30 March 2009

Ralph's Goals

It is the Monday of Ralph's week, and I am ready to race.

A solid three months of prep are behind me, and I don't buy that this is nothing more than a "glorified workout" for IM CdA.

While I may not dive head first into the pain cave because I am openly scared of what's inside, I plan on racing harder on Saturday than I ever have. Just a peek inside the cave would do, because I plan on fully crossing the threshold when take on the full 140.6 miles. It has been explained to me that acceptance of the physical pain of racing is a learned response, and being that I've shown that I naturally don't dive in, I believe the hype.

So here are my goals for Saturday in Oceanside...

Swim - 32 minutes (will accept anything under 34 because I've heard this a slow swim...but my PR is 29)
T1 - 3 minutes or less will suffice because of numb feet and a long run up
Bike - 2 hours 48 minutes/260 watts pNorm (If I can hold that wattage, assuming reasonable wind, I should easily nail that time, as I rode 2:48 last year at Grand Columbian with a pNorm of 230)
T2 - 2 minutes or less
Run - 8 minute pace avg. (1 hour 44 minutes 48 seconds)...I believe I am capable of something nearer 7:30's easily, but this is my weak spot

Overall time: 5 hours 9 minutes 59 seconds or faster
Bonus #1: At some point on the bike and run accept the pain and know I can handle it
Bonus #2: Remind myself that I'm fortunate to have the chance to feel the pain of racing, so bring it on

I love comparative analysis, so checking back on this on Monday will be good sport.

19 March 2009

Calling One's Shot

After the copious drama of 2008 (brain injury, divorce, etc.), I am plowing the bulk of my effort into getting our winery going and preparing myself for a self-fulfilling race season.

What excites me about the 2009 calendar is that it will be my first opportunity to reap the benefits of an uninterrupted off-season. During the winter months, I routinely ran 50 mile weeks (note that I do not include much biking or swimming in there) due to my fear of forever being an average runner in triathlon. Running became a release in a time when a blowing off steam was necessary, and I learned to truly enjoy it. Currently, my long runs are topping out at 18 miles.

I found it interesting to monitor the physical changes the human body makes when I changed my training regimen. During the triathlon season, the cross-training of swimming, biking, and running gave my body a very specific shape (wide shoulders from swimming, large quads from big-gear cycling). Within two weeks of focusing purely upon running, my weight began to plummet and I was noticeably leaner. I surmised that this was due to the need to be lighter to endure the high mileage weeks and maintain efficiency. No longer were my deltoids and quadriceps important to my physical pursuits, I was a one-trick pony.

With the New Year came a reintroduction to three-sport training. My running had improved immensely, but my wattage on the bike and 100 meter time in the pool had been neglected. Via the guidance of Coach Ciaverella, and no medical issues to impede my progress, I was able to then begin my build phase. Initially this was not going well. Mind you, I was completing all of my workouts to the letter of my prescribed schedule…but the effort I was having expend was huge. It seemed to be all for not until I raced the Jack Frost 20k Time Trial and was able to average 311 watts for the 30 minutes. While my time was probably a minute longer than I had hoped (due to a need to refit my aero position), the nearly 10% increase in my power year-over-year was encouraging.

So this leads me to what are my goals for 2009. I find that if I call my shots, I am accountable for my results. In the spirit of being honest, I want to go 5:10 or faster at the California 70.3 (it would be a PR for me) in April and 10:30 at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. My goal for IM CdA is bold, but that is what I’m being trained to achieve, so I have no reason not to do it. Anything over a 10:30 is on me and me alone.

I find the measurability of triathlon beautiful. There is very little room for subjectivity: the clock doesn’t lie.

16 September 2008

Grand Columbian Half Ironman

For my last race of the 2008 season, I decided to revisit the site of my first Half Ironman, the Grand Columbian. This year has been about physically rebuilding myself from the winter’s hospitalization and testing myself against 2007’s results. The goal was to PR in every race, at every distance raced.

We jammed up to Grand Coulee on the Friday before the race to get settled in, check our bikes in at T1, and drive the bike course. Our hotel was located 200 yards from the finish line, so we were situated perfectly and comfortably to enjoy and cheer on the finishers in both the Half and Full Iron distances.

