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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Setting 2016 Baselines


 

My run regression test yesterday completed the first round of testing in this training season. I say first round because my coach typically does this all again in the spring. In fact, I normally would have wrapped this up a few days ago but a healthy layer of snow on the running track forced me to push this last one back a few days. Now that the initial round is complete, here’s where I stand.

In the Water

We did two tests during the first week of assessment. First was a variation on the test I’ve done three years now. Previously, this consisted of a long warm-up, a 200 yard all-out effort, a minute’s recovery and then 800 at max effort. This year’s version was a little different.

Rather than warm up for 1500 yards, I was instructed to do 300 easy just to loosen up and then do a series of 4 100’s at max effort resting 30 seconds between. This is in line with my coach’s philosophy of intensity over duration.

With that complete, I took my one minute rest and then swam for 50 yards as fast as I could. That time turned out to be a little over 39 seconds (39.13). This was followed by another full minute and then I was off to swim 100, also at max effort. This I did in 1:27.94 and was pretty tired afterward. Fortunately, the next rest was 90 seconds allowing my heart rate and breathing to return to something more like normal.

The last part of the test is 800 at the best possible effort that can be sustained for that distance. Last spring, I managed that in 13:09but I knew that I would be slower with less total swimming under my belt. In fact, I was not expecting to do especially well at this one. I was pleased when my time turned out to be 13:57.71 though I was really tired at this point. The session finished with a really long 42 minutes at easy pace to finish out at a little under one hour and fifteen minutes.

Several days later, it was time for the swim regression test. This began with the same warmup as the longer test which had me a little tired but mostly just warmed up and ready to go. Then it was a 200 yard swim as fast as possible for that distance which for me turned out to be 3:10.74. This was followed by a long 2 minute rest. Then it was on to a 400 yard swim which may be just about the hardest there is to swim at max effort. It’s too long to be over quickly but not short enough where you feel like you can slacken your pace a little. Four hundred yards and 6:36.76 later, that proved to be true!

Results are in from these tests and it says my max pace for 100 yards is around 1:26.6 and my regression rate is 6.74% which is an improvement from the last time I tested, but I am also a little slower overall. I take all of this with a grain of salt too. The forecasted finish for an Ironman would be 1:28:52 but I swam faster than that without a wetsuit last year. I might be slower this year, but not by much.

On the Bike

I suppose there are endurance athletes out there that eat pain like candy and don’t think that the FTP test is so bad. To me, it’s positively the hardest of all the assessments. I think there is something inherent on the trainer that makes it feel worse than riding outside but I can’t really say what that is. Suffice it to say that this year’s first FTP test was just as painful and miserable as any other.

Because of the prolonged period at a high wattage, there’s a long warm-up of 30 minutes. This is then followed by the 30 minute test period itself which is broken down into a 10 minute segment followed by a 20 minute segment. I’ve never been clear on the reason for the separation but it really doesn’t matter. There is no break between the sets.

During this 30 minute time frame, the idea is to find a power output you can maintain for the entire set. Obviously, the higher the power during this time frame, the higher the FTP. I’ve been actively training on the bike since the beginning of October and went into this feeling pretty confident that I could beat the threshold I set last spring. With that in mind, I dialed the KICKR up to 235 watts during the first 10 minutes. However, my heartrate was starting to spike toward the end of the set and the thought of maintaining that much power felt overwhelming. I dialed back to 230 watts for the next ten minutes and then to about 225 watts for the remainder. By the time I finished, my cadence was falling into the mid 80 rpm range and my heartrate was near its max. The average power for the entire 30 minute set was 227 watts which more or less ties where I was back in April—roughly 209 Watts. Not as good as I hoped but still much better than this time a year ago.

On Foot

Like swimming, running also comes with two tests, both of which are done on a track. First up was a 4 X 1600 (basically a mile) with 90 seconds between each interval. The recoveries are jogged at very easy pace but I made a point of not walking until after the fourth set was complete. Prior, I did some warm-up exercises consisting of some dynamic stretching techniques and a few stride-outs. Last spring, I pulled a hamstring on a track set and it never really healed for the rest of the season. It’s made me more cautious so I made sure things were truly loosened up and I was warm heading into the repeats. This test comes with a goal of the last mile being no more than 3 percent slower than the first. My splits worked out to 8:08.03, 8:02.78, 8:06.3, and 8:01.85 so it was actually a negative split between first and last. This was definitely slower than last spring’s test, but again, still better than a year ago. In truth, I probably could have gone just a bit faster but it’s hard to tell how fast is too fast to finish all four reps. 

After the snow delay, I managed to get back out onto a mostly melted track last night and complete the 1600/800 regression test. As the name suggests, the test is aimed at how much pace is lost. In this case, how much is lost when the distance is doubled. I went through a similar set of warm-ups making sure that muscles were loose and heartrate was up but not too high before going into the first 800. This was followed by a 5 minute walk. Seriously, the directions on the workout say walk so I did so to bring my heartrate back down. Then it was 1600. Clearly I could not hold the same pace as the shorter distance, but my aim was to try to stay below 3% loss of pace. Mostly, however, I just gave it all I could.

Another five minute walk break was followed by series of 400 and 800 meter runs at moderate to hard effort with jogging recoveries in between. These appear to be just there to ware me out a little before the second set of 800 and 1600. The second set was tougher and slower but I just took solace in the knowledge that once they were done, so was the workout. My 800’s clocked at 3:25.59 and 3:37.25 and the 1600’s at 7:20.28 and 7:21.03. It’s that last set that is providing me with the most encouragement. Losing only a second at the end of fairly exhausting workout seems to bode well for having the kind of long endurance I’ll need in August.  I’m still awaiting my results from my coach but my guess is that my regression rate is around 4.2% which is right where I need it to be.

While this is mostly a recovery week (last night’s test notwithstanding) I am still seeing a tick up in swim volume. I expect to log more than 6500 yards this week. Fortunately, the tests seem to have been a bit of a catalyst and I’m finding the laps are not nearly as overwhelming as they were back in January.

