Monday, December 6, 2010

Weighing in

I haven't written here since September 14th, wow.  That's not a coincidence, since I haven't been training since then either.  That's three months off, something I've never done.  Additionally, I took about 8 weeks off completely - no swimming, biking, running at all.  That was a bad idea.  I've been slowly working back into things the last few weeks with a few short bike rides - but I'm out of shape.  8 weeks of inactivity coupled with bad diet, and I'm as heavy as I was when I started training in 2006.  Wow.
194 pounds.  That's what the scale said this morning, and it blew me away.  I knew my jeans weren't quite fitting the way they should, but that's pretty heavy.  It feels like yesterday (in fact it was only 11 weeks ago) I was toeing the line in Madison.  I weighed 180 pounds that day, and I was fit.  180 is not the lightest I've been since I began triathlon (165 if you're interested) but that is the highest fitness level I've ever attained.  I had a disappointing race due to nutrition, but I was healthy and strong that morning.  Today I am not.
What the hell happened?  Unfortunately, it's not rocket science, and the blame is all mine.  After my two Ironman season, I decided I needed some time off.  This was a good idea.  I decided to do no structured training for the rest of the year - also a good idea since I hadn't taken an "off season" in 4 years.  But I made some mistakes:

  1. My time off (no exercise) lasted 8 weeks.  It should have been 2-3 weeks, and then some light unstructured workouts
  2. I continued to eat calories as if I had been training.  I had been in Ironman mode for 20 months, and eating 4000+ calories a day was habit.
  3. The quality of my diet degraded badly.  

The first two mistakes I can live with.  Stuff happens.  I was tired.  I needed a break, and I overdid it a bit.  The third mistake, eating poorly, was preventable.  I knew it while it was happening, but I didn't stop it - big mistake.
I wasn't eating cleanly to begin with (I eat out at lunch almost every day), but things got really bad this fall.  My office has a couple of perks, which turn out aren't so perky in the long term.  First, we have unlimited soda fridges.  I've always had a bit of a sweet tooth, and Cherry Coke is a very effective way to fill your bloodstream with sugar.  Second, we have unlimited candy in the office.  For me, it's the Laffy Taffy that gets me.  Or the Nerds.  Or the Jolly Ranchers.  I was drinking 3-6 Cherry Cokes a day, and at least 10 Laffy Taffy's.  Below is the evidence, it's a photo of my garbage can at work as I found it this morning - it's Friday's diet.  You won't see any soda cans since I recycle those - at least not killing the planet is still important to me.

It's embarrassing to post that picture, it makes me angry at myself.  So what am I going to do about it?  One of the many things I've learned from triathlon is that nothing goes as planned, and you've got to constantly adjust your expectations, focus on the things you can control, and forget those you cannot.  I cannot go back and undo the damage I've done to myself, but I can correct the behaviors that lead me here.
Notice I said "correct", and not "over-correct".  I believe that is the mistake most people make when they decide to get fit.  I could go from my slovenly 194 pound frame to my gaunt 170 pound version in the next two months if I needed to - but it would not be a good idea.  To do that I would need to do severe calorie restriction.  This would mean I would be hungry all the time - and it would not be sustainable.  As soon as I "finished" my diet, I'd want to eat more again.  This is the typical Oprah-esque yo-yo diet.  The idea of a "diet" is crazy, because by definition it has a end.  What happens when it's over?  The only way to permanently fix things is to permanently change your behavior.  Not for a week or two, not until you've reached your goal weight, but permanently.  Easy to say, tough to do.
What behaviors am I trying to change (permanently)?  Here they are.  If you catch me violating these, please harass me.

  • Pack my lunch.  I am capable of making good nutritional choices in a grocery store.  I have a much harder time in a restaurant.
  • Stop drinking soda.  Not cut back, but eliminate it.  I have an all-or-nothing personality with soda.  I cannot drink it occasionally - that opens the floodgates.  It has to be cold-turkey for me with soda.
  • Reduce refined sugar considerably.  No more candy at work.  Watch Sugar The Bitter Truth to discover why.  I am going to try to follow the guidelines presented at about 1:09.
  • Get back to working out.  This one is easy.  I'm overweight, a little rusty, and out of the habit - but I really enjoy swimming, biking, and running.

That's it, four simple things.  These are all easy to understand, easy to measure, and will become part of my routine after a few weeks of struggling with them.  Notice that I didn't say anything about eating less, or counting calories etc.  That's because I don't think it's as important for me.  Replacing low quality calories with high quality ones is important, but reducing the amount of calories is less so.  More importantly, calorie restriction is difficult.  I'm going to have a hard enough time with these goals - sugar addiction sucks.  I want to start with the basics first and get them right - I don't want to derail the whole thing by setting too aggressive a goal.  If I need to start counting calories later I will, but not now.  Especially with 8 to 12 hours of training a week (I'll be there again soon!) calorie restriction can be detrimental.
I'll keep you posted on the progress.  Hopefully in the next few months you'll be seeing a lot more of me here on  the blog, and a lot less of me in person!

"It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters." - Bear Bryant

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

IMMOO: Taking the Good with the Bad

I had a fantastic time in Wisconsin this weekend racing in Madison.  Friendly people, beautiful weather, breathtaking landscapes - and lots of cows.  The race itself didn't go as I wanted, or as I predicted.  But I'll get to that in a minute, first I'd like to point out how great Madison was as a host city.  I've done three IM races now (and a LOT of other races) plus spectated a few - and Wisconsin wins hands down as my favorite.  The city of Madison is a college town, it's a little funky and quirky - kind of like Leucadia is wishing they were - and filled with nice people.  The surrounding areas, where most of the bike course lies, are gorgeous and pastoral - especially with the late summer weather.
Now to the race stuff.  First I have to say: I did not do well.  215th in my age group.  Out of 293.  Ouch.

As I said above, the people I met in Wisconsin were very friendly.  However, much like gremlins, apparently they get nasty when they get wet.  I have never had such a rude experience during an IM swim.  The start line was crowded with 2700 athletes, so you expect to get kicked and elbowed and head-butted and generally beat up - you get that at any mass swim start.  This is the only IM I've done where it went beyond that - athletes actively being a-holes.  I had my ankle grabbed and pulled multiple times.  I was punched in the calf (I'm certain it was not an accident - who swims with a closed fist?) which caused me some cramping issues for the next 13 hours.  Someone even put their hand on my shoulder and actually pushed me down under the water.  It's the only swim I've ever been in where I was actually gasping for air, I just couldn't stay calm and get a good breath very often.  Luckily, most of the a-hole swimmers were also slow, and the second loop went much more smoothly - just the usual bunch-ups at the turn buoys.
Predicted time: 1:05 to 1:15
Actual time: 1:09

Nothing much to say here.  IM transitions are hard.  This one required running 1/4 of a mile and up 4 levels of a spiral parking garage ramp.  I'd like to be quicker here, but this is no big deal.
Predicted time: 5-7 minutes
Actual time: 10:35

The bike course is a 17 mile "out" followed by two 39 mile loops around the countryside, then returning the 17 miles "back" to town.  It's breathtaking scenery, glad I was there.  It's also hilly.  Super hilly.  I've never ridden anything like this - it's not crazy mountainous hills (St. George), but there is no respite.  It's undulating the entire way, with one or two sustained climbs in to wear you down a bit more.   However, the climbs are manned by an army of locals cheering you on - it felt like a scene from the Tour de France.  Plus, the city of Verona which we passed through twice has a big festival and huge crowds cheering us on.  For me, this included my parents, grandmother and aunt - who endured just as much as I did to get there and get through the tough day.  It was great to come up the last hill into Verona and see my Dad on watch for me.
My plan was to do 170 Watts average, which would put me somewhere between 6:00-6:30 for the bike course.  I also planned on drinking 20oz of water (one bottle) and eating 300 calories each hour.  Looking at my data now, it's a disaster.
I felt great for the first 17 miles, though I went out a little too fast.  187 Watts, 19.7 MPH.
First Loop I felt good too, 172 Watts 19.4 MPH.  Perfect.
Second Loop, everything fell apart.  I felt tired.  I couldn't speak, I was dehydrated. 148 Watts, 17.1 MPH
Last 17 back to town - I was dead.  120 Watts.
Predicted time: 6:00 to 6:30 (170 Watts)
Actual time: 6:10 (156 Watts)

