Thursday, October 31, 2013

Now what?

Crossing the finish line in Austin on Sunday marked the end of a very long triathlon season both in terms of time and number of races. If you go back to the Colorado Marathon on May 5, the whole thing worked out to something just short of six months and covered 9 events. There’s no question that I bit off more than I could chew and that it also kept me very busy from a training standpoint.

Now, rather abruptly, that has ended. For the first time in nearly a year, I am not registered to compete in a triathlon, marathon or even half marathon. It is truly the out season. I’m not exactly disappointed by that, but I can also feel the vacuum that was created as a result.

Of course, in time, I will register for 2014 races and in time I will also begin a formal off-season training regimen designed to get me ready for what I expect to be more intense training next year.

However, for the balance of the calendar year, for the sake of both my body and my mind, I’m going to take a less formal approach. Rather than a schedule, I’m going to just establish some general goals.

1.      Watch the weight! It’s a lot easier to keep the weight off when you’re training for six to eight hours a week. Since that total will not continue now, I’ll have to be a bit more conscious of what I’m eating. That will be more challenging as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter. It’s truly a season that makes you want to eat and stay in!
2.      Experiment with the diet. I’m not about to do anything radical like try a ketogenic or paleo diet. I have serious doubts both about the sustainability and overall health risks of either. However, a reduction in my carb intake coupled with an increase in my protein intake may create the desirable result of being able to better metabolize fat. Given the bonking I experienced at Austin, being able to more readily tap into the vast fat reserves that all people have would be a substantial benefit.
3.      Experiment with Maffetone training. I keep hearing a lot of good stories and I’m game to try and do more to train my body to burn more fat and rely less on carbs in the form of glycogen. The nice thing about not having to be ready for a race any time soon is that I can play around with new training methods without compromising race performance. Of course I’ll need to test my max heart rate, but that’s probably a good thing.
4.      Learn more about the use of power. After much navel gazing and delaying, I finally broke down and ordered an electronic trainer, specifically a Wahoo KICKR. I did get a good deal and free shipping. Thanks! Seriously, if you are in the market for a higher end item, the 10% discount he offers to Clever Training can save you some serious coin. In any case, since the trainer includes an integrated power meter, I’ll have a chance this winter to start tracking that. In fact, I have to think that if I had power data available in Austin; I might have been able to better manage that ride. Joe Friel published a book about a year ago and I’ll probably start with that.
5.      Figure out the coaching. A few weeks back, I posted about finding a coach. That desire has not changed, but in the next couple of months, I need to do my research and find one that will be right for me. I was pleased to have hit a PR in Austin but not satisfied. I believe I have a sub six hour half ironman in me.

The off season will give me lots of good material to post here as I try new things and gain new insights as

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Austin

It's a little unusual to write about the of my season at the end of October but in hindsight, I'm glad I had the opportunity to get one more race in.

This was my third time racing in the road but unlike the last two, I had free bike transport compliments of my brother who drove to race here.

As a result, my wife and I got to fly in Friday morning without the hassle that airlines have created around transporting a bike. Both they and the bike transport companies should get a clue that when you jack your prices up you actually discourage business.

In any case we arrived in Texas without incident and soon made our way to the town of Lakeway which lies more or less to the west of Austin proper.

Our lodging at the Lakeway Resort and Spa could not be better.

Friday was a relaxing and uneventful day for resting. Saturday saw my brother and I heading over to set up our transitions (yes plural) and check in our bikes.

Unlike my previous events, this one has T1 and T2 in two different locations. But first things first. Before any set up could occur, we first had to go to the expo and pick up our packets.

Most of the staging happens at the Travis County Expo center which in addition to several acres of grounds has a buildings we'll-suited for events like ours.

This exposition was pretty much like any other I've been to with the notable exception of being inside. Due to the multiple transition nature of the race, our packets also included bags for various stages of the race. More on that later.

Since T2 was located within the grounds of the Exposition we decided to go ahead and set up there. It also gave us the opportunity to view some of the run course.

