Monday, July 13, 2015

Colonial Beach International: Steady Push Back to the Front

Eagleman was a little demoralizing and made it difficult to get back into the swing of things. The motivation was gone due to my A race being done. To make things better, the next few races were going to be much shorter than what I have been doing all year. This carried over to a simple race to get the mind back to knowing I'm capable of making good race decisions.
Pre-race Selfie. That is all.
Last year I was able to do Colonial Beach and enjoyed the area. It is a pretty cool little town where the main mode of transportation is golf carts. The town is apparently a golf cart community where they have a golf cart rental store as well as another store that sells customized golf carts. This year, Jessie and I both signed up for races and headed down for an extra day to enjoy the area.

My mindset was to use this race as a test of how my later races will go when I do two races back to back. I went and did a speed workout on the bike the day before followed by a run.  My new watch told me after my run that I should allow 36 hours before I workout that hard again......I was racing in less than 24.
If you look right behind my bike you can see the hotel we stayed at. It was extremely close and easy.
Luckily, we got a hotel literally right next to transition. I got to wake up at 5am and head to transition after 5:30. My spot was set up before 6:00 and I did a few warm-ups to get myself ready for a 6:50am start. As I was waiting in the water the race director mentioned the bike was a two lap course which meant I did not know the course as I was assuming it was the same as last year. I did take a look at the sprint course from the day before and also heard some racers discussing it so that helped me out later.

At this point I want to point out the situation I had heading into the swim.  Currently, the East coast has been having a large amount of shark attacks relative to usual. I am not a fan of the idea of swimming with sharks. The year before, they caught a bull shark in the same area that I am swimming at as well. To make things better, one of my teammates from the day before said she definitely saw something in the water during her race. I was SO excited to be swimming in the morning!

When the gun went off I got pretty easily settled in the group.  There wasn't too much contact as we made our way out to the first buoy and turned for the nice long swim out with the current. The water was smooth and I could see very easily.  Suddenly, after about 300 meters, I looked up and it seemed as though everybody had distanced themselves by at least 25 meters. I had no idea how this happened but kept up my pace and stayed calm. When we made the turn to head back in I started to get bored of swimming and wishing the finish would be coming up. The way back lacked the current so it seemed as though I was going no where. I made my way out of the water with a higher swim time than expected but it seems as though most swim times were a little slower than the average.
Pretty sure I was 'wooing' at this point and having a great time.
I got up on my feet and headed to transition and blasted through that pretty quick. While I was swapping stuff I thought to myself, "You are going pretty smooth, maybe you can get the fastest T1 time of the day?" I was able to pull that off since I usually get slowed down by taking off a wetsuit that didn't happen. I quickly got out on the road for a smooth bike mount and out onto the long bike.

The bike was a two loop bike which added up to 27 miles. There wasn't any hills so it should be pretty smooth riding. I got into a pretty smooth pace and figured I should not try to push the first lap and for once keep myself contained. I got settled into a small group on lap one which slowly broke down to myself and another rider in my age group. He seemed determined to not let me have the lead so I let him do all the pace work and happily sat behind him and kept a simple pace. Lap one went by easy and I noticed how good I was feeling as I saw the other rider start slapping his hamstrings due to them cramping as well as grabbing his side due to aches. I was having a great old time and felt no need to really do too much. We added another rider for about the last seven miles and the two of them had an ego fest as they didn't want the other to lead. As we made the final few miles I actually let them push ahead knowing that I could run them down.

Making my way into transition I was feeling pretty good. My heart rate was still calm and I didn't expend too much energy on the bike. Jessie told me I was 13th off the bike (which later turned out to not be true) so I was really excited for the run. I exited transition and saw about six or seven guys all within about a quarter mile.
The run course is flat but it can wear you down as there isn't much shade and the sun beats down on you in the last few miles. I held back my adrenaline that wanted to push sub 6:00 on the first mile. I slowly started picking off the pack and within a mile I was assuming I was in the top 10. I continued to work up the group until the turn around where I figured I was at this point in sixth. When I saw the runners coming back the other way I was actually in 13th place at this point. I got going the other way and worked my way past a few more guys. The wear of the day before started to settle in as my mind wanted to go but my legs just didn't have another gear anymore. The final few miles were more sluggish than the first as I feared I may get caught but turning back I saw there was nobody behind me. I came across the line feeling pretty happy with my day.
Finishing up the run and looking a little wet.
I finished the day in 13th place due to the wave behind me and 3rd in my age group. My swim was a little slow but both the run and bike were solid especially after the day before. It was nice to be able to have a clean race after the aftermath of my previous race.  For now, I am on my way back to Iowa for the wonderful week of RAGBRAI with Team Shark Week!

The sign says, "Run faster or I'll hug you" which he is lucky I didn't see him because I would have been that guy to hug him.
I won a bag this time!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eagleman 70.3: A Real Triathlon Race

So Eagleman was supposed to be my big race for the year.  The course was flat and expected to be fast. It was a perfect opportunity to set a new PR. Jessie and I were able to go down about a month before with my co-worker, Chuck, to check everything out. Everything seemed in check as the final preparations were heading out.  The temperatures were high the days leading up to the race so staying inside was a priority as to not get extra fatigued.
Gotta do my pre-race selfie. It is just a thing now.
Race morning was very easy going. I tried to keep the stress down and it seemed to be working. I was very relaxed as I made my race morning checks.  My wave would be the last wave so it was important to focus the extra hour I had before the start.  I was able to check on the swim, watch transition of the pros, and slowly warm up.
Kristine always looks so good on race morning.
I got to the swim a few minutes early which was good because they somehow skipped a wave and I was going one wave early.  The swim to the start line was extremely dirty but the start had about a waist deep start.  I got settled a little back as I didn't want to deal with the starting chaos.  The gun went off and it took a few seconds before I could start swimming.  Looking back I probably should have moved further up and taken the risk of getting physical.

