Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Necessary Change

"Only the wisest and the stupidest of men never change." 

Just before the World Championships, I made a significant change in my training life, and it's time to share that with you.

After working with CTS for more than three years, I've decided that it's time to move on.  This was a very difficult decision for me.  CTS, and Lindsay in particular, have taken me from a slow, overweight wannabe, to a multiple marathon finisher, a top age grouper, three-time Ironman finisher (twice finishing just outside the top 10% of the field), and helped me set PRs in almost every race distance that I compete in (both in running and triathlon).  Those are very satisfying results in only four years of serious, focused training.  Thank you, CTS, and especially Lindsay.

But sometimes change is necessary in order for an athlete to get to the next level.  So I am now working with Alan Couzens at Endurance Corner.  Alan lives in the Promised Land (i.e., Boulder, Colorado).  I promise that has nothing to do with this decision--although the fact that almost all future training camps will take place in Boulder might have helped me make up my mind.  Just sayin'. 

If you know me at all, take a quick look around his blog, and you'll quickly understand why I am so excited to be working with him.  I am a big believer in his methods and his apparent willingness to tell his athletes what they need to do to get better rather than just allowing them to do whatever they want.  As Chuckie V said today, "athletes who train how they need to always beat athletes who train how they want to." 

Looking forward to many years of training under you, Alan.  Let the chlorination begin!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ironman World Championships 70.3 - This ain't your momma's triathlon!

This is a special race. Everyone is fit. Everyone is fast. And EVERYONE can run. I know I’m not a strong swimmer. But my cycling has come a long ways the past couple of seasons. And running has always been my bread and butter. In most races, if I can stay close enough on the swim, I can usually make up some ground on the bike, and then attack the run. Not in Clearwater. Not at the World Championships. Dropped in the swim? Guess what. GAME OVER! Enjoy your next 3+ hours of racing. Because you have no chance.

Not that I had a bad swim (for me anyway). But this course, and everyone’s ability to run well under a 1:30 for the half marathon, sets up to really punish the weaker swimmers of the bunch. You have to be balanced to do well at this race. And by balanced I mean, you can’t have any weaknesses. Lesson learned. You want to play with the best? You’d better bring something more than a strong run.

The swim started out fine. They moved it to the causeway water due to the conditions in the ocean from Hurricane Ida. That changed the start to a time trial instead of waves. Basically, you walked across the timing mat, and your race started. It got very crowded and people were fighting to get in the water once they crossed that mat. I got a great feel for how international the race is while waiting in the starting chute. Two German guys were confused as to how to get into the water. It was only about one foot deep, so the officials announced that you would be disqualified for diving in. The German guys didn’t get the distinction between jumping in the water and “diving” head first. “Everyone is diving, no?” Nein. Don’t go head first. “AHHHH!!! Danke.” No problem, dude. Have a good race.

FOCUS on the swim. The time trial start was both good and bad. It was less crowded than most wave starts are. But the faster swimmers would run right up on you and you would do the same thing to the slower swimmers in front of you. I got kicked in the head a few times. All in all, I would prefer a mass wave start. I’m sure the guy that took second place in my age group would agree, since he lost by one second. Four hours and two minutes of racing, and this guy loses by one second—probably with no idea that it was that close because of the time trial start. Unbelievable.

About 400 meters into the swim, I was starting to settle in and find a good stroke when I noticed that we were swimming through a bunch of seaweed. The water was so shallow that my hands were hitting the sea bottom. I tried to swim shallow to not touch bottom, but I ended up cutting my middle finger on something. Of course, my first thought was “I’m bleeding in the ocean. Great.” It hurt, but there wasn’t much I could do about it so I just kept swimming. I had trouble finding the turn buoy because we were swimming directly into the sun. I just followed the others and eventually saw a red buoy—time to make hard left turn. 800 meters into the swim, and I stood up and walked around the buoy in water that didn’t even come up to my waste.

The only other trouble on the swim was the exit. It was very difficult to see where to go. With no practice on this course the days leading up to the race, I had no idea what to look for as I was swimming in. I kept having to stop and look around to get my bearings. Finally, I exited the water and headed to the transition—35 minutes after I started.

CONCEDE on the bike. This bike course was all that was advertised. Flat, fast, fairly windy, and lots of big groups of cyclists. About 15 minutes into the ride, Michael Dawdy went by me. That man is a beast on a bike! And he had EIGHT guys sitting right on his wheel. They were lined up like he was leading them on a breakaway. I’ve never seen guys ride that close in a triathlon before.

Not much else to say about the bike. I stayed aero, followed the race plan, stayed within my power zones, kept up with my nutrition, ignored all the guys that were passing me, and finished with plenty of legs to run on (or so I thought at the time). One of the most uneventful, near perfect bike splits of any long course race I’ve been in. The most interesting thing that happened was looking down at my hands and noticing that I was still bleeding from the swim. My new, white Fizik bar wrap is now stained with blood (as are my new white shoelaces. I don’t think I stopped bleeding until I stopped racing.).

I averaged 24.4 mph for the bike and finished in 2:17.