If we follow last year’s schedule, and I think we will, the next round of testing will likely take place in late March and early April. I’ll update progress on testing then.

Thanks for reading.

 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Reworking the Race Schedule

Earlier this month, Racing Underground, the organizers behind the Crescent Moon triathlon posted the following to the event’s webpage:

 

"Arapahoe County is no longer allowing bicycle events to take place on East Quincy, effectively ending the era of triathlons at the Aurora Reservoir. It's a bummer - we have been organizing triathlons at the Aurora Reservoir since the summer of 2,000!

We presented a plan to the reservoir 4 months ago to hold the event entirely within the park, but it was shot down by homeland security regulations in October because it passed too close to the water treatment facility

We immediately submitted plans to bring the race to a new venue, and it looked very promising, however it fell through just this week. Unfortunately, at this late date we will not be able to produce the Crescent Moon Triathlon in 2016. Many of you are already planning your season, and we had set January 1st as the deadline to open registration.

We are already putting together a plan to bring you a bigger and better Crescent Moon Tri in 2017. We will keep you posted!!!"

 

There is also this recent Denver Post article that discusses the decision made by the Arapahoe County commissioners.

This effectively makes Aurora Reservoir a non-venue for triathlons despite having several natural advantages such as a very clean lake and a running trail. As noted in the article, homeland security regulations prohibit having the bike course take place inside the grounds. 

Not said, but certainly inferred by me is the message this sends generally about cyclists on Quincy Road. I’ve done many a training session out there and had always thought of it as a safe place. However, I am very cynical about the way the average driver views a cyclists they encounter. At best, they are totally unaware of them and at worst (too often) they are viewed with hostility. I am not at all persuaded that this latter group will feel dissuaded from acting aggressively toward cyclists given the stance by county leaders. Suffice it to say, I won’t be going near this area out of an abundance of caution.

For me personally, that affects my racing schedule and required that I find a replacement race. Not surprisingly, the group that came through is Without Limits. They’ve expanded what they dub the Colorado Sprint Triathlon to include an Olympic Distance and it’s scheduled for June 4 in Boulder. Unlike Arapahoe County, Boulder County is generally cyclist friendly. There are exceptions of course, but several triathlons are held there every year.

I personally would prefer to mix things up a bit and race in different locations but circumstances have determined that all three of my races will be in Boulder this year. That fact is not so bad. The city and county are geared toward the sport and it is home to several world-class professionals. I would have preferred something that did not involve having to travel so far, but so be it.

With that update, my 2016 schedule now looks like this:

 

June 4 – Colorado Olympic Triathlon

July 10 – Boulder Peak Triathlon 

August 7 – Ironman Boulder

 

It’s not a bad schedule and I like the spacing between events. For now, it’s back to training.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Few Early-Season Ironman Tips

It’s more than a little dubious that a guy who did not finish his only attempt at an Ironman is giving advice but I think I do have a few worthwhile things to say. Since I did not make it to the run last year, I’ll refrain from mentioning anything about that.

Tip#1: Be Prepared for a Non-Wetsuit Swim

This may be less of an issue in colder climes but if you live in a place where the summer time highs regularly break 90* and your swim venue is not replenished by snowmelt, be ready for the wetsuit to be an optional event. That means that you are not considered for purposes of Kona qualification (not an issue for most of us) andyou get to go to the back of the pack. It was warm but not triple digit warm in Boulder last year and despite a fair amount of cloud cover the day before, the reservoir actually warmed up overnight. I was grateful that I had trained hard swimming. Going without the suit was not a big deal.

Tip#2: Ease into your new season, but not too much

Six or seven months may not go by all that quickly in a general sense, but in terms of training, it’s faster than a jet. If you’re not hurting at the high end of your bike and run intervals and if you don’t have moments where your arms feel heavy in the pool, you may need to be doing a little more. I can’t stress enough how happy you’ll be on race day.

Tip#3: Start practicing nutrition now.

It’s not easy to ingest hundreds of calories while biking along, sometimes at high effort. It is, however, absolutely essential. Even with a dedicated nutrition regimen, you’ll still probably be falling behind in terms of calories. Just as you have to train your muscles and your cardiovascular system, you have to train your gut as well.

Tip#4: Don’t buy any claims about fast and flat.

These might actually have some relevance on shorter course events, but even small hills are going to hurt when you’re out there for hours. The last hill of any height or length in Boulder was the one that finally did me in (though it probably was going to happen anyway). It’s far better for your mental state if you go into the race expecting it to be hard work. Not dreading, just expecting. No one (at least no normal person) was ever disappointed that a course turned out to be easier than expected.

Tip#5: Be consistent.

Training Peaks users can appreciate the gratification of green squares on their weekly training plans. Completing what you set out to do (or if coached what was assigned to you) is not only satisfying, it’s also important. One good indicator is the Chronic Training Load (CTL) on Training Peaks. It’s the rolling average of your Training Stress Score (TSS) for the time period you have designate (say 30 days). Essentially, only missing workouts due to uncontrollable events (illness, personal emergencies, etc.) and not because “I was totally fried that day” is my general rule. That’s not to say that I have not completely crapped out on a workout when I was tired—I have. What it means is trying to find a way to push through even if the overall performance on a given day suffers. Making sure you have regular recovery weeks is a key to making sure you stay consistent for the harder time frames.

I plan on offering more of this advice, for whatever it’s worth, as the season progresses and as we get closer to the season, I can also share some of my experiences and lessons learned about race day, particularly pre-race.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Day Run VI -- 2015 Edition

A tradition that began five years ago in Florida continued yesterday in cold but not yet snowy Northern Colorado. Last year my sister-in-law joined me and this year I was joined by my brother. There was nothing heroic on this one, just an easy 30 minutes before breakfast.