The swim was pretty smooth for me.  Right away I got into a good rhythm and started moving past other waves.  It sounded like others had a difficult swim compared to how I felt it went.  The hot water likely paid something to that as the race was not wetsuit legal.  There wasn't much contact as I made my way around the course.

The first of my mistakes started at the end of the swim.  I started seeing a lot of people walking in the water and got confused.  Apparently the finish was quite shallow and people were able to stand.  I figured I would wait for a while to stand as it is more energy to try to run through the water than to swim.  I made it about halfway through the standing area until I stood up. I hoped this would be shallow enough to get my knees and ankles out of the water but it was not.  This was the point that I should have kept swimming but instead I tried to run through the water.  By the time I exited the water my legs were shot and not in the mood for running or biking.

My transition was quick as I was able to move past a lot of people.  A quick jump onto my bike on the edge of the road and I was out for the big determine factor of the day, the bike.
Such a long run to exit for the bike. You can just BARELY see the bike out on the far other end.
My goal for the bike was to take a risk, push it all along.  This was the second mistake of the day.  I started out strong and wanted to try to keep a steady pace all day. Right away I was making moves and passing everybody on the bike with ease.  The wind was down and I was pushing a strong pace.

My mind was on keeping cool. As I drank I also would pour some water on myself to keep the temperature down.  The aid stations were a little confused about moving when I pointed at them.  Luckily, I didn't have any drops this time.  The stations were well placed that I was able to restock each time.

For the first half of the bike I was right on cue. My splits were perfect as I pushed it but kept it easy.  There were a few times that I wished there was a hill so that I could shift up positions or coast the downhills but there was none of that for this course.

By the halfway point I realized my mistakes were going to be costly.  My legs were getting fatigued and my body was beginning to ache from sitting in aero position all day. I backed off a little bit but still continued to pass everybody. I made my turn to the worst part of the course, Egypt Rd., which is a 7 miles stretch of a rough road that really wears on you.  I kept my head and worked through the segment. As I made my way back to town I was ready to be off the bike. There were times I even considered not doing the run (this probably would have been a better idea).

When I got off bike there was a good crowd at the transition that was cheering that made it a lot easier to keep moving.  I made my way back to my spot in transition and noticed that not a single bike was on my rack.  This meant I was in a really good place in my age group and if I could pull off the run I know I can, things would be good. Running shoes were on and I was off to run.

Right away I was making moves on the run.  Passing people was a typical story again as the waves ahead of me started to fade.  I made my move and was feeling okay for the first mile when I saw my split, 6:45. It was okay but I knew the heat was taking its path so I made no moves to try to push harder. Instead I focused on getting a consistent effort going.  Mile two came by and I knew it was going to be a sluggish day (7:00). There was no shade and it was really just going to be an aid station to aid station run for me.  The nice thing was that I could keep moving through the aid stations and didn't have to walk as the next few miles got slower and slower (7:30ish).

By the time I hit the out and back stretch things were going further south.  The heat was worse than they expected and the mistakes I made earlier were catching up. I no longer saw 7:XX but was above 8 minutes per mile.  The only positive thought I had going was that EVERYBODY was suffering as nobody had passed me and I continued to work further up the crowd.  By mile 5 the aid stations were so crowded that I had to walk through them to get all of the stuff I needed.  Each one went something along the lines up: Water-dump on head, Ice-stuff in top, Coke-drink, Water-drink half and dump half again on head. This system worked well in keeping me moving and still passing others.
At least this leads to a fast exit to the run........Closet rack to the exit.
I found Jessie around the turn around and it sounded like she was having a tough day too.  I gave her peace of mind that it was a bad day for everybody as I shuffled forward and made the turn back to home.  I started realizing how far back I was from my goal time of low 1:20s:XX and thought more about not giving up.

This is where I want to point out the reason I love this sport.  For most races I am a pretty quiet guy on the course; I make my passes and focus on working hard. Selfish would be a good word to describe me as I have one goal in mind and that is for me to go as fast as possible. On days when things go wrong I am able to see everything else that goes on around me when I don't take the time to look. Everybody is out encouraging each other.  If the runner next to you starts to walk, you cheer them on to run with you. You see random strangers running side by side having a conversation to help the miles pass. As I made my way to mile 9 there was a girl that started walking to which I told her to stick with me for the last 1/4 mile to the aid station. She was able to get moving again and stayed with me the whole way. Every time that somebody passes another, there is a moment where they congratulate each other on the work that they are putting in. Nobody has it easy on the tough days and it is always great to see the community of racers pull together to get everyone to the finish. They always talk about the "spirit of triathlon" and it is never more evident than on race days.

With two miles left I got to enjoy that spirit. I was closing on a group of three runners and said, "Alright let's stay together and finish this up." to which one of the runners got by my side and we began running together. We joked about how the decision to sign up for this race was a lot better at the time we actually did (her at 2am and me back in January). With a mile left our pace began to quicken as we fed off each others energy. My watch started showing 7:XX again after seeing 9:XX for the past 5 miles. We began counting down the distance and the number of turns to the final finish. As we made our way to the finish chute she encouraged me to pick it up for a strong finish and we pushed each other to the end together.  The feeling at the end was wonderful as volunteers dumped 2 full bottles of water on me to cool off. As I recovered in the shade Laura, finally figured out her name, came over and thanked me as I helped her reach a new PR for the day.

