Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Timberman Sprint Tri...and try I did

In my quest to keep getting my butt out in the water for triathlons I I figured the Timberman Sprint on Saturday would be perfect since I was support staff for J at the Timberman 70.3 race the following day. That way I could race and feel like I had done something when I'm watching people race the 70.3 the following day.

I look like a legit swimmer!
537 meter swim – 8:02
Now I had heard about how clear and shallow Lake Winnipesaukee was but you just don't get an appreciation for it until you race in it. You could've practically walked the entire way through the swim course (which some people did). It was so shallow for so far and the water was so crystal clear! I knew once the gun went off, my best bet was to dive in and shallow stroke it until I could get some distance and depth and then give it all I had. Once again...I found myself in the odd position...of swimming over people. Me, the guy who hated swimming and couldn't "swim" now readily swims over slower swimmers. That's just crazy!. At one point I actually said "get out of my way" to a pair of swimmers that were swimming and talking to each other. I actually thought to myself that I had become "that guy" that I tried to avoid because I didn't want to slow him down in the water. I laughed out loud while swimming! I was swimming strong, good stroke, good pace and then...the swim was over and I was getting out of the water. Its amazing how fast something goes by when you're not dreading or hating every minute of it! I got out of the water (buy the way, in that picture, which I am buying, I look like I'm either the first guy or the last guy out of the water...when I was neither but in a pack of people when I left the water I swear!) and ran the 100 meters or so into transition as fast as I could. I got to my bike, got out of my wetsuit, got on my gear and headed out. T1 was 2:47. Not bad, not great but it was time to focus on the bike.

15 mile bike – 48:36, 18.5mph 
As soon as I got into aero I realized that I needed to pee. And not just a little, but so bad that it hurt to be in the aero position. I remembered that I needed to pee before the swim start and figured I'd just go in the water and then completely forgot about it because of nerves...and then I was swimming but now it hit me. I had to make a decision, either get off the bike to relieve myself or sit up and pee as fast as I could and get back in the race. Um...there is NO getting off the bike so it was the latter. Its crazy that even though I wanted to pee, needed to pee...I had to coax my body into actually peeing. Thank goodness it happened! All the pain in my bladder went away and I could focus on the bike. I knew sitting up would allow the group that I left transition with to get away but I figured it'd give me added motivation to ride them down. Bladder empty, back in aero, good position and back to work. It was then I glanced down to see my speed in order to get back on track and my GPS was blank. Ugh! There was nothing I could do to get the GPS to pick up...and then I started to get angry. I live off data during a race. I know that if I can't see mph or pace during a race, I'll slip into a comfort zone and I'll trail off. Being able to see that I'm racing as fast or faster than my race plan is the key to a successful race for me. The only option was to start picking out people ahead of me, focus on catching them and then continue to do that for the rest of the bike, not the preferred method but the only one at my disposal at the moment....and then we hit the hills. I knew the course was hilly. I'd seen it first hand the year prior and had studied the course elevation map but I still wasn't prepared for it I guess. Without seeing my speed and knowing whether I was moving slow or fast, there were no mileage markers on the bike course, I just tried to maintain good turnover and get up and over the hills. I felt like I was giving max effort but couldn't really tell (for the record I felt as if I was going slower that I wanted the whole ride and that 18.5mph average for the bike leg proved it). I desperately wanted to get off the bike and get out running so I could empty the tank and it'd be easier for me to estimate pace with my watch and mile markers. I made it in and out of transition in 2:01 and was out for the run.

3.1 mile run - 20:00, 6:27 pace
I came out of T2 rip-roaring pissed. I had no real clue how I had done on the bike (let's be honest, this brain ain't good enough at math to calculate average MPH on the fly) and I hadn't seen anyone with a 40 on their calf (for those of you that don't know, triathlons put your age on your calf, and bib number on other parts of your body so race officials can identify you easily. For us age groupers, its a quick way to see who we're competing against for a podium spot or at the very least count how many "places" we gain as we pass other folks in our age group) all day! I got my legs back pretty quick in the run and tried to get in a rhythm. My GPS still wasn't picking up so I was looking for the 1st mile marker so I could see my pace. 

