Monday, August 19, 2013

Rethinking in the Wake of a Poor Performance

Results from the Rattlesnake triathlon were a little late in posting and, truth be told, I was not terribly enthusiastic to see them. But I always do look at race results in detail so I finally got around to it on Monday morning.

What I saw did not please me.

Overall, I finished more ore less in the middle of the pack. In my age group, however, I finished fourth to last and I had the third slowest run time. There are many factors to explain it, but ultimately, I can’t blame anyone or anything but myself.

It’s human nature to wallow in self-pity at times like this. I’d be a liar if I said I had not started to go there. The frustration is particularly strong when I look back to last year when I had one of my best performances ever at a race. Given the fact that I’m in my forties, it’s not entirely unexpected that my performance year over year will decline. However I don’t believe the decline should be quite so dramatic.

I know that self-pity and despair generally don’t accomplish much of anything so after a few minutes down that road, I started thinking a bit more clearly, a bit more logically. What is done is done and the question is now about what I’m going to do for the remainder of the season. In fact, that there are two more races in the next 10 weeks is something of a silver lining. It gives me time to make some changes and hopefully improvements.


I tipped the scale Monday morning at 195.2 pounds which is almost as high as I’ve been in the last 12 months. It’s hard to say how much of a factor, but there are 10 to 11 pounds I’ve been dragging along that weren’t there a year ago.

With the TriRock San Diego about five weeks away, I’ve resolved to lose 5 pounds (1 a week) between now and then and to keep it off. Then, I plan to lose another 5 between that race and Ironman 70.3 Austin.

The hardest part is going to be curtailing my incoming calories. There’s no question that I like to eat. A lot. Like so much of my training, this is going to be a test of will as much as test of my body. Truly, the challenge will be keeping the weight off once I’ve reached the target.

Updated Training Plan

“No plan survives contact with the enemy”
            --Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

I have probably used that quote somewhere before so my apology for the repetition, but it’s quite valid to my current circumstances.

My current plan needs some reworking and 10 weeks is a good amount of time to see a successful implementation. Consistent with my goal to lose some weight will be more strength work—something I have lacked all summer. Additional running will also be part of the plan. At this stage, I’m not sure about doing intervals but I may employ fartlek training to help drive up my stamina level.

Injury Prevention

Since recovering from my soleus muscle injury earlier this year, I’ve stayed relatively healthy. The last time I experienced any real pain running was in Sweden back in early June. I feel fairly strong from that perspective, but also a little cautious. The worst thing would be to re-injure my right leg or develop a new injury. The first sign of trouble will have me stopping whatever I’m doing and taking some time to recover. Better yet will be to find the right effort level to avoid problems in the first place.

Looking back on this experience I think I may have subconsciously taken the wrong lesson from my marathon training. When I was preparing for that, I had no choice but to employ a modified strategy. It was a pleasant surprise that I ended up hitting a PR. Now that I’m healthy again, it’s time to push a little harder and, hopefully, see some better results.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Rattlesnake

Sometimes the best thing that can be said about a race is "meh." This is one of those times. Not to fault the race itself or its organizers. I just did not have particularly good day. I'm not overly disappointed, but not really thrilled either.

The day started like any other race day which in August means pre-dawn. This was the view I had walking from my car to transition:

That faint pink dot in the middle of the screen is actually the sun. Apparently forest fires in Idaho are sending smoke down into Colorado, hence the hazy air. However, it did not really impact my performance.

Parking was closer this year and it made it pretty easy to set everything up. I had lots of time to prep my area, pick up my packet and walk the distances between the entrances and my spot. No losing my bike at this race!

As I have espoused before, I believe in minimalist transition areas. This was mine:

Like my last race, I had no one on either side of me, but if I did, they would have had plenty of space to rack and set up.

The swim area at Aurora Reservoir is pretty small so I just did a couple of lengths up and down before deciding I was warmed up enough. Despite a possible e coli scare, the water was crystal clear and a bit on the chilly side, though not unpleasant.