My day was not as bright. I missed my goal by about 30 minutes. I was still able to finish in under 5 hours which on a day like that, was quite an accomplishment. My swim was only a minute behind the pro women even on a long swim course. My bike and run were faulted due to poor decision making, something I've prided myself on NOT doing. Looking at my relative results (place based on number of people) I actually competed as well on a bad day as I did on a good day two years ago in my last 70.3.  There is still some bright things to take from the day but I think the best thing was just being able to finish the race and support everybody else on the course.
The happiest part of the day. Before sh*t hit the fan as Jessie says.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Kinetic Half: This Is More Than A Bike Race

2015 race season has officially begun! This weekend I was able to take my skills down to Lake Anna for my first triathlon of the year and it turned out to be a pretty good weekend given the circumstances.  To understand the full picture we start a week earlier.

The Saturday before the race Jessie and I traveled down to Cambridge, Maryland to test out a course we would be racing later in the year. Thanks to some coordination by my co-worker, Chuck, we were able to get all set up and ride and run directly after. I put in a hard effort on both sports and came away pretty confident that I would do well on the course. The following day, Jessie and I did some hard brick intervals near Hains Point. My run splits off the bike came away faster than ever as I prepared to head into my taper week.
Halfway through tapering and realizing it is going to be a rough week.
Monday came by fine but by the night things started going in the wrong direction. A fever hit and my body started going into survival mode. Fatigue, headaches, nausea, sweats, and feeling cold carried me through the week. My taper week turned from easy workouts to questioning whether it was safe to workout. Wednesday came and I participated in a bike event for work. It was a simple 10 mile crit style of race against other people in my industry. I was able to stay with the front group for about the first two miles and then my sickness overwhelmed me and I had to struggle through the rest of the ride solo.
My race location stay. Such a rough life on the lake.
Heading to the race location on Friday I knew I could not go all out like I had previously wanted. The half-ironman distance is not a distance you can fake; it isn't like a sprint or olympic distance where you can muster your way through the parts even if you aren't prepared. I told myself to play this thing smart or it was going to be a long day. I got in a swim in the lake and a loose run and felt pretty good.
Starting the year off with a wonderful pre-race selfie.
Race morning came and we got to the race site around 5:45 for a 7:00 start.  I got everything put together and then tried to stay calm as best I could.  With about 20 minutes to go I headed down to the swim start and tested out swimming in a wetsuit for the first time this year. The water was a nice temperature and it looked like it would go okay. My overall plan was to keep it casual on the swim and bike and then empty it on the run.

The gun went off and I had a pretty decent start position. I stayed to the inside and stayed with my plan of not doing anything stupid. I got alongside another swimmer for the first 100 yards but decided I didn't want to have this ongoing position battle so I gave a quick surge to get in front. I got myself a nice draft for the first 800 yards out and stayed right on some feet. As we neared the first turn buoy there was three of us that were going to reach the corner at the same time and I was sandwiched in the middle. Had I been healthy and more aggressive I would have pushed and tried to beat them to the corner, but instead of got on their feet and rounded the corner in space. The took the next segment wide as I made a straight line for the next buoy and swam completely clear of everybody else.

As I took the second turn I found another pair of feet to hop on so I got on those. My wetsuit started rubbing on my neck so anytime the beach wanted to show up would be nice. A few of the guys from wave two were coming past us but I made no effort to go with them. I finally made it to the beach feeling completely fresh and looked up to see my swim split of 32:05. I was pleased with the time knowing I was not too far off what I need to be doing at peak time.

I ran past a few athletes to transition and got my wetsuit off. My spot was a pretty smooth location through transition so I swapped my goggles for my sunglasses and was quickly on to the bike with the 7th fastest T1 of the day. The bike was an uphill climb that I didn't think of before the race so having my shoes already on the bike made me nearly fall as I hopped on the bike and up the hill. It took me a little bit to get the shoes on but after about a half mile we were good to go.

The bike had to be easy. There was nothing else to say. If I pushed just a little too much I would feel it in my lungs and legs and my day would be done before I get back off the bike. I wore my watch which I previously had wished not to wear. This turned out to be a great decision. My cadence was fast as I made my way out of the park and onto the road. It took me nearly four miles to realize I was still spinning in my little ring; no wonder why I had such a nice cadence.

The bike course was a full loop around the lake. There wasn't any out and back portion where you could see the riders ahead and behind you. For the first 10 miles I saw a few riders as they took off the front but I let them go remembering I had a run to do. From about mile 10 to mile 30, I saw nobody. I continually questioned whether I was still on the course or how I was doing in the race.

The first bottle feed on the bike came around mile 17 and I was happy to see them.  I pointed to the first volunteer but watched in horror as she held out the bottle and didn't run alongside with me (if the volunteer runs along side it helps the relative speed of the rider to the bottle decrease so it is easier to grab instead of from a complete stop). Sure enough the first bottle smashed into my hand and straight to the ground.  The second volunteer I have a quick shout up to start running and I was able to grab the bottom of the bottle before it fell to the ground. I noticed a little while later my thumb was bleeding from the first bottle which made me so excited for the rest of the bottle feeds ahead.

The second feed went better than the first and around mile 40 a few riders from the wave behind me came past. It was a good sized group that I stayed with for about four miles before I decided not to put that much energy on the bike. I let them go and told myself, "I will see you guys on the run." I got back into my rhythm and started anticipating when I would get off the bike.

When I saw the mile 45 marker on the side of the road I predicted about 30 more minutes until I was off the bike.  This was looking at around 2:36:XX in time for the bike.  It wasn't my fastest time by far but it was a much more difficult course than I've ridden on and I did keep it pretty easy.  By the time I was getting content with that I saw the mile 50 marker on the road......about two miles up from mile 45. At this point my finish time was sub 2:30:XX if I was truly at mile 50. My spirits were lift for the next few miles until I saw the turn back into the park.  I shouted, "I am so happy to see you!" to the volunteers as I was more than happy to be done biking. I made the last two miles back into the park and down towards transition. I finished the bike still feeling pretty good with a time of 2:29:46.