The Grand Columbian course was 50% different this year, as half of the bike course and the entire run section were back to their normal routes. Last year, wildfires forced the race to reshuffle the deck and make the course much easier. This year, the swim remained in warm and clear Banks Lake, but the bike and run were much grumpier bedfellows. The bike portion dished out over 3800 feet of climbing in the first 40 of the 56 miles. To give you a taste of how that compares to other races, Ironman Canada, considered by many to be a daunting bike course, has just over 4000 across 112 miles. The run follows the Columbia River on crushed gravel and kills you with a hill over the last mile that contains 600 feet of elevation gain. It has been said that the Grand Columbian Half Ironman course is 20 minutes slower than many of the region’s other courses.

Race morning was clear and gorgeous, and I was ready to race. For the swim, I situated myself in the front and dead center, 2 people away from Tom Evans. The prerace chatter amongst those around me focused on projected swim times of around 24-25 minutes, whereas I was hoping for a 28-30 minute effort. As the gun sounded, I hammered the first few hundred meters to get myself clear of the racers behind me, and watched the elite swimmers disappear into the darkness of the lake in front of me. I had clear water for the bulk of the swim and had spotty success when attempting to draft. My strange experiment was to pull the entire swim and rest my legs for the bike, and it turned out okay as I logged a 29 minute swim time. I was really happy with this, as it legitimized much of the interval work I’ve been doing in training.

T1 was speedy and I was out of the change tent (which slows things down in my opinion) and on my bike in 2 minutes 30 seconds. Sounds slow, but actually felt relatively efficient.

The bike section began with the Almira Grade, which is a hellacious hill for the first 2 miles out of transition gaining nearly 1000 feet in elevation. Per coach’s instructions, I spun as freely as possible in the saddle, and kept the wattage around 300. I passed a good number of folks on the climb and moved out to the rollers where I hoped to hold 230 to 240 watts for the duration. From the town of Almira, to the beginning of the final descent back into town, the headwind was strong, and was certainly slowing down the already grating bike course more. All of the slow cadence interval work was coming in handy at this point. Upon reaching the final descent, it became painfully obvious that finishing my bike in the 2 hours 30 minute realm was a far off dream. As the wind picked up, I hammered the downhills back to the Dam, but could barely keep it above 30 MPH due to the headwind, even when fully aero. Only one competitor passed me on the bike, and he was the Master’s champion, so it didn’t hurt my feelings too much. In retrospect, I probably didn’t nail the bike as hard as I could have, but my effort felt respectable. 2 hours and 48 minutes was my bike time.

I came into T2 with what I thought were fresh legs, ready to roll 7:30’s and call it a day. All of my metrics told me this was possible: heart Rate, bike wattage, nutrition. The things I could not account for was the dry wind and heat. My first two miles clicked off comfortably at 7:45’s, and I caught the guy in front of me in my AG, who happened to be someone who I raced on the run last year at this very event. We stayed side by side until mile 10 where he slow due to cramping, and I continued on. What I have failed to mention is that during that 7 mile stretch, we slowed by nearly a minute per mile. The heat combined with the wind were so drying that your head/visor would be dry within 30 seconds of pouring a cup of water on your head. It was a very odd experience, and made hydrating/cooling yourself very difficult. My heart rate stayed near Z1, but I could not make the machine move any faster no matter what I did. Normal cardiac drift was nowhere to be found. I got to the last mile, having passed and few folks and not being passed, and had to drag myself up what felt like Mount Everest. The final mile was the hardest, most excruciating part of any of the races I have done.

Bar none, this was the strangest run I’ve ever had, in training or racing, over the last two years. It made no sense based on heart rate or nutrition, and seemed to be slowed by some mystical force that effected the entire field. I ran a 1 hour 52 minute time and didn’t get passed? Who does that in a highly competitive Half? That, to me, speaks volumes to what the conditions were doing to racers.

My goal was to go sub 5, and that certainly didn’t happen. Another course on another day.

I do love this race and will do it every year. Racing hard courses is fun if you can get past the times they dish out. What I’m proud of is another PR by over 7 minutes, and a nice closing race to the 2008 season. Up next, the Portland Marathon.

