Monday, September 28, 2015

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

I rolled into Georgia Thursday for my last big race of the season- Augusta 70.3 (half ironman).  I had a huge chip on my shoulder and a lot to prove to myself.  As I said before, I put a lot of time into getting ready for this race.  I was confident heading to the start line that I did everything I could to put myself in the best possible position to execute a great race.

Leading up to the race, I wasn't nervous or even excited.  I explained to Danielle that I was eager to race as I wanted to see what I could do. I checked my bike in the day before (not without a little mechanical drama) and went to bed early Saturday night.

Sunday morning I was up before the alarm, which is typical for me on race days. I took a shower, had some breakfast and then we were on our way to the race.  The race director for Augusta really has this down to a science.  The swim start is 1.2 miles up river from transition.  They have shuttle buses that run between the start and transition.  I parked near the swim start, took the bus to drop off the rest of my gear, then took the bus back up to the start.  I hopped back into the SUV and relaxed for a little while.  About 30 min before my wave start, I got out to get ready. I still wasn't nervous, I just wanted to get this day started.

The river was flowing faster than years past. I took my place on the pontoon and slipped into the water. I held on until the horn went off. I was stuck in a little human traffic at the beginning, but I was able to find open water quickly.  I knew that to maximize the effect of the current, I had to swim as far to the middle of the river as they would let me.  I swam just inside the buoys. It took me a few minutes, but I was able to get a good rhythm going. The swim felt 'easy', but I got confused with the buoy numbers.  They used yellow and orange numbered buoys.  I forgot to ask how many orange buoys they put out (they are numbered). I use them as a reference so I know how much more I have to go. So at this point I was just sighting and using my best judgement as to when to start turning in towards the shoreline. Before I knew it, I was up out of the water much faster than I expected. I knew what my swim time would have been with the 'regular' current vs no current, but this swim was ~5 minutes faster than that. Bonus.  I had some 'money' in the bank in terms of time as a cushion in my pursuit of a PR.

I got out of the water and opted to skip the wetsuit strippers. I find it faster to get my own wetsuit off, plus I don't have to lie down and get yanked back up.  I found my bike and quickly headed out.

The plan for the bike was to hammer it (in a certain power/watt range) for as long as I could hold on.  I took a few minutes to get my cycling legs going and clear out of the crowd.  I drove the bike course on Friday to see what the 'hills' looked like.  The course was pretty much flat with a bunch of rollers. And the rollers were spaced out so you had some recovery time in between climbing up.  And most uphills started with a downhill so you could use some momentum.

I was making quick work of the bike course. I hit the halfway point and hit the lap button so I could see a comparison later on when I downloaded the data. I saw what my 28 mile split time was and did some race math. If I kept the same pace, I would finish the bike ~2 minutes faster than what Danielle predicted. I knew that a negative split would be possible as the 2nd half of the course was slightly downhill. But would my legs be able to hold onto the pace I was pushing? I came to the one 'tough' climb on the course and just relaxed into it. I knew I didn't have to kill it as there was plenty of downhill to recover.

I kept looking at the garmin to be sure I was pushing the watts.  I knew it would be difficult to maintain it because of the downhills.  As long as the speed was there, I wasn't worried.  I knew I was flying on this course. And before I knew it, I was back at transition for the last leg of the race.  I wound up maintaining the pace and coming in 2 minutes faster than predicted. More money in the bank!

I put on my running shoes, hit the port-a-john, and went out on the run.  I knew that barring a disaster, a PR was possible. I told myself to be patient at the run start in order to find my legs.  After the 1st mile, I knew I had to pick it up a little. I was doing a lot of race math since the 2nd half of the bike. I had many different finishing times I was calculating for and what kind of run I needed for each. I knew I had to keep things moving if I had a shot at an aggressive finishing time. I was running well until mile 8, then the fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. My legs weren't heavy, but they were cooked. Every step was awful. I pushed through the agony, focused on the time. I had one bad spot on the run where I was basically shuffling along, and it would wind up costing me my new goal time.  I was never so happy as when I saw the 12 mile marker. I knew I had just a little more to go. I kept the feet moving and when I saw the finish line head, I picked it up some more. After I crossed the line I saw the Wingman.  I doubled over with my hands on my knees and found it difficult to speak. I just wanted to be still for a few minutes. I nailed a PR by 11:45 in the half iron distance.  I adjusted my time goal when I got to the run, but missed it by 2:05 - so close and yet so far.

But even though I missed my goal, it gave me plenty to think about for this offseason and what I need to achieve for next year.  The positive was I was able to really push the pace on the bike and hold on. I was able to make it 8 miles into the run before I had trouble, but I was able to keep going and push myself to finish hard.

