Thursday, September 29, 2011

Begging Forgiveness

Forgive me reader for I have sinned. It's been almost 2 weeks since my last bike ride.

The last official time I have been on the bike was for the Syracuse 70.3 bike leg. When I racked the ride that day, I had no idea that it would take me so long to get back on the saddle. What's worse is that the next few days aren't looking good either. Allow me to explain.

The first couple of days post-race were easy; I was in a recovery stage anyway. I had planned on a day or two to give the legs a chance to feel better. Granted, research shows that active recovery is more efficient that passive. However, (warning: excuses are ready and abundant) I never actually workout on Day 1. Day 2, I worked (as in my job) then coached after school. We had a match (which we lost). Day 3 saw practice after school. Day 4 was met with a match (which we won) and our school's version of Open House (which, as a high school teacher, is about as big of a waste of time as blogging). Day 5 started a tournament (which we won). It was an overnight deal and I didn't get any sleep until the end of Day 6 when I could have been compared to a walking zombie (biking not advised). Day 7 was a Wife day, since I hadn't really seen her since Day 4.

Here's the thing about coaching a fall sport (now that fall has officially started)... The sun has been limiting available biking time. The weather has been beautiful. I get home from practice around 6:00 pm. Since the sun goes down just before 7, I don't have much time to get on the bike. And, since the weather is nice, I absolutely refuse to get on the trainer. I'd rather not bike than spin in my basement. That attitude will have to change in the near future. But then again, the weather won't be nice in the near future.

As I look ahead, I may be able to get out on Day 14. That would be a Saturday. However, the forecast is for rain, a high of 49º, and moderately high winds. Crappy biking weather. Plus, I am a pansy in cool temperatures on the bike. Who knows? I might actually suck it up and get spinning.

I am racked with guilt about not biking. I see my bike sitting there in the garage, unmoving. It looks at me with big puppy-dog eyes begging for a little Banter time. It still has the race stickers from IMSyr. My wetsuit from the same race is still draped over in an eternal drying rack of carbon fiber. Sometimes I stop and contemplate a ride in an effort to humor it. Most of the time I blow right by without offering any sort of hope.
Here's a depressing thought about biking... I know that the next time I will race my bike in competition will be in/ around 7 months from now. My next A-race is at the end of July, 2012 or about 10 months from now. No wonder that my motivation to propel myself on 2 wheels isn't very high. I have lots of time to sit on the saddle.

In the mean time, I miss biking. I enjoy the monotony of turning my feet in tiny circles at a rate of around 90 rpms. I appreciate the feeling of the wind slicing through my helmet covered hair. I like the feeling of freedom as I am sequestered onto the crappy shoulder of the road while cars pass by within inches of my elbow, honking their horns along the way. I want to feel the adrenaline rush of pushing up a hill in a gear that is significantly larger than my ability. I will have those feelings again. Hopefully soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Race Review- Syracuse 70.3 Run

There's something I forgot to tell you in my last post... As I was finishing the 56 mile bike ride around the southeastern suburbia of Syracuse... As I was crossing my legs while attempting to run through transition... As I was finally starting to regain feeling in my temperature numb toes... The first place dude crossed the line. Granted, he started a good 35 minutes ahead of me, but it kinda sucked that I still had 13.1 miles left to run and he was now a 70.3 half-Ironman Champion. Congrats to Bart.

As I started to run, my thoughts drifted back on a couple of racing details. First, I have not made it past mile 8 without significant discomfort. Second, one of the main reasons that I bomb on the run is because of a pacing problem. Third, I had no idea what this course entails. Fourth, I am completely inexperienced at this distance. Translation: I was ready for this.

My HIM goal was to achieve my IM desired pace of 8:30. I wanted to practice this pace and be assured that I could do it. Since the short season, I have been trying to get faster and faster (with marginal success). However, racing long distance is a completely different beast than the nice 5k offered up at the sprint distance races.

The course was sort of lasso shaped. You ran from transition down the handle of the lasso. At the start of the hoop, you turned left and did 2 laps. After your second lap you ran back down the handle of the lasso to the finish line. At one point, you had to stop and wrestle a cow. Don't worry, it wasn't a full grown cow. It was more of an adolescent calf. Regardless, it wasted valuable running time and was much more challenging after the swim and bike. (Granted- I may have delusional around this time.)

I wanted to ensure a good run, which meant focusing on pace and holding back a bit early in the run. Given that I had a goal pace of 8:30 per mile, I had recently been reading up on how to pace these things. The idea is to start out at about 30 seconds faster than your goal pace. In these events, you are most likely to slow down regardless of how you feel. Naturally my first mile out the block was a 7:24. Not very smart. If you are an avid reader, you'd know that this is the story of my life. In my defense, the first mile or so was a bit of a decline.
It was right around the end of the lasso/ mile 1 where I caught Monica. I didn't know it at the time but she would define the rest of my run. I started off our triathlon run-leg relationship with a nice, "I have to believe that you are doing quite well in this race." My words spoken to Monica. I postulated that since I was having a pretty good race, any on the ladies that were in a similar position were front of the female pack. Again, I'm not that smart.

We (Monica and I) ran together for a short distance. Remember that I was not very familiar with the course. Monica took it upon herself to educate me. She told me of the 2 big hills on the course: one at mile 2 and one at mile 3. We had to do these hills twice in the lasso loops. I thanked her for the information and we ran together for quite some time. She asked me if I gunning to beat her. (I was.) I simply responded, "Maybe, but really I am motivated by you." (I was.)

After the first hill, Monica and I ran step to step. When we made it to the second big hill, Monica stopped to walk. I walked during IMLP and hated it. I wanted to run. I trudged up this hill without stopping. See ya later Mon.

