Monday, June 23, 2014

Race Report:Mighty Moss Half Iron

I wasn't sure what to expect coming into this race, both because I wasn't sure my calf would hold up after ripping it up a few weeks ago, and because I'd lost fitness accordingly not being able to do much of anything since the injury. I hadn't put nearly any time in the water, and I knew my swim was not going to be very good. I decided on a plan to swim VERY easy, bike to where I felt like I was going strong but not chunking the run, and do whatever I could on the run, being sensitive to my calf. Thankfully, everything went according to plan.

I swam well within myself, not worried about time at all, just being steady. I was deeply paranoid about cramps, and started very wide to give myself clear water. The first half mile went by without issue, but I was chafing on the neck, so I stopped for a moment to fix the velcro. I really didn't care about time! Once fixed, I felt like it was time to give it a better go, and swam a bit harder to finish off. Coming out of the water, I heard several comments that the course was long, some said 1.4, another said 1.3. The RD said it measured 1.2 even from triangle to triangle, which means I was a dope for swimming the second turn with the sighting buoys to my right unnecessarily (well, that WAS the instruction, but it wasn't a requirement!), probably added the additional 200m. I came out of the water feeling absolutely fine, so I counted it as a victory.

I rode strong, but not hard, focusing on keeping my power around 80-85%. I still didn't trust my calf, despite a couple of good rides. The first 16 miles are a steady climb, followed by rolling hills, a few longer climbs, then the descent back the same way. I passed my way to my 'normal' slot near the front and stayed true, picking the riders I was matched with and pacing accordingly. The calf felt ok, but my quads were starting to bark. Eh, that's a half for you.

Came into transition, slapped on the shoes, belt and visor, off we go. I ran fine for the first mile or so, but could tell there were some cramps trying to bubble out. I took the conservative route and switch to a walk :30\run 5 plan, which I did for most of the run, save for the last mile, which I ran through. It wasn't a great run, but I stayed focused despite not having my legs beneath me. I never fully cramped, which I'm happy with, but I also feel like I was digging as far down as I had in me that day. Psychologically, I knew it was a hard day for everyone - I knew from the bike turnaround and from a quick count in transition I was roughly in the 20s overall coming off the bike, and I was passed by a few on the run, but nothing crushing - all confirmed at the end to find I was 29th overall. The surprise was I also managed 3rd in the age group, which was a little tough to stomach.

My overall time was slower than last year by over 15 minutes, of which almost all was the swim. The takeaways are nothing groundbreaking - I need to put in the time swimming to have a good split. Duh, I'm actually happy I didn't try to go harder than I was capable of. Riding, I don't have any lessons, I was nervous about pushing harder and aggravating the injury, and my split was strong regardless. Fully healthy, I would easily have turned in a better ride. Running - I don't think I made the wrong choice about how I ran. Without the time off I *probably* would have been able to run the whole time, but it's so hard to say. Halfs are NOT easy. I'll try again next year (maybe even this year if I can find one that makes sense for me) and keep trying to improve. Last year I lost focus on the run and mailed it in for the last 6 miles, which I didn't come close to this time. I'm proud of this one, I gave it everything I had.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Self Examined Swimmer Part III:

Be Excellent To Each Other, and Party On, Dude

Quick recap. If you’re here, you've hopefully read Part I and Part II of the series, leaving you with both a revelation (that you’re a swimmer, and not a hack) and a plateau (you’re good! But you don’t think you’re excellent). So we sit on the plateau.

The view is nice here. Heck, I could sit here happily. From here, I swim well, certainly well enough that I would never dare say my swim hurts my chances at performing well in a race. There are many excellent triathletes that win regularly who sit on this plateau with us. Again, nice view. I’ll share a story while we bask in the view.

If you've never had the pleasure of a deep water start to a race, I’d recommend seeking one out. They’re unique, in that when the gun goes off, there’s some decent spacing between the athletes already, and the washing machine effect is somewhat mitigated, allowing everyone to slip into a more natural rhythm and have a better swim. At one particular deep water start I was in, we all fanned out across the ‘line’ (it’s all kind of imaginary in the water, and nobody can stop you if you cross the line early anyway, it’s on your honor), and awaited the horn. Jokes were made about the cold water and mysterious warm pockets, whether or not we lubed properly, etc. All was well in the triathlon universe. The horn sounds and off we go. Normally I’ll sight every 10 or so strokes, and dutifully did so at about that time. I came up to peek and saw several swimmers about 50 yards ahead. I’m not exaggerating to make the story better, this was shocking – we started swimming about 20 seconds earlier and they were FAR ahead of me. A glance to my left and right on the next sight assured me I wasn't towing an anchor – I was in the front of the middle, but these dudes were porpoises disguised in neoprene and swim caps. How the heck were they doing that?