The Swim

For reasons I still don't fathom, this is a multi-loop course. I realize that the same buoys are used the following day for the Sprint event, but is it really hard to re-position them from one day to the next? Especially in an age of nearly ubiquitous GPS resources?

Because of this, the start is time trial style which I actually think more races of this size should do. It thins out the pack at the start and makes the washing machine effect a little less intense.

Despite being number 269, I found myself in the starters box in short order and then into the water. The guy in front of me was apparently unaware that this was a timed race and strolled out into the water with no particular sense of urgency. I managed to get around him and was soon moving easily through the water.

The route takes you out to a buoy about 0.2 mile from the shore. Then you make a 180* turn and head right back to the start area, run around a pylon of sorts and then back out. When reaching that far buoy a second time, you stay a bit more to your left and swim to the other end of the beach.

Throughout the entire swim, even after running around the pylon, I still felt pretty good. I was not pushing really hard, but I felt alright and seemed to pass more than I was passed.

After exiting, I found my way to the wetsuit strippers, one of whom was nice enough to hold my Garmin, swim cap and goggles after they pulled off the suit. It is a very fast way to get out of it and I was soon up the hill and back into transition.

The Bike

Putting my helmet on before heading out, it felt a little snug, but I figured it would work for me. I made my way out and was soon riding down a nice downhill toward the first turn at the far end of the dam that makes the northern shore of the lake. As I made that turn, I noticed that the seat mounted water bottle rack had come loose and then it came off altogether. I had to dismount and leave it with the volunteer who was working that station. I only lost a minute or so, but it's not exactly how I wanted things to go.

Once you leave the reservoir grounds it's an east bound ride on Quincy Avenue. It's been the beneficiary of a recent shoulder-widening project and so even thought the route was open to traffic, it still felt pretty safe. The drivers who were out were courteous and slowed down as needed. That's much appreciated, especially since, unlike last year, I did not see a police presence.

The lost time for the water bottle rack not withstanding, I felt pretty good about the bike. I spun up the big hills and got into the big ring to pick up extra speed going down. I was able to grab a water bottle and refill the aero bottle with ease and the return trip went by quickly. 

There is something of a climb going back up to the reservoir and this was complemented with a bit of a breeze, but I ground it out okay. I was more or less by myself as I went back into transition which is a far cry from the last two races I've done.

The Run

Being such a small transition area makes for a really easy T2. I was in and out in 1:07 which is about as fast as I ever am. Running is on a lake shore bike path with a simple out and back. It's never really hilly, but it's never really flat either.

Like so many other runs, the first half went pretty well. I got out to the half way point in a little under 31 minutes and generally felt pretty good though my heart rate was at 159 at that point so I was in my top zone.

By mile four I was hurting but I pushed on until reaching the bottom of the only real hill on the course. I tried to keep up a decent walking speed while still allowing my heart rate to come back down. I ended up walking most of the next mile and then just sort of walk-ran the rest of the way. Truth be told, I felt pretty lousy and the culprit was the heat.

According to Garmin connect, the temperature was 79* when I started. Keep in mind, that's a shade temp and there was basically no shade on this course. The breeze that had been blowing on the way out seemed to have stopped as I was on my way back in. I'm guessing it was in the high 80* range for those last two miles. In the end, it was the ugliest run time I've done in an Olympic.

The Race Review

I really like this race and the people who put it on so I don't have many criticisms, but I do have a few:

Next Time

Swim Course: I really don't know why the multiple loop thing is necessary. For one thing, as you enter the water, you have to be cautious of the people who are running back in to do their second loop. For another, it just feels like someone is taking a short cut not to map out a full 1500 meters. Another factor, the course was significantly short. 1500 meters should work out to about 0.93 mile. This year it was 0.77. This all calls for an overhaul of the swim. 

Bike Course: The course itself is fine. The rolling hills make for a good challenge and really do separate those who have trained from those who have not. I also can imagine that closing the road is an option that is too expensive to contemplate. But how about hiring an off-duty cop or two to provide a little more support? It's great that there were no jerks out on the rode, but that's more luck than good planning.

The Good

Cost: Races just keep getting more expensive so it's nice to see an independent like this one doing so well and still charging a reasonable fee. Clearly a lot of first timers come out and I'm sure the lower entry fee factors into their decision.

