Thursday, August 28, 2008

Trying to Put it All Together

This has been a tough year for me for racing so far. I overdid it on the bike and cramped on the run at a Half Ironman in April. I had the worst swim of my life at the Cap Tex Olympic distance race in Austin in May. My stomach didn’t cooperate during Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June, which cost me lots of time on the run. I flatted out during the 5430 and had my first DNF in Boulder in August. And I had another bad swim two weeks ago at the Arkansas State Championships that cost me an age group win and a fourth place overall. Each of those races had good elements. My swim was good in April and at the Ironman. My bike was good at the Ironman and the Cap Tex (actually, my biking has been pretty solid all year). And since the mishaps at the Ironman, I’ve been pretty happy with my running, especially my effort. I just haven’t quite been able to put all three together yet this year. Which brings me to last Sunday . . .

Sunday was the Rockwall Sprint Triathlon, which I do every year, but only because it’s local. And by “local,” I mean, it’s less than 5 minutes from my house. Even though I swore off all races produced by Ironhead (i.e., Jack Weiss) long ago, I still do this one so that I can support the local community. Never again until it is run by someone with some common sense.

The Swim – This is a pool swim so you are seeded according to swim time. I was number 27. I was glad that Cooper (one of the Tri-Prosoap members) was one person in front of me instead of one person behind me so that I wouldn't slow him down. Oddly enough, this was the first time I've ever done a pool swim and not been held up by the person in front of me. Thanks, Coop! 4:44 for a 300. Not my best swim, but not my worst either. 14 seconds slower than I had anticipated.

My transitions were pretty much right where I expected. I generally figure about a minute for T1 and 30 seconds for T2 depending on how long the run to my bike is. I ended up with 58 seconds and 29 seconds, respectively. For those of you that don't practice transitions, you should start! The shorter the race, the more important they become. Just think of the time you make up on the run because of transitions alone. 30 seconds spread over the two transitions is 10 seconds a mile on the run. Transitions are your enemy! Every second you spend in there is wasted time. Practice them often. Every time I get on or off my TT bike, I am flying on or off. If you do a brick workout, use that as an opportunity to practice transitions.

The Bike - I knew that several of the Prosoap team were up ahead of me so it really motivated me to work hard to try and catch them. However, as usual for a race this short, I felt like crap the first 10 minutes or so. Right out of the gate two guys went by me in a two-man paceline of sorts. Seriously, who cheats in a 14 mile time trial? The best part is that they kept looking back to make sure there weren't any officials around. Pathetic. One of those guys is someone I have looked up to for a long time because he was so fast. I think he’s even competed in Kona before. I lost a lot of respect for him on Sunday. And for what? A fast sprint race? Nice job.

I eventually caught up to Coop (who was also a witness to the drafting), who then passed me back about 5 minutes later. He was looking REALLY strong when he went by me so I figured he was gone. But I reeled him back in before too long. I know he's a strong runner, so I dug down to try and put a little distance between us in case I needed it to hold him off on the run. Still, I figured we would be fighting it out for the rest of the race. Toward the end I got a little more energy when I realized that I could see our fearless leader, Billy, in the distance. I didn't catch him until just before the last turn before T2. It wasn't until later that I realized he had beaten me in the swim by a minute! Come on, Billy! That's ridiculous! You beat me by a minute in a 300 yard swim?!?! I'm not even going to look to see how bad Chase beat me. When are you guys going to hold a Tri-Prosoap swim clinic to help us slow pokes out? My bike time was 35:59, or 23.3 mph. A little slower than I would have liked, but considering how awful I felt at the beginning, not too bad.

The Run - Felt strong right out of the gate. First mission, track down those cheaters! I caught them less than an mile into it. I generally like to speed up a bit when I pass someone, but in a race that short, if you can speed up, you aren't running hard enough. So I just flew by both of them and kind of chuckled to myself that they aren't quite as tough to drop when they can't help each other by drafting. About that time, the first person went by me going the other direction. Then another, and one more, and then Chase. A quick high five, and then the turn around. I went from starting in 27th position on 10 second intervals to being the 4th person running to the finish. But could I catch Chase?