STAMPEDE on the run. That was the plan anyway. In almost every long course race, my lower quads cramp in the first mile of the run. This race was no different. About 4 minutes in, the cramping started. I usually just have to slow down a little until my legs realize that we are now running, not pedaling, and the cramping will subside. Sure enough, just as I started up the causeway, the cramping stopped and I was able to run strong. Not as strong as I had hoped, but close.

Speaking of the causeway . . . that thing is steep! I knew we had a “bridge” to run across four times, but I failed to consider the size of the ships that have to pass under that bridge. The first trip over it wasn’t too bad. I found my legs pretty quickly and ran the first 5 miles in just over 35 minutes. The second trip over the causeway took a little bit out of me. I slowed a little during that sixth mile. It didn’t last too long and soon, I was running strong again. I think the best I felt all day was during the second half of the seventh mile. I felt as strong as I have ever felt in a half Ironman.

Then I went over the causeway for a third time.

I had been taking Gatorade at every aid station up to that point. Gatorade will often upset my stomach, so I try to stick with gels. But when I’m working that hard, it’s almost impossible to eat a gel and keep up the pace. So I was taking one drink of Gatorade, followed by a drink of water, at every aid station. Just after the eighth mile, I was coming off the causeway, feeling strong, with only five miles to go, and I decided to skip one aid station. I don’t know if it was the day, the lack of focused training the past two months, skipping the Gatorade, the causeway, running too hard when I started feeling good, or a combination of all of these, but at that ninth mile, someone flipped a switch, and I entered a really low spot. Every step was a fight.

I did everything I could to keep my pace up, but to no avail. And when I cracked, I cracked! I slowed by about a minute a mile for the next two miles. I started taking Gatorade again, and managed to pull myself together for the last two miles. But by that point, it was too late. The damage was done.

I had run the first half in 46 minutes (only one minute off my goal pace). The second half took me 51 minutes. And that was mostly due to the last four miles. My total run time was 1:37.

Overall impressions. My total time was 4:37, which is my fastest time at this distance. I can look back now and see where I could have easily gone several minutes faster (for one thing, my transitions were pathetic!). But even looking at where I lost time, I think the best I could have done that day was possibly still not good enough to crack the top half in my age group.

This is very humbling (humiliating?) for me. I never thought I would go there and win. At least not this year. But I didn’t think I would be 100th place out of 137. I don’t think I really appreciated just how fast everyone there was going to be. Now I know. And next time, I’ll be ready for that. That race is all business. One thing’s for certain . . . it made me want to experience Kona even more. There’s just something about competing with the best that appeals to me. And I can’t wait to do it again. I will be back. But not until I am ready to actually compete.

Right now, I’m just not fast enough. And if I learned one thing, it's that just because you're fast enough to get there, doesn't mean you're fast enough to compete there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Final Race of the Year - 70.3 World Championships

This Saturday is the last race of the year for me. The one that I have had on the calendar for more than a year now. Although work threw a wrench into my training this past month, I still feel as ready as I ever have for a half Ironman. And I better be! The competition at this race is going to be unlike any I have ever faced. A PR is not going to be good enough to crack the top third in my age group. I'm finally racing with the big dogs. Does that make me a big dog? Because for some reason, I don't quite feel like one yet.

Ryan (who will be making the trip to Clearwater to watch!) told me before Coeur d'Alene this year to "Race like you belong, because you do." I made the mistake of not truly believing that last June when I had all the problems at Coeur d'Alene. I'm still not fully convinced. Sometimes the only way to truly believe that you belong with the big dogs is to get out there and run with them. That way you at least find out one way or the other. And that's what I'm going to do.

You can watch the coverage of the race at here. Just find the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, click on "athlete tracker," and you can follow me throughout the morning (I apologize for not having a link directly to it, but it wasn't up when I wrote this. It should be easy to find on Saturday.).

Thank you to everyone for their support this year. I will post a full report when I get back to Texas next week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Coming Up For Air

Yes, I'm still alive. I've been crazy busy at work lately (two days off out of the last 30, and stayed at the office past 10:00 most nights). But that case has now settled, so . . . I'm coming up for air! With a demanding career, a two year old boy, a wife I love, and my athletic goals, this blog (unfortunately) has to take a back seat to everything else when I get swamped. But I'm back! And I promise I'll catch up on all the fun things I've been meaning to write about. As soon as I get back from Clearwater!

That's right, next weekend is the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida. This will be my first trip to a World Championship. I'm very excited and honored to be a part of it. And if I'm not humbled, I'm sure I will be next weekend. I wonder how many of my competitors have spent the last month neck deep in a lawsuit?

I ran a solid race at the U.S. Open a few weeks back. It was a typical short course triathlon for me. Awful swim, first place on the bike, and a 38:22 10K for third place in my age-group. I missed the win by about a minute. But the two guys that beat me were about 5 minutes ahead of me out of the water. Ridiculous. If I could just keep up, I would win by several minutes.

As soon as I get back from Clearwater, swimming will be a VERY high priority in my life. Over the next few months you may notice a strong smell of chlorine whenever I'm around. Please excuse it. If you don't smell it, you have my permission to send me back to the pool. I've got lots of work to do!

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