Setting up meant getting items out of the Tri bag and putting them into my "run gear" bag. We used Ted's car as our staging area:

The red bag you see I the  foreground is for run gear. Into it I put my shoes, socks, visor and race belt. Then it gets tied up and hung from the crappy saw horse-style racks.

With all of that done, it was off to nearby Walter E. Long lake which was site of the swim and T1.

Here we checked in our bikes and tied our bike gear bags to the rack:

All that was left was to do a quick perusal of the swim course. After the sighting problems I had at TriRock  it was nice to see a course so well-marked:

Then it was back to Lakeway for dinner at the Hill Country Pasta House and then off to bed for an early rise.

Despite getting  an early start and making good time, We still got stuck in traffic as several hundred racers converged on the course at the same time. It was definitive proof that we made the right decision in setting up our transitions ahead of time. 

Once parked at the expo center, we boarded a school bus which shuttled us out to the lake. We arrived to an announcement that transition was closing in four minutes. While we were mostly set up we both still needed to put our water and nutrition bottles on the bike. Despite threats to cut off our wrist bands  and kick us out, we did get set up. So did several other people who were still arriving.

That drama was complete then it was time for pre race business at the porta-potties and then time to dawn the wetsuits and wait for our swim wave to start.

The Swim

There were no arrangements nor enough time for a swim warm up but at the least there was an in-water start. It was not chilly, but I still prefer to get my suit fully immersed and adjusted before the race starts. 

The wait to start felt short and soon I was working my way outside the buoy line doing my beys to avoid the group grope. That's only sustainable for so long  and in time I was bumping into folks as well as catching people in the waves that preceded my own. I went by one guy who was elementary back-stroking (no kidding) as well as a young woman who was just floating on her back, presumable due to some duress. 

I felt really good during the swim never getting too winded and it went by quickly. I clocked myself at a little over 37 minutes as I left the water which was also where my official time ended up.

Hey Garmin, why are you always losing reception in the middle of my swim?!

Transition was a little slow due to a long  run up from the beach as well as the time it took to open my bag, get my bike shoes and helmet and then put my wetsuit away. The transition area was also lousy with burs so everyone, me included, was carrying their bike out until reaching pavement.

The Bike

I got going and was soon cruising north out of the area over some minor hills. The road was  wet from over night rain so I took it easy on the downhills. I don't have. Lot of experience with riding in the rain and this didn't seem like a good time to learn.

The hills of the initial section were steep but short and I felt pretty good as I made my way past mile 11 and on to the first sustained climb. I thought I was making good time but I would later find that I was behind my goal pace.

A right turn onto Lettig Road showed me just how far out int the country we were. But the scenery was pretty and lots of folks who lived along the course came out to wave and cheer everyone on. Say what you will about Texans but they are the friendliest folks I've come across.

By the time the course was heading south I was still making okay time, but I was also feeling kind of bonky despite having taken in over 300 calories of nutrition. I was not hot (the sky was overcast and a cool breeze was out) and not winded but I was tired. My legs were sore and I just could not find my energy levels. I kept at it but it did not get any easier. 

Webberville Road is the last sustained section and I guess just to make things fun, the race organizers decided to cram two way traffic and all of the cyclists into a narrow stretch of road. Their brilliant means of accomplishing this was to set up a line if cones with cars to the left and bikes to the right. As we all know, cones never move once you set them up....right?

I navigated this without too much trouble and did my best to stay to the right and out of the way of faster cyclists. A number of them, I suspect, we're folks I had seen fixing flat tires. Nearly all do them were clinchers which will make me wary of any future such set up on my own bike.

The right turn off of Weberville Road was soon upon me and then I was down to the final few miles of the bike. This also meant climbing a couple of short but steep hills before turning back into the expo ground and into T2.
I got myself to my spot which was fairly close to the bike in and had my shoes changed and on my way I what I thought was fairly short order. During the last few miles of the bike I started to feel like my pre-race business was not enough. Given the long run that still waited for me, I decided to hit the porta-potties on my way out of T2 even though that meant waiting in line. 