I hopped off my bike to find, I had sprained my ankle.  How do you sprain an ankle on a bike?  It didn't hurt while riding, maybe I twisted it while dismounting?  I hobbled into the Frank Lloyd-Wright designed transition area (how many of those are there?) and took my time getting ready to run.  I remember saying to my assistant "I have never felt this bad in T2 before".
Predicted time: 5 minutes
Acutal time: 6:48

Calling this section "Run" is a bit of a misnomer.  There wasn't very much running in this marathon.  I had worked so hard on my run, I really wanted to show it off in Madison.  However, nutrition trumps fitness - and without fuel I was left with few options.  I ran the first mile in 8:35, faster than I was supposed to.  My legs felt OK for that first mile (other than the sprained ankle, calf still tight from the swim-punch, and a little bit of crampiness), but I was fighting hard to overcome serious breathing cramps and dizziness.  I gladly walked through the aid station and filled up with four cups of water and IM Perform.  I tried to run the next mile, but it was a struggle, a little bit of walking resulted in a 10:33 mile.  I can live with that - except that I felt like death.  I fought for two more miles (12 and 13 minutes respectively) and literally started seeing stars.  At this point I knew I was dangerously dehydrated, despite having 6 bottles on the bike and at this point 16 cups on the run.  New plan: drink as much as possible, go slow, recover, comeback on the second half of the course.  I started walking, and drinking 4 cups each mile.  Occasionally I would attempt to run, but it wouldn't last long.  This went on all day (and into the night).  I drank 120 ounces of fluid on the bike, and around 300 more on the run over the course of 12 hours - and never had to urinate once.  That is over 3 gallons of water without peeing, /that/ is some serious dehydration.  I actually didn't go until the next morning, after consuming another gallon or so in an attempt to recover.
So this was my slowest run ever.  It was my most painful run ever.  It was the second most sick I've been from dehydration.  My list of "Dehydration Moments" is getting long, and I'm running out of ideas as to the problem.  I don't know what I did wrong this weekend, I drank the same amount I trained with - but it failed spectacularly.  I only performed well for 4 hours, after that it was a long slow decline into misery.

Predicted time: 12:27
Actual time: 13:39
I'm not happy with my time, but I'm pleased with the experience.  I had a great long weekend in Wisconsin with KT and my family, and got to drink in the wonderful atmosphere in Madison.  I'm still a little dizzy, nauseous, dry-mouthed, and headachey two days later, but that will go away eventually.  I need to figure out this hydration thing, I can deal with it - but I don't want to put everyone else through the worry they went through this time anymore.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

IMMOO: What to Expect

I'm trying to piece together in my mind how this next race is going to go.  I'm taking a hiatus (sabbatical?) from the Ironman distance after this one, probably returning in 2012.  That means this one is important - I'll have to live with this result for a long time.  If I go away disappointed with my performance as I did in St. George then it's going to bother me for a long time.  After St. G. I was very frustrated with my race, but I told myself that I would make up for it in Madison.  Well, Madison is here - it's time to put my body where my mouth is.
My Previous Results

I've done IM swims of 1:08 and 1:04 so far.  I expect to be a little bit slower than that this time around, just because I haven't been swimming very much.  I'll be happy with anything under 1:15 which still puts me in the front portion of the main pack.  The swim is unimportant anyway, just need to exit the water without being exhausted or having been kicked in the head too badly.

I really need to work on my IM transitions.  So far both have been about 11 minutes, which might seem appalling.  However, there's a lot to do in T1:
  • Your time starts when you exit the water, so running up the ramp is included
  • You need to get to the wetsuit strippers and have them remove your suit
  • Run through the rows of bags and find yours
  • Run to the changing tent
  • Dry off - it's hard to put on dry clothes on a wet body
  • Change clothes (I always switch to bike shorts for an IM race)
  • Put socks on - I use them, many don't
  • Sunscreen
  • Use the bathroom - I have needed to both times so far
  • Run to the bike racks while wearing bike cleats, and get to T1 exit
So 11 minutes isn't fast, but it's not insane either.  I'm going to attempt to cut this down to 5 -7 minutes this time, though it probably is mostly dependent on whether I need to hit the bathroom or not.

My bike times so far have been 5:41 and 6:50 (19.7MPH and 16.4MPH).   That's a pretty good spread, however the courses were very different.  IMAZ is flat and fast, IMSTG is hilly and at elevation.  A better comparison is power and heart rate.  At IMAZ I was at 163 Watts and 137 bpm while at St. George it was 141 Watts and 123 bpm.  This is actually pretty much in line with expectations since I deliberately went easier at St.G to save my legs for the run.
So what will I do in Madison?  I'm targeting 170 Watts, though I don't know what time that will result in.  I'd like it to be around 6 hours, but my guess is that it's going to be about 6:30.

T2 is pretty unimportant, but it took me 9 minutes and 6 minutes in my previous races.  That seems too long, even with another full wardrobe change and fresh sunscreen.  I'll try to get this down in the 5 minute range.

I've worked on my run a lot this year.  I've PR'd twice at the half-marathon distance, and had my best ever 70.3 run as well.  My two IM times have been less than stellar: 5:19 and 6:16.  Ouch.  I'm running well right now and assuming there's no hydration/nutrition issues I think 4:30 is doable.  Coach thinks 4:00 is doable, but he's out of his mind.  4:20 would be great, since that is 10 minute/mile average.

So it adds up like this:
1:15 Swim
0:07 T1
6:30 Bike
0:05 T2
4:30 Run

That amounts to a 12:27 finish time, two minutes faster than my previous best.  I would love to get that under 12 hours, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen.  Maybe I can still shave a few minutes off of that swim time.  And the bike...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ironman by the Numbers

I'm two weeks away from IM number two for the year, my third overall.  I feel great, except for a back issue that might slow me down on the bike.  I wanted to break down some of my numbers over the last few years, the result is the eye chart below.
Stats from my three Ironman races

What is all that?  It's graphs of my weekly swim (green), bike (blue), run (red) and TSS (orange) for the six months leading up to each of the my Ironman races.  There's all kinds of cool stuff to pull out of this data, but I'll just mention a few of my thoughts on it.
  • The swim mileage has tapered off considerably in each race.  This is a product of not being in a regular masters class.
  • The swim mileage seems way too low!  Less than 3 miles a week doesn't even seem possible, since I swim masters twice (about 1.5 miles each) plus one open water swim (1 to 2 miles) each week.  Maybe I'm skipping too much?!
  • My bike miles were down considerably from IMAZ to IMSTG, dropping from 92 to 75 miles per week.  This is partly because I was focusing on the run during that time, partly because this was winter, and partly because I just wasn't into biking for a while.  Luckily, it's recovered a bit to 88 miles/week for IMWI.
  • My run miles are up considerably, an increase of 40% from 13.3 to 18.7 miles per week.
  • During my IMAZ prep, I ran more than 20 miles six times.  For IMWI I've done it 11 times.
  • During my IMAZ prep, I ran more than 30 miles zero times.  For IMWI I've done it 3 times.
The Training Stress Scores (TSS) are tough to judge.  My IMAZ TSS is low because I didn't have a watch that TrainingPeaks worked well with, so most of my run TSS were under-counted.  My IMSTG and IMWI could be compared directly (increase of 9.6%), but that's deceptive too.  My IMWI numbers include my four week recovery after St. George, so they're a little lower than they would ordinarily be.

