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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Race Report: Steamboat Triathlon

I’ve raced quite a bit over the last four season but this was really only the second time that getting to a venue involved a significant road trip—the other being HITS Sterling in 2012. This year we headed the other direction across most of the Colorado Rockies up into the breathtaking Yampa Valley:



It took longer than the 3 hours plus shown in Google but we did arrive a little after 1:00 for packet pick-up at a local hotel.

That left some time to go out to the race site just outside of town and check things out.
Officially, the event is called the Steamboat Triathlon at Lake Catamount. The lake itself sits just to the south of the town proper. It’s part of a community of some nice homes that include a club house, boat house and private lake. I got a sense of where the swim start and finish would be and walked around the parking lot that would serve as transition the following day.





After that, my wife and I drove part of the run course and then drove the bike course that followed a small county road which parallels the Yampa River as it runs through Steamboat. Once that was done, we checked into our hotel and relaxed until it was time to go grab some dinner.
Steamboat is far off the beaten path but that does not mean it has not been well established as premier vacation spot for many years. Historically, the location has some of the best snow conditions in the state and it’s just as appealing during the warmer “off season.” As a result, many businesses have been in the area for decades.
Such was the case with Mazzola’s Italian Diner right in the middle of downtown. It opened in 1970. My butternut squash ravioli was phenomenal. After a stop by the grocery store for some pre-race nutrition it was back to the room to call it an early night.
Race morning dawned before, well, dawn. I was up and getting ready a little before 5:30. After a discussion with my coach about nutrition, I’ve upped the calories I’m taking in. Rather than the usual Frappuccino and banana, I had a bagel with cream cheese and a bottle of Odwalla. I definitely felt stated going into and (as it turned out) during the race.
Getting back to the lake took very little time which was good because it was necessary to park about half a mile away from the transition area. A large field had been set aside for the purpose. I carried my bike out of the field and then rode it the rest of the way. Arriving early also gave me my pick of transition spaces. Having found some success setting up near the “run out” arch, I did so again. Without Limits continues to use the nice tall saw-horse type bike racks so getting hanging mine by the nose of the saddle was not a problem. Within minutes I had set up this neat, minimal transition area:





By this point there were still more than 30 minutes until swim warm-up started. I moved around some by walking to each end of transition and checking out the swim start. It was pretty cool still. The temperature when we left the hotel indicated 42* and I doubt it had broken 50* yet. Not long after, a rain shower started.
It was not your traditional soaker, just a very gentle shower. All the same, I covered my small transition area with a garbage bag. Another good reason why it makes sense not to spread your gear all over the place.
Given the damp and cool, I decided to don my wetsuit at this point. If I was going to be getting wet soon anyway, I might as well be better prepared. The timing was pretty good since swim warm-up had just opened. I headed off to the lake and got about ten minutes of swimming in before getting out. The lake was actually warmer than the air and the water was remarkably clear. Only the churning of feet on the muddy bottom affected the ability to see more clearly than I do at my neighborhood pool!
Preliminary race functions were not different than any other and after what felt like a short wait, it was time for me to join my start group which was the fourth overall.

THE SWIM


I thought I would start by getting out in front of the field. I’m generally a pretty good swimmer and tend to finish near the top of my age group. However, lots of guys around me went out really hard (too hard as it turned out) so I let go of that notion quickly.
It didn't seem like I was swimming too hard, but for the first 200 yards or so, I was a bit winded. The washing machine, as always, made it difficult to find a rhythm and I was also dealing with a few panicky kickers, one of who swam under me and then started flutter kicking to get me off. Uggh.

Finally, I managed to start getting clear of others and work my way into a nice, manageable rhythm. Unlike indications on the website, the course was just an out and back style along a string of buoys not unlike Kona only less than half as long. Fortunately, this did not create any problems with head on collisions (at least not for me). The return leg was slightly longer than the outbound leg with the finish being at boat ramp. Here the churned up bottom created a problem with visibility. I saw several people around me standing so I did likewise figuring I could probably wade through kneed deep water faster than I could swim it. Problem was, the boat ramp dipped down again and I was soon back to chest deep. No matter—I was out and moving under the transition arch quickly.



My Time:  28:34—the course was long; my Garmin measured it at 1848 vs. the expected1640.
Official Time:  29:09—they start measuring when you enter the transition area, not when you exit the water.

T1


I hustled up the beach and into transition fairly quickly. My bike was near the entrance and then it was just a matter of pulling off the wetsuit and pulling on the beanie, helmet and shoes. As I mentioned in my race plan, I decided to skip the socks for the bike.
I knew I was not moving as fast as I had hoped to, but I got my bike and ran hard out of the transition area, mounted and was on my way out to the course.

