Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 - Year in Review

While I'm certainly not one for living in the past, I do think it is a good idea to reflect on the past periodically to understand what worked and what didnt so that improvements can be made going forward. So, being the end of the year, now is as good a time as any!

Before getting started, as you'll recall, 2014 marked a pretty big change with respect to racing, as I decided not to renew my USAT Elite license. Basically, I wanted to take a step back from training and racing in order to let other aspects of my life take up more of the extra time. Looking back, it appears I achieved that on the training front, but still raced a ton! So, here is where we stand:

3/2/2014Little Rock Half Marathon6th1:15:22
4/5/2014HTC Scholarship 8k1st0:27:58
4/12/2014Heel and Crank Duathlon1st1:08:41
4/13/2014Bridge Street Half Marathon3rd1:16:59
4/19/2014Cookie Dash 5k1st16:24
5/11/2014Gulf Coast Triathlon1st3:41:58
5/26/2014Cotton Row 10k21st35:22
6/7/2014Mach Tenn1st58:24
6/14/2014Alabama A&M 5k CC1st18:22
7/19/2014Twighlight 5k2nd16:59
8/9/2014Racing Rivals Triathlon1st52:39
8/16/2014Huntsville Spring Triathlon1st41:56
8/23/2014Rocketman Triathlon1st1:58:30
9/24/2014Swim Hobbs Island, 5mi1st2:08:14
10/11/2014Army 10 miler45th56:05
10/17/2014Liz Hurley 5k3rd16:38

The season started off a little slow at Little Rock due to a late start after the Rocket City Marathon at the end of 2013. But with my focus firmly set on Gulf Coast, I had, in retrospect, a string of pretty decent races. The Heel and Crank / Bridge Street Half double was tortuous, and probably not the best idea for being competitive for the rest of the season, but it was a cool challenge at the time, and I got a mug out of it! I was pleasantly surprised with my times at the HTC Scholarship 8k and Cookie Dash 5k, and then really pleased with my performance at Gulf Coast. That was really the one race I was targeting in the spring, so it was nice to have a really solid performance there and win by almost 10 minutes despite a cancelled swim (which was a HUGE bummer!) Sure, my performance wasn't as great as my previous best 70.3 performances, but it was still good enough for a solid 'W'.

Halfway through Run #2 in the Heel & Crank Duathlon. And yes - there is no one else in sight.

From there, the summer was unplanned, but I ended up still racing quite a bit (but training even less) Mach Tenn was a race I had never done before (no prize money) but signed up on a whim, had an awesome race, and won. In addition to being an awesome distance (800m/16mi/4mi), the post race food was top notch! Fresh corn cakes and beans, beer, and all the other standard post race fair. And, it was just a few miles from Lynchburg, TN, and Jack Daniels' distillery, so there was a little bonus trip on the way home. 
Me and World Famous Bruce Gennari after finishing 1-2 at Mach Tenn

After Mach Tenn it was time for the local trio of races - Racing Rivals, Huntsville Sprint, and Rocketman. I was hesitant about Rocketman because it wasnt in my (tentative) plan at the beginning of the season, but when my friend from college told me he had registered, I knew I had to join him. In the end it went really well and I was able to put together a strong swim (thanks Bruce!) and strong bike (thanks Trek!) to mask an astonishingly mediocre run and hold on for a healthy win over a pretty strong field.

Coming in for the 'W' at the Huntsville Sprint Triathlon

From there all sights were set on Swim Hobbs Island, a 5 mile swim in the Tennessee River around, you guessed it, Hobbs Island. This was another race I was peer pressured into (thanks Suz and Suz!). Thankfully the competition for this first year race wasn't epic so I was able to come away with a pretty easy win. Really though, it was cool to swim 5 miles! Not having swum as a kid, that was definitely the furthest I had swum in one workout. I'm not sure I'd want to go much further, but I do really enjoy open water swimming.