So what does all this mean?  I'm  ready to race!  I have a huge aerobic base after 3 season of Ironman training.  I set a half marathon PR at Carlsbad in January, and broke it at AFC in August.  I had my best IM70.3 run in Oceanside this year.  My biking has been a little suspect this season, but my numbers look good during my power tests - so I'm confident that I'll do fine if I can drink enough water during the race.
Two more weeks to keep sharp, then it's off to see what I can do on the plains of Wisconsin.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Not Dead Yet

Finish of the Carlsbad Sprint Triathlon
I know, I haven't been around lately.  I don't call, I don't write... mostly, I don't write.  Nothing nefarious afoot, I've just been busy.  I bought a house in May (two days after finishing IM St. George) and although it wasn't listed in the paperwork it came bundled with a lot of chores.  I've spent my free time just trying to keep up with the mowing, laundry, and dishes.  I haven't even made it to the big stuff like mounting the television, fixing the water line to the fridge and installing the air conditioner (I'm assuming San Diego will have a summer at some point in 2010).  It doesn't sound like a lot of work for home maintenance, but I'm trying to squeeze it between 40 hours of work, and 20 hours of triathlon training.  It's hectic, but it's workable - and things will be better this fall once the Ironman training subsides.
IM Wisconsin is less than six weeks away, meaning I have about 4 more weeks of tough training.  I just completed a badly needed rest week, today was the first day back after a ludicrously easy rest week schedule, which I still struggled with.  This morning it was 16 miles running, my longest run of the year (since I technically stopped "running" at mile 13 in St. George).  It went.... OK.  I struggled to hit my pace, but finished the run without being too beat up, and ready to tackle the remaining 16 hours of training for this week.
What has surprised me so far in my IMWI preparation is that I'm not burned out.  During the training for both of my previous IM races (and one I trained for and didn't compete in), at some point near the end I just got completely fed up.  I wanted it to be over.  I wanted to just do the race and go home (though I really didn't even want to do the race).  I wanted to go home after work and watch television.  I wanted to put more attention on my career, on my personal life, on myself.  I was doing one of the most selfish things I had ever done (train for endurance sports) and all I wanted was time to myself.  Burnout is not logical, it just sucks for no reason.
Somehow I have avoided that this time around.  All I want to do right now is train just a little bit better, and then toe the line in Wisconsin ready to kill it.  I think having a couple of disappointing performances earlier in the year helped to focus me on what I'm trying to do.
IMWI will be my last Ironman for a little while - I'm taking 2011 off from that distance.  But the plan is not retirement... it's reloading.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dance with the one that brought you

Ironman St. George 2010 is in the books, but my feelings on it are still up for debate.  As advertised it was a hard race and I (like most everyone) struggled.  In the end I finished uninjured, KT was there to console me afterward, and I had a lot of fun - and I am thankful for that.  This is more of a race recap, I'll dig into analysis in a later post where I'll dissect the data from the race.
I arrived in Utah on Wednesday, and it was windy.  Crazy windy, like 25MPH sustained with 50MPH gusts.  There would be no way to hold a bike race in that kind of weather, which had me worried.  Thursday Rachel and I headed to Sand Hollow for a practice swim.  I put on my brand new DeSoto T1 wetsuit (who says you can't swim in a brand new suit on race day) which replaced my old T1 that had started leaking water into the left arm.  We pansied around ankle deep, afraid to dive into the cold water (we were told it was 57 degrees).  Eventually I went in, and it was cold - real cold.  I quickly developed an ice-cream headache, which I had never experienced in the water - despite having done some cold water swimming previously.  I swam about half a mile (13 minutes) before hitting the shore again.  Trying to get out of the water was disorienting.  I was dizzy, and my eyes wouldn't focus.  I thought it was my contacts acting up, but turns out your brain does crazy stuff when you stick it in ice water.  I hobbled across the parking lot slowly, changed clothes, then turned on the car's heater.  Wow, that felt good.  I drove straight to the expo at Ironman Village and started shopping for a neoprene cap, which I unfortunately never found.
The night before the race was uneventful.  KT and I made spaghetti for dinner, and made it to bed early since the alarm was set for 3:45AM.  On race morning I got dressed, grabbed my bag and peanut butter bagel, and hopped on the bus. 
It was cold at Sand Hollow, but by a miracle of the racing gods the wind had died down and would not be a factor.  After pumping up my tires and putting my Accelerade bottles on the bike, I hid in the dressing tent for warmth.  I kept my jacket and leg warmers on, and just tried to conserve body heat - I knew the lake was going to suck it right back out of me.  There was nothing to do in the tent except stare at the other athletes.  Nobody was talking, and to be honest it was kind of depressing.  Half the guys looked like the wide-eyed soldiers about to land at Normandy in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, and the other half seemed calm and collected - almost enjoying spectating the first timers.  Meanwhile, I was visualizing my race - though I didn't make it very far.  In my head I imagined getting out of the water and stripping off my goggles, at which point it occurred to me that I didn't bring my goggles!  A quick check of my bag confirmed it, and I had my first mini-panic attack of the week.  I asked around a bit, and eventually two different athletes offered to loan me a pair.  Thank you to racers #808 and #72, I tried to return the goggles to your bags at checkout but the officials there wouldn't allow it.  One of the pairs I was loaned was a set of black tinted Aquasphere Kaiman goggles.   This is exactly what I had planned on swimming in anyway!  What a miracle.  A quick adjustment, and they fit like they were molded for my face.  With my pre-race drama completed, I wetsuited up and got in the queue for the beach.
On the way to the water I ran into my friend Alan, who was also racing.  We wished each other well then disappeared into the crowd.  I also was flagged down by Pat who I hadn't seen in quite a while.  Thanks for the encouragement.  At 6:45 the pro field went off, marked by the firing of the start canon.  I wasn't ready for the bang, and apparently was standing near the thing - and it scared the bejeesus out of me.  A few minutes later they told us we were clear to enter the water, which I did.  However, the announcer told us that we didn't have to get in - and in fact said that you could stand on the shore if you wanted.  What?!  This beach is about 15 feet wide, and there are 2000 athletes.  There is no orderly way for 2000 people to get through a 15 foot gap to start a race.  At the other IM races I've done and witnessed, they force you into the water 10 minutes ahead of time, because it takes that long to get everyone in.  I'm guessing they let it go due to the cold, but who knows.  For me, I was relieved.  The water was not nearly as biting cold as I remember from my practice swim.  It was cold for sure, but I treaded water vigorously to warm myself up, and felt fine even when I got my head wet.  I was secretly pretending that the water had actually warmed up, and not that it felt better due to the hundreds of bladders that had recently emptied into it.  The crazy thing about everyone being on the shore still was that it wasn't crowded.  I was near the front, yet it still didn't even feel like a large wave start - much less a huge mass start.  I even spotted my friend Ryan and wished him well - how do you recognize someone when you only see them from the neck up, and they're wearing a swimming cap and goggles just like every other person in the water?  With about a minute before the canon, the other racers began streaming in, and then the race was on!
Like my previous IM swim start, I began swimming "heads up" style.  This is slow, but it protects my face from being kicked until the crowd thins out.  After a few hundred meters of being pummeled, things cleared up a bit.  By the time I made it to the first turn, the crowd had thinned considerably - though I kept getting run into, punched, pushed, ankle-grabbed, and even had someone deliberately blocking me!  Blocking.  In an Ironman swim.  In a lake.  What a jerk.  I thought he was just a bad swimmer, swerving because the sun was in our eyes.  But after the fifth time he cut directly into my path forcing me to slow - it occurred to me he was actually trying to stop me from passing.  Why?  During our little encounter I'm sure 20 people passed us - it's a big lake.  Eventually I windmilled over his back and got free and was back on my way.  My take was that it was a very rude set of swimmers out there.  We all know we're going to run into each other - if you don't get kicked in the face and/or groin during an IM swim then you're not doing it right, but I had way too many incidents that were not accidental.  The other problem I had with the swim was the swim cap colors: orange for men, yellow for women.  Nice, bright colors which are easy to spot in the water.  But the buoys marking the course had also been picked to be bright and easy to spot in the water - they were yellow and orange.  I kept spotting and looking for an orange buoy - but I often couldn't pick it out from the sea of orange swim caps in front of me.  It didn't help that many people in the swim cheated, and swam to the left of the buoys!  About half way through another problem came up, my wetsuit started leaking.  I had water in my left arm - the same problem I had with my old wetsuit!  I don't know why this is happening to me, but somehow water is leaking into the neck of my suit - even in my brand new T1!   Other than making me cold, this slowed me down since water is pretty heavy and you don't want to drag it along with you.  Add to all of this that the reservoir is primarily used for water skiing, which made it taste and smell like diesel fuel, and the swim was not something I want to do again.
I exited the water, my watch said 1 hour, 4 minutes which is actually a good swim.  It was good to put all the BS behind me, and move on to the next stage without having lost any time.  The wetsuit strippers ripped away my rubber skin, and I was off to the changing tent.  I wasn't cold at all, so I decided not to wear my jacket.  I did take my time in T1, used a towel to dry off, changed into biking shorts, and I even wore socks.  I did make a mistake while dressing though - I put my race number on too early, before I pulled up my bib shorts.  The race number got stuck underneath, though I didn't know it at the time.  Later in the day on the bike I tried to get it out, but ended up ripping it - so my race number never really was displayed properly.  After over 10 minutes, I was dry, dressed and out on the bike course.
I settled in, the road out of Sand Hollow was newly paved and buttery smooth.  I loved it.  But, I kept my wattage low and watched as people flew past me.  Stick to the race plan.  At mile 10 I spotted my friend Beth standing on the side of the road with a wheel in her hand.  This was exactly what happened to Mary at IMAZ 2008, and I rode right past her without offering help - I feel horrible about it still.  So I asked Beth if I could help, but her tubular tire had ripped - and she needed a new one, which I didn't have.  So I continued on, hoping that this setback wouldn't end her day.  Beth is crazyfast(TM) and I wasn't sure if it was worth it for her to continue if she lost a lot of time.
By mile 20 I felt tired.  WTF?!  Mile 20?  I was going easy.  Or more specifically, I was riding at a wattage that should have been easy - but for some reason was not.  I trekked on.  At mile 40 my coach Brendan passed me.  We exchanged a quick update and some advice, but honestly I was just glad to see him.  But surprised.  Brendan is stupidfast(TM) and should have been WAY in front of me by now.  I expected to beat him out of the water by a few minutes, but after my 10+ minute transition I assumed he had leapfrogged me there.  All he said at the time was "I'm having a rough day also", but later I found out he was downplaying it quite a bit.  There were a number of cattle grates which had been covered with wood so we wouldn't fall in.  However, they used 3/4" plywood, and hitting it direct could easy pinch-flat a tire.  So I opted to bunny hop them.  This worked out fine until I dropped a gatorade bottle on one of them.  It was at mile 40, only 6 miles from an aid station - so it wasn't catastrophic, but it did throw off my hydration plan a little.
I made it up the two big climbs without issue, though I certainly wasn't looking forward to doing them again on the next loop.  At the bottom of "The Wall" that leads up to Veyo there were 4 men who looked like the "Git'r Done" guy cheering us on.  I think their cheering was genuine and not intended to be mocking, but it cracked me up.  We had just started up the climb (maybe a mile of 12% grade?), and so we were downshifting and going pretty slow.  I heard them yell things like:
"Is that all you got?"
"You didn't come all the way to Utah to ride like that, did you?"
"Go, go, go!!!"
"Get your ass up that hill!"