I hope you had a great Christmas and I wish everyone the best of luck on the upcoming triathlon season.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

They’re Actually Not Stupid Questions


Did you watch the recent NBC replay of the Ironman World Championships? I did. I had a trainer session that was almost the exact same length of the program and having watched productions from past years, I know it’s always pretty well done.
As I watched it occurred to me that the show would probably prompt some interest in the sport. As was pointed out at one point, football fans don’t get to throw passes at Lambeau Field nor do baseball fans get to pitch at Fenway Park. But on the same course as world class pros, age grouper athletes get to compete at the same time. It is indeed inspiring.
That got me to thinking about my own initial interest in the sport. Though my brother had already started, I still often found myself with questions. There are, of course hundreds or even thousands of questions that could be asked by any aspiring triathlete but I thought I would stick with what I think are the most common. To make it easier, I’ve tried to group them by general subject matter.

Equipment

Can I use my mountain bike?
For your first race, which will likely be a shorter distance, a mountain bike is fine. Should you find you like the sport (and nearly everyone does) you’ll probably want to eventually get a traditional road bike or even a triathlon bike.
Okay, what makes it a “triathlon” bike?
Triathlon bikes are also sometimes referred to as Time Trial (TT) Bikes. They’re built with a little differently from the bikes you might see in the Tour de France. The most distinctive feature on these bikes is “aerobars” in which the rider leans over and rests their elbows and forearms on the front. They’re very cool bike but also very expensive.
Do I need a wetsuit?
Not necessarily. Wetsuits are great for swim events that take place in bodies of water that tend to run cold (especially early in the season in locales that experience cold winters). They also provide buoyancy which tends to make the swimmer a little faster.
Did you say bodies of water? You mean the swims aren’t in a pool?
Some races do make use of a pool for the swim portion, but most take place in a lake, slow river, bay or in some cases, the open ocean.
Are there special shoes?
Most road and triathlon bikes come equipped with pedals to which the shoe locks. It’s not unlike a ski boot to a binding. Your feet stay locked to the pedal until you twist your heel outward at which point they unlike. There a lots of opinions what shoes to wear on the run. Personally, I use my standard running shoes.
What other equipment do I need?
As for what you need, just the means to swim (a suit) bike (a bicycle and helmet) and run (shoes, shorts, shirt). There’s no shortage of companies lining up to sell you all manner of equipment, but much of it is unnecessary. Everyone decides what works best for them personally, but here’s what I would suggest:
·         Swim: a long-sleeved wetsuit, a good set of goggles, a silicon swim cap and a suit designed for athletic swimming rather than hanging out at the beach.
·         Bike: a road bike, a decent helmet, wrap-around sunglasses, a couple of pairs of cycling shorts (they have a padded crotch) and a couple of cycling jerseys. The latter are not strictly necessary but nice to have.
·         Run: good running shoes that have been fit at a local running store. This is important for injury prevention. Also, a couple of pairs of running shorts and tops and socks intended specifically for running.
Many athletes wear triathlon-specific shorts which are basically cycling shorts without the bulky pad in the crotch. These are good for shorter races and workouts.

Training

How long does it take to prepare for a race?
There’s no specific answer for that one since it varies from athlete to athlete based on their own general conditioning and capability. A general rule is that you should plan on at least six weeks and up to several months depending on your conditioning.
How do you even go about getting started?
There are lots of great books and websites on training. A web search of the term “triathlon training plans” will yield more results than you probably want. A few good sources are Beginner Triathlete, Tri-Newbies, or Training Peaks. Additionally, the American national sanctioning body for triathlons is called USA Triathlon (USAT) and they have some resources on their website.
Do you have to have a coach?
I am a coached athlete and very happy with that arrangement. However, I started out on my own and did reasonably well. My decision to hire a coach was fueled by a desire to improve my racing combined with the feeling that I could not do more on my own. Coach’s generally aren’t cheap (though they are also not the most expensive component of the sport) so it’s as much a financial decision as anything. A less expensive alternative is to utilize your local triathlon club (if you have one). They often have some level of coaching and you can always pick up informal advice from fellow-members. 

Racing

I saw the Ironman but that looks like too much for me. Are there shorter distances?
There are. A common entry level race is referred to as a “sprint.” These races don’t have an official distance but normally consist of a swim of no more than 750 meters (a little under half a mile or 32 lengths of a 25 yard pool), a bike of no more than 20 miles (often quite a bit less) and a 5 kilometer/3.1 mile run. Other types include:
·         Olympic/International: Usually a 1500 meter swim (around a mile) a 40K/24.8 mile bike and a 10K/6.2 mile run. This can vary from race to race.
·         Half Iron or “Half”: A 1.2 Mile Swim, a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run
·         Iron or “Full” : A 2.4 Mile Swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run.
The most famous of the last one is the race in Hawaii in October. While the name Ironman is trademarked, the distances are not so other race organizers may not use that term but will still offer a race that has the same distances.  There are no “official” rules for these distances but they tend to be the most common.
So triathlon is swimming, then biking and then running. What happens in between these?
That sequence is generally though not always the case. In between each sport is what we call transition. Between swimming and biking is Transition 1 (called T1) and between biking and running is T2.
Do you have to change clothes in transition?
Longer races (mostly of the long distance 140.6 mile races) have tents that allow for a full change of clothes between races. Shorter races usually involve just adding or removing an item. For example, you might be wearing your tri shorts and jersey under your wetsuit and then remove the wetsuit in T1 followed by putting on cycling shoes, helmet and sunglasses before heading out on the ride. Likewise, you would doff your helmet and cycling shoes in T2 and don your running shoes and perhaps a cap or visor before starting the run.
Does the time in transition count?
Absolutely. A key to a successful race is to get through transitions as quickly as possible. The clock keeps running from the time you start until you cross the finish line.
How do they keep track of everyone’s time through all of this?
These days, the most common means is by a “chip” that you wear just above your ankle on a soft neoprene strap. These are issued by the race organizers usually on the morning of the race though sometimes a day or two before. It stays with you during the entire race. Whenever you step over a timing mat on the ground, it makes a recording of that event and this is used to provide times for each event as well as how long you spend in transitions.
Isn’t that uncomfortable?
Not at all. In truth, I only notice my chip if I’m thinking about it.
How do I know where to go?
A good race will be a combination of good marking and volunteers to point the way. During the swim, buoys are set up on the course and you simply swim from one to the next. Bike and running courses are typically staffed with volunteers telling where to go.

