Sunday, July 31, 2011

2011 Ironman Lake Placid- Bike

This is Part 2 of my Ironman Lake Placid experience. The race preview can be found here while Part 1 can be found here.

Transitioning from Swim to Bike
When we last left our hero (me), I was running the quarter mile from the beach to the transition area. This can be a little hectic. First, during training, I have not practiced running a good distance on a 24" piece of astroturf. And, since I'm not much of a runner, several people jumped ahead of me during this stretch.  Then, picture a scene where 2900 people have hung a bag on a hook. Now, try to find 1 bag out of the lot that has your stuff in it. It's a little like trying to find a specific shirt in the Wife's closet. Not impossible but just not fast. Luckily, the bags are all numbered and hung in sequential rows. Each row is marked with an identifying number as well (hint to wife). All you have to do is run through the correct row, find your bag in sequence, and head on over to the changing tent.

Inside the tent, it looks like it is set up for an outdoor wedding, minus the bride and groom. Several folding chairs are awaiting along with a score of incredibly helpful volunteers. I found a chair and opened my bike bag. Inside, I find my shirt, helmet, sunglasses, bike gloves, bike shoes, and some nutrition. The volunteer frantically helped me remove these items from the bag (and by helped- he did pretty much all the work). I placed said items on my body parts and started to clean up. "No no," said the volunteer, "I got this. You go now." I love this guy. I headed out the tent's exit while he snatched up my wetsuit, cap, and goggles, placed them in my bike bag, and returned it to the hook. Then, I assume, he repeated this process for hundreds of others.

Upon exiting the tent, I had to find my bike. Glance at the picture on the left and see if you can spot it. It is a black, Giant Trinity triathlon bike with the number 1355 plastered on it several times over. Can't find it? Don't worry, I couldn't find it either. Alas, I didn't need to. As I left the tent, some volunteer with a bullhorn announced my arrival by shouting out my race number. While I race from the white tent (on the left in the pic), I had to make my way towards the blue tent thingies. Then, there is a middle path to run down with bikes racked on both left and right sides. Each row is numbered and labeled. As I approached my row, low and behold, another awesome volunteer is holding my bike. I have found yet another love in this race. I grab my bike, shout a thanks to this lady, and cantor down to the bike mount.

The Bike
Not pictured- Me
The bike mount area starts immediately downhill. In fact, this is one of the steepest downhill starts with several sharp turns on the circuit. It's nice in that you have to do little to no work to get going. It's not-so nice in that it can be a bit dangerous for delirious people with water in their head and delusions of grandeur. There are lots of people vying for similar spaces. One some of the turns, the race organizers had set up bales of hay to serve as a cushion for out of control cyclists. On lap 2, some of those bales were disturbed. <shudder>

After a short descent, the race progresses upwards for about 3 miles until it rolls a bit. I promised myself that I would control this section of the ride, which I did so admirably. One thing I can distinctly remember is a higher-than-normal level of thirst. Strapped to the front of my bike, I have a 20 ounce water bottle which typically lasts for about an hour on even hard rides. During IMLP, it made it only 15 minutes, which was convenient as this was when the first aid station appeared. I replenished my juice but my thirst never subsided. The race kept climbing and people kept passing. I let them go careful not to engage the enemy early in the race on a climb.

You can see the sharp downhill section from mile 8 to mile 14. That is the fly zone. Knowing that this section was approaching, I took advantage of this opportunity to cram a Cliff bar down my gullet and slurp up a larger-than-normal amount of water. Then, I laid down on my aerobars and tucked in for 15 minutes of hair-on-fire speed. Many of the people that passed me on the way up were left in my wake as I whooshed past on the way down. My average speed during this section was over 40 mph while topping out at 45. Don't worry, there's more climbing to be done on the back 9 of this course. These people will have their revenge.

As the hills flattened out, we rode mostly flat, smooth roads for roughly 20 miles.  Imagine yourself, during a race, passing hundreds upon hundreds of people.  Feel the emotion and glory of sailing by a plethora of racers whom you have now put behind you. At one time, these people bested your speed. Ha, no longer. You are now in front. Seems like a great feeling, right? Well, I had the reverse of that. Even though I was averaging 20-22 mph on this stretch, I got passed and passed by some amazing athletes. It seems that the streams of people sailing on past was never ending. I knew that I had beaten thousands of people out of the water. It seems that they were repaying the favor on lap 1 of the bike.  I tried to ignore them and carry on with my race.

After the flats had ended, right around mile 35, we had to go up. See, according to the Law of Gravity, what goes up must come down. IMLP takes that law and twists its words. In a grunt of agony, the law becomes 'what goes down must come up' and I do not have a "biking up" strength. I really need to change that in the future. Regardless of what my future lies, the path lead up and kept at it for roughly the next 20 miles. I grant you that there were some breaks in this venture but they were not nearly long enough to bring a smile.

I had hoped that I could control this section of the ride by monitoring my heart rate. I planned on keeping my HR in Zone 2 for the flats (in the 140s)  and Zone 3 or below for the climbs, which translates to 150-160 beats per minute. For the most part, I was wholly successful. My average HR for the entire 112 miles was 144 bpm and when I look at the hill data, the highest I saw mid-race was 162. This met my race plan.

Before the race had started, the Wife asked me to give her a list of times that I would be riding through downtown Lake Placid. I announced that I would start the ride at about 8:00. I actually started at 8:04.  I postulated that I would be finishing the first lap at 11:00 +/- :10. I made it back to town at 11:01. How's that for superb estimation?!

Lap 2 was more of the same. The same uphill out of town. Only this time, it was a bit harder. The same downhill flying into Keene. Only this time, for some reason, it was a little slower. The same flats on the backside. Only this time, it seemed a little longer. The same climb back into town. Only this time, the legs hurt a little more. Despite what felt like an eternity, one positive I noticed was that the number of people who were passing me dropped steadily. Whereas hundreds (literally) passed me on the first lap, I estimate only 50 or so passed me on the second. Further, I was able to take back a few positions (very few, mind you). From a freshness point-of-view, my legs were tired but not as tired as they had been in the past.