31 August 2008

Scoggins Valley Sprint Race Report

In preparation for the Grand Columbian Half Ironman in early September, I thought I would go practice my transitions and give my new race wheels a run at the Scoggins Valley Sprint at Hagg Lake. Being that this race was purely a test run before my Half Iron, my expectations were to just run a straightforward race and see what happened. No GI issues (if you aren’t familiar with said reference, please read my Midsummer report), no horrible T1 or T2 snafus, and up my overall wattage by around 25 watts. Folks, this was a training run, pure and simple.

The weather was chilly, with the temperature in the high 50’s when the gun went off at 8:30 AM. I warmed up for the swim, which I usually don’t do, but figured it wouldn’t hurt being that I had the time. Steve Murcott, another Ironhead, was a last minute entrant, so it was nice to have a teammate in the mix. I floundered around in the warm lake, which was probably about 70 degrees, until it was time to line up and let it fly. Feeling a bit more confident with my swimming, I put myself up front on the inside line to first buoy of the diamond shaped course. After the gun went off, I was able to clear the main pack in my wave swim in clear water, maneuvering through the slower Olympic distance swimmers on their second lap. Could I have pushed it harder? Yes. Was I pleased with the important stuff like sighting and the line I chose? Yes. Not a great swim time-wise, but it was serviceable. 13 minutes and 30 seconds is what the watch tells me.

T1 was east jesus from the water, as the lake was low being that it was late in the season. As opposed to my last race, I didn’t totally wet the bed during my T1, and logged a 2 minute and 21 second time. This was a much faster T1 than the time indicates, and I’m relatively happy about it.

At this point, I’m freezing my butt off, and dreading the bike portion and how cold I’m going to be. Knowing that Steve was going to chase me down on the bike, I wanted to get up to speed fast. In retrospect, I should have hammered things a little harder, but I did average 275 watts, which I’ll take. As predicted, Steve passes me as I power-slide around the turn around, and we then engage in a really fun horse race for the remainder of the bike portion. Knowing he was going to dust me on the run, I tried to put some distance on him on the bike. I would pass him on most climbs, and he’d pass me on the descents. The gamesmenship was the best part, as this was the most fun I’ve ever had in a race. The net result was me beating his bike split by 1 second, with a time of 35 minutes.

Both Steve and I decided to make T2 difficult, and both ran to the wrong racks. Upon sorting ourselves out, we went out on the run together after recording 50 second T2’s. Anything below one minute works for me.

The run at Hagg is always a bitch, but the low temperature made it much more manageable. My goal was not to get passed, as Steve was already off to the races as predicted. I ran slower than I wanted to, just below a 7 minute mile, but the hills at Hagg keep a guy like me from knocking out a really fast time. I got passed with .5 miles left by a guy who was hammering the run, so I’ll yield to him and let the fast runner has his day. At the turn around, I saw a pack of about 5 runners coming, and I wanted to keep myself in the top 10. Mission accomplished. 21 minutes on the run.

In summary, I surprised myself with my overall placement and winning my age group. Even though this was a local sprint, it does give me a nice confidence boost before the Grand Columbian in two weeks.

Total time: 1 hour 13 minutes
Overall Place: 7th
Age Group: 1st

05 August 2008

Midsummer Olympic Race Report

My second race of the 2008 season was another Olympic distance event, this time at Blue Lake Park. The Midsummer race is the same format as the earlier, and better attended by elites and AG’ers alike, Blue Lake Triathlon in June.
The goal for the Midsummer event was another PR. Being that is was only my third Oly of my triathlon life, and first on a relatively flat course, that was not asking a lot. Coming into the race, Coach Ciaverella had prepared me feeling confident in that I could obtain a sub 2 hour and 20 minute time, and anything beyond that would be a positive surprise. The consensus was that the three disciplines are not individually faster, but the sum total will yield results 5-7 minutes faster, than a course like Hagg Lake.

After Hagg Lake I felt prepared I could piece together a 23 minute swim, a 1 hour 4 minute bike, and a 44 minute run. Coordinating these three performances would be the tricky part.

The course conditions were cool for an August morning, with a slight sustained west wind. Blue Lake’s water, the cleanliness of which is invariably in question each race day, was suspiciously warm at over 70 degrees. The swim portion began as most do for me: (1) Internal temper tantrum and questioning why I do Tris (2) 200 meters of questioning my fitness (3) A final realization that I can swim with the better racers and to enjoy the competition, and gawk at the speed of the real swim specialists. After my normal antics, I settled in and swim and sighted well for a 25 minute time, which surprised me as I exited the water. Usually my body is a reasonably indicator of speed, and nothing told me I was slow. I’ll explain this later.