I ended my season much better than the 1st half. I really turned things around and was able to salvage a good season. It feels good to head into the offseason on a high note, that all of my work paid off.  I know I am on the right track to having a great 2016 season that will finish with an Ironman race at Mont Tremblant, Quebec.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Final preparation for Augusta

Today was my last serious ride before my race next weekend. I was given a specific workout and I knew I had to hit the mark on it. The mileage was short, 30 miles, but the intensity was high. This was going to be an exercise in having to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I felt mentally sharp as I hammered away for the workout. In the end, I logged the mileage and hit the top end of the power range I was given for the workout. I didn't want to letup on the effort today. I was embracing the pain of the workout and, in an odd way, was enjoying it.

One the ride was over, I knew that I had done everything I could since June to set myself up for a great race next weekend. I've been riding in the hills, hitting tempo/threshold/VO2 workouts, worked on swimming technique, learned to love swimming without a wetsuit in the open water, and run in the heat of the day all in my efforts to prepare for Augusta. Working out alone helps me to really focus on the work I need to do and stay in the 'zone' to stay sharp. I didn't mind doing 50-70 mile rides alone as it gave me time to work on the mental training aspect. I've also tuned out a lot of the noise around me and turned that focused on me.

But one important piece I added was strength training. All along I knew it needed to be done, but I wasn't giving it my full effort. It was a huge missing link in my performance.  I wasn't going in to each race as great as I could be.

Since Patriot, I committed two days a week, ~90 min each session, to my strength/power development.  I started working with Steve Tria and Mike Carrozza and the gains were noticed immediately. I didn't want conventional strength training and their philosophies fit right in with mine.  They were able to create workouts that fit in with where I was in my training cycle without wearing me down. They kept their watchful eye on me each time I was there.  Just when I would lift something, Mike would appear and give me some verbal cue for posture, technique, etc just to be sure I wasn't going to do something stupid. When I would workout on Friday's, Steve would cue up the 80's cardio mix on Pandora. That alone would motivate anyone to get through a workout quickly. Heck, even young Mackenna would show me the proper way to use the bands as fashion accessories (headband, arm bands, scarf, etc).

After next weekend, I head into my longest 'offseason' in a few years. I don't plan on resuming my heavy triathlon training until early February. That doesn't mean I will be doing nothing. I have plenty of offseason goals to achieve that will help me spring into my training in February, ready to go.  I am trying to sort out which races I will do next year (I am committed to Mont Tremblant 70.3 and Ironman Mont Tremblant - the rest is still up in the air). I need to figure out which races will help me sharpen my training specifically for Mont Tremblant.  I find that adding racing to my schedule helps my actual training.  I'm not one that can go months at a time just training. I need to race as a test to see how my training fits together. I also plan on getting into the gym a 3rd day during the week, which is tough to do with my work schedule.  I plan on racing short distances this fall, as I do every year (5k, 4miles, 10k - at most). It gives me a nice speed boost and high intensity that is sometimes hard to match.

After seeing how I have improved in a short time, I can't wait to see what lies ahead. Even if I have a great race in Augusta, I know there is room to get better.

^^ truth

Monday, August 31, 2015

Racing the Clock

This past weekend I was up in Maine for the Challenge Maine Olympic distance triathlon. I was up at this venue in 2012, but a longer distance race.  I wanted to go back and try my hand at a shorter distance there.  Challenge puts on a great event and I wanted to go back. Lucky for me it fit into my schedule this year.  I wanted to see if I could beat my best olympic distance time that I set last year.

The swim for this race can be a little more challenging than most races I do as it's an ocean swim. Most races I've done have a lake swim or are protected parts of open water. I didn't do too much ocean swimming this year except the Fire Island 1 Mile swim and then a swim in the bay a few weeks back with Danielle.  I studied some video on how to enter/exit an ocean swim with surf. The race would take place during low tide, but I had to contend with a surf going out and in.  The race organizers had a practice the day before the race so I went down to try my skills out.  Also, I wanted to get used to colder waters. Most of my swims lately have been around the 80 degree mark, but this would be in the mid 60s.

The Saturday practice went well and I felt confident about the swim for Sunday.  I was concerned that my swim time would be longer than originally predicted.  I added 5 minutes to the time that Danielle guesstimated I would finish in.  She concurred that it could be a tougher swim so the extra time was fairly accurate.

On Sunday morning, I went to transition to put air in my bike tires and setup my space. Once that was done, I went back to my hotel room which was near the start. I relaxed for a while, then put on the wetsuit and went to the start. We were put into a coral and then sent to the start line etched in the sand. I was so prepared for the start. Or so I thought.

 Beach swim start

When the announcer said "GO!!" I jogged towards the water. I knew sprinting would leave me out of breath. When I hit the water and began to dolphin dive to get through the low tide, I noticed the water seemed much colder. I suddenly had trouble breathing. I realized the cold water was a shock to my system. I tried to relax and do some tarzan-style swimming (head up out of the water).  It wasn't helping. I was exhaling, but felt like nothing was coming out.  I would look ahead and the buoy seemed so far out. I kept thinking "I can't believe my race might be over and I didn't even make the first buoy."  I just kept breathing slowly and making forward progress via the tarzan swim. I kept telling myself to stop being such a f*cking coward and swim. Finally I was able to get my face back into the water and then I knew I was back in the game and I had to make up time if I wanted that PR.

