Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What a week

The last week has been a super busy one. First, I took a week off from running to try to rest my weary leg. I was at the point where I was about 50 days out from my big race of the season and I opted to stop running for a week. Losing a week of running would impact my run fitness a little, but if I kept running I risked making the injury worse and not even getting to the starting line. And it wound up being a perfect week to take off as I started my new job and it felt like a baptism by fire. It's an understatement to say I was busy. Plus I was meeting with my study group during the week so there was no rest for the weary.

With no running on the schedule, there were extra bike workouts on the schedule. On Saturday, Wingman and I went out for the long ride. I hadn't been on the road bike in a while and with the heat I wanted to be comfortable. The temperature and humidity would be brutal in the afternoon so we went out early to try to beat the heat. The air was so thick I could hardly breathe. The ride called for an easy first half and faster second half. Around the halfway point we stopped at a 7-11 and I got a slurpee to cool me off. Each sip brought on a brainfreeze no matter how slow I tried to sip.

After our pitstop we motored on. I felt stronger as the ride went on. I was pushing the pace on the way home with Wingman in tow. We were about 2 miles from home when I heard the Wingman calling out from behind me. I looked behind me and noticed he was dropping back. I asked him to repeat what he said. What he said and what I heard were two very different things.

He said: "I have a flat. Go get the car."
I heard: "You're fat. Go get the car."

No joke. That's what I thought I heard. Now, I know he would never say that but it was pretty funny to hear it. I raced home and drove back out to pick him up. When he got into the Element, I told him what I thought I heard. It became a running joke throughout the weekend.

Sunday morning brought on more riding. I picked a route that was about as hilly as you will get out here. At the first climb I started my spinning to get up. My goal was to spin up and not grind up like I usually do. I focused on my cadence and just put my head down. I saw the Wingman go by. I picked up my cadence and next thing I knew I was passing him on the way up. Near the top I looked back to see where he was and I could see that I was about to claim the "KOM" polka dot jersey. Once over the top I went into an easy spin to recover. We had a few miles before the next incline. By the time we got to the incline, I did the same as the previous hill, found a good gear where I could spin and power myself up. Looks like my week in NH and ME paid off on the hills. The rest of the ride was nice and quiet and I took it easy coming home. I had another easy ride scheduled for Monday and I kept that ride easy.

I had my first run tonight in over a week. When I got home from work I was getting ready to change when I heard rumbling outside. Before I knew it, there was a massive downpour. I thought about getting on the treadmill, but decided to wait out the rain. In less than 10 minutes the rain stopped and I went out for my run. I felt almost light on my feet at the start, but made sure I was holding back. It was supposed to be an easy run to test my leg. For the most part the leg felt good. Every once in a while I would feel a quick jab, but it would last for a split second and then it was gone. I got a little faster as the run went on, but I was a little on the slow side. In the grand scheme of things, I was happy with how the run turned out. I'll re-assess how I feel tomorrow to be sure it's still OK, but tonight's run was definitely progress!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Taking this mother down

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

This morning the Wingman and I got up early to head out to Montauk for another triathlon. I've done this race every year since 2005, with one exception (2006). It's such a great venue to race at and the weather is pretty much perfect every year. The setup is a little tricky with two different transition areas, but with some help from the Wingman, I get my stuff setup easily and stress-free on race mornings. The only thing weighing heavy on my mind is a lingering calf issue. I've been battling a shin splint on and off for over a month now and I have good days and bad days. Most of this week has been bad. I've been wearing a compression sleeve at night when I sleep and since this week has mostly been a recovery week, I've stayed off my feet as much as I could.

I decided to wear my sleeve for the race so my calf would feel good during the race. The 1/2 mile walk down the sand to the race start wasn't much of a help. I tried to minimize the twisting motion of my foot/ankle as I walked but I could feel a twinge every now and again. Once I got down to the starting point, I chatted with Wynn, Teresa, and Marty for a little bit. Then the Wingman joined us for a few. Before I knew it, it was time to get into the water for the start. The ocean was a little cool at first, but I quickly got warm. There was also a nice chop that we were swimming into as well. The saving grace was the underlying current that would carry us along. When the horn went off, I started off. At first I was in a little traffic jam, but I decided to take it easy a little to see if it would open up. My patience paid off and due mostly to the chop, I quickly found some open water to swim in. I've done a few open water swims with a chop similar to today so I had a rough idea how to time my strokes for the rise and fall of the chop. At times it was a little weird when I would look up to sight ahead and all I would see is a wall of water coming towards me. I think I was about a 1/3 of the way through the swim when I was actually thinking "This is kind of fun. I wonder if I can go back and do it again?" 

