Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 ITU World Long Course Championships, OKC, USA

I've got plenty of long course race experience with something like 28 Ironman races under my belt all over the world. Just not a lot of experience racing 3/4 of an Ironman only 5-6 weeks after a full Ironman. One at altitude (which takes a lot out of you from the altitude), then the other 3/4 of a full distance, in what amounted to a wind tunnel with heat all day long.

Let me start by some admission of my own fails. First, I ignored every cardinal rule I ever set for myself in a race, so results are quite deserving of where I landed up. This time around I will not point to the fact I've had one race and pretty much been fighting off multiple injuries this last season. This has more to do with jumping in a race too soon and spacing everything you should NOT do before a race. I will be clear and exact here, to not mislead the post.

It started last year when I chose ITU Long Course World's in OKC, due to being the 2015 45-49 AG National Champ. You must defend/show up to World's if it is on home soil in the USA. Honor the title! Though several young bucks were moving to the AG (Dave Slavinski & Tom Woods), There was little chance to really defend anything, but hell, let's roll the dice, anything can happen right?
I raced Ironman Boulder in early August, with recovery right after that. Not sure I ran more than 8 miles since then, or biked over 45 miles at any single time since. My swimming was quite decent as that seemed to not bother any of the injuries I've had recently. When I made hotel reservations for this race, for some reason, had it slotted for Sunday, 9/25/2016. I was under the impression it was not 9/24 despite all the communications I may have received and scanned over. I typed the leave/return and race dates from/to Boulder incorrectly, as well as took off more days from work than I needed.

It wasn't until a final email (sent on Friday morning) of things to do from USAT, for last minute details, that said "Bike Check In until 7 PM on Friday." Why on earth so we take bikes two days prior to the race site? Dumb I thought (Note: this was Friday AM as mentioned, after waking up.) As I read the email, turns out the race was SATURDAY (tomorrow!), not Sunday like I've been thinking since last year! I don't know what, where, or when I missed exactly, or how, but that started the downhill roll with added stress of completing everything in one day. Packet pick up, bike drop off, pack race bags, plan the early morning commute and wake up times, when to eat, what to eat, everything was turned completely upside down in a flurry and rush. Stress for sure!

Another "rule" I broke was eating junk. I ate a not so good burger from a place called "Tucker's" which looked like a 5-Guys inside, but the burgers were burned tasting and not a place I'd remember to return to. I also had salad that day, which fiber was not needed for those of you who know what the body does race morning. I did steer clear of milk/dairy Friday. Although I did have milk and pizza at dinner on Thursday evening with Tom Woods at Hideaway Pizza in Edmond, OK (ITU Silver medalist in this race). So yeah, I screwed that up royally, something I rarely do.

Another rule, heading into race day dehydrated. Peeing a bit on the gold side race morning (okay, a lot) must've been all the running around getting things done Friday. I went for a bike ride with Tom Woods and some of his buddies. Little did I expect the ride was to be more than half an I did not bring a water bottle as I had a water bottle full of ice water before we left. That short ride turned in to a hot, getting lost type ride all over the Hefner Lake neighborhoods. It was close to 75 minutes long or more-- double what I expected. Never could catch up liquids after that. Drink too much water, you can't sleep because you're getting up every hour and then feel sloshy in the gut at night. Tom did share one of his water bottles during the ride with me but I went through that rather quickly.

Another rule broken...(how many can there be?) Not planning out my nutrition. I know to the calorie what I needed for Ironman Boulder. For LD World's I didn't even measure consistently what I put in the bottles. One was about 210 calories, the other was 300 calories, identical bottles. I had a Gatorade gummy block packet and three of the FREE gels I got from USAT in our packets. Not even sure what brand it was, so I figured, it's all calories right? (*NEVER* try something NEW race day.) The rest of the bike was a mostly water and a couple swigs of Gatorade. Clearly I had way too few calories. I could honestly count 1,000 calories for the entire bike of 120 km. Gels, Infinit mix, the rest was just water poured over my head, and some in my mouth whenever I got cottonmouth. I was having trouble keeping anything down really, and even threw up on the bike. As for salt, I had one salt tab on the bike, which I had only last minute put into my Salt Stick, before the swim. If only because Tom asked if I needed any Salt Tabs. My first thought was, "Oh shit, I forgot that too!" Then ran off as they were closing transition to fill the Salt Stick up.

