Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Touching the Stars

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
--Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

Each and every one of us must make a decision, every day, that will impact the course of that day, week, month, year, decade, or lifetime. More often than not, we choose the road that is more traveled by, the safe methodology; we yearn for the safety that comes with the choice taken by most. Safety in numbers; the pack mentality.

But life is not meant to be easy.

Instead, life is a journey; an arduous struggle against which we reflect back upon and think, "Wow. What a ride this has been."

And this is where my story begins.

So what is that fire? I think that Jordan Rapp, in his speech after winning Ironman Canada, said it best:
I think that...Ironman represents a star. The road to Ironman is not easy. And that is what makes it special...Ironman is the sort of momentous -- but terrestrial -- experience that allows us, ever so briefly, to get close enough to the stars to reach out and touch the heavens.
It's not runner's high. That's not close enough to it. It is an overwhelming moment to see the crowds out, cheering, coming down the finishing chute. It is the sense of wonder of, "how far did I go in one day?" There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world, just as there is nothing like the sense of flying down a chute in a glade, untouched snow all around you. For a moment, it allows you to touch heaven.

And this journey is not easy. In skiing, we fall. In racing, we cramp, crumble, and fall apart. And there is an inherent risk involved. But that is what allows it to be what it is. It would not be the same experience if it were easy. As John F. Kennedy said at Rice University, "We choose to do...the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard..."

Triathlon is my opportunity to touch the stars. Because of my weight issues growing up, I never was competitive in any sport. I now see my chance. I refuse to sit back someday and wonder, "what if I..." This is my chance to see what I have.

So with that in mind, I set forth on my journey: both as an athlete with racing ambitions in mind (more in that in a moment), but also as a sponge, hoping to learn as much as possible so that I may eventually pass that knowledge onto others as a coach. As such, I will be coached by Doug Welling of The Sustainable Athlete.

Furthermore, I've decided that 2012 will be another season at the 70.3 distance, to get faster. I have dreams in this sport, and that means I need to get faster. A fair bit faster. And this is why I have hired Doug; to help me make the right hard decisions, and to help broaden my knowledge base.

For 2012, I will attack Rev3 Quassy and Timberman 70.3 again. I wish to find out how I fare at these courses again. 2013 is my tentative Ironman year; the year where I will shoot for the heavens.

So for now, it is back to Earth. The groundwork must be laid. Going to the stars did not happen overnight. It must be built through work, diligence, and respect for the task at hand.

I'm ready to begin.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Thank You Note...

Too often, it seems that we do not stop and offer our gratitude to those that have provided something for you. It's too easy to take for granted what is simply there, when you must understand the sacrifice that is being made to make things happen.

With this in mind, this is my thank you note to everybody who helped make my 2011 race season.

Well, first and foremost, I'd better thank my better half.

Without her support, this does not happen. I don't race; I don't train; I don't do a damned thing. It is her emotional support that allows me to push onward. Having the support system of somebody understanding why the alarm is set for 3:15 AM, and pushing you out the door with a kiss and a "be safe," helps in a way that I can't describe.

Not to mention her being OK with the relentless spending that this sport happens. "I'm out of nutrition again"/"I need more tubes"/"My wetsuit is f***ed"/anything else...

Without you, my dear, this doesn't work. Thank you for telling me to chase my dream, and for being along for the ride.

Two local coaches deserve a shout-out for helping make this all happen as well.

Doug provided my bike fit aboard Kermit, and got me comfortable on the bike throughout. He also provided countless tidbits of information on nutrition and cycling training as I worked my way through this season. He also checked in on me while enjoying my fluids (read as: lying on a table with an IV in my arm) at Rev3.

Kurt provided a couple of swim drills after seeing my swim, and I'll quote, "wondering what the hell your legs are doing." Without that, I don't think I come out of the water half as fresh as I did at Timberman this past weekend. He also gave tips as I was heading into Rev3. If only I could've listened to the whole "bike for show, run for dough" this weekend.

Gentlemen, I can only hope to gain half the knowledge that you guys have as I embark on earning my own USAT certification, and also hopefully sharing the wealth as you have. You guys didn't have to help, and you did. For that, my enthusiasm for the sport grows, and I am forever grateful.

What a resource you are.

There are two people that work on my bike: myself and Josh. Why? Well, without Josh's knowledge, I wouldn't be able to do work on the bike myself. And I suppose that speaks to the quality of his work.

