Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Uncharted waters

I'm in Canada this week for a conference, Quebec, in fact, here. Needless to say, I was stoked to be going to the great Canadian outdoors, and to get a chance to check out that lake.

Seriously, this was the view from my balcony this morning.

The resort was at the base of Mont Tremblant, a popular ski mountain, so I was a little worried about how cold this lake was going to be. I called the resort last week to see if I should bring a wetsuit. Here's how the conversation went down:

"Hi, I'll be staying with you next week. I was wondering if you knew what temperature the lake was."
"Ha ha ha. No, I don't know"
"Oh, well, have you been in the lake yet? Is it very cold?"
"Employees aren't allowed in the lake"
"Ok, have you seen many guests swim in the lake?"
Ok, fine, it looks cold, and they have a "semi-olympic pool," so I opted to not bring the wetsuit. But when I got there, the water was super warm, maybe 68-70 degrees. Monday afternoon we had some downtime before dinner, and I ran into some one else from the conference carrying goggles. Good sign. I asked him if he was going to swim, and he said, yes, but that he had already been chastised by the lifeguard to only swim within the ropes. But that the lifeguard took off at 5:30. So we bided our time. Finally around 6, we got our chance.

As we waded out of the shallows, I asked him about his open water swimming. Turns out, he's signed up for his first sprint in August, and he's never done any open water swimming, but he's pretty confident. I briefly go over spotting to keep him swimming in a straight line, and off we go.

Here's our planned route.

The first bit is sorta yucky. As the sand disappears into the depths, the seaweed reaches the surface. Despite all the open water swimming I've done over the last 5 years, I prefer to not see anything in the water when I swim. I resort to closing my eyes.

I clear this bit and get into the real deep, and things are feeling good. I pull up to a few kayakers and look back. My new friend is probably 50m back, and is breast stroking. I wait up for him, and assure the kayakers that we will be fine, we're strong swimmers and no, those dark clouds on the horizon don't look that scary.

When my friend catches up, I check in with him. He says swimming into the dark water had been harder than he expected, but he points out, he's gotta do it at some point. Right, I had forgotten about how scary that is. No matter how comfortable you may be at the deep end, when you're suddenly more than a few strokes from the side of the pool, panic sets in. Steve in a Speedo actually talked about getting his brother-in-law in the water for the first time this week.

We decide to continue on to swim to one of the islands. I suggest he tap my feet. This is a drill we do in practice to prep for races. You swim faster with less effort when you're swimming on some one else's feet: it's like drafting on the bike. And you don't feel alone. And you've got a goal which is keeping on those feet, and that helps keep your mind off of the deep.

Off we go. I check every 30 strokes or so, and he's keeping up well, and we make it as close to the island as I want to get (no seaweed). We tread for a bit, then breaststroke for a bit to catch our breaths. Those dark clouds from before, they've moved closer, they are encroaching on the resort, and in the distance we can hear thunder. I convince him to get moving. This time, he doesn't stay on my feet. This time he needs more rest. So we swim for a bit, we breast stroke a bit. He offers for me to go ahead, but no way am I gonna leave him in the middle of this lake.

We make it back through the seaweed, and we're chatting our way back to the shore, when the storm just opens up. Massive drops, strong gusts. We sprint out of the water, grab my clothes as they're just about to blow away. And jog into the hotel. Phew, safe.

Into the elevator, hit the button, doors close, lights out. Sweet, the power is out. About 30 seconds later, the emergency power kicks in, and the lights come back on. Ok, door open. Door open. Door open? Nothing. My friend tries to pry the doors open, but it's a single door, that closes to one side, and he can't fit his fingers in. Luckily, my fingers are small. I can just get my fingertips around the lip of the door. And I pull. Success. We escape.

It's been a long time since my first openwater swim at Walden all those years ago, when simultaneously Robyn, Andrea and I all stopped, panicked and decided to swim along the shore for safety. I'm impressed with my new friend. He did way better than I did, I'm sure he'll have a great swim.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Patriot Race Report: Learning the hard way

A little over a year ago, I took on my first half ironman. It was a challenge unlike other tris I have done. This year, I returned to the distance at the Patriot to try to learn from the difficulties last year and have a solid race. Well, I finished, and I learned more about this distance, but I don't think I can say I had a solid race. I finished in 6:08 - 18 minutes slower than last year. But I did come 8th in my age group (out of 26), so that's not too shabby. Still I wasn't out there to podium, I was out to master the distance, and once again, the half got the best of me. Here's what I learned.