Venue: The Reservoir is clean and cool making for ideal swimming conditions. The bike course is challenging but not overly so and the same can be said for the run course. They also make a point of renting both picnic shelters providing plenty of space for post race enjoyment.

Transition: I've harped on others about their racks so I have to give this race credit for theirs. Individual racks with one spot per wheel. None of this try and force your bike into an empty spot and hope you don't start a chain reaction of bikes tipping over. Are you paying attention Boulder Tri Series?

Intangibles: A combination of great volunteers, a well organized race-day plan, a professional announcer who calls  your name as you finish all make you want to come back in future years. I expect I'll be back as well.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Ironman 70.3 Boulder

I didn't have nearly the level of anticipation leading up to this year's 70.3 race compared to last year. That's okay. There can only be one first time. In truth, it felt better to have at least some idea of what to expect.

While the anticipation may have been lower, my concern for how this event would go was high. No, it would not be out on the hot plains of eastern Colorado, but it would still be in some potentially difficult conditions and certainly with a much bigger field.

Given the rush that came with setting up my transition at the Boulder Peak, three weeks ago, I wanted to be in Boulder on race morning. There was no race day pick up for this one so I had to be there on Saturday anyway. My wife and I decided to spend Saturday night nearby at the Harvest House (a Boulder institution). It's only about 15 minutes away from the venue and comfortable.

I was pleased to learn at the pre-race meeting that everyone would be assigned a spot in the transition area. They were still using those terrible saw-horse type racks, but at least each was clearly marked with the participant's bib number. Here's mine:

And here's the vast transition area on Saturday, less than 24 hours before the fun began:

Once all was set, we grabbed some lunch and then checked into our hotel and rested until dinner time at another Boulder institution, Pasta Jay's. It's also famous for its long waits and, indeed, we waited about an hour to get a table. But no problem. I noticed several other athletes there for dinner. You could identify them by the blue wristband that everyone wears to gain access to transition.

As is often the case before a big event, sleep came fitfully. I did probably manage something between 6 and seven hours before the 4:30 alarm hit me. Then it was time to get a little breakfast which for me consisted of two bananas and a bottle of frappuccino.

Despite being nearby, it still took time to get to the Boulder Reservoir. That's because there were 2000 registrants and around 1700 or so actual participants and they all pretty much converge at the same time. It took me the better part of 30 minutes to drive the last mile. When I finally got near the reservoir, I was greeted with this view:

No one ever said that Colorado isn't pretty.

Despite the long line of cars in front of me, I was able to park fairly close to transition and was soon marked and setting up. Being the thoughtful competitor that I am, I set up a small area. It turned out I could have probably pitched a pup-tent, but more on that later.

Shortly before unpacking, I shot this one on Instagram:

It's a little blurry. That's probably because I was a bundle of nervous energy. No, this was not my first rodeo, but I still felt anxious and really wanted to just get out there and see if I had the chops to do this race or not.

I set everything up and then it was time to don the wetsuit and do a couple of warm up laps.

Boulder Reservoir may have the best set up of any swim venue for this. Since it's a functioning park most of the time, there are not only boat facilities, but also beach facilities including a roped off swim area that is ideal for racers wanting to get in a warm up before the gun. I did a couple of really slow laps around this area and felt good. It's a nice opportunity, also, to see what the water feels like. It was not warm but not cold either and about as clean as it ever gets.

The Swim

Going back to the first race in the series, the Boulder Sprint Triathlon, the organizers have been trying something new with the swim start. Instead of going by age group or gender, they ask athletes to line up based on their anticipated swim time. It's very similar to the corrals you see at large marathons. It's all voluntary, but they urge folks to be honest since where you start does not impact your time. Timing starts when you cross under the arch and over the timing mat. This may not work perfectly, but it seems to help a little bit with the washing machine effect.

Like a lot of beach starts, this one begins with running the first few feet into the water until it's deep enough to start swimming. When I began, it was  almost impossible to see anything in the water because it was so churned up with sand. Fortunately, that didn't last long and soon I was under way.