Maybe it was the fact that I was in a pink (yes pink) porta-john, maybe adrenaline or maybe just getting out of aero position. Whatever the reason, all I managed to do was relieve the fluids I had taken in during the bike. 

Out the door I went and was starting the first of three run loops.

The Run

My goal was to control my pace and not go out too fast. I had really planned on going at no more than a 10:00 pace. However, as easy as I took it, my first three miles were all closer to 9:45. Since I felt okay, I didn't worry about it.

At the end of mile three/the start of mile four, I hit the biggest hill on the course. Truth be told, at the time, it did not seem so bad, but I stuck with my plan and walked until 3.5 miles which saw me back on the expo grounds. 

I did not expect the throngs of people or the carnival-like atmosphere around the arena, but folks were there I droves as if they were tail-gating for a Longhorns game. It was really kind of cool. That energy helped me around the loop right next to the area and then back out for lap 2. 

It was here that I began to feel the effect of the hills as well as a pretty serious bonk. I decided when I got to the base of the hill that lead back into Walter E. Long Park (the back half of the run circuit) that  I would walk the uphills. 

On the way back out of the park, one of the volunteers at the aid station had a package of chocolate chip cookies. They looked so much bigger and more satisfying than the little package  of Bonk Breakers that I opted for them and wolfed them down oven the next quarter mile or so. They were a bit heavy in my stomach, but that was so much better than the horrible empty feeling I had prior to that time.

I ran back down the hill and then walked when it became an uphill. When I got back to the throng of people near the arena I was running again. I was not making great time, but I was still doing much much better than any of then running I my prior 70.3 races. There's no question that I walked more on the third lap, but as the last stretch approached, I picked up the pace and went strong.

This race had the unique feature of finishing inside of the rodeo arena. I could hear the announcements as I ran into the tunnel and was soon on my way to completing my third 70.3 event.

My wife approached and I was glad to see her and anticipated seeing my brother and his family.

"How did Ted do?" I asked as we stepped away from the finish area.

"Ted's in the emergency room," she told me. He had crashed on Webberville Road during the gauntlet of cones. He had a broken collar bone but was otherwise alright. Of course, more than anything I was glad his injury was not more serious, but I also felt for him. All of that training only to have your race ended by a cone.

We got my things gathers up and I was able to get his bags (as well as my own) and then I drove his car to the hospital while my wife followed not far behind in our rental. En route, I spoke to Ted who told me of another guy in the same predicament. He crashed when a car bumped a cone into his path.

Unlike Ted, he did not have friends or family on site that day so we gave him a ride back to the expo center and I helped him load bus bike into his car. He and my brother made quite the pair:

The guy, Adam, is an active duty soldier currently attending Ranger school in Texas. I felt good about helping out a fellow triathlete, but helping a solider was even more reason to lend a hand.

Soon, Ted and I were on our way back downtown for a delicious post-race meal at Stubb's Barbecue. In the time since, I've enjoyed a couple of relaxing days here in Austin. This was my view for much of the Monday after the race:

Race Review

Next Time:

Cone Zone: While I can understand that the logistics of getting permits to close roads and/or alter traffic is no easy task, this needs to be re-thought. My brother and Adam were not the only two injuries and I suspect there were several others who may have had issues without needing the ER. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should come between the athletes and their safety. I am calling on the race organizers to give this issue some thought and come back with a better plan for next year.

Pre-Start Logistics: Despite having put this race on in years past, several people were late due to the mass of traffic that descended on the expo center in the early hours of Sunday morning. The facility has multiple entrances and quite a bit of parking that was not used. It may be time to make better use of such a large space.

Expo: I've come to expect the expo at most races to be a little weak. WTC could do more to at least reduce the time you spend in line to pick up your packet. They might also want to consider not charging through the nose for merchandise.

The Good

Venue: Although I was a little uncertain of the two transition zones, it worked out pretty well. Walter E. Long lake was a clean and completely acceptable swim site and the bike through the back country was great. I was there to race, but it would have been cool if I could have snapped a few pics along the way.

