Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 Ultraman World Championships

If you don't believe more words are better in a race report, you may want to stop here.  I tried to keep it short, but failed miserably...and there will be more!  There were many things I learned from this race and the entire experience that I will take forward with me.   I will get more into that in my next post, along with my plans for 2016.  For now, here is my account of how the race went down.

Day 1 – 10k swim: 2:26:03; 90 mile bike - 5:50:04, Total: 8:16:07

The swim couldn’t have gone better.  I knew there were a couple fast swimmers in the field so I was expecting to be duking it out for a little while in the water.  I knew from experience that there was a fray at the start with all the kayaks grouped together 100-200m into the swim; Adam and I planned to rendezvous 800m out so that he wouldn’t be caught up.  I was pleasantly surprised that I had the lead from the start and was swimming relaxed.   I thought it was a tougher swim than when I competed previously, in 2011, but Adam kept a super straight line (6.26 miles on my Garmin).  Around the halfway mark I picked up the effort, but it actually resulted in me going slower – so I quickly reverted back to a longer stroke that cut through the swells more efficiently.  And after looking at my Garmin I was even happier with my swim – the first two 1000 yd intervals were approximately 12:30, while we were in the Bay, then the next 9 1000’s held pretty steady at 13:30’s. 

The MAN at work - if it was a fast swim year it's because
Adam kept such a straight line and everyone followed him!
May be the only swimmer who likes a full sleeve wetsuit

I wanted to be relatively quick in transition – I got in and Jen had everything laid out for me, with Ryan up the hill with my bike.  Everything went really smooth and I was in and out in 1:45, on the long 1500 ft climb over the first 10k of the bike.  My HR was high immediately, but only by a few beats and the power was exactly where I wanted it and felt good.  I hoped to settle in over the climb but it didn’t end up happening.  After the first climb the course rolls between 1000-2000 ft and I was able to settle in, lower my HR and get into a rhythm.  Honestly, I felt great and was super psyched to be maintaining my lead out front.  As we passed the halfway point in the bike the winds kicked up – from mile 45-60 there were some crazy crosswinds combined with wet roads and a 2000 ft descent.  I was unsteady through here and took this super cautious.  Still, I went through mile 52 with an 8 minute lead.  Unfortunately as we approached the last 30 mile, 4000 ft climb I started to feel nauseous.  I had been ready to up the power output into the 230-240 range, but instead it dropped into the 160-170 range.  Right as this started Mike Coughlin came by me like a freight train.  Some days you got it and some days you don’t.  I kept forcing calories in, but the mantra came to be live to fight another day.  Up the climb Dave Kalinowski and Billy Edwards came by me, both looking super strong.  At the end of the day I was happy to only be sitting 6 and 8 minutes behind each of them.

Heading down to South Point - Mile 50 Day 1

Day 2 – 171.4 Mile bike: 8:23:18, Total: 16:39:25

Opening descent from Volcano

After vomiting immediately following the Day 1 ride and having GI issues all through the night I was expecting a long day 2.  Fortunately we changed up the nutrition plan slightly and it appeared to solve all problems as I had no GI issues all day.  The day began with the typical light wind, rain and darkness for the 24 mile descent form Volcano.  In 2011 I was super skittish and spent almost no time in the aero bars.  This year while being much improved, I still lined up in the middle.  Sure enough the top group of 10-14 took off immediately and I never saw them again on the hill.  That said, I averaged 29 mph and hit that first turn ten minutes faster.  My crew also told me I was only 6 min down on the leaders so I was super pumped.  I settled into a relaxed cadence, pushing 200w – my plan was to stay easy/relaxed to Hilo and then really push.  Around this time I was going back and forth with Chris Draper – I enjoyed that as we had biked most of the day 2 in 2011 together. 

Around mile 40, as I was approaching Red Rd I flatted.  Luckily Marty Raymond was there and was able to loan me a front wheel as the gash in the tire was too large.  I lost somewhere around 5-8 minutes, but it was a sloppy day so I wasn’t too concerned about the time loss – there was still a big day of racing.  Less than two miles later I was at the turn to Red Rd. and as I went into the corner my rear brakes clamped down, I lost control and went down, skidding a bit across the pavement.  I quickly bounced up, checked the bike and myself.  Bike was fine.  I had three gashes on my forearm that were bleeding pretty good and had formed a contusion around the larger two; my ankle had taken some impact and my hip hurt but there was no rip in the tri suit.  My crew had seen me go down; Adam was closest and I asked him if I needed to get my arm cleaned up – he said to just continue.  That was exactly what I needed to hear.  I was quickly back up and going.  The impact had been on my left side, but I found my lower right back to be tightening up.  Over the next few miles I jumped out of the saddle frequently to loosen up my back.  Eventually I got back in the aero bars (which was painful as that’s where my wounds were – luckily the pressure on the aero pads cauterized the wound).  It wasn’t fun peeling my arm off to climb though.  The next 40 miles to Hilo were uneventful.  I lost the magnet for my power meter in the crash so I was a bit blind, but I had established a baseline HR that I maintained through Hilo. 