He's the guy with the shop where you see him working on a bike. This speaks to the exact quality of his work; he's so confident and clean in his mechanic work that you can watch him. It's disconcerting when you go to a bike shop, and the mechanic location is in the basement, or out back; out of sight, out of mind. Instead, it's at the forefront of his location.

Plus, he was able to pull fresh wheels for Rev3 for me super fast, was honest, gives me feedback, etc. I'm so happy to be a customer of his. Josh, thanks for everything.

You guys did not have to take a flier on me.

A guy with no multisport experience; a guy who had no idea what on Earth he was getting himself into. Yet you guys saw something in me to put me onto the team. You've provided a platform for some of my blog posts. I'm grateful for the experience in learning from fellow team members throughout the training experience.

Ton--an absolute pleasure to meet you at Rev3. And I definitely desire to continue working with you as Sports Bistro continues its evolution. It's been a hell of a ride so far.


I have never been wowed by a race before. And you both did it. Amazing organizations, wonderful volunteers, fantastic competitors.

Speaking of which...

All of my fellow athletes
It is an absolutely overwhelming experience to feel the sense of camaraderie that I've only felt in a pack of triathletes. The "good luck, boys!" at the swim start. The "can I borrow X?" "Sure of course!" the morning of a race in transition. The "COME ON!" during the run. The "have a good race! Cheers, you too!" while passing on the bike. The inspiration of seeing the pros coming in from the bike while you're heading out for your loop.

Without all of you, there's no way I'd be where I am today.

And finally...

Each and every one of you.
To all my friends and family that have yet to be mentioned: you may have looked at me like I was crazy. You may have wondered why it is I do what it is I do. As I've said before, I have no better way to honor all of you than to race hard and be committed to it. My success is as much yours as it is mine. I can't do this without you guys pushing, or being there for me, or coming over and hanging out.

To all of you: thank you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Timberman 70.3 Race Report: A Lesson In Execution

The Quick Hits
Swim: 37:38
T1: 2:47
Bike: 2:46.38
T2: 2:28
Run: 2:25.52
Age Group Position: 80/151
Overall Position: 798/1692
Male Finishers: 642/1130

Long Course Edition (be forewarned, this will get lengthy)
Well, THAT hurt.

Let's get the good stuff out of the way: I finished about 20 minutes faster than I did at Rev3 Quassy earlier this season. I am beyond stoked for having been able to put that together. And to be honest, I was incredibly happy with how the day came out. I have absolutely no regrets with how things turned out.

Am I completely satisfied? Now that is an entirely different question. And to put it bluntly, nope. But that's where the blog title comes from.

The Lead-Up
Training had gone relatively decent throughout. I had had a pretty good race at Beach to Beacon, running about 7:20 pace throughout. I've done most of my pace training runs at a comfortable 8:00/mile pace. It was incredibly comfortable to do so. I knew my swim was improving in terms of efficiency. It was giving up a little bit in speed, but I figured that if I was fresher moving onto the bike, I would know what to expect next.

Bike training is where I had put the most of my work in. Considering how things went at Rev3, I wanted to be able to feel comfortable moving. So I had done some considerable riding at a high-tempo, trying to make it so that settling into a groove would feel easy. It was working; I felt very confident in my biking.

Overall, then, I felt comfortable in being able to put together a race. But I wanted to really give an effort. Plus, looking at the bike and run courses, it became apparent that it'd be very easy for me to try and push the bike, especially with the hill work that I had done throughout the year. I made the call to conserve a little bit of energy in the swim, push the bike, and then bring home on the run. Bike for show, run for dough! I figured a 5-hour effort was within reach based on my times.

Race Day
Wake up call: 3:10 AM. That never, EVER feels good. Decided that this time out, I would have my morning iced coffee like normal so that I would not have the same caffeine withdrawal effects.

Breakfast consisted of said coffee, along with an everything bagel with butter on it and a banana. I wanted to start loading up on some electrolytes there. I also was making sure to nurse as much water as I could track down. I just wanted to top off the reservoirs as much as I could.

We arrived to Ellacoya State Park at about 4:15 AM. We were forewarned that you would not be able to get into the park if you showed up much later than that; as it turned out, you could have driven on in until about 5, when transition opened. As it was, though, we just wanted to be there early. Also, Hannah was volunteering to body-mark, so it helped to get there nice and early.