The podium at Swim Hobbs Island. Yeah, I won a swimming race

After the swim I tried to turn things right around and get in shape for the fall's annual running races. This, unfortunately, is where things started to unravel. I managed to pull out a decent performance in the Army Ten Miler and continued pressing, hoping I could get (back) into shape for the Rocket City Marathon in December. However, by late October my hamstring had had enough and any hopes of a fast run at RCM were out of the picture.

#bros post Army Ten Miler

Looking back, my training was fairly consistent in the spring, but horribly inconsistent over the summer. That, combined with my frequent racing, meant I was toasted to a crisp by the fall. I was able to fake my way through late summer races with good swims and bikes, but it was apparent my run was just not up to par and just hanging by a thread. The nail in the marathon's coffin, then, were Rocketman and Swim Hobbs Island - training for these caused my RCM training to be delayed, then rushed, then ultimately doomed. Retrospectively though, that was fine, because Rocketman and Swim Hobbs were both awesome events, and there are plenty of marathons ahead... like Boston! And, "other life stuff" is going really well, so mission accomplished. 

So yeah, I'm registered for Boston 2015 and look forward to the experience. I may be getting too old to set any PRs, but if I can stay healthy I'm still hoping to run reasonably well. From there I should have plenty to prep for the annual series of late summer and fall races. Should be fun!

But back to lessons learned for this year:

1. Training for a marathon swim and marathon run require very different types of workouts. Do not try to attempt both at the same time.

2. You can fake swim and bike fitness much longer than you can fake running fitness.

3. Racing is fun, but much less so when you haven't been training. Make sure to adjust expectations accordingly. 

Cheers to a great 2015!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Rocketman RR

Since it appears that the race report for my first triathlon of the year was my last post, I suppose it is only appropriate that my next post be the race report for my last tri of the year. (OK - the swim was cancelled at Gulf Coast, but come on...)

Up until Saturday I still wasnt sure if I was going to race on Sunday. I had signed up late for this one mainly because my buddy Philip was driving up from Birmingham and coming out of retirement for the occasion, but suddenly I realized that maybe that wasnt the best reason to enter an Olympic distance triathlon. And then there were the races the previous two weekends which, although I won, felt a lot harder than they needed to. In the end though, I had made a commitment to the race director, Mike Gerrity, so I figured I give it a shot. Worst case it would give me some good practice swimming in the Tennessee River for the upcoming Hobbs Island 5 mile swim.

For the last couple of years Mike, after some prodding from me, introduced an "open" wave. This allows anyone who actually wants to race for the overall win to start first in a mass start. Needless to say, this is so much better than the nonsense time trial starts most "races" around here employ. This year there were eight in the wave. Small, but probably sufficient to tease out the winner. They included the usual suspects like Dr. John Krichev and Bruce "The Legend" Gennari, as well as a few out of towners like Nick Vandam. There were also plenty of potentially dangerous college kids.

For the swim, though, most of this didnt matter. I knew there was one place I needed to be - on Bruce's (huge) feet. My strategy for the race was simple - stay with Bruce as long as possible in the swim, ride my Speed Concept as hard as I could, and then hold on for dear life on the run. I figured if I could come off the bike with a lead, no one would notice my lack of run fitness.

When the gun went off, I took off as well. Pretty soon Bruce began to ease away and I found myself fighting Nick for his feet. Soon though it seemed Nick fell back and I was in prime location. I was swimming fast for sure, but thankfully not losing any ground. By the first buoy at ~500 yds, I could tell we had a gap on the field. I successfully stayed with Bruce through the second turn as well, and from then on I just kept my head down and stayed focused. Bruce is a BOSS and even swimming behind him is difficult. But, I knew it would be worth it because if it was hard for me to draft I knew no one else would be close.

Out of the water it was mission accomplished - I was right on Bruce's heels. [Swim time: 18:42] Through transition he still had a bit of a gap, but once we were riding I got my shoes on a little quicker than him and pushed ahead. I figured he'd hang with me, if not pass and pull away. But, neither happened. A quick check back when we were around 5 miles in showed that a pretty nice gap had actually formed. More importantly, I still couldnt see anyone else. Continuing to push, I wanted to have as big a lead as possible by the turn around at around mile 14.

