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.
 
Training:
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!

Nutrition:
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 http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2014/12/30-days-no-alcohol-experiment-part-1-happens-quit-alcohol-cold-turkey/ ).  If you want more information on the Nutritionist I am using, Ollie Matthews, visit http://bodycatchers.com/ (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. 

Recovery:
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!

Jeremy


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Taking the Season into Extra Innings

A little overdue here...

Six weeks ago I sat on the verge of the completion of my season, at IM Lake Tahoe.  I was rested and ready to roll but, as fate would have it, the race was cancelled literally at the last minute.  There were devastating fires in the area and it was absolutely the correct call to make as the air was thick with smoke - extremely unhealthy to compete in for hours on end.  I witnessed an angry exchange with the announcers, a couple people were crying - I get it; it's a huge commitment, and a long journey just getting to the line of an Ironman.  Anticipation is high, family and friends are following and there is a sense of doubt as to whether or not you will be able to accomplish the task at hand.  And this applies even at the highest level.  The pro athletes may have a bit more training, and a few more tools, but it is a long race and so many things can come up.  Fortunately, the smoke hadn't blown into the King's Beach area and the air was still clear so the majority of the pros decided to swim a loop to at least salvage a little workout.

smoke on the run course

 
Focus on what you can control and ignore the rest:

I try and follow this advice every day.  As I entered the water my mind was racing and I had to keep reminding myself of this advice.   How could I salvage the season?  Where could I race?  Was it worth racing again, as I'd focused my whole season on racing two IM's in 2 weeks?  Should I just call the season now, recover completely, and start my base training for next year earlier?  What could I get in today?  If I wanted to continue my season I would need to up the volume a bit - there was IM Chattanooga next week, or Beach to Battleship in 5 weeks.  Could I get my bike to Chattanooga in time with TriBike?  Can I afford another trip? 

All of these questions and many others raced through my head.  I was pleasantly surprised that the volunteers stayed out and were manning the course.  It was amazing and I know was among many athletes who were incredibly appreciative.  As we swam through a relaxed loop of the course, I decided to stay out for a long swim workout - three loops, building in by loop.  I wasn't sure what the air quality would be for the rest of the day and this would at least allow me to get in a quality workout. 

On Monday WTC sent out an email to all participants, and they offered to help the Pro's travel to a race of their choice, before the end of the calendar year.  This was a fantastic offer and I was psyched.  I had already decided that IM Chattanooga was not the right race for me, with a fast swim and a bike profile with which I was unfamiliar.  I actually wasn't super psyched with my options, but chose to go to Augusta the following weekend.  It was a with-current swim as well, but the bike course was certainly not technical and my buddy, Rob Duncan, was racing down there as well so I would have someone to split the cost of a hotel.

kayaking with my sister after the race was cancelled
 
Augusta 70.3

The coolest part of the race was the start - I didn't start in the draft-legal path and will likely never compete there, but as swimming is my background I've always been a little jealous of the starting block format for their starts.  Well, in Augusta we swam in the river and started from the dock that extended out into the middle, and everyone agreed to a dive start (woo hoo!). 

The swim was rippin' - I tried to grab Brent's feet off the start.  Knew I wouldn't be able to hold for the duration, but was hoping to use it to establish a gap.  No luck.  I went about 200m before I abandoned this plan and settled in behind the second place swimmer.  We came out in 20-flat, a PR by 4+ min.  Thanks, river.  I zipped through T1 pretty well.  As I had a good deal of base behind me, from the summer and plenty of rest over the past three weeks, I wanted to be a bit aggressive on the bike.  I executed this well - my NP was 244 for the front half and 243 for the back half.  Unfortunately my legs didn't want to cooperate on the run.  I ran steadily, (all splits within 15"), but had no speed.  Still, I had my fastest run split of the year (1:25:49) and a 6+ min PR for the entire distance (4:17:29), so I was pleased with the performance, especially considering I was on the other side of the country and didn't know I was doing the race five days earlier.