After finally making it, once again, back to downtown Lake Placid, I was met be the scores of screaming fans and volunteers. If you think a Hoot and Holler is motivational, then I highly suggest you experience the IronCrowd as they scream, clap, and chant for your benefit. I bet that the spectators expend as much energy as the competitors. It really didn't matter that none of these people knew me, had seen me before, or will ever see me again. They successfully transferred their spectator energy into me and I was ready to tackle the looming marathon.

I told the Wife that I'd be back on my feet and starting the run at 2:00 pm +/- :20 minutes. This matched my goal time of a 6 hour ride. My official ride time? 6:02. I started the run at 2:06 pm. I love a well executed plan.

In shorter races, I count how many people pass me on the bike versus how many people I pass to gauge my race position. For IMLP, not so much. After analyzing the data, I learned that about 550 people passed me on the bike. That's about 5 people per mile ridden and the number is smaller than I expected. I finished the ride in 642 place with an average speed of 18.6 mph. This is not my fastest Ironman bike split, nor was it the slowest.

With 114.4 miles under my belt, the day was mostly finished. There was only 26.2 miles of a marathon left. Piece of cake. If I manage a 4 hour run, I will be very happy. If I go under a 4:30, I set a personal record. Both of these are withing my mystical capabilities. Did I do it? I know, the suspense in mind-boggling but you'll have to wait until later for the conclusion of this epic tale. Coming soon to a blog post near you, 2011 Ironman Lake Placid- Run.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

2011 Ironman Lake Placid- Swim

Race Morning
I awoke at the disgusting hour of 3:15 am. Previously, I didn't know that 3:15 am existed. I had heard rumors of the wee hours of the morning, how they are still referred to as 'morning' with absolutely no one astir. For long distance events, the theory says you should eat many calories roughly 3-4 hours before the gun goes off. This gives your system adequate time to digest the calories, absorb the nutrients, and send them to the proper areas of the body. I choked down about 800 calories of grub and sat on the couch sulking about how it was early.

Around 5:30 (ish) the sun started to rise and I could see that the ground was wet. Maybe Mirror Lake temperature dropped enough to be fully legal. I would have checked the official website save for the fact that I had absolutely no internet connectivity without stalking the neighbor's house. I woke up the Wife and got the dogs moving.  Unwilling to venture out, I packed my wetsuit and the rest of the gear.

Since transition closed at 6:30, my plan was to leave the cottage and drive to the transition area with the Wife in the car at 6:00 am.  I would hop out and mosey my way to the bike while the Wife would take over the driving responsibilities, find a place to park, and do her thing. Well, I'm kind of a procrastinator and didn't actually arrive into transition until 6:24. Six minutes and counting. Plenty of time. (FYI- I was not the last one in.)

I sauntered over to my bike, filled up the fluids, synced the Garmin with my heart rate monitor, and made my way over to the bag drop. Once at the bag drop, I felt a little Shakespearean: To wetsuit or not to wetsuit? That is the question. I opted for the wetsuit full knowing that I had little-to-no chance of qualifying this year. It just wasn't in the training. More on this topic later.

This was just the first bag drop. During the Ironman, they have something called a 'Special Needs' bag. Actually, they have 2 SN bags: one for the bike and one for the run. You are allowed to put whatever you want in your SN bags. They are precariously placed at the halfway point of each discipline. Common items placed in SN bike include: food, spare tires, CO2 cartridges, clothing, nudie magazines, dead bodies, etc. Whatever you think you might need later in the day. This is sort of a race contingency plan in case anything goes wrong. In my SN Bike Bag? One bottle of calories, one Cliff bar, and 2 caffeine pills. In my SN run bag? 3 gels (that's it). Why do I bring this up? Only because you have to walk from transition to the SN area, roughly 1/4 mile away to drop off the bags. Either that, or have a loved one take the walk for you. However, you should remember that the Wife (my one and true loved one) was out parking the car and doing her thing. Add on at least 1/2 more mile on to my day's mileage just so I can have some flavored sugar later in the day.

The Swim
As I mentioned, I opted to go for the wetsuit option, officially negating my chances of any sort of prestige, other than finishing. At this point, finishing seemed like the only option so it was an easy decision. As you can see in the picture at the right (feel free to ogle), the air temperature was not that bad.

As a disclaimer, this portion of the race report may sound a little arrogant. Certainly not my intention. If you are bothered by this, be patient. By the time I finish with the 3rd post, any shred of arrogance will be wiped off the net in a fury of humility.

My goal was to go out comfortably and conserve energy. My slowest Ironman swim time was 1:03. My fastest was 0:57 (times are in hours and minutes). Sub-60 minutes is considered relatively fast.

I'm in the green cap
The swim course is 2 laps. Roughly 2500 people all started at the same time. This is only a half truth. Maybe a 1000 people started at the same time. A few intelligent racers hung back and waited for the fray to take off in an attempt to get out of the open water boxing match. When you pack a large number of people into a small area, there is bound to be contact. This year did not disappoint although I personally experienced much less pounding than IMLP 2010.

For a 1000 yards, about 1/4 of the swim, the pack of swimmers gradually thinned itself into pace lines. I was swimming along with a small group of about 6 swimmers who seemed to know how to swim in a straight line, a rare commodity in a triathlon. I spent a lot more time drafting than pulling and felt like I was barely working. The worst places for water wrestling happens at the turn buoys. As the buoy approached, there comes a bottleneck effect. The packs in front of us slowed to make the turn while we, formerly stretched out, bunched together. The result is roughly 3 or 4 packs of swimmers all trying to swim in the same place. It's a mass swim start all over again. The second turn buoy was only about 25 yards away making this stretch of the swim more physical than the rest. The glory here goes to the strong and confident (both which apply to me in the water). Due to the fact that there were a couple of groups bunched together, I was able to jump into a faster paced group after turn 2. The next 1000 yards was faster, smoother, and less physical.

