Saturday, June 25, 2011

Owning the pain and suffering

"Every triathlete, pro or amateur, no matter how fit,
reaches a point in every race where he has to decide
whether he will endure more suffering. It's very simple.
Either he will or he won't. You will get there. The only
question is how you'll handle it."
                                                     -Chris McCormack

This morning the Wingman and I made our way to Ronkonkoma for the Run Around the Lake 4 Miler. We've done this race maybe 4 or 5 times over the last 8 years. The distance is short, but the course is challenging. I have never had a good race on this course. Usually the time of year (hot, humid) and the terrain (hilly) are a lethal combo for me. The two sections that will bring your race to a screeching halt are the hill in the first mile and the hills that come in the fourth mile. If you go out too hard, you will suffer later on. Wingman asked me what my goal was and I told him I just wanted to run the whole race and own the last mile. A PR was the furthest thing from my mind. But oddly enough, the weather was almost perfect this morning. No winds, very overcast, and no/little humidity. It was still a little warm, but without the other elements to slow me down, I was ready to finally own this race.

We made our way up to the starting line and I thought about that last mile. It has haunted me for years and I wanted so badly to run well. The gun went off and I was on my way. The race starts with a very slight decline and then flattens out so it's easy to start fast. I waited patiently for the road to open up before I picked up my speed. I could feel how light my running shoes were. My feet were barely touching the ground. I was afraid to look at my garmin to see what pace I was running. All I knew was it was a little quick. The other thing I noticed was I was not laboring. Usually the first half mile or so my breathing is really heavy and I always wonder how long it will take me to settle in and feel good. I had a rhythm early and decided to ride the wave. 

When I approached the first hill I eased up a little to save some energy for the hills later. A few people passed me on the climb, but I knew I had to keep it comfortable. Once I got to the top, I picked it up again and turned down a small section of road. This part of the course was great as it was nice a shaded. It's a small section shaped like a U to add mileage to the course to make it a 4 miler. When I came around the back side of the U, I was at the one mile marker. The GPS buzzed for the lap and I peeked at the pace. It was much much faster than I have ever run before in this race. I think it was about 40 seconds faster than I've ever run that first mile. I was still feeling good so I figured I'd keep up the pace.

By now I made my way back to Rosevale ave heading towards Portion Road. I passed up the water station as I was feeling good. I turned onto Portion and noticed it's a slight decline in the road so I picked it up again to take advantage of the terrain. I still felt like I was moving at a good speed and was working hard. All I remember was passing an ambulance that was stopped along the course and in front was a HUGE swan in the road. I was hoping that it wouldn't freak out and attack me. While it would make for an awesome race report, I didn't want to deal with the humiliation of a swan attack.

I was nearing the two mile marker and was still feeling good. When I saw my time, I could see that I was still running very well. I kept pushing it thinking if I could put in 3 fast miles, whatever happens in the 4th mile won't hurt me too much in terms of the final result. I knew I had to get up the hills in the final mile, but I decided to worry about it when I got there. For now, I had to keep on pushing. 

I saw a woman ahead of me that is at a lot of the races. I decided to keep her in my sights. She's a good runner and she always finishes ahead of me. (Ignore the fact that she's 68 years old). I figured if I could keep her in my sights, it would motivate me to keep running fast. I was now running along the back side of the lake. The second to last water stop on the course is in front of a drug rehab facility. I am sure the water was fine, but I am always leery about it being spiked. I passed up on the water and noticed I was slowly gaining on my rabbit. 

I approached the last climb. It's not a major hill, but it's a bit of a grind due to where it comes on the course. You're going full throttle for 3 miles and now you have a hill, then it flattens out briefly, and then goes up again. I knew I was slowing down to get up the hill, but there was no way I could go fast as it would take up too much energy. There was still a good 3/4 of a mile to this race and another small hill around the corner. As I rounded the corner my rabbit was right there. She slowed down for the last water stop so I took this as my opportunity to pick it up and pass her. I was suffering at this point and had to dig really deep to find my legs. Once I passed her I used the downhill to pick up more speed. I kept telling myself to push it. I was hurting at this point, but I really wanted to finish ahead of her.

I climbed the last hill and had about a half mile to go. Out of the corner of my right eye, I could see her at my side. I let her stay there for a few strides while I tried to figure out my strategy. If I stayed with her, I wasn't sure I could out-kick her at the end. But if I made my move too soon, could I hold on to beat her? I decided the time was now and I dropped the hammer. I couldn't risk the gamble of a finishing sprint. I surged ahead and could feel my heart pounding in my throat and my legs growing heavy. I was running scared. I summoned every fiber in my body to hold her off. I kept looking over my shoulder to see where she was. I didn't want to be taken by surprise. 