Steering into the Skid

This is where the decision to extend my season hit a bump in the road.  I decided to add Beach to Battleship to my schedule, so that I would end my season with an Iron distance race.  I had finished 2013 at that race and had a great day - 5th overall with a 9:31, in my second attempt at the distance (a 2hr 12min PR).  Since IM Wisconsin, I had gone a cumulative 29 hrs of volume in three weeks with my only day over 2 hrs being the race in Augusta.  My original plan to end my season in September had a lot to do with one of my best friends getting married in October.  I made the decision to extend my season in spite of my unwillingness to compromise the time I was planning to be down there, helping set up.  So, I had a good week of training - 24 hs between the Wednesday following Augusta and the following Tuesday.  I had the best workouts of the season during this week.

one day my workout was carrying carloads of hay bales

I can't count how many times I've passed up going out for a beer, or taking a 2-3 hr drive for a weekend at the beach or in Boston, etc.  While, in the moment, I would likely have more fun than going to bed at 9pm, I can rest assured that I'll be more satisfied in the long run with the decisions that will also benefit my training and racing.  It's a lifestyle I chose and thoroughly enjoy.  That said, there are 2-3 things I can think of that would take absolute precedent over any and all training.  This wedding and the days surrounding it was one of those occasions hence my original plan for that time to be squarely in the off-season. 



So, after that solid week, I went just over 16 hours of total volume in the 17 days prior to the race (4 of those days were completely off).  As another good friend is fond of saying - there are no excuses, only choices.  I'm happy with my choices.  I'm happy I raced in Augusta; I'm happy I raced in Wilmington.  I sit here a lot more satisfied with my season, than I would have been if I had ended with IM Wisconsin.  Not to mention I would never have had those workouts after Augusta.  Most of all I'm happy for the time I was able to hang out and help in Hershey and the Eastern Shore.

Beach 2 Battleship

I had a couple goals heading into this race.  One, I wanted to run the whole marathon.  I had blown up in my previous 4 attempts and had ended up walking between 2-4 miles in the late stages.  Based on previous races, I thought this would leave me close to a 3:10 marathon, so I had that number in my head.  I also wanted to negative split the bike, by effort, and had power numbers in my head that I thought would give me that chance.

Swim - I now own the second fastest swim split ever in an iron distance race - 37:40 (I broke every PR I've ever had from 100m through 2.4 miles).  Probably doesn't mean much, since that was a very strong current, but other people track it so I'm holding onto it. 

T1 - I won T1!  Wetsuit stripping, running, running with the bike - it has everything.  It's like I won the race.

Bike - 5:13:50 - I was looking to hold between 200-210 avg watts for the first 1/2-3/4 of the bike, then up it a bit in the back half.  I knew my fitness would be off a bit from my peak, but on a similar course in Atlantic City in June I  was able to keep my NP above 220 for the first 84 miles before fading to 184NP in the final quarter.  I took quarter splits, and was able to hold within my desire range for the first half, then normalized 197 in the third quarter, while watching my HR climb above what I knew was sustainable.  The lack of aerobic work over the past 7 weeks was worse than I though.  I backed off the bike in the final quarter and just coasted in - luckily the winds were at my back here and I was able to maintain my average speed while dropping power.  I wanted to have my run legs under me.

Run - 3:29:04 - My plan, as it had been all year, was to walk the aid stations to make sure I was getting in my nutrition and run everywhere else.  I started off relaxed, unfortunately I had no speed.  Usually I roll through the first couple miles at 6:40 pace with a relatively low HR.  Today I started at 7:20 pace over the first couple miles, peaked at 7:10 pace between miles 2-4, held sub-8 pace through 16 miles and then began to struggle mightily.  I faded up to 9:15 pace, but was able to stick to my plan to only walk the aid stations.  It was 58" slower than the previous year (the only other time I had gone under 3:30), but I was 14' slower in the front half and 13' faster in the back half, so I will consider that a step in the right direction.

Overall, I finished 11th with a 6' PR of 9:25:13. 

Thanks to everyone who has supported me this season - the PFC Elite Team, all my family and friends, my sponsors - Quintana Roo, Gray wheels, ISM saddles, Karhu shoes, Suunto watches, Ogio bags, Xtennex laces, Aquasphere wetsuits, and Perfect Fuel Chocolate. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

IM Wisconsin to IM Lake Tahoe


I'm going to write a little bit about a lot of things in this post, as I prepare to race my second of three IM races in a 7 week span.  I've been out in South Lake Tahoe by myself for the past 8 days and had some time to collect thoughts on the year so far.