Climbing up to Waimea

After I left Hilo my crew was telling me there were four guys up the road so I pushed to catch them.  I was feeling good.  I was thinking back to the 12 hr rides Inaki and I had done in early October that came followed the UM course for the next 54 miles.  I was ready to race!  I caught the four guys my crew had told me about pretty quickly; Trout was the last I passed and he moved back around me pretty quickly.  I was happy to ride with him through the rest of the gulches so I settled in about 50m behind for awhile.  As we approached a construction zone with a 1-lane bridge (we had been warned we’d most likely all get stuck for a while here) I caught back up and we both made the light.  I pulled up next to him on the bridge and said “that was a freebie,” pulled in front and promptly got a flat. Jinxed myself.  His crew called mine and I was back on the road in 4-5 minutes.  

I didn’t see anyone for the next 30 miles.  As I was climbing from up to Waimea though we got reports of 2 serious crashes – my friends Christian Isakson and Scott McDermott crashed separately and badly and needed to be taken to the hospital.  Both are home now, but have a long road to recovery ahead and all thoughts and prayers are appreciated.  With the knowledge that the winds were once again pretty crazy and the roads wet, I had my crew swap out my front wheel for my training wheel at the 2500 ft line.  This went really quick.  Then I was moving again.  Around this time I caught Inaki – I knew he wasn’t having a great day but he was fighting tough.  Seeing him got me pumped as we approached the Kohalas – he was encouraging me to push.  We had done a 75 mile ride 2 weeks earlier that ended with a 20 minute FTP effort going up the Kohalas.  I tried to channel that and push the same way I had that day and felt like I was flying.  The Kohalas are a beautiful place and I felt much more comfortable pushing here than I did in 2011. Near the top I came within a minute of Trout again, but hung back as I knew how skittish I was on descents.  Sure enough this stretched my limits – it was a much tougher descent than 2011.  We had similar wind, rain (downpouring at times) and the braking situation/crash had gotten in my head a bit.  I was 5 minutes slower coming down in the race than I was with Inaki 2 weeks before – and trembling with both fear and borderline hypothermia.  I crossed the line nearly 40 minutes faster than 2011 – probably my best day of racing on a bike.  When everything shook out, I remained in 4th place, 18 minutes behind Billy, 2:20 ahead of Tony O’Keefe and 40 minutes ahead of super runner, Miro Kregar – it was going to be a battle in the lava fields!  I had thoughts of second at the beginning of the day, but David can ride and he slammed that door in my face with authority – his 7:31 is scary good – and it took the greatest performance Day 2 has ever seen (by 11+ minutes) by Mike Coughlin to beat him.  

A little banged up but -- Finished! 
Huge thanks to Helen (on Mike's crew) for bandaging me up!

Day 3 – 52.4 Mile Run: 6:49:23, Total: 23:28:48

This was the day I was waiting for; my favorite day.  My biggest goal for Ultraman was to push the back half of the run – to see how I would respond mentally, especially considering my lack of miles entering the event.  I entered with confidence though; I was running well aerobically and had been able to get in a 90 minute and 2 hr progression run in my training.  While this was on the low end, I was confident that I hit an adequate mix of volume and intensity to run a solid double marathon.  The day started off with a huge tailwind.  It was warm and humid and I started sweating quickly.  My HR was also a little higher than I expected it to be, but the pace was quick as well – I found myself with a group (Billy, Tony, Mike Coughlin, Mike Owen, and David) – Miro and Kevin Willis had immediately sped off the front. 

I was racing for third – I figured if I ran well Miro couldn’t put 40 minutes into me and that I would put the 18 minutes I needed into Billy.  Tony, on the other hand, had a history of strong runs and was not nearly as far back as I would have liked.  Around the 10k mark I ran up on Tony’s shoulder and we chatted a bit – but at 7 miles I had to make a Poop stop.  It was only a 2 minute stop but that was all he needed.  Shortly after that stop we hit a headwind for a couple miles – rough!  I tried to relax into it, lean forward and not push as it was very early in the day.  Through Kawaihai I felt good – my legs felt heavy from the start in 2011, and today they felt fresh.  At the 30km mark we hit a mile long hill – I ran/walked this to keep my HR down, maintaining the 2 minute gap to Tony as we turned onto the Queen K.  Here I was joined by my pacer, Ryan Toner.  The plan was for him to stay with me for 20 miles (miles 20-40) and get me through this area strong.  We were cruising pretty well for the first 12 miles, passing the marathon at 3:21:21, and the 50km at 3:59:34.  Throughout this entire stretch I couldn’t reel in Tony at all – he maintained his 2 minute lead and we remained in a virtual tie. 

