eventually make it into the elite field, but when I do I'm going to go from the top 5% of amateur athletes to the bottom 5% of pro athletes.  It'll be a humbling experience and I don't know what potential I may have to move higher than that.  Because of this I realized that I was hanging onto the side of the pool as I jumped into the deep end, so to speak.  I wasn't going for it 100% because I was worried about failing as a pro.  Then it hit me that this is just a different form of the fear of losing that I considered myself immune to.

I remembered that if I had told any coach, teammate or teammate's parent back in high school that I would some day wear a USA uniform for any sort of athletic event they would never have believed me. (with one exception)  The only reason I have is because I went for it despite evidence that I would probably not make it.  So last year I decided to make some changes, put myself in the situation that I need to succeed, and go for it with no tether holding on to the side of the pool.  And to finally put this fear to bed, I reminded myself of why I got into the sport, and why I want to race at the next level.  Because I enjoy the competition and have fun with the sport.  I don't know what my ultimate potential is, but that doesn't scare me anymore.  If I never progress beyond the bottom 5% of the pro field, who cares as long as I'm competing and enjoying myself.  But you better believe that I'm going to give it everything I have to see how far I can get.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Welcome to Miami, where the heat is on

I'm in South Carolina now, mostly relaxing after an eventful weekend in Miami.  I went down for the Nautica South Beach Triathlon held Sunday.  After getting a bit sick early in the week (bad timing...) I was feeling good except for a lingering cough.  Now I've done many triathlons but this one was unique in many ways.  For example, have you ever been on your warmup run at 5:30am race morning while music is still blaring from some clubs and there are more intoxicated people walking around than triathletes?  Driving into South Beach at 4:30am it was like rush hour traffic with all the people leaving after a long Saturday night of partying.

South Beach was a great venue for the race.  The ocean, while choppy with large swells the day before, was almost completely calm on race morning.  I actually was hoping for more chop, since it doesn't bother me one bit swimming in 4 foot swells while many of my competitors can't say the same.  We swam a point to point course, which ended up being either long or against a current, as my time of 25min is well off of my usual 19-20.  I know it wasn't a bad swim though, because even Cam Dye and Javier Gomez were over 20min, and I came out of the water 7th Elite Amateur, which is a few spots higher than I usually am at a race of this caliber.  However, I was nowhere near 7th out of the water in my wave because for the first time I've ever seen or heard of, they started us in the same wave as the pros.  While good for me as I got to do some drafting with the slower pros, I would've been a bit upset if I were racing for the $40k prize purse and had to cut through the amateur athletes.

T1 was slow... I was quick at the rack but it was a long run on the sand which tired me out, so I used the run to my bike as recovery time.  I performed a flawless mount (or so I thought at first) and was off riding.  Energized to hear from Summer and my mom, who came to watch the race that I was in 7th, I was excited to try to pull some spots back on the bike which I've worked so hard on this off season.

At first I felt good, we were only on the island for a minute or two before getting on the long bridge to Miami.  This is where the hills were, and where I caught my first two riders.  I passed them without much effort.  I was really making a conscious effort to hold back the first 5-10min of the ride since that's when I tend to overdo it.  The effort felt reasonable and I made the passes fast and put them behind me.  As I crested the first hill I got back in aero and that's when I felt like something was off.  My shoulders were really tense.. did I really swim that hard?  I'm in an aggressive position, but I can usually just relax my upper body.  It took me a few minutes to realize that my shoulders were tensing up because they were trying to stop my hips from sliding forward on my saddle, which was tilted much too far down.  My best guess is that it slipped down on the mount.  Wish that would've happened in one of the many practice mounts I did in the preceding days so I could've known the bolt had loosened.