When so many people are racing, it's nearly impossible to not to run into folks. I had a few bumps and grabs along the way, but I find that I've gotten used to it. I stayed mostly to the outside to avoid the worst of it.

Unfortunately, my Garmin decided to lose satellite reception along the way so I lost about half the swim. Fortunately the timer kept going. My supplement to the map is the fatter red line:

 This was the fourth time I've been in a race at this venue so by now I knew my way into transition quite well. I had made a point of counting the number or sawhorses--I mean bike racks--I needed to pass to get to my row and that helped.

Much to my chagrin, I failed to set my socks out. I usually put them on out of the water and then don't worry about them for the rest of the day. I decided might even have to run without them, but that was not front of mind at the moment.

Instead, I put my cycling shoes on over my bare feet and headed out.

The two open transition slots on either side of my were never used. I don't know what the odds are that not only one, but two DNS's (Did Not Start) would be next to me, but I think they're pretty thin.

The Bike

Again, the route was familiar. Out of the reservoir park, then south on 51st Street to Jay Road. West on Jay to 28th Street, then north. Being on such a long ride, I paid little notice of landmarks along the first part of the course. Before I knew it, 28th Street had become U.S. 36 and I was cruising downhill and picking up speed.

This is a really nice stretch of highway when it's not windy or too hot and neither was the case as I made my way north toward the town of Lyons. There was a fair bit of traffic along the way, but every car gave the riders a wide berth. Boulder County has been the site of some bad bike vs. car publicity in the last year and I think no one who encountered the group wanted to end up in the news like this case or this one. Plus, most folks in Boulder are patient and understanding when it comes to our states share the road laws.

The drive up U.S. 36 is the longest single stretch of road on the course, but it went by for me much more quickly than I thought it would. There were some climbs, but also lots of places to pick up speed. Soon after I arrived at Colorado Highway 66, just outside Lyons and was now headed east. This is just a short section which is good because they had to hold drivers on this road while the riders moved to the left to turn north.onto 75th Street.

This is the section where you are truly out in the country. There was less traffic and although some hills were present, it's mostly flat. I started taking nutrition in the form of Honey Stinger gels at this point. I didn't really feel hungry, but past experience has taught me that I need to keep the caloric intake up.

As you snake your way mostly north, but also a little east, you eventually end up in southern Larimer County, just west of the town of Berthoud. Then it's a couple of right turns and you are headed south again, back toward the town of Longmont.

This section is characterized by several rollers a couple of which were on the steep side, but still nothing like Olde Stage Road. Despite being steepish, they were all very short.

Before I knew it, I was crossing back over Highway 66 and had more or less entered Longmont. In the span of only half a mile you go from riding in the country to cruising through a residential area. That only lasts a few miles and then, just north of the Vance Brand Municipal Airport, you're headed west and then south again, now much closer to Boulder.

In order to round it out to a true 56 miles, the course has an out and back of about 2.5 miles on Niwot Road between 73rd and 63rd Streets. If you know the area, it is more or less the backyard of the IBM plant.

Once you complete that detour, you are directed out to Highway 119, locally known as the Diagonal Highway which connects Longmont and Boulder. I was curious to see if we would truly be riding 56 miles. You see, the last two races in the series have had the bike course detoured due to construction at 119 and Jay Road.

That was not the case on this day however and I continued on. Up to Jay Road and then back to 51st Street.

Along the way, it occurred to me that I was actually riding pretty well. As I arrived back at the transition area, it was clear that I had beat my previous 70.3 bike time by a decent margin.

The Run

I managed to find my socks tucked into my running shoes and got them put on and was out of transition in around four and a half minutes. Truth be told, I was not in a super big hurry.
On my way out, there was a young woman offering to apply sun screen to racers as they left. By that I mean she had big blue rubber gloves on and was pumping the stuff out of a jug. I took her up on the offer because the sun was directly overhead and no clouds threatened to block it.

I knew better than to think I would run the entire time. My plan was to run 3 miles, walk 1, repeat, and then slog it out for the last five or so.