My Time:  3:11
Official Time:  2:33

THE BIKE


The bike course starts off with a steep but short climb out of the lake area and then down a chip-sealed road out to Highway 131. There were other cyclists about of course (there was also a sprint distance going concurrently with the Olympic) but there was not a crowd. I tried to show patience as I passed folks who were meandering since there was still plenty of room to go around.
I was perhaps a bit winded to start, but I didn’t really pay attention. I just tried to push as hard as I could without burning any matches just yet.
Just over two miles in, you make a right turn onto Routt County road 14E and head north toward town. This is the first real climb of the course but I was up it easily and soon rolling back down the other side in the big ring. This is followed by a slight downhill until a sharp left by a large set of horse stables. The crowd was a little thick through here and I was going by some folks on the inside of the turn. I got past most of them except for one guy who seemed to be a match for my speed. I was probably risking a drafting penalty so I eased up and he seemed to open up the gap after that. The section ended with a short climb that included crossing some railroad tracks.
I pushed on all of the downhill sections the rest of the way to the turn figuring I would need to bank a little time before the turn and the climb back up to the finish. That turn around happens in a parking lot in front Howelsen hill which is where the local kids go for ski practice after school. The race emcee claimed past Olympians have trained there.
Once I was on my way back, I found that the climbs, while noticeable, were not slowing me especially. I have to note that I did not have MPH displayed on my Garmin but my Watts seemed good and my RPM was high and I felt pretty good. A look back at the data shows I was still running 17 – 19 MPH on most of return trip just slowing up occasionally and briefly on the especially steep sections.
Faster than I expected, I was approaching the left turn to go back over the railroad tracks. As I did, I saw a guy who had flown by me earlier now stuck on the side of the road with a flat. It seemed to me at the time that there were an inordinate number of flat tires that morning and not just on tubular wheels where that seems to be a common problem. Even folks with the basic road bikes and clinchers were off their bikes or being assisted by the support vehicle.
I asked the guy as I approached if he had what he needed to fix his tire. He replied that he had the wrong adapter for his CO2 kit. I had a full repair kit on my HydroTail so I tossed it to him and hollered my name and race number as I rode on just telling him to find me afterward. He was fast enough I figured he might pass me again.
Then it was time to make the turn. A volunteer was holding a car so I hit and cruised over the tracks. Hard. I’ve hit other obstacles in the road equally as hard before, but there must have been something special. At first I thought everything was okay but then it became apparent that I had flatted my front tire. Frustrated, I got off my bike and started walking down the road. My hope was that the support car would get to me quickly.
After about .3 mile or so, another rider got off her bike and told me she had hit a tack and was just pumping up her tire every so often to just get through the race. She offered the pump to me after she inflated her tire again. Try though I did, nothing was happening. I didn’t see much sense in delaying her any longer so I sent her on her way and proceeded to remove the tire and then the tube. I was really hoping the guy I left my repair kit with would show up and I could get a new tube on and get moving again.
Turns out, he did show up—walking his bike, clearly having been unable to affect repairs of his own. Right behind him was the support car so walked my now one-wheeled bike back to where they were a few hundred yards away.
The support crew was from a triathlon store called Kompetitive Edge in Sheridan which is a suburb in south central Denver. There were two mechanics in the car and they quickly changed my tire for me and did so far faster than I have ever done on my own. With my profuse thanks expressed to them and good luck expressed to my fellow athlete in the same predicament, I was on my way out again. I did not know the loss of time but have since determined about 16 minutes.
The other guy passed me not long afterward offering to buy me a beer for offering my repair kit. Unnecessary but thoughtful. By now, we had reached Highway 131 again but instead of turning back toward the lake, you actually go right and head down it for a mile or so. Not even a quarter mile after that right turn, I heard a loud pop and then saw him slowing and pulling over to the side of the road. I asked if there was anything else I could do, but I already knew the answer. He had hit a tack which left a big hole in his tire through which his tube was ballooning. Short of replacing the tube every half mile (and the Kompetitive Edge guys were out of tubes now) there was nothing to do. I wished him my best and proceeded on.
Once I had turned around and was now truly headed back to the lake, I took advantage of a sustained downhill pushing my speed into the upper 20/lower 30 MPH range. Then it was back onto that chip seal road for the last climb. I was about four minutes behind my goal time (not including the unplanned stop) but that included the section I had walked with my bike. I knew there would be no PR and no podium today, but I still wanted to have a good run.







My Time:  1:15:02 (moving time)
Official Time:  1:31:04

T2


Once off the bike, I ran hard again into transition. It’s not a particularly big area so getting back to my rack was easy. The socks went onto my dry feet with far greater ease than they ever had when leaving the swim. My shoes have Yankz in them and they were on quickly too. I don’t think I did a lot of rushing, but I was out quickly.
My Time:  1:37
Official Time:  1:33

THE RUN


All of the “excitement” on the bike had somewhat caused me to forget the fact that there was still a 10K run waiting for me whenever I got back to transition. I headed out and started cruising the initial downhill section at what felt like a comfortable pace.
That pace was actually well below 8:00/mile but it felt okay and since, like the bike, this one involved climbing back uphill on the return leg, I decided to stay with it.
At times, I found myself thinking way ahead to the end of the race and had to remind myself to think about the next mile instead. How far along on the current mile? How far to the next? Good, focus on that. It was not quite a mantra but it is how I kept myself focused and not overwhelmed by trying to strategize the whole distance at once.
Right around 1.5 miles, or just under a quarter of the way through, the course turns onto a smaller road used to access some of the properties on the far side of the lake. Most of this is flat to down, but just after 2 miles, there is short 11% grade section that not only slowed me down, but quite frankly hurt. From then until the turnaround cone, there were a series of ups and downs before descending a steep hill. From there, it’s across a narrow bridge and then up an 8% grade for a tenth of a mile before the turn. My pace dropped to around 10:00/mile in that section.
The halfway done point has always been symbolically important to me. It seems to help to know that whatever is left is less than what has already been completed. That was just as true here as I headed back. I knew my pace would slow some going up hills, but I did my best to take advantage of any downs and push the pace when I could.

Just before the five mile mark, I made a deal with myself that I would slow up a little too avoid blowing up. I was right on the edge of sustainability and though there was only a mile left, a lot can happen in that space. My easier pace did not last long. I wanted to be done more than I wanted to ease up. After about a quarter mile or so, really involuntarily, I picked up the pace. I could faintly hear the PA and the emcee calling finishers and my watch told me there was just a short distance left. I pushed really hard through those last three-quarters of a mile doing most of it in the mid 7:00/mile range and finishing strong.


video






My Time:  49:39
Official Time:  49:38

My Overall Time: 2:38:03
Official Overall Time: 2:54:00

Take away the flat tire and my guess is that I would have been closer to a 2:34:00 time. I still would have missed the podium by about five minutes in that case so in the broader sense this one didn’t really cost me anything. Truthfully, I would rather that the flat happen here than at Harvest Moon in three weeks.
That race now becomes my main focus. I’ll be using some of my performance in Steamboat to help guide that race plan and, of course, will be having a detailed discussion about it with my coach.
For now, it’s back to training and being ready to kick butt at my last race of the season.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Steamboat Triathlon Race Plan

 

In keeping with the tradition I started for this year’s Summer Open Sprint, I am again publishing my race plan. Like any plan, it will probably change a lot between now and the time I cross the finish line.

