Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seeking Professional Help

Since my departure from competitive, organized sport more than 25 years ago (i.e.: when I finished high school) I have always been a self-supported athlete. Like any amateur age-grouper, I have sought advice from magazines, online forums and from friends with similar interests, but none of that has ever involved being coached in the interactive sense,

Roughly three years ago when I decided that I wanted to become a triathlete, I sifted through the oceans of data available from multiple sources, but again, did not actually seek coaching on any level. Not even a clinic.

After two seasons in the sport, my choice seemed to have been validated. I came out of 2012 in some of the best physical shape of my adult life. My final event of last season was the Rattlesnake Triathlon where I completed the entire Olympic distance in 2:46:00 including a run of 50:43 for just a fraction under 10K.

I followed that up with a half-marathon PR of 1:53:35, more than 10 minutes faster than my previous best. Even late in the season, I did a more casual half under two hours, something that seemed nearly impossible earlier that same year.

Indeed, the only real struggle I had in 2012 was on the run portion of the HITS half-iron distance triathlon. Multiple factors, most especially heat, had me doing a lot of walking in that race. However, it was only one blip on what was, for me anyway, a stellar season.

2013 turned out to be a year of struggles. Inuring my soleus muscle back in January kept me from doing any quality running for much of the late winter and early spring. Completing a full marathon in PR time in May was a pleasant surprise after that, but it also left my body feeling a little beat up.

By the time I had taken a two week vacation as well as allowed my sore legs to heal up, I was way behind the ball when it came to being ready. Unfortunately, I did not fully realize or accept this fact at the time.

Things seemed to be going pretty well at the Loveland Lake to Lake Olympic triathlon in late June. It was a longer swim, but I felt strong as left the water. The bike presented some fairly tough hills, but on the final stretch I was dropping a lot of younger people ahead of me. Then I started running and found myself walking after four miles. I figured it was mostly the heat of the day coming on.

Unfortunately, things were no better three weeks later when I returned to the Boulder Peak Triathlon. A good swim, respectable bike and smooth transitions preceded a run that was again characterized by walking around the 2/3 mark. It was hot again and I was just fried.

Another three weeks saw me back in Boulder at the Ironman 70.3 event and I was pleased to have completed the bike in just over three hours, faster than the year before with HITS. It was hot but not as hot as I headed out on the back road, two loop course that comprise the final 13.1 miles of that event. Again, heat got the best of me and I suspect I walked more than I ran. Thanks to the fast bike however, I still hit a PR and improved more than six and half minutes over my first half iron.

I had higher hopes as I ran the 2013 Rattlesnake. While I had no illusions about being as fast as the previous year, I hoped this would be the one where I got all the way through the run. No such luck. Once again, around four miles and change, I was exhausted. My heart rate was way into my top zone. I was hot and feeling weak. It ended up being my worst running performance yet at the Olympic distance.

Now, I knew there was a problem.

All season long I had trusted my self-written training plan based on the fact that I had done so well the year before. The problem was, I made some significant changes based on assumptions that I now believe were wrong.

First, despite getting faster as a result in 2012 from incorporating interval training into both my bike and run workouts, intervals were not present in my 2013 plan. The reason for this was that they had not been especially helpful at HITS and the 70.3 distance was going to be my focus in the coming year.

Second, I did not have enough long runs in my plan. It’s hard to say what happened here. Perhaps I thought that I would have established such a base from the marathon training that I would be ready. Perhaps I planned to update the schedule a little bit. Perhaps I skipped too many runs.

Looking back at what I scheduled and what I did, I not only ran less in 2013, I planned to run less. The notion that I had a good handle on how to adequately train for a season has proven to be false.

As 2013 winds down, I have taken a few steps to remediate those mistakes, mostly by upping the run mileage. Intervals would, no doubt, do some good, but I’m worried about getting injured. Nevertheless, running for longer distances and periods of time has undoubtedly improved my stamina. I've also been making sure I keep the bike mileage up so that the better performance in that area can be sustained.

The end of one season naturally has me looking forward to the next. One thing is certain even this far in advance: I don’t want to have a repeat. I also have a rough idea of my goals.

I would like to see my Olympic Distance time (using the 1.5K Swim, 40K Bike and 10K run as the basis) to about 1:36:00. That would be a 10 minute improvement. For the half iron distance, I’d like to see that drop dramatically to 5:50:00. Most of that gain would have to be on the run. I have a few ideas about how to do this, but the truth of the matter is I may very well need the help and feedback of a professional.

That I may hire a coach is by no means set in stone. However, it is a distinct possibility. Previously, I had thought that I would only go down this road if I committed to a full Ironman. That is not the case—yet—but my desire to improve is strong.

My health seems to be full restored with the soleus muscle not having bothered me for months now. I also don’t seem to be feeling any particular pain in other areas as well, all of which suggests that my strength is definitely returning.