I rounded the first buoy like I was shot out of a canon. My strokes were long and powerful.  Suddenly I was passing a boatload of people. I was thinking "wow, when did I become a swimmer?!?!"  I kept moving forward and swimming around people. I had 3 buoys to swim past before I make the final turn back in. I was there in no time. I rounded the last turn buoy and made my way back in.  While sighting I realized I was stuck in an area of surf where I was being held in place due to the shifting water.  I just dug in deep and pulled hard. Then I started making some forward progress. I knew the swells would be coming and I had to catch them just right to makeup some time. I wound up missing the first one, but I knew once I felt a surge in the water to increase my stroke/pull and ride the wave. Once I knew I was at the top of it I put both arms out in front and rode the wave in.  I did this a few times until I hit the shallow water and did some more dolphin diving.

When I was able to stand up I looked at my watch and realized I smoked the swim, despite the hyperventilating due to the cold shock. I came in 4 minutes faster than the original predicted time and 11 min faster than the predicted time with the rough surf.  Good thing as I would need all the time I could get since I had a 1/4 mile barefoot run to transition.

I got the wetsuit off at the beach, tucked it under my arm and ran like a bat out of hell down the road. I rounded the corner and down the next block to transition. The plus side of all that running was the sand was knocked off my feet.

I quickly changed into my bike stuff and headed out for the ride. My goal was to hammer the bike as hard as I could with no regard for the run. Danielle told me to just go for it and see what happens.  So I followed her direction.  The course starts uphill so I hammered it up and started the ride.  The bike course is rolling with a few hills. It's a net uphill for the 1st half and a net downhill for the 2nd. I knew I could make up time as the ride went on. I never bothered looking at my power meter.  I was going purely by feel today.  Occasionally I looked down to see the mileage, but that was it. 

The winds were light and I knew that would only help me on this course. The road conditions were fairly decent. No major potholes or rough patches. Before I knew it I was at the loop for the turnaround. I knew I had to put the hammer down now as I lost time on the 1st half.  I kept pushing my pace.  I needed the 2nd half to be ~6 minutes faster than my 1st half. I was doing a lot of 'race math' on the bike.  I needed a PR in this race. It was a "PR or ER" effort now.

 Approaching the bike dismount

As I made my way back to transition, I was a little worried about my run legs. They felt a little tired from the effort. I can't lie, I was unsure about the run.  I got off the bike and realized I only made up 4 minutes of the 6 I needed.  Crap.  I tried to make quick work in transition as I knew I had to really run hard to pull off a PR.

I changed shoes and grabbed my race belt and hat and bolted for the "Run Out" arch to get going. the clock wasn't going to stop ticking. I took a look at my watch and started with the 'run math' and what I had to run each mile in to get a PR.  And that's when I noticed something.  My legs were moving and didn't feel heavy at the start. Wait...what?!?!  How did this happen? I grabbed a quick cup of water, took a sip to wet my mouth, then bolted. I made my way down the road and out of town. I passed a couple of people early in the run.

I was about a mile in when I stepped down on some uneven pavement and felt a loud SNAP in my foot.  I saw stars and felt nauseous.  It sounded like I broke my foot. This was the foot I had an injection in earlier this year for neuroma-like pain. I was still battling some numbness/hot spots on occasion so I try to watch where I step when I run.  Not this time. This time I stepped right down and thought my season was over. I kept going, in denial, convincing myself that it was just my imagination.  I didn't feel much after 1/2 mile from the misstep. Phew. I also noticed that the hot spot in my foot was gone. I still played it safe and watched my step. But a minefield was coming up - The Trail Section.

I knew I wouldn't be on the trail for long so I watched my steps carefully. I did land on one or two small rocks and didn't notice any pain. Thank goodness as I still had 3.2 miles to run.  That snap in my foot must have been old scar tissue breaking.

I hit the turnaround and made my way back out to the road. I looked at my watch and saw that I was still doing well on time, but had no wiggle room for slowing down. I got more aggressive as I wanted to give myself as much cushion as I could in case my foot went south.  I ran harder and faster over the last 2.5 miles. I had the run course etched in my head and anticipated each turn and where I had to be to make the tangents. 

Ahead of me was the final turn before a long straightaway (3/4 mile) until the finish line. I was so focused on the time, I couldn't let up. I approached the finish chute and saw the Wingman. I gave him my customary "fist pump" and finished strong. I stopped my watch and saw that I shaved over 2 minutes off my previous Olympic triathlon PR. I also killed the run.  I averaged over a minute faster per mile over the last 3 miles compared to the 1st 3.  I was getting stronger as the race went on. I felt like I could have run longer, but was glad I didn't have to.

Both feet off the ground, I was flying.....