Of course, Monica was a competitor. It didn't take her long to catch up. Not only did she catch up, she took the lead. I believe that I was better on the hills. I was going up faster than her. I have a downhill running strength. It seemed that Monica was better on the flats. She was clearly the better runner between miles 7-8 when my pace had slowed to 8:21 and 8:00 respectively. Good paces yes. But not Monica good.

But, my skills seem to be better at the inclines. Further, I seemed to be inspired by the push and pull of gravity. By the time we finished the first incline, I had caught her and were running together again. By the time we hit the 2nd hill, she was walking up the hill and I was still stubborn. Mile 9 dropped to a 7:51. Mile 10 was a 7:29. Mile 11 was 7:31. I was confident that, since the last 2 splits were my fastest since the first mile, Monica was long gone behind me. Wow am I an idiot.

Right around mile 11.5, she passed me. She shouted out words of encouragement as went by. It worked. I was encouraged. I didn't let her get too far ahead and soon we were running side by side like old chums. I was feeling great, which (I am assuming) is the fault of the male ego gene. I had determined that I had to win my personal battle against this amazingly fast and congenial female. At mile 12.5 I had a commanding 30 second lead, which (I am assuming) was because Monica was running out of steam. By mile 13, I was pretty sure that I would finish this 13.1 mile run without walking. I picked up the pace.

When all was said and done, I had a 1:42.41 half marathon. This equates to a 7:50 mile pace; much better than I had hoped/ predicted. My overall time in the race was a 5:08.29. This was good for 18th place in my age group. I was 106th place with the pros and 75th without. I had a race that I could be proud of.

On a neutral note, I had indeed beaten Monica. I only know this because I finished ahead of her and waited gallantly at the finish for her to finish. She deserved my gratitude and I gave it to her. I didn't pay attention to my time versus hers. I really don't pay attention to such things. People who do so are generally egotistically, male chauvinistic pigs. They have no respect for the fairer gender, especially when they base their self-worth off of beating girls. So, I have no idea that I had beaten all of the non-professional ladies in this race minus one. Not a single clue. Knowing such things would make me less of a person. Plus, Monica was a significantly larger winner than me. She was 3rd place female. Not age group. Overall (if you discount the pros, which I do). She qualified for the 2012 World Championship 70.3 in Vegas. She has already qualified for Kona (a feat that has been relegated to my dreams). As I hypothesized at the beginning of the run/ post, Monica was indeed doing well in this race. She is a great triathlete and I had the pleasure of running with her for much of the race.

I have been redeemed. My swim was slower than expected. My bike was spot on. My run was about 4 minutes slower than my open half marathon at the beginning of the season. When I got done with the race and analyzed my performance, exactly 3 words came to mind. "I kicked ass!"

Will I do this race again next year? Unsure. There is a rumor that Syracuse 70.3 will be moved up in the season. They are contemplating June or July. Since I have committed to Ironman Lake Placid 2012, this might be an ideal tune-up race or a too-close-to-the-big-day-to-race situation. If they decide to keep it in mid-September, the odds of me repeating will greatly increase.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Race Review- Syracuse 70.3 Bike

I need to apologize to both all of you who were waiting anxiously for the bike post. Unlike during the summer, I have this thing called a job which seems to take up blogging time. I know, I need to set my priorities. I will try to be better in the future.

Not only has this job thing taken me away from my writing, it has put a huge damper in my training. I seem to find myself down about 50 hours per week in which I cannot train. Gross. Thus far in the month of September I have only been on my bicycle a total of 6 times. Two of the six were in races. One was a 6 mile warm-up just to check the gearing on my bike before the Syracuse 70.3. So, here we are more than 3 weeks into the month of September and I have trained exactly 3 times. I certainly cannot use 'too fatigued' as an excuse for bad performance this time.

I was hoping to get in a race goal pace of 20 mph. I started the multi-sport season off with that goal so there's really no reason I shouldn't end on that goal. The only problem is that I have never accomplished 20+ mph in a race greater than 25 miles. And, to continue the list of 'you are an idiot goal setter' is that I have struggled historically on the hills. Syracuse was surprisingly hilly. Take a look at the hill profile.
The Garmin reports over 2200 feet of climbing in a 56 mile course. In comparison, Lake Placid has about 2700 feet of climbing over the same distance (which you do twice to complete that race). In IMLP, my overall bike pace was just over 18 mph. Not bad but not anywhere near 20.

As you can see, the race started out with a little bit of rolling terrain. Then you went up. And up. And after it flattened out a little bit, you went up some more. This trend continued for about 12 miles. It was around that time when I noticed I was a good 7 minutes behind my goal pace. My legs were tired from hilling. With the temperature having climbed into the low 50s (up from the mid 40s if you recall from my swim post), my feet were rather numb.

One of the reasons I think that my IMLP race did not go as well as planned was a nutrition and hydration problem. I wanted to fix that. I was making sure to take in adequate fluids, roughly 20 ounces per hour. I wanted to ensure that I had enough calories while not overdoing it. I had a 350 calorie bottle of sports drink, 4 fig newtons (about 200 kc), and 3 gels (about 300 calories). My nutrition plan was to use half of the sports drink early in the race on the hilly portion during the first hour. After the course flattens out, I was going to switch to the fig newtons at a rate of 2 figs per 30 minutes. In the last third of the race, I was going to finish off the sports drink. The gels were a back up plan in case I wanted more calories or struggled in eating the cookies. I executed the plan perfectly, did not need the gels, and did not have any GI problems.