I gave the nose a tug upwards but it didn't do anything noticeable.  After the second hill I was off the bridge and riding the flats of Miami to the second bridge back to the island.  Here I started struggling more.  I think the nose was continuing to drop over time because it was feeling worse.  Not only were my shoulders trying to keep my body up but I had to use my pedal strokes to push back on the seat.  I just wasn't getting much leverage anymore and a couple other guys caught and passed me in this stretch. They disappeared up the road and I started pushing harder.  Coming off the second bridge both hip flexors suddenly cramped (never has happened before) and I had to coast for awhile to work them out.  This was about 20k in, and it was apparent that there was no way I could continue riding hard like this.  So I got my butt off the seat and pulled up on it as hard as I could.  I was ready to stop and fix it if possible if this didn't work.  Luckily it did (mostly) and I was able to ride normally the second half.  Unfortunately my legs felt a lot worse than they should've by this point and a couple more guys came by, although I kept them in sight for much longer.

Even though I knew I was slipping down the ranks, I kept telling myself to keep pushing because you never know what might happen up the road.  I came into T2 and got some encouraging news... even though I had fallen to 11th I was still only ~3min out of 3rd.  So I ran as hard as I thought I might be able to sustain out of T2.  I was immediately passed by a guy who was seemingly sprinting full out off the bike.  The funny thing was that he was in running shorts, no shirt and I would've thought he was a relay participant if not for the fact that they didn't start till the end and he had an "E" on his calf, signifying that he started in my wave.  Figuring there's no way I could run that pace and wondering who the heck this guy is, I just forgot about him.  At least until we were 200m into the run and he started coming back.  I caught him by 400m and then the strangest thing that's ever happened to me during a race occurred.  He starts talking to me... "Ok, let's work together.  We'll trade leads, 30 seconds on, 30 off"  I'm breathing too hard to talk but even if I could I wouldn't know what to say.  So he takes off again, though not as fast this time.  He puts about 20m on me and then starts coming back. "We're going to catch a lot of guys at this pace, you're up".  I just keep running my pace and I think he realizes I'm not going to play his game so he "pulls" again.  Another 20m and 30 seconds and I'm back on his shoulder.  Another pull, he gets 10m up on me and suddenly stops, bends over clutching his knees and I run past him.  That's the last I see of him, but I make a mental note to do some more research on interval racing and drafting during the run.. perhaps it would be in my benefit to keep my aero helmet on next time...

Just when I think the distractions are over, the course changes to wet boardwalk where I can feel a little slip under each step.  Also, while the bike course had lanes closed for us, the run course did not.  On the boardwalk it was an obstacle course with all the people out for a Sunday morning jog/walk/stand/skateboard/bike/piss you off.  At mile ~1.5 I saw 3 people running at me on the other side... a woman pushing a stroller, an older guy with headphones in, and Javier Gomez running about a 5minute mile cutting through them.  The one thing I said all race was "Go Javier!" as he ran by, while realizing that the World Champion has put almost 20 minutes on me as we started together.  Wow.  It was odd seeing a world class race going through basically a busy, public area.  I'm sure there will be complaints about this.

Despite the distractions, I was running well and making up ground.  The turnaround was slippery, and I saw one guy eat it and heard of more.  Coming back I started to fade a little bit in the last mile, but overall I ran very steady.  I ran into a girl who tried to cross the path without looking.  She had her ipod in so didn't hear me yell to move.  I think she stayed upright but there was only a half mile left so I didn't look back.  I finished in 8th, and held about he same distance from the top guys as I had at the end of the bike.  My 10k was in the 38's which isn't good for me but considering 4miles were spent slipping around and dodging people on the boardwalk I'll take it.  I had a friend running ~15-20 seconds per mile slower on the boardwalks according to her garmin.