Two upcoming races have rekindled my desire to go out and perform well and this has translated to better training and a better diet. Indeed, I've lost five pounds since the Rattlesnake.

Nevertheless, I do think that hitting these ambitious goals (especially the 70.3 time) is going to require someone who has helped other athletes make similar improvements. With that in mind, I’ll be researching a few local services and probably making a decision early in the off-season.

As I got through the process, I’ll share as much as I can on these pages. Hiring a coach is another “first time.” It will be interesting to see how it proceeds.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Race Report: TriRock San Diego Olympic Distance

Getting to race at sea level after spending all of your time at over a mile high is a real treat. No, it can't compensate for not training, but it can make the difference between an average race a pretty good one. Such was the case today.

Like many events, this one requires packet pick up a day earlier at the expo. That's fine with. me since it is one less item to worry about on race day. The expos takes place on the bay side of the convention center and your choices are to either walk around the imposing structure or over it. I chose the latter and climbed some steep steps but was rewarded with some nice views.

Picking everything up was easy so I spent my extra minutes looking around the expo. Meh.

Ultimately, though, expos are not the reason we register for races. I headed out and spent the rest of the day resting. It was an early morning.

The transition area closed at 6:15. A little more than an hour before that, my wife, sister-in-law and adorable nieces headed out from their home up north. I had plenty of time to get ready, but it was still dark as you might be able to tell from the attached:

While I had an assigned space, things were still very crowded. Fortunately, everyone around me was cool and we managed to get our stuff where we could find it coming out of the water.

Shortly after this it was time to line up for the start.

The Swim

When I did this race two years ago, it was a water start. Racers actually lined up in a coral on one of the two peninsula/parks adjacent to the convention center and harbor. It was a quick hop in the water and you were more or less at the start buoys. This year, racers were lined up on the seawall at the end of the harbor. We entered the water on the same stairs we would later use for the exit. Then, we saw nearly a quarter mile to the start. I was okay with that since the venue really does not lend itself to warm-up swim.

The wait at the start buoys was short and soon we were off. I felt like the swim was slow. Not because I was tired or tense, but mostly because there was so much traffic. Unlike the events in Boulder where waves were based on self-ranked ability or at Rattlesnake which was a time-trial start, this was just a bunch of age groupers with abilities all over the gamut.

Sighting also proved to be difficult. Part of the problem was the buoy color. Rather than the usual day-glow orange, these were white with just a little orange on the top. Also problematic was the fact that the patrol boat was running across our path and creating a wake. For the most part, I just followed the crowd and hoped they all knew where they were going.

Once we had made the trip back east, I could see the finish in the form of a blue arch which made sighting for the last third pretty easy. I struggled up the stairs and made the long run into T1.

The Bike
It might have been the dark or nerves or not racing for five weeks, but whatever the case, I forgot to get my gel out of my bag so I probably lost 15 seconds or so digging it out. Then I was on my way out of the convention center area, heading south on Harbor Boulevard. I had planned on getting to ride north through part of downtown and then out along the waterfront by such landmarks as the Star of India.

For reasons I've yet to divine, the course was changed on the website late last week to what I had planned to do two years ago; a two loop course that included running through the major naval base.

This is not a pretty ride though the various ships moored at the navy base were an impressive site. I did pretty well but the course also had some rough spots and I managed to find a couple of potholes that shook both my fillings and my aerobars.

The course is mostly flat with the only real "hill" being a bridge. I managed to keep my speed up as a result and though a little tired, my legs felt pretty good.

By the time I was heading back up Harbor Boulevard to T2, my left bar had become very loose. I managed to hold on the last few miles and was soon dismounted and running back through transition.

The Run
I got back to my spot quickly and was on my way back on the course for a run. Given recent experiences (okay, nearly every race this season) I was nervous about how it would go. I did, however, have advantages here, namely, cool weather and sea level.

I had to be careful about going out too hard on the first of two loops. My pace drifted down to the low 8:00 range a couple of times so I made myself go a little easier. That said, staying under 9:00 proved to be not much of a problem. Nearly two miles in, I was feeling pretty good. Far better in fact, than I had in any other run leg at this point.

But I didn't let it go to my head. There was a lot of running to do still. So I just kept going and kept feeling good. By the time I was on my way back to the finish--halfway through my second lap--I knew it was going to be a good day. I did start to get a little gassed, but there is a point in a good race where you know that you're going to be able to dig deep and find what you need to finish strong. That was me at the end of this run.

Race Review

I picked this race because my most recent experience with Competitor Group (the 2012 Rock and Roll Denver Half Marathon) was a pretty good one. Beside the experience of hitting a PR, I thought registering for running in and finishing the race was good. With that in mind, I decided that going back to San Diego where I have family, would be fun.