Running strong around the half marathon at IM WI

Motivations to race professionally?

There's been a lot of focus on this recently, due to the changes instituted by WTC and some of the comments made by their CEO, Andrew Messick (his Aug 8th interview with Slowtwitch can be read here).  I've now spent exactly 13 months as a professional, and feel I can address some of what I've learned and why I wish to continue to train and race at the professional level.  First off, since this was a professional decision, I will speak to the financial reasons.  Am I currently making boatloads of cash?  No.  I don't think there are many who are, and quite frankly if we reduced the professional ranks to those that were making a quality living, financially, I think we would have a lot of boring and empty races.  There are 595 individuals on the PGA Tour that have earned money this year (a number which is comparable to the Male Pros earning points in the KPR); the last I checked, over the summer I was ranked 338 in the KPR - the 338th ranked golfer, on the money list, is currently Colin Montgomerie, a former champion.  Sprinkled around him are up-and-coming 20 and 30-somethings.  While my cash earnings have been slightly better than non-existent, by making the decision to race professionally, when I did, I reduced my racing expenses by over 70% while increasing my race schedule and travel radius.  I was also aware that due to current landscape of professional triathlon racing, that I would have a developmental season or two before I could legitimately contend for a reasonable cash income. 

This brings me to my other motivations for racing professionally - to challenge myself against the best, on the same playing field, and see how far I can push myself mentally and physically.  While I think there are factors beyond our control, I firmly believe that anyone has a chance to achieve a high level of success though years of focused practice and dedication.  I could write a book on this, so I won't go too deep.  Suffice it to say, with this belief and having been athletically minded my entire life, as well as having amassed thousands of hours of endurance training by my early 30's, I felt reasonably comfortable making the decision to pursue this path fully. [For more information on these topics - this introductory article by K Anders Ericsson from 1993, and this recent TED talk by David Epstein offer good starting points]. I knew I was entering the professional ranks with a weak bike, and that needed to be my focus for a couple years.  In the Age Group field I was never close to my competition.  I typically won my wave by a wide margin, and was competing against people who started way ahead or way behind me.  I didn't feel that this was challenging myself as best I could; I may never finish top-10 in the most competitive races, but I'd like to give myself the opportunity and experiences to know there was nothing else I could have done to achieve that level. 

So when I made the move to racing professionally I had a feeling I would be near the front of the professional races on the swim and wanted to see where I could stack up in the race after that.  It has been an adjustment learning to swim with a pack.  The swim is much more tactical, as I can no longer jump out in the first 400m and then cruise at a comfortable pace.  In Wisconsin I tried that, couldn't hold the top two guys, pulled a massive group for a few hundred meters, then had to battle for position in the pack for the majority of the way.  way too much wasted energy, even though it wasn't a terrible result.  Those little mistakes also lead to bigger gaps on the bike, that I can't afford as well, and are probably why I haven't been able to put together a solid run - or at least one that indicates my fitness and training. 

A little LCM training session at UW

My last motivation for racing professionally Racing, learning about the industry and being exposed to a wider range of races and athletes allows me to hone my coaching skills and knowledge as well as gain exposure to different race management styles.  So in a sense racing professionally serves as constant professional development.  Because of the experiences I have had as a professional, the industry experts I have met and the different races I have been able to travel to I am a better coach to my athletes and am able to offer a higher quality of service to my clients.

Focus for 2014 Season:

Competing in the professional ranks allows me to compete more frequently.  I knew that an important aspect to racing professionally would be recovery and the ability to bounce back and race frequently at a high level.  I wanted to make this first professional season all about racing and recovery.  Entering 2014 I had completed 2 IM races (May 2011 and Oct. 2013).  I tentatively put 4 on the schedule - Challenge AC in June, IM WI in September and IM Lake Tahoe two weeks after that.  If I was happy with my recovery, I would add Beach to Battleship in late October.  While I didn't have the race I was hoping for in Wisconsin, I couldn't be happier with my recovery. 