At the conclusion of the first lap, we had to exit the water. That's right, climb out of the drink and on to the beach, run over the timing mat, and dive back in. As I came across the mat, I glanced up and saw that my swim time was sitting just over 28 minutes. I really wanted to sit back and admire my time, but I had a whole day of racing still ahead. I trudged on. Here's a shot of me (in the wetsuit with a red X on my chest and green conehead) flying into the water for lap 2. As you can see, the other racers in my group are heading into the second loop with the same amount of gusto and it was easy to stay in the same pace line.

Lap 2 tends to be a little slower and calmer than lap 1. There are several reasons for this fact. First, we have to swim from the beach to the pier before heading back on to the course. Lap 2 is a little longer. Second, the adrenaline of the start of the race has long since faded. The attitude has changed from, "Let's do this thing!" to "Wait, we have to go around again?" Third, and most obvious, we're a tad bit tired from brawling and swimming on lap one. Since we wasted our proverbial wad on the first lap, life tames down a bit as we head back on to the 1.2 mile loop. Even the area around the turn buoys was uneventful. I swam with the same group of guys and gals the entire way. If it wasn't for the fact that we had our faces in the water for most of the time, I am sure these people would have become my best friends. Alas, we have drifted into anonymity without even the common courtesy of introducing ourselves. Such a missed opportunity.

As we ended the last lap with 2.4 miles of swimming under our wetsuits, we had to climb onto the exact same beach from a mile ago. Again, I glanced up at my time and spied a time of 59:17. I was in under an hour. Just to tell you how nice this time is (I promise I will be humble soon), there were 24 professional athletes who finished the race (all without a wetsuit), 15 dudes and 9 ladies. My time beat 10 of them. Overall, I was in 95th place out of more than 2300 Ironman who finished the race, all while taking it relatively easy on the swim. This is the reason I don't stress swimming that much in training.

If you are an avid Bantee, you would know from prior race reports that I have struggled getting out of my wetsuit. IMLP solves this problem for me. Lining the swim exit runway is a large contingent of strippers. I absolutely love strippers. These volunteers work happily and do their thing without asking for a even a dollar for their services. My responsibility, peel my arms out of the wetsuit and drop it to my waist. I spy a couple of strippers, point and smile. They smile back and wave me in. I run up and sit down in front. One hottie grabs my wetsuit on the left while the other grabs the suit on my right (Hint: pick your strippers wisely). A quick 1-2-3 and they yank the suit off my body, over my legs, and they help me off the ground. They literally strip me out of my suit and send me on my way.

From strippers row, we have about a 600 meter run to get to transition. This distance is not counted on the day's distance total but the time counts. Hardly seems fair but since all the other athletes experience the same haul, there's really no need in arguing the point. Here's a short clip of me, post stripping, taken by the Wife, 'running' from the beach on my way to the changing tents.

So there you have it. The first part of my Ironman Lake Placid 2011 experience. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Race Preview- Ironman Lake Placid

I've eluded in the past that I was going to write more. Then one form of chaos happened on top of another. Suddenly I was scrambling for a new place to stay in Lake Placid. We actually found a decent one, at a decent price, which allows us to bring our doggies. The Wife probably wouldn't come without them. Those of you with kids might know what I'm getting at here.

Well, the new place doesn't really have network access or good phone strength. The house next door has access, which I have been given permission to use but I feel like a bit of a stalker. I have calculated the minimum distance I can sit between my place and theirs whilst garnering a reliable signal strength. Seems a bit creepy.

So, without further adieu, here's the nitty and the gritty on IMLP:

On the Swim
The 2.4 mile swim is in Mirror Lake, on the back side of downtown Lake Placid. The lake is not that big. The mass start is expecting 2900 people to be crammed into a space roughly as wide as 2 semi-trucks are long. If you have ever gone to a fish rookery and dropped some of the pellets into the water for young troutlings and remember what they looked like as they swam on top, rolled over each other, smacked each other around a bit... That's a mass swim start. It's crazy with a smidgen of WTF tossed in.

The racers here, myself including, are all abuzz about wetsuit legality. If the water temperature at race time is less than 78º, wetsuits are fully legal. If the temp is over 78º but under 84º, wetsuits are semi-legal (my term). This means that we can wear them but forfeit our right to win a prize or qualify for <gulp> Kona. If we get water +84º, leave your neoprene on the shore.

If the gun went off on Saturday morning, the status would be semi-legal. There are many, many people most uncomfortable with this. Swimming is a challenging discipline and lots depend on the extra buoyancy to turn in a respectable time (or to not drown in the cacophony). However, the overnight low in the greater Adirondack region is slated for the low 50ºs. Since Mirror Lake is not that large, it may be enough to cool it down to the magic mark of 77.999999999º F. Hopefully, they'll take that temp before 2900 people climb in and, umm, bring the temp back up.

I will, with a high level of probability, be wearing a wetsuit. My reasoning is 2 fold. 1. My training does not indicate that I will be winning a prize or qualifying for Kona this year. 2. If the overnight low is in the low 50ºs, it will not be significantly warmer come 6:00. I'll be wearing a neoprene jacket race morning.

On the Bike
There's something about Ironman racing that I have not mastered yet. I probably won't master it this year either, but I'm working towards that goal. The Ironman is not a swim race, a bike race, and then a run race. I have that attitude towards sprint and olympic distance events. I had that attitude in the past for M-Dot races as well. I am not a good 140.6 racer because of that attitude. Granted, I could probably get away with swimming hard. But biking hard? Forget about it.