Fear

Someone drowned at our local race a couple of years ago. Is the sport really dangerous?
It would be less than honest to say that the sport is without risk. Swimming in open water and riding a bike on roads you share with cars are inherently risky activities. What’s more, if you have a serious underlying health condition like heart disease, you can also put yourself in mortal peril.
All of that said, with the application of preparation and common sense, you can enjoy the sport and be safe. Many drownings (though not all) are the result of a cardiac arrest that may have been brought on by the stress of swimming in cold water with lots of people splashing around but also due to someone having heart problems that may not have been diagnosed.
Preparation (including getting checked out by your physician) is the best way to mitigate but not eliminate risk factors.
I’ve been told that triathletes are a bunch of self-important douchebags. Is that true?
Triathletes are a group of people and like any group, there are some bad apples. Some would argue that the sport attracts a disproportionate number of unpleasant people. I can’t say but my own experience is that most folks in the sport are not only friendly, but also very welcoming of new-comers.
I suck at swimming. How do I make it through that portion of the race?
While I have no hard data on this, I suspect most people would rate swimming as their weakest discipline. The best advice I have is to train and train. One resource I found very helpful was Swim Smooth. In particular, I liked their Mr. Smooth app. I made a lot of progress just trying to imitate his style.

Conclusion

Books have literally been written about the various questions new triathletes have. My intention is not to write another one here. If you have a question you want answered or if you want more detail on one of the questions addressed in this post, feel free to leave it in the comments sections.
Also feel free to peruse the blog and see about my experiences training and racing. In fact, I’d suggest perusing several blogs.

Thanks for reading and good luck in your training.

Monday, October 26, 2015

My 2016 Race Schedule

So my last post (long ago, I’m aware) was a bit of a spoiler for this post but it’s also not the entire story. Yes, Ironman Boulder 2016 is without question my “A” race and the focus of my attention. However, on the advice of my coach, I’m going to do a couple of other events just to break up the routine and also hopefully sharpen me up for the big event.
With that advice in mind here are my planned events for next year:


                                                                                                                       *



I had to include the asterisk because I’m hearing that the NIMBY’s who live in the area (like all four of them) are complaining about the road closures. I hope that’s not the case but it is possible. Otherwise, I like the timing. With Bolder Sunrise moving to later in June, this is one of the only Olympic Distance races available early on in the summer. The Aurora Reservoir venue is a good one for swimming and running and it’s also close to home which is a major plus.


Just over a month later I’ll be at the site of the Big Race to do one of my favorite races, the Boulder Peak. It’s only four weeks ahead of Ironman but it’s also just an Oly. I’m not certain but this could end up being a train-through race where the specific outcome is not all that important. If nothing else, climbing up Olde Stage Road ought to make the climbing on August 7 seem easy!


August 7
The one race that is circled in red, etched in stone and embossed in my figurative calendar. I’ve already registered for it and gone on at length about how 2016 is going to be the year. It’s still over 9 months away so lots needs to happen between now and then. Fortunately, this year I have a road map.

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hitting the Reset Button






Do you recall this paragraph from my last post?

"Doing Boulder again next year is an option but I expect I'll want to take a year off from grueling IM training and focus on shorter course events.  I might change my mind, but right now, I think 2017 will probably be my year and Boulder will probably be my race."


Well, forget about that because I've had some time to think and decided that 2016 is going to be the year I try again!

Two days after my first DNF was a good time to write a summary since most of the events were still fresh in my mind but definitely not the best time to make predictions about my future. The truth is that the sting of not finishing that race was still pretty fresh.

Being on sabbatical has given me a lot of time to think and I forced myself to think of not only reasons why I should train for and race in an Ironman next year but also to think of reasons why not. 

The "why not" reasons were not bad but also not compelling:

1.     I'm tired and 2015 was a grueling year from a training standpoint. It might do me good both body and soul to have a year off.
2.     There are no assurances that conditions will be any better next year. About two weeks after the race, the Front Range was experiencing close to triple digit heat and that would have made things much more difficult.
3.     Training takes away from other things including time spent with my wife which is a big deal to me. I felt bad when I had to pass on doing something with her because I had hours of training.
4.     Forking over another $700+ is not cheap. It's basically paying $5 a mile to race.

The reasons "why" were compelling:

1.     My wife told me that she had no problem with me doing the race next year rather than in 2017. She said since I'm going to do it sooner rather than later, I might as well get it over with.
2.     Because I didn't do any running on race day, I came out of it with fresh legs and not much need for a recovery (physically anyway).  As a result, I'm heading into the off-season in good shape and that makes a good starting point from which to begin training early next year.
3.     My doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Despite what the EKG in the medical tent said, no readings since (including a recent one in the doctor's office) has shown any indication that I have any cardiological issues. My doctor didn't even want to bother with the classic stress test. He said it would be overkill.
4.     My initial desire not to do the race again was clearly more attributed to the disappointment and frustration at not finishing this year's race. As time passed and I was able to gain a little more perspective, my enthusiasm for doing this has returned.
5.     Having an IM finish be an elusive goal will gnaw at me until I cross the finish line in an IM race. I can endure that for eleven and a half months or for nearly two years. I'm choosing the former.
6.     I got a detailed (albeit expensive) preview of the swim and bike courses. I'm familiar with the particulars of how the race works and I learned what to repeat and what to avoid in the future (for example, nutrition with chocolate in special needs will melt and turn into a gooey mess).

I considered other options such as doing the distance in somebody else's race (such as HITS) or forking over the big-time money to get a foundation slot in one of the later season IM races but neither seemed practical. HITS is a great race, but I'm not sure that the level of support and enthusiasm I experienced in Boulder would be there in places Lake Havasu or Palm Springs. 

As for paying for the foundation spot, I have a couple of problems with that. The first is that it's a lot of money, even with the tax deduction I could claim. Cost is the overwhelming reason. Second, the foundation is not, in my humble opinion, the noblest charity. I'd rather give my money to someone trying to cure a disease or take care of the indigent. 