I put in a ton of work preparing for the 2nd half of the season. I've been getting stronger and faster and have one more race to unleash my fury on - Augusta 70.3 at the end of September.  I didn't have that great of a 1st half season so for me it's important to turn this ship around and end strong.

As always, I don't do all this alone.  Thanks to my Wingman for always supporting me; Danielle for providing me with an awesome training plan and not losing faith in me with things didn't look great this spring/early summer; and a new edition to my team, Steve Tria, who has helped me develop my strength and my bring out my inner "Cleaner".

Monday, July 20, 2015

Magic in Montauk

Yesterday morning I went out to Montauk for the 20th Montauk Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon.  This is one race that I don't hesitate to sign up for every year.  I missed two years due to racing Ironman Lake Placid, but I was back this year. My last triathlon was in June at the Patriot Half but since then I've raced pretty much every weekend (running and swimming).  I was eager to do this race.

I picked up my race packet during the week and got my stuff ready Saturday afternoon.  This season I've put words or themes on my bike for each race. For Montauk, I wanted to get aggressive. I wanted that race where I just went hard from start to finish.  So I went to a great source of inspiration, a friend Sam Cila, and this single word echoed in my head:


On Sunday, Wingman and I got up at ass'o'clock to make the trek out to Montauk.  The race has two different transition areas so he drops me off at the lower transition so I can setup my bike and get ready for the start, then he heads up to the upper transition to setup my run gear.  He leaves the car there and takes the spectator bus back down to meet me at the swim start.  Like every year/race, I am grateful for his help!!

In transition I had the good fortune of being on the same rack as a woman I knew from my previous job, Erin.  She's an amazing runner and it was good to catch up again.  We made the 1/2 mile walk down the beach to the swim start.  Oddly enough, I was unusually clam before the start, as if I was just going out for a swim workout. I was reunited with the Wingman before the start.  He wished me luck and I went into the water.  I wished Erin good luck and swam to the start buoy.

The water was perfect!  We had a little chop to deal with, but once you found the rhythm of the water, it was easy to swim fast through it. Each stroke felt powerful for me. I was really moving through the water with ease.  I noticed after a couple of hundred yards that if I went another 10-15 feet out into the ocean (we swim parallel to the shore line) that the water had less swells, but I had a rhythm and opted to stay put.  I didn't feel like I was being slowed down so I stuck with my plan.  I was at the mid-point buoy before I realized it.  I was also catching the guys in the swim wave ahead of me.  I counted how many more buoys to go and hammered the rest of the swim. I don't think my cadence picked up, but for sure my pull/stroke got stronger. 

I made the last turn and approached the beach.  I was able to stand up easily and make a run for it up the beach. I peeked at my watch when I exited the water and noticed my time was ~3 min faster than I've ever swam at Montauk.  But the timing mat was further up the beach so I had to run hard to actually record a fast swim time.  Once up the beach I striped the rest of my wetsuit and made my way out on the bike.

 Leaving transition, heading out on the bike

There was no wind which was good and bad.  The good news was no headwind to slow me down, the bad was no tailwind to take some of the load off me.  This ride was going to be all up to me, which is how I wanted it.  I stood up and powered out of the turn to get started.  I just hammered down East Lake Drive to head to Montauk Highway.  This course is fairly flat for the 1st ~9 miles so I knew I had to work to maintain my pace. I was passing riders on the road.  I didn't want to get caught settling into someone elses pace. I was on a mission to bury myself today.

Once I got onto Montauk Highway I headed west towards West Lake Drive. Again, I stood to power through the turn and not lose speed.  I raced along the highway and then headed north along West Lake towards Gosman's.  There's a loop down there where you turn around and head back up to the highway. This was my make-or-break moment. I knew I was riding well, but I couldn't let up.  The course was about to get a little harder.  There is one big climb and a smaller climb behind it, but first was the false flat. I kept shifting my gears to help keep me spinning.  Before I knew it I was at the climb.  It didn't look as intimidating as years past. This time I opted to "attack" the hill and I stood to power up it.  Once over the top, I flew down the other side. I opted to not pedal and I tucked low to not lose speed.  I used the momentum to carry me up the next hill, then flew down the other side. 

Now I was in the home stretch leading to the run.  I kept my effort level up all the way to the bike dismount.  When I got off the bike, I remembered Wingman's description of where my stuff was laid out in transition.  I found my run gear and started running before I even crossed the timing mat. I had to find my run legs.

Start of the run

The first half of this run is hard.  It's slightly uphill and that's always a challenge as you are just starting out a run.  But I knew I had to keep going hard. I made my way into Camp Hero and was looking for people to chase.  I wasn't worried about being passed, but I wanted to be sure I was giving it everything I had.  I wanted to be very uncomfortable as I ran. When I made it to the halfway mark, I was running side by side with someone.  Again I thought "Can she handle as much pain as me?" and then I put in a surge.  Out of fear of being caught I couldn't let up, I had to keep up my "attack" and finish.  Before I knew it, I was getting closer to the finish.  I passed the 2.5 mile sign and noticed someone ahead of me that started in the swim wave ahead of me.  I knew if I kept him in my sights, I would actually finish faster than him. He started 3 min ahead of me, but when I was doing some quick race math and calculating how long it took me to get to landmarks he passed I knew that unless I was walking, I would post a faster time.