Exiting T1

With temperatures in the upper-80s, I knew I'd need to take on more fluids. I'd even planned on stopping to pee, but as it turned out, I didn't have to. I have 2 water bottle cages on my bike, a front one with my sustained energy and a back one with just water. I usually only use my back cage to refill my front one in training, so when I went for my water 2 miles in, I dropped it. Crap. Well there's a water stop at mile 15, I'll just have to make it there. Bad plan. I should have stopped and picked up the bottle. Instead, I was without water for the first 50 minutes of the bike. I kept drinking my sustained energy, but it just wasn't doing it.

Then, of course, when I did finally get to the water stop, the water bottle didn't fit in my cage cause my bike is so tiny. Bad planning. I jammed it in on a diagonal. I wasn't going to go without water for the next 15 miles. I focused on drinking ever mile, to try to get the fluid back into me.

Finishing lap 1

When I got to the next water stop at 30 miles, I still had half of the water bottle and half of my fuel, so I decided I was good, I didn't exchange bottles. Again, bad plan. I ran out of all fluids at around mile 38, still ~7 miles to the next water stop. At this point I start developing a dehydration headache. Ugh. More water at mile 45, but it was too late.

On my way out of the run, stuffing my bike gloves into a pocket

I got into T2, put on shoes and ran to make a portapotty stop. By this point I had had 3 bottles of liquid, but only a thin stream of gu-like pee came out. Dang, my reflection in the mirror revealed swollen lips. Seriously dehydrated. I tried to remedy with some heed at the first mile water stop. But by the time I got to mile 2, I felt worse. I sat down, drank water, heed, had electrolyte pills, a gu. The volunteers offered to give me a ride back to transition. No way. If I'm gonna quit it's gonna be at mile 3. I start walking. After a few yards, I get up to jogging. At mile 3 I start the routine that will take me through the remainder of the day: splash myself with a cup of water, drink a cup of heed, walk a few yards and get to jogging. By mile 5, I actually felt good. More gu, more electrolyte pills and I was even banging out 9 minute miles there for a bit. Mile 10 didn't feel so good, but I made it. Total run time was 2:21.

Ok, so there are the lessons: pick up the bottle you dropped, practice with the exact mechanisms you will use on race day, don't rely on race provisions, explore other water options (bottle on the bars? camelback?).

Despite all this, there were some really good moments of the race yesterday too. I had the 4th fastest swim in my age group. I averaged 18.8 for the first half of the bike and 18.4 overall, giving me the 6th fastest bike in my age group. Once I got the hydration back in control, my run actually felt pretty good. I'm really proud of finishing the race. And finally, (and most importantly) my knee felt fine. Even a day later it's feeling ok. This was probably due to my absolutely amazing pit crew, Paul, who was ready for me with ice and saran wrap immediately after the race.

This morning I woke up still 4 pounds shy of my regular weight, so I've still got some work to do getting hydrated. But I'm now considering signing up for Pumpkinman. One more meeting with the half distance to tackle it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Patriot plan

Ok, first. I'm writing this from a hotel at the SFO airport. This is not my ideal race prep, but I came out here to give a proposal, and it went well. So I'm going with it. Plus, for my last half I did a trans-continental flight 2 days before, and that was fine, right? I fly out at 6 tomorrow morning.

Back to the race. Since Mooseman, my knee has not been happy. And it's not been indifferent either. It has been angry. Seriously angry. Like 5 days ago, I was considering pulling out of the race angry. It's the same old thing, super tight IT band pulling knee all out of shape. But it was waking me up in the middle of the night. It was painful to put weight on; it was painful to lift my knee. You get the picture. There's been a flurry of physical therapy-esque activity, and just a few tears, and at this point, I'm pretty confident I will be racing in about 36 hours.

It's supposed to be hot. Like 88 degress hot. Race starts at 7:15, so realistically, I'll be racing through the hottest part of the hottest day of the year. Awesome. Here's my plan:

Swim: Last year I did a 32 minute swim. Sure it was one of the best swims of my life, but I'd love to see a repeat of that. Plus, I've gotten faster over winter training. So lets go with 32 minutes.