I spent most of the pre-race just making sure everything was right where I wanted it to be. I taped three Gu Roctane Blueberry/Pomegranate to the top-tube of Kermit the Felt, and filled up my bottles with 200 calories each of First Endurance EFS Drink in the Orange Splash flavor. I also snagged another banana to snack on through the morning, and also powered my way through a Honey Stinger Honey Waffle.

Transition closed, and it was time to head on down to the beach. Had an impromptu team meeting with fellow The Sustainable Athlete coaching folks, and then it was time to get into wave order. My wave didn't go off till 7:55, but it felt like we were moving quickly. I was calm. I was ready. I knew how I wanted to race. It was now time to go out and execute.

Swim: 37:38
I lined up towards the front of the group as we were in the water. When the air horn went off, I wanted to run until I was about truly waist deep, and then start my swim.

To put it mildly, it was violent at the outset. There were definitely a fair number of guys up front that had no business being there, as they started swimming breast-stroke almost immediately. Now, I'm not saying I'm fast, because I'm not. But it puts a major crimp in your plans out of the gate when you're having to fight like hell to get going because you're swimming over the backs of a ton of people.

That said, though, once you got to the third sight buoy, things started to settle out. The choppy water helped there. The wind had started to kick up, and so you were fighting some chop. Just had to keep burying the head, breath every fourth stroke, and then sighting every 12th. This plan was super effective on the out and back lengths. However, on the long side of the rectangle (parallel to the beach), you got blown to the right a fair bit. I'm pretty positive I swam an extra 200-300 yards, which helps explain the slower time in the swim.

However, I felt super comfortable. I knew that I had conserved some energy, and was right where I wanted to be coming out of the water. Came up onto the beach, wetsuit halfway done, sat down, wetsuit stripper had that thing off in 2.5 seconds, and ran to the bike. Got everything together, ran down the line, and found the mount line. Time to pedal.

Bike: 2:46.38
Going into the race, I knew that I'd be passing HUNDREDS of people on the bike. What an absolute rush moving through the field like that. Just on the opening three miles, I clipped off people left and right. Tried to keep things in check (you've got 53 miles on this thing and a half marathon, bud!), and felt I did a good mix of pushing and reeling myself in.

The bike course at Timberman is much fairer overall, IMO, than the one at Quassy, with one glaring exception: The Marsh Hill Monster. It's a good, sustained climb that puts a grind on you. To be honest, on the way out of town it's not that bad: your legs are fresh, and you're feeling pretty solid. Seeing people walking bikes at that time, while you're spinning in your 23 tooth out back, is a huge adrenaline boost. Rasmus Henning, who won the race, was also heading back in at the same time (you descend the climb on the way home), which also got the blood going.

You then descend from there (and yes, you climb it on the way back). On the descent, saw second-place male Mike Caizzo killing it. I gave him some words of encouragement on the way by (yes, Mike, that was me yelling at you), and was on my way.

I was FLYING. It was just very easy to keep pedaling, and settle in. I stuck with my initial nutrition plan of about 150 calories of EFS Drink with one gel every hour. It went down pretty easily. The gameplan was working, as I reached the turn-around at about 1:20. There were a couple of pelotons out on 106, but it seemed like a whole bunch of people got nicked for penalties.

A fellow M25-29 AGer, Gabriel Henri, and I were pacing each other inadvertently for about 40 miles. We kept passing one another; I'd surge and pass him, then he'd surge a couple miles later and pass me. At one point, as I passed him, I told him that we were destined to do this all day. He smiled, and we kept hammering away. Note: we DID NOT DRAFT. Instead, when he passed me, I'd fall back the required amount, and then try to maintain that distance. When I got too close, I'd put in the effort to pass to make sure I didn't get any penalties for drafting, blocking, or overtaken violation. He finally put the hammer down as we turned back uphill, and I could not keep up the effort.

Speaking of which: I really, really, REALLY could have used a 27 tooth for Marsh Hill coming back home. I made it OK, but then I started to cramp a bit. At the last aid station, I chucked a bottle for some water; got that into the system, and then the other half was sprayed all over me. As soon as I did that, I felt invigorated again, and could push the pace again all the way back to Ellacoya. A smooth transition of getting out of the shoes, on top of them to pedal the last couple of minutes, and then a super smooth dismount, and I was away to T2. T2 was a touch slower this time, but that's because I had to put on socks. Mentally I felt great. I had run 2 hours at Rev3 when I felt like absolute garbage. I feel great now; it's time to fly.

