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 (briankleary@austin.utexas.edu ) 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.
 
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!