That's not to say that there weren't any issues on the bike. One of my problems in this sport is the lack of ability to plan for the race conditions. For example, if the temperature were to get hotter, obviously I'm gonna need more fluid. Using that sage philosophy, the converse should also be true. In cooler temperatures, I should dial down my fluid intake. I know that now. On race day? Not so much (literally and figuratively). The bladder started talking to me about mile 20. By mile 35, I was definitely racing under pressure. By mile 45, I started to contemplate my urinary options. The only viable choices went as follows:
1. Suck it up. Transition is only 11 miles, or roughly 30 minutes, out
2. Pull over at a convenient location, take care of business, and get on with the race
3. Pee while riding
The problem with option 1 was the Pressure: Time ratio. With every passing minute, the pressure increased exponentially. I was pretty sure that 30 minutes was going to exceed the expansion limits of my bladder. Option 2, in my opinion, was the worst option. It is a clear violation of USAT rules and I don't like to stop during a race for non-emergency type reasons (although, this one was getting dangerously close to emergency). Option 3 is not as much of a problem for me as it is for many people. Given the copious amount of sweat my body generates during a race, sweat that is by definition laced with urea, an extra 2 cups of smelly liquid is not much of an issue. I am generous enough to my fellow competitors to 'wash' off the excess with a fair amount of clean water, leaving my leg actually cleaner than I started. Plus, it was cold outside and I was pretty sure that the warm liquid would be refreshing in an awkward sort of way.

In the end, I picked option 1. As I said before, option 2 was completely out. You wanna know what held me back from option 3? My socks. That's right, I was wearing socks. Triathlon is a summer sport and my feet appreciate the sockless feeling while biking. However, HIM Syracuse was not sporting summer-like temps and my feet do not appreciate cool temps while biking. I wore socks. One caveat of this additional layer of foot coverings is their absorptive properties. When given a couple of cups of noxious liquid, they are apt to hold roughly 75% by volume (despite the wicking claim of the product's fabric). Most of that juice is bound to end up in one of the 2 sides making me unequally squishly. That thought alone elected option 1 as the better choice.

As the race progressed, I made exactly one more important observation: I was a better climber than Rory. He was in my age group. On the flats (not that Syracuse is wrought with many flats), Rory would pass my by. However, once the terrain slanted upwards, I'd fly right on by. We'd flipped flopped nearly 15 times on this venture. I ended up beating him to transition. It didn't matter. He beat me to the finish line by 4 minutes. When you look at our comparative run times, he only ran 2 minutes faster than me. What happened to the other 2 minutes? Option 1, that's what happened.

I made it back to transition holding in the piddle. I racked my bike and put on my running shoes, over clean socks mind you. Then, I went backwards in transition... to the porta-potty, the one one the left. Option 1 had consequences. Warning- Anatomically correct, yet uncormfortable details forecoming: After spending all that time in aero-position, my urethra, in the area connecting the bladder and the exit shaft had compressed itself to 1/10th of its normal size. Pressure and flow were compromised. For an evacuation that I would have expected to take no less that 45 seconds, I was delayed. I was wonderfully delayed. See you later Rory.

Here's the thing: I took exactly 2 pictures at the race- both of them of the potty. This was possibly the greatest traveling human waste receptacle that I have ever used. I am a pseudo expert on this topic, since these things are commonplace in the race world and I have frequented many. Pre-race gastrointestinal rituals require, at times, multiple deposits and these are the systems of choice by most race directors. Most of the PPs are small, disgusting stinkholes in which spending more than 17 seconds would seem an eternity. At HIM Syracuse, they contracted the best. Score one for the WTC! Upon entering, you are greeted with the pleasant scent of potpourri, as opposed to that other stuff. There was a portrait depicting a swimmer, biker, and a runner (click to enlarge). There were craft paper flowers to accent the background scent. If you look closely, you'll see an orange glow near the end bottom of the bowl. They actually had a cushy welcome mat upon entering. There was even a cup holder to store your beverage, should you be stupid enough to bring one in. They thought of everything.

So, I am 2/3rds away from my second A-race of the season and I stopped to admire the facilities. Granted, it took longer than expected. Up until this point, I had been having a great race. My bike time was a 2:46:40 which equates to roughly 19.99 mph. Close enough for me.  This gave me an 18th place in my age group. I was clearly not dehydrated. My stomach felt fine. And my time goals were within a respected standard deviation away from perfect. Lurking ahead is a 13.1 mile run. In IMLP, I ran out of juice at mile 8. I have historically not had a spectacular great experience at distance running. In every attempt, I have had a less than spectacular performance. Could I break the streak? Stay tuned...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Race Review- Syracuse 70.3 Swim

This was my second A-race of the 2011 season. The first A didn't go so well and I needed a redemption race (mostly for personal self-esteem). Ironman Syracuse 70.3 seemed like a good fit into my schedule. It's at a good time of year. It's a good distance. I felt ready.

The last time I have done a half-Iron distance race was back in 2005. And by last time, it was also my first time. I did the Musselman, nearly collapsed in the 90º+ heat, walked a bunch, and said, "Yup, I'll do an Ironman." I signed up for IM Lake Placid and haven't done the half-distance since. This certainly isn't the most intelligent way to get IronDistance ready but I'm not claiming to be an intelligent guy.

When I do IMLP, I start planning almost a full year in advance. I need to develop a training plan. I need lodging. I start thinking about last year's plan and make changes in hopes for improvement. I signed up for Syracuse about 4 weeks ahead of schedule. I had no plan (I can't remember much from 2005 let alone my race experience). I made a room reservation on the Thursday before the gun. This A-race has a completely different feel.

One reason that there are very few triathlons in the Western NY area after Labor Day can be blamed on the temperate climate. As the sun makes its way towards sticking its hot pointy noise at the equator, it inadvertently steals heat from the north. There is some residual heat which doesn't normally make an appearance until afternoon. The morning, however, is a different story. The sunrise temperature was a blustery 44º F. A little colder and I'd have to drive home and cover my tomato plants. Instead, I was preparing to shed my clothes and go for a swim. Again, I'm not claiming to be an intelligent guy.

To prove my idiocy further, I have been having a string of pea-brained moments before my races. In the last race, I had forgotten to bring my cap, goggles, and timing chip. This time, I had left half of my race day nutrition in the car. This isn't so bad until you realize that the car was about a third of a mile away from my bike. Fortunately, I was slated to start in the 9th wave, roughly 45 minutes after transition had closed. I had time.