And then the wheels came off.

And when I say that the wheels came off, I mean that they exploded and took just about everything with it.

I ran out of transition and felt very, very good. Found my stride pretty easily, and was ready to go. I felt GOOD. Felt like I could extend, etc. Took some water and Gatorade at that first aid station, and was ready to rock and roll.

I got through the first mile and then my legs simply shut down. My quads and knees locked up. I couldn't move. I almost fell down, right then and there. I started to walk for a second, and then a fellow AGer yelled out to me to keep moving; if I stopped there I would not get going again. I shuffled off and away, and just tried to hold on.

It was HOT. I was taking sponges, ice, whatever I could to try and keep myself cool. I also was having issues taking Gatorade (it was too warm, and it was lemon lime, and me + lemon lime drink don't get along too well), so I was trying to find different ways to take things in. I took my Gu Roctane at mile 5. I hoped to keep moving, and just push the second half off the run. That came apart right around...oh, mile 6.6.

It was interesting, to say the least, to have to try and adjust goals on the fly like that, to go from "average 8:00/mi" to "finish sub 2 hours" to "break 6 hours for the day." To execute through the excruciating pain was awesome. I think it speaks to my ability to simply suffer to gut my way through that run.

I didn't find my legs again until about mile 12.1, when I said that I was going to be sure I left everything on that course, and if that meant I would DNF, then so be it. I was able to run through the chute, and meet Chrissie Wellington (who, along with crushing the women's field, ran the fastest pro run OF THE DAY, male or female). We chatted for a minute, before picking up my swag for finishing.

Nutrition Round-up
PreRace: Everything bagel with butter; 24 oz iced coffee with skim milk and one teaspoon sugar; Honey Stinger Honey Waffle; two bananas; 32 oz. water

Bike: approx. 350 calories of EFS Drink Mix; three Gu Roctane Blueberry/Pomegranate; one 20 oz. water bottle

Run: one Gu Roctane; 5 pretzel rods; 1 banana; 8 cups of water; two cups of Gatorade; one cup of Coke

The Takeaways
Upfront, I'm thrilled with having executed two-thirds of my plan exactly the way I wanted to. And I'm also proud of my way to just keep grinding, to suffer through the run rather than to suffer the indignity of not finishing. This was the cap to my season, so I don't feel bad about feeling like absolute ass today. I am beat up. I've put my body through the wringer this season, so I'm ready to head to the weight room and pool to get things moving appropriately again.

That being said, I'm not sure why my body shut down the way that it did on the run yesterday. I want to say it was simple lack of water in the system, but I have to wonder if I pushed myself too hard on the bike. I don't know. I think it was probably more related to electrolytes than anything else.

All in all, I'm happy. I know that things need to be worked on. And hearing from a fellow athlete that it takes a bit of a leap to go from "this is the time on paper you should be able to achieve" and "executing your race so you achieve your best" is an entirely different proposition. I'm getting there. I know with some tweaking, I can easily get to what my engine can put out NOW. Now it's a matter of working on that engine to make it even faster.

Hope this was entertaining. Questions should be posted in the comments section.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Given to Fly: Taper Week

And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky
A human being that was given to fly...
He's flying whole...
--Pearl Jam

Here we are. 12 weeks removed from Rev3 Quassy, it's time to go again.

Timberman is this week, and it's the race that I have been most excited for. I've also been dreading it.

How can you want something so badly, yet want to run far, far away from it? It's about this time last year that I signed myself up for this endeavor known as long-course triathlon racing. As I've detailed before, there's a whole lot going on upstairs this past year.

So here we are. The culmination of a year's worth of work. I put up a post detailing why I race here on CTB, but I don't think I really went into the why. Sure, I race for the memory of people. But there's so much more to it than that.

I race my ass off in grief. I put myself in absolute misery because it's the only way I know how to deal with the emotional stuff. I need to work it out; feel the physical ache, muscles crying out with tears that I kept closed from coming out of my eyes. I ride with anger out of the opportunities that I never had to say the things that I wanted to. I say them now, and it feels so hollow.

When I'm in this state of physical, arduous labor, it is when I feel that I have truly made my connection with those that I've lost. Is it selfish? Probably. But it's what I need to get going. Some people need to talk things out. I need to swim, bike, and run them out. This is my therapy.