In the town of Veyo we made the right turn, and there were some people on bikes cheering us on.  I recognized one of them as being Coach KP whom I had met in November during the training camp, so I yelled hi at him.  I'm certain he had no idea who I was!  More importantly the right turn put us with a tailwind for the next 18 miles!  I (and everyone else) flew through this section of the course.  It took me 30 minutes to cover 14 miles, which is 27MPH!  It was fun, especially in the spots where we hit 45MPH!  I  had never gone that fast in a race before, and the adrenaline revitalized me.  I felt good for an hour or so.
But then I nearly got bike pee'd on, and my back started hurting causing me to sit up more.  I really struggled to hit my wattage, and eventually I couldn't.  I dropped another water bottle on the same cattle grate as the first loop.  Additionally, the crazy fast stretch turned out to be much less windy the second time around - so no free ride back into town.
T2 was uneventful, my garmin 310xt picked up satellites before I made it out of the tent and so I was off and running pretty quickly.  I walked the first aid station and got some gatorade down, then trucked off up Diagonal St.  I felt OK, but when I saw the short steep climb on the small out-and-back, I decided to walk it as well.  Then it was running again until the huge 8% climb on Red Hills Pkwy, which again I walked.  By this time I was 4 miles in, and only 39 minutes had elapsed.  Even with the long sustained uphill walks, I was managing 10min/mile - I was ecstatic!  I flew down the other side of the hill  ("flew" being a relative term, 8:20 pace), through the park and to the turnaround.  I continued to walk the steeper hills and aid stations, picking up a gatorade at each one.  By the time I made it to mile 12 I was tired, but chugging along.  I spotted KT in the crowd and came over to say Hi.  I told her "I think I'm going to die", but I was joking - probably shouldn't have tempted fate.  Went down to the turnaround with a first half marathon time of about 2:10, which I was stoked about.  I also spotted Beth's husband James, who confirmed for me that Beth hadn't dropped out - and that she was about to run me down!  She did so rather quickly, she had a fantastic race as far as I can tell.  Anyway, just after the turnaround my stomach started acting funny.  I stopped at the toilets and cleared things up a bit :)  It was nice to just sit for a few minutes.  However, when I got back on course I felt like vomiting.  So I walked a bit, then tried again.  Anything other than a walk resulted in extreme nausea.  I feared I had taken in too much gatorade on the run, I had downed 13 cups by now.  So I walked, and made it to the short steep hill on the out-and-back, which made me dizzy.  Uh-oh, dizzy wile walking?  That's bad.  I tried to run a couple of more times, but literally didn't make it more than a few steps before I had to go back to walking.  I eventually conceded that I was done racing, and that the only way I would complete the race was to walk the remainder.  It took me 4 hours to walk the second half of the marathon, giving me a time of over 6 hours for the run.
During those four hours, I was not a pleasant person.  I was mad at myself, mad at the world, bitching and moaning to anyone unlucky enough to be near me.  I trodded on, with the bottoms of my feet aching and some new (and quite extreme) knee pain kicking in.  I watched the sun go down and lamented my inability to finish in the daylight.  I watched my friends go by, and instead of cheering them on I whined about my shitty condition.  I apologize to all of you, I would go back and handle it differently if I could.  During the walk I met up with another racer who was in worse shape than me, and we walked and talked.  I noticed my voice was a little weak, but figured it was just a little dry.
Eventually we made it to mile 25.5, and my new friend and I shuffled the last half mile together.  I honestly don't even know my finish time, and I don't want to look it up.  I know it was around 14:30, but it's unimportant to me.  My "catcher" put a blanket around me, shuttled me to the pictures, then tried to get me into medical.  I assured him I was fine, but he was persistent.  I eventually got away from him, but didn't understand why he was so insistent on me getting to medical.  I found out when I got home - my face was absolutely coated with white salt.  Not good.
From the days that followed the race it became clear that I was really dehydrated, but I don't know how or why.  I drank a lot out there.  140oz of fluid during the bike, and 13 cups of gatorade before I hit the wall.  But it wasn't enough - apparently it wasn't even close.  Was it the altitude?  Dry air?  Do I just need more than 20oz per hour?  Did I not get enough salt?
After the race I quickly found KT, who was confused, then pissed, then relieved, then frustrated with me.  I was just glad to see her.  It had been a long day, and it meant the world to me that she was there to cheer me on.  Plus, she's an excellent sherpa :)
I don't have any idea how my hydration on these races is still so messed, but I'm determined to figure it out before my next Ironman.  I think I could have run a 4:40 marathon had hydration not put me into a fit of nauseous dizziness.  I was feeling a little burned out on Ironman in the weeks leading up to this race - but having an unsatisfying result has fixed that problem.  Which way to Wisconsin?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Ironman Cometh