I had a couple early mishaps on the bike and made some significant mistakes (read - power spikes) in the first third of a very hilly course that resulted in my struggling for the remainder of the day.  And while I ran well for 17 miles, I had GI distress and nausea for the first time (some have said this could have been a reaction to 3 bee stings I experienced on the bike), but this is all part of IM racing.  Sometimes the body doesn't hold up as you would like.  I was happy that I was able to push through and run the last five miles for the finish.  After my previous 3 IM races I experienced significant stiffness for days, and knee pain/soreness for weeks.  The stiffness was gone after a couple days and I have not experienced any of the knee pain.  My workouts have felt good, and I feel like I am more rested and operating at a high quality heading into Tahoe.

As a result, Sunday will not be my last race of the year.  I am excited to return to Beach to Battleship for the second year in a row.  They put on a great race last year, and I look forward to competing on that course again, especially as my buddy Rob Duncan makes his IM debut there, and one of my former Fairfield Univ. swimmers, Tommy Peters, makes his Half IM debut.

Travel:

This is both the best and worst part of professional racing.  First, I have no desire to break down my bike and reassemble it every time I go to a race.  Thank god for Tri Bike Transport!  I can drop my bike off at a shop near me, and then pick it up directly at the race venue a few days before the race.  It is mindless and super convenient - and never more obvious to me, how great, as during my trip to Wisconsin.  My bike made it no problems; me - had multiple cancelled flights/rebooking for the last leg from Chicago to Madison - ended up being re-ticketed four times and getting in almost 24 hours after I was supposed to.

When my buddy Ryan and I finally arrived we were greeted with the most amazing homestay.  Joann Peck was an incredible host, picking up thins for us at the grocery store, allowing us to borrow her car to drive the course, getting me to the start line exactly when I wanted and patiently waiting for me to bring a gear bag back to the car at 5am.  Not to mention introducing us to two amazing members of the ultra-running community - Timo and Ann, all of whom spent the day cheering.  Their support, as well as the incredible crowd support all along the course was an extremely motivating factor and much appreciated!  The best part of racing and traveling is being able to meet so many wonderful people and experience communities I would otherwise never go to - Thank you Joann, Timo, Ann and the entire Madison community!

For the past week I have been able to recovery, acclimate to altitude and train in South Lake Tahoe.  It is absolutely gorgeous.  I am very fortunate to be able to train in different locations and look forward to my travels over the next few months as well which includes time on the Eastern shore of MD for my buddy Christian's wedding, NC for Beach to Battleship, Portland, OR for my cousin Linda's 50th, Kona, HI to crew for my buddy Nick's Ultraman race, and an extended time down in Austin, TX from December through February; thanks to my buddy Jason for offering up his place down there!  Looking forward to the adventures ahead!


Views from the IM Lake Tahoe bike course

Support:

Thank you to everyone who provide encouragement, especially my parents and sister who consistently provide support.  And for the second straight year my sister will be joining me at a race, as she flies into Tahoe tomorrow, despite her recent surgery for a broken wrist.  Thank you to all my product sponsors - Quintana Roo, ISM saddles, Gray Wheels, Karhu shoes, Aquasphere wetsuit, Rudy Project for my super aero and comfortable helmet and sunglasses, Champion Sys for my racing and training kits, Swiftwick socks for helping with my recovery, especially while travelling and Perfect Fuel Chocolate for the best pre-race/training energy bites!  And of course thank you to Push Potential Marketing and the PFC elite team for their support and inspiration all year.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Timberman 70.3 Race Report

This race is always a fun one for me.  Last year it was my first Pro race, and I knew my fitness coming in was a lot better this year.  It's also a race I get to do with a lot of friends.  For the second straight year I stayed in a house for 4 nights with a group of 4 other guys - fun group and a very chill atmosphere, perfect for a race weekend.  New this year was the fact that four of my athletes were also at this race, so that added to my excitement and enjoyment of the weekend.


Swim start for a practice swim

Swim - 24:39
I have been ramping up my swim over the past 3 months, and was finally starting to feel confident.  In the past couple weeks I hit some  key workouts and felt like I was swimming better than ever.  As a result I wanted to try and test my racing and drafting skills.  I knew that Andy Potts would swim away, but wanted to try and catch the group that formed after him.  The first couple hundred meters were difficult but I was soon able to settle in behind and relax into the pace.  As the swim progressed I felt more and more relaxed and excited to get on the bike.  Overall I felt more relaxed and was 1:15 faster than the previous year!