The 112 bike ride is all about conservation and intelligence. I haven't conserved much in the past. And, wait, what was that second thing again? Well, it probably wasn't important. Therefore, I'm stuck with conservation. I'm capable of finishing the ride in about 5 hours and 40 minutes. That would be a great time if I didn't have another portion of the race still looming. I am planning on monitoring the heart closely, taking in ample fluids and carbs, and coming off the bike feeling only moderately tired. The idea is to turn a 5:40 into a 6 hour ride and feel confident when I pop off. Again, I have not mastered this yet.

The initial part of the ride out of LP takes you to a town called Keene. After a couple of fast descends, you climb for a couple of miles until you reach the summit of your daily elevation. This needs to be done carefully. Your legs are relatively fresh, but there is lots of riding left to be done. After the summit, you plummet for the next 8 miles. It is not unusual to hit speeds of 50+ mph on this stretch of relatively bad roads (see rant below). I plan on eating a drinking plenty before the dive knowing I have about 20 minutes of low heart rate in which to digest. Depending on the wind, I will do this entire drop tucked in aero.

The next 18 miles or so are rather flat with a couple of short rollers tossed in to keep people awake. In the past, this was a place where I raced. The road from Keene out to Jay is a smooth, rider friendly area. Again, I must learn to relax. If people want to pass me, go right ahead. This is my race, not theirs.

Remember those 8 miles of going down, well, you have to go back up. From Jay, you climb your way back up to Wilmington. There are some rather hefty slopes. Turn left at Wilmington and you have a 10 mile climb of varying gradients to get you back to the start.

Insert Rant Here- To add insult to injury, the roads on the biggest ascents and descents are some of the crappiest roads ever to be placed on a race course. They're so bad that the NY Department of Transportation makes all racers sign a separate waiver stating that we won't hold the NYDOT responsible for anything. I do all of my racing (for now) exclusively in New York State and this is the only race in which a separate race waiver is required. Dear NYDOT, please re-invest some of the millions of dollars that the Ironman brings to Lake Placid annually on some asphalt for the course. -I feel better now.

As one man named Tom put it several years ago, its not necessarily the hills themselves, but the placement of the hills. You get relatively no opportunity to recover from the hills before you start the run.

On the Run
The run for the IMLP course is pretty straight forward. Run out of town, turn left at the ski jumps, run 4 miles along a river, turn around and head back. Do that twice. What's the old idiom? Just because something is simple doesn't mean it's easy. That describes the run.

For one, it's a marathon. Twenty six point two miles is not considered easy by anyone except the most badass people on the planet. I am not one of those people. 

For two, there are pretty much no flat areas on the course. You are either going up or going down. The point is that it's tough to find a pace or a rhythm. It's an entire roller coaster's worth  of bobbing and it can wear on you after a while.

For three, there are 2 larger than average hills. One of them is big enough to have a name, Mill Hill. You go down on the way out and up on the way back. This translates that, when your legs are the weakest, your legs are the most tired, your spirit has already been broken, you still have to climb those %$&* hills. Mill Hill adds another layer of deception. From the bottom, it towers over you like a bully ready to steal your triathlon milk money. Except, you are strong and are ready to look that bully in the eye and say, "I'm keeping my quarter, thank you very much." You trudge up and crest the hill. The course turns you to the left. The hill laughs at you again. Your hopes and dreams continue to be stomped as the hill keeps going for another quarter mile. Mill Hill is most unkind.

After all the uphills precariously placed near the end, the race organizers have found a way to end the run on a downhill. The down starts at around mile 25. The last mile pulls you along and you enter a state of euphoria. Thousands of people are clapping and cheering. You can hear the music and the announcer off in the distance. Every step brings you closer as evidenced by the increased volume of the noise. You can run as fast as you want (mostly because your legs fell off below the knees coming up the Mill but you are too tired to notice).

The energy of the day is returned to you for the final 0.2 miles as you enter the stadium and take a half turn around the track. You see your image on the jumbo tron along with your name. There's a finisher's arc, mats, and a tape for you to cross. As you cross the line, a man on the mic shouts out, " ___________ (your name), You are and Ironman!" It's a spectacular finish.

So there you have it. The culmination of 9 months of training, 2 injuries, and some life that got in the way will come to head at 7:00 am on Sunday morning. With any luck, I'll be crying on my rented sofa about the pain, popping anti-inflamatories and shoveling pasta into my mouth at an heroic rate by 7:00 pm. In the words of the immortals Wayne and Garth, "Game On."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Race Review and Results- Mini-Musselman

This is sort of a bitter/ sweet post. Bitter due to my performance. Sweet due to the awesomeness of the event. Some of the performance issues need to be taken into context. My context, the 2010 race versus the 2011 race.

Recap of the Events
The race went off without a hitch. The mini-Musselman title is a little misleading. It's given the name 'mini' because there is a half-iron distance event associated with the race. I guess they both can't be called the 'Musselman." RD Jeff Henderson gives the well deserved respect to the distance peeps and slaps on a 'mini' for a prototypical sprint distance race. He also had a micro-Mussel and a goofy-Mussel (not an official title, but what else can you call a triathlon that incorporates tricycles and unicycles).

With a 9:00 start time, the race allows ample opportunity to get out of bed and to the race site. In my race preview, I had suggested that I would be doing the swim portion without a wetsuit. Roughly 10 minutes before the start, I changed my mind. My philosophy: I didn't actually need a wetsuit but since my big race will be in a wetsuit, therefore, I should practice racing in said outfit. So I strapped myself in and appreciated the extra buoyancy while waiting for the cowbell to go off.