Well after the race I reviewed the splits of the day and cordoned off the top 10 or so guys in the wave I witnessed firsthand. For a 1500 meter swim (Olympic distance), the average porpoise swam just about 21 minutes. Not too shabby. That’s roughly a 1:17\100 yard pace. Leave current out of the conversation, and for the sake of argument let’s user the rule of thumb that a wetsuit gives you a 5 second per 100 yard advantage. Five seconds off 1:17 is 1:22 per 100 yards. Hey wait, that’s almost you, the article reader! But truth time, with the occasional sighting issues that pop up, that pace is probably even faster in reality. Why the heck did they go out so fast? What’s going on here?

Back to the porpoises. They were way out in front, seemingly almost immediately. There is, of course, only one way to pull that off, and that’s to swim fast right from the get go. This is where we use ourselves as a science project again. HOW FAST IS FAST? Good question, if you ask me. If you jump in the pool and I told you to swim your absolute fastest, what would happen? What distance would you ask to swim? 25? 50? Would you give me a blazing length followed by a flagging second, then stop after 50? Would you go 100 yards? Would your turnover per length increase, or just the tempo? Why does any of this matter anyway?

Again, back to the porpoises. Let’s figure this out using SCIENCE, bitches.

In a pool, imagine a dude who swims 240 yards in 3:00, or a 1:10\100 yard pace. That’s damn good. Why 240? Just go with me here. Then the dude swims 28 laps at a 1:25\100 pace. A little more down to earth. We've just watched the dude swim 1640 (aka 1500 meters – I told you to stay with me!) yards in a total time of 22:30. Slap the imaginary wetsuit on this dude for the 5 second per 100 yard discount for a total time discount of 1:23…and he swam 1500 in a hair over 21 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, your porpoise, in the lab.

Why the sprint to start off? Well, because quite frankly, this isn't the only thing you’ll be doing in a race. You want an average pace that’s fast, but you don’t want to swim the majority of the distance at that pace, or you’ll zap yourself for the bike and run. Self examination time again. How do you train yourself to do this? The 28 laps at 1:25\100 isn't a problem, you do that all the time. You have that locked in, it’s automatic, you know that pace, you have that song stuck in your head forever. If you swim a few times a week you should be able to do that easy peasy. Lemon. Squeezy. So your challenge is to
  1. Go from a dead stop, warmed up heart rate to a 1:10\100 yard pace
  2. Hold said pace for 4 laps (200 yards)
  3. In one lap gradually slow down to 1:25\100 laps
  4. Hold that pace for 14 laps.

Oh right, Bill and Ted. I promised this is about being excellent. Well, guess what, you are excellent. No, really! You have a beautiful stroke, a truly nice stroke. There’s only two things in the equation for how fast you’re swimming, and that’s distance per stroke (DPS) and stroke rate. You've done some really excellent work on DPS, so much so that it’s worth simplifying your life again and realizing that the only way you’re going to swim that 1:10\100 pace is to increase the number of strokes. That’s it. You’re going to have to push the same amount of water faster while kicking faster to keep the timing right. If you want to get better at something, you practice it.

Get that video camera out, because you will probably lose some of that beautiful graceful stroke when you start increasing your stroke and kick rate. Don’t. Just increase the rate. You could use a Finis Tempo Trainer to increase that rate, you could use a waterproof ipod and songs with a particular tempo, be creative. What you’re getting used to is your ‘top gear’, eventually to the point where you can call on it and your body will hit that tempo because it knows the feel of it. It feels GOOD to go fast, but you have to learn what it feels like and get comfortable with it. It’s not a comfortable feeling to swim that fast, but you have to get comfortable with it. Make sense? All those swim workouts you have that have interval sets on T plus 5 seconds suddenly make a whole lot of sense. Swim practice is now making sure you keep that beautiful form (yay video camera!) and getting used to a high stroke rate, and the sensation of coming out of it.
A disclaimer – this “gear” will disappear completely without regular, focused workouts to keep it in place. If you haven’t been practicing it, don’t call on it for race day, you’ll just exhaust yourself off the bat and have a bad swim. Just swim your balanced pace, and enjoy the view again.

Party on, indeed. You’re excellent,dude.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Disappointed, not discouraged. The dreaded DNF comes a-haunting...

I had my first DNF yesterday- Did Not Finish, for the uninitiated. I'm not surprised how disappointed I'm feeling, and it's not pleasant. I felt feeble, weak, and unprepared, all negative garbage my body knows I'm not, but my mind is more shot right now than my body. I'm certainly humbled.