Bike - 2:31:05
My race plan coming in was to take the initial hills at Ironman effort, then build into a stronger effort on the flats.  Due to my swim, I found myself farther out front than normal.  Around mile 10 I was passed by a group of around 8 - the second pack of men and the lead women.  It was at the base of the steepest climb and I stuck to my original plan and let them bike away.  Between 14-20 miles four more passed me and I was able to adjust my effort to ride with them, keeping them in sight.  I could see them 30-60" up the road through the turnaround, where I was passed again.  Shortly after this pass I surged (at the 30 mile mark), which again had been the plan.  My HR was low, and my legs felt ok, generally, but I was having a hard time keeping my HR at the level it should be.  I was going only on HR here as my power meter had crapped out on me at the beginning of the ride...boooo!  I felt good and strong straight through the hills on the return and was ready to run.  Looking back at how I surged, after the race I was pleased with the improvement (I had a 4% negative split as opposed to most of my competitors who had around a 2% negative split - not great for me from a racing perspective, but very good with an eye to what I want to accomplish in WI and Tahoe).

heading out on the run


Run - 1:27:06
I felt ok on the run.  I just never pushed.  I've gone back and forth on this as to whether I should have "raced" better and dug deeper.  My run fitness and workouts have indicated I should be much faster in a Half than this, however, I never hit the HR levels I should for an event of this length.  In terms of recovery and racing at your highest level I think that you need to practice mental toughness; I also believe racing and mental toughness are one in the same - you need to learn to dig deep.  That said,  I'm also convinced from watching other athletes, speaking with colleagues in the coaching community and from personal experience that you can only go to the well so many times.  I simply chose not to go to that place, with the intention that I will need to dig deep in my final two races.  And while I was getting hard on myself after the race about that effort,  I realized I've dug far deeper in most of my quality workouts over the past few weeks.  Hopefully that translates to my longer races.  At any rate, while the run wasn't killer fast at Timberman, it was steady and consistent and there is something to be said for that.

Total Time - 4:25:21, 12th Pro, 27th Overall


With my athlete, Lizzie Nyitray,
claiming her 70.3W.C. slot for Austria 2015

As an aside - the past year I have focused a great deal on transition, and for the most part have been very happy with the results.  Year over year I was 21" faster in T1 (there is still some work to be done there).  With the athletes I am coming out of the water, I still lost an additional 10-25" and that's time that I shouldn't be losing.  My T2 however has gone from being a liability to an advantage.  I was 42" faster than last year, and was on the faster end of the athletes I am competing against.  It didn't take much to realize these improvements - T2 is the easiest to practice - nearly every time I come in at the end of a bike ride, I practice my dismount.

Thank you to all the people who support me - my parents, friends and family, the PFC Elite Team, all my product sponsors - Perfect Fuel Chocolate for great pre-race fueling, Aquasphere for the super fast Phantom wetsuit, Quintana Roo Bikes, Gray race wheels, ISM seat, Karhu shoes, Suunto watch, Rudy Project sunglasses and helmet, Swiftwick compression socks and Champion System for their incredibly comfortable racing kits and training gear!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Motivation and Inspiration

What motivates you to train everyday?  Who inspires you?  How do you get through those 8 hour workouts?  I often field questions like these from other athletes, family and friends.  My motivation comes from a desire to make the most out of every opportunity I have.  I try and maintain 2-3 priorities that take precedence over everything else.  I constantly ask myself the question 'Will this helping me achieve my goals?'  If the answer is 'yes,' then the motivation has been provided.  It has always been much easier for me to answer the question of what motivates me, than it has been to answer who inspires me. 