T1 was a circus...possibly my worst ever. I did not apply sunscreen due to the cloud cover, and I firmly believe the lack of slick lotion on my skin lead to a complete inability to remove my wetsuit. It got so bad that I finally laid down and ripped it off. 3 minutes and 20 seconds is totally unacceptable, and was issue number one of my race.

Upon launching onto the bike course and turning East out of Blue Lake, I was immediately greeted with a decent tailwind, which after the turn around at mile 4 turned into a headwind. I noticed about a 3.5 to 4 MPH shift in speed at consistently high Z4 wattage. Upon turning around again at the West end of the Portland International Airport, I snagged the tailwind again and picked that speed back up. My bike time could have been faster, as I felt I had more in the tank, but still I will take 1 hour and 3 minutes.

T2 was much more conventional at 1:30 seconds, but there is still time to gain back.

I went into the run with aspirations of holding 7 minute miles and then hammering the final two miles. Training sessions, bricks, and all other indicators would affirm this expectation, but reality is a nasty messenger of our daily dose of truth. My truth would come in the form of significant GI unrest. In my experience as a triathlete, I’ve never had GI issues in even my longest races (Half Ironman distance) and marathon runs. Apparently Mother Nature decided to knock on my door not once, but twice, forcing me to dive into the trees. Like a good OCD triathlete, I hit the split button during what I am calling my T3. 3 minutes and 31 seconds of system clearing. Upon emerging from the wild, I took a mile to let the GI chill out, then ran respectably in, passing 3 competitors in the last mile. An ugly 45 minute run was how I chose to finish my day.

In summary, I PR’d by 6 minutes with a 2 hour 19 minute time, and have to be pleased with progressing in the right direction. In talking with the race’s winner, Ironhead Grant Folske (the day’s only sub-2 hour racer who delivered 5 minute and 30 second pace on the 10k ), the consensus was that the swim was as much as 2 minutes slow. I’ll buy that, but in the words of prophet and former Blazer Rasheed Wallace, “Ball don’t lie!” If you don’t post a certain time, you didn’t deserve it…bottom line. Let’s just say that it was a false flat on the swim. The bike portion was not good or bad, and allowed me to keep a reasonable clip have enough for what I felt like was going to be a superb run. The run was the first time I have had a physical malfunction in a race, and showed me that I can bounce back when faced with an uncomfortable problem. Many thanks to my coach for preparing me to race well and call audibles when necessary.

I’d like to publically congratulate numerous Ironheads for great showings at the Midsummer.

Grant Folske – The only person I know who makes 5:30’s in a triathlon 10k look fun. Nice overall win.
Aleck Alleckson – Exceptional work on the Sprint overall victory.
Trevor Davies, Bill Thompson, Jason Kurian, Steve Murcott all doing solid work in really top-heavy Age Groups. Your speed is inspiring.

Next up is the Grand Columbian Half Ironman on September 13th. Simply a PR will do, but busting 5 hours is the goal. Hopefully I’ll be lighter, smarter, faster, and stronger.

16 July 2008

Hagg Lake Olympic Race Report

So the traing has been going relatively well, and I decided that I would dip my toe into a local Oly to get back into distance racing. My choice was the Hagg Lake Olympic on July 12th. Not the friendliest course with over a thousand feet of climbing on the 25 mile bike course with numerous insidious hills on the run, but a challenge was what I was seeking.

I raced this event last year, and posted a disappointing 2:37:03…4th in my AG, which included a dismal run split over 50 minutes for the 10k. I wanted to give this race a go to test my fitness after spending a tad bit of time on my back earlier this year.

<25 minutes swim
<1 hour 10 minutes bike
<50 minutes run
Significantly speed up my transitions

After nearly missing the start of the race because I was chatting with other Ironheads on the beach, I decided to slide up to the front and just go out hard, create some distance, and see what my body was prepared to do. With my new accessory for 2008, the brain shunt, I tend to get a bit twitchy with lots of swimmers around. The course was a two loop diamond, which set up for lots of turning and potential sighting issues. I much preferred last year’s more rectangular one-loop set up, but I didn’t get a vote. The swim went fine through lap #1, except for my minor mental tantrum and breathing issues due to the anxiety of this being my first race as a cyborg. Lap #2, I lost my sighting on the first turn and couldn’t find the second buoy. Turns out it was behind the water safety boat that was parked directly in front of it. In the spirit of not losing lots of time, I decided to just point myself in its general direction, and was informed by a man in a kayak that I was no fewer than 50 meters inside the buoy. I had to double back, conservatively costing me 90 seconds of sighting and swimming. After righting my ship, I cruised in for a 24:07, but definitely had a 22 minute swim in the tank. My fault for navigational issues!