Anyone reading industry news in the last few weeks is probably aware that Competitor has recently made a controversial decision to stop supporting elite athletes. Whether you think that was a good or bad decision, it's not unreasonable to assume that more focus would be put on the age groupers.

This was my experience.

True to past form, the website for the event was sparsely populated with a crude PDF map and no athlete guide until a few days before the event. Once published the guide itself was thin on details such as swimming to the swim start. Maps about parking and road closures were similarly not available until only a few days before.

I understand there were meetings to discuss the course, but I could not make those. Given the $15 fee to park at the convention center, I chose a meter instead and only had time to get my packet, look around and then head out. Neither course meeting was going to match my schedule. As a result, I really had no clear idea where things would happen on race day. There just were no online resources to study.

Swimming is just swimming. Find the buoys and go. The problem is white buoys don't show up against most backgrounds. Day-glow orange is so rare in just about any circumstance, that it's easy to see. That's the point.

San Diego is a beautiful city. Miles of beaches and shoreline, the amazing sprawling beauty of Balboa park, a vibrant downtown scene. So they send us down perhaps the ugliest part of the whole city--an industrial road that leads to a Navy base.

There was some good. The run course was fun. I was not sure about the two loop set up but it worked fine. It never got overly crowded and the trip up and down the boardwalk was scenic and enjoyable.

Volunteers were another bright spot. Water was always ready and abundant. Better still, some of the volunteers were active duty sailors on the base who cheered us on. That's pretty cool to be getting encouragement from the men and women who are the real heroes.

Like all events I've done, there was an emcee whose job it is to not only get racers started, but welcome them across the finish line. Ours did both and all the while kept the crowd involved. On an entertaining note, her dress was made of swim caps which is just awesome!

Unfortunately, the negative vastly outweighs the positive. A large, professional organization like Competitor needs to be putting on races that give their competitors (most notably WTC) a run for their money. They did not.

I do hope to get back and race in San Diego again soon, but it will be in someone else's race.

Now it's another day off and then back to getting ready for the big one: Ironman 70.3 Austin.

Thanks for reading and have a great rest of your week!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Easy way to Track and Be Tracked

I do almost all of my riding solo. In fact, I do nearly of my training solo, the occasional lane mate in the pool not withstanding. That’s fine, but I have always been concerned about someone knowing where I am. It might not help, but it certainly can hurt should the worst happen.

Over the years I’ve looked at various devices but have always been turned off by two factors:

1)      Initial price
2)      The cost of ongoing service.

For example, Garmin makes a device called the GTU10 which essentially combines a GPS unit with a cell phone. You can pre-program it to send alerts to your choice of recipients and they’ll know where you are.

There are similar devices such as the SPOT Satellite tracker which also contains some messaging ability and costs a little less (though the annual service fee is apparently quite a bit more than what Garmin gets).

Nevertheless, I’m not particularly interested in forking over a hundred bucks or so plus more money each month (or year). I already do enough of that between Directv, Sirius Radio, etc.

Last week however, I heard a new product from Road ID mentioned on Brett Blankner’s “Zen and the Art of Triathlon” podcast. This is an iPhone app that provide the basic services of tracking and, should you be stopped more than 5 minutes, emergency alerting.

Truthfully, I would probably pay a few bucks for this app, but it’s actually free. I simply downloaded it to my iPhone, entered a few details and, using my contacts list, was able to send a text to my wife when I headed out the door. That text included a URL to track my progress. Road ID calls this process an “ecrumb.” If you stop moving for more than 5 minutes, an alarm will sound indicating that an alert is about to be sent to your contact(s) advising them of possible trouble. This provides you with the option to cancel the alert.

Did it work? Absolutely. I headed way south of home but since I was in cell phone range the whole time, my wife was able to track me multiple times during the ride. In fact, when I got back to the house, she was expecting and was holding the door open for me to bring my bike inside.

One other feature that I did not use is the lock-screen feature. This basically turns the lock screen on your phone into a sort of Road ID on its own. Assuming whatever calamity that caused the need for you identification did not wreck your phone, anyone coming upon you will see the data on the lock screen.

Of course, because any kind of bike crash could very easily mean a trashed iPhone, they still recommend using one of their physical ID bands. That’s probably sound advice.

As the welcome e-mail I got from Road ID indicated, that this is still in beta testing so there may be a few bugs. My wife noticed that the auto-refresh was not working so well and she had to reclick the link to see it again, but that’s not such a big deal.
Another drawback is the fact that at present, this app is only available for the iPhone though they say an Android version should be out soon.

In any case, for those of you who hit the open road on the bike, sometimes a ways from home, this is just a little bit more reassurance for you and for those who care about you.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back in the Pool

All good things must come to an end. So says the proverb. And it was true of my summer swimming at Grant Ranch. Because the Pete Alfino and the good folks at Mile High Multisport made weekday swimming available, it more or less negated the need for me to do any lap swimming all summer long.