Forgive me as I recount the morning in high detail. May it help any reader gain knowledge without experiencing it.

I rode to the race with a headlamp while it was still dark out, being that the venue is only 6 or so miles away, the hometown race. It was chilly - around 45F - but I wouldn't say it was cold. Of course, I was riding, so I didn't notice as much, I was wearing a sweater over my kit and didn't feel underdressed. The goal was to get there right as transition opened to get a good spot on the racks. For the next hour and a half though, we basically stood around. I eschewed going for a run - even though I ALWAYS go for a run, somehow rationalizing that any sweat would freeze and cause issues. Why, I don't know. This was bad decision number 1. Instead I chose to put on the wettie at half mast to stay warm, and then get in the water early to reach the same end (water was balmy in the mid 60sF). I swam a bit to get my heart rate up and gathered at the beach for the start.

My race was over literally as it began. I went to jump to start the dolphin dive and both calf muscles cramped and locked immediately. My legs were not even in the water and both legs were barking. Of course, I'd lined up in the front, preparing to draft off a buddy who I knew I could keep pace with, so I spent the next minute getting beat up as other swimmers pushed past me as I was trying to swim with absolutely no functional legs and feet I couldn't point. My left leg unwound slightly enough for me to straighten it out and at least engage in a one beat kick, but at this point I was in the middle of the pack getting clobbered. Any feet I saw I overcame with half a stroke - I was a stronger swimmer than any of the folks I was around at this point - and so I couldn't get out of the melee. I tried several times to veer to the edge, but ended up swimming over another pair of feet to do so, making matters worse. All the while, the right calf is still locked and I am starting to realize this is going to be a bad day. Still, I pushed on. I rounded the last buoy and took 5 seconds to collect myself and try to shake off the juju. I couldn't get the cramp out, and did the best I could to swim out the rest using nothing but arms. The clock on the beach greeted me with a miserable 15 minutes on exit, and coupled with the pain that was grabbing me, I was starting to feel defeated.

I hobbled down to transition and tried to get the wettie off, but of course since I couldn't point my toes on one foot, it didn't work out so well. A friend volunteering saw the pain that on my face and encouraged me to try and walk it off, which I did indeed try. I have no idea how long I spent in transition, I'd guess 3 or 4 minutes at least. Finally, convincing myself that I could somehow shake this off with a good bike, I unclipped the shoes and rubber bands, hobbled out to the mount line and tried to ride. This was bad decision number 2.

The first mile was agony. I couldn't push at all. The meter said my biggest thrust was around 225W...I did what I could and shifted to a small gear and started spinning through it. I have no idea how many people passed me between transition and this mile, but it was a lot. I hit a descent and said screw it, I don't care how much this hurts, everyone hurts. This was bad decision number 3. However, for the next 30 minutes, it felt genius. I shrugged off pain like I have so many times in training and lit the course up. I passed anyone I could see, breaking hearts and crushing dreams. Then I started passing people I knew...from my wave. I'm not a scientist, but I put together how fast I was actually going, and rationalized that I may had actually put myself back in the race. I came down the last descent and saw the lead runners - knowing they were only at most 3 minutes ahead of me. However, on the same descent I tried to stretch out the right calf against the pedal and


it felt like someone had stabbed me in the leg. I made the decision right there, the only good one I made, to resign the race. I rolled down to the dismount area, and had to ask for assistance to get off the bike - I couldn't move the leg at all by this point.

The doctor I visited afterwards felt around and decided he felt no deep tears, but of course prescribed a slow and strict rehab. He suggested that if it didn't start to recover or worsen in a couple of days, I should seek an MRI, but he was reasonably confident that it was simply a bad cramp that got worse, and that the damage I did was to try to push through it. He felt the lack of warmup was the culprit, didn't suspect hydration issues, kept coming back to the contrasting temperatures and sudden start. Everything he said was thoughtful and deliberate, and I thank him for his professionalism and attention.

A friend graciously offered to give me a ride home, which he did after sticking around the award ceremony. Many friends asked what had happened, and I did my best to keep the story short and keep the attention on their accomplishments, where it belonged. Nobody needs to hear a sob story while they're receiving an award for a job well done.

My father and I spoke later, and he recalled a sermon he had heard that morning discussing the difference between disappointment and discouragement. How fitting! I feel the former, deeply looking forward to my next chance to train and race and achieve what I am capable of. However, in the meantime I can't describe what I'm feeling as anything other than anger and depression- I simply didn't perform, and the reasons were within my control. Discouraged would mean I don't want to race again...something I can't imagine feeling right now. Right now I want to lay the Wrath of God on the next course I see.