Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Things I learned during Knoxville

It's been a little over a week since Knoxville and the championship race, and I can honestly say that I learned a lot during that race.  Even though the race was extremely difficult for me and I didn't have a good showing, I'm glad I did it.  I think the experience of racing in Knoxville will truly benefit me in both the coming months, as well as the next year or so. Below are just some of the things that I learned both during the race, as well the weeks leading up to it and immediately afterwards

1 -Decide how important certain races are and stick with it:
  We all know that as athletes we should pick "A", "B", "C" races and so on.  But sticking to how you categorized each race often gets lost throughout the year.  I know I typically think my A race is the next race up, but it can't be like that for every time.  In my mind, C races are for training through the race and practicing things, B races are for finalizing everything and making sure your prep is done for your A race, and your A race is the most important race of the year.  In the case of Knoxville, I knew it was a B race for me, but also hindered on being an A race.  The problem with this was I really couldn't decide.  I knew it was important, but in my mind I didn't know much. I wanted it to be more important than it actually was, but I just couldn't get up for an A race that early in the year.  So in my case, I really should have used Knoxville as an important race, but not base everything around it.

2 - Training with Power isn't just hitting Watts, it's how you hit those Watts:
  This is probably the biggest thing I learned while suffering on the bike.  This course was hilly.  As in, really hilly.  Typically the hills are my strength since I can fly up them.  Not this year though.  The reason being was my training.  When doing my trainer workouts, I was so focused on hitting my Power Zones that I didn't realize there are different ways to do it.  I was focusing on increasing my cadence more which increased my power.  However, this course required me to decrease my cadence and really focus on "pushing up the hill".  I didn't really do low cadence work simulating the climbing that this course had.  I just assumed I would be in such a high spin going up the hills so that is how I trained.  I was too focused on hitting my wattages that I didn't really think of how I should hit my wattages.  Knowing this, I'm going to focus a lot in the coming weeks on sheer force and building strength in my legs instead of achieving a high cadence rate.  This will definitely help me in the coming races, even on relatively flat courses since I will be able to have more force through every pedal stroke

3 - I suck at swimming.  Like really really suck:
  I knew I was never a good swimmer, but going against some of the competition there, I got my butt handed to me.  I really need to improve my swimming for future races.  I know I don't enjoy the training that it takes to do that, but I can at least tweak my training. Early in the season I was doing a lot of swim interval training and I knew I was getting faster, but at some point I stopped doing it.  I would go to the pool and just do laps.  What I was learning to do was swim at a slow pace for a longer period of time.  So I picked up the interval training in the past week and hopefully that will help me in the future.  I know I can push the pace in the race, I just don't for some reason.  Either way, that needs to changed quickly

4 - I have a really bad temper at times:
  I referenced my travel problems getting to Knoxville in my previous post.  But here's how it went down.  I initially decided to take a late flight Friday night so I could help the wife with taking care of Riley Friday since I would be away all weekend.  Well, at about 3:45 pm Friday, my flight got cancelled due to weather.  This left me scrambling to find flights to get to Knoxville.  I called my airlines and the earliest they could get me in was Saturday at like 5:30pm.  Yeah, not happening.  Not when I had to check in, pick up my bike, rack my bike all by 6:30pm.  Luckily I got on another connecting flight that got me in to Knoxville about 1 am Saturday.  Not ideal, but it was the earliest I could do.
 So I ran to my car, and the airport is only about 15 minutes from my apartment.  But on a Friday afternoon, it could be a while.  To make matters worse, all the streets and entrances to the highway were blocked because someone got shot on the FDR drive.  It took me 45 minutes to go 1 mile in NYC traffic.  At this point, I blamed the wife.  It was her fault for making me take the late flight that night, right?  If I hadn't tried to be nice and stay all day, I would have been on like a 1pm flight and had no issues.  So when she called me to check on me, I lost it.  I have never screamed like this in my life.  EVER.  It wasn't directed at her, but it was to her.  She didn't even know what to do.
And when I finally got to the airport, I had 15 minutes to check my bag and get to my gate for boarding.  Thank goodness for TSA Pre. However, my bags didn't make the cut-off time and the airline had no idea when my bags would get to Knoxville.  They could be on my flight, the next one, or Saturday.  They told me I had to wait to find out when I landed in Knoxville to find out.  Of course, at this point the wife told me to take everything carry on that I needed.  Ummm, that was EVERYTHING.  they only thing in my suitcase not needed for the race was a spare set of underwear.  The rest was a helmet, bottles, shoes, clothes, wetsuit, nutrition, basically everything.  I would have had to buy 3 carry on bags to make this work.  But of course, she didn't know that so when she suggested it to me, I went off again.
  Needless to say, I can't control everything, but when things go bad, I lose it very quickly