This is it, I'm off to Utah to race this weekend in St. George.  A lot has been going on with me lately, but it's been all good news and somehow I've kept my stress level low.  I've been busy.  So busy that things at home have kind of taken a dive - my sink is full of dishes, my refrigerator is bare, and my laundry is strewn about the place.  It's a dump.  Why?
Last weekend KT ran in the Los Angeles Ragnar Relay, and I volunteered to drive the van.  This race is nuts - a twelve person, 28 hour, 200 mile running relay from Ventura to Dana Point.  It basically consists of running a stage of 4 to 9 miles, then handing the baton to a teammate, jumping in a van, waiting 9 hours for your next turn, repeat.  It ended up being 18 miles of running for her with 90 minutes of sleep over 28 hours.  Then, she slept for 3 hours - got up at 4:45AM on Sunday and ran the La Jolla half marathon.  Plus, she still beat my half marathon PR by 5 minutes!  The girl is tough.
This weekend is Ironman St. George, one of the toughest IM races on the planet.  I've been packing, strategizing, buying a new equipment (why not wear a new wetsuit for the first time at an IM race?), and generally freaking out.  On top of everything else, I bought my first house - and escrow closes 3 days after the race.  Everything has gone smoothly, but I'm nervous about signing the check!
With regards to the race, coach and I have a plan.  I'm not sure I like the plan - but I agree with it and think it's a good idea.  It basically involves me going slow on the bike.  Real slow.  So slow that people will ask "what the hell happened to you on the bike?".  At IMAZ in 2008 I completed the 112 miles in 5 hours, 40 minutes.  My projections for this weekend put me at somewhere around 7 hours.  Yikes, my sit bones are gonna ache.  Why go so slow?  So I can run.  I've been running a lot lately, 30 mile weeks pretty regularly which is a ton for someone like me.  I feel pretty good about the marathon, though it still scares the bejeesus out of me.  The plan is to be able to run strong for 26.2 miles, and possibly beat my IMAZ marathon time by an hour - even on a much tougher course.  At IMAZ my marathon ended at mile 9, at which point it turned into a walk/run survival event.  If everything goes perfectly (when has that ever happened?) I will finish the race in about the same amount of time it took me to do IMAZ.  That would be amazing, considering the difficulty of the Utah course. 
I'm grateful to be able to compete this weekend.  I'm healthy, happy and ready to re-earn my M-dot!  Thanks everyone for getting me here, we'll celebrate after the final exam.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Limits?

Last week I had a rest week with regards to training, but the previous weeks involved a weekly hill climbing session on Torrey Pines grade.  These workouts consisted of progressively more difficult climbs, as measured in watts.  For example one week I was supposed to do the first climb at 230 Watts, then next one at 240, then 250, 260, and finally 270.  I worked hard to meet those numbers, 270 watts wasn't easy - my legs were burning.  But, I hit the numbers and so the next week the targets shifted up to 240, 250, 260, 270, and 280.  Once again I didn't think I could do 280 after having done the first part of the workout, but I did.  So the following week the goalposts shifted again to 250 up to 290 watts.  I was sure I couldn't do 280 watts and then do 290 immediately after, but once again I did it.  This time it didn't even feel like I was doing something impossible - it was just something that needed doing.  I'm sure next week coach will have 300 watts on this workout.  Holy hell I can't imagine finishing my workout with 10 minute climbs of 280, 290, 300 watts!  Crazy.
Anyway, it occurred to me that eventually I will hit my limit.  At some point (maybe at 300 watts!) I just won't be able to do what is being asked - it just won't be in me.  So what are my limits?  It's not something I'm comfortable even thinking about.
On a bike I feel like I can do anything I set my mind to.  I've yet to set a goal and not hit it, though admittedly there are some things I've pushed to the back of my mind, for now :)  In other athletic endeavors my limits are much more obvious to me.  I can't run a 6:00 minute mile, or a 100 mile ultra marathon.  I can't swim the English channel, nor can I do a 1 minute 100 meter.  But it doesn't matter to me that I cannot do those things - there's plenty of improvement to make and goals to reach without hitting those milestones.  Is that just me adjusting my expectations?
What about my non-athletic limits?  I've always had a quiet confidence in my own abilities, and an inner desire to expand my repertoire.  I've never run into something that I genuinely didn't feel like I could do.  Sure, sometimes it makes sense to just have an expert do it - but it's not because I couldn't, just that I choose not to.  I could learn to change the brakes in my car - but to do it right would require a lot of training and equipment, it's just easier to hire someone.  But I could do it, if it was important to me.
And that's the crux of my dilemma, what is important to me?  I can do anything I want, but I cannot do everything that I want.  So it's time to prioritize.
I love triathlon, and I love the Ironman distance.  I'm trying to get better each season - but to what end?  Am I trying to get to Kona?  Sure, that would be nice - but it's not very realistic given my current abilities and my rate of improvement.  So I'm doing these events for fun, it's entertainment - but with a huge cost.  I spend about 15 hours a week training, though some weeks it's upwards of 20.  Add on to that time all of the recovery I do, the extra naps and the nights I can't get my laundry done because all I want to do is pass out on the couch.  And the expense of racing.  A high end bicycle is quite an investment, and requires a lot of maintenance, and you have wetsuits, running shoes, cycling shoes, clothes, arm warmers, various hats/gloves/jackets, not to mention $550 race entry fees, travel cost (you're bike's ticket costs more than yours does), and artificially inflated hotel costs in the host cities.  Plus, KT and I have spent every hour of our vacation time from work traveling to races - which has cramped our ability to visit family or go on a real vacation.
What kind of person spends a third of their income and every waking minute obsessed with a hobby?  A crazy person.  Luckily I have some incredible people in my life to help me out.  I'm not going to give up Ironman (two to do in the next six months), but I promise to keep it in perspective.  I'm crazy, but I'm not stupid - at least I don't think so :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jiminy's Baptism, and Questions Answered

This weekend it rained in San Diego.  I'm talking torrential downpour, God opening up the skies and really dumping on us kind of monsoon.  Or, as people in other parts of the country call it, "rain".  We're in an El Nino year, and it's been raining a lot lately.  I've always been careful with my bikes not to get them wet.  I was concerned about what water does to carbon fiber, and I don't want all the expensive intricate metal bits to rust.  Then I saw how professionals clean their bikes with a hose, and got over it.  So Saturday I took Jiminy out for his first real taste of water.
The conventional wisdom with cycling is that you plan your big weekend ride for Saturday.  That way, if there's bad weather you can push your ride to Sunday and get a second chance at good weather.  Worst case you ride in bad weather on Sunday, which you would have done anyway.  I like this plan, though to be honest "bad weather" in SD is pretty damn rare.  I've had to cancel my weekend ride exactly once in 3 years - and I've ridden in cold or wet possibly three times.  All three of those incidents were crappy weather Saturdays, followed by crappy Sundays.  So the conventional wisdom has never paid off for me.  It would have this weekend, Saturday being in the 50's and rainy with Sunday being sunny and gorgeous - but I had given up on conventional wisdom (and lost confidence in the local meteorologists) and went for my long bike ride on a rainy Saturday.
In the process I answered a lot of questions, some of which I had been wondering about for a long time - others which I never anticipated every wanting to know.  Things like:

Q: Is my nice new Pearl Izumi jacket waterproof?
A: No, no it is not.  I was soaked to the bone before I even made it to the coast.  Thankfully I put my phone in a ziplock.  I wish I had done the same with my food.