I think by the time I was 3/4 of the way done with the swim, the waters were calmer and I could see ahead of me. Oddly enough I noticed that there were very few swim caps of my color in front of me. I wound up finishing ahead of most of the people in my wave which is a huge victory for me since swimming is not my strength. Once I got out of the water I took a peek at my time. I was ~1 minute faster than last year. Oh boy, could this be the makings of a good race? Only time would tell.......

I made my way up the beach and into T1. I passed the Wingman who was sitting down on a rock not expecting me quite so soon. I waved hello and he cheered me on as I ran by. I got to my rack, stripped off the wetsuit and got ready to ride!! 

I grabbed the bike and set out on the bike course. There was a bit of bike traffic in front of me and I was kicking myself for not being 20 seconds faster in transition. Now I was stuck trying to maneuver around people. For ~3 miles I had to do various accelerations to try and get around people. I felt good on the bike and was pushing my pace. Every once in a while I would look down to see what my speed or cadence was. I didn't bother looking at power. I think maybe twice the entire time I looked at my average power. I zipped around Gosman's and decided to go for broke. I was feeling really good and wanted to see what I was capable of on this course. Before I knew it I was back on Montauk Hwy and making my way to the Lighthouse. Usually on this stretch of road, I tend to labor a little, but not today. I think I've really nailed my nutrition down. Even though it's a short course I still brought half a bottle of my drink out there with me. I'm not as fast as the uber people out there so a little swig here and there to keep my topped off doesn't hurt.

Up ahead I could see my nemesis looming. There is a big hill to climb about 2 miles from the park. Every year I struggle up this hill. It's a pretty sad sight to see my climb this hill. I am usually huffing and puffing my way up with my heart beating in my throat. But this year was different. I was spinning up easily and in a harder gear than in years past. Next thing I knew I was at the top and flying down the back side of the hill. Holy crap, who stole my old, crappy hill riding legs and replaced them with the climbing legs I had today? Now I was flying the rest of the way to the park. I looked down at the race time and started to think about a PR on the course. 

I got to T2 and switched out my shoes for the run. Before I left the transition I took another swig and told my calf to behave itself. I channeled my inner Jens Voigt and said "Shut up legs" and began my run. As soon as I hit the grassy hill, my left calf started to ache. I walked it up the hill and started to run when I was on solid ground. The usual spot of my pain didn't bother me, but I could feel a knot in my calf with each step. I tuned it out and kept moving one foot in front of the other. I had no idea where on the course Obi-Jen was and the last thing I needed was to have her see me walking at any time. I knew I would find my rhythm quickly, but I forgot that the run course is ever so slightly uphill on the way in and you are rewarded with the downhill on the way out. The other thing I forgot is just how long it seems to take to get to the turnaround point. I saw Wynn running along with his laser focus and when I said hello it almost seemed to startle him.

I kept my focus now on finishing strong. When I saw my time prior to starting the run I knew I had a course PR in the bag. The only thing would be if I completely imploded on the run course or a catastrophic injury. I got to the turnaround and was never happier to be heading out of the park. I took advantage of the downward slopes for free speed and overall, my foot turnover was increasing. I was feeling a little stronger as the run went on. As I exited the park I saw Teresa and cheered her on. 

Now I made my way to the road and the uphill finish. I did my best to get up the hill as quick as I could. The only thing going through my head was the faster I got up the hill, the faster the race would be over. When I crossed the line I stopped my watch and was shocked at what I saw. I had an incredible PR. I shaved 13 minutes off the PR I set last year. Most of the time came off the blistering pace I set on the bike and some more came from the run.

This race was a HUGE breakthrough for me. My bike average was ~2.5 mph faster than my previous best. I climbed the hill like it was a bump in the road. I powered through the last 2 miles with plenty of energy. I held it together on the run. There are always things I find in the race that I could work on for next time, but overall I have to say I am finally pleased with my race performance. The results are proof that Obi-Jen's planning and training are taking hold. The pieces are starting to come together as I hunker down for the heavy load coming up for my A race in September.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

2/3rds of the way there.......

Today was day 2 of racing. Last night was the time trial and today was the 'international' triathlon. The distances were a little shorter than a traditional international race, but with the hills on the course it felt long to me. It was also the Wingman's first triathlon so I was nervous for him as well as trying to focus on my race.

We are staying really close to the race start so there is no need to drive over. We just make the 5 minute walk to the transition area with our stuff. First up was body marking then we made our way into transition to setup our stuff. After I was done with mine, I went over to the Wingman to check out his setup. We reviewed the in/out areas of the transition for the swim/bike/run segments. Before we knew it, it was time to line up for the swim time trial start.