The people who have inspired me, or do inspire, however have changed throughout the years, and at certain times there is not always someone who readily comes to mind.  Janet Evans was the first person I can recall inspiring me - when I was 8 years old I remember watching her swim in the Olympics and winning three gold medals; they showed footage of her dominating world record performance in the 1500m freestyle from the previous summer.  My family was incredibly fortunate to have a 40ft x 20ft in-ground pool in our backyard at that time, and I figured out how many lengths it would take to swim 1500m in that pool - I did not complete the swim, but only because my worried mother pulled me out at some point in the middle (I can only imagine how long I had been swimming at this point and what it must have looked like, as I had never been on a swim team, and when I finally did join a year and a half later, my freestyle was not very good).



Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting 9-year old Skylar Mascarinas and her Dad, Chris.  They were riding in the CT Challenge, an event I have worked with for the past few years organizing support crews, mechanics, and other logistical matters.  That day I was in a sweep vehicle.  I saw them for the first time walking up a hill shortly after the 25 mile ride turn-off.  As we leap-frogged back and forth over the next few miles, we waved to each other and exchanged a few words.  Skylar was smiling, walking up the steep hills, and pedaling steadily everywhere else. 

At the first rest stop I was able to speak with them for a little bit longer before they set out.  I was held up there for a while and that was the last I saw them for the rest of the day.  I was super impressed with Skylar's tenacity at such a young age as well as Chris's patience and support and was curious as to whether they had finished the full fifty mile ride they had started - after all I had only seen them ride through 14 miles. 



After that weekend, I sent Chris an email to say how impressed I was by Skylar and to satisfy my curiosity.  They had finished!  It took them 6.5 hours.  This was actually Skylar's second year participating in the CT Challenge - she had ridden the 25 mile course as an 8-year old.  Why had Skylar done this?  A friend of the family - Bill Mahoney - had lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer.  So for the past two years she has ridden in his memory.  Her goal this year was to raise $10,000 for the Center for Survivorship (www.ctchallenge.org) and I for one want to help her get there.  Her fundraising page is here.

For the past two and a half weeks I have been in the final training block heading into my final races of the year: Ironman Wisconsin on Sept 7th and Ironman Lake Tahoe on September 21st.  This has been the largest and most difficult block I have ever gone though.  Every time fatigue has threatened to prevent me from getting out the door, or a workout gets long and tough and I want to back off, I think about what Skylar accomplished, how long she pushed through on that day, and the selfless reasons she was out there in the first place. 

Thank you, Skylar.  You have a truly bright future ahead and I consider myself fortunate having met you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Challenge Atlantic City: First of 3 IM races this year!

On Sunday, exactly two weeks out of this race, I found myself at the start line of the Pat Griskus Olympic at Lake Quassapaug.  I hadn't run in two weeks, since I had been forced to drop out of the Rev3 Quassy Half with a tight Achilles.  Not much went well during the race - I was a little worried about what would happen on the run, but as the miles passed I felt nothing.  I finished the 6 mile run without incident and was very happy that things had seemed to come around.  Unfortunately that feeling of relief lasted about an hour.  By the time I left the race my Achilles had tightened up and continued to get progressively tighter throughout the afternoon.  I resigned myself to not being able to race at AC, and I was increasingly concerned about the remainder of my season. 

Griskus Oly - Bike Out

That evening I spoke with my good friend, Christian, who is in Med School and he helped talk me down from the ledge.  He reminded me that sometimes rest is not the answer - you need to promote blood flow to the injured area.  He told me to run for 15 minutes a day and to make sure I was using a foam roller 2-3 times per day to work out the knots in my calf.  He said that based on where my pain/tightness was it was likely a less serious Achilles irritation that stemmed from super tight calf muscles.  Additionally, I performed some eccentric calf exercises aimed at strengthening the tendons and ligaments (http://www.intelligent-triathlon-training.com/Achilles-tendinitis.html).

As the two weeks progressed, I had no issues during my 15 minute runs and I could feel the knots in my right calf begin to loosen up and go away.  The rolling became slightly less painful each day.  I was still skeptical that everything would hold up for a marathon, but I was excited to have some hope and was super psyched to see where my swim and bike training were.