Overall I'm happy with my performance.  I felt like my fitness was there and I felt strong on the swim and run, although my legs were definitely more fatigued than they should've been on the run.  I raced well and didn't make any mistakes.  I just hate the feeling of knowing it could've been better if not for factors out of my control.  Now lots of mechanical problems are failures to prepare, or lack of knowledge about the bike, but Summer and my mom can both confirm that I had checked, double checked and tested everything multiple times so my bike was in perfect working order when the race started.  Getting my bike out of transition, I noticed that the front brake was rubbing the wheel.  I have no idea when this happened... it was either in T1 if someone knocked it accidentally while trying to head out on the bike or it was back in T2 or after the race.  I may have been riding the brake slightly the whole time, but I'll never know.  The aero drink was in the way and I couldn't hear anything.  While happy with a top 10 finish early in the season, being just over 3 minutes off 3rd is frustrating, because I have no idea how much time the mechanicals cost me.  Maybe it was only a minute.  But maybe not, could've been more.  I hate to say what I would've/could've done so I'll just save it for the next race.  There's always another...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I really need to stop calling this a race

That was probably my most frequently spoken sentence of the weekend.  I mean, technically the Kortelopet is a race, and plenty of people are racing it just as seriously as I race triathlon... but is it really a race if you're not even sure how to ski properly?  After racing competitively for so long, it was nice to do this event just for fun.  S's and G's, as we said.  It's a strange feeling to just go out at the start of the race at a relaxed pace, but a good feeling.  I had no pressure, no competitive aspirations and could just enjoy myself the whole time.  I just kept calling it a race out of habit...

As the "race" got closer I was asked by a lot of people what I thought I might be able to do for a time.  Fair question, except I've never been timed on skis, never tried to go fast, and really had no clue.  I'm quite fit from my other training, but if you've ever seen a runner try to swim for the first time, you know that being generally fit really doesn't necessarily matter at all.  I didn't know how hard I could push myself in a sport I haven't been taught how to do by anyone other than myself or trained for (ok, I got out twice this year, once for 20 whole minutes)  Actually, there were lot of things that I wasn't quite sure about, which became more obvious as the weekend progressed.  The most important being:

1. How long the race actually was
2. Where Hayward actually was
3. How to wax my skis
4. How to XC ski uphill
5. How to XC ski downhill

Trying to wax my skis 15 minutes before I started.
Cheapest wax kit I could find and I have no idea if I did it right.

As for the length of the race, in my mind I thought of it kinda like a half marathon.  Although now I realize that the times only equate in fast runners vs fast skiers... the drop-off in skiing is way higher than in any half marathon due to the technique component.  Thinking of it as a half marathon on skis was fine up until I got the the 20k point in the race... so how far do I still have to go?  At that point it makes a big difference if you have 1k, 3k or 5k left.  Turns out it was 23k, and when the trail though the woods spit us out into the open finish area, it caught me off guard with way too much energy left.  

Did you know that Hayward, WI is a 6hr drive from Madison?  I do now.  I knew we were going north and I wasn't in charge of directions, so keeping in line with the theme of the weekend (unprepared) I didn't look at a map.  Turns out we were going deep into the northwoods where some of my friends in school would go for deer hunting, trips to their cabin etc but that somehow I had managed to avoid this whole time.  It was a neat experience... our group of 7 triathletes that went up together stayed at Michael Lee's cabin. This definitely enhanced the overall fun factor of the weekend vs staying in some hotel.  We also drove by the Namekagon River, which is cool because it's the only other time I've seen that name except for when I look at the street sign on the road I grew up on.

Our "family photo" at Michael's cabin, including Camping Bear

I mentioned that I skied twice this year.  That brings my lifetime total up to 5 times going back to last February.  This was helpful, and definitely better than putting on my skis for the first time ever this weekend (more on that later), but the places I ski at in Madison are very flat.  The Birkie trail is not.  At all.  I could've probably walked up some of the hills faster than I did with skis on, and all I can say about the downhills is thankfully I did a lot of downhill skiing for fun in middle school.  However not having metal edges and different bindings that lift up in the heel on the XC skis makes it different enough that my overall stability on descents is not really good.  My number one goal for the weekend, above finishing, was don't get injured.  I accomplished this goal and actually didn't crash once.