As I jumped off my bike, I forgot to slow down. My bike took a big hop in the air and my toes to a big scratching on the pavement which caused two of my toes to draw some blood. As I made my way over to my spot I had to get ready to put on my socks. Yes, this sounds silly but there is a quick system of how to put on socks if you have them set up correctly, which at about mile 20 of the bike I realized I forgot to do. Fortunately, I was able to get through transition pretty smooth and head towards the run tied with the 7th fastest T2 of the day.

This year I made a fun transition into some new running shoes. I now am running in Newtons which are a dangerous shoe if you have the improper form. My calves have definitely felt the difference and I have really enjoyed running in them and really hope they bring out some faster run splits. I also joined a running club that allows me to do a lot of running races for free throughout the year in hopes that doing more fast running races will translate to faster run splits in the triathlons.

My one goal I kept for the race was the run. I have wanted to break 1:30:00 on the run for the past three half-ironmans so I needed to take this down. I checked my garmin at the start to keep my pace in check which was a good thing being as I was running 6:06 min/mile right out of the gate. I made my way up the first hill which was about a half mile continual climb and cracked a huge smile.  All of my friends from the bike who rode away from me were waiting for me on the hill! I kept a nice pace as I made my way up it and started moving up towards the other runners. My first mile clicked off at about a 6:28 followed by a 6:16 I believe as I was feeling good.

As I came to the second aid station on the run I hollered up ahead for water to just be splashed on me. Apparently telling a bunch of kids to throw water on you is exciting because all of the volunteers grabbed two cups and tossed them on me. It was quite refreshing as I made my way around the quick loop at the back end and up the second hill.

My aid station system was going pretty good. Each station I would ask for something different. Station 1 - water, station 2 - splash, station 3 & 4 - coke. This kept me pretty smooth as I kept seeing 6:XX for each mile split.

Lap two was going just as smooth as lap one so when I got through 2/3 the run I switched my watch to see my overall run time to get an idea of what I needed to maintain my 1:30 goal. I was sitting at about 57:XX which meant I was on pace for my goal! Things were going to plan and the decent performances on the bike/swim before this meant I would still have a pretty darn good overall performance.

Lap three, I took the first steep hill and my momentum just stopped. The steepness hit me and my stride changed. It took a little effort as I started the climb but I got back into my stride. Looking up the hill seemed a tough thing to do but I told myself, "You cannot tell other people to believe in themselves and expect them to do it if you can't get yourself up this hill one more time." It helped with the push as well as actually making a few, "Let's go!" comments out loud to myself to get to the top. As mile 10 approached I had hit the wall. My legs were feeling the drag and my pace was slowing. I couldn't hold my face together which is probably while multiple people told me I looked like hell at this point in the race.
Mile 13. Sums up the last lap of how I was feeling.
Finally, around mile 12 I came to a realization. I had been looking forward to this run all day and I was currently in the pain cave. I told myself to smile and a little life came back into me. As I made it past the 12.5 mile mark I new I nearly home. My pace quickened as I was going all downhill and stormed through the finish to see a final time of 4:32:47. My official run split was a new PR and 7th fastest run of the day at 1:28:03!

Finishing on the podium of M25-29 as the young guy again.
In the finish chute I fell to the ground in exhaustion. It took a minute and a cold water dumped on my head before I could get back up. Sickness really took its toll on me. I slowly got on my feet and after about 30 minutes I was actually able to eat food again!
Lastest addition to my mom's trophy case coming soon!
My time placed me as 17th overall for the day and 3rd in my age group. I did get bumped to the 25-29 age group this year which is going to be a lot more competitive than the 20-24 age group I previously enjoyed. Competition was stiffer this year as the same time last year would have gotten me 7th overall. Looking at everything as a whole I am quite please with how the day turned out. The next one is going to be a lot flatter and a lot faster so I have a month to prepare for some more pain!
Recently joined team Ignite Endurance. All of the team with our winnings for the weekend (we had fastest female and male for the day).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Colonial Beach Triathlon: This Water Looks Questionable

This past weekend I had the chance to get back into the Olympic distance of racing which I had been lacking for three months.  I headed on down to Colonial Beach to participate in the Colonial Beach Triathlon. I slowly have been getting back into getting longer and stronger workouts in so this would be a good way to measure how everything was going.

Colonial Beach is located right along the Potomac River.  The town is very different than the style of living I have experienced in the DC area and also different than back in Iowa.  The town was pretty secluded from everything and a lot of residents used golf carts to travel around more than actual vehicles.  The boardwalk seemed to have the potential to be more lively than it was but most of the shops were a little out of date.
Fun Fact: Somebody caught a bull shark right off the pier where I was swimming the day before. Just a great way to make a midwesterner feel REALLY comfortable swimming.
Race morning came early (3:30 am) and I got up and ready.  Jessie and I made our way to the course which included her getting worried we wouldn't make it to the race so we had to stop and fill up with gas at 5 in the morning.  I got everything set up and decided not to do a bike warm-up and instead just do a longer run and some dynamic stretching.

Trying to be more normal with my traditional pre-race selfie.
This would be my first experience swimming in a body of water that was actually connected directly to an ocean.  This race was also warm enough that wetsuits were not allowed. Of all the water I have ever swam in, it was the dirtiest. This may have been a good thing for me. The water was salt water which made me worried if I accidentally took a mouthful.  Before the race we were encouraged to sight further away from the actual course due to the current would pull us to where we needed to be. I got myself lined up and composed for the start of the race.