Having already made the trek once this morning, I got to walk back to pick up 3 packets of gel and one bottle of water. Weighted down with an additional 300 calories and 20 ounces of fluid, I got to repeat the rocky path for the third time this morning completing the mile walking warm-up in sub-arctic temperatures. A nice volunteer turned her back as I negotiated my way towards my bike to deposit my plunder and my race day was ready to start.

The Swim
The swim course was featured a 2 point turn. To complete the 1.2 mile voyage, we first had to travel about 600 yards to the first buoy. We were heading north and the sun was on the right, my breathing side. Stroke, breath, squint. Repeat. With a nice fog misting off the lake's surface, the light never reached its full blinding potential. I had 2 main challenges in this portion of the race. First, I was searching for feet to pace/ draft. After about a hundred yards, it was obvious that I had picked someone adequate but not outstanding. Since I am neither intelligent nor patient, I jumped feet and sped up in search for a more worthy draft. Second, even though we were five minutes behind the 8th wave, it didn't take me and the other lead swimmers too long to catch the lag swimmers. I can't normally swim straight in a pool with guiding lines. Now, I added slalom style swimming to avoid triathletes as I stroked past.

At the first buoy, we made a 90º right hand turn to head directly into the sun. The mist served to only help the sun hide the course markers. I struggled to find my way for the roughly 400 yards from one turn buoy to the next. Based on the body language of the other swimmers, I wasn't the only one. The lifeguards on duty were doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe but they were horrible tour guides. They mostly kept to themselves.

After arriving at the next and final turn buoy, I made another 90º turn. This proved to be a mistake. The turn should have been closer to 120º to angle back to the swim finish. I found this out about 100 yards later. With 900 yards (just over a half mile left), I slowly made my way back to the line. Now, the path was littered with swimmers from at least 3 waves in front of mine, as evidenced by their swim cap colors. One thing I did not see was anyone with my color. I was either leading my wave or stuck in no-man's-land.

It turned out to be the latter. I was around 28 minutes in the first lap at Lake Placid. Given that the race is shorter in distance and I am in better swimming shape than I was 8 weeks ago, I was anticipating at least a sub-30 minute swim. Alas, it wasn't in the cards. I hopped onto the shore and noticed 2 things. First, the temperature hadn't increased much in the past half hour. Cold settled on to my wet body like lint on velcro.

Second, I glanced up at the race clock. It was ticking steadily and showing 1:06 with some change. Having started 35 minutes later than the lead wave, I calculated my swim time at 31 minutes. I ran to the strippers who peeled off my wetsuit with significantly more efficiency I could muster solo. Mostly naked, I made the 0.18 mile run through the arctic tundra known as the parking lot from the beach to the transition area (which did not increase my warmth factor).  Officially, my time was 31:18, good enough for 6th in my age group.

Except for a little bit slower than expected time, I had no major issues with the swim. I would advise the race organizers to go counterclockwise in the swim, thus negating the sun factor for a majority of the race. The water was calm. Despite the wave swim, the amount of physical bumping and grinding was at a minimum. This was a pretty good venue for a triathlon swim.

Stay tuned for the next post: Syracuse 70.3- Bike Review.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Water Walking Woes

There's one main aspect of the Fingerlakes Triathlon that really bugs me.  It's the water depth (this would be the 'con' section of the post). The deepest part of the race seems to be about 4 feet. Scratch that. The depth is not important in this scenario. It's the choice of triathletes to walk the swim portion in the shallow waters that grinds the nails on the chalkboard.

I find myself being a bit stubborn on this aspect of the race. Sorry to those who are offended (I'll defend your perspective in a little bit). A triathlon, by definition, is a swim-bike-run. That's the point of the race. First swimming. Then biking. Then running.

I'm not talking about a short, "Crap, I just swallowed some water and I need to cough" scenario. There were literally people walking a vast majority of the swim course. It was as if these people had planned to do a triathlon with the goal of not swimming. Why bother getting your hair wet when you could just stroll around the buoys?

I'm not willing to go so far as, 'If you walk during the swim, you should be DQ'd,' but I am really close, (like on the edge, don't-push-me-over close). The USAT rules state that, 'Swimmers may hang on to a bouy, boat or a pontoon to rest without disqualification so long as they are not pushed or propelled in any way.' This is sort of how I feel about the bottom of the lake. Swimmers can stop and rest but not use the terrain for propulsion.

Since I'm sharing my feelings on the topic, here's my stance: If you have to walk the swim portion of a triathlon, for what ever reason, triathlon may not be the best option for you. Skip this race. Go through the Swim Progression. Train. Join a team, learn to swim, get comfortable, and race next year. You'll still be awesome.

Just to prove I am not a complete egomaniac, I have thought about reasons that water walking during the swim is acceptable. I can justify the behavior on multiple levels:

First, walking during a triathlon gains you no competitive edge. In exactly zero of the waves, historically, has anyone in the top slots of the race or age group been a water walker. Walking through water is horribly slow. The friction and resistance forces created between your feet and the bottom of the lake are complicated due to offsetting buoyancy forces.

Second, water walking is not energy efficient. Not only will the athlete move slower, but s/he will most likely use more energy in doing so. When trying to run through 4 feet of water, your body uses the same systems as running on land. But, the density of water is exponentially greater than that of air.

Third, walking is an acceptable form of propulsion in other areas of the race. Should an athlete have a mechanical problem on the bike, the athlete is allowed to walk (or run) the bike back to the transition without any penalty (other than not riding). If an athlete needs to walk during the run portion of the race, s/he may do so without violating any rules. I may have, umm, in the past taken advantage of this flexibility in another race this year. (But, just one, I promise.)