Ryan and I in sync around the marathon -
Ryan paced me for 14 miles, and got me through the roughest part
My legs were starting to feel the effects of the day.  Shortly after the 50k we hit the largest climb – Ryan had dropped out for a mile and had rejoined me and I was feeling awful by now.  I was in a run/walk up the climb – we had decided on 60 seconds run/15 seconds walk – and I forced Ryan to give me 15 second time checks.  I was hurting and Tony was gone.  I told myself that he was simply too strong – his consistent pace had broken me and I was justifying fourth and figuring out what I needed to run to stay under 7:30 for the day.  Somewhere in here my crew started giving me Coke in addition to the other Gu’s I was taking – the extra calories was exactly what I needed. 
Says it all - these guys were rock stars and got me through this quickly!
As we crested the climb I saw my parents – they had flown in the night before.  I still felt awful, but when I saw them I knew I had to start running…and I did so begrudgingly.   Jen started running with me here and for what it’s worth I never walked again.  I started feeling better and better and was enjoying the fact that she was breathing heavy and having a hard time keeping up.  She dropped out short of 2 miles, as we were approaching the 88 mile marker.  I had gotten the time gap to Tony at 8 minutes and knew if I was to make up the 6 minutes I needed I would have to move now.  The 88 mile marker was a key landmark for me as I had come out and done 2 x 20 minute tempo on that stretch (from 88-91 I had averaged 6:09/mile).  I set a goal that I wanted to come within 1:30/mile of that and picked up the effort.  I had set my watch to autolap in 4 mile intervals and interval 11 had just started.  I looked down at my watch and saw 7:07 pace and was super psyched; the next time I looked the pace was 6:53!  My crew was getting pumped watching me surge and the time gap was coming down rapidly (6:45 after 1 mile, then 4:30).  I passed a couple people- and could see Tony up the road and they told me Miro and Mike Coughlin were just past him.  Miles 40-44 were at 6:59 pace and 44-48 were at 7:09 pace.

I tried to maintain the pace but was starting to fatigue from the effort.  I really wanted to catch Mike and push him to the finish – he was close to both the course and World records.  My surge stalled out though – came within 40 seconds of him but couldn’t close.   Around this time my HS buddy, Kimon, and his girlfriend Judy surprised me on the course – was totally the boost I needed!  Judy did cartwheels down the shoulder and Kimon ran with me for a couple hundred meters and I got new life.  The last 4 miles I faded to 7:32 pace, but it would have been worse without that jolt.  Both Mike and I got caught at the second to last light – Mike’s crew had been incredible all day cheering and offering support and when I got stuck here Khai made sure I was ready to finish strong.  He ran with me the next 200m and made me surge to get through the final light.  When I looked at my data, days later, and isolated the last .75 miles I saw that his encouragement pushed me to close out at 6:45 pace. 

Tremendous support!
This was by far the best day of racing of my life – and I owe it to my crew, encouragement from Mike’s crew, and the competitive drive of the guys I shared the course with.    

Sunday, November 1, 2015

UM Training: 2011 vs. 2015 Aug-Oct comparison

2011 volume for Aug-Oct:

August: 43,600m swimming, 983 miles cycling and 155 miles running (55 workouts, 91 total hours)

September: 36,900m swimming, 660 miles cycling, 155 miles running (51 workouts, 80 hrs)

October:   27,500m swimming, 673 miles cycling, 157 miles running (39 workouts, 70 hrs)

This year my volume for Aug-Oct is as follows:

August: 46,400m swimming, 1006 miles cycling, 2.5 miles running (41 workouts, 82 hrs)

September: 54,100m swimming, 670 miles cycling, 15.7 miles running (33 workouts, 57 hrs)

October:  70,800m swimming, 1166 miles cycling, 72 miles running (50 workouts, 97 hrs)

Swims over 7km: 5
Longest Swim: 8 miles (12,900m) on September 4th
Planning to get in one more swim of 9k

*In 2011, only swims over 7km were 8500m on August 19th and 7800m on November 9th

Bikes over 120 miles: 5 (7 over 100)
Longest Ride: 195 miles with 14,400 ft of elevation gain on October 11th
Planning to get in one more ride of 125 miles

*In 2011 last ride over 100 miles was on October 23rd and only 5 over 100 (only 2 after Aug 21)

Runs over 6 miles: 4
Longest Run 13.35 miles on October 31st
Planning on 3 more runs above 6 miles (18, 13, 8.5)

*In 2011 had long runs of 21, 25, 30 and 38 miles spaced 3 weeks apart.  Did those as run/walk (3, 4, 5 and 6 hrs).  Also mixed in two 2-hr progression runs (16 miles ea).  Longest run was on October 29th, 4 weeks out.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

From Injury to Ultraman: Quick update on the Journey

It's been an interesting season.  I am in a very different place than I thought I was going to be five months ago.  A quick recap of the year:

This machine is fast!  Can't wait to finally race it in 8 weeks.  

- Put in more pre-season work than I ever had and was running and biking better than I ever have.  This included PR's on the run from every distance from 2 miles to 20k, as well as a 2.5' PR at the 70.3 run distance in my only race.

