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?