I exited the Camp and made my way to the lighthouse.  This course just throws one last punch at you to finish:

Finish line is up the hill

I gave a few fist pumps towards the Wingman before the final turn as I knew I was having a fantastic race.  I crossed the finish line with no regrets this day.  In each event, I got stronger/faster.  My bike power numbers went up as the ride went on.  I was able to negative split the run (went faster as the run went on).  I was thinking near the end of the run how everything seemed to click for me.  I've had good races, but I've never felt like I've executed  all 3 disciplines well.  This was the first race in a looooong time where I can truly be happy with how I performed.  I was firing on all cylinders today.  I PR'd this race by 2min 36 sec, which for a sprint is a nice time difference.
I'm happy to have finally had that near perfect race.  It doesn't come along often, but when it does, it's like magic!  It gives me a nice confidence boost heading into my training for my last two races of the season.  And confidence is something I was sorely lacking this season.

"Attack!" will be my theme for the rest of the season............

Me and the Wingman 
(I'm thrilled that I don't have any post race cankles)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mid Season Break

A few weeks back, I raced in MA at the Patriot Half Ironman.  This was one of two big races on my calendar for this season.  I went into the season with the goal of getting faster at 'shorter' distances.  I had a great buildup until May, then a host of small issues started eating away at me.  My power meter started acting up and it really took a toll on my confidence and training. I wasn't sure what was wrong with it, but after a trip to the bike shop and some reading up on the manual, I was able to sort it out. A few weeks before my race, I was able to get accurate training data again.

Unfortunately I rolled into my race a little under the weather.  I had some sinus issue that plagued me a few days before the race and it left me tired and fatigued which isn't ideal heading into the one race you plan your whole winter/spring around.  But I got to the starting line and gave it the best I could that day.  My training partner-in-crime Christa was also competing at the same race. My goal was to stay in her zip code during the race.  We were fortunate enough to start in the same wave. 

I highly recommend this race to anyone looking for a half iron distance. This race company knocks it out of the park.  They keep the race small (including the entry fee).  The bike course is one of the most beautiful I've ever ridden.  I will definitely go back and do this race again.

As far as my race execution goes, I met my goal time ranges for the swim and bike.  But, typical me, my run fell short.  Part of it was being under the weather, but most of it was mental.  I really need to work on this aspect of my racing.  I could tell during the run that I was losing focus and was letting my mind wander a bit. When that happens, all hell can break lose.  My mind is like a small child, you need to keep it under control, otherwise it will run amok.

I managed to hold it together and finish 2nd in my division, but I was no where near the 1st place woman.  Even on a great day, there was no way I could have come close.  I did get a PR by nearly 3 minutes, but it wasn't what I was hoping for when I was planning this race earlier in the year.  After the race I sat in my hotel room analyzing my race and figuring out what do I need to do to improve myself.  Let me tell you, that was major soul searching going on that night.

Once I returned to LI from the race, I took 2 weeks off of any structured training. I basically took myself off the grid from my coach (with her blessing) and her group just to find myself again.  My training consisted of "what do I want to do today?"  Some days it was biking, others was running and occasionally swimming. I even had days of not doing anything. And that was OK.  I really needed time away from it all to recover mentally.

One thing I did notice leading up to my race was that I missed riding my bike.  On my way to work, I would see people on their road bikes riding.  I missed my road bike.  After Patriot I put the tri bike away and only got on my road bike.  I found pure joy in just getting out and riding my bike.  I could care less about how many miles I rode or how many watts I was producing.  I just rode.  I let the road and my mood dictate my route for the day. I took some roads that I haven't been on in years. And I loved it.  Wingman dusted off his bike and we took a few rides together.  It was nice to not worry about a workout.

I took some time to catch up on some reading as well.  I stumbled upon an article about racing and pain.  Not the pain from injury that makes you stop running, but the pain you feel when you are going all out and your body is screaming to ease up.  I was thinking back to my racing and training this year and realized that I was backing off at times when the pain was creeping up.  I vowed to change that going into the 2nd half of this season.  Last weekend I competed in the Run Around the Lake in Ronkonkoma.  It's a 4 mile hilly run that I haven't done in a few years.  I was excited to get back to it.  It was my first run since the Patriot Half.  The weather was nearly perfect for the race, overcast with mild humidity.  My goal was to run this race hard and not back off at mile 3 when you begin the climb heading back to the lake.  I did slow up a bit at this point, but that was more an issue with my race fitness (lack of intensity training) and not a mental block.  I fared well (4th in my AG) despite my lack of speed work in weeks.  I missed a PR by ~20 seconds.