At the turn around life was good. By my calculations I had a 3+ min lead on Bruce and Dr. Krichev who had almost caught Bruce. From there I wanted to keep pressing to exploit my super fast Speed Concept and not have to worry about racing anyone on the run. In years past this much of a lead wouldve meant the race was over, but I knew my run wouldnt be up to par, so I wanted to make sure I still had a cushion off the bike. And, I had no idea how far back out of the water the others started.

Off the bike, I knew I had a nice lead, but had no idea how much. I did feel good that I didnt even hear anyone coming into transition after I had left, but I knew I'd be in for a painful run. First mile: 6:10. Even over trails and a slimy boardwalk, this was pretty bad. The course only got worse from there so I just stopped looking at my watch. This run was a total sufferfest, for sure, as there were parts on hilly pothole-filled, gravel covered dirt roads where I really wasnt even sure if I was moving forward. But, everyone had to run the same course, so I got into half-IM survival mode and just kept moving forward.

FINALLY we were out on some actual asphalt and I felt like I was almost running. The big test, I knew, would come at the turnaround at mile 4, as I'd be able to get a time split. Immediately after the turn, I saw a group running towards me and started to freak. Thankfully though it wasnt fellow racers - just a group of friends running along the course to cheer. Whew! Finally I saw the Good Doctor and he was over 4min back. Although I wasnt running fast I knew that with less than 2 miles to go there was no way he'd be able to make up that gap as long as I kept moving forward.

One more trip over the treacherous road, and I was finally heading towards the finish.

In the end I had the 2nd fastest swim, 2nd fastest bike, and fastest run, and even snuck under 2h at 1:58:30. Results here. I was totally wrecked after the race, but that was just due to the lack of training and honest effort on race day. So yeah, I guess it was a good thing I didnt just sleep in, after all...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gulf Coast Tri(Du)athlon RR

With this race being on a Saturday, and with impending CDR for our little rocket, this was going to be a quick trip down to Panama City Beach for the legendary 32nd annual Gulf Coast Triathlon. However, with this being the only half IM I had signed up for this year, I also was looking forward to the race, even if I knew I hadn’t been really “training”, but more just kind of “exercising”. Or, for the cyclists, living the full Fred lifestyle.

The day prior to the race was filled with its usual anxiety, but by the time the alarm went off on Saturday morning, I was ready to go. There was some concern about the weather, but as the sun began to rise while we went through the pre-race motions, it appeared any impending doom would remain at bay. Before I knew it, transition was closing, and we were all headed to the beach for an on-time start. This held right up until… the start time.

The first wave was supposed to enter the water at 6:20, while I was slotted to start with the other 30-34 y/o males at 6:45. However, 6:20 came and went with folks still standing on the beach. Then all of the sudden kayaks started heading back to shore – not what you want to see if you’re hoping to swim. A few minutes later people started herding together and we were told that for the first time in the 32(!) year history of the event, there would be no swimming. Needless to say, this was a major letdown, and I was about ready to just skip the race and play in the waves.

In place of the swim there was a TT start into a short beach run. I made the mistake of taking off my wetsuit too early and stood wet and shivering. Not ideal. Finally though I was off and up the beach, into transition, and out on my bike.

Heading out with the tailwind was great, but I was having a hard time dialing in my effort level after standing around on the beach for so long. I was hoping to get splits every 5mi with the goal of staying under 13min per. This would put me on pace for a 2:20 which, given my recent (lack of) training, I would’ve been pretty happy with. Unfortunately there were only markers every 10mi, but when the first one came just under 23min into the ride, I was feeling pretty good. Although I was happy to have put time in the bank, I knew the first 5mi included a pretty healthy tailwind which would be no fun on the return trip.