I was getting closer to the entrance to the lake and at the turn had one final look back. I had no idea how strong her kick was so I wanted to gauge the distance between us. I could see the race clock ahead and knew if I kept pushing it, a PR was in my grasp. My legs and arms felt so heavy but I had to keep moving as she wasn't that far behind.

I finally crossed the finish line and looked back to see how close it was. I finished 5 seconds ahead of her and broke my 4 mile PR by 26 seconds. I was amazed at the 'killer instinct' I had on the course today. In past races I would back down from a challenge and just think "if she passes me, she passes me. I'm just running my race." But now I am taking calculated risks on the course to see if they will pay off. And today it did. I received a medal for 2nd place in my division. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weekend ride

This past weekend Wingman and I ventured out with Wynn, Teresa, Ian and Joan for a ride out east. I had a workout on the schedule so I was only able to join for half the ride. The plan was to ride out east, stop for lunch and head home. It all sounded good, except I wouldn't be able to stop. In order to reach my race goals this season, I have to hit my long workout goals.

We met up and I led the way out to the oil tanks near the sound. The back roads were lightly traveled. The main roads were packed with cars heading to the strawberry festival out east. Once we hit CR 48, it picked up a bit. There was a slight tailwind, but it really didn't impact the speed so far. A little further up the road and we headed north again and made our way to Horton's Lighthouse. The fog was still over the sound so we couldn't see the water.

It was at this point we bid farewell to our friends and Wingman and I headed home. Once we got out onto CR 48 I dropped down into the aerobars and let 'er rip!! I felt really strong on the bike. Despite a slight headwind, I was flying. I nailed my nutrition perfectly during the first half of the ride and it was paying off for the second half. I felt so strong I thought I could rip the crank arms off the bike!

Once we got home I quickly changed and went out for a quick two mile run. After the run I had lunch and relaxed on the couch for a while. It certainly was a well deserved rest.

My "B+" race is coming up in two weeks. I am pretty excited to see how I can hold up over three days of racing. It will be tricky to get the pacing right. I don't want to go all out and have nothing left for the last race but then again I don't want to finish up and still have something in the tank. It will be interesting to find that balance.

 Heading up to the oil tanks

 The fog is still prominent in the distance

 The deer near the tanks

 Closer look at the deer

 Teresa on her bike, shot over my shoulder

 Waiting for a truck that was stuck in the mud

 Grape fields

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"I'm here to win"

I recently started reading professional triathlete Chris McCormack's book "I'm Here to Win".  It's part autobiography and part racing guide. He's been successful at every distance he races at, including 2 wins at the Hawaii Ironman. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and how to put together a strategy that put's him in a position to win. My original strategy for this race was that it would be a training day. Now inspired by Macca, my focus became "I'm here to win."

I woke up a few minutes before my alarm and had my breakfast. Took a quick shower and then Wingman and I headed out to the race. I setup my stuff in transition quickly and made a pitstop at the porta-john. The air temps were chilly and I put my wetsuit on early. I brought the sleeveless wetsuit and was worried that I made a mistake and should have worn the full sleeve. But as soon as I entered the water, I knew I would be OK with my wetsuit choice. The water felt warm enough for a sleeveless. The one thing about entering the water is you need to be careful of the large rocks in the water. This was my third year doing this race so I knew to be careful. I would lift each foot high and gently step down and lightly feel the bottom before I step down hard. I was almost at the starting line in the water when I slammed my toes into a big rock. It hurt like hell at first, but the pain subsided. It seemed like forever before the horn went off. I started shivering in the water and worried about letting myself get too cold. The water didn't seem too cold, but the air temperature was chilly.

I heard the countdown and one more time I said to myself "I'm here to win." The horn went off and I was on my way. The goal for the swim was to put in a solid effort with no going off course. I found some feet to follow early and had a close call with getting kicked. First thought was "Oh no, not the hands, I still have 2 weeks left on my clinical. I need to graduate." But I kept plugging away and I quickly came up to the first turn buoy. I thought for sure that I must have been off course because I made it there quickly, but alas, I was on course and on target for a good swim. I made a tight turn and swam across to the next turn buoy. So far, the swim was effortless and felt fast. The swim in to the beach seemed to take forever. With the sun in my eyes, I had a tough time finding the beach. I knew I was on target, but it just seemed to take forever to make it in. I managed to get through the swim exactly like I planned. I stayed on course and had a great rhythm.