 

PRE-RACE

 

This is an out-of-town race so that means being extra careful when packing. I have a couple of laminated sheets with all of my packing needs. I complete them with a china marker so that they can be erased and re-used for the next race. I’ll be sure to be very slow and deliberate as I pack and check-off items.

 

After a discussion with my coach, I’m clearly not doing enough for my pre-race nutrition so that will change this time. A bagel and cream cheese along with perhaps some juice ought to get me going in the morning. Of course, I’ll make sure that is consumed far enough ahead of the swim start to not be an issue.

 

As usual, a very basic transition area will be my approach. I’ll rack in the bike in its lowest gear and unlike last time, make sure that the bike shoes are unbuckled. Running shoes will be next to those with the visor and race built on top of them. Socks will be rolled and I have yet to decide whether or not to ride without socks. I might to save time in T1 when I’m slower anyway and then put them on in T2. That will probably be a “game time” decision.

 

It will likely be a cool morning (forecast temps pre-race are in the low 50* range) so I may bring a hoodie to wear until it is time to don the wetsuit and go warm up.

 

I always feel a little gassed and tired at the beginning of a swim, especially one in open water. Nerves don’t much help this either and while I don’t expect the water to be cold, I do think it will be cool. If possible, I’m going to try and get a good ten minutes of warm-up in. If that’s not possible, I might jog up and down the beach just to get my heart rate into a higher zone ahead of the race.

 

THE SWIM

 

Assuming I’ve gotten a good warm-up in, I’ll go out fairly fast on the initial part of the swim. This risks gasping for air while also in the washing machine of a triathlon swim start, but I think it’s an acceptable risk. I’d like to get out ahead of the slower swimmers in the first 100. I’m sure the really good swimmers will be out in front of me as well.

 

I’ll ease up just a little bit for the next stretch which should see me to the first turn. I believe this is a clockwise course, opposite of what I am used to but probably not an issue either. Once on the back-stretch the upside-down triangle-shaped course, I’ll open it up again to near max effort for the next three hundred yards to the second turn. I’ll need to watch pacing here and make sure I’m not burning any matches. I don’t have very many in my book and the swim strikes me as a foolish place to use them.

 

Once on the final stretch, I’ll ease back to below max effort all the way in to the finish. I’ve done a reasonably good job of sighting in my open water swim practice this year, but it’s still critical that I keep the finish arch in sight at regular intervals. I may not hit my pacing, but I certainly do not want to add extra time and effort by going off course.  

 

Goal Time 26:10

 

T1

I have been relying on the Garmin connect files of people who ran last year’s race to determine the distances in and out of transition. This is not exactly the best pre-race intelligence, but the event website does not have maps with that level of detail so it’s about all I have.

 

Those best estimates suggest a very short run from the water to the bike racks. I’m aiming to complete that in 45 seconds. It may be overly optimistic, but I’m going to try and be out of the wetsuit, shoes, helmet and sunglasses on and running out in 1:30. I’ve budgeted another 45 seconds to run out.

 

Goal Time 3:00

 

THE BIKE

 

The race website advertises this as a traditional Olympic distance bike of 40 kilometers or 24.8 miles. However, both Garmin activities I found had it much shorter at 23 miles. I’ll be ready for either, but a short course is not unheard of in the bike leg.

 

Since I’ll be starting on a bit of a hill and probably a little winded from my run out of T1, I will begin be easing into the bike and letting my HR recover. If I’m going to burn a match or two on the bike, I’d prefer it to be during the second half or no sooner than right before the turn around point.

 

I’ve done a lot of my bike training with high resistance either on the trainer indoors or up hills out side so I’m not entirely sure how fast I can go (and sustain) on a flatter to more downhill route. I’ll be shooting for the 20 to 22 mile per hour range because I’ll undoubtedly be slower when I turn around and climb more on the return. I expect to be running right around my FTP of 202 watts for most of the race with occasional spikes above when going up hill and occasional dips below when rolling down hill.

 

I want to put some good energy into the bike leg, but like any race, that has to be balanced against the vitally important need to save something for the run. There’s a bit of climbing back to the transition area and I expect to spin this at as high of a cadence as possible so that I don’t trash my legs right before starting out on the 10K.

 

Goal Time: 1:11:31 (assuming a 23 mile course)

 

T2

 

This tends to be my more efficient transition. I’m not regaining my balance out of the water and I’ve had some time on the bike to anticipate and then think-through my next actions.

 

Assuming I’ve been doing the bike sockless, I’ll need to see to that first. The more I think about it, the more this makes sense. Like a lot of folks, I get a little wobbly on dry land immediately after the swim which is not a good time to be standing on one foot while also rolling on a sock.

 

I started doing my bricks this year with my Garmin watch band already on. It will be on my wrist when I leave T2 so that attaching the watch can be done as I start running.

 

Goal Time: 2:30

 

THE RUN

 

The success or failure of any triathlon is determined by the run. It does not seem to matter if you are an age grouper or an elite pro, if you can’t run successfully, you can’t race successfully.

 

I have been running a lot this season including some really demanding runs off the bike. Those training sessions have just been killers that leave me winded and wanting to curl up in the grass and just not move at all! Obviously, I won’t put that kind of hurt on myself on race day.