I felt as good as I ever feel at this point in a race. Sprints are so different than any other distance. There's really no strategy other than to go as hard as you possibly can until you hit the finish line. I had run 6:02 pace the weekend before at DeGray, which is mostly uphill for the first half of the run. So I knew I could go under 6 minute miles if things went well. Unfortunately, I missed the turn to the finish with about 200 yards to go. I pretty much figured it out immediately, so I stopped and looked around to try and figure out where to go to get back on track. Then a guy running the other direction told me that everyone was going "back that way" and pointed toward Chase. So I trotted it in the rest of the way, frustrated, and not running very hard. I jumped the caution tape and crossed the finish line about the same time as Chase.

I don't really know how fast I would have finished, but my pace was just under 5:50 up to the point where I stopped running to figure out where I was. Based on that, I should have finished the run just under 17 minutes flat, which would have put me finishing around 59:10. 10 seconds slower than I had hoped for (remember those 14 seconds on the swim?). And enough for second overall and first in my age group. But who knows what it really would have been.

Jack hunted me (and Chase) down to yell at us for “cutting the course” even though we ran significantly further than we were supposed to since his course was so poorly marked, and he had no volunteers out there to direct traffic. He tried to disqualify us, but the head ref decided to just give us a 2 minute penalty since we in no way cheated. I’m not sure why Jack Weiss is so hateful. I won’t go into too much detail in this forum about what happened other than to say that I had little respect for the man before this race, and his actions at the finish were just inexcusable. I have gotten off course three times in my life. All three were at Jack Weiss races. I have never complained about it to anyone other than my wife and family. But he comes to me yelling at me and calling me “STUPID, GD STUPID” because I “can’t follow his clearly marked signs.” Me and about 30 others according to the head ref, Jack. I’m done with his races. It’s unfortunate because the Rockwall Kiwanis is a great group and this race is really for them, not Jack. But I am now joining the throngs of others that refuse to support anything that he is involved with.

Ending this post on a positive . . . It was a lot of fun hanging out with all the Tri-Prosoap guys. I don’t get to race with them very often since I do more long course stuff and therefore don’t race as often as a lot of them do. I hope to get to race with them more. It was a lot of fun getting cheered on by so many other competitors. It seemed like there was always someone yelling encouragement at me. It’s nice to have a team in what is usually a very lonely sport. Thanks, guys. I’m really proud to wear the Tri-Prosoap jersey; to represent you guys and the great companies that sponsor us. I just wish that jersey or those sponsors could make me swim like Chase and Billy!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ryan's First Race; My First DNF

Well, I’ve delayed writing about this long enough. Yes, I DNF’d (i.e., “Did Not Finish”) in Boulder last weekend. This was the first time I have ever dropped out of a race. It was heartbreaking. I felt much better on the bike than I expected to since I had been sick for so long leading up to this race. The first 8 miles of the bike course are the hardest. It’s mostly uphill, and you feel like you should be going much faster than you are. I know that about this course, so I was telling myself to back off the entire time. I was feeling very relaxed, the pace was effortless, I was averaging well over 20mph and getting ready to pick that WAY up, when all of a sudden PSHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! And my back tire was flat. I don’t carry a spare tire (I race on tubulars so just a tube isn’t enough — you need another tire when you have a flat) in anything shorter than an Ironman. So my day was done. Almost.

This bothered me a lot more than I expected it to. I think the culmination of all the “bad races” I’ve had this year are starting to drag on me. I keep thinking all it will take is one good race to get me back on track for the season. As good as I was feeling on the bike, I thought that could have been the day that it all came together. But it wasn’t meant to be. Instead of flying into T2 and running my legs off, I rode on the back of a motorcycle holding onto my bike with one arm and the driver with the other (not an easy feat with a disc wheel dragging behind us like a sail!), and standing around waiting on Ryan to finish the bike course. When he came through, I still had my race number, so I ran with him.
Ryan did AWESOME in his first triathlon! 5:14 and change is solid for anyone doing a half Ironman, much less someone doing their FIRST half-Ironman! And this was his first TRIATHLON! I’ll let him tell you more about it. I decided with a few miles to go that I would bust out the last several on my own. Ryan was struggling, so I stayed with him until mile 11 and then ran under 6:30 pace to the finish. That felt great considering I had been on my feet all day with little to eat. Makes me wonder what could have been . . . .