Our first adventure of the day was pushing my car out of the snow in the driveway as we were leaving the cabin

One cool and unique thing about this race is that as I fatigued, I got faster.  I have so little experience doing XC skiing that I was actually learning and improving my technique as the race went on.  I started pretty sketchy, but got used to the skis more and just stayed completely non-competitive for the first 5k or so.  Around that time I was getting comfortable enough that I felt like pushing the pace a little bit, and basically built my effort as the race went on.  My legs, feet, shoulders and hands were getting sore (I didn't realize how much the poles can fatigue you on the climbs) and I should've been slowing down but my form was improving so I was actually gliding more with each push.  In the second half as I got more comfortable my competitive nature took over and I even tried to race a few people who were going about my speed.  I didn't really care about the outcome of these races though, and when we'd come to a bottleneck on the climbs in the narrow trails I just relaxed and waited patiently until a spot opened up to go through.  I slowed down to chat with a couple friends as I went by the on the course, something I never do in triathlon. I started in the last wave so there were literally thousands of people ahead of me.  I was having a lot of fun and in the finish field I actually sprinted into the finish and got someone on the line who I'd been chasing on and off for about 1k.

It turns out my time was 1:49 and that put me 13/41 in the M25-29 for the Kortelopet Skate.  Actually quite a bit better than expected.   I had a lot of fun and I think I will likely do it again next year.  I'd like to beat my time, and I think I can take quite a few minutes off in the future.  Now that I have a seed time, just starting in an earlier wave will shave a couple due to less congestion.

Someone else who will probably beat his time if he ever does this again is Cody Williams.  But that's a big if.  Cody signed up for the full Birkie. That's a very hilly 31 miles.  Cody had also never skied before.  Ever.  This was a highly entertaining theme of the weekend for the rest of us, and I think for Cody also, at least until the race started.  I imagine this must be comparable to doing an Ironman having never ridden a bike.  Pictures sum it up best:

Pre-race, Cody is on the far left

Finished, probably wondering what just happened

Back at the cabin with a pot of puppy chow

Well, crazy as that was you've got my respect for life for getting through it.  For me, it's time to recover from the weekend and zero in my focus for my first triathlon of the season in just a little over a month.  I'll think more about dropping my Kortelopet time in about 9 months.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Events

For the past month, training has been going very well.  Volume is up 60% in swimming, 50% in biking and 40% in running from this time last year.  One might see those numbers and scream, STOP, cliff incoming! But I am very aware of the possibility of overtraining and the importance of recovery so that doesn't happen.  In fact, I feel better maintaining this greater training load now than I did a year ago.  I haven't sacrificed training intensity for higher volume either.  Of course there are day to day fluctuations, but the downs aren't as low, and the best workouts this year are better than my best of last winter.

What I have been doing to handle the higher training loads-
-Nutrition is much better, not perfect but it is improving.
-I'm getting ~9hrs of sleep a night.  This is up ~2.5 from last year
-I have the time after workouts to make sure I get in calories immediately, and post workout stretching and using my foam roller are now the norm, not the exception.  It's nice not running immediately from one thing to the next all the time.
-Overall stress levels are just lower.

This has only been my new schedule for about a month and a half, so I am excited that I can feel some differences already, however I am much more excited for what is to come with consistency in training over a period of months.  I am absolutely more fit than I have ever been, I have no question about that and have shown it multiple times already with my ability to put in strong efforts back to back with little recovery (Not a one shot athlete this year!).  Fitness is different than speed, though.  Speed is slower to improve but it is coming along nicely.

Here's a quick recap of this winter's events so far:

Winter cycling time trial series-  I use this as a weekly threshold workout, but each week I've been doing a 35-45 minute time trial on the computrainers on varying courses.  The cool part about it is there are 8 centers; 4 in the US and 4 in Canada; that group all the weekly data together and spit out an overall spreadsheet, complete with GC (General Classification) series standings, sprint points (no hope for me there) and KoM points (more competitive here).  There's been about 100 riders for each stage, and it has been nice to see my place steadily move through the ranks from ~30 in early January to ~10th the last couple weeks.  My w/kg has climbed from ~3.4 to 3.9 over this time.

