Sunday, May 26, 2013

Back in Business

Well, it's been awhile since my last post... there's been a lot going on, both in and out of triathlon since last October when my bike seat dropped on me and ruined a perfectly good race.  Uh oh, that sounds like I'm making excuses, which I hate... but it's relevant because...

I got a new bike!

This was one of the many changes I made in the past half a year.  It has been great so far... the Guru dynamic fitting process was fantastic, the bike itself is fast and comfortable, and no mechanical issues after 5 races!  And not that it matters, but I have to say it looks pretty slick too.

My favorite part of the bike.  Thanks Guru for the sweet custom paint job! I'll post more pics in a few weeks

Besides getting a new bike, there's been a lot going on and many changes during the off season.  As a few of you know I took quite a long off season this past year.  For three months (Dec-Feb) I did next to nothing as far as workouts go.  I probably biked for 30 minutes once a week, but other than that I did nothing.  And I got pretty out of shape.   Some of you won't believe me, but seriously.  I felt pretty lousy.  My FTP on the bike dropped by 25% and when I jumped in the pool with the Wisconsin Tri team in early March for my first swim in months I had to stop after 350 yards (we were doing a 500, and not fast either) to let the whole lane lap me.  And if they hadn't been lapping me I still would've stopped because my heart rate was out of control.  I know it's relative but I haven't felt so out of shape in over 6 years.  I always take an off season but this was extreme.

However, I honestly wasn't worried about it.  It was a good thing for me because it gave me time to focus on other things.  The biggest changes that have affected my season in a positive way this year came out of that time and it might surprise some that the most important positive changes weren't to my training plan or equipment or anything else sport specific for that matter.  I'm entering this season with a slightly different perspective and motivation to train and race.  There was actually a period of time this past winter, and very few people knew this until now, that I was debating with myself if I was going to keep doing triathlon (as a competitive athlete... I will always enjoy swim/bike/run for fun).  I wanted to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons.  And the right reasons for me might not be the same as the right reasons for someone else.  Another big difference is that I have made some more significant dietary changes and am eating much better overall.

Quinoa and chicken parmesan that I cooked between races at the Triple T. Quinoa is my newfound favorite carb base (it's the only grain that has complete proteins as well as far as I know)

I started training in early March but for three weeks I couldn't handle more than one light-moderate workout per day.  My first actual hard week where I felt like I was actually starting to get back in shape was the spring break trip with the Wisconsin Triathlon Team in South Carolina.  I'm not sure if it's sad or awesome, but this was the 9th consecutive spring break trip I've taken with my former team.  Although actually it's my team again this year as I was named their Head Coach for the season, which has been a lot of fun and very successful.  That week was great for me to get back into things since I had nothing but training, sleeping and eating to do.  And it was good timing because I only had 4 weeks to train once I got back before my first race of the year, Rev3 Knoxville.
Don't ask why, but this was the highlight of the trip for a couple of the guys... speaking of nutrition.

This is what we actually did all week.  Prepping to enter the 55 degree lake in our backyard that I swam in every day that week.  Actually proved to be helpful for the most recent aquathon (see bottom of post)

I arrived at my first race not sure what to expect.  I had found a new energy in the preceding month.  I had been working the swim and bike very hard and seeing big gains but given the short training block to prepare I had kept the run on the back burner and was only running about 10mi/week max.  I have the most talent of the three sports in running (ok it's the only sport I have any natural talent in) so I figured my limited time was best spent on the other two.  When I left for Knoxville it was raining hard.  When I got there it was still raining hard.  It didn't stop until I got back to Madison.  The Knoxville bike course had small rivers running across it and had some pretty technical descents.  Having only had 2 days outdoors on my tri bike, I played it very conservatively on the downhills and braked a lot.  This killed any chance I had of placing near the top, as I probably lost at least 5 minutes slowing myself down but I'm glad I didn't take the risk.  The season was just starting and I wasn't comfortable yet, not to mention the fact that I was shaking uncontrollably in the cold rain on the bike whenever I stopped pedaling.  However apart from that it was a very promising race as far as the rest of the season is concerned.  My swim was strong, my power was high on the bike and my 37min 10k run split was surprisingly fast for the little time I put into it.