So, given that there is actually nothing wrong with running/ walking during the swim, it just feels wrong. Perhaps it's because I have a swimmer's background and gliding through the water is one of the pleasantries of life. Perhaps it's because of the conflicts I have had in the past with the water walkers in the pool refusing to share lane space. Perhaps it's because walking during the race, although sometimes necessary, should not be the mode of choice in any discipline. Perhaps, it's because I am an elitist jerk.

Whether you water walk or swim, I am happy to have you on the course. I will help you in transition. I will race you with every intention on beating you to the finish line. I will celebrate it when you cross. Please reserve your walking for emergency purposes only, which is, hopefully, never during a race.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Race Review and Results- Fingerlakes Triathlon

When I first incepted my Short Season, the Fingerlakes Triathlon (FLT) was the original race I had pegged as my climax. Intelligent seasons must have a goal and I wanted this race to be it. The FLT seemed to be an obvious choice, given that it's the last triathlon in the area until next June. It has a lot of amazing aspects. It's held on the lake shore of beautiful Canandaigua Lake. The setting makes for a good swim (more on this later), scenic bike, and a fast run. What a perfect venue for an A-race!

Then, of course, my brain got in the way and I signed up for Syracuse 70.3. A-race got switched to last minute tune-up. Still, I couldn't help but want a good showing at the FLT. I thought I had a good race in me. I went for it.

Thank goodness I don't warm up. Seriously. If I had been in the habit of warming up, it would have totally been wasted on the FLT. The overnight low was a crisp 51º and that was the temp that greeted me and the Wife as we begrudgingly limped into the car. The sun had not yet made an appearance over the horizon as we trekked the 35 minute drive to the race site. It was not any warmer when we arrived.

We got to the transition area about 10 minutes pre-closing, a new Banter record for race promptness. For me, setting up my gear is a 4 minute endeavor. Upon conclusion, I learned that I had failed miserably in overachieving. See, when you go and pick up your race packet including cap and timing chip, you should actually bring them to the race. Mine? Sitting at home with my goggles, in my garage, next to my bike stand. It was off to the registration table to get more.

With a new set of official timing gear, ski-mask type goggles borrowed from the Wife and a bit of egg on my face, we were promptly kicked out of transition. Race time 7:15 am. I was slated for the sprint distance race, which was slated to follow the Olympic Distance race. The first wave of the sprint was scheduled to 8:15. My wave was to splash at ~8:40. We've been standing around in nothing but our skivvies and wetsuits, in mid-50º temps for almost 2 hours. Again, thank goodness I don't warm up.

The Swim
The swim portion of this race is both a blessing and a curse. The 750 yard course is a U-shaped. Swim out, turn left, very shortly thereafter turn left again, swim back. If I were actively coaching any new triathletes, this is the race I would have them do. I have referred countless numbers of people to the FLT just for its swim venue. Most new triathletes have not been through the Natural Progression of Swimming and have a swimming fear/ weakness. The FLT solves this problem completely. The water depth is roughly 4 feet deep the entire way around the course. Should an athlete get in trouble, they can simply stand up and get out of trouble.

That simple fact alone makes this a great race for the unconditioned athlete. Low risk/ high reward. You could literally walk the entire swim. And that simple fact makes this race a bane for swimmers. Wave starts mean that (except for the first wave) there may/ will be someone walking in front of you during the swim. I have slammed (literally) into the back of several 'swimmers' during this event in the past. This year went uneventful for me but the Wife did get a nice backhand from a woman who spontaneously decided to change from freestyle to breaststroke.

Since I didn't want to be caught behind any walkers, I started the swim off quickly. I don't normally sprint off the gun (air horn), but it seemed prudent today. I was the first in my wave to the first turn buoy. I rounded the second buoy still in first place thanking the Wife for my borrowed goggles. I believe that I took the turn a little wide and swam an arc path in lieu of a straight line back to the shore. I don't remember being passed (something I would surely have seen in my windshield lenses).  Sure enough, I was 3rd out of the water behind Peter and Jason.

The jaunt from the water wound along a painfully strewn pea-gravel path up towards transition. I had everything I needed already on my body. The Wife had the good wetsuit leaving me with the old sleeveless, which consequently peels off much easier. I was on the bike quicker than expected.

The Bike
I passed the 2nd place guy in my age group, Peter, almost immediately. I have a better running mount on my bike than he. I didn't look back. The RD had to change the bike course due to road construction this year. Still, the first 5 miles or so were uphill. Before the end of the 4th mile, I had gained the pole position. See ya, Jason. (Who shouted out words of encouragement as I went by. He's a spokes-model for good sportsmanship.)

Granted, I had absolutely no idea how I was doing in the overall race. With a wave start, I was consistently passing athletes in the previous waves. Plus, there were some amazingly strong athletes in the waves behind me. I was racing them too, so no time to relax.

One aspect of the race that did not change, although I wish it had, was a loop around the CMAC (which stands for the Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center). It is a concert hall type amphitheater complete with speed bumps. I'm not sure it's fair to have a race with speed bumps on the course.

I flew off the bike and into transition. I found my bike spot conveniently marked with my socks and shoes. I briefly wiped my soles with the socks, slid them over my phalanges, inserted my newly adorned feet into my shoes and took off. Sure enough, there was Jason cursing at me because I beat him out of transition. I had no idea he was that close.

The Run
The run course was mostly flat, just like every other triathlon in the area. Running is my weakest part of the race compared to the other guys at the top of my AG. My only hope is to gain enough time in the earlier parts of the race and hang on. I took off.

The beginning of the course took us down the road and into a small, cute nature-preserve-type area. (Complete with a guy in camouflage fishing in the lake. I giggled because I'm pretty sure that camo is unnecessary for fish.) My first mile beeped in at a plush 6:47. Not a single person had passed me. This is a bit unusual. I was expecting Jason any moment now.