Yup, face says it all
I hit the 1 mile marker in 7:15. 7:15?! Are f'ing serious?! That is TOTALLY unacceptable!!! I made the decision that the next 2.1 miles would be run flat out. I have no idea what the pace would be but unless I crossed the finish line throwing up from max effort I had failed. Weirdly enough...I felt myself getting faster. I just kept yelling in my head to "get faster". I called myself every name I could think of to motivate me to crank up my pace. I hit the 2 mile mark and thought I was around a 6:20 pace. That was better but if there's any gas left in the tank...its time to empty it. I could see people line in front of me on the way to the finish and made it my mission to run down every one of them 'til the end.
I crossed the line in 1:21:25. I'd taken 35 seconds off my PR for that swim distance (26th in my AG) , had a mediocre bike (24th in my AG) and had a rage filled run that ended up only being 6 seconds off my 5k PR (9th in my AG). All that rolled together put me at 19th overall in my AG and 91st overall in the race (out of a field of 709 that actually raced versus the about 900 that registered).  Not bad, not great and lots of room left for improvement. I know going into the rest of the season I need to focus on solid, smooth, short transitions and I HAVE to keep the bike up around a minimum of 22mph. I also need to have a back up plan and/or make sure I train without GPS/pace so I have a better idea of what my desired times should feel like. I have to admit, I've become WAY to dependent on technology and have been living in the weeds when it comes to training and racing data. Well, its all about getting better as a racer and any mistake you learn from isn't a mistake (I read that somewhere, I don't know if I believe it but it sure sounds good). Now to focus on the next race...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How I spend my Friday nights...

It dawned on me as kind of funny that as I'm about to jump in the water, at 9:00 on a Friday night, that most of my peers and certainly damn near everyone younger than me were either sitting in front of the tv or getting all "clubbed up" to go out on the town for an evening of drinking and debauchery....only to have to deal with the result of either (another sedentary day or waking up feeling like garbage and hung over) the following morning. I on the other hand just laid out all my swim gear and was about to start a 1600 meter swim set as per my normal Friday night routine. Sadly, I get told by lots of people that I'm "missing out" by not going out to or taking a day off. Missing out on what? I could rant about that until I'm blue in the face but suffice to say I love how I spend my Friday nights. I am a firm believer that learning to swim, I mean really swim for distance (not the swim to the side of the pool for a beer during a summer cookout), is one of the most difficult things you can do as an adult. We just develop bad habits if we weren't taught the "right way" to swim as kids. I'll be the first to admit that when "relearning" to swim and focusing on the proper stroke, hand placement and kick I would actually forget to breathe and have to stop mid pool and gasp for air. It wasn't pretty and it got to the point that the "no fear" guy...feared going for a swim.

don't fear the swim snorkle
Flash forward 3 years later (oh yes, that's how long my learn to not swim like a retard journey has gone thus far) and I not only no longer fear the swim...I LOVE it. There is just something about achieving that effortless stroke and kick in the water where swimming feels like its natural. Its completely different from the "Zen" I feel when I'm running or on the bike. I can't really explain it, which I know is difficult to believe coming from the guy that can talk all day, but it true. Once you get the mechanics of the swim down, swimming just "clicks" and I feel like I can go for hours. Weirdly, I know exactly when it "clicked". I was doing a Sprint Tri earlier this year and I went out for a swim on the course pre-race (which I always see other peole do but I never do because I'm always so focused on standing at the start and dreading the swim) and while swimmng I just had this settled feeling like this is not gonna be a big deal. And...amazingly, it wasn't! I actually swam with a smile on my face at that race. I had a great swim and my swim times since have continued to get better.

So back to my Friday nights...that "comfort" with the swim has come from lots of hours flailing and failing in the pool. I'm a do whatever you have to to get better kind of guy which is why you see all the "devices" I use at the pool to include the Finis Swim Snorkel. Oh yes, I have PLENTY of swimmer friends chide me or give me eye rolls when I mention it but it has honestly helped my swimming (Ryan Lochte and Dara Torres also use the snorkel in their swim training too so it can't be all bad) . The snorkel forces me to have proper head position, which equates to better body position, and allows me to to focus on hand and arm position at the beginning and through the stroke. And while my "swimmer" friends give me crap, that little training device has not only helped me be a more relaxed, efficient swimmer but help me take over 10 minutes off my mile swim time. I now swim a mile in about 38 minutes. I'm no Michael Phelps but I'm WAY ahead of what the swim cutoff times are for the 70.3 and 140.6 distances and it'll keep me in the competitive mix for my other racing (instead of having to burn so much energy chasing down the good swimmers on the bike).