I made some improvements to my swim technique since last season, which is why my swims have all been strong so far this year.  In November, just before I took my 3 months off, I travelled down to Islamorada, FL in the keys to the Race Club to be a swimmer for a week.  My coach was Gary Hall Sr:  Olympic gold medalist, elite swim coach and a pretty laid back guy, too.  But when it came time to swim, it was all business and I learned a lot.  In general and about what I was doing specifically.  One thing that he was really great at was complimenting you while at the same time motivating you to do better... or reminding you that you have a lot to work on.  Kind of like backhanded compliments except with no negative intent.  For example, he has all his swimmers do a pretty intense stretching series every day, and while we were doing this one shoulder stretch he said to me "You have extremely flexible shoulders... I usually see that in 10 year olds, not 27 year olds. You could've been a pretty good swimmer... still could be I guess" or another time it was "That was a good 3 strokes... if we can get you to do that all the time you're going to look like a race club swimmer instead of a wisconsin triathlete"  Anyway I swam ~35,000 yds that week and felt really good in the water by the end of it.  Like I never have before or since.  And then I proceeded to come home and stop training for 3 months.  But I remembered everything we worked on and have been putting it into practice for the last 2 months.  And my swim times are beginning to show the results of the changes so far this season.

Definitely a Wisconsin triathlete...

Here's where we swam... in November

And here's the view from my window

Around the time of Knoxville it dawned on me that the Triple T was in just a couple weeks.  I had been so focused on Knoxville that I had pretty much forgotten about it (it's like forgetting about an Ironman) and certainly hadn't been preparing for it.  I'd been doing high workout frequency, but no single workouts had been over 2 hours and most hadn't been over 90min.  So I did one 4hr ride that next week, called that my endurance training, and drove down to southeastern ohio for a weekend of mental and physical exhaustion.  And fun! 

I wanted to get some speed work in, so I took the super sprint as hard as I could.  I made a few mistakes, like apparently forgetting how to take my wetsuit off quickly, but I ended up beating my time from last year and finished in 10th, the first time I had broken into the top 10 at any of the triple T races (This year was my 3rd, and probably last, time doing this event and my first as a solo).  The second race, the morning olympic distance, started well and I had a surprisingly fast swim and bike considering the relatively low effort I was putting out, but then somehow my body didn't remember how to run.  I couldn't push myself; I was just wiped out.  I was hoping it was dehydration or low salts because then at least I could fix it by the afternoon race.  If I was going to run like that all weekend it was going to be rough... luckily it must've been just that because I came back in the afternoon like I was back from the dead.  I had a great second oly (minus the swim... how are you supposed to swim after a hard bike with cramping calf muscles??) and finished 8th solo senior. I think.. the results page online is kind of screwy and it keeps getting changed.  I had pushed that third race quite hard on the bike (40k watt PR) because it was the least technical course and I wanted to have one great ride that weekend.  I pushed the run hard because I was upset at myself for the morning's performance, so between the two I probably went a little too hard with the half Ironman on the horizon Sunday morning.

The half, or the "race that matters" as coach Kory Seder would say, was next.  On the swim the strategy was simple.  Swim straight and give it whatever's left.  I had a great swim and came out of the water as the lead pros were just getting on the bike.  That's new.  On the bike my legs were feeling tired but seemed to be able to maintain a reasonable effort, so I kept the power up on the climbs and flats but was a little cautious on the fast, twisting, blind-cornered downhills.  It was a two loop course though so I made some mental notes of which hills I could actually bomb safely on lap 2.  I finished lap one in an unexpectedly quick split.  I didn't need to go that fast on the bike so I decided I would let my power drop to save it for the run.  The interesting thing is that even though my lap 2 power dropped by 20w my split time ended up being the same as lap 1 because there were 4 descents I could take more confidently.  It really showed me how much time I was losing by tapping the brakes.  I can sort of ride these technical courses well once I know the course and can practice them.  When I got to the run I was glad I lowered my power on the second lap... my legs were dead enough as it was.  It was a real struggle trying to finish off the 27 mile run weekend when I hadn't done anything close to a 27 mile week all season.  But even though the uphills seemed to never end, I could lean forward and spin my legs down the hills and that gave me enough recovery to get through it half decently.  My overall time in the half was a very surprising 5:03 which is fantastic for me on that course.  That got me 5th or 6th solo senior and 10th overall solo senior (they really make me feel old with their senior division, haha)

Ice baths in the river after each race.  Recovery is the name of the game at Triple T.

From here I'll be racing a lot of the local sprints and olympic triathlons for the next couple months, and hopefully continuing to break new ground.  Everything feels like it's clicking now and each week I feel stronger and smoother.  Even this past Thursday, although it's a small race, I hit a personal milestone by finishing first overall at a Madison aquathon series race (1k swim/5k run) for the first time in the coldest water I've ever competed in (49-54 depending on who you asked).

See you on the race course!