- A still unknown/undiagnosed injury that causes extreme tightness in my hip flexors/groin/lower abs

- No exercise from Memorial Day through early August

- Event Director for CT Challenge Bike Ride in late July, a ride that funds programming for cancer survivors, where 1350 riders raised over $2.5M

- Return to Bike and Swim Training during the 2nd week of August; a much quicker return to strength on the bike than expected (very pleasantly surprised!)

- 8 mile swim race Labor Day weekend, 4th overall in 3:20:04, which was my longest swim ever - felt strong throughout which was a nice surprise as well.  Though the dirty river led to an infected saddle sore which gave me a 104 fever for 3 days.  On the bright side I lost 7 lbs of the 10 I gained over the summer while I wasn't training - Almost back to race weight!

- After the CT Challenge, decided to change the model of my event management business (Gone Running Events) from a contract model to one where we put on our own events.  Hired a super talented woman to work with me part-time over the  next year, in preparation for our event schedule. Much more on this to come!

So now, I am sitting in the airport, on my way to Kona for the next 12 days.  Looking forward to taking in all the events of IMWC race week and getting in a great training block for Ultraman, with fellow Lifesport Coach Inaki de la Parra.  I'm really looking forward to all the Professional Development opportunities I'll have while I'm out for the race as well - especially attending Training Peaks University which has been on my list for a couple years now.

My brand new bike bag...fingers crossed it makes it safely!

As far as my UM training is going, I will post a bit more about that later but it will be entirely swim/bike based as I am still not running more than 30 min at a time, every 3-4 days.  As crazy as it sounds though I'm starting to get the impression that will be enough to reestablish the muscle memory and ignite the muscles enough to tap into the aerobic strength'established through the swim and bike training.  Looking forward to  what the next 8 weeks have to offer!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Heading to the Big Island in November!!!

This was a big week for me - on Sunday I kicked off my race season at Challenge Knoxville, and on Wednesday I was officially accepted into Ultraman World Championships.  Of the two, I was and am vastly more excited about the latter; I identify with that race - the test of endurance, the people, the place, the atmosphere in a way that can best be describe as spiritual.  I consider myself fortunate to have been able to have had the experience once, and beyond lucky to find myself in a position to go back again. 

When I went there in 2011, one of my competitors, Mike Coughlin, described his introduction and preparation for the event, which were many years apart.  He made the simple statement that he wanted to wait to compete until he was sure he could give the event the respect it deserved, by being able to give everything he had of himself.  To him this meant preparing his body to it's absolute peak prior to his arrival, and he did just that.  It was inspiring to watch.

Mike and I before the event
This was not the route I took.  After crewing in 2010, I impulsively signed up for my first Ironman, that night, to satisfy the minimum qualification.  I respected the distance, but I did it as quickly as possible, going from a very casual triathlete, with no regimented training to UM finisher in one year. I've wanted to come back to Ultraman ever since I finished, but Mike's words have stuck with me. His performance in 2011 is perhaps the gutsiest I have ever witnessed - racing controlled and aggressively over all three days, less than 2 weeks after being hospitalized for being hit by a car on his bike.  I want to be the best version of myself when I step into the water on November 27th.

I'm looking forward to confronting what scares me most about racing - the long descents on the bike, the wind tossing the bike around, and whether or not I can respond positively and meet the challenge that comes with the soul-searching blackness at mile 45 of the double-marathon.  That's my favorite part - that one moment.  All the training, all the hours, focused on that singular moment late on Day 3 when the accumulation of pain and fatigue throughout the run, as well as the whole event becomes almost unbearable - will I be able to respond mentally or will I crack?

What I love most about this event is that, even though that moment is solitary by nature, I will have a fantastic support team around me to share the experience.  There are many support systems along the way that will make this journey possible.  Every race preparation has those support systems.  This is one of the only events that not only allows you, but requires you to bring those supports out onto the course with you.  I am super excited that my friends Adam Ellenstein and Ryan Toner, along with my sister, Jen, will be my crew in November, and know that I am in very positive and capable hands!

My crew in 2011: My Parents and incredible friend and training partner, Christian McEvoy

So, Knoxville, was a first test for this season.  The swim was ok, the bike course owned me and the run was fantastic.  I wasn't expecting much on the swim.  I was swimming really well in mid-April but had not gotten in many sessions since.  I was expecting to be 4+ min down and likely with the third group coming out of the water.  I got thrashed at the start and rather than fight for 1500m, I settled in the back, with the idea that I'd draft.  Well, my lack of open water swimming showed - I was all over the map.  I'd lift my head and be 10m to the right of the train, swim back to the feet, put my head down and be off to the side again.  I was very happy to find out after the race that I was only 3' down on the leaders and with the second group out of the water.

By the time we got on the bike it was downpour raining and this kept up for most of the ride.  The course is pretty technical to begin with, which was going to be a challenge - in the rain, on a new bike, with a disc for the first time ever-it was way beyond my capacity.  I took the descents super cautious - when the course did open up a couple times I was very encouraged to see that I was pushing 270-280w comfortably, 30-40w higher than I was riding last year.