5 - I don't know how much I enjoy long races
  At some point on the bike, I realized I don't want to be on a bike for 2 plus hours, and then run another 1.5 hours, not even including the swim.  I started to reevaluate my racing and figured I would stick to Olympic Tri's this year.  This way, I can do more of them, and recover more quickly and train harder as the months continue.  Doing a Half Iron or even Full is a lot of work.  I just don't know if I want to do that again this year.  Knoxville was a hybrid race with a 40 mile bike and 10 mile run.  That was still a bit too long for me.  Sticking with Olympic distance for this year might re-energize me for next year and then I'll be able to full train for one.  Plus the Half Iron that I was planning on doing is in September, and I'm doing the NYC Marathon this year 2 months after so it would be a hard turn around for training to pull that off.  I think I'll stick to the shorter, faster races where I can really see what I can do there

I know I learned a lot more than this, but these are probably the most important that hit me and I wanted to share them.  I think it's good to have take aways from every race, even the bad ones.  I definitely learned more in this race than I have in any other that I have ever done.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rev3 Age Group Championship Race Review

Only in Knoxville do you see a working locomotive on the race course
This past weekend was the Rev3 Series Championship race in Knoxville, TN.  This was for both Pro's, as well as Age Group athletes.  Since I raced in at least 2 of the Rev3 races last year and had an overall ranking of 9th in the country, I was invited to race.  I thought it was such an honor being able to see how I stacked up against the competition and Rev3 actually gives a prize purse to the top 5 athletes in each age group.  Pretty cool.  No other race series does this.

So Friday night, I headed to Knoxville.  I had some major travel problems which I'll share in my next post, but after one cancelled flight, another delayed flight, someone getting shot on the FDR drive in NY and blocking my route to get the airport (yeah, crazy, right?), my bag not being on my flight since I arrived too late, I finally ended up in Knoxville at to my hotel around 1 am Saturday morning.  I thought this would be my night to get some sleep, but I was clearly mistaken.

Saturday morning I woke up and tried to get out early to drive the race course to see how bad the hills were.  But after getting lost, not being able to make certain turns, I finally gave up.  Luckily I had a print out of the course elevation profile (thanks, Leo) which was laminated and put on my aero bottle so I knew exactly what was going on during each part of the bike course.  I did this for the Maine race, but didn't figure to put it on my bottle.  This was such a genius move by me and something that I'll continue to do moving forward.

After all of that, I headed to the Expo to pick up my race number and swag and also pick up my bike and put my pedals on.  Since I shipped my bike using TriBike Transport, I needed to fully check my bike to make sure it got there ok.  After having the techs help out and doing some quick tune ups for me, everything was all set to go.  So I dropped off my bike and headed for the practice swim.  I give Rev3 so much credit. They do a lot for their athletes.  By setting up a practice swim for the athletes, it helps alleviate any stress from the open water swim.  I wetsuited up and jumped in the river and started swimming.  Honestly, it felt great.  The water temp was warm and pretty calm.  All of my pre-race swim nerves went away at this point.

After having dinner at the championship dinner, I headed back to my hotel and went to sleep.

This is about where the good times ended for me.

Race Morning:
I woke up, ate my pre-race oatmeal and headed over to transition.  All week the temperature said it was either going to rain or be 75 and humid.  But on race morning it was 50 degrees and pretty calm.  No complaints at all.

Once I got my transition set up, I headed over to the swim start to start my race.

View of the swim from my hotel.  It started a little past
 the 2nd bridge on the right
For the championship race, they started all men in the same wave, regardless of age.  At first, I was scared how many people there would be, but after we all jumped in the water to warm up, I was cool with it.  There didn't seem like it was as many people as I thought there would be.  Once the horn went off, so were we.

I recognize I am not the strongest of swimmers, but I also know I'm not the weakest.  However, today it felt like I was swimming against the current in both directions.  I felt like I was going so slow. I guess the truth of it is I WAS going so slow.  Everyone else seemed to be so far ahead of me.  It really hit me when the lead females from the wave behind us caught me around the .9 mile marker.

There really isn't much I can say about the swim except for that I sucked. It's something that I really need to work on in the coming months if I want to have any shot at doing better in a big race.
Swim time: 42 minutes

After realizing I had a lot of work to do , I grabbed my bike and started going for it.  Only having about 4 rides outdoors this year, I was still getting comfortable on the roads.  Either way, I tried to catch as many people as I could.  I knew this course was hilly, but DAMN.  This course kicked my heiny.  I was so not prepared for this course.