Me on the left (not pictured- 1st place guy)
I was in the first group of racers. One day, I'll fully appreciate the logic behind the swim race waves. Currently, that logic is completely lost on me. The male 35-39 were scheduled to start with the female 40-45 racers. I talked with no less than 3 ladies in my wave that were not so comfortably with this set-up. Only 2 of the men in my AG finished in the top 10 along with 4 dudes in the 25-29 group. Whereas I agree that the venue would not allow for all 750+ athletes to start together, there may be an elusive, yet more efficient means to the wave. Well, maybe one day I'll understand. Since I was in the first wave, I came out of the water in 2nd place.

I had a relatively slow transition. It may be because transition skills have been underpracticed. It may be that I'm a nice guy. See, before the race, I helped a newbie set up his helmet and glasses (along with a few other tips). Since I was second into transition, there were not many distractions, except for that helmet and sunglasses. They were on the ground in front of my bike (not exactly where I had advised). After peeling off the wetsuit, in record Banter time mind you, I took the liberty of fixing the guy's gear. I felt responsible for their new and sucky position. I needed to right the wrong. I left transition in 5th place.

Get. Foot. Into. Shoe.
I hit the bike hard with my heart rate riding the border between zone 4 and 5, right where it should be for a short distance tri. The first half of the race was a double insult. Uphill and against the wind. This was a nice workout from a quad burning perspective. And, with the heat slowly rising into the mid-80s (eventually hitting around 90), I was also burning through my water stores. By the time we looped around, I was running low on fluid. But, the wind was at my back and I was pointed down. Less water was needed. During the ride, I was passed by 3 riders but took one back. I finished the bike in 7th place.

Transition 2 was a bit better. Due to the number of waves and the 6 minute time differential, I had actually finished the bike before some people finished the swim. More evidence, in my world, for larger waves. Sharing the transition area with the swimmers did not pose a problem. I racked my ride, added socks and shoes to my feet, and took off.

Can't get a better view (of the lake, not me)
It's a weird feeling, being out near the front. Because of the amount of time that people are on the bikes, the spectators are completely caught off guard that the run portion of the race had started. I had to dodge several people crossing the path and 2 nice, older ladies on their bikes out for a pleasure cruise. I got passed by just one man on the run, which happened so early and quickly that I was alone for most of the entire time. See photo on left for this guy. Had the Wife waited just 5 more seconds before taking the shot, he'd be in front. At the end of the run, I was the 8th person to cross the line.

 The Bitter
This is completely self-centered at this point, but when I look at my times from a year ago and compare to 2011, I am a significantly slower person. My swim was slower, my bike was slower, my run was slower. The only place I showed improvement was in the second transition, which I had a whopping 4 second improvement. Last year, I was 15th. This year 36th overall (28 people in later waves posted better times). This is sort of a testament to my training and I don't like what it's preaching.

I tried to justify the change in time by some creative statistics. For example, the guy who won the overall prize was the same in both years. If I use him as a control, he finished about 1 minute slower this year. So, maybe the course was a bit long (Garmin supports this hypothesis). But, when I look at other competitors who did both years (yes, I look at other people's results), the finish times were varied, just like you'd expect. Some people were faster, others were slower.  I hate that I'm in that latter category.

More creative reasoning is thus: remember the guy whose helmet and glasses I fixed? I guess that detour cost me about 10 seconds in transition. If I take those 10 seconds back, I jump from 36th overall to 34th overall.

Don't worry. I'm not naive enough to believe the creativity. I see it for what it is... Excuses for under/ bad training. Same goes for the cold, wet spring. The snow in winter. The knee injury (ok, that last one is valid). The reality is that I am 2 pounds heavier and slower in 2011 compared with 2010. Maybe it's just that I'm getting old. (See, more excuses. I can't give up). Keep in mind that this bitterness amounts for only 10% of my emotion towards my racing. I am having the time on my life. Triathlon and racing are fun and I'm not about to let 21 places in a race that I didn't win anyway ruin it for me.

The Sweet
Seriously. This was not a race. It was an event. The Musselman is a weekend. There's a reason that this race is annually voted the most Family Friendly triathlon in the country by Triathlon Magazine. Strike that. There are several reasons. Such as:

Live music on site
Water park for the kids


Petting zoo
 Then, they do some other great things as well. Such as:
Food for all- not just racers

Cooling pool after finish

There was lots of swag. At the finish, they handed you a wet towel, which was just shy of heaven on a hot day. The race encouraged recycling and composting in lieu of just plain trash cans. They even had a beer truck. Again, fun for the entire family. This race will probably remain on my schedule for a long time coming. It sets the bar for how a triathlon event should be run.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Race Preview- Mini-Musselman

Just to set the record straight, sorry I haven't posted more recently. My 2 teenage cousins drove 600 miles with my mother to hang out for a week. Being on summer vacation, I have a lot of additional free time on my hands, which I had planned on training and blogging. Daily, the kids would ask, "What are we doing today?" This question comes with some expectations such as: I actually plan on doing something or the thing that I plan on doing is of interest to the teenagers. In most cases, I'd be wrong on both assumptions.

The week has been changed from blogging and training to sitting and eating. So far, we have gone to a Fireman's Festival, amusement park, Baseball Hall of Fame, and a minor league baseball game. None of which seem to offer swimming, biking or running (with the exception of the amusement park, which had a water park portion, but that's not the same kind of swimming). All of them offered copious amounts of food. Since I am a pig, eating has been done in epic proportions. With the big race quickly approaching, this might be the best time to take it easy and the worst time to be gaining weight. Take the good with the bad I guess and their visit has been mostly good. Since they are finally taking a nap, I have a smidgen of free time.

The Race
Tomorrow, I will toe the line in the mini-Musselman Sprint Distance triathlon. It features a 750 swim, 16 mile ride, and a 5k run. The swim is a bit special. Most triathlon swims start on a beach and feature large, fluorescent buoys to guide your way. Not the MM. Here we line up in a river channel with, awesomely, the current at our back. There are not many buoys in the channel. If you go off course, you should notice it quickly as the river is not that large. Although I haven't tried it much, but I think that swimming in reeds and in the muck near the shore will not improve your swim time.