This is a fast machine!  I'll do it justice soon.

I came off the bike with the idea that I could salvage the day with a decent run.  I knew I had been running well in training and was psyched to test this off the bike.  As an age grouper in 2012 and early 2013 I was running 1:23:45-1:24:45 consistently.  Since, I had not had one decent run.  I started relaxed and at mile one looked down to see a 6:02 split.  At that point I knew it was going to be a good run.  I stayed relaxed through the early hills, at 6:17 pace, upped the pace just before the turnaround, and covered the second 5 mile segment at 6:12 pace.  The last 5K were mostly flat, with a climb to the finish and was completely redlined at 6:02 pace for this segment - 1:21:47, for a 2' pr for the run split. 

So lots of encouraging elements from the race - not ideal overall, but feeling really good heading into the rest of the season.  Will be toeing the line at Challenge Quassy in two weeks and Eagleman 70.3 the week after that.

Hopefully I won't encounter this on the drive home next time:

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Great Pre-Season Feedback

February: Lactate Threshold Testing

Throughout the month of February I had the opportunity to work with the guys at the Sports Physiology Lab at the University of Texas, to get my VO2 max and Lactate Threshold testing done on both the bike and run.  In total I visited the lab 7 times, and received some incredibly valuable information.  The VO2 max tests were brutal, and will only tell you so much, but help inform the Lactate Threshold testing.  My VO2 was measured at approximately 69 ml/mol/kg.  I'd never had this testing done, so I didn't have any idea where these numbers might fall.  The important thing I took away from this was that I have not raced or performed anywhere near my ceiling, which is a huge motivating factor. 

I had my LT testing done with blood draws via a catheter rather than finger pricks.  This, I was told, is much more accurate.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, my body is highly evolved when it comes to self preservation.  As soon as the catheter was inserted in my arm, my blood vessel would clamp down and say, 'hell no I ain't giving that shit up.'  After 5 unsuccessful attempts to insert the catheter and make the initial draw, I went home.  We let the bruises heal a bit and I returned a couple days later for more punishment.  This time they were able to coax the blood out on the first try, but when I got on the bike and they tried to make the draw at the 5 min mark my body once again responded with 'what are you, insane?!  You're exercising and want me to give up blood?  Eff that!'  It took another 5 minutes to figure out that I had to contort in a half twist leaning forward off the stationary bike, while pedaling to get the blood to eek out into the vial.  This wasn't a problem for the first couple draws, but by the end, pushing 320w at 90% VO2 max, in that position, as I was urged to "keep my cadence up,"--it was a bit precarious.  When I returned for the run LT testing, I thought we had everything figured out, but once again my blood vessels had other things in mind - 4 needles later I was on the treadmill.  Fortunately we were able to replicate the position on the treadmill, that allowed the blood to flow into the vial.  While the pic below doesn't show the blood draw, picture me hunched slightly forward with my right arm slumped over like a stroke victim - again not a problem at low efforts but at the end of my last 5 minute segment, when I had been running at 7.0 at a 10% incline, it was not fun.

It is important to say, at this point, that the people at the Lab were exceptionally professional and knowledgeable.  My blood draws were an anomaly, and they conducted plenty of others with no issue to prove that - sometimes you just need to raise your hand and say 'it was me - I'm the problem.'  I would highly recommend contacting Brian Leary ( ) if you are in the Austin area, and being a part of this study.  Brian and his colleagues were all extremely patient, professional and calm when it came to handling the curveballs my veins through at them.

But then I got the numbers and all was right with the world. I absolutely love data - In the absence of kids, I celebrate numbers. By the way, did everyone celebrate Pi Day?  If not, don't fret - Mole Day is coming up in a short 6 months (Oct 23).  Anyway, as I said, I learned a number of things:

I don't have a Mole Day shirt - in case
someone wants to remedy that.
1) On the bike my Lactate Threshold (1 mmol) occurred at approximately 62% VO2, or 261 watts.  The corresponding HR was 153bpm, on that day.  The onset of blood lactate was at approximately 300 watts (4mmol).

2) On the run my Lactate Threshold (1 mmol) occurred at approximately 70% VO2 max - HR of 159bpm.  The onset of blood lactate was at a HR of approximately 175bpm (4mmol).

3)  The discrepancy between where my LT is on the bike and run indicates that I can improve quite a bit on the bike, as long as the correct weaknesses are identified and addressed.  Incidentally, this study was hypothesizing that just this type of discrepancy could be related to poor biomechanics.  The last two visits to the lab were to have my cycling biomechanics monitored and recorded.  The data collection will continue throughout 2015 and results won't be determined until well after that, but in the meantime I can certainly work to improve my cycling biomechanics and see for myself if that helps raise my LT.