Q: can you hydroplane on a bike?
A: Yes you can, though I don't recommend it.  Turns out bikes are very light and at relatively low speeds (30 MPH) will hydroplane nicely in about 1/4 inch of water.  The front wheel will go first, which is quite concerning since that's your only way to steer.  Forget about braking, your rims and brake pads are so wet it would take a mile before they would grip at all.

Q: Will a late model Toyota Prius hydroplane across a bike lane?
A: Yes it will.  In fact they don't seem to have any compunction about doing so.  It did not make me feel any better knowing that they probably don't have the greatest brakes.

Q: Will the residents of Oceanside (or O-Side if you're a huge d-bag) sit in a boat parked in their driveway in a rainstorm wearing life jackets and drinking boxed wine?
A: I think we all know the answer to this one.

Q: Is there an angle at which you can hold your pedals such that the spray off of your front wheel will funnel directly into your shoe?
A: Turns out yes!  If you place your foot just past the vertical on the downstroke (about 7 o'clock) you'll get a nice solid stream right down ankle and into your shoe.  Cold wet feet for 5 hours makes you strong.  and cold.  and wet.

Q: Can the s#@t hole streets of Leucadia possibly get any worse than they are normally?
A: I previously would not have believed it, but yes they can - just add water!  Not only are the pot hole ridden roads sans-bike lanes, they also have zero drainage.  The entire right lane was under about 3 inches of water (it only rained 1/2 an inch in the area) forcing cars to go around, and forcing me into the second lane of traffic.  The only thing worse than riding directly in traffic is riding directly in traffic along with SoCal drivers on wet roads.  Russian Roulette has better odds.

Q: Can it rain saltwater?
A: Turns out yes, kind of.  I noticed in Torrey Pines that the rainwater tasted like salt.  At first I thought it was picking up salt off my skin as it ran into my mouth, but it turns out that is not the case.  The very strong winds actually blow the ocean water into the air and create a salty mist.  Good times.

Q: Is it possible to tell what town your in by the taste of the streets?
A: Maybe.  The water kicked up all sorts of nasty crap off the roads and onto the mouthpieces of my water bottles.  Not surprisingly Del Mar and Solana Beach have very similar tasting roads,  sandy with a tinge of salt.  The route through Camp Pendleton was much more mud and gravel flavored.  Who needs GPS navigation?

Q: How long does it take to dry out on a bike?  Does the air rushing over you speed up the process?
A: As any triathlete will tell you, being on a bike will dry out your clothes pretty quickly.  However, this drying effect is completely negated by the cars crashing through puddles in the road and spraying you.

Q: Can you get dehydrated while simultaneously being soaking wet for 5 hours?
A: Yes.  It turns out osmosis is a horrible hydration strategy during a workout, and you probably should drink more than 32 oz. of fluid on a 80 mile bike ride.  Failure to do so will result in a headache that rivals the worst champagne bender you've ever been on.

Q: How long can you ride alone before going crazy and begin singing John Mayer songs to yourself?
A: About 3 hours before you get a song stuck in your head.  Four and half hours before you start singing aloud because there's not a single soul outdoors in the entire county.  Who Says I Can't Get Stoned?

Q: What am I willing to do to be successful at my events this year?
A: Apparently there's no end to my stupidity.  I left KT at home alone for a whole day to go out and nearly kill myself on a marginally useful workout, which was completely miserable.
To those of you who wisely rode indoors on Saturday, or delayed your ride until the weather cleared on Sunday - you were right.  I was wrong.  It was dangerous and stupid, and lots of fun :)

"The spirit of Ironman is about not quitting - at any speed, that is a lesson worth learning."
Gordo Byrn, from his blog 8/28/2009

Friday, February 5, 2010

Quandrant Analysis

I just discovered quadrant analysis in WKO+.  I've used WKO+ for several years, but QA is a new feature in the latest version, and I hadn't gotten around to looking at it until recently.  It's pretty damn cool, but really it's a little more sophisticated than I need.  The gist of it is that there are four ways you can pedal your bike:
  1. Fast and Hard: high cadence, lots of power (Sprints)
  2. Slow and Hard: low cadence, lots of power (Strength workouts, hill climbing)
  3. Slow and Easy: low cadence, little power  (Recovery ride, Warmup and Cooldown)
  4. Fast and Easy: high cadence, little power (Criteriums, long distance rides, technique drills)
So they take information about your ride from your power meter (force, cadence) and figure out for each second of your ride in which category you were in, and plot it.  Technically I just lied to you.  They don't really plot power vs. cadence - it's actually force vs. pedal velocity.  There are legitimate reasons why they do this (read here) but they derive force and velocity from power and cadence - which is easier for my brain to wrap itself around.  The plot looks like this:

  This graph is from my hill repeat workout this week which consisted of six climbs up Torrey Pines (400 ft climb over 1.4 miles, 5% grade).  The red dots are samples from my first trip up the hill, which was a strength building climb using my big chainring.  The yellow dots are from my 4th trip up, which just happened to result in a similar power figure than the big chainring climb (258 vs. 263).  The blue dots are "everything else" in the workout and can be ignored for this discussion.  The sweeping brown/yellow/grey arcs just indicate my threshold power and can also be ignored.
So looking at the red and yellow dots, it's clear that they are all grouped together.  The red dots are significantly further up and to the left of the yellow dots.  This equates to the first trip (big chainring) being at a lower cadence (left) and higher power (up) than the other trip.  Same power output (258 vs. 263), same distance (1.47 miles) yet accomplished in drastically different ways.
I guess none of this was news to me, of course there's two ways to climb a hill: spin up it in an easy gear, or power up it like a weightlifter.  But it's kind of cool to see it graphically.  Plus, it might be good for planning future workouts.  Got a flat, short race coming up?  You're going to want to do a lot of Quadrant 1 (top right) workouts to prepare.  Recovery ride today?  Stay in Quadrant 3 (bottom left).  Working on perfecting your pedal stroke?  Maybe Quadrant 4 is right for you.  Instinctively I think most people already know this - but here's a tool that lets you (or your coach) go back and verify that you did it right.  I think this is more of a "isn't that interesting" feature than a "I have to use this daily" thing - but I must say I like graphs :)
Just in case you're interested, here is the graph from one of my CP30 tests.  This was done on Fiesta Island here in San Diego, which is a pancake flat ride.

The red dots are the ones to look at here, blue are from warmup and cooldown laps.  First, you'll notice that almost all the red dots are above my threshold power of 223 watts (yellow line).  I was going as hard as I could, as you can see on the right side it was 254 watts for 31 minutes.  You'll also notice that horizontally the dots mostly fall in Quadrants 1 and 4 (right side) meaning my cadence was high.  In fact, it's listed in the bottom right corner as 96 RPM for this test.  I would qualify this as a "Hard and Fast" Quadrant 1 workout - which is exactly what it was supposed to be.  Of course, I'd love to move my dots up and to the right as far as I can go!
I'm doing hilly IM courses in St. George and Wisconsin this season, and when I climb hills I end up in Quadrant 2.  So it looks like Q2 will be my new home for the next 7 months.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TSB, ATL, and CTL Oh My!