Ride: First off, I'm wearing my regular cycling shoes, they're not as fast to put on, but they are seriously more comfortable, so those extra 20 seconds or so in transition seem totally worth it. Ok, so last year, I held a 30km/h pace which works out to 18mph. But that course was flat, dead flat. In this preseason, I've been stressing feeling like I'm not able to get up to that sort of speed this year. I just haven't ridden outside nearly as much as I did in Brisbane. But I've had a couple of good rides a nearly 20mph average at Mooseman, and a 17.8 average on the Patriot course a few weeks ago, so I'm thinking 18 is doable. I'll set my computer to average and just hold onto 18. This course is two loops of 29 miles, so it's a bit longer than Busso, so my time will be a bit longer, but the course is more interesting with a few rollers to get out of the saddle for. I'm looking forward to it.

Last time, I had planned on a pee break in T2, but this didn't happen. Not cause I was concerned about time, but because I was way too dehydrated to have to go. This will not be the case on Saturday. I've been training to take in more fluid and despite my coach's recommendations, I'm not going to try to pee on the bike. Like they say, don't race anything you haven't trained, so I'm planning on stopping at the portapotties after the first loop. All in all, this means I'm looking at a 3:15 bike.

Run: This is once again the wild card. I haven't done anything longer than a 10K run going into this, so that's nerve-racking, but I also feel confident that if I keep it controlled, that I can do it. Provided the knee behaves itself. I've got my nutrition and hydration in much better shape than last year (in that I've actually planned them), so if that was truly what held me back last year, then hopefully, I should be ready. 2 hours on the run is the goal.

0:32 + 3:15 + 2:00 = 5:47 + 0:05 (transition) + 0:03 (bathroom break) = 5:55.

Honestly, I will be happy to finish this race. I will be thrilled to come in sub-6. If I come in 5:55, it will be an amazing day. Given what an awesome day I've had today, anything seems possible.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

More lessons from the other side of racing

First, a follow up on the earlier Mooseman post: I came in 27/64 in my age group. Ok, not great. There's some stiff competition in these parts. Here are a few more shots from the official race picts:

Looking aggressive on the bike, though that helmet looks really far back.

I think I like Matt's picture (from the first post) better for what it's worth.

And finally, oh yeah, I caught that guy. Final time was 1:44.

Moving on. On Sunday, Natalia and I volunteered for the Mooseman 70.3. We weren't thrilled going into it: it rained ALL day, but we went, and once there, we really enjoyed it. We were stationed in the transition area along with roughly 30 high school volunteers. Now I appreciate that the school has this program, but honestly, these kids were just in the way. None of them had ever done a tri or had any idea what would be helpful to the athletes. Most were put to work standing out of the way and cheering on the athletes as they ran through. Talia and I stationed ourselves in the middle of the transition area. We helped people locate their racks, sprung into action when a rack collapsed, untangled jerseys and were scandalized by some people's lack of modesty. Again, several lessons to take to my next tri:

  • Never try to put on anything that is not loosely fitted in transition. You're wet. At this race, these items were wet, they just won't be easy to get into. Vests work well. Arm warmers should be swum in or avoided (or possibly rolled, so they're easy to unroll - though I didn't see any one attempt this)
  • Don't try to get food into your pockets in transition. Do this beforehand. If you're putting on a vest, have them stashed. Use a bento box or swim with them.
  • Know where the porta-potties are. We saw one athlete, run back over the mats and out to the spectator loos. I don't know what happened to his time, but it couldn't have been good.
  • If you're going to sit down to put on shoes, have a place to do it. We saw one 3-legged camping stool and several buckets and milk crates used for this purpose.
  • Flip or cover your shoes to prevent rain from pooling in them.
  • Practice entering and exiting transition. I was surprised at how many pros didn't know where their racks were. It's not enough to just generally know where the exit is, actually practice.
Finally, although other race management folks got to ride around in this, we never got to, and I'm still bummed.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Mooseman Race Report or rolling with the punches

Which is safer riding or walking my bike through a thunderstorm? Well, the tires are rubber, so I'm not grounded when I'm riding, but I am soaked to the bone, so that probably doesn't matter. The frame is carbon, so it shouldn't be attracting the lightning right?