 

I plan on building-in to the run with and that means a somewhat easier pace for the first half mile or so. If I feel good sooner, I’ll open it up sooner, but otherwise, I want to feel like I’ve got plenty so I can go at a fairly steady average clip.

 

This course seems to be characterized by short but steep hills around the LakeCatmount race sight. It’s typical of a lot of paths or roads that go around a lake. It’s also an out and back run so there’s balance between the first and second half.

 

The single factor that will create a challenge is a bit of a climb into the finish. Unlike venues such as the Boulder or Union Reservoirs, there’s no big downhill leading up to the finish. I plan to be fairly close to spent by the time I reach this point so while I still hope to attack the hill at 8:30 pace, I’ll settle for whatever I have left. Throughout the run, I’ll keep reminding myself that this is the final leg and there’s no sense in leaving anything on the table.

 

Goal Time: 49:45 (Stretch Goal)

 

Race Goal Time: 2:32:56

 

While not my “A” race, this is definitely an ambitious race plan. If I don’t hit my goals, I’ll be okay with that.

 

After about three months without a triathlon, I’ll be doing two in the space of three weeks. The Harvest Moon is really that close. Unlike Steamboat, Harvest is definitely my “A” race and I’ll be thinking about how I attack that one a lot in the coming weeks.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ironman: The Quest Begins

I left my last post noting that my brother and I were up early on the Monday after the inaugural IM Boulder race. What we were doing ought to be fairly obvious by the title of this post, but let me tell the story all the same.

 

As I mentioned last time, my purpose for volunteering was not entirely altruistic. Indeed, one of the main motivators was to get a priority spot in line for next year’s race. Those spots were claimed by showing up at the main staging area at Boulder High School. The day before it had been the Ironman Village and site of T2, but its purpose on Monday morning was to sign up two groups of people: 2014 athletes who wanted to compete again next year and volunteers. The line for the latter was much longer!

 

We showed up on site at around 7:50 and looking at the line, I figured we would be waiting around for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. However, there must have been around a dozen and a half volunteers to process the entries.

 

We ended up moving into the registration tent and then it was a simple process of entering a few basic details on an iPad and then providing my credit card. Roughly 3 minutes and $722 later, I was registered to run my first ever Ironman 140.6 race.

 

This morning I received an e-mail confirming my entry and doing some follow-up information. Now it’s officially official!



As we left the high school grounds, I was a little bit giddy at the thought. No doubt somewhere around mile 14 next year I doubt that’s how I will feel, but for now, there is something about actually having taken the step that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

 

Naturally, I’m a little nervous and daunted. Like most folks who decide to take this on, I don’t want to just finish. I mean, I do want to finish, but I also want to be fully trained and be both physically and mentally ready to meet the challenge. I’m not there yet and now I have less than a year to be ready.

 

For now, I have my current season to focus on including a big test in Steamboat on August 17 in the form of an Olympic distance race. Then, three weeks later, my “A” race, the Harvest Moon half iron distance is on September 7. I’ve set a very ambitious sub 6 hour goal for that one.

 

When those events are behind me, it will be time to rest some and then start planning my 2015 strategy with my coach. This race will be paramount and if I do enter any other race, it will only be if it is in support of this one. This past season has taught me clearly that more training and less racing leads to better performance—at least it does for me.

 

My blog’s motto is that every new challenge is a first time and this is the biggest first time of all. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences over the next 12 months or so. I think I’ll have plenty of fodder for several good posts!

 

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Volunteer Report: IM Boulder 2014



All week this was a slight twinge of regret to not be participating in the inaugural Ironman event in Boulder. In addition to being the city where I attended college, I have done considerable training and racing in the area and have always been proud of its status as a triathlon and cycling Mecca.

 

Fortunately, I was participating as a volunteer so while not at all like being an athlete, it still gave me some great perspective on the event, most notably the finish.

 

Way back in January or February of this year, my brother Ted and I both decided that we wanted to participate in the 2015 version of this event. While it might not sell out right away, it could. Sometimes a race gains enough momentum and the next thing you know, half the state wants to participate. One sure way to get a top spot in line (and not pay out the steep fee for a foundation spot) is to serve as a volunteer at the race.

 

We signed up early which means we had lots of choices for which job we wanted. Some are definitely more desirable than others. We ended up going with finish line responsibilities including handing out medals, finishers shirts and, as it turned out, a lot of bottled water.

 

Months went by but soon the day of the race had arrived. In the weeks leading up to it, I received regular updates from our volunteer “captains.” These are folks who are in charge of a particular area. For example, an aid station on the course would have a captain or two in charge. This was also true for the finish area. Patrick and Sandy were our captains and they were great. They showed a lot of flexibility with us and always expressed their appreciation at our willingness to help out. They were positive upbeat and respected that fact that folks chose to be here. Yes, were getting a priority registration place, but that’s still not the same as being paid.

 

On race afternoon, much of Boulder was shut down to accommodate the 3000 or so cyclists coming back into town at the end of their 112 mile trek that had taken them way north and then off to the east before coming back into town. That, of course, greatly restricted vehicle traffic. Ted and I opted to park about a mile or so out and ride our bikes to the Pearl Street area.

 

If you’re not familiar with Boulder,Pearl Street is a four block pedestrian mall right in the middle of downtown and less than a mile from theUniversity of Colorado campus. The area is home to several restaurants, bars and shops and on warmer days is dotted with street performers with varying degrees of talent.

 

We found a rack to lock our bikes and after some wandering around, finally figured out where we were supposed to be. We met our captains and in short order, we were folding finisher t-shirts and placing then inside finisher hats. These had to be arranged on tables (and once they were full into large boxes) so that they could be handed to athletes quickly upon their crossing the line. No one wants to rush someone who just finished such a race, but on the other hand, you do want them to keep moving through the area so that nothing backs up and messes up the finish for those coming up behind them.