Ocean Side on Long Beach Island, where I was staying with my buddy Ryan


Swim: 55:31

The swim was a non-wetsuit swim, but I was fully prepared with my Aquasphere Speedsuit.  It was low tide in the back bay and they said the water was 80-degrees.  I lined up a little behind.  I've been surprised by the speed of the start in most of the 70.3 races I've done and wanted to make a conscious effort to swim this more efficiently - it takes a whole lot less effort to sit on someone's feet for the first 200m than to try and swim next to them.  I got jostled a bit, but overall swam very well and very relaxed to the first turn buoy, with the lead group.  Here we navigated two left turns over the course of 50m.  I got slammed, my heart rate went up and I was gapped.  With my HR elevated I made the executive decision to not cover the gap and to swim with the second group.  It quickly became apparent that this second group wasn't going to carry me to the swim I wanted,  so from that point I swam the majority of the way by myself.  I came out of the water roughly 1-1.5 minutes behind that lead group, and 2 minutes in front of the group behind - Hat's off to Dylan McNeice who gapped the second place by nearly six minutes!  No idea how he motored to a 47:24 there?!

T1: 1:49

One of the big things I wanted to accomplish this year was focusing o my transitions.  In the past they've been awful, mostly because I haven't focused on them at all.  So bad, that after my first Ironman in 2011 my Mom - laughed at me at the awards brunch when she saw a shirt for sale that said 'lost in transition,' said, you need to have that, and ran off to buy it.  Thanks, Mom (actually a really comfortable t-shirt).  Today, I wasn't the fastest, but was highly competitive, and didn't crash at the mount line, utilizing clipped in shoes for the first time.  Needs some work, but a step in the right direction.



Bike: 5:09:11

Couldn't be happier with this effort.  Class Cycles in Southbury, CT had my Quintana Roo cd0.1 tuned perfectly.  It's nice to see some returns on the bike training I've put in over the last couple months.  Between May and June I had put in some serious bike volume and consistency.  I had ridden between 55-70 miles 16 times during that span; what was missing were the longer rides - over distance rides and 5-6 hr rides with IM effort intervals near the end.  In my season plan, it was a little early to get those rides in, so I wanted to see how I would respond.  Every race has it's share of surprises - today that surprise was the bracket on my aero bottle snapping at mile 5.  In the early going this was my only bottle set for hydration, so for the next 45 miles I held it in place so that it didn't slide out and bounce off my front wheel.  That was a minor hiccup (though made some turns interesting) and for 83 miles I rode well - my Avg Watts gradually climbed from 220-222 and my HR remained where I wanted it.  What I was most pleased with, was my ability to react when passed, to up my output and keep my competitors close.  That all changed when we got back to the AC expressway and turned right into a headwind.  My power dropped and I ended the ride with 210 average watts.  Very excited to see the power and speed I had for the majority of the ride and looking forward to getting some more IM specific training rides leading up to Wisconsin and Tahoe, in September.  As an aside - not something talked about frequently, but when you're racing for this amount of time, you're likely peeing yourself on the bike.  At AC this rather routine exercise happened 4 times.  What was less routine was, as I started for the last time at mile 105, the camera crew rolled right up next to me and filmed the entire 30-40 seconds approximately 2 feet away.  Thanks guys - hope you enjoyed my out of the saddle technique. 

T2: 1:44

This may be my proudest moment of the day.  Fastest on the day - no joke.  Some may question not taking a little extra time in transition to prepare for the run.  I loaded up on my sodium at the end of the bike and grabbed a few gels in my gear bag and headed out - even put socks on.

Run: 3:30:01

Sometimes you don't deserve to break that barrier.  At my last IM, eight months ago my run training had been spot on and I had some of the best speed of my life, but made a few nutritional mistakes and ended up blowing up in the middle for a couple miles.  Considering my run training had been nearly non existent for 6 weeks leading into this race, and I had questions regarding my Achilles, I didn't have many expectations here.  My biggest goal was to execute a decent nutrition plan, and to that end I think I did pretty well.  It was a very hot day, and I did experience some cramping late as it wsa difficult to keep up with fluids and salt intake.  I ran moderately well for the first 15.5 miles, fading slightly as I went (1:36 at the Half).  At 15.5 I need to make a short stop in the toilet, and from then on I was in survival mode.  I walked the aid stations and downed a salt tab, 2-3 cups of water and 2 cups of cola at each one.   From here I held consistent at 8:45 pace, but from the final turn to the finish had to make a deal with myself to walk 26 steps every 5 minutes.  Why 26?  Because it's a marathon, of course.