Finally, racing out of town is just too difficult to manage. I do have a day job and am obliged to spend some time with it. Taking another full week off this year is just really not practical and I'd need at least that long to travel, race and recover.

So what's ahead now that I've made this decision? Several things. 

First, I'm going to continue with some light training just to maintain a reasonable level of conditioning. There will be no hard intervals or hours long sessions. Instead, I'm going to just relax and enjoy the unstructured time.

Second, I will be officially registering within days. Given the high participation rate (something like 2800 registrants in this year's race) I'm not concerned about an imminent sell out, but I do want to get registered before the first price increase on September 4.

Third, I've asked my coach to set up a "Train Your Limiter" plan much as we did last year. I made a lot of improvement on the bike, but I have a lot more to make. Another year of it ought to make me a bit faster. We'll also be doing a running lactate threshold test so I'll have good baselines for both the run and the bike.

Fourth, the 2016 training season is one that I think will be intensely focused. I know what to expect and will be hit the ground running (maybe literally) in January. Having been down this path, it's much easier to connect the dots between training and racing. I think that will help me when I'm out there struggling through a tough workout.


I would not have asked for this scenario but it is what it is. I can't change the past only use it to make the future better. No doubt I'll have some dark moments ahead and times when I wished I had waited or even thrown in the towel on the whole Ironman thing. Deep down, though, I know this is what I want.





Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Falling Short

This is one of the more difficult posts I've had to write.

Anyone who has read this blog in the last couple of weeks is probably aware that August 2 was the Ironman Boulder and my "A" race for the year. Events took place that caused me not to finish which is regrettable but probably unavoidable.

I am fortunate not to be seriously injured (or injured at all for that matter) and alive and well. Given that this is a disappointment, I'm not inclined to dedicate my usual long post to the event. For a good recap, you should read my brother's blog. He had a great day and I'm sure will have a great race. Here's my abbreviated summary:

PRE-RACE

Checking in to get race materials (numbers, stickers, swim cap, etc) was pretty easy and we go that done on Thursday though Friday was an option as well. It was a good opportunity to scout out some of the area and then head back to my home in Parker.

Bike and Run Check-In were on Saturday and we arrived at Boulder Reservoir shortly after 10:00 along with throngs of others. Unlike more traditional races, the bike is checked in at one location and the equipment you need for it is kept in a plastic bag outside a change tent. When that was done, we drove most of the bike course just to get a view of it.

Later in the afternoon we dropped off our run gear bags (containing things like fresh socks, running shoes, etc.) and attended a race briefing which pretty much told us what we already knew.

The balance of the day was spent getting a few snacks for the special needs bags, having dinner with my coach and then getting back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

Race day started for me at 2:30 am. I was up, eating a bagel and cream cheese, drinking a bottle of Odwalla smoothie and gathering my remaining gear to bring to the race. Mostly, that was a morning clothing bag in which I brought my swim gear and would deposit what I wore to the race.

It was still quite dark when we dropped our special needs bags at a park just outside of Boulder High School (the site of T2) and still dark after the shuttle transported us to the reservoir.

I found my bike and managed to get my hands on a working pump so that I could re-inflate tires that I had left low the previous day. This was to prevent the tube from exploding while sitting in the hot sun the previous afternoon. I heard that actually happened to someone else.

The biggest event during the set up was news that the reservoir temperature had been taken at 4:00 that morning and was sitting at 78* F. That mean that if you wore a wetsuit, you would not qualify for any Kona slots and you would be in a wave at the back of everyone else. Kona qualifying really was not on the table for me, but swimming at the back sounded especially unappealing so I opted to do the race without the suit.

SWIM
There's always a lot of waiting, especially when you are the first one on site. That's never fun, but it went by pretty quick and soon I was doffing my covering clothing leaving only my tri shorts on--I put the top in my bike gear bag.

As is becoming the case at many events, the swim start was a self-seeded rolling start. Given that I did not have a wetsuit, I put myself in the in the 1:15 - 1:30 group. This kind of start moves quickly and within 5 minutes of the 6:25am gun, I was in the water splashing and kicking with hundreds of others.

It's no secret that most triathletes are terrible swimmers and they proved that here. While plenty of people passed me, many others were struggling and doing things like breast-stroking and frog-kicking (dangerous) or back-stroking (maybe should have practiced in the open water. Despite this, I was making decent time and I felt great. I could tell I was slower, but then I figured so was everyone else.

After rounding the first buoy (which was utter chaos) the field was heading west. Soon, as I turned my head to the left to breath, I was treated to a spectacular view of the Flatirons as the rising sun was striking them. I've never been in a swim where that was the case. It was really amazing and it was one of the things that helped me just enjoy the day and not worry so much about performance.

Despite being slower, I was exiting the water around 1:23 and I felt good. I walked up the boat ramp and then jogged onto the grass, grabbed my gear bag and entered the change tent. Of course, tents are divided between men and women just as if they were locker rooms.

T1
Unlike any locker room I've been in however, quarters were close. I found an empty folding chair, sat down and proceeded to start pulling on my jersey, socks and bike shoes. I also managed to slather a generous portion of Chamois Budd'r around my crotch and then pull some bike shorts on over my tri shorts. It was kind of slow going but soon enough, I left the tent, dropped my bag (which now contained my googles and swim cap) and ran up to where two volunteers rubbed me down with sunscreen.

I had plenty (maybe too much) water and I made a trip to the port-a-john before grabbing my bike and jogging out of transition. Unlike a short course race, the pace was easy. I carefully mounted the crowded area and was on the bike headed out of the reservoir.

BIKE
I found my rhythm fairly soon and was moving easily along Highway 36 headed north out of town. It's a climb and it's crowded but I felt good. I was being super careful about drafting having seen officials on the backs of motos multiple times already. I made good time to the first down hill as well as to the turn off at Neva Road now heading east.

It was along here that I was really able to open up in the big ring and pick up some speed as the road sloped gently downward. Turning right onto 63rd Street also provided several opportunities to gain a little speed though there were some rollers as well. I was being diligent about nutrition and taking advantage of the water offered at the first aid station.