This past weekend I ran a 5K in Oakdale (super flat course) and my goal was to see how long I could run when it really started to hurt.  When the gun went off, I went out a little too fast (seems to be my signature move these days) but was able to settle into a hard pace.  I knew I'd be passed by people, but I wanted to pass a few as well.  The course was super flat which meant I didn't have to worry about a hill to slow me down.  I would eye someone ahead of me and try to reel them in.  When I got alongside someone, I would think "Can they possibly handle as much pain as I can?" and then I'd complete the pass.  Completing a pass doesn't mean letting up. You have to keep going and put some distance between and not give them a chance to come back.  I did this with each runner I approached.  I lost track of how many people I passed, but my thought was the same each time.  I actually felt strong with each foot strike as I ran.  It was almost effortless at times.

In the end, I missed a PR by 21 seconds.  At first I was a little upset, but then again I realized that I haven't done any specific speed work in weeks (except for the 4 mile race the prior weekend) so I really couldn't be too upset.  But I am trying to develop more mental skill for racing and this race gave me a great starting point.

My being 'off the grid' ends today.  I start training for the 2nd half of my season this week.  I'm looking forward to training again.  The next few months we are mixing things up and trying some different workouts to get me ready for Augusta 70.3 at the end of September.  I'm tired of racing near the 'back of the pack'.  I want to start moving up to the 'middle of the pack' and feel like I belong with the group .  I want to compete, not 'participate', in the next few races.  I know I won't be winning any races and that's OK.  I'm not built for that.  But I will be putting all the pieces in place to help bridge that gap to the 'middle' group. 

Let the pain & suffering begin

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Working the plan........

This weekend I was in NJ for the Bassman International Triathlon
.6 mile swim, 31.1 mile bike, 5.1 mile run

This winter my training was based around some goals I set for my 'A' race in June.  But the winter stretched out a little too long.  I was stuck indoors for far too long and it was giving me a bad case of cabin fever.  I was unable to continue training to the levels I was doing weeks earlier due to burnout.  I was in need of a race. Badly in need.  Danielle and I talked things over and figured Bassman would be a good training race for me. For me, a training race just means a super hard effort at set paces, etc without worry of the outcome.  If I crash and burn during the race, I learn what went wrong and how to not repeat it next time. Or I can just bury myself and see how I perform.  This was basically the plan for today.  I shared a quote I found with Danielle:  "The race is only a vehicle to bring out what is there already." Bassman would show me what fitness I had.

Before the race I got a message from Danielle and she gave me one thought to focus on for the race.  No time goals, no power goals, just a thought.

On Friday I snuck in a quick open water swim to get used to the cold water temps and my wetsuit.  It was a good swim and I had Danielle accompany me on her paddleboard in case I ran into trouble.

Knowing I had this swim under my belt, I wasn't worried about the lake temperature in NJ.  I got an email from the race director saying it was 60 degrees in the lake.  I knew I would be OK as my swim Friday was in temps just under 60.  Except on race morning the dreaded announcement came out that the lake temp had dipped a little to 52 degrees.  52?!?!?  Oh boy, that'll be a cold one.  I grabbed a second swim cap so I could wear two of them to keep my head warm. I had my full sleeved wetsuit for this race. The asked us to get into the lake to 'warm up' and get used to the water.  The worst part of it for me is when the cold water goes through the zipper and hits my back.  Takes my breath away.  I splashed some water on my face and swam a little.  I was doing everything I could to prevent myself from hyperventilating once the gun went off.

When the race finally started, I was swimming comfortably.  Well, as comfortably as one can when they are shivering and teeth are chattering. I was keeping my eye on the swimmers around me.  I was anticipating people stopping or breast stroking and interrupting my rhythm. I wanted to be done with the swim as soon as possible. I did get caught in a few packs which made it hard to move around, but I kept going. The swim was a quick one (compared to last season) and I made my way up to transition to get ready for the bike.  I felt great coming out of the water so I didn't lose much energy there. 

I quickly changed and headed out on the bike.  I've had some trouble lately hitting my power numbers in my workouts, so I was hoping that this race would give me a little boost/jump start to bring my numbers back up. I tried to get going right out of the gate, but I knew that was a mistake.  My feet and legs were a little cold from the swim. I needed 1-2 miles to get my cycling legs under me. Once I got my rhythm, I pushed the effort.  The bike was a two loop course with the 2nd loop being longer than the first. The course was flat which is good and bad.  It's good for me because I am terrible at climbing hills.  It's bad because you don't get any chance to use the downhills to recover. This meant I was going to be pedaling nonstop for 31.1 miles.  I had no downhills for relief.  I had to bury myself.  The entire time I kept repeating Danielle's words in my head - I could hear her voice asking the same question over and over. And my response was to keep pounding the pedals and turning over my legs.