Shortly after a BRO rode up on me, and I decided it was time to start racing. If I was going to be doing this, I might as well get it over with as quickly as possible. A couple of others joined us, and we slowly made our way through the field. (I am happy to report we saw multiple officials along the way, and multiple penalties were dispensed.)

Once we made the turn back south our split from mile 30 to 40 slowed, but was still under 25min, so I was pleased. However, I was also starting to get some major tightness in my gluts and hamstrings, likely due to the combination of lack of training and recent switch to longer cranks.

The last five miles were straight into a headwind and no fun at all, but I managed to hold it together for a solid 2h17 ride. Needless to say, the new Trek SpeedConcept is pretty awesome.  

I didn’t feel great starting the run, but I’ve also certainly felt worse. My first thought was that I sure was glad I only had to do it once! (IMFL is the same course twice.) I quickly left the BROs I had been riding with and set out to catch others up the road, specifically ladies and M25-29. First mile was 5:47, and as long I was running under 6min pace, I was happy. I cruised along feeling decent and trying to enjoy the day. I also knew it was all (figuratively) all downhill once I left the park. At the turn, I only saw three guys (all 25-29) ahead of me, but had no idea whether I was virtually in the lead or not. Once I left the park I was keeping the pace in the 6:0xish range and feeling pretty good (considering), but ready to be done. 10-11 was pretty rough, but by the time I reached mile 12 it was all good, as I was pretty confident I’d get under 1h20, my rough goal for this race.

Sure enough, I finished in 1h19, and after a brief conversation with the 3 guys who crossed the line ahead of me, I was pretty confident I’d finished with the fastest time. Results confirmed this

While I was certainly bummed about the canceled swim, I was really pleased with the end result. I had been wanting to race here since 2003ish but due to scheduling conflicts had never been able to make it. So, it was really nice to be able to enjoy the day and have a decent result. And, there was free beer immediately after the race AND at the post race party that evening. What more could you want? 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

32.6 Challenge

In keeping with the spirit of the season, this was definitely a "why not" kind of racing weekend. Saturday was the Heel & Crank Duathlon, while Sunday was the inaugural Bridge Street Half Marathon. I had committed to the Heel & Crank a couple of months before the half was announced, so when I heard about it, I didnt really think twice about racing it. Duathlons are hard, after all, and two hard 3 mile runs on Saturday would be enough hard running for the weekend. Additionally, the risk of injuring myself with that much hard running, and missing out on quality bike training time would have, in the past, been unthinkable. However, this is 2014, so when it was announced that anyone doing both would be eligible for a commemorative pint glass, well then I just had to sign up for the half as well! 

Saturday morning, then, started off with a trip to the pool, because what good triathlete wouldnt swim before a duathlon? 

At the race, I was my usual mix of worried but confident. Worried I wouldnt win, but confident in my abilities. Heading off for the first run, I felt pretty good and it seemed no one wanted to run with me, so I did my own thing. Plus, I wanted to make sure I had some time on the stronger cyclists in the field. At the turnaround of the first run, it looked like I had about a 30s lead - decent but not great. Finished run #1 in 16:07.

Out on the bike, I felt surprisingly good. I didnt have a computer, but felt like I was moving pretty quickly. The thought was to just make it to 20min, or 8mi, without being caught. That is over halfway, and if I got caught and lost time, I shouldve be able to make it up in run #2. Luckily, I never got caught and rolled into T2 in first.
That set up a nice cruise for the second 3 mile run of 16:23.

All in all really pleased with the race, as I was faster in all three segments this year (20s faster in run 1, 1min faster on the bike, and 15s faster on the 2nd run). Some of that I think had to do with the weather, as it was pretty cold last year, but still, I'll take it! It was definitely a surprise in the right direction. Full results here. 