 

Once the t-shirts were more or less ready, we found ourselves handing out water bottles to a lot of the other volunteers in the area. Of particular note were the photographers who had been out covering the event on motos. It was not the hottest of August days at 85* or so, but it was warm, more so on the black-top.

 

We started adding bottles to two giant tubs by the case load and then covering them with bags and bags of ice. As they sat directly in the sun, it did not take long for these to turn into an ice bath. Having finished some hard races, there’s nothing quite like having a bottle of really cold water handed to you upon right after crossing the line. My goal for the day was to make sure no one was handed a bottle of warm water.

 

The master race clock over the finish line had now passed the 8 hour mark those of us in the area were stealing glances down the finishing chute, looking for the winner. After what seemed like any awfully long wait, he finally came into view.

 

As the athletes approached the finish line, they climbed up a slight rise and went around a gentle turn on 13thStreet with the arch sitting about a block south of the mall. Those factors, combined with the Ironman branding on the fencing created a dramatic effect. I can only imagine how it must have looked from the perspective of a finisher.

 

Despite leading for most of the race,Richie Cunningham had yielded his lead around the halfway mark of the run. As a result, Boulder residentJustin Daerr was the man in front at the finish. In fact, he was way out in front. True to form, veteran race emcee Mike Reilly created all of the drama appropriate for the moment. Daerr had tried for years to win an Ironman event and this was his first. There was quite a crowd, but I got a couple of shots of his approach:

 



 

I was not in position to get any pictures of the first women’s finisher, Danielle Kehoe but I did hear her interview with Reilly and she was great. As has been documented in Slow Twitch and several other places, she came out of the water dead last among the pros yet still managed to rally back on the bike and run to win the overall race. She talked about that and told the crowd that if you ever think you’re out of a race, you can always make up the time. That could not be truer than it is in a race of 140.6 miles. It also makes a good point about the importance of pacing not only within discipline but among all three.

 

Gradually, more pros crossed the line, followed by the leading edge of age-groupers. The latter group continued to grow and soon I found myself either handing someone a water bottle or dumping more cases of bottles into our tubs. We made multiple runs for ice from a trailer about half a block away and while we always seemed to have an adequate supply, I also felt like I was going through it rapidly.

 

In addition to water, I also took a turn at handing out medals. It was a privilege to congratulate a finisher on their accomplishment, but I think most people I saw were far more grateful for the water!

 

Since, like so many other races, your name is printed on your race bib, I was able to call most finishers by name as I handed them a bottle. A few were too out of it to acknowledge anything but some said thanks and appeared to be happy to be done. There was a small handful that had to be escorted down to the medical tent. Fortunately it did not appear that anyone was in extremely serious condition. I’ve not heard about anything else happening out on the course so my fingers are crossed that this one went off without serious injury or illness.

 

Faster than I might have thought our five hour shift at the line ended and it was time for us to ride back to the car and then meet our wives for dinner. I regrettably did not get to see my coach or a couple of friends finish but that’s okay. I did track a couple of people during the day and I felt like I was with them in spirit if not in body.

 

The day ended with a return to our hotel in nearby Broomfield but the end of the day is not the end of the story. There’s a reason we stayed nearby Sunday night. Ted and I were up early Monday morning.

 

That however, is a subject for my next post.

 

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Intensity: It’s Working For Me

emphasize the “for me” part of that post title. Far too many people, it seems, make the assumption that what works for them works for everyone else. I’ve had some success and so perhaps so will you. But then again, perhaps not.

 

Prior to starting with my coach at the start of this calendar year, I had effectively been following a volume based philosophy. I knew there was some value in things like intervals but I also assumed that such work was not especially valuable for long course events. The only way to get good at going long was to go long. As a result, training sessions leading up to longer events (particularly 70.3 events) were characterized by long runs and rides. I just kept swimming at around the same 1500 to 2000 yards a week because I never seemed to have too much trouble on the swim.

 

All of this is not to say that I was training wrong. At least I was not per se. While I don’t think the run at Ironman 70.3 Boulder went all that well, the bike did and after stumbling a bit late season, I had a PR inAustin last October. There may have been short bursts of intensity on some of the 10 mile training runs I did leading up to that race, but nothing specific or calculated.

 

That brings us to the philosophy my coach has when it comes to training which, in oversimplified terms is train harder, not longer. As a result, nearly all of my training has been characterized by shorter, but much more intense workouts. The exception is the pool where I am not only swimming more often per week (almost always twice and quite often three times a week) but for longer periods. Even then, however, the workouts are focused around period of intensity.

 

Like a lot of people, one of my greatest concerns about training this way was the increased risk of injury. Using muscles harder naturally means that there is a greater risk of over extension and injury. Having dealt with an especially nasty injury in 2013, I was especially concerned.

 

The counter to this problem is rest. My routine has consistently been two weeks of intensity followed by a recovery week where the overall volume is less and the difficulty (in terms of Intensity Factor for example) is lower. Additionally, the swim is often itself a recovery workout since it gives legs tired and sore from running a riding a break while my arms do most of the work.

 

That’s the high level summary of what my training is like. So why do I say it’s working for me? For starters there are the results. Like most triathletes, I keep fairly close track of my training. Besides uploading all of my workouts to Training Peaks for my coach to review, I continue to keep a basic spreadsheet summarizing my activity. As a result, I have details on the distance and duration of each workout.

 

In the case of the bike, the farthest I rode prior to the recent MTCC Experience Ride was just over 47 miles on a single ride. That was a trainer ride last winter that was also lasted the longest at three hours. The longest mileage for a given week was 95 which I did the week after Memorial Day.