Indoor Triathlon- Pinnacle hosts these each month through the winter and they consist of a 10min pool swim, a 20min spin bike ride, and a 10min treadmill run.  Not the most realistic triathlon, especially because you can't shift on the bikes (think 130+ rpm) but they're laid back, fun events.  In the past I've done the full series but so far I've done just one this year, in early Feb.  I was running late from out of town for this one and unfortunately was also really hungry and the only food access I had before the event was Arbys 30min before the start... it was that or nothing.  Spoiler alert: might've been better off w/nothing.  I managed to keep my unbeaten streak alive at the indoor tris, but came close to losing my dinner on the treadmill.

24-hr Indoor Cycling Relay-  This was a self inflicted torture fest.  The event was set up as a fundraiser for charity, and 11 teams put together groups to come out and ride for 24hrs.  Someone from each team had to be riding at all times.  I did 3 1hr time trials... Midnight, 3am and 11am the next morning.  Since I couldn't fall asleep after the 3am trial, the 11am was absolutely miserable.  I was cold, hungry and nauseous all at the same time.  But this is where my fitness showed and I was able to actually ride pretty well, whereas last year I would've completely fallen apart.  After lunch, a 5hr nap, dinner and another 10hrs of sleep, I woke up and went BACK to SBR for the winter time trial series ride that week.  Incredibly I put down my best ride of the weekend, however once it was over I was a wreck for a few days.

UW Triathlon Team Time Trials-  Today's annual trials occurred one week after the 24 hr relay, and as of Wed I wasn't too optimistic I'd be fully recovered.  I felt like a couple times I was on the verge of getting sick but I kept it at bay.  My legs started to come around on Thurs during the recovery week and felt pretty good going into today's event actually.  The swim was ok, not quite my best at the 800yd distance but was within the realm of normal day to day fluctuations.  The important thing was that I was easily within reach of the leaders after the swim.

Even though I'm not a student, and therefore not eligible for Nationals (this is their selection race), as a workout leader for the team I can race and like to, for the fun and competition, which is always high.  Specifically, I knew that Alex Dean would be racing, and he always pushes me when I get the chance to go head to head.  I will say that my entire race strategy was built around beating him specifically (nothing personal Dean, I just figured I have to beat you in order to win overall).  Here are the facts: Alex and I have raced 5 or 6 times head to head.  I've beaten him only once (our first race, and he had a mechanical with 400m left on the bike), and every single time he has out-run and out-swam me. So... of course my strategy was to try keep the distance manageable on the swim, take the bike, and then depending on what cushion I had, run as hard as I had to in order to hang on for the overall.  At least that was best case scenario.

With only a 5 second deficit after the swim, it was looking good.  On the bike I went out too hard, but I knew it.  I expected to slow down, I just didn't expect to slow down so badly.  Alex pushed me too hard for too long, and I cracked.  It was ugly, and all I could do was put my head down and try to limit the time lost.  After a 10min (mandatory) transition, it was onto the run where I had to form a new strategy, my only chance left.  Go hard from the gun and hope you have the legs. My strong fitness showed again and it actually worked, and I out-ran Alex for the first time in my life.  I couldn't get enough time back from what I lost on the bike to win, but I really surprised myself with a strong, sub 18min run on a hard course to finish less than a minute overall out of first.

I'm not upset about my strategy... given the same pre-race knowledge I'd do it again but hindsight is always 20/20.  Turns out I should've sat in on the bike and gone for it on the run.  Oh well.  My singular focus on one athlete and self destruction on the bike opened the door for someone else, a newer triathlete Alex Kraft, to slip by for 2nd with a really strong overall performance.  The UW Tri team looked very strong this weekend and I am excited to support them on their way to Nationals this spring!

Next week is my first XC Ski race ever, the Kortelopet... basically a half marathon on skis.  That should be interesting...