The went okay, crazy super windy and waves. The amplitude of waves were that of Kona, but the chop the waves was beyond that and as such, the current was worse, requiring you to fight just to stay on course in a legal sense. At times, we swam into the outgoing swimmers as we returned. Luckily, it was in 2 feet of water where we all walked for a hundred or so yards. I did get a cut on the bottom of one toe from the sharp rocks, but it otherwise did not affect my race. Transition went smooth, getting in and out in a decent time but not super fast--but was one of the faster guys for sure. Dan Chapman (my AG) left shortly before I did. Upon exiting transition I heard them announce Tom Woods and knew it wouldn't be long before I saw him passing by. It was quite a surprise not seeing multiple time World Champion Dave Slavinski for a very long time later into the bike. I really thought he would have been ahead of both Tom and I at that point.

The bike was brutal. Not many calories and not much hydration, way too little of everything. Although I felt quite fine until mile 50 when I just lost power to the quads. First thought...I'm racing too soon after Ironman Boulder, with too little training behind me. Nope, that wasn't it. Next thought...not fueling during the bike enough...yep, that was really the source I think, combined with my nemesis the HEAT for the slow down on the bike. I was cooking, it was not comfortable out there and there was a vast difference in my sweat rate vs liquid intake the entire bike.

T2...not too bad, not the best, but had to change into some dry socks. It went okay, but not what I called one of my better transitions.

Run...getting out of transition it was quite hard to get the legs moving. They were dead from the wind and exhaustion spent on the bike, or part of the lack of recovery from Ironman, or lack of training since Ironman, or the injuries--but likely it was a full combination of all of the above elements.
The tempo wasn't there. The cadence wasn't there. Immediately I felt the heat, though it was windy in your face starting out, the mile 1 aid station couldn't come soon enough. Vision blurred about 5 km into the run, arms were flopping around, everything went to hell in a hand basket and there isn't much you can do when that happens, it just happens no matter what technical advice you try to self talk yourself in to. "Arms swing forward, relax the neck and shoulders. Fast cadence!" None of it worked. I was fighting just to finish, after being on the podium position or near it at the start of the bike. Some title defense right? Do EVERYTHING wrong you possibly can and sabotage your day--complete opposite of what you're used to doing. Why? I don't know for sure, it happened.

After lap #1, the Team Manager, Tim Yount tried to pull me from the race yelling at me, "Come here, it's not worth the damage to your body! It's okay to drop!" I heard him, but he said I was weaving around and eyes were rolling around (my sun glasses were down on the tip of my nose or my head was bobbling). Anyhow, I ran into a fence post while running, not realizing I flopped all over and ran crooked. My thought was, "You're on USA soil, the USA champ, even if you have to walk this race, you have to give the others a chance to knock you off the top spot, it's unfair and would dishonor the title to drop."   So I didn't. The hardest part was trying to get my senses back. I started Coca Cola, Red Bull, all the water and ice and sponges I could get at each aid station. I gave up time standing and going through a dozen glasses of ice and water each mile to keep my core temp down. As long as I could get enough to go just one more mile. After lap two, I was going to drop when I got done with it. One more lap to go. I didn't want to continue, didn't want to fight, just wanted it to end. I had absolutely nothing left--put a fork in me, I'm well done! Quit and that memory is forever. Keep going and finish--you've won over yourself and all the inside demons forever.

Any more screw ups? Sure. Oh let me count the ways...After much walking between and aid station stopping, Dan Chapman (a local I've had the pleasure of meeting along with his wife), passed me by and was kind enough to encourage me to continue (I was going to, just in walk mode). Upon getting to the finish line, there was a right sidewalk (lap route to turn around), the finish (straight ahead) and the left sidewalk (the run exit to start out of T2). Nobody was posted there so I was in full tilt with whatever I had left in me towards the finish line, cut left (wrong direction!) before Tim Yount yelled I took the wrong direction and to come back. I turned around only to see the Aussie (McCann) who I saw drafting multiple times on the bike with a Russian and by the intersection and took my 6th place AG finish place, dropping me to 7th. So there you have it, I was 6th until the last 50 or 75 yards of the race--but lost it going off course, making me now a 7th place 45-49 AG finisher. That sucks. I was delirious so was confused despite there being a sign right there pointing to the finish. But another competitor did the same thing so I don't feel as bad. A trip to the medical tent for lots of ice and cold towels, a half hour later, and I was able to leave. After the finish, Dan Chapman said his wife walked me to the Med Tent. I didn't even know it was her I was so out of it. I saw a female and some things spinning around--like a kaleidoscope. That's all I remember until I cooled down. The only thing really I was aware of was multiple doctors around me talking about temperature and how an oral thermometer isn't they may have to take a rectal temperature. Luckily, they didn't see the cut in the back of my suit (repaired from 2013 Du World's accident when a Brit ran into me at the bike mount line with his SRAM R2C shifter levers). Otherwise, that would have been the ideal place to put it!