Upon exiting the nature preserve, I saw Jason. He was standing on the course rooting and cheering. I gave him a weird look. "Calf injury," he responded. Well, that problem was solved. Jason was my closest competition and had taken himself out of the race.  I trudged on, only now a little more cocky.

Mile 2 came and went with remarkably boring details. I ran past many people, none of which were in my age group. Many were in the Olympic distance race. Those poor, sorry saps had 2 laps. I had one. I really like this distance. When lap 2 buzzed, I glanced down and saw a 6:43. I was getting faster. Should this trend continue, I had just over 7 minutes of running. Still no one had passed. I was getting nervous. I picked up the pace.

My new found pace was down into the 6:20s for a brief period of time. My legs felt good. My energy level was high. My fear factor was decreasing as I was slowly getting closer to the end. Then, at the 2.75 mile mark, 3 things happened simultaneously. 1. The watched beeped signaling 2.75 miles (hence the reason I know the details). 2. A near crippling side-stitch deposited itself on my right side, just below my ribs. 3. Peter had finally arrived.

Under normal circumstances, I think I could have held Peter off. He's a good runner but I had the lead,  Ego motivation, and some juice left in the tank. My training has been geared towards longer distances. But, the side-stitch had a voice in the matter. It was clearly stating, '7 min per mile, max.' My 6:20 pace had been relegated to the past. Peter was nice. He hung with me for about 15 seconds before making the pass. I sped up and the side-stitch spoke up. Peter beat me to the line by 18 seconds, relegating me to a 2nd place finish in the AG. 

The Stats
Swim= 3/AG, 14/Overall
Bike= 1/AG, 5/Overall
Run= 4/AG, 18/Overall
Race= 2/AG, 7/Overall

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Art of Delivering a Hoot and Holler

I'm a big fan of the Hoot and Holler. I relish in them and they have never failed to provide inspiration for a better performance. I am, for the most part, on the receiving end of the H&H. This is really because I lack the confidence to hand them out. The problem is that there are no cues as to who likes the H&H and who hates them. I know that there are people out there who don't appreciate being yelled at by perfect strangers in the middle of a workout.

The Set-up
I went out for a 7 mile tempo run. My goal for the run was a 7:30 per mile pace or better. I may have been over-reaching a bit as it was morning (I am not a morning runner), I had not taken in many calories (I normally eat breakfast), and I am a pansy (I am a pansy).

By mile 4, I was feeling better than expected and about 30 seconds faster than my goal time for that mark. Mile 5 led me down into a ravine, upping my lead on the virtual pace guy by more than a minute. But, as Sir Issac Newton (who was a triathlete, in case you didn't know) pointed out, what goes up must come down. Or, in this situation, what goes down must go up. At the end of mile 5, I had to climb out of that ravine.

The uphill is roughly 0.35 miles long at about a 10% grade. It's a beast. I can count on the hill itself to sap at least a minute off my average pace. But, as I said, I was feeling good and I was ahead of schedule. My confidence levels were rather high.

The Delivery
About half way up the hill, I spy this woman trudging up the hill in the same direction. Don't ask me many details about her as I don't normally pay attention to such things. Granted, I did happen to notice that she was in her upper 20s to lower 30s. She was about 5'6 and had wavy black hair pulled back into a pony tail. It wagged left and right with her neutrally-pronated gait. She sported a red, short sleeved Under Armor shirt and black arm warmers. Her lower half featured black Reebok spandex-style shorts with about an 8" inseam. Her white ankle height socks disappeared into white and blue Saucony running shoes. As I neared to about 50 yards away, she glanced at her watch, which was mounted on the inside of her left arm. I have absolutely no idea what kind of watch. As I told you, I do not have a good eye for details.

Shortly after glancing her watch, I heard a familiar beep as she hit a button and came to a walk. This was one tough hill. It can eat you up, spit you out, and laugh in your face. I have felt this agony before. Not today. I was tackling this hill with efficiency and verve. I didn't want this woman to be defeated. My brain rummaged for the perfect choice of words. Here's a brief mental list of my options:
-Get your @$$ moving
-You start running now
-There's no walking in running
-Suck it up and run
-You can do it (in my Rob Schneider from 'Waterboy' voice)
I picked one and went with it. I took a deep breath and handed out my H&H, "HEY, YOU GOT THIS!"

She turned her head and finally noticed me running up the hill behind her. Her shoulders rose, the watch beeped again, and she resumed running.

I finally passed her about 80 yards from the crest of the hill. She glanced in my direction. I gave a nice smile coupled with a, "Nice work. You look great." She smiled back and replied, " Thanks <cough cough> You too." I made the pass and we both kept running.

So there you have it. A well timed, well placed H&H was more powerful than that killer of a hill. It might also be proof of the elusive female-ego gene.

P.S. My pace for the tempo run was 7:28. Good run indeed.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cat and Mouse

The Workout
Since she has become a triathlete again, the Wife has been going along for the ride when I go to the pool. She's not all that interested in swimming as a discipline, its more like a necessary evil. I, on the other hand, really love swimming yet remain apathetic due to its ease and near insignificance to the overall race. But, we both recognize that pool training has its place in triathlon. Most people at the YMCA loathe sharing a lane with me due to the massive wake created by my immense shoulders and powerful stroke technique because mostly they prefer to swim alone. The Wife wants to swim with me. I find it endearing, but I bet it's really to keep gawkers (except for me) out of her space.

While she set out to do her thing, I settled in to one of my favorite swim workouts. It is as follows:
-Warm up
-500 swim just slower than desired race pace
-5x100 with a faster pace but a little bit of rest
-500 swim at the same or faster pace as before
-5x100 at the same or faster intensity as before
-Cool down
I like this set as it has a mix of distance and speed. I can change the distances by making it a 600 and 6x100s, etc. Or, I can add in another round of 500 and 5x100s. Its got flexibility. This 2000 yard set is designed to get me race ready for a half-ironman, such as Syracuse 70.3, which coincidentally features a 2000 yard swim. See how that goes, my set matches my goal race?