The early part of the course has a few hills in it, and I could feel how tight my quads had become. I still felt okay, however and stuck with my plan, taking my first walk break at mile three. About half a mile later, I decided to run again because I was going mostly downhill and I knew there were some uphills where I would want to walk again.

The east side of the reservoir consists of two long, flat dams and a little point of land between them. There's no shade and unfortunately, there was also no breeze. I was already hot, but now I was scorching. I got through part of mile 5 before walking some more.

At the end of the second dam, there's an uphill stretch that doesn't seem so bad to look at it, but when you are already very tired, it can be tough. I walked some more until I was just uphill from end of the first lap and then ran through that area. It kind of sucks to see other people finishing and knowing you've only completed half the race. I kept it going until just before the reservoir exit when I began what would be an extended walk break.

I had been taking plenty of water and it was really just sloshing around in my stomach, not getting out into my bloodstream where I needed it. That, and the heat and probably low sodium levels all had me feeling a little sick. I could have run some more, but I began to be seriously concerned about ending up in the medical tent, or worse, the ER.

I don't really know if there is a solution to my trouble running in the heat. I can try to do more of it, but I have to balance that out against  the risk of illness and injury.

I walked at around a 15:00 pace knowing that while it was not great, it was better than running and then walking even slower or stopping altogether.

During the last three miles I decided I could run 1/4 mile out of each. And during the last mile, I'd run from the top of the hill above the finish line or for the last 0.35, which ever came first. Turns out, they were pretty much the same thing. It was hard finishing up, but the end sort of pulls you in like a tractor beam. As I entered the chute, I heard the announcer call my name and soon, I was done with my second 70.3:

Race Review

Next Time:

Bike Racks: I know I keep harping on this but the saw horses need to go. It was nice to have an assigned space and I think that goes a long way toward keeping the transition hogs in check. That said, rack where you can mount your wheel so that there's less chance of the whole works tipping and creating a domino effect is really what makes the difference.

Pre-Race Meeting: The website said everyone needs to attend one of the scheduled meetings. I'm all for conveying as much information as possible. But what happened to the video that they used last year for Boulder Peak? It was Barry Siff doing the meeting and participants could watch at their leisure or on a screen at the expo. When you have 2000 registrants, it's a better way to get the message out there.

And that's about it. I have to admit, Ironman has done a good job of making each race in this series that much better as they went along. 

The Good:

Bike Course: The new one loop bike course is a winner! It spreads the field out well and takes you through some scenic country from foothills, to horse country, to farms to lakes. I estimate that there were four police agencies involved in putting this together and it went really well.

Brand Value: WTC puts a lot of stock in their Ironman brand and they do a pretty job of it. This entire race was well organized and well supported. If you are going to charge a premium for your event, you had better be worth it. In large part, this race was.

Support: Aid stations were plentiful, volunteers helpful and everything just sort of clicked. It's impressive to see the small army of folks out there supporting this thing and I was very appreciative of them all. Since my name was on my bib, I heard lots of people who did not know me saying things like "Good job, Paul." It's a small thing that makes a big difference.

Swag: I got a really nice bag, an equally nice running cap (at the finish and dipped in ice water) and good looking tech shirt. Additionally, all of the medals in the series are big ones with quality engraving and an attractive strap. 

Experience: It's kind of hard to put this one into words other than to say that the race organizers know this is a big deal for most participants and they emphasize that throughout. It's part of the brand value and part of walking the talk. Think you have the best race out there, act like it. These guys do and I think they're going to have a very successful 140.6 on this same weekend next year.

Next for me:

My wife and I enjoyed a nice night out after I got a couple hours of sleep. Boulder is a lot of things, not all them good, but it is usually a lot of fun. After a couple of craft beers at the Walnut Brewery we enjoyed a great dinner at The Med. After that, I needed some more sleep!

Plans are to slowly ease back into the swimming riding and running this week. I don't feel especially sore and only a little tired so I think I can come back strong for the Rattlesnake Triathlon which is less than two weeks away.

As always, thanks for reading and if you were a participant as well and have a race report of your own, please leave me a link in the comments section.