So...enjoy the beer, clubs, TV and Doritos...I'll be in the pool with all my "toys" swimming a 1600 meter set...and loving every minute of it!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Race Around the Lake, my first Ultramarathon...and my dirty little secret...

There were a number of reasons why I wanted to try an Ultra marathon: First off, I wanted to challenge myself. Second, I figure at my age and slow speed there's no way I'm gonna ever gonna get a fast marathon but my mental toughness paired with a "low and slow" run would make me a perfect Ultra runner. Lastly, if I'm ever gonna do an Ironman distance event, I need to see how my body can handle 12 or more hours of racing.

And of course since I'm a control freak I wanted to pick a race that would allow me to rule out as many variables as I could...thus I chose the "Race around the Lake 12 hour Ultra" (they also do a marathon on the course as well as a 24 hour race too) in Wakefield MA. Its a run for time on a 3 mile loop around a lake. Before you go "oh my god, that would be so boring", just go with me on this. A repeated loop lets you know the layout of the course quickly and identify any obstacles or issues while you're still mentally awake. Because its a loop, you'll see your support team (J, was the best support crew ever by the way!) on a predictable schedule (no need to worry about them not making a link up point on time to give you gear or support) and if you get hurt or decide to call it, you only have a short walk to get back to the start. What? I did say I was a control freak! I mean the Army did train me pretty well at planning.

Ready but I'm nervous
So, because the race allows you to be self supported, we set up "FOB Dutch" (that's forward operating base for you non military folks) and stocked it for the next few hours of racing. Tent/sleeping/chilling out area, and table set up with all my food: water, bananas, gels, Clif Blocks, Accelerade, salt tabs, Coke, potato chips (I've read that its a great thing to eat at an endurance event) and McDonalds cheeseburger (yes, cheeseburgers. For some reason when I do long training events I crave burgers and I figure its a quick way to get calories, fat and sodium into my system) were all set up at the back of my truck which was parked right by the start/tracking chute. As people started to come in and park and everything started to get set up I have to admit I got nervous. Not because of  my dirty little secret (more on that later) but because it dawned on me that I was going to spend the foreseeable future running. Look, I've done marathons, plenty of them but there's just something about running "as far as you can" that makes a world of difference. There's no time or mileage limit...its kind of freaky. I will say that I went into this event with little to no expectations. I kind of kicked around at least a 50k in my head but I was just planning on seeing what my body would do. There is something very weird about getting no a start line with "just run" in your head...

At the start I ran into my friend Danielle (awesome girl I've raced with and done a Reach the Beach team with) and Sarah (who BQ'ed for Boston on the course). We chatted, listened to the race instructions and headed over to the start. With little fanfare, we were off. Even with the start being at 7 p.m. it was still warm and humid. I figured I would try to hold a 9:30-9:55 pace for as long as I could and see where it got me. The first lap was spent with everyone chatting and dealing with race jitters because there was LOTS of running left to do. I hit the first mile comfortably on a 9:55 pace and settled in for the 1st lap around the lake. After coming in off the first lap i figured it was time to grab the iPod and listen to Macca's book. I will say that I've NEVER run with an ipod or music in my ears. Normally I wouldn't even entertain the idea but since I was running on a closed loop and I knew I was gonna run for that length of time, I figured having some type of motivation in my ears would be the best thing and let me tell you that Chris McCormack's "I'm here to to Win" audiobook was just the ticket! I highly recommend for any triathlete and it was so weird that there were points in the book that were exactly what I needed to hear while a ran. Every lap I took on water/Accelerade, gel and salt tabs.

Glad to have 4hrs done
Each lap I ticked off was a little victory and got me closer to the 4 hour mark which I had set in my head as time for my first "break" to eat/refuel. I figured the easiest way to deal with the Race was to break it into 3 races of 4 hours each. The end of each 4 hour block would be my stopping and taking on 'real food", changing clothes and then heading out again. As I closed on 4 hours I was near the marathon distance (8 laps) and figured that would workout perfect, hit the 26.2 and then take a break to recover/reset. The nice thing was as I ran across the line I was presented with a medal for completing the marathon! It was nice to have some bling going into my first rest/refuel break. While I had a smile on my face, I was concerned that I couldn't eat anything. I could take on some coke, part of a banana and some chips but that was it. The thought of "eating" made my stomach turn. I glanced down at my Polar RCX5 G5 and saw that I'd burned about 4200 calories thus far. I was in the tank and needed to fuel but it was the last thing I wanted to do. I couldn't even chew on that much desired McDonald's cheeseburger. Ok, time to take a deep breath...I did have 12 hours afterall, so relax and try to rest/recover.