These are my thoughts as I pedaled my way to transition on Saturday morning for the Mooseman Olympic distance. The race did not go according to anyone's plans. We awoke to massive thunderstorms at 5am. At 7am they canceled the swim and postponed the race til 9, and I pedaled back to our little cabin. At this point, I felt very much on the fence as to whether or not I should bother with this race. The ride was cut down to 17 miles because a portion of the course had been washed out, and no swim at all meant my ability to practice my race routine was pretty much out the window. There's a part of me that wants to throw in the towel, promise myself I'll go for a ride later that day and go back to bed. And plenty of people did just that. But here I was, all ready to race with nowhere to go. I thought about my friend Natalia. You remember her, right? Well she's been struggling since the half marathon with injury. Her foot hurts to put weight on, the inside of her shin has been acting up, then on Friday the outside started to ache too, and she was just bummed. And rightfully so, being injured sucks. But despite this, she rallied to come out to Mooseman with the plan of making it a swim-bike for training purposes (she even left her sneaks at home, so she wouldn't be tempted.) I thought about Talia, and then I thought I've got two weeks til this half ironman, and giving up on things is not going to get me across the finish line.

Back out to the course we go! Screw my nutrition, let's use this race to get mentally prepped. Out on the bike things feel pretty good. I'm even holding a much faster pace than in practice. I make it up devil hill, passing two guys walking their bikes, and I pass my friend Audrey on the way to the turn on 3A. Feeling good. Then she passes me back. Hmm, this will never do. I know she will clobber me on the run, so I need to put in a good effort on the bike. I pass her back. OK, sweet, no wait, here she comes again. Goddammit, Audrey. I actually say this to her as I pass her one final time. Then I focus on racing, looking over my shoulder every now and then to see if she's making another move. I pull into transition cleanly.

After some brief confusion over some one else's bike being in my rack ("just put your bike anywhere," yells a volunteer - yes, that's what got us in this mess in the first place). I'm out on the run. My goal here is to mentally prep for the half. It's just about half of the distance of the run I'll face in two weeks, so let's treat it like that one. I go out thinking about, just turning my legs over, keeping good form, not pushing it. I start picking people off. I also start using the techniques I learned at the marathon to get water, and it works terrific. Audrey passes me on her way back, and I realize she passed me in transition. Boo. But I keep in mind this is about mental prep. At mile 5, I feel pretty good. Bit of a cramp in my right calf, but otherwise feeling good. It's time to ramp up this cruisey pace. I think about my tuesday night track practices. It's just four more laps. Go! I pick people off. A friend snaps this great picture as I run by the BTT tent.

I feel great. I look great (check out that left elbow, Ali - it is so far back!) I pass one guy, who had the gall to pass me back in the winding paths around transition that lead to the finish. On the last turn, I pull up next to him and say "Come on!", but he looks back and says "Go!" So I do, I pass him and sprint, yes, all out sprint to the finish. Damn. That felt great. I ran a 51 minute 10K. That's pretty close to my all time PR. This is making me think that my goal of breaking 50 minutes may be attainable this season if I do a 10K alone. Sweet.

The following day, Natalia and I volunteer in transition for the half ironman. I'll post more details later, but here's the super awesome t-shirt I got from the ironman tent. I mean really - it's math AND triathlon, has there ever been a more perfect t for me?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Race planning

It's here. The Mooseman Olympic distance is tomorrow. I'm using this race as a run through for the Patriot Half in two weeks. This means I'll be doing things a bit differently to the way I would normally race an Olympic, like wearing real bike shoes instead of tri shoes, bike gloves, eating solid food. My transitions may be a little longer, but I think the practice should be worth it. I've got plenty of other Olympic distances to really race on.

Here's the plan:

  • 5am wake up, eat half a cup of oatmeal, drink a spark, braid hair
  • 5:30 head to the course, register, rack, sunscreen, etc
  • 7am warm up
  • 7:30 first gu
  • 7:46 start swim
  • Transition to bike - sunnies, gloves, socks, shoes, helmet, bike, clif bar and additional gu in bento box, NUUN water bottle
  • Eat half of clif bar after devil's hill
  • Eat gu at turn for Cass Mill Rd
  • Transition to run - runners, number belt, visor, one gu in pocket
  • Eat gu on way out
  • Drink water from aid station
  • Finish race like a rockstar!
I'm still a little nervous about the nutrition, but this the time to test it out, work out any last minute kinks. Any suggestions?

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