March: Early Season Run Races

The week I got back to Connecticut I ran the Bolton 5 mile road race.  I had originally planned on running this as a test, but since I had my numbers already I decided to just go up and race and see what happened.  The course I was running was a figure 8 - I ran the front side as warm-up, so saw there was a decent climb in the first mile, then some rolling terrain.   I ran conservative in the first mile and found myself in a group of about 10 people at the mile mark, in 6:08.  I picked up the effort a bit at this point and with the terrain rolling down, dropped a 16:55 5K between miles 0.9-4.0.  What I didn't know, and could have figured out if I had just looked at the race t-shirt before I tossed it in my car, was that there was a MASSIVE hill in the last mile (most of the last mile).  That thing took what was left of my soul, and left me with a 28:59 total time (6:27 last mile).  I was happy with the effort and time, as it was only 66 seconds off my best time, on a much more demanding course.

Hill NOT to scale...

Segue to two weeks later, March 22, when I had a 30km race on the schedule, that I like to use as a progression run workout.  It was a pancake flat three loop course.  I had locked in one of my friends, Liz, to run the race as well.  The plan was to run the first two loops together at 6:53 pace and 6:29 pace, then she would try and hang onto that 6:29 pace and I would drop to 6:06 pace.  I had two reasons for those paces - one it was a progression from 3:00 marathon pace to 2:50 to 2:40, but also because that roughly corresponded to Ironman pace, stand-alone marathon pace, and half Ironman pace, respectively. 

Because of the nature of how we were running, we didn't warm-up.  We started near the front.  It's not a huge race, but a few guys went off the front; one particularly fast.  There was black ice in a bunch of places, some was unavoidable, but the race not being difficult enough Liz choose to seek out ice ponds and scamper across them.  To each his own.  We settled into a good rhythm and went through the first loop in 42:20 (6:49 pace).  There was talking as well, which was nice, but I'm hesitant to call it conversation, because while what we were saying matched up at times, a good portion went like this:

Liz: "There's a girl right behind us."
Jeremy: "I can't wait for pancakes...mmmm!"
Liz: "I can see her shadow."
Jeremy: "...and an omelet too."
Liz: "Is she still there?"
Jeremy:  "I woke up in the middle of the night and could taste the pancakes.  The butter.  The blueberries.  It was wonderful."

First loop

I was feeling really good toward the end of the second loop, which we hit right on goal, in 40:11 (6:29 pace), and decided to punch it to see just how fast I could go for the last 10k.  In my head I had my PR at the 10k which was a 35:59.  I hit the lap button and took off - when I looked at my pace, about 1 min into the loop I saw 5:10, and new I needed to settle.  I ran through the first mile in 5:33, and felt good, I relaxed a little knowing this pace was probably something I couldn't hang onto.  There was a turn around at about 1.3 miles; I saw Liz a lot closer and knew she had dropped her pace as well.  She had made her marathon debut in NY 5 months earlier with a 3:06 (7:07 pace) - she was running well!  I love seeing people I know doing well and this motivated me to push even harder.  I clipped off 5:39 miles for the next three miles.  Two miles to go and it started getting rough - not dinosaurs in the lava fields rough, but right around unicorn on the horse farm rough.  There was darkness and pain, and it was fun.  I finished the last 10k with a PR 35:19 (5:40 pace), fading to a 5:51 final mile, with a 2nd place finish overall in 1:57:51.  I was ecstatic and Liz came through the finish in 2:01:09 with a 38:38 last loop!

Coming in for the finish
At the 20k - she's smiling cause she doesn't
have to run with me anymore...
But the real happy ending to this story is I got my blueberry pancakes.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Travel by the Numbers

On Tuesday I began my drive back to Connecticut, from Austin, TX, where I had been training for the past two months.  Days 1 and 2 were uneventful - ticked off nearly 600 miles each day pretty painlessly.  Unfortunately I was trapped in Pigeon Forge, TN on Thursday due to winter storm Thor. While I was originally planning on splitting the remainder of the drive into two days, I was left with a long drive on Friday. 

I decided to think about the trip as a long mental training day - while it wasn't aerobic, driving ticked the boxes on repetitive and requiring focus.  Turns out my trip mimicked an Ironman in a couple other respects  - making good time for 90% of the trip, then the wheels came off and I slowed to a crawl in the final miles.  I even threw out a little homage to Challenge Dubai, with a mid-ride reroute.  So without further adieu, here is how the trip went by the numbers:

817 - Miles driven from Pigeon Forge, TN to Shelton, CT

Daybreak in Virginia

14:05 - Duration of the trip in hours and minutes

3 - Extra Large Sheetz coffees consumed

234 - approximate number of times I wished this could be tapped and pumped directly to my car:

15 - minutes delayed at 4am, unthawing my Thule bike rack, to get the bikes mounted

3 - number of times I heard Pitbull wax poetic about his inability to pay rent

2 - times cycled through NPR broadcast as well as number of rants, yelling at NPR reports

8+7 - Trucks + Cars spun off the highway over the duration of the trip  (7+4 is the number for Virginia alone, which is less a commentary on the ability of VA drivers and more of an indictment of V-DOT's ability to clear their roads)