While I was "resting", I was doing math in my head (which to be honest is quite a feat considering I'm not that smart and the calculations involved my fingers and toes). I needed to do another lap in order to hit that 30k mark I had set in my head. So, I asked J if she'd go do another lap with me. After that I'd stop and try again to take on fuel and rest. After my 9th lap, I took another break and I tried to force myself to eat...still, no luck. Anything more complicated than coke or water or a gel and I just wanted to vomit. I never thought eating would become such a difficult task. I'm normally ravenous and fight myself to not eat all the time and now I was in the tank on calories and didn't have the desire to nor could I stand forcing myself to eat. There was nothing to do but try to calm down, try to rest and try to eat. I contemplated whether I should quit now, if this was even a smart endeavor to start with and even the meaning of life while trying to shove food in my mouth....then it dawned on me...I had only done 29 plus miles up to this point! There was NO WAY I could stop, I need to get at least 50k in. So, I asked J to accompany me on at least one more lap.

The 10th lap went my relatively easy but I was gassed. I knew I was in the tank and  I had no hopes of getting food in any time soon. So, as Macca's book was saying in my ears "you can't lie to the man in the mirror", I made the assessment that I wasn't going to get any better and continuing to run would just put me at risk for injury. I have a lot of racing left to do this season and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt myself and ruin my chances. Not to mention I had to be on a plane in about 30 hours to D.C. for work. I was grinning ear to ear when I received my medal for the 12 hour Ultra. I had managed to keep my expectations for the event reasonable: find a good steady pace, try to hydrate and fuel, don't get hurt, use this first Ultra as a learning event and just run as far as you can. Mission accomplished, I felt good and I honestly believe that if I could've fueled/refueled better I would've had another 10 or 15 miles in me at least. The final tally was in 5:53:07 total time running. I will say that even though you might think the course is boring, it and the race were great. The organizers do a FANTASTIC job, its supported well, the "community of Ultra" is great there and even the locals hang out all night and support the runners. I even had one guy, who sat in his driveway all night, cheering me on with a "looking great Polar guy" until 3 a.m.!

And now for the dirty little secret...I did not train for the Ultra. Sure I trained but not the "serious long" excessive miles or time that one would normally do to ramp up for such an event. I just stuck to the regular training plan (run/bike/swim/lift) that is my usual and thought at the very least I should do the race just to see how its set up and what it all about. Although I had that 30k number in my head I rally went into it with the thought of "I might run 3 laps and go home". Honestly, I don't know if that approach helped or hindered me. I went into the race with NO expectations. I saw every lap as kind of a gift and I was smiling at the end of 4 hours because I had just run a marathon, on no training and felt 100 times better (mentally and physically) than I did when I ran Boston in '11 (and for that race I trained my ass off, blew up and dragged myself across the finish line). It was nice to run a race with no pressure, yes its normally self induced, and just run. I one point I actually noticed the sun setting on the water and made a mental note of how pretty it was. I NEVER do that. I normally run so hard that my recollection of any race is little more than a blur. And, and, and...knocking out 32.56 total miles, with this old, fat, broken body...ain't bad :) It was a great experience and I'm looking for another Ultra to put on the calendar.

Post Script:
I read back through this post and realized I missed a few things. I need to thank Natascia, Dustin, Jessica,  Di, James and Stephanie. The fact that you took time out of your schedules to come by and cheer me on means the world to me and I can't tell you how great it was to see your bright shiny faces on the course way into the night.

I was lucky enough to have some great gear, by some great companies, that helped get me through the race. My Polar RCX5 G5 kept me right on pace, allowed me to keep tabs on my HR and was the key to my keeping myself in check and running as far as I did. My lululemon 4" Light as Air shorts were beyond comfortable through all those miles. My legs would've never made it if not for my Zensah Compression calf sleeves, since using Zensah my calves have never hurt after a long run. Those rocking amber-lensed Rudy XX2i glasses were great at seeing the route in crisp detail and helped get me through the daylight hours. My Thorlo Experia socks were the key in keeping my feet comfortable and pain/blister free. Everstride kept all my bendy places chafe free and last but not least my Saucony Kinvaras helped the miles fly by with no feet or ankle pain. They are the best shoes I've ever run in...hands down!