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.