Upon exiting the channel, transition is just a short jaunt away. The bike course is a single loop with a couple of nice inclines on pristine upstate NY country roads. Portions of the course overlook beautiful Seneca Lake, one of the 11 Fingerlakes in western NY. If you get the opportunity, check out the website (link above). Race Director Jeff Henderson, who has a habit of putting on high quality events, did a great job with the interactive maps. Here are some excerpts from his site. This should be the minimum standard for posting information of courses. Maybe then, we'd all know the course without any issues.

Bike First Half
Bike Second Half
Following the lead of the rest of the triathlons in Western NY, the run is almost completely flat. We have lots of hills in the area, yet none of the races send you up an incline. The most challenging slope is a 4.2% 'climb' over a rather short distance. My guess is that particular gradient correlates with a section of the course that forces you off the street and onto the sidewalk. The uphill might be the curb.

I'm using this race as a speedwork/ tune-up race for IMLP. I don't think I'll be wetsuiting it for the swim. With only a 750, current aided splash, the wetsuit won't really gain me much. The bike and the run are going to be in upper Zone 3 and 4. The Wife has informed me that we will be going shopping at the outlet mall upon completion. Should be fun for us both.

I'll write more on this race later. The kids are waking from their nap which means it's time to eat. I am trying to find the motivation to do a bike and a run workout today. Tough to do on a full belly. If I miss this feeding, there will be another one in a couple of hours. Wish me luck (with both the race and the food).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Know the Course

USAT Rule 3.4- It is the participant's responsibility to know the course.
USAT Rule 5.3- (Cycling Conduct) The sole responsibility of knowing and following the prescribed cycling course rests with each participant
USAT Rule 6.2- (Running Conduct) The responsibility of knowing and following the prescribed course rests with each participant.
USAT Rule 9.6- (Race Marshals) Race Marshals will be assigned to the swim, cycle, and run portions of the event and to the transition areas and will follow all instructions of the Head Referee. Race Marshals shall have jurisdiction over all persons in their respective areas of assignment.

Recent Events
Odd that the USAT feels the need to be redundant in its rules. Even more odd is that knowledge of the course is completely left off of swimming. I guess the USAT people feel that getting lost in a large, open body of water marked with brightly colored buoys doesn't need to be addressed.

Yet, recently it happened during a race in Texas. A few of the pros were out in front when a jet ski pulled up in front of the swimmers and told the racers to go in a different direction. Many of the racers obeyed as the jet ski guy seemed to be acting in an official capacity. Only one of the swimmers disobeyed. Andy Potts went the right direction while the unfortunate others followed the instructions of the jet ski guy. The other swimmers tacked on an extra 200 meters. Andy won the race by a mere 18 seconds over Hunter Kemper. Basically, the jet ski guy screwed over Hunter and cost him the win and some money.

Or did Hunter screw over himself? That's the big question. When you go back to the rules, it seems Andy was the only one who got it right. He knew the course. The jet ski guy was a volunteer and not a race marshal. That is a tough call to make mid-race. Hunter and the others guessed wrong. In this case, it literally paid to know the course.

My Application of the Rules
It goes without saying that I'm not the greatest athlete in any sense of the word. I hide behind this knowledge come race time preparation and knowing the course. I do take a moment to look at the race maps for both the bike and run. Most of the races are in unfamiliar locales, making this a futile venture. I really depend on the guys in front to have a better knowledge of the course than I. Then, it's simply a matter of follow-the-leader in it's most basic application. Maybe one day I'll get good enough to be the guy in front. Then I'll be forced to rely on my remedial brain power to remember the course or to trust the course markings and volunteers, which can be risky business. Just ask Hunter.

I have a second layer of arrogance applied to my knowledge of the courses. I mostly do the local races year after year. The courses remain relatively unchanged. Not only do I count on the guys in front to have a working knowledge of the course... Not only do I count on the course to be well marked... Not only do I count on the volunteers to know their stuff... But I also count on my shoddy memory to help guide me. That's 4 layers of sketchiness which has not led me astray in the past.

Then came A Tri in the Buff. I did this Olympic Distance event and everything was going better than expected. As ritual dictated, I looked over the course maps posted on the internet. Nothing seemed out of place. I vaguely listened to race instructions while I set up my gear in transition. After hearing the same instructions over and over, you tend to lose the ability to fully focus on the words.

As I lined up for the swim start, I looked around and saw the buoys. I counted them out and noted the colors. I was in the 2nd wave so there was bound to be someone ahead of me, guiding the way. True to the word, the swim went off perfectly.

Same went on the bike. As foretold, there were people out in front. I was able to follow a small group (2) of riders around the first lap. They were better than me but I managed to keep them in sight. The course was well marked and the volunteers knew their stuff. By the time the second lap had arrived, the 2 dudes have successfully smoked me. But, having already done it once, my knowledge of the course was rock solid. No problems there.

Starting the run, there were streams of people. Many of them were doing the sprint distance to my olympic distance. The 2 courses are exactly the same with one exception: sprinters did one lap and exited into the finish chute. Olys did 2.

My memory did not fail me on the course. I hit the first lap, battled a guy named Dave, and by the second lap, I was running alone. I had passed several runners in route, but by the last 200 yards I was a 1-man machine. I had build a sizable lead on Dave, but since this was a wave start, I knew I was also racing for time. Guys in the later waves are speedy and they started minutes behind. Their deficit is subtracted from their overall time. I still had to run hard.

The Benefits of Relationships
The last turn before the chute was nearly a u-turn. We came around a building, passed the finisher's chute, edged a fence, and made a sharp right hand turn. There were green cones marking the way in, or so I thought. In practice, the green cones were meant to be barricades screaming "Don't go here!" Well, I don't really speak cone, ignored their orders and dashed right through the middle. I was heading directly towards the announcers table, which was a good 3 feet west of the finisher's chute and chip mat.