Earlier this week I talked about the Training Stress Score and tried to convince you that you should be recording a TSS for each workout you do.  Today I'm going to tell you why - the Performance Management Chart.
First, if you are using a power meter on your bike you need to stop reading this blog and start reading Training and Racing with a Power Meter, which I swear I've been trying to read since Spring of 2008. It describes a mathematical model of the human body which can be used to help you predict when you will peak, and to help you measure your progress in getting there. This model is implemented in software called WKO+, and in the online tool TrainingPeaks. All you do is provide information on the loads you've put on your body (data from your power meter, gps watch, HR monitor, or your manually calculated TSS scores) and it will tell you what condition your body is in, and that can help inform you as to where your training needs to go. This sounds great, a magic genie that tells you exactly what to do in order to improve your performance! Of course it's not that easy, but I find the concept intriguing - and since I've been using WKO+ for about 2 years now I have lots of my own data to evaluate.
There are a million details about how all this works, but I'm going to start with the basics: You input your workout data (your "load" or "stress") and it spits out three important numbers that you will find useful: TSB, ATL, CTL
* CTL: Chronic Training Load - This is a measure of your overall fitness. It is a long term metric, it moves very slowly. If you are training regularly, it will trend slowly upwards - if you are laying on the couch it will trend downward. Your goal should be to get this number as high as you can through regular training.
* ATL: Acute Training Load - This is a short term measurement of how tired you are right now. If you go out and do a huge workout at high intensity, this number will spike immediately. If you take the day off completely, this metric will sag. If your ATL is too high for too long, your performance will suffer. The whole point of "recovery" workouts is to let your ATL drop, so you're ready to hit it hard again later.
* TSB: Training Stress Balance - This is derived from the above metrics, and it roughly equates to CTL-ATL. It tells you how "race-ready" you are. It does you no good to have very high fitness (CTL) on race morning if you also have a very high ATL (you spent the previous week doing lots of strenuous workouts). When you do a tough workout your ATL will go up, which obviously makes you less race-ready, and correspondingly your TSB will go down. Your main goal on race day is to have your TSB as high as it can be (ideally equal to your CTL) so that you can perform your very best on that day.

The Performance Management Chart is just a plot of these three metrics.  Note that the units on them arent' terribly important, you're really looking at changes in these values more than absolute numbers.  My PMC is below, which shows my metrics for January. A couple of points to note:

- On Jan 16th I did a tough 5 hour hilly bike ride, with a transition run after. There is a corresponding huge spike in my Acute load, and a drop in my race-readiness (TSB).
- I tapered for a half marathon from the 17th through the 23rd, watch that TSB climb!
- There is general trend up in ATL which is great, my fitness is improving!

This is practically cheating!  If I woke up on Jan 21st and thought "man I feel like dog poo today", I could check this chart which would confirm that I'm pretty beat up (my TSB is low).  A mathematical quantification explaining to what degree I feel like dog poo!  I can also look at my CTL over a long period (several months maybe) and see if my fitness is improving this season, or if I'm plateaued.  Of course this is just a model of your body - there will be days where the model tells you one thing and your body tells you the opposite.  However, this gives you a lot more insight into where you are, where you're going, and how to get there.  Do you need a one week taper or a three week one?  With this data you can see how quickly your TSB rises and know for sure.  Have I sold you on purchasing WKO+ yet?  For a numbers geek like me, it was well worth the $100 I spent on it.  Of course you can use a spreadsheet to calculate ATL, CTL, TSB as well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Excellence is Opportunistic

I rode an easy bike route this weekend with a friend from TCSD and met some new people.  I was planning on doing a very moderate ride, but the group went pretty hard right out of the gate - luckily for me they were just starting their season and wore out quickly.  By mile 20 I was keeping up without coming anywhere near my anaerobic wattage.  Anyway, I ended up riding by myself a lot.  Not really completely alone, but far enough back from the pack that I wasn't chatting with anyone, and it gave me some time to think.
The miles ticked by slowly.  It was frustrating because I could be going much faster.  Plus, if I was riding just for fun, I would have taken a different route.  I found myself just slogging away.  Doing my time in the saddle.  Punching my timecard.  Then I thought about the ILT's that coach has had me working on.  I don't do them very well, but when I do I try to do them correctly - with perfectly round pedal strokes.  It occurred to me that at that moment my pedal stroke was crap.  I had let my attention falter, and I was putting in junk miles.  What could I do?  I was stuck out here in east county, going slow as molasses, with 40 more miles in front of me.  I could practice Excellence.
I rode for 3 hours and 30 minutes, and averaged a cadence of 78 RPM.   That's 16380 pedal strokes for the day.  That means I had over 16 thousand opportunities to do it right.  To get a full upstroke, carry it over the top, evenly power through the downstroke, and "scrape the mud off" the backstroke.   16 thousand opportunities!  And I had missed a bunch of them by being lazy.  So I changed my mindset and started focusing on doing the ride properly.  I fixed my posture, got on my aerobars, and started working on getting my pedal stroke round.  It was pretty tough physically, and mentally very challenging to concentrate on doing it right every time.  That's what it takes to be Excellent.  You have to take advantage of the opportunities you have, minimize the mistakes, and let the mistakes you inevitably do make be forgotten quickly.
Too often I think about Excellence from the wrong perspective.  I look at Craig Alexander or Chrissie Wellington as triathletes, Michael Phelps in the pool, or Peyton Manning on the football field and think: "Those are lucky people to have the gifts that they do.  To be heads and shoulders above their peers, who are themselves the best in the world".  That thinking is not completely accurate - and it's most definitely not helpful.  It's fine to be in awe of spectacular athletic performances, but to write it off as "they have a gift" is insulting to the hard work and dedication those athletes put in to get there.  Sure, not everyone has the ability to play golf at the skill level of Tiger Woods.  But I assure you there are many people who had the same or better physical ability, the same or better opportunity, and didn't follow through.  There are many out there with potential to have been "the greatest golfer in the world" - but there's only one who did it.  How did he do it?  By being driven, meticulous, and opportunistic.
Larry Bird famously came to practice an hour early every day to work on his jumpshot.  He had the best jumpshot in the world, and a reporter asked him why he continued to practice so much when he already was the greatest ever.  He said he did it because "somebody - somewhere - was practicing more than me".  He knew it wasn't any of his fellow NBA competitors - but he thought that someone out in the cornfields of Indiana was out-working him, and that some day he was going to lose to that kid.
I know that this year I will be competing against thousands of people in my age group.  I think there will be 200 in my AG at Oceanside, probably the same number in St. George and Wisconsin.  How many of them are working hard today to beat me?  How many are drinking soda?  How many are working on their flexibility during their lunch break?  How many are concentrating on their pedal stroke on their easy rides?  How many are doing it right this time?  Every time?  I need to take advantage of my opportunities, because race day will come - and I will face off against a couple of thousand aggro triathletes willing to do anything to beat me to the line.  I won't be first to finish, and I won't be last.  But if I'm opportunistic, driven and meticulous then maybe I can be one or two spots ahead of last time.  Excellence is a journey, not a destination.
Meanwhile I've  got a long run to prepare for tomorrow.  Hydrate well, lay out my equipment, eat my vegetables, get a good nights sleep, and then I'll have 9450 opportunities to work on my stride.  2362 opportunities to work on my breathing.  A couple of hundred chances to remind myself to relax my shoulders.  A chance to see if I like running with my new sunglasses, or if a visor works better.  An opportunity to figure out which flavor GU I like, and whether the caffeinated flavors help or hurt my stomach.
Excellence is in the details.  I plan on paying attention.