Since I have been training on the Kickr and started using power, I realized about 7 miles into the bike, I have been training wrong.  The one thing I didn't do in my training was work on hills and power that way.  I essentially was training through cadence/power and if I needed to increase my power, I often increased my cadence.  For this course, that was a WRONG move.  Bumping into Pro Triathlete and super biker Andy Starykowicz at the airport after the race, he actually agreed that high cadence cyclist didn't perform well on this course.  Coming from the guy who had the fastest bike split in Kona last year, I think he knows what he's talking about.  Not only was this the hilliest course I have ever ridden, there were no real areas for my legs to catch a breather.  The downhills were so sharp and technical that it was hard to coast down them letting my legs recover.  And once we got on the flats, my legs were so wiped to push the pace.

Around mile 24 or so, I think I realized I enjoy Olympic races a whole lot more than Half Iron, or this distance race.  Maybe it was just this course, but I felt wiped the whole bike course.  I'm used to averaging 20-22 mph depending on the race and course.  Well here I was averaging like 18 mph.  Such a hit to the ego.

The course itself was great though from a spectators view.  The roads for the most part were very well taken care of, the scenery was great to look at and the volunteers were really great.  Once saw me looking like crap and shouting something (not suitable for here), but it made me laugh and I got a little wind back in my sail.

After questioning if I can actually finish I got back to transition so happy that this hell was over.  I dismounted and grabbed my Skora's for what I thought was going to be my most enjoyable part of the race.

Bike time: 2:12.  18 mph.  NP 201 (a little high for what I wanted)

I was so happy to rack my bike that I felt a huge rush of adrenaline.  I love the run.  It's my strength.  I know I can pick off a bunch of runners so I was psyched.  What I realized when I was running both into transition, as well as out of it, was that my legs had nothing in them.  They felt like bricks.  Yes, they are supposed to be tired after biking, but this time they just felt so heavy.  They weren't this heavy after Maine, and that was a longer bike course.

But I sucked it up and headed out for the run.  Even though my legs felt like crap, my first mile was still 6:24. I was aiming for 6:20's so 4 seconds off wasn't that bad for me.  Normally after a mile or so my legs start to get some life back, but not today.  Today they just felt miserable.  It was also getting a lot hotter and the sun was definitely beaming down on me, so I started to fade a bunch.

My miles started going from 6:24 to 6:47, 6:56, 7:12 after 4 miles.  I really started to question if I could finish the race.  After 4 miles, I knew there was less than 6 miles left but those 6 miles felt like an eternity.  But after my Garmin read 6:19 on mile 5, I had this new found energy.  Maybe I just needed some reassurance that I did have some faster miles in me.  I tossed back one more gel and just started running hard since I wanted this race to be over so bad.  The things running through my mind were definitely not helping me.

With a mile left, I saw a 15 year old athlete and she was killing it.  She was in the Olympic distance race, but she was impressive.  I passed her and offered some words of encouragement and she did the same.  By this time, there was only about a half mile left and I just cruised to the finish line not caring any more.

Run: 1:04.  pace 6:37/mile

 Championship results:
My main goal coming into this race was to place in the top 5 of the final yearly rankings for the Rev3 Championship series.  I knew I needed some luck to get there, but I also figured I had a lead over some people behind me so I thought there would be a chance.  I was more concerned about where I finished in the annual rankings than this particular race, so knowing I finished this race 7th in my Age Group didn't bother me. I wanted to know where I stood in the standings.

After annoying probably everyone at Rev3 and trying to get an answer they started to announce the series standings.  I had a flight to catch and wasn't sure if I could hang around so I was badgering almost everyone I could to find out if I should stay or not.  When they finally announced my age group, my name was omitted from the rankings.  Ugh.  Tough blow.  But then I recognized a few of the names who were called out and realized they were behind me in the rankings so I went over to the scoring tent and asked to see the results.  As it turned out, the calculations were a bit off and I actually finished with a final ranking of 4th in the country for the series.  While it sucks that I wouldn't get on stage because of some confusion with the calculations, I did end up taking home some swag to go home with and some bragging rights.