 

Most rides, by contrast, were shorter but consisted of periods where I was going very hard as measured both by my power output and by my heart rate. Many was the time when I left the trainer soaking wet and fully exhausted. Not infrequently, I was getting off the bike only to get on the treadmill and add 15 to 45 minutes of running to the end of the workout. Those runs were sometimes nice and easy HR Zone 2 events, but some were full on brick runs where I had to do the first five minutes in HR Zone 5.

 

When I competed in the Summer Open Sprint in mid-May, I was, of course, ready for the kind of distances a sprint triathlon presents. The only thing for which I was not entirely prepared was the frigid water and even then I swam faster than I had been in the pool albeit below my goal pace. Pushing the bike hard through the paces was tiring (especially on the more uphill outbound stretch of that course) but manageable. Coming back, I was pushing in the mid 30 mph range. The story was much the same on the run where I was tired, but I was also faster than I had been in years past.

 

On June 21, however, I was facing a much different challenge. A 106 mile bike ride with significant climbs in the mountains was going to be both further and longer than any single training day I had. It was truly the first test of the effectiveness of my coach’s philosophy.

 

I don’t know that I would say I was overly surprised with the results, but perhaps a little bit. Make no mistake, I finished that day absolutely exhausted. My legs were tired, my mind was tired and lots of things just hurt. The pain didn’t last especially long, but I more or less left everything out on the course. That said, I never faced a hill I could not climb without too much difficulty. Of course some had me tired and glad to be at the top. I did stop and rest multiple times (and not just at rest stops) but I did get through the event and never had any doubts that I would.

 

Running has not been put to quite as much of a test, though there is one example that suggests the training has been effective there as well.

 

In the first week of June, I had a work out that was an advanced aerobic running test. While I have never had my lactate threshold measured in a lab, we determined that it was roughly 157 bpm. I have a bit lower of a max heart rate number (165 by my latest measurement) so that’s pushing pretty far into Z5. My test involved doing four 17 minute intervals at just 2 to 5 bpm below the LT rate. The first two minutes were just to build up to the right HR and then do a full 15 minutes in that range. Each set had a five minute recovery between. I slowed down to walking pace for some of these just to give myself enough of a recovery to be able to do the next set. Despite the walks and slow recovery, I still completed the two hour workout with 13.3 miles. Not my fastest half marathon time, but not too far off either.

Of course, the real test of the running will be in September when I compete in the Harvest Moon 70.3 race. I have a self-supported 70.3 and an Olympic distance race between now and then which will also be decent gauges of my performance.

 

It would not be honest of me to say that this training has been easy. I’ve often been so thoroughly exhausted that I want to just lie and down and sleep for about a week. The last three days featured not a brick but two bricks (Sunday and then Tuesday) both characterized by a run that involved going into Z5 multiple times. It’s the kind of pain and suffering that is difficult to ignore. Driving me on however, is both my belief and the tangible proof that all of this is working. I’ve lost a lot of weight in the last year (about 14 pounds compared to this date in 2013) and I’m swimming biking and running faster than I ever have. At 44 years old, that’s pretty encouraging!

 

Each of us has to walk our own path so I again want to emphasize that my sharing of the experiences I’ve had is not necessarily advocacy. If you are one who is finding that their training plan (despite having faithfully executed it) is not creating desired results, you might want to try this method. If you do so, don’t forget, plenty of rest and recovery is key. My recovery weeks are roughly 2/3 the intensity and length of the other weeks. Trust me, I don’t lose any conditioning in that time!

 

Thanks for reading and have a great July 4weekend!

 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ride Report: Mountain Top Cycling Club Experience Ride

When you ride a Century, there's a lot of story to tell. Hence, this may end up being a bit of a long post. However, I think it's a pretty good story. Unlike a triathlon race report, there's only one event here: a very long bike ride. Given it's length, I'm organizing it into multiple parts with plenty of pictures and maps along the way.

Part 1: Pre-ride
You'll note that I'm not calling this a race. I was out here merely to get it done with no real consideration for time, placement or any other achievement. Given not only the length, but also the difficulty, I think that was a good goal.

My day started at 4:30 in the morning since the town of Florissant is about 90 miles from my home. I was on the road at 4:45 and made good time, even after a stop at McDonald's. I was soon parked outside the local Grange hall and after saying hello to my brother who was riding with me, I was  ready to pick up my packet.


Not unlike a triathlon, this consisted of a number for my bike and bib for my jersey which went on the back. I had arrived with enough time to get everything ready including donning some cool weather clothing--it was still in the low 50* range when we started. Having never ridden this far and considering how hard the climbing was going to be, I was a little intimidated. It meant a less than confident look in this selfie:


All races have to do their preliminary announcements and this one was no different, but they kept it brief and in time we were on our way. 

Part 2: The "Warm-Up" and the Climb to the High Point

The first section of the race consisted of a steady but not overly steep climb toward the first aid station. We hit a couple of short sections where the grade hit 3% or so, but it was no big deal. The second half of this opening stretch had quite a bit of down hill too.

I stopped briefly at the first aid station to drop my jacket and gloves. It was still cool, so I kept my arm warmers on and then we proceeded to make the big climb into the old mining town of Cripple Creek. This was where the real work began. Sometimes things were not to hard with some flat sections and even the occasional down-sloping hill. Most of it, though, was hard climbing including a long section a 8% + grade and even some short sections at 9%. Our legs were still pretty fresh at this point so while not easy, conquering these hills was not overwhelming. Once we reached the top of a big hill, it was usually followed by a stretch of down which made for a good recovery.

Hitting the outskirts of Cripple Creek, we were immediately directed to a road that ran along the outside edge of the city. I'm told that the town is not particularly bike-friendly and that the local police have been known to wait for a cyclist to run a stop sign so they can ticket them. Probably just as well that we stayed off the main drag. Cripple Creek is one of three towns in Colorado with legalized gambling so I was also happy to avoid the casinos, even though I suspect they were not all that busy early on Saturday morning.