The swim is in a very, very small lake so each racer goes in one at a time every 5 seconds. I had looked into the water earlier and could see there were small rocks in the water. In an effort to avoid the broken toe suffered in my last race, I knew I would go easy into the water. I wished the Wingman good luck and found my spot on the starting line. It took about 12 minutes before it was my turn and I stood at the top of the slope and when I was told to go, I ran down the slope and then slowly got into the water. As soon as I dropped down to swim, I realized the water felt FRIGID!!! I kept trying to swim but I felt so breathless from the cold water. They listed the temps as 70 degrees, but there was no way this area of the lake was 70. I just took it easy until I got a little warmer. At first I thought I made a mistake wearing the sleeveless wetsuit, but as soon as I got to the first turn buoy I was feeling better. The lake swim was weird as the water seemed to change temperatures in various sections. The swim itself is really short, only .25 miles so I was out in less than 10 minutes. Getting out was a challenge too. Plenty of rocks under foot made it a challenge.

I made my way up the slope towards the transition area. I passed up on the wetsuit strippers and got to my rack and got the wetsuit off quickly. I put on my socks, bike shoes, shades, helmet, and grabbed the bike. Once out of transition I mounted the bike and started my 20.5 mile ride.

Basically the bike course elevation profile is a big U shape. First half of the ride is downhill and the second half is uphill. I knew I had to bomb the downhill section as I would lose time coming back up. I was flying along and before I knew it, I was at the turnoff. After ~ 8 miles there is a small loop that you do before you come back out. Wingman and I drove the course yesterday so I knew where the hills were. This first one at the turn off was a doozy. I knew I would have to drop down into my small ring to get up it. It looked steep from the car, but it was much steeper on the bike. When I looked down at my bike computer, it said it was a 16% grade. You just don't find many hills like that on Long Island. But I just focused on spinning up.....ok, more like grinding up the hill. Once over the top I popped back onto my big ring and recovered with a slight downhill. The road surface was not too smooth so I was moving around a bit to avoid any bumps that would slow me down. Otherwise, the loop section wasn't too bad. Any uphill area was preceded by a downhill so you had some momentum to climb back up.

Before I knew it, I was flying back onto the main road. The uphill route back to the transition area was about to begin. It's roughly 8 miles of uphill riding. It's very misleading because some of it is a false flat. I looked down at my computer and it was telling me the 'flat' area was 2-3% grades. I kept the gear light and easy for spinning and kept staring at the computer for the distance. I so desperately wanted to get off the bike. The constant pedaling was wearing me down a little. I started to think "how am I possible going to run after this?" but I quickly got back into the moment and stopped worrying about what was coming. Before I knew it I was at the last climb which is the steepest of the last series of climbs. I just hammered over the top of it and once again re-introduced myself to the big ring. I had about a half mile to spin it out before I had to transition to the run.

My legs were feeling fresher by the time I reached the transition area. I was somewhat pleased by my bike time seeing as how I am not a hill rider. I changed my shoes, grabbed one last swig of my drink and made my way out to the run. I took it easy going out as I wanted to find my running legs. I focused on my leg turnover and keeping a steady rhythm. I was wearing my Garmin GPS, but didn't really look down to see my pace. I was going by feel. Once I hit the first mile marker I could see I had a good first mile. The time was better than I felt. As I went through the first water stop I took a gel and some water. Normally I would go without for 5 miles, but since I am racing again tomorrow, I didn't want to deplete myself too badly. The run course was pretty flat with only 1 uphill in both directions. The hill was steep for me so I power walked it to save some energy since I knew I could not run it any faster. After this hill it was mostly shaded. I ran along wondering how the Wingman was doing. I was also hoping that the turnaround was coming soon.

I kept on running and at the turnaround I had another gel and some water. I could feel my energy level picking up. I felt stronger on the 2nd half of the run so I knew my nutrition plan was working. I took advantage of this new found surge and tried to hold on to it. I don't think I was actually running faster, but I felt more power in my stride. I kept it going and was looking for the Wingman. Since the entire run course was an out and back style, I knew I would see him at some point. It was on my big downhill and his uphill where we exchanged high-5's.

When the GPS buzzed that I was 4 miles in, I was thrilled to know that there was only 1 more mile to run. I barely remember that last mile as I was focused on finishing (aka tunnel vision). I was getting closer to the transition area and could hear the spectators ringing their cowbells like crazy. I somehow found another gear and motored around the long finishing chute to a 1st place finish in my division.

I felt pretty good at the end of the race. My legs were tired, but otherwise not too bad. I think the bike course hills tomorrow will be challenging for me. I will certainly feel the fatigue of the entire weekend of racing while climbing back up the hills.

