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.

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


"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.