Still, overall, it was a good day. Disappointing in one respect, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of running with Ryan during his first race. I will have many other opportunities to race well in a half-ironman. I will never get another chance to run with Ryan during his first race. Call it a silver lining or a blessing in disguise, but I will always cherish that flat tire. I always knew that he would be good at this. It just took me 4 years to convince him to try it. I think he’s hooked! Welcome to the club, Ry!

Krisha and I (and my parents and John) are heading to Arkansas this weekend for the Arkansas State Championships. It’s a sprint distance race, and I plan on making up for last weekend. Regardless of the outcome, anytime I get to race with my wife and my 62 year-old dad, it’s a good day!

Friday, August 8, 2008

How Fast Are You Willing To Go?

On this, the opening day of the Olympics, I was reminded of the above picture and decided to write my thoughts about it. The athlete puking up his Gatorade is Jarrod Shoemaker, who was the first male to qualify for the 2008 USA Olympic Team in the triathlon. I’m sure that picture says different things to different people. “Gross” might be a common response for many. Or “Why would he do that to himself?” for others. To me, it says that Jarrod Shoemaker is someone who is willing to hurt bad enough to win. Are you?

There is not a lot of separation physically between most US Olympic quality athletes. I believe what separates the athletes at the top is mostly mental. An athlete who clearly understands this as well as anyone is Lance Armstrong. I’m paraphrasing, but I remember him saying something along the lines of, “If it came down to who was willing to suffer the most, I was going to win every time.” Granted, Lance was faster and stronger than everyone else. But he was also willing to hurt more than they were. And he won because of it.

It's quite simple, really. SPEED HURTS. Believe it or not, I get a bigger knot in my stomach before an Olympic distance race than before a half-ironman (which is more than twice as far!) because I know what kind of pain I am about to put my body through. It's not necessarily "more painful," but it is a more intense kind of pain than you endure in longer races. Perhaps I’m not working hard enough during half-ironmans, I don’t know. But what I do know, is that regardless of what "fast" means to you, speed, for everyone, is very painful.

If you read this blog, then you know that I write a lot about how the mind will do everything it can to make you slow down. And you know that I believe the mind overreacts, which is why I have dubbed my right brain as the "Drama Queen" or DQ for short. I can almost ALWAYS go faster than DQ wants me to. We all have our own DQ. And there are lots of tricks that our DQs will play in order to try and slow us down. Just ask Jarrod Shoemaker. I’m convinced that I place high in races, not just because I am stronger or more fit, but because I am willing to hurt more than some of the guys behind me. I’m also convinced that I’m stronger than some of the guys (and women) that finish in front of me. But on that day, they are willing to hurt more than I am.

I’m not saying that you have to throw up to prove that you worked up to your level of fitness (I think the German to Shoemaker's right is giving his all as well -- he's definitely not enjoying himself). Only you can really know whether you gave your all. Personally, I’m not convinced that I have EVER raced as hard as I can. That’s a tough thing for me to admit. But I believe it is true. There’s only one thing I can do about that. I’m racing the next three weekends. Two of those are sprint distance races that will give me the opportunity to practice my willingness to hurt in a race situation. As a former coach of mine used to say, "It's not going to tickle." Regardless, it’s time to find out how fast I am willing to go.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another Trip to Boulder

Heading back to Boulder this weekend for the 5430 Long Course Triathlon. It's a half ironman event that, unfortunately, I am not ready for. Well, I'm not as ready as I would like to be. But am I ever? I tend to complain before every race that I wish I had a little more time. This time, though, I think my concern is justified. I haven't been able to train well for the past two weeks. Ever since the giardia/flagyl war, I haven't been the same. I had another episode this week, which I think was due to the flagyl causing me to be lactose intolerant for the time being. I hope that goes away. I love me some lactose! But I'm not going to test it until after this race! I can't afford any more episodes like Monday.