My proudest moment of the race was watching the Wingman cross the finish line of his first triathlon. It was a hard race with the hills, but he handled it well and he is welcomed into the club of triathlon finishers!!

Tomorrow is my last race of the weekend. It is a shorter distance than today (.25 mile swim, 15 mile bike, 3 mile run), but it will still hurt. I just hope I have some running left in my legs when I get off the bike.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"You'll get a 3 countdown......"

Those are the words I last heard spoken to me prior to my launch into my first ever bike time trial (TT). Getting to the starting line today though was touch and go.

Yesterday the Wingman and I arrived in New Hampshire and checked into the hotel. We have a nice suite in a ski lodge right near the race start. It has a full kitchen so we went out to do some light grocery shopping. We picked up some cold cuts and other stuff for dinner. When we got back to the hotel, we made some sandwiches, watched TV and went to sleep. When I woke up this morning, I just didn't feel right. I felt really dizzy and every time I moved my head the room would spin. I took it easy and had some breakfast and took a nap to try to sleep it off. I thought perhaps my head was congested so I took an allergy pill hoping it would help. When I woke up later, I did feel better but still not close to 100%. At this point I was doubting my ability to race tonight. I made another sandwich for lunch and still felt lousy. Hmm, maybe a shower would help clear my head.

Got into the shower and I knew it would not be pretty. My stomach quickly alerted me that I needed to vacate the shower immediately. Before I knew it, I was sick as a dog. This may be a little TMI, but the sandwich came back up. I am thinking there was something to the cold cuts that did not agree with me. Wingman had the ham while I had the turkey. Once my stomach was empty, I was actually feeling a little better. I still felt weakened, but at least the dizziness was gone. Phew. Now I had about 5 hours to get some calories in me to sooth my stomach and get ready for the time trial.

Wingman and I went down to the packet pickup and got all of our goodies. We scoped out the race sight and then came back to the room to get the race numbers on the bikes. Before I knew it, it was time to make our way down to the race sight. There were a lot of racers already there. I could see that the race director abandoned the TT ramp. Racers had to go off every 20 seconds so it would have been impossible to load everyone one by one onto the ramp in a timely fashion. Instead, you clipped into one pedal and two guys on either side of you grabbed the bike so you could clip the other foot in. Then they passed you off to two more guys to hold you up prior to the start. Once guy asked "Are you ready to rock?" and I answered "Please don't drop me." He laughed and then said "You'll get a 3 countdown" and then I vaguely remember hearing 3..2..1..and the horn went off. I got a huge push from the two guys like a giant catapult and was flying towards the main road. Spectators lined the road and the cowbells were going like crazy. It was a huge boost for the start. I realized in my worry over the start that I forgot to start my computer. I was about 2/10th of a mile in when I started it.

The first half of the course starts out flat and then goes into a big downhill. I quickly worked up into a big gear to be ready for the downhill. I used the free speed here knowing I would be slower coming up. I felt like I was flying but never looked down at the computer to check my speed. The other issue I had was the sunglasses I was wearing were too dark for an overcast, twilight race. I have a lighter tint pair, but I left them home. I had no trouble making it to the bottom of the hill. I had to slow down quite a bit as it is a tight u-turn before you begin the climb back up.

Once I began the uphill I had to decide if I was going to pass the woman in front of me. I waited it out a little to get through the first climb. On the flat, I could see she wasn't going any faster so on the next climb, I came out of the saddle to accelerate past her and continue my climb. I was handling the hills well for a flat lander, but the last climb was a tough one. I opted to stay in my big ring (tomorrow I will definitely be in the small ring) and I was working hard. The one thing that snapped me out of my tunnel vision was hearing some kid shout out "If you believe in yourself, you can do it!!" Which is a reference to this video:

It made me smile a bit and took some of the hurt out of that climb. By now I was on flat ground again and quickly shifted gears back to I could finish out the ride fast. I hammered it down the last big straightaway and made the first of two left turns to get to the finish. I passed the spectators again with the cowbells going but I had to slow down for the final turn. The finishing area is really short so I opted out of a crazy sprint so I wouldn't have to brake too hard once I crossed the line.

After the end, I took an easy spin to flush out the legs and then went back to see the Wingman finish. There were about 40 riders between us so I saw him on the course as he was heading down the first hill and I was near the end of the last uphill. He was looking strong out there!! After he finished I told him to keep on riding to cool down.

We came back to the room to change and went back to see the results. We didn't do too badly in our first TT effort. I would love to come back next year to see what I can do if I can get any better at hill climbing.

Tonight will be an easy night as we both have a tri in the morning and I have another on Sunday. No rest for the weary as I feel it will be a looong weekend.........