There was a little contact at the start of the swim but nothing too bad.  I began working my way out in the open while trying to best synchronize my stroke and the waves.  I looked over and saw that there was about ten yards to my side between me and the group of swimmers and within the next time I turned sideways I was right next to them.  The current may not have been noticeable but it was still moving me around.

As I made my way around the first buoy I got in a draft behind two swimmers.  I caught a quick rest and then surged past them.  I noticed a few swimmers ahead of them and made it a goal to catch up to them.  Sighting was a major issue as I had absolutely no idea where I was heading.  I would look up one time and see some feet ten yards ahead of me and then the next time I look up I would see a wave about to crash into my face.  Surprisingly for not having a lot of experience swimming in these conditions I did fairly well.  Talking to other racers afterwards they all did not like the swim but I felt it wasn't too bad.  This likely was due to the fact that I went into it knowing it would be a mess.

When we reached the halfway point of the swim I had caught onto the back of the swimmer ahead of me.  I used him to keep pace for the rest of the swim.  The way back didn't have the waves but we were swimming against the current so it seemed like forever before we actually got back.  Somewhere on the back half I did take a mouthful of saltwater but didn't swallow it.  During the second half of the swim I noticed that both my top and bottoms were feeling as though they were three sizes too big and had a giant bubble of air causing them to float.  For some reason this was a serious concern. I made my way to the beach and got up and running.

Transition was quick without the wetsuit.  I got my helmet on and out to the bike.  As we exited transition there was a trail of gravel to run on or a small portion of grass on the side if you were doing a flying mount.  Being as I try to look as cool as possible I wasn't wearing shoes so I had to settle into a slow trot behind the person in front of me because I couldn't pass him without running on the gravel.  I got to the mount line and off onto the bike.

The bike course was mentioned to be flat at the beginning and then challenging as we got towards the turnaround.  I got to work right away finding a comfortable gear as I made my way out.  Using my experience from my previous race, I checked my brakes earlier in the morning so I knew nothing would be rubbing and be more aware of whether I was riding uphill or not.  Another rider quickly passed me and I kept within striking distance of him as we made our way out. I found that was we went uphill I had the advantage and was able to close the gap but it was on the flats that he was distancing himself.

The bike was much better than the previous race as I kept my composure working out to the turn.  I got to the turn in six place and knew I had the chance to work my way up on the other guys.  As we made our way back I noticed there was a few groups that were beginning to form.  The front six were all split into groups of two and then there was about five guys holding onto a group after myself.  The closer I got to the bike finish the stronger my legs started to feel.

Getting off the bike I was confident in my legs.  I told myself that I had the legs to chase down the guys in front of me and there was a good gap behind me to not worry.  I made my way into transition as the guy ahead of me was leaving.

The run course was all flat.  If there was even an elevation change of 10 feet it would have been a shock to me.  I started the run pretty cautious as I have been known to go out on all cylinders and burn up quickly in the run.  I instead focused on a smooth first mile and then building from there.  Once factor that played into the run a lot was the wind.  The first portion was straight into the wind which made things difficult.  Not being able to see anybody else on the run made for a lonely feeling as I finally was able to get out of the wind and headed the last mile towards the turnaround.

As I started coming back on the run I got the first chance to see what was behind me and I didn't like it.  A few of the runners were gaining on me and the second half of the run might have me being overtaken by a few runners.  I kept moving forward and tried to think about a good stride as the heat started to pick up once the sun came out.  With about a mile left one of the runners came alongside me and moved on up.  Knowing it would be useless to try to accelerate by that much I allowed him to go passed me as I prepared to push for the final bit.  With about a half mile left my speed picked up and I actually began gaining back on him but his overall pace was too fast for me to close back on him.  I came across the line 7th and 10th overall due to a few racers in the older wave.

The bike and the run just didn't have the juice I wanted of them.  Both were able to put up good results but not to the level that I want and know I can produce.
I got a free mat at the awards!
My finish was able to get some things cleared up on what exactly is working and what I need to work on.  My swim is doing exactly as I am wanting it to.  Obviously it isn't up with the front runners but it is slowly progressing and allowing me to get closer each time.  My bike hasn't had the opportunity for long intervals of 20 minutes like I enjoy putting in and I know that I need to put in the longer efforts to make things work.  My run was not prepared for this course.  I have been doing hills and hills for the run so when I found a run that had nothing in that aspect I didn't have the extra speed that I needed to replace the strength that I had been preparing for.  Track workouts are going to suck in the upcoming weeks.
So for those of you who don't know, we have a dog.  We adopted Ryan a few weeks ago and he was a crowd favorite while I was racing.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bath County Triathlon: Knowing Myself

My first triathlon on the East coast would be the Bath Country Triathlon. It was a sprint distance which I hadn’t done since 2011 so the idea of such a short burst of high intensity was going to be something unfamiliar to me. It was a four hour drive to the course which was seriously in the middle of nowhere. I lost cell service two hours out and the navigation to the course took us down a gravel road. My thought process at one point had me question whether there actually WAS a race or not. It turned out that there was and the location was very secluded and scenic race.
The drives to races don't just have cornfields to look at.  On the drive home I was at one point averaging 59.1 mpg (I may have been going down a mountain for a few miles).

I ended up staying in one of the sketchiest hotels the night before the race a few towns over because the only thing offered in the nearby towns was bed and breakfast places. At first I was hesitant on this but tell myself that the strangest races always create the best stories. The hotel company was pretty much a bunch of middle aged men sitting in the parking lot on their trucks drinking beer the night before. My room hardly fit myself and my bike it was so small. I actually had to take note because one of the guests had brought his own grill and was in the parking lot using it cooking in swim trunks. I’m not in Iowa anymore.