I'm not usually a fan if running loops, but this too worked out. Though sometime there were crowds, I never had issues getting around people when I needed to and I never felt like I was in the way.

Finish: The indoor finish had the twin benefits of giving spectators a comfortable place to wait for their athlete to complete their race and giving the athlete the benefit if a more dramatic finish. Although on a much smaller scale, it was a bit like finishing the BolderBoulder in Folsom stadium.

Support/Volunteers: I never lacked for anything on the course nor for anyone to provide it to me. It's got to be a little scary to hand off a water bottle to someone coming by at 15+ MPH but they all did and I stayed well hydrated as a result.

After more than five months and eight races, my 2013 season is over and I feel relieved. I still plan on training, but the pressure to be ready for a race is gone and I'm glad for that. I think the coming odd season will be a good time to try some new things with my diet and training.

Please note, because I have not yet returned home, my Garmin maps of the stages have not yet been uploaded from the device. I'll add those soon.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Accidental 'A' Race

All season long, I've eschewed labeling any one event my “A” race. Early on, I just didn't know what to expect. Later, when I found my performance lacking, I knew I would just be setting myself up for disappointment.

Past experience also drove this practice. I went into the 2012 Rattlesnake with no expectations either way and wound up having one of my best days on an Olympic Course. Why target a race when not targeting it seemed to produce such solid results?

Then there was this year’s Rattlesnake. A decent swim, an okay bike (except for losing my seat-mounted water bottle rack) and a really lousy run combined to make it a bad experience. Heat definitely played a part (it was much cooler the year before) and my lack of conditioning played one as well.

Moments like that drove me to train harder, eat better and turn things around. I had several advantages at TriRock like the flat course and sea-level altitude, but I also had worked to put myself in a position to do better.

All of that, and the fact that Ironman 70.3 Austin is my last race this season, have effectively made it the “A” race by default. I didn't plan it this way—it just happened due to multiple factors.

This will be my race at the half iron distance. Clearly at both Boulder and HITS Sterling last year, my greatest struggle is the run. I did a respectable amount of running before HITS but not nearly enough before Boulder. In the last two months, I've effectively doubled my average weekly mileage and even started to see my speed improve. It’s been easier in the cooler weather, but I think it has more to do with being more disciplined about getting out there and just doing it.

Cycling has also seen more mileage. I was doing alright at this prior to the last two races, but this time I've done multiple rides at 50 miles or more in preparation. Being as I live in a relatively hilly area, I've also done a lot more climbing than there will be in Austin. That race won’t be flat, but I go on rides 50% more vertical gain.

Cooler weather is also likely to favor me. No, southern Texas will probably not see anything like the fifty and sixty degree temperatures that Colorado has been experiencing over the last two weeks, but highs are not likely to go much over the mid-seventies either. When I started running at Boulder it was 75* in the shade (there was almost no shade on the course) and it had climbed to about 90* by the time I finished. A year earlier in Sterling, it was already pushing 90* at the beginning of the run and flirting with 100* before the day was over. It’s not impossible it will be just as warm in Austin, but not likely either.

As I discovered in San Diego, altitude really does make a difference. I noticed this in the ease at which I made a sub 9:00 pace through the run as well as by my lack of sore muscles afterward. While I doubt I was in a completely aerobic state, I was more so than my typical run at home above 6000 feet. One of my major problems on the run in Boulder was my heart rate kept spiking close to 100% of max. In other words, I could not have kept running even if I wanted to. While Austin is not at sea level, the entire course never gets higher than 656 feet which is scarcely more than 10% of my average training altitude.

Like any race, there are factors I can’t control. It might be freakishly hot, miserably rainy or windy enough to knock me off the bike. I could also have health issues like a cold or intestinal problem. You just never know. But I am cautiously optimistic about my ability to show a marked improvement over my past two 70.3 races. In just over two weeks, I get to find out!

Thanks for reading!