There was no aid station there so we made our way up the hill again toward the nearby town of Victor. Most of the modern-day mining operations are in this area so we got pretty good view of how a mountain in the area was being slowly taken down. Seriously, they were stripping it away, layer by layer. I have no idea if there includes a process to "put back" the tailing once the gold has been extracted from the ore. Fortunately, it was just the one (rather large) mountain. 

We crossed a high bridge (about 100 feet in my estimation) and then had to haul up a short but very steep hill before hitting the town limits. Victor is not home to any casinos so it kept some of the old, small town mining charm that you just can't get from a big parking garage or garish gambling hall. Of course, it was also much smaller. 

We stopped at the aid station here where I enjoyed a half peanut butter sandwich, a cookie and an orange wedge. Within five minutes, were underway again with another couple of big climbs that would see us to the high point on the course.

First was the climb out of town. This was only a couple of miles but the last half of that included hills that graded as high as 9% in a couple of sections. It was still cool and overcast, but with my arm warmers still on, I began to feel the sweat building. That was immediately relived when we cruised down into a valley ahead of the second hill. This was the view right before I started that descent:




You can see the bare mountain tops in the background. We were now approaching timberline. If you're not familiar with that term, it essentially is the point at which it is too high for trees to grow. In Colorado, that's somewhere between 9000 and 10000 feet above sea level.

The downhill was one of the steepest sections we had done to this point and brief glance down at my Garmin indicated that I was going 42 mph at one point. Then it was time to slow down make a left turn and begin another long climb.

It was not quite as steep as the climb that preceded it, but it was a bit longer--closer to three miles. We were on the back side of the mountain that was being taken down and there were huge dump trucks (the kind with 12 foot tires) dropping something like 25,000 tons of rocks back onto the mountain. Perhaps they really do rebuild it. 

Nearing the top of the hill, we reached the high point on the whole course, nearly 10,400 feet above the sea level. Looking toward the northwest, there was not a higher point around. It was like being on the roof of the world. I wish I could have gotten a picture, but I did not want to stop (I was headed down hill now) and trying to get the phone out of my back jersey pocket while working the breaks, negotiating a 9% downhill grade and steering didn't seem like the best of ideas. In truth, I don't think that a photo could really capture the magnificence. I grew up and have spent most of my life in Colorado, but I was still awestruck at what lay before me. You really have to experience it yourself to know what I mean.

After making my way back down to timberline, the road passed through a thick aspen grove that I found picture-worthy:


Shortly after this, we began a long, steep descent, back into Cripple Creek. It was taking us sometimes 12 or even 15 minutes to cover a mile before. The next couple went by in less than five. 

As soon as you hit the edge of town, you're greeted by a short but unbelievably steep hill. I measured this online and no joke, parts of it were 26% grade. Overall, this less than 0.1 mile section averaged 16%! I was out of the saddle swinging my bike from side to side doing my best just to keep moving forward and not fall over. It was that hard. Fortunately, after the crest, the downhill side was just a steep and I got a sustained rest.

Then it was back out of town and on the way to the second section of the race. Most of the way back was down and it gave my legs some time to recover, but it was still hard when the occasional climb presented itself. Back at the same aid station we passed earlier, I parted with my arm warmers and enjoyed a PBJ, some trail mix and an orange. I also refilled a water bottle since I had consumed about 1.5 bottles worth at this point. Here's the map of that first section:


Part 2: The Big Rollers on CR 11

We left the aid station and started rolling down toward what would become High Park Road/Teller County Road 11. The first section was fairly easy with a couple of small hills but a lot of easy downhill coasting which I managed in the middle ring of my road bike (tri bikes are definitely not advisable for this ride).

A t-intersection saw us moving to the left/south and southwest. The road here was mostly chip-seal which while not ideal, proved not to be too rough either. It was mostly uninterrupted by crack seals. Around five miles after the aid station, I encountered what I think was one of the toughest hills on the ride. It was one of only a handful of times I found myself out of my seat. I kept riding and riding hoping to crest it and even though the distance was only about a half mile, I was incredibly spent by the time I hit the top and then started cruising down hill again. It took several minutes to recover from that one.

Roughly 12 miles in, we hit a rest stop which my brother wisely suggested we use. He wanted to part with some of his warm clothing and he also noted that some really big climbs lay ahead. We spent a bit longer here which turned out to be wise. I had some more PB sandwich and oranges and again topped off my water. I was drinking to thirst and consuming a quite a bit, but the only time I actually had to stop and use the porta-potty was back in Victor.

We climbed out of the rest stop and the rest of the way on this section was one really big hill followed by another big down hill, a relatively flat section and then the same thing all over again. I don't know how many times we did this, but it felt like a lot. 

Here's the view near the crest of one of those hills.


You can see that there were some high clouds and the sun was out but filtered which mean that even though we had probably pushed into the low 70* range, heat was really not a factor. There had been a few head and cross-winds, but I hardly noticed. Another factor was that some hills were so steep, we were often in the lee of the wind!

The last section of this part of the ride was a fairly sustained downhill where I was cruising around the 30 mph range and resting my legs. A good thing, too. It was about to get rough. 

The section 2 map:



Part 3: The Long Hard Slog up Highway 9

As soon as you make the right turn from County Road 11 onto Colorado Highway 9, you see a sign indicating the town of Guffey is 14 miles away. Normally, 14 miles does not sound like all that much on a bike. However, I had done some fairly extensive map-study of the course and I knew that it also meant a lot of climbing. It totaled about 1480 of net gain which is as much as your find in some half iron man bike sections.

There was an aid station about two miles up the highway and it was preceded by a fairly flat section. I again refilled my water and had a couple of orange wedges. I also consumed some of my own nutrition in the from of a Honey Stinger waffle and it was pretty good.