Race morning came and I was the first person into transition. I got warmed up on both the run and the bike and headed down to the swim quite early which turned out to be a good thing. Nobody had any idea of the swim course. The website said we would be starting against a boat dock and swimming counter clockwise in the water but everybody was convinced we would be swimming clockwise. As the first wave got set to start we were still confused on whether we were starting on the boat ramp or in the water. One of the fellow racers said he heard the race director say we were starting behind the first buoy so about half of us headed 25 yards out for an in water start.
So it seems this will likely be a trend: pre-race selfies

As we got close to race start I moved to the shortest distance from the start line to the first turn buoy and noticed that there wasn’t anybody within about 10 yards of me. I was hugging the start buoy but everybody else was a little ways away. The horn went off and I did my thing to get going right away. As I looked over I kept an eye out to see if there were any feet pulling ahead to grab onto but there was nobody. I’m not sure how this happened but I was the first swimmer to the turn buoy and was leading the swim.

Now I know myself; I’m a good swimmer but I am not one to set the pace for the swim and have the fastest swim split. For the first third of the swim I was setting the pace and was getting myself in a confident mindset. If I can be near the front on the swim then I can easily be up front on the bike and the run. Sure enough though, a swimmer passed me at the second turn as we made our way to the back half.

I got comfortable knowing how close I was to the front and that the lead swimmer couldn’t sight. He continually was swimming side to side while I was able to take the shortest distance to the next buoy and keep up with him. As we neared the final turn buoy another swimmer past me and I got on his feet. The three of us came into the finish together and I got excited that I was the lead swim group for once!
As we exited the water I quickly made my way past the 2nd place swimmer and into transition. With the race being short transitions would play a bigger factor than usual. While taking my bike off the rack I
looked over to realize that I was the first guy leaving transition and now held the lead! My heart rate was spiked and I got everything off and onto the bike still a little dizzy.

I drove out on the course the day before for the bike so I knew what to expect. There was a hill right at the start and then it was pretty flat the rest of the way with a few rollers. I told myself to stay out of the little ring and just power through this bike course. Coming out of transition I looked back to see I had one rider about ten seconds behind me and that was it. I got going and hoped my breathing would catch up with me as I took on the first hill including a pretty big exhale of noises (I seemed to make some sort of heavy noise when I start working hard). As I got to the other side of the hill I looked back and saw nobody. I put the power on and started trying to make as big of a gap as I could on everyone.

Now I know myself; my bike has greatly improved in the past few years and now I can easily post one of the fastest bike splits in most races. As I made my way out on the bike I just couldn’t seem to get any power in my legs. My usual gear seemed heavy and I found myself having to continually shift into a smaller gear. Panic started to build inside me. Maybe I didn’t rest up right and was coming up flat on the bike? Maybe I was riding on a flat tire? Maybe one of my brakes was rubbing? No matter what the reason, I could not for the life of me push any speed on the bike.

I took a look back and saw something I didn’t want to see: a rider was catching me. I started to consider what to do. After a few miles of frustration I pulled my bike to the side of the road and stopped. While I checked to make sure everything was functioning properly on my bike the other rider road past me. There was nothing wrong with the bike; it was working perfectly fine. Apparently, I just suck at biking. This decision to pull over cost me the lead.

When I finally hit the turnaround of the bike I was still holding on to second place. I can’t begin to explain the frustration that hit me when I turned around. My bike started rolling and rolling easily. There wasn’t another rider in sight. The whole entire first half of the bike was UPHILL!!!! I had been tricked by a false flat and completely lost my confidence in myself because of it. This lack of awareness made me lose the lead and burn up my legs trying to push too big of a gear. While riding back I was so frustrated with myself because it was more than a false flat; I was actually riding uphill and going back down made me question how I didn’t realize it. The second half of the bike was quite hazy. My built up frustration had me completely redlining and I could hardly see more than a few feet in front of me. The fact that I didn’t crash is quite a miracle.

As I came into transition there was no sight of the leader and no sight of anybody behind me. I got on my run shoes and planned to see how my legs felt once I got out on the course.

I had the opportunity to see the run course a few times before the race. There was a hill coming directly out of transition followed by a smaller hill near the turnaround but overall it was downhill out and uphill back. The hills weren’t too daunting as long as I took them smart and kept my feet moving.
Coming out on the run was a completely different feeling trying to go up the hills. My legs were tired and my heart rate hadn’t dropped any bit. As I began the hill I heard spectators cheering as the next racer made it into transition and I told myself to hopefully just hold on to second place. When I made my

way to the top of the hill I saw the lead runner up ahead by about a minute. At this point in the race with less than three miles to run a one minute lead is pretty significant in the top few racers. Most people near the front are pretty solid in all three sports so you can count on them to have a run to hold off a 60 second lead. I did notice however that I was gaining on him just a little.

At this point I started doing some math because I really like math. I needed to cut his lead down significantly in the next few miles because if I can’t pass him until the home stretch then I can guarantee he isn’t going to go down easy. It was going to take a tremendous effort to close the gap and I needed to move. Unfortunately, the next mile I was only able to get about 10 seconds closer as we continued to go downhill.

When I made it to the turnaround things started to look up. I still was in second but there was a much bigger gap behind me than in front of me. My target was first place and I kept my eyes on him. I watched the way he ran; analyzed everything about him. He looked to be pounding on his feet. His cadence was slower than mine and he struggled on the uphill portions. The next mile I really dug down and with about one mile left in the race, I came alongside the lead.