After missing a bunch of training days, I did get out on the bike Wednesday. I opened it up a little to see how my stomach would react. Good news! No problems. I was amazed at how strong my legs felt and how high my power was, even though it was only an hour. I guess that's what happens when you recover! Honestly, I don't remember my legs feeling this fresh in months! Then I ran today, and again, I felt really strong. It's more likely that I'm just rested and will tire out and slow way down during the 4-5 hour effort on Sunday. But we'll see.

That's about all I've got this week. Training hasn't been great. Racing long on Sunday. My very close friend Ryan will be racing as well. It's his first triathlon! My first triathlon was an Olympic distance race, so I guess he had to one up me and go for a half-ironman! Instead of writing about his training and how he's doing, I'll just let him tell you. You can read his thoughts this week on the race, here. My favorite line: "When my body is exercised and challenged, my energy is high, my mind is sharp, and my spirit is strong."

Well put, Ryno! You're going to do great! See you tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Controlling the Drama Queen

Everyone pushes themselves harder in a group than on their own. But there are times when you need to train on your own. So how do you really push yourself when no one's watching? To some, this is the very definition of integrity. And for me, the answer to that question is one of the keys to being successful (however you want to define "success"), not only in endurance sports, but in life. Sometimes, no matter how much integrity I think I have, the Drama Queen that is my Right Brain yells out that I can't do whatever it is I'm trying to do. And he is VERY persuasive at times. The best way to convince him that I'm not working as hard as he thinks I am is my power meter. The numbers don't lie. It tells me exactly how hard I'm pushing the pedals. But still, sometimes ME seeing the numbers is not enough when every ounce of my being is screaming for me to stop (or at least slow down). Which brings me to what I believe is the real key to controlling the Drama Queen. Accountability.

My wonderful coach, Lindsay, sees every file from every one of my rides, and she can tell exactly how hard I was working every minute of the way. That means that when she has me do 5x2 minutes Power Intervals (like she had me do this morning), then she can tell, among other things, how strong I am today (both physically AND mentally). Mentally, because she knows exactly what I’m capable of doing (even better than I know myself). So if the numbers aren't quite there, or if they fade toward the end of an interval, she can tell that I either gave up mentally, or that I’m more tired (or not as strong) than either of us realized.

A lot of how we measure my intensity against my actual power is based on Rate of Perceived Exertion (“RPE”). For example, most of my training volume is done at around a 6 on a scale of 1-10. Intervals are usually around 8-9 depending on the purpose and length of the interval. Power Intervals are a 10. In other words, it's “go as hard as you can for 2 minutes without fading or spiking at the end.” Two minutes doesn’t seem that bad, right? Well, it is worse than "that bad." Power Intervals are, without a doubt, the most difficult intervals that I am ever asked to do on a bike. In fact, they are the only thing I do (with the possible exception of running mile repeats at the track) where every time I do them, I seriously think I’m going to puke at the end of the set. I usually do these on the trainer because I feel like they are too dangerous to do on the road. I'm pretty sure that I would fall off my bike at the end of each interval if I wasn't locked into the trainer.

So at 6:00 in the morning, alone in my garage, and sitting on my trainer . . . working "as hard as I possibly can" can have several meanings. There is no chance I would work as hard as I do without knowing that my computer is recording every turn of the pedals! It’s actually just as effective as if Lindsay were standing there looking over my shoulder the entire time (because, in a way, she is). And because of that (well, let’s be honest, because of my PRIDE), I almost never back off during my cycling intervals. Otherwise, I have to explain to her why I didn't (couldn't?) do them the way she expected me to. For me, that is A LOT more painful than 5x2 minutes of suffering on the bike. Yes, even more painful than falling off my bike and puking.

No wonder my cycling has gotten so much stronger in the past year. If only someone would come up with a power meter for swimming and running! Until then, I’ve got to find some other way to convince the Drama Queen to let me work harder.

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