1 - shady drifters wandering the highway in rural PA, which made me think of this clip and then by association this clip

8 - albums listened to in their entirety (bands included Counting Crows, Ada Pasternak, To the Moon Alice, Honey Tongue, Radiohead, Stereophonics, Modest Mouse, Mozart)

4 - Flying Pigs viewed (at the Ripley's mini-golf course)

5 - times I heard Bruno Mars (2.8 - approximate number of seconds Bruno Mars songs played)

3 - debates I had with myself (topics were the usefulness of the Performance Management Chart in Training Peaks - verdict: undecided; who should T-Swift collaborate with - verdict: tie between Eminem and the 60's version of Bob Dylan; teams that will make the Elite Eight - verdict: Kansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Wichita State, Gonzaga, Murray State, Duke, Wisconsin)

80 - minutes it took to drive the last 34.9 miles, from the NY-CT border

1 - driver who rolled down his window and yelled at me, after I blocked his path from flying past the line of traffic waiting to turn right off an exit ramp backed up due to an accident, at which point I rolled down my window, turned up Mozart's 1st Violin Concerto, smiled and pretended to conduct the performance.  He stopped yelling.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Off-Season Changes for 2015

While there were some highlights from my 2014 season, I was largely unsatisfied with the results and my performance across the entire year.  I took a hard look at how I had approached the season, what my long-term goals were, and what I truly needed to do in order to achieve those goals.  Bottom line is that I want to compete with the best and perform to the best of my ability in those races, but my training and personal choices did not match those goals.  That means I had to make changes - some big, some smaller.  I will turn 35 before my first race this year; I have an extremely limited amount of time to compete at a high level.  Long Course triathletes tend to peak in the early to mid 30's - I got a late start, so it stands to reason that, while I had higher potential at my current age, I will personally peak in my late 30's - probably 2-3 years from now.  If I'm lucky and stay healthy, I may have 5-6 years total.  

I've been training for triathlon for roughly 4.5 years, and competing for 4 years.  I ramped up my training in 2010 and 2011, and have largely held consistent (at a relatively low volume) for the four years beginning in 2011.  My average weekly volume during that stretch has remained at approximately 13 hrs/wk.  I have gone way down in the off-season and maintain an average close to 20 hrs/wk in-season (peaking up to 31.5 hrs back in 2011).  While all training plans are a mix of duration, intensity, and frequency, I saw that there were huge gains to be made with some changes to duration and frequency.  After some reflection, I also realized that I had not been doing everything I could with regard to my approach to nutrition as well as recovery. 

This bear stared me down for 200 miles in VA
Crossing the Mississippi River (MI-LA border)

The rain stopped and the skies cleared in TX - I took it as a good omen.
My biggest weakness is on the bike - this not only puts me at a deficit on the longest leg of a triathlon, but limits my run as well, taking away what should be a strength.  My off-season training needed to address this weakness.  This was two-part: one, I needed to increase my volume and strength on the bike and second, I needed to increase my functional strength through a general strength program.  These would be my primary off-season goals.  As winter is miserable in Connecticut, I made the decision that I would spend a good portion of the winter in a better training environment.  My super generous buddy, Jason Cochran, who had moved down to Austin, TX last year invited me to crash on an air mattress in his living room for as long as I wanted to train and that is where I have been since December 28th.  My secondary goals involved frequency (I wanted to hit 5-6 workouts in each discipline per week) and in the swim I wanted to up my volume/intensity so that I was prepared to swim at the front of any race I entered.

By the numbers my first 4 weeks have looked like this:
Swim - 88,000m, 25h31m, 23 swims
Bike - 992.67mi, 59h49m, 22 bikes
Run - 79.54mi, 10h58m, 22 runs
Strength - 10h4m, 10 workouts
Total Time - 106.5hrs (26.6 hrs/wk) - 77 workouts

Jason lives on the west side of Austin, so in the hills.  This first month all my riding has been in the hills.  During this block I saw my aerobic power rise, as you would expect from higher volume, but I have also seen max power numbers for every interval under 5 min. ( 30" - 528 watts; 1' - 409 watts; 2' - 338 watts; 3' - 324 watts; 5' - 302 watts).  I also ended this block with an encouraging 5.5 hr base ride.  206NP for both the front half and the back half, which was higher than my output at my final race of the season last year.  In my next phase I will be looking to maintain a volume close to 20hrs/wk on the bike, increase my 1-5' power numbers even further, and get my base 5-6 rides (I will do one at the end of week 2 and another at the end of week 4) up to 220-230NP.

Some pictures from a 100+ mile ride out to Johnson City -
the second time I did this ride the water crossing was calf deep while clipped in!

On the strength side, I have been averaging 2.5 workouts per week.  These sessions focus on core strength, stability exercises, and max power.  The power exercises are centered around deadlifts (maxed at 185 for set of 3, 3rd-5th sets) and squats (maxed at 205, set of 8, 3rd-5th sets).  I have also done DB rows and pull-ups to focus on my upper body strength.  A majority of my time is spent on stability exercises: hip flexor exercises w bands,  single leg squats/walks/lunges with med balls and plates.  As I move into my second 4-week cycle I will look to maintain the same frequency, building upon the previous workouts.