There wasn’t much distance left in the race and the competitors heading out knew it. People were yelling for us, knowing it was going to be a tight finish. I was only able to hold the lead by a yard as he got back up to my speed. It seemed to everybody that this was going to be a good finish. Everybody but me.

Now I know myself; I am a runner. What everybody else didn’t realize is that I had slowed up just a tab when I made the pass. I knew the course ahead and had visualized how to finish the race if it came down to just myself and another racer. My strategy was already set and I was both looking forward to it and not so much.

We had one hill left and then it was all downhill. Every time that we came across a hill on the run I had been able to move a little closer. My plan was to make my move on the hill. My mindset was, “These next two minutes are going to suck, a lot, but in about six minutes it will all be worth it.” When we got to the bottom of the hill I barreled into the thing. I picked up my knees and climbed. As I started the hill I could hear people yelling, “Go runners!” to the both of us and as I crested the top they were instead yelling, “Go runner!” There was no longer another runner beside me. With less than a half mile to go I had pulled away.
The finish line area.  You can briefly see some of the scenery off to the left above the trees.
Coming down the hill was pretty easy. I let the downhill speed me up and started smiling. There was a huge effort that I had to put in on the run and it really paid off. I looked back as I took the final turn and could no longer see second place. I came across the line and had to wait 30 seconds for him to finish. Later he told me that had he been able to make it to the top of the hill alongside me he would have sprinted to the finish; it’s a good thing I went when I did. He had started the run nearly 1:30 ahead of me and I was able to catch him and take another :30 up to take the win.

Overall podium.  I got a lunch bag and a container of HEED so now I have two containers to use up.
Sadly, this is where the high moment ends. The men were separated into two different waves. Another racer from wave two was able to take the victory by over a minute. My stop on the bike slowed me by

about 30 seconds and there was a lot of confidence drained on that first half. I was able to have a top ten split in all three sports and transitions thought. Even with stopping on the bike I posted the 7th fastest time of anybody.

Coming in 2nd was a tough pill to swallow after my effort on the run but I know myself and I know that I will take that 1st place spot soon. For now it is back to the training and making sure this wasn’t a one and done effort out here. 
Kristine finally able to use both her race wheels and look destructive.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Air Force Association Cycling Classic: Getting Back to Business

So for the last month my training has been extremely sub-par.  I got injured mid-April so I completely stopped riding to allow myself to recover, I graduated college, and I moved 1,000 miles across the country to Virginia.  I try to stay positive and think that although most athletes do not enjoy injuries, mine tend to come at times that I can take a break.  It took some effort to get back to training and I have been hesitant to try to ride.  It started with not being able to bend my knee, then I had to teach a spin class one legged (yes it was entertaining to watch), and then finally I have slowly worked myself up from being able to ride for about 20 minutes pain free to an hour without any pain.  Once I got to an hour I decided I would give a race a try to see whether I was ready to start doing what I’ve always done.

The Air Force Association Cycling Classic Challenge Ride is a really cool event. It basically is a big loop around the Pentagon and surrounding areas.  All the roads are closed from traffic so the cyclists have a lot of room to ride.  There was about 2,000 riders so there was a great chance to work with other riders at my level and test my leg.  For any cyclists reading this, the event is REALLY cool and I encourage you to try it out.  The challenge was to see how many loops you could do within three hours.
My view to the start line.
Now I knew I was out of shape compared to what I know I am capable of.  I hadn’t really been on any group rides for nearly a year and my handling was going to be sub-par.  I calculated what speed I needed to average to reach the Gold Level which was the top level and figured I could do it. I got registered and lined up about 300 riders deep before the race start.

Waiting for the race to start I began chatting with the riders next to me.  I mentioned this was my first time and that I have just moved from Iowa. This is the conversation that followed:

Rider: Oh you’re from Iowa, are there even any hills there?
Alex: Ha ha, yes we do have hills but you typically have to go looking for them.
Rider: …….are they all man-made?
Alex: Well no, they are actually hills.
Rider: Well the loop only has one hill but it is a long and gradual one.  It isn’t too bad the first time, but it will wear you down.

This is my rant. He just said the wrong thing to the wrong person. I do NOT like people who doubt me without knowing me.  Does Iowa even have hills? For the record, one of my first  group rides I got dropped on every hill we went on and I made a point to always do hill work from then on so it would never happen again. If you ever are watching me race and want me to push myself harder, just doubt me. There is nothing that motivates me more than doubt. I was determined to show everyone what a rider from Iowa can do.
Time to put on my game face but first, let me take a selfie.
When the race started I was about 30 seconds back since we had to wait for everyone to roll out.  It was extremely congested but after a few sharp turns and weaving through people I got into a good group and we started working.  My knee was acting well and everything was going as expected.  We hit the first 180 degree turn and went into a quick uphill.  A lot of the group slowed so I pushed up with the lead of the pack I was in. We formed a smaller group and started working together as we neared the hill. Putting my Iowa pride on, I got into my hill climbing mindset and picked up the cadence.  I worked my way past the group and up to the top with ease.

As the group reformed at the bottom of the hill we were catching a larger group from ahead so I took the entry ramp onto the freeway as a way to power up and catch onto the back wheel of the next group. We made our loop past the Pentagon and finished lap one in about 25 minutes, done.

I did a little math and realized a few things.  First off, I was on pace to not only reaching the Gold level, but to get an extra lap in above what was needed. Secondly, my knee wasn’t having any problems and I seemed to have a lot more power in my legs than I thought. Lastly and the most worrisome, the longest ride I’ve done in the past two months is a little over an hour……and I have 2.5 more hours to go.