Sunday, however, was a different story. Of course I'd be sore, but I wasnt totally sure how my body would respond. At the start another local runner, Eric Debolt, said he was going for sub 1:15. So, I figured I'd try to stick with him for as long as possible and see what happened. That lasted about two miles before I started feeling a lot worse than I shouldve two miles into a half, so I had to back off the pace. Eventually I settled in around 5:55 pace, which seemed much more reasonable, but about all the legs had. There was also a brief stop between mile 10 and 11 - apparently the stomach didnt like the double races, either. This brought me to the finish solidly in third place, meaning the race the day before probably only cost me one place, because there was no way I was going to beat Josh Whitehead (he ran with Debolt before dropping a 9:4x last two miles...) Results are here. Splits for me: 5:32, 5:45, 5:54, 5:55, 5:57, 5:54, 5:52, 5:59, 6:01, 6:00, 5:58, 5:49, 5:39.

So, would I recommend this? No, not exactly. Will I do it again? No probably not. Was it a cool experience? For sure, especially because both races were in town, had great support, and were a lot of fun. And the crazy thing is that there were over 100 people that did both! So it was pretty cool to have the shared experience.

But, there is a reason why you never see coaches prescribe two hard running workouts on back to back days... they take a lot out of you. I think it was a combination of muscle fatigue and glycogen depletion which led to the slower than usual performance on day two. Now I just need to take a few days really easy (no problems there...) and hope the weekend didnt take too much out of me, as I'd like a few more quality weeks of decent exercising before Gulf Coast.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Words to Live By - 2014

Marketing campaigns and corporate slogans are often cheesy, but sometimes they can be really effective. The best can connect with a large audience by touching them on a very personal level. So what does marketing have to do with my 2014? As I was trying to come up with a theme for the year, I kept coming back to one slogan, "Just Do It".

The seminal Nike slogan which turned 25 last summer embodies my outlook on racing and training this year. Specifically, rather than limiting events and workouts only to those which will explicitly help improve my triathlon performance as I would've done in years past, I'm planning out branching out in order to seek out new and different experiences. This may lead to an EPIC FAIL in some races, but thats OK, as long as I'm having fun with friends along the way. 

So, to get the year started off right, I had my first "Just Do It" experience yesterday. The week before last I was informed our Masters swim group at the Huntsville Swim Association was going to do the USMS 1h Postal on the morning of Saturday the 18th. Normally I would've said, "No thanks" because the all out 1h effort would've left me pretty worn out and would've been detrimental to my ride later in the day. But as I found out most of the faster swimmers in town were going to participate, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to Just Do It. Who cares if I'd only been back in the pool for a couple of weeks? Regardless of outcome, it would be an awesome experience with friends.

So going into the swim, I was hoping to swim 1:15/100 which would give me 4800 yards in an hour. I thought this was a relatively conservative goal, but given my lack of training wasn't totally sure of my fitness. I was also hoping the company would give me a little motivation to race, making me push a little harder.

So the plan for Saturday was to get the pool a little after 5 for a 5:30 start. However we got in a little late, so I was only able to do a 600yd warm up. At the start I quickly settled into a rhythm and was surprised how good I felt. I was checking my splits every 400yds, and I was happy to see ~4:50 per 400, meaning I was ahead of pace. Still, Brandon, the guy I swim with, got off to a pretty solid start and probably built up about a 50yd lead over the first 500. He usually beats me in workouts, though, so I was trying not to worry too much about him.

Continuing on, all of the sudden I noticed he was starting to falter a bit, and soon enough I was catching him. Somewhere towards the end of the second thousand, I made the pass and made sure to pick of the pace just a bit, topbut some added pressure on him. Sure enough, he broke and I continued to pour it on with no one else around. At this point I was leading and was just focusing on maintaining pace. As much as I could tell I was doing a pretty good job maintaining pace and Brandon was no where to be seen. This was great until the second half of the 4th thousand (when I was in the 70s for number of laps) at which point things started hurting and I felt like I started to lose focus a bit. Finally I got to 80 laps down, realized I had knocked out 4k and therefore only had at most 1k left. At that point I knew I was going to make 4800 so I started wondering how close I'd get to 5000. After passing lap 90, I knew I had to pick it up if I wanted to have any chance of getting there. Before the race we were told we'd see a red paddle at ~5min to go. So, after I passed 93 laps and still hadn't seen the red paddle, I thought I had a pretty good shot. I continued to press, and hit the wall at 98 down thinking I just needed to sprint the last 100 to get to 5000. Alas, as I headed to the wall to start my last lap, I was told time was up.