My swimming is slightly lower volume-wise than I had hoped, but I am pleased with the frequency and the resulting increase in speed.  I have managed to join the University of Texas Master's team for 2-3 workouts per week, which is great to challenge my comfort level and push me against quality swimmers.  I have been able to fill out the remainder of my schedule in the scm pool at the Lifetime Fitness I joined.  My best workouts have been on a 3 x {9 x 100yds @ 1:15 (1' rest) 100 FAST (1' rest)} where I held 1:09's on the base 100's and 59 on the FAST 100's.  I also did a 400m time trial (100 ez BK), 100 time trial on my own where I went 4:51 and 1:06.  In my next phase I will add in 1 VO2 max workout per week, and try to maintain a volume closer to 25km/wk, where I was in week four of my last cycle.

My running has been minimal, by design, over this block.  All have been relatively easy, with only a couple runs stretched up into zone 2.  My focus has been on cadence (maintaining 88-92 strides per min) which has become automatic.  1-2 times per week I have completed 8 x 100m striders (building to mile pace) w/ approx. 50" rest between.  In my next cycle I will look to increase my run volume slightly - adding in 1 run per week of 10-15 min of fartlek intervals; I will also maintain one workout per week that ends with the 8 x 100m striders.

I'm also super excited to have been accepted into a study at the University of Texas, which is testing VO2 max and lactate threshold in endurance athletes.  So as part of my next training block I will be going to the lab for 4 sessions (VO2 max tests on the bike and run; lactate threshold tests for the bike and run).  I've never had these tested in a lab setting and am looking forward to getting those numbers pinned down!

Proper nutrition means discipline.  I have not always had the disciple to turn down a burger, and lord knows I love a good beer or two.  Problem is, this impacts workout performance and recovery if this is done on a regular or even semi-regular basis.  Some aspects of good nutrition are intuitive, but most lead to questions - I know generally what is good for me, but what is the correct portion size? how often/when should I be eating? 

So I hired a nutritionist and I couldn't be happier with the results.  It takes away a lot of the guesswork and while I just completed the largest volume block of my career, I never lacked energy to perform in any of my workouts.  For the most part, it is a simple diet.  I eat approximately 5 times per day (depending on whether it is a 1, 2, or 3 workout day) with meals #1 and #5 being similar, and meals #2 and #4 being similar.  I have been gluten free thus-far, but that will change.  I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, as you would expect, but I am regimented to the portion sizes.  A couple of the things that surprised me in the nutrition plan: 

1. The larger size of my first and last meals of the day
2. How small the protein portions at meals #2 and 4 (post workout) were as well as how low calorically those meals were - however, I eat frequently, have not been hungry at all and have had the energy I needed for all workouts
3. How late I eat my last meal - I've been eating my last meal approx. 45 min before bed, and again, have never been overly full or hungry and sleep very well.

Through 5 weeks I am down a modest 5lbs (2.5kg) - should be noted that is from the heaviest I have been in 7 years - but have gone from 10.8% body fat to 7.6% body fat.  I'm sure a portion of why I am feeling so good, and dropping body fat, is that I am alcohol free now, for those 5 weeks (for a scientific account of what happens when you cut out alcohol, check out Ben Greenfield's blog ).  If you want more information on the Nutritionist I am using, Ollie Matthews, visit (be sure to mention I referred you, as you'll receive a 10% discount).  I'm excited to see how I continue to respond to the nutrition plan and how it allows me to maintain training and recovery at a high level. 

Nutrition and recovery go hand in hand.  I have always been good about getting an adequate amount of sleep.  For me this means 9-10 hrs per night, with 7.5 hrs as a minimum, when I am in heavy training.  I have not always been great about doing the little things (massage, trigger point rolling, etc) to increase blood flow and facilitate recovery.  I started using the trigger point foam rollers when I had an Achilles injury last June, but got away from regular use.  Now, I make sure to use the trigger point rollers 3-4 times per week and cover each muscle group at least once per week.  Additionally, I now have a new Normatec Recovery System (thanks to a wonderful Xmas gift from my parents!)  I spend 30-45' in the pants and hips 4-5 times per week to stimulate blood flow.

The Normatec boots!

It amazes me how some relatively minor changes - fully committing to the task at hand - can have such a large impact in such a short amount of time.  Looking forward to where this goes, and getting into race season in a few months.  My first triathlon will be the Challenge Knoxville Half, on May 17, but I have a couple single sport tests coming up:

February - bike and run VO2 max and lactate threshold testing (Austin, TX)
February 22 - Pace Bend Road Race (25 mile  - Cat 5 road bike, Austin, TX)
March 8 - Bolton 5 mile (run; Bolton, CT)
March 22nd - Boston Blowout 30k (run; Fairfield, CT)

Happy training and racing!