In short, I screwed up about everything you could possibly screw up. Right down to dropping a shampoo bottle on my foot in the shower race morning, leaving a bruise before I left the hotel for the race. Yeah, it was as if bad luck was on my side the entire trip.

What's next? Go see a doctor and get some imaging on all these injuries, get into a physical rehab plan, build strength, and get healthy. Only two races under the belt all season. From Long Course Triathlon and Duathlon AG National champ last year, to UNRANKED in both sports. Wow, what a turn of events.

I'm happy to have gotten to know Tom Woods better this trip, he was like a travel buddy we spent so much time hanging out. As for my athletes I coach, I will only say, take this as a positive message. Your coach on this day, leads by example. What I mean by that is, I lead by example of what NOT to do before, or during a race. That was not the usual ME out there, so it is good to get grounded by having this poor of an experience, which in turn, is a good thing. Because it reinforces what I always have said. Plan, double, triple, quadruple check plans. Don't be lazy about the details. A few missed details can be disastrous for race day. All that work goes in the garbage without plans and precise execution.

The happiest thing I did this trip, was not giving up. Not quitting or letting someone pull me, no matter the cost. I beat those demons inside, fought them back. I'll be back, next time--healthier, more fit, ready to rumble again. After all, it was inspiring despite my slow time and placing, to defeat my toughest competitor...ME.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Season & Ironman Boulder 2016


2016 has been a long list of personal challenges for myself and my family. It actually started last fall with the passing of my brother in law, with a quick discovery and even quicker loss to cancer. Then there are the ups and downs of the oil industry which got the best of my wife with a lay off after that (thank goodness she's back on the horse again though). In sport, the recurring soleus injury from 2015 Duathlon Nationals (the ONLY race I lost in my age group), where I tore it part way through the first run--continued to haunt me all of 2016.

I did one local duathlon, preparing with about six rides on the trainer and some on again/off again runs and no speed work. It turned out okay and had I raced in the Elite wave, I'd have actually made money from prize purse offered. There was Bolder Boulder, an even bigger mess with one of my worst times in that race, but still managed a first place by two minutes over the second place guy. Pretty disappointing time for me, but rolled with it. Boulder Peak was cancelled, so there was what was to be my first race of the year, didn't happen. All this time the 2015 injury cropped up each 3-4 weeks even while doing about 12 miles a week. Another thing I had not done this year was lift weights, due to the injury, so felt weak all season. Running never really gained traction (pun intended).

I literally ran in pain all season long and finally decided after a long search, to go with a less light weight shoe for Ironman Boulder, in exchange for cushion. HOKA Clifton 3. After some work getting elastic laces adjusted, these worked fantastic until the squish from being wet cropped up.
Leading into the race meant pretty much a couple of what I deem "medium length" runs and one long 20 mile run in the HOKA shoes. In order to get over the soleus issue, after about 11 months, I decided I had to stop running all together. So on my work lunch break, I would just use the elliptical trainer rather than walking on the treadmill. After 2 months, the soleus issue was clear! 

But...not so fast, a new hip issue (opposite side from the soleus tear) from the elliptical (because the pedals were too wide compared to my narrow hips), cropped up and stayed with me right until this writing post Ironman. However, I could run again only with a nagging strain feeling from the overused, odd position the elliptical placed me in. Eventually the elliptical thing just had to stop. At least it hurt mostly only during cycling. What a mess! The hard part was keeping confidence up that finishing an Ironman on a total of 7-8 hours a week, dealing with injuries that obviously would not be gone by race day. There were really no 4,000 long swims (lucky to have gotten in a 2,000 yard swim at all!) Running required at least two days to feel ready to run again, while cycling--just took more time than I had this summer. The goals for Ironman Boulder were simple:

1) Finish and not throw up a lot like 2014, or walk.
2) Pace all day long, much easier than normal, while keeping cool and fueling best I could.

Now the race details...
Flipped 5x on my back to keep putting my cap back kept sliding off the top of my head during the swim. Breathed 2x on the right, 2 on the left--then SIGHT THE BUOY. Nice and easy, barely felt like I was swimming, the effort was likely way too minimal and felt like a warm up. A sub 1 hour swim should I choose, definitely is possible even off the fitness I have now.