In the end I made it 4925, which means I likely wouldve been around 61min for 5k. So, to get 5k in an hour, I wouldve had to go close to a second faster per 100.  And, as it turns out my 500yd splits were pretty even: 6:03, 6:07, 6:06, 6:05, 6:03, 6:04, 6:08, 6:08, 6:09, ~6:07, so I'm not sure how much faster I could've gone.

All in all, defintiely a fun morning, and a good story to share with friends. The best part was the Oatmeal Creme Pie I had waiting for me at the finish! (Guilty pleasure... dont judge!)

Epilogue: After a 2.5h nap, I did make it out for a ride. But, it was short and easy, and I didnt care. Here's to a great 2014!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Its been a fun ride.

After 6 years of racing as a "professional" triathlete, its time to call it quits. And by that, of course, I really mean I'll not be renewing my "Elite" USAT license for 2014.

Naturally the first question I get when I tell people this is, "Why?" The easiest / smart ass answer is "I'm getting old". Its a smart ass answer because obviously there are plenty of professionals, in fact most of the top long course racers, who are over 30. So physical age really should not be an excuse.

But, the real reason does have to do with getting old. But rather than the physical effects its really the psychological ones. More precisely, I just dont have the motivation to continue to train to compete at a level I feel warrants "Elite" status. When racing as a pro, all that really matters is your performance relative to your peers. This is both awesome and awful at the same time. Awesome because its all about the competition but awful when you're no longer competitive.

When I began racing as a pro in 2007, I knew there were guys who were out of my league at the time, but I had confidence that I had plenty of room for improvement, and it would only be a matter of time before I began to close the gap. After all, I had just finished 13th overall at the 70.3 World Championships while finishing as the first overall non pro, so I relished the chance to compete against the best.

2008, 2009, and 2010, then, were filled with lots hard miles, and some pretty consistent racing. Day after day, week after week, I was planning my next workout, working out, and/or recovering from my previous workout. I had some decent results, including finishing in the middle of the pack of male pros at the 70.3 World Championships in 2009 (49th / 82) and 2010 (25th / 40) (after flatting twice in 2008) but was never really in the mix late in the race to win any 70.3s. In training, I really only saw marginal improvement, at best, in key workouts.

Eventually the grind started to take its toll. Punishing yourself by yourself everyday takes a fair amount of internal motivation. At first, the motivation was abound, as I knew I wasn't that far off from at least being "in the mix". My swim and run were there; I just needed to improve on the bike. Solution? Bike hard, and bike a lot. But, in order for the belief, and therefore motivation, to stay at a high level, I needed to see improvement. Excuses can be made for individual workouts, but when you take a step back and see only marginal gains, it makes you start questioning the bigger picture.

I certainly had some results that plenty of people would be take any day of the week. But sometimes "good" isn't "good enough" especially when it comes to racing as a pro. You either perform to a certain level or you don't, and I began to realize that the only way I would even have the chance to be competitive was if I decided to quit my day job and "fully commit" to triathlon.

While I love triathloning, I also love being a Materials and Processes Engineer for Boeing. Everyday at work I get to help design the Core Stage of the Space Launch System, NASA's heavy lift rocket which has the potential to take humans further from Earth than they've ever gone before. We have some really hard problems, and I couldnt imagine giving up on helping to solve them. So while some consider "living the dream" to be quitting their "boring day job" and committing to triathlon, I feel like I am "living the dream" every day when I head into work.    

So there it is; its been a fun ride and I am incredibly privileged to have experienced it. I still love triathlon and will certainly still continue to race, as this sport is too much fun. But, it will be at some different events, so anyone have any suggestions?