As I finished the 1st loop I grabbed a water bottle from an aid station and took a long drink.  It was time to put my head down and bury myself for the 2nd and longer loop. My legs burned with each pedal stroke, but I couldn't let up. Not now. I kept pushing and pushing.  Occasionally I looked down at my garmin to see what my effort was. The power numbers were not what I was hoping for, but the speed was faster than I anticipated. We lucked out with no wind on the ride but again, there is good and bad.  No tailwind to assist and take some pressure off, but no headwind to slow me down.  This bike outcome was going to be all me - no excuses.  The last 10 miles of the bike I was flip flopping positions with one guy.  I would ride up into the 'draft zone' and have to commit to making a pass.  After a while, he would pass me.  this went on for the last few miles.  It was good for me as I wanted to keep up with him and also to hold him off from passing me to early.  On his last pass he said "come on, we're almost there."  One last time I heard Danielle's  words and buried myself.   My legs were in fire by this point.

Over the last two miles of the bike I started to think a little about the run. I was hoping my legs would hold up for the run.  But I dropped the thought and figured I'd worry about it when I put my running shoes on. 

By now I was in transition and getting ready to run.  The Wingman was there cheering me on.  When I came out to run, he told me where he thought I was in the standings. I told him 'no way, I think I'm in the back of the pack'.  My legs did not want to turn over as I talked with him.  He ran alongside me for a few yards to try and convince me that I might be in a better position than I figured.  What if he was right?  Crap, that meant burying myself again.  Could I attempt to chase anyone down and improve my standing?  Or do I have to run hard to hold off any challengers?  Again, Danielle's words echoed in my ear.  It was time to move.

The run surface was pavement and packed trails.  I'm not used to running on the trails so I knew I would be a little slower. I tried to keep my pace up, or at least the effort levels.  I had no clue where I was in the standings, but I certainly didn't want to lose a chance at doing something great. Once again, I had to turn myself inside out and give it everything I had. I was incredibly uncomfortable and was keeping an eye out for the mile markers.  I knew as the run went on, I was getting hotter and my pace slowed down.  But I had to try and make a go of it.

I was never happier to see the marker for mile 4.  Only 1.1 miles to go then I could sit down!!  I just had to keep pushing. I felt miserable out there, but that is what I had to do. I was fading and my pace was slowing.

The last 1/4 mile flew by and I was in the finishing shoot and thrilled to be done.  After I crossed the finish line, the Wingman was there to great me.  I was desperate for some water.  I grabbed a bottle and found my results.  I saw that I finished 1st in my age group.  I was stunned.  I actually asked the timing guy to explain to me if the results were correct.  There was no way I could be 1st.  He said as far as he knew they were correct.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought this was possible. It was a good test to see where I am at right now.  I still have a lot of work to do to improve my bike before my big race in June.  Plus it was nice to have a quick race to break up my training.  I left everything out there today on the bike and run course.

I've earned my rest day tomorrow, but it's right back at it Tuesday.  Not much rest for the weary.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Veni, Vidi, Vici....... sort of.......

I flew down to Chapel Hill, NC this weekend for the Tar Heel 10 Miler.

I think 10 miles is my favorite distance to race.  It's long enough to work you over, but short enough that it doesn't leave you completely wrecked at the end.

I was looking for an early season race to help test and gauge my fitness. I picked this race because it fit into my schedule nicely (or so I thought).  I had hoped to run outside more this winter, but mother nature had other plans. I had a few runs over the last month outside, but not the consistency I was hoping for. And the weather between NY and NC were vastly different.  We only got 'warm' weather this last week, while NC is quite warm, almost hot.

I thought I had a good handle on the course layout/elevation.  I thought it was fairly flat until mile 8.5 when the monster hill comes into play. This hill is ~1 mile long and ~200 feet of vertical elevation over that mile. I knew it would be brutal so my plan was to run a solid, hard effort for the first ~8 miles, then whatever happens over the last two is what it is. I knew this race wouldn't be a PR race, but I wanted to really give the first 8 miles a run for it.

I lined up at the start and waited for the horn to go off. Hats off to UNC for a great start.  We were waiting in front of the Bell Tower and it chimed as the race began. I knew the first mile would be congested so I tried to take it easy.  It was hard to move around and pass people. Clearly many runners didn't pay attention to the pace signs before the start.  I spent a good deal of energy looking for holes to run though and then making a move to pass people.  I also noticed that the course was rolling right from the start!  There weren't many flat sections along the way.

I tried to keep my pace in check and not burn out too quickly. But with all the rollers, I could feel the effort taking it's toll. The heat/humidity didn't help either. I noticed it took me a little longer to recover after each time I crested an incline. When I reached mile 5, I felt like I had been running much longer than I was. But my mind always changes when I hit the half way, it's all 'downhill' from there.  Except not in this case!!

Mile 6 we are rewarded with a nice long downhill. I took advantage of it knowing what was lurking ahead. My splits were pretty steady and I wasn't falling off.......yet.  My legs were getting tired and my arms were fatiguing and I still haven't made it to the big climb yet.