Luckily, I have developed a relationship with the announcer. She is an amazing triathlete, coach, nurse, mom, and, in this case, savior. She recognized my guffaw and screamed my name, "No Banter. Go the other way!" Saved my race she did. Thanks to Mary Eggers. Here is a link to her blog: IronMamma. She's made from good stuff. Whereas I really want to go head to head in a race, I am grateful she was sitting with the announcers mic.

Did Eggers really save my race? Absolutely. When I look at the race results, there was a guy in a later wave that posted the exact same time as me. I guess that I beat him in the 10ths-100ths of seconds range. Should Mary been looking in another direction, been slower on her call out, or been accosted by countless other distractions beset upon a person in her position, I would not have turned around as quickly.

So, there I was sitting smack dab in the middle of a rule's violation: I didn't know the course. I counted on a non-race marshal to guide me into the finish. Unlike Hunter, my gamble paid off. Not in dollars, of course, but in satisfaction. Maybe next time I'll pay more attention, arrive to the race early, and review the course ahead of time. Which is just as likely as me actually winning the race. Translation: probably not gonna happen. Andy Potts I am not.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Race Review and Results- A Tri in the Buff

For those of you have been long awaiting my race report, await no longer. A Tri in the Buff (ATITB) has come and gone like the wind. If fact, it came up on me so quickly, I forgot to write the preview. In my defense, I have been busy screwing off on the first week of summer break doing chores around the house, watching movies training fervently, pleasuring the wife catching up on much needed reading. There's simply not been enough time to do all the things I want (see striked out comments above).

Pre-Race Issues
In the past, I have sat around thinking deep thoughts about how I'm going to handle the race, what will happen with my pace, setting goals for the bike/ run, and developing a plan to execute. Well, this race I tossed all of that out the window. My only goal was to finish without walking.

Hold up. Without walking? True. A few weeks ago, I hit a major snag in my training. Specifically, I had this excruciating knee pain on my right, medial side, just west of my kneecap. When I biked, no problem. When I walked, no problem. When I ran, instant problem. The suffering was readily apparent after my last long run, which was on June 1st. I had planned for 17 miles and only logged 14. I stayed off it for a couple of days. Then, I went on a short run with the Wife and did my first triathlon of the season. I did alright in those events but I acknowledged that this was not a feeling I wanted to have on a daily basis. Something had to give. If it wasn't laying off running for a while, I might be in a world of hurt for a long time. Since I am a guy and have no desire to see a doctor (for fear that I'll be forced to stop all exercise together), not running was the lesser of 2 evils.

Jump ahead by 2 weeks. Now, it's the middle of June. I've been swimming and biking and pleased with my workouts. I decided that I would try a charity run with the Wife. We set out on an easy 10K to raise money for a local animal shelter. Some of the ladies I coach were also rumored to be there, thus providing me with extra incentive to show up. Alas, none of the ladies showed and I had a good time hanging out with my hottie. The knee survived but didn't feel right. It wasn't hurting but I could tell something was askew. More time off.

Enter the last week of June. It's been almost a month since I have run seriously. I set out for a 3.5 mile test run. It went well. The next day, I tried a 4.5 tempo run. Still, no pain or discomfort. I AM HEALED. Or so I thought. Two days later, I wanted a 6-8 mile run with some 1/2 mile zone 3 efforts thrown in to make it interesting. No pain but lots of suffering. It was warm and I found myself walking after 3.5. Then again after 4.5. I felt like I had lost the ability to run any distance.

I waited another day before trying again. In the down time, I trained with some nice bike and swim efforts instead. Both went amazingly well. Time to run. My goal was 7 miles with the option of adding 3 more should I feel good. I hydrated and set out on a 3.5 mile loop. By the time I hit 2 miles, I was in agony but I ego'ed my way through it. I got home, watered and sugared, and tried the loop again. No such luck. It went horribly from a finish-your-workout perspective. On the bright side, I think my knee was laughing at me. No pain from down south, just mocking sarcasm. That was this past Wednesday.

Thursday, I did a long swim and followed it up with a long ride. Both went well and I was pleased with the results. I took Friday off to recover from the long stuff, knowing that I have an impending race. So, when all was said and done, all I really wanted to do finish the run without walking.

Race Day
I have this 2 hour travel rule for racing. It's sort of unwritten but completely understood... Except for the Ironman, I will not travel more than 2 hours to get to a race. I firmly believe that is the time frame in which I can comfortably wake up and still make it to the race venue without needing to stay the night. ATITB is at the cusp of that time limit. Setting the alarm for 4:00 am was anti-motivational given that I am on summer break. Really, 4 am sucks at any time of the year and it was even worse when the alarm bellowed its wake up tune. Having packed the car and readied my gear the night before, it still took a better part of an hour to get out of the house. And since I am not one to get to the race site early, I had planned to get on site around 7:00 (which is still early for summer break).

Even my dogs didn't wake up for the race
The day could not have been better. It was a chilly start which gave way to blazing sun and relentless humidity. You could feel the heat rise by the minute. This sole fact is the only reason I can justify a 8:00 start for any race in July. Otherwise, I'd consider a lobby movement to ban all races from starting before 9:30.

In preparing my race season with IMLP in mind, distance trumps speed at this point of the season. I signed up for the Olympic Distance, which was slated to me a 1.5K Swim, 40K Bike, and 10K Run. For those of you who don't speak in Ks, that's almost a mile swim, roughly a 25 mile bike and near a 6.2 mile run. I was reminded of how much I like short distance events when I ran by the finish line, watched others finish the sprint distance while I started my second lap, and was jealous.