At Nelson Road, the course goes left and now you climb. It's not especially steep, but it was long and felt harder after the relatively easy first portion. I struggled a little bit up this and was kind of disappointed to only cross the 20 mile marker after over an hour and five minutes had passed. Fortunately, after turning right and now back on Highway 36, things eased up a lot. Hills were shallower and shorter and downhills were plentiful. I spent more time just cruising down and easing my legs so that they would stay as fresh as possible.

Much as I had recalled at the 70.3 event on the same weekend two years prior, the stretch down Highway 66 was flat to down and also a great place to gain a little speed. After turning right again and now heading south on 75th Street, I approached the small town of Hygiene at a good pace. I slowed as I approached some train tracks at the edge of that town. Despite the fact that they were covered with carpet, I still managed to eject a bottle. I shook that off knowing there would be plenty of replacement water soon.

The rest of the turning and twisting through back roads went fine and though I felt some fatigue and a little concern about pace, I decided I was doing pretty well. In short order, it was time for lap two and I did pretty much everything the same with exception of stopping at special needs around mile 60. I scarfed down a KIND bar and chased it with a bunch of water and probably was only stopped for about three or four minutes. The solid nutrition tasted good after so many gels and concentrated Gatorade and it gave me a little boost as I approached Highway 36 for the last time.

Shortly after passing Hygiene again, I started to feel a little tickle in the back of my throat. It was annoying and I did my best to cough and clear it but it persisted in coming back. I just kept moving and hoping it would pass.

As I cleared the final miles of the second lap, the heat had started to come on. I felt it wafting off the asphalt in places. When I did, I splashed a little water on my head front and back which helped some.

As you complete the second loop, you ride past Jay Road about a mile or so to a place where a bike path actually intersects the shoulder of the Highway 119. It's curves left and then passes under the highway eventually putting you back on the opposite side, now headed east away from Boulder toward Longmont.

The heat persisted and so did that scratchy feeling. Sometimes it abated, other times it became very present but seemed to go away for a while after some cold water and also when I was rolling down hill.

Shortly after making a right turn onto Highway 52, the steepest hill on the course awaits you. This is after over 90 miles so legs are not fresh and the heat of the day is really pressing down. I rode steady and in my lowest gear and was feeling okay. It's steep, but I've done steeper and longer. At one point, I thought I rode over a large pebble and heard it pop away under my tire.Unfortunately, I had flatted. I got off the bike and first tried just adding some CO2 but to no avail.

I pulled the bike off the shoulder and got the bike rim off and the tire pulled part way off. Getting the tube off was no trouble. Getting the new one on was a little difficult and I had to sit down so that I could relax a little bit and focus on what I was doing. Finally, the tire seated back on the edge of the rim and the tube was tucked in just as it should be. I used the same CO2 cartridge and filled it back up to very high pressure. I'm not sure that it was the same 105 to 110 PSI that I had at the start of the day, but the tire was hard enough that I could not depress it with my thumb. I waited for a break in the bike traffic (2800 people registered for this one) and then I was back on my way up the rest of the hill.

I was really tired and spent as I crested it and looking back, I think the heat was having an impact. But I felt good as I cruised down the back side of the hill and okay after turning right onto Highway 287. Not long after that, it was time to turn west and climb again now going the other direction (west) on Lookout Road. There was no jumbo hill here, just a series of three short but pretty steep ones. I was hurting a lot at this point and the tickle was back.

There was an aid station offering snow cones (basically just unflavored shaved ice) and I had a little but could not really enjoy it. I also could hear something rubbing every time I pedaled and by the time  I turned left onto 75th Street, it was bad enough to make me stop. Apparently the back break had been knocked out of adjustment after the tire change so I lost a couple of minutes getting that straightened out. I remounted and continued.

The road heads down hill and now the scratch and tickle started to feel more like my throat was closing. I tried to relax and breath easy as I rolled but apparently the lack of oxygen was also making me dizzy. I knew I needed to get of the bike and rest.

As luck would have it, there was an aid station around the corner on Jay Road so I rolled up, got off my bike and sat down on the shoulder. A volunteer put a cold rag on my back and I just stayed there until moving off the shoulder on the grassy weed on the side of the road and laid down. I was feeling pretty lousy at this point and just hoped it would pass after some rest.

I had been in that position for about 5 minutes when an EMT came by and asked how I was doing. I told him about my symptoms and he noted that my jaw was clenching when I took a deep breath. I finally managed to sit up on a camp chair and he moved the tent over to me.

At this point I was thinking maybe I could make it back to T2 and end up walking most of the run. I took some more deep breaths and they hurt and I started coughing. Right around that time, the EMT asked if he could persuade me to go to the medical tent. He said a couple more paramedics were coming by in an ambulance and would check me out.

I think I knew this was coming, but part of me was still clinging to the idea of staying in the race. The more rational part of my mind knew, however, that if riding was hard, how would I handle running? I had to accept that this was not going to happen. I got in the ambulance.

MEDICAL TENT
One of the paramedics in the ambulance lent me his phone and I called my wife to let her know what was up. She and my parents had been tracking me via the Ironman site and saw that I was only 10 minutes behind my brother at the last timing mat but now I was nowhere to be seen. I told her to wait and I'd let her know when I got more information.

The staff at the medical tent were helpful and I saw two other guys so I knew I was not the only one having a bad day. After lying down on a plastic lawn chair, they hooked me up to an IV and to an EKG as well as a pulse oximeter. The EKG machine printed out a chart that was handed to a Physicians Assistant working the tent. I figured it was normal since they always are when I have my annual physical/

Shortly thereafter, however, an MD, an ER doctor who was also the race medical director came and told me about his concerns. The EKG readings along with a family history (my maternal grandfather died of a heart attack when he was in his late forties) gave him pause. He felt that they needed to do some blood testing that could not be done in the tent. He wanted me to be taken to the hospital.

HOSPITAL
Therefore, about 15 minutes later I was loaded into a transport ambulance (a different one) and taken to the Boulder Community Hospital. It was here that blood was taken as well as a chest x-ray. I was pretty much on an IV the whole time and in the ER treatment room, I was also given an O2 tube for my nostrils.