The next few laps continued to see the same results for me.  Each lap I would form up with a pretty decent sized group.  When we would hit any incline Mr. Iowa (that would be me, representing with pride, holla!) would drive up to the front of the group and form a smaller and stronger group.  Once we got to the hill I would then power myself to the top and not let a single rider pass me. As we worked our way back on the second half of the course I would use the triathlon race strategy and the expected flat road conditions I was supposedly used to riding on to take the smaller group I was riding with to close in on the next big group. Any time a few riders would try to ride past the group I was with I would hop on their wheel and move on up.

A small scare happened in lap three.  As I was making my way back from the first U-turn my front tire seemed to have caught something.  Another rider’s helmet sticker had come off and I rode right over top of it, grabbing it and attaching to my wheel.  This caused more noise than actual concern as it clicked rapidly as my wheel spun until magically it got caught up in something and just shot out to the side of my wheel.

When I began finishing up lap five a problem started to arise.  The pain in my knee was starting to creep itself into my mind.  To give you an idea of what this feels like, imagine having an open wound and then somebody takes a small needle and slowly just scrapes around inside the wound.  It isn’t a large single impact pain but the slow continuous pain can drive you crazy. Due to the mechanics of cycling this pain would come back every time my leg would come over the top of the pedal stroke which is about 80-100 times per minute. Of the last five rides I have done, three of them the pain got so bad I had to unclip my leg and pedal with only the other leg so as not to increase the pain.
I have no idea how this will turn out but some of the riders coming in after I finished.
The idea of getting in the seventh lap was a bad one.  This was only a test and there were bigger and better races ahead of me. With only one lap to go to get to the top level and having twice the time I needed left to do a lap I decided to take lap six casual.  I broke off from the group and started riding solo.  I was able to maintain the pain and still make decent time. With only one last go at the hill I picked my head up and kept my record: zero riders passed me on the hill. I would like to think that is pretty good for somebody whose home state apparently doesn’t have hills. I coasted for a few portions of the lap and still came in with about 20 minutes to spare.
Near the finish line with my medal with time to spare.
My main goal for this race was to convince myself I can push the bike. Being able to complete all the laps I needed really boosted my confidence in that. For not riding a lot and going from one hour to a little over 2.5 hours in one jump was a pretty big stretch but my body was able to handle it.  Also my knee previously acted up in less than an hour but during the race it took over two hours and a lot of strong efforts to really aggravate it in any way. I think it is about time I get out in the triathlon circuit and really show everybody what Kristine can do.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

RiverRun 10K: A Hometown Humbling

The 2014 RiverRun was set to be my last race in Iowa for a while.  Being as I would be leaving within the following weeks I set it up to be my last race in the Iowa City area.  Last year I was able to win the 10K so I signed up again, hoping to defend my title.

Race morning was very relaxed as I got to the race area and just kept myself contained and calm.  I met up with some of my teammates and then Matt Ampleman and I went out for an easy warm-up jog. I made my way back to the start line with about five minutes before the race started.
Race start with a tough headwind made for a hard effort.
The race is a tough one to predict as it is both a 5K and 10K event starting in the same spot so you have no idea who is doing which race.  The start pack took off fast and I figured it would be fun to go with them for once.  We had a big group of about 20 of us as we pushed straight into the wind.  I settled right behind Matt, who I knew would also be doing the 10K, as we made our way out for the first half mile.  It was at this point that I started to dread going out so hard.  The first mile we likely ran around a 5:15 and I ended up paying for it from then on.

The first aid station was just a table with cups, the volunteers stood behind it watching instead of out front handing waters to the runners.  Instead of slowing down to try to grab a cup I decided to just go without.  When I came up on the 2nd aid station I made sure to yell up ahead for water so luckily a guy came out to hand one off to me.  This same set-up was the case at every aid station, a table with cups of water and volunteers standing behind watching, except for mile four where the volunteers were out ready to hand us water.  Luckily, I was able to call out ahead to most of them to have water ready.
The lonely feeling of seeing nobody ahead or behind started to set in at this point.
The wind really took its toll on me as I headed out for the 2nd loop of the 10K.  I knew Matt was ahead of me by a bit but had no idea how many others were ahead or how much of a gap I had on the next racer.  I kept telling myself that I would get the wind at my back as I made my descent down the hill and it was about then that I saw that I was sitting in third place. My pace got a little stronger once I got the wind and I used it to prepare myself for the last hill of the day.

I really didn’t want to do this hill.  It is late in the race and just gradually gets steeper as you go up it. Your stride gets short and by the time you reach the top you just want to walk. Granted there was a lot of time during this race that I wanted to walk, I never actually wanted to as I crested the hill.  I told myself at the base that it was the last time I would have to do it and pushed myself up. Once to the top I could see the main group of runners coming out on the loop.

Some of the 5K runners who I have ran with over the past year were out on their cool down run to cheer me along and really helped that last mile.  As I came into one of the last corners one of the race vehicles was pulling across the road. Trying to avoid the majority of runners coming out, he pulled over to the right side of the road. This was exactly where I was running so I turned to hop up on the curb only to find that for some reason he wanted to drive on the curb as well.  I made a quick side jump to avoid the truck and used the brief bit of adrenaline to push me up the last incline of the day.
Coming down the final stretch before the finish.
Coming down the last little bit I kept my pace until I saw the clock.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t my day as I came across in 36:17 which was 45 seconds slower than the previous year.  The course was a more challenging course and the wind was a factor the time but overall, I just hadn’t put in the speed work that I had last year at this point. Trying to keep up with the guys who ran sub 5:00 miles for the 5K at the start of the race was just begging for trouble and the performance didn’t come out the way I wanted.  Even if I had performed as well as I knew I could I still would have ended up in 3rd place as I did.
Going to be a different experience not having these two at my races this year.