The Data
Here's how today's set actually went...

Warm up- Mow the lawn, pick up doggie-do in the yard, and drive to the pool (I've never warmed up efficiently anyway)

500 swim on 7:05, which is a 1:25 per 100 pace (important to remember this for my next set). Relax for about 1:55. This time would have been different had I swam slower. Basically, I waited until the deck clock's hand hit the 60 two times.

5x100 on the 1:30 (5 seconds slower than my 500 pace). But, I needed to swim faster than 1:25. My actual splits were 1:24, 1:22, 1:22, 1:21, 1:20.

Again, I got to rest for two times the 60 second hand. It's just a nice place to start the next set.

Repeat the 500. I conveniently went a 7:05. It's nice to be consistent. 
Meanwhile, the Wife was just finishing up whatever it was that she was doing. She refuses to let me coach her and I refuse to stress the point. She was averaging roughly 53 seconds per 50 yards (I am allowed to notice that much). In an odd change of behavior, she actually asked me what I was doing next. I explained and kept it brief as the deck clock will not wait for idle conversation, even with hot chicks.
5x100 on the 1:30

The Challenge
As the clock struck 60, I pushed off while the Wife watched me go. I flipped at the 25 feeling fresh (115 seconds of rest will do that to you). As I approached the wall for the 50, the Wife took off just before I arrived. I glanced at the clock and my 50 yard split was 40 seconds flat (I can check the clock from the water without breaking my technique). I flipped and made it a point to catch. She was roughly 5 yards ahead at the 75 but I have a significantly better turn than she. But, she upped the amps in her swim. She was definitely swimming faster than her 53 second norm. I, being male, could not allow her to beat me to the wall. In an effort to gain some speed, I did something not recommended to most triathletes- I started kicking (yes, with my legs). I was able to sneak my hand into the wall before hers. Ha, I won!

I looked over at the clock, 1:13. Her 50 split had dropped to 43 seconds and I had just barely made it in. My chest was heaving and I had only 17 seconds to recover.

Thus it went. My cat to her mouse. My 100s to her 50s. It was a great way for me to challenge myself at the end of a workout. It was a great way for her to get in some speed work, which she normally would not do. Banter and Wife pool bonding time. My splits for the set: 1:13, 1:14, 1:14, 1:16, 1:19. She dealt a blow to the ego by winning the wall on number 3 and 5.  I think she cheated and left early on #3. I have officially protested the results of that rep. The refs are checking the video and will get back to me shortly.

I thanked her for a great set and a great workout. Let this be a blessing for all you ladies out there. Should she ever really want to get competitive in triathlon, the Wife could probably rule the age group, if not the race. However, her competitive passion isn't what it used to be, relegating her tri-goals into the 'just have fun' category. It doesn't make sense to me either.

She did try to tease me about falling apart on the last one, in which she beat me easily. I remarked that her mousing made me significantly faster.  I called out my splits for the first set and then the second set. Notice how my slowest 100 in the second still beat me fastest 100 in the first. Boys must show off for their women. I was one tired, happy kitty.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Natural Progression of Triathlon- Biking

The Natural Progression of Triathlon- Biking is the most easily recognized and pretty much every person in the country has been through this process. The other Natural Progression posts can be found here, here, and here just in case you want to read up on the background. The following progression is for triathletes, if left to their own discretion, will follow through to completion.

Stage 1 Big Wheel or Tricycle

After learning to walk, the earliest form of transportation provides a stable 3-point base. The Big Wheel is characterized by a significantly larger front tire. The entire bike is generally made of cheap plastic, which, for the serious rider, is great for weight reduction. Most parents aren't willing to invest in the all-carbon Big Wheel according to market research. The handle bars are positioned slightly back compared to the vertical in an effort to make the machine more aerodynamic. The Big Wheel may also be the earliest form of recombinant bike as the rider is in a relaxed position.

The athlete may opt for the tricycle, which is closer to a more traditional style of biking in terms of position. It features a ladder at the rear to aid in mounting (a feature that should not have gone away in later steps of the progression). The seat is set in a steeper angle and the frame is traditionally made out of steel. The additional weight generally makes the ride slower and bumpier but energy transfer between the pedals and horizontal motion is more efficient due to the stiffness. Athletes may also gain additional leg strength as compared to their Big Wheel counterparts, but the current research has not been able to substantiate such claims. Whereas the Big Wheel is subject to wear and tear, the tricycle is more sturdy and been know to endure for generations.

Both bikes have a relatively small crank length and fixed gears. This makes it efficient to practice cadence drills and eliminates coasting on the downhills. Should the rider choose to stop pedaling, the brakes are activated. Most models come with a 'wind direction/ speed indicator', which are normally mounted as small streamers off the ends of the handlebars. Optional accessories include a bell, as shown on the tricycle, and a horn (not shown).

Stage 2 Road Bike with Training Wheels

One problem with Stage 1 of the progression is the lack of available sizing. Once the athlete outgrows the machine, he/ she is forced to upgrade to a traditional road bike with training wheels. Now, the athlete must navigate terrain with an additional wheel as compared to the Big Wheel or tricycle. Yet, given the more upright stance and placement of the wheels, the bike is generally less stable than it's 3-wheeled counterparts.

Road bikes are the first bicycle in the stage to feature pneumatic wheels and chain driven propulsion. Most bikes at this stage are fixies with special braking systems. Instead of not-pedaling, the rider must make the effort to pedal backwards to brake. This motion allowed the rider to coast down hills and recover after hard efforts. The con for this system is the athlete no longer is required to focus on cadence. Some bikes, such as the one pictured on the right, are the athlete's first experience with an aerodynamic frame and aero wheels perfect for road racing. The bike on the left may be preparing the athlete for a life in off-road style races.