Keep in mind through all of this, I felt fine. The problems on the bike were behind me though my throat still hurt when I took deep breaths. Nevertheless, healthcare staff are trained to be cautious and they were.

 The initial blood work looked good with the only notable finding was dehydration which was to be expected. The more complex testing would take longer. In the interim, my wife and father-in-law who had been spectating arrived and not long after my parents. I felt a little ridiculous having all these people there because again, I felt fine.

The chest x-ray was normal but the blood test indicated that I had slightly elevated levels of troponin which was not unusual in athletes during exercise but was still cause for concern because it can also be a marker for serious heart issues, in other words, a heart attack.

I knew I had not suffered a heart attack. I had no chest pain nor any of the other classic symptoms. However, the ER doctor at the hospital wanted to have the test run again. If it was trending down, great, I would be sent home. If not, they would want to keep me overnight.

I eventually persuaded my parents to leave and go watch my brother finish. He was having an phenomenal race. I also got my wife and father-in-law to go out to the course and pick up my bike and gear bags.

The hospital admitted me to a short-term stay ward where short-term means hours. I was introduced to a couple of nurses who would attend to me and then I just had to wait until it was time for the second blood test.

Eventually that was done and there were no longer any troponin levels in my blood. I was able to return to my hotel.

AFTERMATH
I would be a liar if I said I have not experienced some pretty profound feelings of disappointment. I've trained really hard all year and not finishing the race--not even starting the run, is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

Put into perspective, however, this is not a really big deal. People out there are dealing with diagnoses of terminal illnesses, the death of friends and family and a whole host of real problems that will trouble them for years. I'll get over this in a couple of weeks.



For now, I'm going to ease back into some off-season training. My legs are still pretty fresh and I think I was doing pretty well until I had to drop out due to the throat issue. Had that not manifested itself, I think it would have been a very satisfying day.

As for what actually happened, that was and probably always will be a mystery. I have a couple of theories. One is that the high heat caused a spike in ozone levels. It would explain the acute but localized irritation. Another thought is that pollens (which are high right now) affected more than normal. I don't know what grows in greater Boulder that does not also exist in Parker, but who's to say? The most important thing is that the problem does not present again. I'll know in a couple of days when I go for a run.

The obvious question now is will I try again? Barring any actual underlying health issues, absolutely. No, I'm not going to try and find a late season race. That feels too reactive and I want to proactive about racing again.

Doing Boulder again next year is an option but I expect I'll want to take a year off from grueling IM training and focus on shorter course events.  I might change my mind, but right now, I think 2017 will probably be my year and Boulder will probably be my race.

Putting an IM race on the back-burner is not easy. A big part of me wants to try again as soon as possible, but I have to be calm, logical and unemotional about this decision. Right now is certainly not the time to make it.

Now my short post has been quite long. Apparently I had more to say than I realized but putting it all down has been cathartic. I'll have more in time but for now, thanks for reading!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ironman Boulder Race Plan

Preface

When I was a junior in high school, my last chance to letter for the season came at the conference meet. I had to do the 5k course in 18:30 or better. A week previously, I had done an easier course in 18:45. During the intervening week I spent the time psyching myself up and freaking out. When I stood at the line to begin this last race, I was so nervous I nearly threw up.

At 17 I was already a bundle of nerves, hormones and god-only-knows what else and the added adrenaline of performing in this race pretty much overwhelmed me. The short version of what happened is that I went out to hard and crashed in the last half of the race. I didn’t earn a letter until the following spring in track.
With what might be the biggest race since that day back in 1986, I’m trying not to repeat my mistake. I’m nervous and anxious alright, but not overwhelmed.

Pre-Race

In what I’m sure they believe to be a bit of marketing cleverness, Ironman requires packet pick-up two days before the event so Friday for the Sunday race. Bike check-in is Saturday but what it all means is two trips to Boulder. This might not be a big deal if you were travelling from out of state to the race and had a hotel booked for the weekend, but for a local like me, it’s a pain in the ass. Nevertheless, Friday I shall be picking up the material and then heading up to my parents’ home in northern Colorado (this saves me a night in the hotel). It’s also the last night to get a really good night’s sleep. I’m off from work for the next five weeks so I’m hoping it will be the culmination of a week’s worth of good sleep.

Saturday is when things really start happening. I’m getting my hair cut short (like really short) to stay cool and I have an easy 30 minute run that is standard fare from my coach on the day before a race. Then it’s off to Boulder to check in the bike, drive the bike course, and then check into the hotel and take it easy. Some of this time will obviously be spent packing the various bags for T1, T2 and special needs. I’ll be in bed as early as possible but I doubt it will be a full night’s sleep.

On race morning, wake-up time is between 2:30 and 3:00 when I’ll start by eating my pre-race meal of a bagel and cream cheese, an Odwalla super foods drink and probably a cup of coffee.

The swim start is accessible only via shuttles so I hope to be on one of the first around 4:30. Once at the reservoir, I’ll be inflating my tires to full pressure, making sure the Garmin is dialed in and all of my things are appropriately placed for T1. Around 6:00 I’ll eat a gel to top off my energy levels. 

I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a few minutes of practice swimming in. It’s not an especially big deal to do so, but getting the heart rate up prior to the start would be helpful.

The Swim

The swim start is a rolling one where athletes “Self-seed” into a pace group. While my training and open water experience suggests I can finish the distance in about 1:15, I’ll follow my coach’s advice and aim for 1:10. Like any start, it’s going to be a washing machine with muddy water and lots of group-grope. I’ve dealt with this on multiple occasions and I trust my experience to keep me calm and focused.

The key to a good swim is to find a rhythm and hold it. I’ve had success doing that in the open water and that’s the plan here. No worry about how far I’ve gone or how much left, just how long until the next buoy. This idea of breaking things down into bite-sized chunks is a theme that will run through the whole strategy.

Other than getting a rhythm and swimming as I have throughout my training, there really is no other strategy. If I feel my arms getting a little tired or my lungs a little winded, I’ll ease back. But this is the easiest part of the race for me.