At mile 8, I heard a few volunteers warning letting us know the hill was near. I turned a corner and there it was. It humbled me very quickly.  This hill was a BEAST. I made my way up very slowly. There were a couple of sections of false flats, but otherwise it was up, up, up.  I had asked Danielle Thursday night how big the hill might be and her response was "oh, you're going to feel it."  Clearly that was an understatement. I was beaten down by this hill.  And once the nightmare was over, I was spent.  I still had a little more than half mile to go.

When I finally crossed the finish line, I was thrilled to be done.  The only way to describe how I felt would be to take a baseball bat and beat each leg about 57 times...... each. Wow, that was one serious race course.  While my overall time was not near my best times, I had a great 8 mile run like I was hoping for with a 2 mile slug-fest at the end.

I wasn't worried about the overall time as this was not truly a race for me.  The purpose was to get a hard workout in.  Had I been home, I might not have run this hard.  It's nice to pick a race and just go in with the mentality of 'let 'er rip' and see what comes out the other end.

What came out today was a great effort for me to build on.  During the race I kept thinking "my fitness stinks......I'm no where near where I was hoping to winter was a waste........"  But stepping back to look at my splits for the first 8 miles and how difficult I found it to run in the heat/humidity and with the rollers, my thinking during the race was wrong.

But now it's back to NY to continue my prep for the rest of my season.........

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Freedom to Fail

The last few weeks have been challenging.  The weather makes it almost impossible to get out and workout. I've been able to get a few outside runs in, but cycling is a no-go.  I've been doing all my workouts on the trainer and was starting to get major burn out.  Yeah, I whined quite a bit about it (ok, ok, a hell of a lot) because I perceived the quality of my workouts as going downhill. I was having trouble with hitting my goals for the workout. I kept putting pressure on myself because I so desperately want to be better than I am right now. I was hearing people around me stating how much better they were getting, but I just didn't see that in myself. I was hitting what I perceived to be a ceiling in my workouts. No matter what Danielle tried to tell me, I just couldn't hear it.

This week was a recovery week and it gave me a chance to step back and look at the last few weeks. I was still doing all workouts as written (except one because I revolted that day and refused to do anything) and hitting the prescribed power/speed ranges.  With the recovery time, I get more time to read and research. I loaned one of my books to a US Marine patient and we talked at length during his treatment about it. We talked about failure and what does that mean. We look at failure as a bad thing, something we want to avoid. Success is what we are all striving for and what is rewarded.  For me, it is improving as a PT and an athlete. But we have to get somewhat comfortable with the idea of failure.

The 'freedom to fail' is quite a liberating concept. We learn most about ourselves and/or our processes when we fail - provided you actually sit down and analyze it.  Why did you fail? What did you miss? What could have been done better? The other BIG component is - why are you afraid to fail?  So what if you do? The sun will still rise the next morning and set the next evening. Learn from what went wrong and push forward.  Success isn't a perfect linear progression. There will be setbacks. It's what you do or how you react during that setback that will define your success. Take the time to learn from it and move forward.

I decided I can't get hung up on seeing things as a failure. If I don't get a diagnosis 100% right, I can follow up at the next visit and adjust. If I miss my training goal for a workout, I can look at why it happened and correct it if I can. Sometimes fatigue happens or it's just not my day. I need to move on from it and not get caught in an endless loop of worry.

As long as I can learn from it, I can't be afraid to fail anymore.  It's not just about getting 
to the top of the mountain, it's what did you bring with you on the way down. It's the
lessons you learn along the way and how you use those lessons to be better.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


When I sat down at the end of my 2014 race season, I wrote down some specific goals I wanted to achieve this year. For 2014, it was about getting through the season and building my fitness. This year, it's about getting faster and competing more in my races.

Danielle and I sat down and talked things over last fall. She said she had a good plan for implementing my training to take my performance up a notch or two. She went to work hatching a plan for me.  She said the winter season would include some weeks of swim, bike, or run focus which would allow me to work on certain weaknesses and allow me to improve.  It means taking a step back from one discipline and ramping up another. 

Prior to my Disney races, I had a run focus week.  This past week I had a swim focus week. I swam quite a bit and worked on a few things that we felt were holding me back. It also allowed me to do some more volume as well. The week turned out better than I thought.  I was faced with some challenging swims and they really took me out of my comfort zone.  I completed each workout and feel that it's something I can draw on in races when the going gets tough.

This coming week is a bike focus week. I've been working on improving my power output the last few months and I performed a benchmark workout last week. My power output showed that the numbers are going up. This week should really test my legs and help build some more power.

I also had the opportunity to view my training metrics that she maintains for me in WKO+. This software allows her to monitor how my body is responding to all the workouts she assigns.  Without going into too much boring detail, she can see how I recover from workouts, how deep into a hole I am digging with my workouts, when I need a rest, when I'm ready to handle more volume/intensity, etc. We looked back over the last year and I was able to see how I went up/down throughout my heavy training loads. I have complete trust in her that she is looking at the big picture for me so I can just focus on my day to day without worry................