Stage 3 BMX Style Rides

Eventually, the athlete will gain in bike handling skills and shed the training wheels. It helps if they have a runner in the family who is willing to follow along in the 2-wheel learning experience (I actually ran into the back of a Cadillac during mine). 

For some reason, kids merge into adolescence, they refuse to stop growing. As their mass increases, they need bigger gears to better match their mass-to-power ratios. This, of course, leads to larger bikes. The longer cranks and higher seat posts allow the young, future triathlete to practice their skills at higher speeds. The bikes also feature single gearing options but the braking system has been upgraded. Instead of holding the pedals or pedaling backwards, a lever/ caliper system is now in place. These bikes tend to be cast of steel or aluminum. As kids experiment with their biking skills, they may add tire posts which, contrary to popular belief, do not aid in aerodynamics

Possible Intermediate Stage- Mountain Bike
This stage is optional for many athletes. Whereas most will completely skip this step in the progression, it deserves recognition. Originally crafted as a commuter bike, the technology continued to advance to allow riders to tackle crappy city streets in comfort. The suspension in the front was specially developed for pot holes, curbs, and side walk cracks. As city maintenance went more by the wayside, the soft tail bike was born. Due to aggressive taxi cab drivers, riders decided that biking on paved pathways was no longer safe and found dirt paths and trails to ride. Only in extremely rare occasions will a rider actually cruise on a mountain, making the style of bike a misnomer of sorts. If this stage appeals to you, proceed with caution. Many triathletes never return from the Mountain Bike Purgatory of triathlon.

Stage 5 Road Bike (or ten-speed back in the day)
A generation ago, road bikes were called 10-speeds. This is the first bike in the Natural Progression that features changeable gearing. With 2 rings in the front and 5 in the back, the athlete had more choices to match the effort with the hill profile and desired cadence. Since then, some people add another ring in front which has been commonly referred to as the "Granny Gear" due to the ease as which the gearing can be pushed. Further, bicycle engineers played with the rear cogs adding more options and rendering the title 'Ten-Speed' useless.

The road bike features a not-so-steep saddle orientation. The frame materials have the greatest diversity thus far in the progression with steel, aluminum, carbon, and titanium all as viable options. Some road bikes will even include a combination of these materials, such as an aluminum bike with a carbon-fiber fork. The handlebars have morphed from a linear bar to bars that look like a ram's horns. (Rumor has it that the inventor of the road bike handlebar was a former rodeo clown.)

Once in a while, people will gather and ride their road bikes in groups. Group rides have all sorts of rules, most of which are unwritten yet still expected. If you choose to try a group ride, be very alert to the nuances of the individuals. They even have rules on clothing. They do not like sleeveless shirts or riding without socks. Sometimes, there will be road bike competitions that do not feature a swim nor a run. Often, group rides and races will encourage cyclists to get as close to the guy/ gal in front of you to cheat in their wind draft. Weird.

Stage 6 Road Bike with Clip-on Aerobars
This stage of the Natural Progression is important, but short. Where as the athlete will spend several years in the other stages, this stage is typically 2 years or less before graduating to the next stage. The athlete will notice that a steeper position in the saddle coupled with lying down on the handlebars is a more efficient position. This position can be semi-achieved by clip-ons. They don't actually 'clip' as the are clamped and bolted to the bike. In doing so, the athlete should rearrange the seat position to a more forward, steeper position. A steeper seat post position transfers the work from the athlete's hamstrings to the quadriceps. The new position is normally met with a slight drop in overall power. But, the body position on the bike results in improved aerodynamics. The result is a faster bike ride using less energy. Plus, by changing the muscle dynamics, the legs are more ready for a post-bike run.
Keep in mind that the addition of clip-ons automatically negates your welcome to ride in a group. People riding road bikes in groups have an instinctual prejudice against adding stuff to your road bike. Do not, under any circumstances, blame those people for their anti-areobar attitudes. They can't change their attitude it in as much as they can't control which way the wind is blowing.

Stage 7- Grand Culmination Factor in Triathlon- 
The Triathlon Specific Bike (Tri-Bike)
If left to their own means, a triathlete will arrive at the tri-bike. The tri bike is an evolutionary step up the ladder from the road bike (a scientifically proven fact that the roadies will do their best to hide). The tri bike features a naturally steep seat angle. The rear wheel, to compensate for the seat tube being moved forward, is also moved forward. This new rear wheel position makes the bike more aero thus faster. The consequence is that the bike is marginally less stable and the athlete would do well to remember their bike handling skills they learned in Stage 2 of the Progression. There are some rumors that say a tri bike is less efficient at climbing or cornering. These rumors were started by tri-bike haters and have not been substantiated. Even professional road bike riders will opt for a tri bike during a time trial stage.

Gone are the ram style handlebars, which are now replaced by bull horn style bars (not to be confused with the voice amplifier equipment of a similar name). These bars remove useless bends while keeping the same number of hand position options. Another advantage of the tri bike include integrated aerobars. These do not clip on, they are part of the bike. Like the road bike brethren, tri bikes can come in a variety of different building materials. Tri bikes place their gear levers at the ends of the aerobars and the brakes at the ends of the bull horns.

Tri bikes, and people who own tri bikes, are the envy of all the other bikes out on the road. They are sleeker, sexier, and faster. Most other bikes are really just hunks of metal with wheels. Tri bikes are beautiful works of art. And, just like anything featuring overt superiority, there are lots of negative emotions towards the tri bikes. Many people have different ways to show their jealousy, ranging from blatant disdain to passive aggressive indifference. Triathletes would be wise to ignore any negativity. Let it roll off you like the wind that rolls off the tri bike frame and put it behind you where it belongs. After all, you went through the progression. You understand what the others are going through. You have had the experiences and moved on to something better. If they choose to ridicule you, that says more about them than you anyway. Just be sure to smile, wave, head nod, greet, or what ever you choose to do as you fly by them on the ride.