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...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

2012 Race Schedule

I've almost finalized my race schedule for this coming year.  I may add or change a couple races as the season goes on, however these are the bodies of water you'll likely be seeing me in this year.

These are in order:

So there you have it.  Oh and did I mention that the first person to guess 100% correctly will receive a $20 Endurance House gift card?  You can facebook message me so your guesses don't appear here for anyone else to use.

See you at the races!