Then it was time to start climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more. About 10 miles in, after a very long and sustained climb, we hit the first of two steep downhills where you could rack up more miles quickly. Of course, this also meant that you had to climb again immediately afterward.



After one last enjoyable downhill, it was time to climb a couple of miles into the tiny little town of Guffey. This would be the last rest stop before the meanest hill on the whole ride. I was very tired and sore at this point and upon resting a couple of times, I actually felt light headed for some reason. I had some pretzels, a PB sandwich, plenty of water and more oranges and even enjoyed a few minutes in a camp chair. Then it was time to go face the mountain. No, not this guy:



That would have been preferable.

Here's the Part 3 map:



Part 4: Hell Hill

Leaving Guffey, we went by a group of small cabins. They looked to small for a person and too big to be dog houses. There was a corrugated metal sign stating "No Trespass" without the "ing." In truth, they looked like the log cabin version of a crypt. Creepy. There's is something about small, high altitude towns that brings out the crazy hill billy in people. Back water swamps in Louisiana have nothing on us!

Putting that aside, it was time to face the big hill. The hill truly starts about a half mile after the aid station. It's just under 1.7 miles long and the average grade is 7.5%, but there are long sections of 9% and 10%. As I approached the first of these, I passed a guy walking his tri bike. I saw another guy ahead who had been walking but re-mounted and continued on before I caught him.

This is a case where the most you can do is just concentrate on going one more foot forward. I tried not to look up too often and just mashed my pedals in my lowest gear. Again, I had familiarized myself with the map and I knew the last and worst section was a question-mark like curve. Once the curve was done, the hill would be crested and I would have it topped. 

Once done, I won't say that it was easy. It was incredibly hard, but I had done some much climbing, there was a sense, of yeah, I've been doing this all day, so what? Nevertheless, I was glad to be done and on my way down for a long section.

Part 5: Finishing Up

For the next several miles, it was just down down down. Nothing especially steep, but the kind of section where you can stay at or near 20 mph with minimal pedaling. I did make a short stop at an aid station to top off my water and eat a couple more cookies which were quite good. Then it was back to Teller County Road 11, our big loop complete. The remainder would be a couple of hills that probably felt steeper than they really were due to fatigue and a lot of down hill.

Once we got back to Teller County Road 1, the same road on which we started, I just had to keep pedaling and get done as soon as I could. I wanted off that bike something terrible and focused on making as good of time as I could. There were a couple of short but steep hills in my way,and I keep watching the tenth of miles tick off. Soon, I could see the town of Florrisant and shortly thereafter, I was riding up to the Grange hall, happy to be done. Oh was I happy!

Part 6: Post Race

I was really wiped out for about 10 minutes after the race. I sat at a picnic table outside the Grange Hall, ate a brat, drank a sprite and finished off another water bottle. It took me a few minutes to get my bike, load it and then head down the hill. I had a clean t-shirt in the car, but I could muster the energy to change.

On the way down, my brother and I stopped at the Paradox Brewery in Woodland Park for a couple of bottles to go. I had my first pee since that morning in Victor despite consuming around 168 oz of water during the day. It just goes to show, it's no just the perspiration but the respiration that dries you out, especially in the high mountains.

There's a lot more I could say, but this has turned into a monster of a post that's taken around 90 minutes to write and illustrate. Suffice it to say that this was a well-organized, well-supported event that was challenging as it was rewarding. I'm pleased with my ability to have handled the hills. I also think this is fairly substantial proof that my coaches training philosophy of intensity over volume is a correct one. I don't know that I had very many more miles in me that day, but I accomplished the task without ever being concerned about my ability to finish.

Of all times, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Race Report: 2014 BolderBoulder

There are times to go hard and chase after your PR like my dog chasing a rabbit in the back yard. Then there are times to be a good husband and put someone else’s goals ahead of your own. Yesterday’s race was a case of the latter.

Some months ago after perhaps one too many glasses of wine, my wife floated the idea of running this year’s race. It was really a question of, do you think I can do it. With the exception of people with serious health concerns (none of which she has) I think anyone can complete the race. Obviously my answer was an enthusiastic yes.

While she came to regret that question at times, between me, her sister and her trainer, she was not given the opportunity to back out. We badgered her and pestered her until she gave in, registered and trained.


Hence, yesterday morning at a time much later than usual, we found ourselves at the start line, ready to go.





One thing I noticed, especially as we moved past the two mile mark, was how much more there was to see at a slower speed. Residents out on their lawns or driveways were more than just blurs. Parks and open spaces that I had never been aware of before were suddenly apparent. It was a unique view.

Tisha, my wife, had been doing some good training runs, but the initial stages of the race proved to kind of hard for her. First off, the day was warmer than any of us expected. According to Garmin Connect, our start time temperature was 63*. However, humidity at 52% and no real breeze to speak of, it felt warmer. Of course, I’m sure we also went up from there. As a result, she found herself much warmer and dehydrated than on the training runs. Making matters worse, the first aid station did not have enough cups for all of the runners going by and we actually had to wait in line for water.

We ran flat and downhill sections and took adequate walk breaks in between and she continued to push on, even though it was getting to be more and more difficult.

Before too long, however, we were headed up Folsom Street and toward the stadium. Soon it was entry. Given the slower pace, I was able to shoot the following video as we entered. It’s not the greatest quality, but I think it conveys what finishing this race looks and sounds like:


video


And here’s a shot taken by our friend who had already finished.




 With the fun of Memorial Day now behind us, it’s back to the hard training for me. My coach gave me a bit of a break last week with travel and race recovery, but now it’s back to some pretty hard and long training. There’s much preparation still needed for the Mountain Top Experience Ride which is just 3 ½ weeks away!

More updates to come.

Thanks for reading!