Goal Time: 1:15:00

The Bike

Being the longest portion of the day affords the opportunity for more things to go wrong. Key among these is nutrition which has certainly had a negative impact on past performances. However, I’ve also had some successes here so I’m going to be focused on that.

Dave Scott recently tweeted out a recommendation to stand for the first short bit of the bike and that makes some sense to me; get things loosened out and build some brief momentum right off the line. My coach also recommends taking the first loop of the course easier and getting my legs established. That will be especially important as the first five miles out of the reservoir are a climb. No doubt I’ll see several people roaring past me but they are either truly faster or foolish. There ought to be lots of free speed heading down the hill after mile five until the first really big hill at mile 15. My approach to this hill (both times I face it) will be to gear down and spin as much as possible. A lot of talk out there suggests that 70% of FTP is a good target for this distance so I’ll look to keep my 10 second average power around 150 watts. No doubt that will spike up and down some but it gives me a reliable guidepost. If I drop below, I can always shift up.

Miles 20 to 40 are a net drop though not 100% free speed. There are sections (such as along the Diagonal Highway) where you are climbing. Of course, you’re right back to climbing again as you start loop two and climb out of the reservoir area again. 

After completing the two loops, things are going to get, uh, interesting.

Shutting down Diagonal Highway is not really a viable option for the race directors. It’s just too busy and is a major access point into Boulder from most of northern Colorado. What they do have is a bike path that is accessible from the highway and allows us to ride under it so that we can head back northbound. This is all along the highway which is no stranger to bikers of all calibers (including many professionals). After heading back out, there’s the turn east onto Highway 52.

As a more or less native son of northern Colorado and an alumnus of the University of Colorado, this was often my route between home and college. I’ve driven it more times than I can count. I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden it. For the motorist headed west into town, you’re greeted with a spectacular vista of the Boulder Valley that’s rivaled only by a similar view from Highway 36 which is the route to Denver. As a cyclist, it means you’ve got a pretty tough hill to climb and this is some 90 miles into the ride. 

What it is not, however, is Olde Stage Road west of town. It’s also not any of the Three Sisters outside of Steamboat Springs. It is a hill that Map My Ride rates as a Class 5 hill which is the easiest of their rated hills. According to their software, this is 1.68 miles at an average grade of 2.5%. The steepest part is more like 4% and it’s near the top.

One of the things we practiced on the Three Sisters ride at triathlon camp was “pushing over the top” which is to day keeping the effort going fully until gravity starts to pull you forward rather than backward. That will be the strategy here because after cresting it, there’s a long sustained drop until turning around to head back west at which point you climb back up that same hill, just on a different rode. In both cases, I’m going to avoid burning too many matches and push over. The balance of the ride will be easy spinning and some out of the saddle to stretch the legs as much as possible.

I’m planning on stuffing my bento box with gels and carry one (possibly two) bottles of concentrated Gatorade Endurance Formula (the same stuff I’ve been training with and what’s offered on the course) and taking in around 200 calories an hour. There are probably those who would recommend more, but I don’t think my gut will take more than that.

Goal Time: 6:30:00 – 6:45:00

The Run

If I had to guess, I would say that most folks will say I’m going off any script of accepted practices for the run but let’s be honest: if things are going to go to shit, they will on the run. This is my plan but I’ll be more than happy to trash it depending on circumstances. 

Since even with some on-the-bike stretching, I’ll likely be a bit stiff in the hip flexors, it makes sense to jog easy. I’m going to do that for five minutes and if I feel tired, hot or otherwise struggling, I’m going to give myself a five minute walk off the bat. 

The next phase may be the most challenging. I’ve had some luck with run/walk strategies in training so I’m going to try to do four intervals of 10 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking. That covers 44 minutes and depending on pacing around four miles. If you add in the first ten minutes it’s closer to five miles.

This first set will be followed by another five minute walk break. I’m happy to cut those short if I feel great, but the realistic view is that I’ll want the rest.

Overall, this running plan recognizes that things are going to get harder and harder as the distance progresses. I’ve had optimistic plans that figured I could power through and they have not come to fruition. I’ve been running a ton lately (nearly 40 miles last week) and I think I have a lot of endurance, but this is going to be several hours in on what could very easily be a hot day.

With all of that in mind, the next four intervals will be 9 minutes of running and 2 minutes of walking followed by—you guessed it—a five minute walk break. You may see where this is going. By the end, I expect to be walking about as much as I’m running which is at five minutes of either.

Now if I feel better, especially after ten miles or so, I can always take shorter breaks or run for longer periods of time. In truth, I’ve been on some long training runs and felt okay near the end. I may find I can zone out and just keep moving. That would be nice. In fact, that would be ideal. Planning for the ideal is folly, however, so I’m going to plan based on past experiences. More than anything, I’m just going to keep moving forward. In addition to whatever scheduled walks I have, if they don’t coincide with aid stations, I’ll still walk through those to make sure I get the water and nutrition I need. But I won’t stop moving forward, period.

Goal Time: 5:25:00 – 5:45:00

Transitions

Last year it was a point of pride to get through transition with speed. I’m less concerned about that for this race but there are a couple of time savers. I’ll be swimming with my kit under my wetsuit. I initially thought about wearing trunks and then putting on the kit in the change tent, but this will be faster. I’ll pull a pair of bike shorts on overthe kit. I did a couple of test rides this way and it works well. Probably the only change tent thing will be applying some Chamois butter which will not take long. When I get to T2, I’ll just have to slide the bike shorts off, put on the shoes (which have lock-laces) and be on my way. I’m giving myself about 10 minutes per transition but as far as actual idle time, I should need much less.

Overall Race Goal: 13:30:00 – 14:00:00

In truth, just finishing this is going to be fine by me. I’ve trained long and hard so obviously doing well matters, but if I have a lousy race but still cross the finish line before midnight then I define that as a success.

It’s unlikely I’ll post again before the race. It’s time to go see what happens. Writing this has been somewhat cathartic for me so if you’ve read it all, thanks!