Total Time: 9:38:16, 15th Pro, 18th Overall

Remaining schedule:
August 3rd - NYC  Tri (Olympic)
August 17th - Timberman 70.3
September 7th - IM Wisconsin
September 21st - IM Lake Tahoe

Friday, June 6, 2014

Big Leaps for First-Time Long Course athletes at Rev3 Quassy!

Despite Rev3 announcing a month before the race that they were getting rid of the Pro Series, I still wanted to race at their Quassy event.  They still put on a great race and it is my home course.  The run turn around was at the driveway of the HS I graduated from, and step-for-step was the long run we did for cross country.  It was also the first Half I raced, two years ago.   In the past month I felt like I had turned the corner with my swim and bike fitness, and my run felt great.  Then, ten days before Quassy, I felt tightness in my Achilles.  I rested for a week, ran but still felt some tightness.  I had no issues swimming or biking, so I didn't run for another four, and started the race.  Unfortunately, the tightness crept back in after the two mile mark and by 6.5 I didn't feel it would be wise to push it any further.  I'm confident with some rest and some care I will be back and strong soon.


My biggest reason for wanting to be there, was that I also had two athletes - Peter Ackley and Rachael McClelland - who were making their debut at the Half Iron distance at this race.   As anyone who has done this course knows, it is exceptionally demanding with almost 3000 ft of climbing on the bike and three very long and/or steep hills on the run.  I couldn't be prouder with how they responded and performed through the entire event.

Peter did his first Olympic race at this site exactly one year ago, and didn't have the race he wanted.  He finished in 3:30 and struggled mentally the entire way.  Flash forward one year, and despite a mediocre swim (for him), he remained calm and focused.  He built in on the bike, over the first few hills and was biking his strongest over the back half, ready to get out on the run.  As Peter's bike improved over the past few months his run has looked exceptional.  His PR for a stand-alone Half Marathon was a 2:12, from the previous June.  On Sunday he began the run at 9:30 pace, and despite "going to a dark place" held his run together at 9:27 for most of the second half before fading to 10:18 pace in the last 2 miles, which included a killer hill right before the finish - good for a 2:05:48 Half Marathon and a 6:05:42 Overall time!  



Rachael had an even steeper learning curve, in the sport, having competed in her first Triathlon last summer.  She came to the sport with enthusiasm and with only a running background.  She was nervous about the swim and had only ever done a 20 mile bike.  In the Fall she was hit by a car - no serious injuries, fortunately, but definitely provided another mental hurdle for her to overcome.  The brutal winter we had in CT this year didn't help and her outdoor rides were limited.  As a result,  she had a lot of anxiety about the bike and had a great deal of trouble keeping her heart rate down when she went out.  Likewise, she much anxiety about the swim - the cold, sighting, open water in general.  Fortunately, she lives close and was able to get out in the lake, and on the bike course a couple times so that limited the unknowns on race day.  The plan was to stay steady and she did through the swim and the bike.  Towards the end of the bike she started to cramp and was plagued with those issues throughout the course of the run.  To her credit, and mental strength, she maintained relentless forward progress to come in at 8:41:18 for her first Half finish!



I'm also going to give a quick shout-out to Mark Carioto, who raced the Olympic Distance at Quassy on Saturday.  I've been working with Mark on his swim for the past two years.  Mark came to me with a host of technique and pacing issues.  Last year we worked primarily on lengthening him out, getting him comfortable in the water, more efficient, and building into longer swims at easy efforts.  He made huge strides and accomplished all those goals, but it didn't translate to faster swim times.  He was much more efficient and that laid the foundation for the two massive breakthroughs he experienced this off-season, when we brought back effort based speed and strength intervals.  Long story short, Mark exited the water comfortable AND two minutes faster than his previous best at this distance - 27:13. 

While my race didn't go the way I wanted it to, it was fantastic to see my friends, teammates (Tim Russell, PFC Elite Team had a huge breakthrough race - fastest bike split, PR on the run and 5th Overall!), and athletes shine.  Congratulations to all and look forward to where this season will take you!  Peter, Rachael and Mark will all be at 70.3 Timberman on August 17th!