Lake Ontario Swimming
I came out of the water in 14th place overall. I had a much smarter swim this time around as I let the guy in 13th place drag me around the 2-loop course. To him, I offer both a thanks and a sorry. Thanks for being my pace guy. You swam well, picked a good line, and did a nice job weaving through the other athletes as we caught them on the 2nd lap. Sorry for the number of times I touched your feet. FWIW, I didn't like it either.

On the bike, my quads were still burning a bit from Thursday's long ride. I wanted to build into my ride which I did nicely. The 2-loop course was mostly flat with some small rollers and one bigger roller. The second lap added the additional challenge of merging with the shorter distance races. But, those people are generally nice. And obedient. When I came up on the outside of a pack, a short "Stay right" had the desired effect. I made sure to also mutter a "Thank you. You guys look great!" as I went by and meant every word of it. My 21.7 mph ride was negatively split over the 2 laps and good enough for 24th place overall.

Dave and Me in Transition
I hopped off the bike feeling good and, at the same time, nervous. I had no idea what the run had in store for me. It, like the other disciplines, was scheduled to be 2 full laps of the course. In transition, I opted to put on socks (which is something I would not have done if I was running for the gold medal). I finished. No stopping. No walking. Goal achieved! Now, here's where it gets weird. I was 26th overall on the run. I was first in my age group (which I am certain has never happened before). I got passed by ZERO people on the run.

I can run again!
Aside: Okay, that's only a half truth. I did get passed by one guy, Dave. Dave buzzed by around the 1 mile mark. At the 2 mile mark, he slowed to take in water. I do not normally need water on a 6 mile run as I hydrate adequately on the bike in preparation for the footrace. Therefore, I did not take in water and closed the gap. At the 3 mile mark, Dave stopped to take in water. But, remember, it's getting hot outside and my throat was dry. I did grab a cup but drank on the fly and was able to pass Dave. I took in more fluid at the 4.5 but Dave was nowhere to be seen. I was passed by one guy whom I later passed, leaving my net passing back to null.

Second Aside: It turns out that I have some sort of minor infatuation with Dave's wife. She's the girl who chicked me in the Flower City Duathlon and won the FC 1/2 Marathon. She's an amazing runner who ran faster than both Dave and me (with a 101 fever no less). You can read about her here. She's the awesome chick and I just out ran her husband. Plus, I beat her in this race. Score one for the Banter.

When the final results were in, I was in 16th place overall and I had won my age group. Not bad for a guy who simply wanted to finish the race standing. I do recognize that my age group status may be a bit flawed. There was several people, fast people, who were kicked out of my age group simply because they were fast. There was an "Elite" wave, of which I was not invited. There were 8 elite males that all finished the race ahead of me. The closest elite beat me by 6 minutes. None of the elite ladies beat me.  Whereas the elite status knocked out some guys who were most likely in my age group, my overall place in the race would not have changed. I also beat Dave and his wife. No one can take that away from me.

The Goods
  • The clockwise swim course makes it perfect for those of us who are right side dominant breathers and want to see the buoys.
  • Transition was well organized with semi-assigned slots for our bikes and a bag check.
  • Both bike and run courses were well marked (more on this soon) so that only an idiot would not know which way to go
  • The race venue, Evangola State Park, is a great place to host a race. Lots of shade. The parking lot is close to transition.
  • The Volunteers who relentlessly give up their time and energy to make us happy. I don't know where RDs find these people. There must be some sort of 'awesome person repository' which they save the best folks for triathlons.
The Bads
  • The post race food was the source of much conversation. None of it was positive. Sorry to the nice people who planned and executed the meal, but it just was not good. The pasta was undercooked. The sauces were not tasty. 
  • And, for some reason, the beverages at the post race meal were being offered in 3-4 ounce dixie cups. Who, after racing for a couple of hours, needs only 3-4 ounces of liquid?
  • The showers- in the past, one of the great aspects of this race was that there were showers. This time, some people had rented out the boathouse for their wedding. Can you believe the nerve of some people? Imagine wanting to get married on a Saturday in the overwhelming beauty of a state park that has Lake Ontario as a backdrop. Losers. Their wedding party blocked the doors to the shower area.
  • There was a 2nd entrance to the showers but the park rangers could not find the key. I waited for about 20 minutes before 'showering' in the lake. As I drove out, adding further insult, I saw that the key had finally been found. Out of spite, I did not stop to shower. The Wife was none-too-pleased.
  • The prizes- I don't want to seem insensitive to the RD and the (title sponsor) Strassburg Sock people. Thank you for putting on a truly great event. But the blue-camouflage-baseball cap will not be worn be me. Ever. 
The Amazing (as seen on the course)
  • There was a "Try-a-Tri" event which allowed several first timers to compete in a triathlon. I talked with several who will be doing more triathlons, and longer than the TaT.
  • One woman, in the TaT did the bike portion with her baby seat attached to her bike. Loved it!
  • Two girls, as I passed them on the run, caught my eye. For 3 reasons: 1. I am a guy. 2. They were mostly naked (super short shorts and a dinky sports bra. That's it. See #1 if you need more help understanding this). 3. They actually wanted my help to get them back on course. They were off course by at least a quarter mile for their race but they were still having fun. I, of course, pointed them in the right direction (see #1 and #2 if you need help understanding this.)
  • Nancy Connors. There is no way that I am any better than this woman. She finished dead last. In fact, she started the 2nd lap of the run long after the next-to-last place person has already finished. She kept going, finished her race during the awards ceremony, and was met with sincere, thunderous applause.
So, it seems that my knee is doing better and I have roughly 3 weeks to get me legs ready for a marathon. I reflected to the Wife, after the race, that my legs felt great and I could have ran longer. I doubt I could run 20 miles longer. But, I left the race with an overwhelming positive feeling. One more big week of training, one week of last-minute stuff, one more tune-up race, and a taper week. Then, it's time for the big show.