I’m sure that sounds strange (maybe even wrong) to folks who don’t have the same ready access to open water swimming that we enjoy here in metro Denver, but it’s true. Between Aquaman, Stroke & Stride, COMSA sponsored swimming at Chatfield Reservoir and, of course, the MHM sponsored swim times at Grant Ranch, I can complete all of my swim work outs in open water. In other words, in the same conditions under which I race.

I’m sure there are die-hard swimmers who would wonder how I get my intervals, kick drills and other swimming specific work outs done. To them I would answer that I don’t. I just swim. The extra work might shave a few minutes off my 70.3 time, but not a lot. For me, the return on investment isn’t high enough.

So since the middle of May, I’ve been swimming at Grant Ranch when not racing. I averaged about 1:41 per hundred yards during each of my eleven appearances there and except for a couple of times when weather intervened, was usually swimming the full 1.2 mile course.

Even in an outdoor pool, there’s just nothing that compares to being out in a wide-open lake in the wetsuit. I love looking back and seeing my wake disrupt the otherwise glassy surface. I love watching buoys barely visible grow as I approach them. I love looking back over a vast distance and saying to myself, “I just swam that.”

However, even if the lake had stayed open past Labor Day weekend, eventually it will be too cold to swim. I’d guess even in a month it will be pretty chilly. It can’t go on all year. Not in this state.

That necessitated my return to the Parker Rec Center pool. I last swam there on May 10 as I was preparing for the Summer Open Sprint. To be honest, I knew I needed the workout but I was not really looking forward to it. The facility is more than adequate and though a 50 meter pool would be ideal, there are only a few of those in the whole state. For around eight months a year, this is my training venue. So be it.

Much to my surprise, I felt great.

The workout started off right with an open lane. No sharing, no circle swimming, and no guy telling me he could not share because he “had a workout to do.” That actually happened last winter. Just me going back and forth.

Without no wetsuit and the need to turn every 25 yards, I’m a bit slower, but I felt great nearly the whole time. I had a bit of a niggle in my left shoulder during the last 500 yards or so, but it was not very painful and I kept going strong. Before I knew it, I had completed my 2000 yard swim and I felt good.

Will every swim workout be this good? No. I’m sure there are going to be some that suck. Maybe I’ll even run into Mr. Important with his “workout” but I’ll just have to tell him too bad like I did last time.

Despite my overwhelming preference for open water, I remembered that my biggest performance gains have come in the water. Three years ago my average hundred yard time was well over 2:30 and that was for a mere 750 yards. The improvements came in that same pool. I suspect it has more good things to offer in the future.

Of course, with upcoming races in San Diego and Austin, I’m not quite done swimming in the open. But to be ready, I know I’ll be doing a lot more back and forth at the Parker Rec Center.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Planning Next Year’s Races

I still have two more races in my current season, but truth be told, it’s really not too early to think about what I want to do next year.

Of course, it is early so picking an actual event won’t happen for a while yet. Instead, I’m starting to look at the criteria for picking an event. So far, it’s working out like this:


The harsh truth is that I over-registered this year with eight races over a five month period. I should have known better, but now I know for sure. There is such a thing as too many races.

Next year, at most, I’ll do one a month and probably more like every six months. What’s more, events will need to be at least three weeks apart and preferably more. I’ve found I don’t like the pressure and anxiety that an upcoming event creates.


This is not much of a change, but I do plan on sticking with races that are known for being well-run. That probably means reading the race reports on a lot of other blogs and tuning in to the various comment boards on sites like Trifuel and Beginner Triathlete. Quality also means avoiding event companies with a history of cancelling events.

New Experiences

It’s great for race strategy to know the course really well. I think that was a big part of what helped me reach the podium in Greeley in 2012. However, it’s also a lot of fun to see a place for the first time. No doubt depending on scheduling and cost, I may have a repeat, but I’m going to favor events that I have not done before.

Environmental Factors

These are things such as venue, historical weather, course, and ease of access from my home. I don’t mean to say that I am not willing to travel to reach one or two races, but all else being equal; I’d lean toward the local race.

Taking My Time

Part of why I was over-registered this year is because I didn’t take enough time to put a particular race into the perspective of my whole season. While not every race can be an ‘A’ race they don’t all have to be a ‘C’ either.

Part of this consideration may also be impacted by whether or not I decide to hire a coach. I’m still toying with that. That decision (probably a good topic for a future post) will be determined by exactly what I want—and can reasonably expect—from being coached.

These criteria should be helpful to making a more logical, rationale decision. That said, I don’t want to totally dismiss the notion of “hey, that looks like fun.” After all, having fun is supposed to be part of being a triathlete. Right?

Thanks for reading!