Seemed slow, but timed out much faster than last year. Loved the Adidas TriCarbon shoes and how quickly then jumped on my feet. Time was 2:45, a minute faster than last year, but still room to speed it up.

I hammered the bike with everything I had. Per Coach Ciav’s recommendation, I stayed focused on the road, slammed the downhills, and stayed aero for as much time as possible. Only came out of the aero position three time (twice on the main hill near the toll booth, and once on the second lap to begin loosening my shoes pre-T2.) Jockeyed with the top two AGer’s in my group for the bulk of the ride, setting up for an interesting run. Felt good to get the bike over 40 MPH on the downhill sections on a few occasions. My wattage average out to be 253, that included the outlier values from either side of the transition. My Pnorm should be maybe 10-15 watts higher, but I don’t have WKO+ yet so I cannot substantiate that claim. I’d like to get my watts over 300 by the end of the season. Glided into T2 with my feet out of the shoes at 1:08:52.

Felt like the fastest T2 I’ve ever done, and it was. Always room for improvement, but I felt organized and efficient. 1:11, slightly speedier than last year.

The run at Hagg Lake is a bear, which is not an overstatement. I had put together some great runs into the weeks up to the race, so I had big hopes for a much more respectable split. The quads expressed upset early, so I knew my sub 7 minute pace aspirations were soon replaced by a reality that was more near the 7:30 realm. The grinding uphills took their toll, and my forced time off in the winter sure reared its ugly head. I fought the urge to give into the cramping and quit, and just ran my race knowing that PR was getting closer and closer. Having a few Ironheads on the course was an added bonus, and I hope and trust I get to reciprocate in the near future. Final run time was 48:21, disappointing but a reflection of the reality of my fitness. I need to work harder.

TOTAL: 2:25:17 (PR by approximately 12 minutes)
It was great to be back on the horse and side by side with my Ironhead teammates. Next up is the Mid Summer Oly at Blue Lake (a nice flat alternative to what Hagg Lake dishes out), followed by the Grand Columbian Half Iron, and wrap up the season with Halfmax Natoinal Half Ironman Championship in Vegas.

So what did I learn from this race? Muscle torque (the ability to just power through things) is the hardest thing to gain and the first thing to disappear after an extended layoff. I have to work harder to develop this aspect of my fitness. Listen to your coach (assuming they know their ass from a hole in the wall) and you will get faster. Power training on the bike does make you a more effective race cyclist. Having a fast team will invariably make you a better racer.

Great showing by all of the Ironheads, swooping up numerous overall and AG awards.

21 June 2008

The Schedule is Now Set

So training has returned to my world in a big way. It feels very good to be back on the horse, putting my wintertime difficulties behind me and moving on.
My training schedule is fairly involved, and is really focused upon my 2008 Halfmax National Championship entry that I earned last year at the Grand Columbian Half Ironman. Between the race and now, I will be doing various Olympic and Half Iron races in the region. My first race is the Hagg Lake Olympic on July 12. This is the same course used to host the USAT Nationals, and is quite hilly and challenging. I rode 62 miles out that way today and felt solid, both on wattage and heart rate, so we’ll see how that race goes.
Other races this year include the mid-summer Blue Lake event and the Black Diamond Half Ironman. With Coach Ciaverella’s guidance, I have no doubt that I will be well prepared for each event. The main goal of my training is to ensure complete control of my bike in the aero position and to insert some speed work to my running intervals. So far, so good, in both areas.
My return to full-on training came with a new purchase. I’m the proud owner of a 2008 Kuota Kalibur, a tad bit of an upgrade from my old Cervelo Dual (which served me well in my first year). There are no excuses left, because my new bikeframe is quite aero and fully carbon. Between the new bike and the PowerTap, I’m now officially an obsessed tri-addict.