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