"Excellence is not for everyone" - Joe Friel from his blog

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stressing Out

Recently I was reading Chris Carmichael's book The Time-Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week. In it he hits upon the fundamental truth about cycling and endurance sports in general: In order to be able to perform our best on race day, we must prepare ourselves by stressing our bodies during training. Sounds simple and obvious, right? It is actually that simple, of course as with most things the Devil is in the details.
Carmichael, who is best know as being Lance Armstrong's coach, also authored another book on cycling training a few years ago called The Ultimate Ride in which he describes what he believes to be the best way to train. Simply put, it's what every pro endurance athlete does: periodization consisting of tons of long slow base-building, followed by shorter and more intense periods of fine-tuning and tapering.
The thesis of the Time Crunched Cyclist is that while the above method is best - it's just not feasible for amateur athletes with families and jobs and other priorities. If you can't put in the 30+ hour weeks that a pro cyclist does to build up an endurance base, you need to substitute intensity.
In this context "stress" (or load as Carmichael calls it) is something you do to your body to tear it down. Specifically it is the intensity of your workout multiplied by the length of your workout. So, for example, a long slow bike ride might have a similar load on your body as a shorter but faster bike ride. Sounds great right? You can cut your training in half - all you have to do is make each workout twice as intense! Not so fast. All "loads" are not the same, and long slow rides build on different systems in your body than short fast ones. Read the book for lots of details as to why, but the gist of it is that you can get away with shorter, high-intensity training and get you to your peak performance - but with one huge caveat: you can't stay there for long. You will hit the wall after your peak and probably take weeks to recover. Anyway, read the book if you train less than 12 hours a week - it's pretty interesting.
Theoretically this all sounds straightforward - just track your intensity and duration of your workouts, and you will know the "load" you've put on your body.  But in practice, what is the intensity of a workout?  Hard?  Breezy?  4.7?  That's where the Intensity Factor (IF) comes in.  An IF of 1.0 means your threshold effort - the point at which you start breathing heavy.  You can get a full description of how to estimate IF here.  Or, if you are lucky enough to have the equipment, WKO+ will calculate IF for running workouts using data from your speed/distance wristwatch and for bike workouts from your power meter.  Now, take your IF for each workout, multiply by the duration of the workout (in hours) and you have your Training Stress Score (TSS).  Perfect, but what good is that?  TSS is a good measure of your volume - in fact it's a little better than using total hours like most of us do.  Though, to be honest, the two metrics track pretty closely - below is my volume for the last few months: green line is TSS, orange is hours.
Next time, I'll talk about what benefits you get from using this method of tracking your workouts - specifically how you can use them to predict your performance, and to help you peak on race day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

PR on the Coast

Yesterday was the Carlsbad Half Marathon, and I had a good race. My previous best half marathon time was 1:53:52, and it was also done at Carlsbad. This is a good race for a PR since it's flat (see elevation below) and the weather is usually perfect - a little chilly. This year I set a new PR, 1:48:12 which is more than 5 minutes faster!

I'm very happy with that performance for a number of reasons:
- I was nervous about PR'ing because I hadn't run well in the weeks leading up to the race
- I kept my heart rate lower than in my previous PR
- I am 25 pounds heavier than I was when I set my previous PR.
- I negative split a running race, possibly for the first time ever!

Having a lower average HR means I was working less, and I could tell. I was getting pretty tired - but I never had that "oh shit, I want to quit" feeling. It was definitely a struggle - but a controlled one.
The body weight is also impressive. Not that I've put on 25 pounds (how the hell did THAT happen?) but that despite that handicap I was able to run faster. The research says that every pound of weight roughly equates to 2 seconds per mile. Using that as a guide, I should have been running 50 seconds per mile slower. I in fact averaged 8:16 min/mile, which is 25 seconds faster per mile! This gives me hope, because it indicates that I am a better runner now than I was two years ago, and I know the extra weight will come off.
On top of all that I negative split the course! I never do that. I typically go out too fast, die, then limp to the finish line. My splits yesterday are below, if you want to see all my data (I can't imagine why you would), it's all online in Training Peaks. You'll note that the elevation is horrifically inaccurate - that's because I ran with a Garmin 310XT which is known to be a huge P.O.S. when it comes to elevation. Stick with your 305's people.
Mile 18:22
Mile 28:02
Mile 38:10
Mile 48:10
Mile 58:14
Mile 68:11
Mile 78:22
Mile 88:09
Mile 98:13
Mile 108:16
Mile 118:18
Mile 128:16
Mile 137:52

On top of my own performance, KT also set a personal best (and qualified for New York!) and the weather was perfect for a run along the ocean. We said 'hi' to a lot of friends in the finisher's area, including my coach who was just as excited as I was! Aside from a little nipple chaffing, ok a LOT of nipple chaffing, it was a pretty good day. Now I'm off to find my cycling legs again!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why St. George?

There are lots of Ironman races, and I could have chosen to do any of them. This year I'm doing St. George and Wisconsin. WI I wanted to do because it has a difficult bike course, my strength. Plus, since I dropped out of the race in 2009 I really want to finish that race in '10.
St. George is a different story though. Originally I had planned to do IM Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. Why? Because nobody has ever heard of it, yet it's possibly the toughest IM course on the planet. It's insanely hilly with 8000 feet of climbing on the bike course (more than Lake Placid) and since it's on an island off the coast of Morocco the heat and humidity are excruciating. I wanted to punish myself. If I was going to do Ironman, I was going to do the most difficult one I could find. I have completed IMAZ, but that's a starter race - for those who want the easiest possible way to their M-Dot tattoo. Unfortunately, Lanzarote fell through. Due to a couple of factors, it didn't make sense to fly half way around the globe to visit the Canary Islands this year. I'll put it on my bucket list.
Then the gods at WTC announced a new race in Utah. It was the same time of year as Lanzarote, and the course looked brutal. In fact, the run course looks ridiculously hard. The weather will probably be difficult as well - not humid, but windy. Plus, Utah is only a days drive from home - no need to pack up Jiminy for a trans-Atlantic flight! So, short story long, that's why I'm headed to St. George in May. I feel like in the realm of IM courses the easy ones (Florida, Arizona especially) should have an asterisk by them - they're just too easy compared to the others. Not that any Ironman is easy - 140.6 miles is a hell of a thing to do no matter what the course. But I'm out to see what I can do on the toughest courses I can find. Maybe I'll find my way to the waters off Morocco one day...
For now, I think St. George is a fantastic challenge. A tough bike followed by a brutal run. All I have to do now is spend every waking moment preparing to have the snot beat out of me on May 1.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Running my A$& Off

As I've documented before - I am not a runner. In fact, I hate every minute I'm out there and I spend each moment thinking about how great it will be to stop. All of this means that over the last month I must have been a very unhappy athlete.
I've tracked my training pretty meticulously since I began training for triathlon (specifically on Nov. 3rd 2006). My early data is in a raw but usable spreadsheet on Google Docs, but in April 2008 I purchased a PowerTap, and switched to logging my workouts in TrainingPeaks WKO+. After having reviewed both records I can safely say that I ran more miles in December 2009 than in any month of my life.

Above is a graph of my weekly running distance over the last two years - both of which involved Ironman training. Each point on the graph represents one week of running - you'll notice that some weeks have no point on them - these are weeks where I didn't run at all (how does that happen?) and really should have points at the 0 mark.
Through November I had run more than 23 miles in a week 6 times, and 3 of those instances resulted in immediate injuries (shin splints, plantar fasciitis). Last month I ran 23 or more miles 3 weeks in a row! I can hardly believe it, especially considering I'm not injured, though certainly a little beat up! The reason for the jump is due to a number of factors, including:
- A winter focus on running, since it's clearly my weakness as a triathlete
- A re-introduction to a long run each week, thanks to my new coach
- A vacation to visit my parents for the Holidays, where biking and swimming were not possible

This is the most consistent I've been running in a long time, and that feels pretty good. I'm not running well - my form is still crap and I'm slower than my 4 year old nephew - but I am running, and that's something. This is all leading up to the Carlsbad half marathon in a few weeks, I'm hoping to do well. My PR for a half marathon was two years ago at this course, 1:53:52, or 8:41 minutes/mile. I'm not sure how fast I can go this year, but I'll be disappointed if I don't set a new PR - even if I am 25 lbs heavier now than I was when I set that time in 2008.
I still hate running, and dread every workout. I have a visceral fear of going to the track workouts each week. But I'll be damned if it's not working. With some tweaks to my diet I'm hoping to drop some weight this spring, so for now I'm literally trying to run my ass off.