I came out of the water and ran to transition. I heard the Wingman cheering me on. I found my rack and quickly stripped out of my wetsuit. I grabbed my bike stuff and my bike, and ran out to the bike mount. Since I was starting in the last wave, I knew there would be a ton of slower riders in front of me to pass. This is not a biker friendly course if you are not in the first two waves. The roads are a bit narrow at times with a ton of turns. The course is flat as a pancake, but I can't take advantage of it. I was passing riders like crazy, but once a turn was coming up, I was stuck behind someone slow. After the turns, I would pick it up and ride hard until I came up to another slow rider. This is also the first race using a powermeter. I kept an eye on my average watts and current watts. I'm not sure I looked at my speed once. As long as I was near my racing zone, I knew the speed was there. And again, I felt like I left a lot in the tank on the bike but it was out of my control. The number of new/slow riders on the course in front of me doesn't give me a chance to open it up on the bike. If I was in an earlier wave, I could definitely make some noise on the bike. But overall I think I did well given what was laid out in front of me.

I got into T2 and quickly changed shoes for the run. I grabbed my garmin so I could get my run splits. I had a nice rhythm early and my legs didn't feel too heavy from the bike. I guess that's the result of having to scale back my bike effort. I could see the Wingman racing along the parking lot to cheer me on one last time before I left the marina. I kept thinking to myself "I'm here to win." My run goal was to put in a good effort and keep the feet moving. For the first time in a race, I was passing people. I couldn't believe it. People usually pass me on the run, but this time I was flying. As I came up on 1 mile, I reminded myself "I'm here to win." I wasn't going to give anyone in my division an opportunity to steal it from me. If they want to beat me, their effort has to be better than mine. I wasn't going to give an inch.

The run course is basically an out and back. The turn around is a cul-de-sac and it gave me a chance to look at the other race numbers that were behind me. I knew the number range I was in so I looked for those numbers and I didn't see any. But I knew I couldn't let up. I had no idea if someone was in front of me. I kept up my pace and was passing more people. I was feeling good and picked it up a little more. I knew the last 1/10th mile was on grass and naturally I would slow down, so I picked up my pace before entering the marina. I got a shout out from my friend John and then made my way to the finishing shoot. I ran hard and managed to not get passed. I crossed the line and stopped my watch. I saw that I finished ~4 minutes faster than last year and put in an incredible run for me.

I caught up with the Wingman and we went to the car so I could change. After that we went to collect my stuff from transition and wait for the results. When they were finally posted, I could see that I finished first in my division my a little over 1 minute. I turned to the Wingman and said "I'm here to win."

The awards at this race are nice. They give you a plaque, and if you are first, a package of chocolate chip cookies.

It's all about the cookies

The car was packed and we headed out to breakfast. My right shoe felt like it was rubbing my toe. I felt around and the shoe was not tight and I had plenty of room. When we got to the restaurant, I took off my shoe and sock and saw this:

Result of smashing my foot into the rock in the water

I guess with all the race adrenaline I never noticed that it hurt. Now it was becoming painful. As soon as we got home I iced it down, but the bruising got worse. Not much you can do for a broken toe, but I believe I am a total badass for racing on it, right? After all "I'm here to win........"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Getting back to my roots

Monday morning, Wingman and I went down to the lake for an open water swim. We were joined by Teresa and Wynn for a short swim. In no time we changed into our wetsuits and waded into the lake. The water temp was perfect for swimming. I wore my sleeveless wetsuit and couldn't have been more comfortable. As usual, the lake was alive with nature's creatures. I saw the occasional turtle and osprey and the bullfrogs were making their presence known. But the one animal I hadn't seen before until Monday was the lovable muskrat.

Not the actual muskrat in the lake

The swim was over pretty quick and we chatted a little more with W&T in the parking lot. The only thing missing was Ian, the keeper of the lake.

This is Ian with blonde hair

On the way home I realized how much I missed training with my friends, especially my partner in crime Teresa. My schedule has been a little wacky so I haven't been able to join up with them at all this winter. Plus they have some early season races and my big races are in September so our training volume is different as well. 

Tuesday the Wingman and I were fortunate enough to join up with Wynn and Teresa again for a swim. This time it was after work, not in the morning. When I got home I went out for a run and holy cow, it was hot out. I checked the weather on my 'smartphone' and was dumbfounded by what I saw. It said it was 79, but feels like 80. What?!?!  

 I know monkey, how can someone 
differentiate between 1 degree?

I mean, who figures this shit out? "Well, the thermometer says 79, but I'm telling you Bob, it feels more like 80 to me." It just goes to show the weather people have too much free time on their hands.

I barely survived the heat on the run. But I know it made the swim in the lake much more refreshing. We completed a mile swim and talked about the upcoming races. Our 3 amigos are heading up to New Hampshire for a race this weekend. I know they will represent LI well and kick some butt!! I have a sprint tri this Sunday. It will be a nice training day for me.

After everyone returns from their races, we should be able to get together more for some fun swims, rides, runs and food!! I can't wait!