4th place Overall in Age Group Championships
I learned a bunch of lessons in this race.  Some that I will post in a future entry, but I'm glad I did the race.  As much as I hated every minute of it because of how unprepared I was, it was still a race.  I'll be able to take what I learned and apply it to my training and future racing.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Race Week

It's the first official race week of the season starting today.  For some reason, this year feels totally different.  Maybe because I honestly don't know if I am ready for the race, it hasn't hit me, I might be perfectly ready/trained for the race or who knows.  Normally, I am bouncing off the walls and can't wait until the weekend.  Right now, I'm doing my normal every day routines and kind of not even thinking about Sunday.

Part of the reason I think is that there has not been any prep races or build up races for Knoxville.  In fact, I only have 5 outdoor rides on my bike so it doesn't even feel like I've been training for it.  That kind of freaks me out since Knoxville is a very hilly course and I'm not sure I'm completely ready for it.  Normally I have a few prep races under my belt to gauge where my fitness is, what I need to work on.  But now, if I forget something, then I'm screwed.  It'll be living and learning on the fly this year.  Probably not a good way to do it.

In my mind, I always considered Knoxville to be a A/B race for me.  It's the Rev 3 Age Group Championship and I have a chance to place in the top 5 in the country, but it's not my main focus this year.  My ultimate goal is to make Team USA in August, and then place in the Half Iron in September, and do well in the NYC Marathon.  So there are too many races to be considered A races which is why Knoxville falls in between a B and an A.  I want to make it an A, but my mind just isn't there right now.

So as race week comes, I'm doing a few things differently this year so I'll update as the week goes on and hopefully I can fine tune a few things for later in the year.

I fly out to Tennessee Friday afternoon/evening so I have a bunch of things going on until then, but I am very happy to finally be able to say for the first time this year…it's Race Week.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Is there anything worse than a Taper

Knoxville is less than 2 weeks away, which means my taper for the race started this past Monday.  Is there anything worse for an athlete than the weeks leading up to the race where they have to taper?  I'm 2 days in and I already feel like crap.  Let me set the stage as to why.

This past weekend, I finally got to put down a long ride outdoors on my bike which I have been waiting for for a while.  The day before I did my last long run, which ended up being my fastest 10 mile run EVER.  That's a great and confidence building feeling.  But as a result, I also probably pushed myself a little too much leading up to the race.  I was so concerned putting the miles down on my bike and making sure I felt comfortable on it as well as putting together a good run, I didn't care about anything else.  Especially since I knew I had my taper coming.

I woke up Monday morning with this painful feeling in my left leg.  Not muscle soreness and not anything I have ever had before, but the back of my knee was just throbbing.  I decided to take a day off from working out since I need to let my body heal and it wont affect my fitness.  Not working out is torture for me.  So I woke up this morning excited to go for a run, but that nagging in my leg was still there.  I don't want to push myself and risk further injury so I decided another day off is what I needed.

So now, I'm 2 days with no working out and I feel horrible.  In days leading up to a race, I want to get down to my race weight, but without working out its virtually impossible.  I sit here writing this knowing I only am 1 pound off where I want/need to be, but I feel like a big whale.  I know in my mind its not true, but these are the typical effects of tapering.  I get cranky, feel gross, and the only thing that makes me feel better I'm not allowed to do. 

I hope I can get out on the streets tomorrow and at least put down a nice easy ride or run to make me feel better.  Weeks leading up to a race are both the best and worst of times.  Tapering is supposed to be good for the body.  But right now, it's just about as bad as can be.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cherishing the moments

One of the reasons that I started this blog was to have something to give my thoughts and look back on when Riley was born.  I wanted to see how my life was when I was trying to balance life, training and raising a baby.  Now that Riley is 16 months old (today), I find myself having random moments of pure joy being around him.  Of course, any parent knows about this, but there are times throughout each day where Riley does something that just makes me smile.
Most of the time, these moments come when he’s being silly and I cant help but laugh at it.  He recently figured out that his finger is a perfect size and shape to be able to fit up his nose.  So of course when we tell him to get his finger out of his nose, he starts cracking up.  How can you not laugh at this.  Then there are times that he wants to run around our apartment in just his diaper because it makes him the happiest kid. Little things like that are just so pleasant.

The way our apartment is set up, Riley’s room is connected to our living room, so at night after he goes to sleep, I am basically watching TV right outside his door.  Recently, all I have wanted to do is open his door and just go to sleep on his floor.  No reason at all other than I just want to be in the same room as him.  Of course I wouldn't be able to sleep, and the wife would end up yelling at me, but  it’s little moments like this that I never expected before I became a father.

While there are definitely times that are so frustrating, the majority of moments are amazing.  Taking a break from talking about training and racing was no problem today since thinking about Riley and how happy he makes everyone is something that I'm happy to write about.