Blazed through super fast until I exited the change tent...pee break #1.

BIKE: Held back more than I wanted to, but patience in Ironman is KEY. Pacing and nutrition should be the main things for age groupers to focus on. From 2014, I knew too many tend to over-cook the bike and die out on the run. The plan was to nail 21-22 mph even if going faster was possible. Never felt the 112 miles have such little impact as I did in this race. Feeling that fresh was sort of scary, usually it hurts at that point. At the special needs aid station, I had to get off the bike and pee again (a good sign), so a guy held my bike while I did the duty.

T2: Blazed through again, only to have to stop just as I exited the change tent, to take what I'll just refer to as a lengthy porta-john break. Details left out for those less inquiring minds-- never eat a 3/4 large pizza the night before an Ironman race. It'll come back to haunt you--guaranteed!

RUN: Literally had figured I'd blow up due to the lack of running and injuries. The first 13-15 miles were focused on fueling, super short steps, and just poke along sloth-like. This was the greatest question mark of the race for me...can you do any Ironman on 7-8 hours a week? You should be training more than 15-20 miles a week for Ironman (total). The long runs were really so few and far between, I couldn't tell you if I actually did ONE per month or not. It may have been longer, and would require looking into my online training log...but knowing my weekly totals...yeah, they were 15-20 unless it was a long run week.  One far off goal I had to was run slowly towards the front, to see if even on a 7-8 hour training week, with injury, how close I could come to a Kona Qualification slot. Not that I ever planned on taking the slot (I have ITU World Long Course Triathlon Championships in September so Kona was out due to that).

One guy from Colorado who is always in the mix, Kevin Dessart, was someone who is typically a faster swimmer/bike than I am, who also holds the % of wins in head to head competition over me, by quite a bit. How close could I get? The cards were stacked against me in more than one way for this race, but whatever, give a go right? He would start a wave ahead of me so that was a 2 minute head start. If I saw him on the run, I'd gauge the effort. It was surprising to see him shortly after the first turn around on the run. I would continue to slowly--really slowly, close that gap all day long. Unfortunately, I lost a solid 5 minutes with 4x porta john breaks throughout the run (damn pizza!) I would just see the back of him, nearly catching him 4 times prior to the actual "catch" but lost a good 75 seconds per stop each time. Finally, around mile 23 we were even (although I knew I was actually 2 minutes up due to the chip time). He floored it and we were battling back and forth in an epic Mark Allen/Dave Scott Iron War of our own. As long as I could keep him about a city block in my sight, it would be a rare win over him. In the end, it was a blast, just so much fun! As we went around the final bike path cones a few blocks before the finish, Kevin took off like a Usain Bolt and put about 20-25 seconds on me (the same thing I had done to his friend Neal years ago at IM CDA in the last half mile). I had already used up all my energy just to make up the 2 min. swim deficit, plus the multiple overly long bathroom breaks. That was a good 7 minutes total I had to dig for, that last sprint effort was more than was in the tank at that point. Kevin Dessart, it was a pleasure being pushed to the limit by such an athlete of your stature, thanks for the monumental memory!

The race was over and at the awards, I had finished 3rd in the 45-49 and 12th overall (no pro field), all while spending the season injured, racing injured and training the distance of a sprint of Olympic distance triathlete. I'm calling it a massive success as I met my original goals of not getting sick during the race, finishing the race and qualifying my 19th time for Ironman Hawaii. As I said, I did not take the slot due to ITU Worlds. Never had I finished an Ironman and felt so fresh the following day. My recovery is going much better than anticipated, although that is just because I'm actually motivated to continue training and WANT to work out. That is a sign that I'm not burnt out from my non-existent season. In fact, I won't have enough triathlons to be ranked at all in 2016, as the 2015 Long Distance US Champion for Triathlon M45-49. I won't have any duathlons to be ranked in 2016, as the 2015 Long Distance US Champion for Duathlon M45-49. Wow, from high ranked to non-existent.

The take away here? It doesn't matter where your place is until the finish line. This was clearly the EASIEST all day long effort of any Ironman completed. This was clearly the LEAST amount of training ever done for an Ironman completed. This was clearly the HIGHEST overall placing of any Ironman completed. This is clearly the QUICKEST RECOVERY from any Ironman completed. Maybe there is a message here--just stop training all together and do the races?  I'll have to think that one through...

(*Special thanks to Jen Schaffner for the lead photo from Twitter at the top of this post.)

Next for Team USA at the World Championships!