Of course, I race for myself. I race to kick ass, take names, light the competitive fire, and further my own goals. I WILL be good at this.

But it is these extra emotional components that keep the fire burning. Triathlon's an emotional experience. It's why I cried at the end of Quassy. It's why I'll probably bawl at the line on Sunday. I get to honor my family and friends in a way that I don't otherwise know. I'm not the best people person; I stumble through things. I'm a blunt instrument. But this gives me that outlet.

So with that in mind: Kermit the Felt is packed. Everything is ready to go. It is now time to fly.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gear Review: Orca Sonar Wetsuit

And yes, I am more than well aware of the irony regarding me wearing a wetsuit named after a whale.

Let's face it: one of the toughest things about being a triathlete is the sheer volume of gear attached. Think about it: you have all of the gear for three different sports. It's no wonder why, when you look at USA Triathlon's figures, the average salary for a triathlete is a staggering $160,000. (Perhaps I should be re-thinking that whole "not using the law degree" thing. NAH.)

So, naturally, it's just a sheer slap in the face when it comes to having to pick up a wetsuit. They're expensive, for one, starting at a minimum of $200 and ranging upwards to the $1,000 pricepoint. Plus, the process for putting one on isn't conducive to the same fitting as for a pair of shoes; it is far more difficult than attempting to put three different pairs of sneakers on.

With that in mind, it's imperative for your retailer to be able to identify your body type, and attempt to match that to a particular wetsuit company. Once the general fit guidelines are established, then pricepoint and features can be discussed. It's similar to the process for a gait analysis; we aren't necessarily trying to establish the right company with it, but rather the right type of control device to offer underfoot. Then we can start getting into nuances.

As a retailer, I carry both Orca and Nineteen wetsuits. As a general guideline, Orca fits a very long and lean body type, whereas Nineteen has a bit more room through the shoulders and hips. FIT IS KING. Everything else that I will talk about in the course of my review comes in a suit that fits me. I can talk all day about technical features, and how nice they are, but unless this suit fits your body type, do not buy it.

As stated above, Orca has the classic "triathlete" frame in mind. Long and lean. So if you're a taller person whose bike tends to be on the long and low side, Orca might be in your wetsuit options.

Remember that this is supposed to fit snugly. A tight fit is imperative to your buoyancy. However, also remember that we need to have full range of motion through the shoulder joint. Therefore, what we need to see is a near second-skin fit, without it being so tight that it restricts the ability to effectively swim. The complaint that "I don't fit in a sleeved suit" is generally bunk. It just means you don't fit in a specific suit.

At 6'3", 153 lb., I squarely fit into the medium-tall suit from Orca. Weight, generally, will dictate wetsuit fit versus height. The best suit will hit both categories, but if you're stuck, look to weight. And if you get the suit on, and the shoulders are off? NEXT.

Rather than simply type out features, I'll let my video self due the talking:

Ah, yes, the important part.

In sum, the suit is extremely comfortable. Putting it on is a breeze after the first couple of uses, as you learn where you can pull the suit from. Also, wetsuits are much like sponges, and become a bit more flexible with more use. Therefore, it will fit slightly larger than the suit you tried on in the store.

The Hydro-Dome panels work. There's no two cents about this. If you properly get your head down when swimming and exhale underwater, the panels will float your hips and calves upward. No more swimming uphill! In other words, if you find that your pull buoy swim times and open swim times are the same, you'll be flat out faster in this suit.

The textured forearm panels help grab onto a bit more water, particularly through the back end of the pull and into the recovery phase of the swim stroke. There is another panel on the forearm, to help promote buoyancy of the arm. Essentially, the suit wants to help you get a full pull, and help get you to early vertical forearm. (EVF is essentially creating that large paddle out of your forearm to help move more water. Couple that with the textured panel, and you should be able to really grab some water during the pull.)

Taking the suit off is pretty simple. One thing to watch for is grabbing the shoulder panel when stripping. This is the thinnest part of the suit, so be gentle. Once off the shoulder and into the arms, try and pull from the arm panel instead. Including a short run uphill, I was able to T1 in 3:20 at Rev3 Quassy in the suit.

It's tough calling anything $400 a bargain. This is one of them, though. This is a suit that will help you swim faster, right now, no questions asked. If this suit fits you, do yourself a favor and snag one. I can't stop raving about it.