Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kinetic Half race report

On May 8th, Jocelyn and I competed in the Kinetic Half Iron in Spotsylvania Virginia. This was to be my second half of the year, three weeks removed from the New Orleans 70.3. I was a little concerned about my recovery from NOLA coming into this one, as my legs had felt pretty flat for at least 1.5-2 weeks afterward, but things started getting better with about a week to go. Jocelyn and I started the drive down to southern VA pretty late on Friday afternoon, and after the 6 or so hour drive, we got into Lake Anna State Park at about 10pm. We were staying in an extra country cabin that triathlete/swimmer friends from Erie had offered us, so we quickly laid out our gear and food for the morning and hit the hay for short night's sleep. We got up pretty early as we still had to pick up our packets and race chips, and also rack our bikes in transition. This would be the start of an interesting day for me, full of highs and lows. Jocelyn and I started with this process, and then waited in line for bathroom needs (no porta-potties?!), and then the final race preps including number affixation, tire pumping, etc. Jocelyn left my slow-ass at the car as she made her way to transition (with about 35 minutes till race start) and I proceeded to pump up my tires. Or attempt to. The front wheel went without a fight, but the rear was acting up. I had to pull my brand new (and tight!) tire off the rim with my lame tire levers, yank out the tube, loosen the nut at the top of the valve stem to then put the extender back on, to remount the tire, and then successful pumping finally with about 15 minutes till race start. I still had to get body marked, pick up an extra cap as I left mine at the car during the tire trauma, and then do everything else in transition. Luckily once I finally made it into trans, I went through my preps incredibly quick and raced down to the beach with my wetsuit in hand as I already heard them going over last minute instructions on the PA. There I briefly met up with Jocelyn and a good number of the Pittsburgh contingent down for the race, Chad, Jen, and Matt. Chad, Matt, and I exchanged hellos and pre-race pleasantries, and then it was into the water for a quick dip and a few strokes before they called us back out in advance of the start. We were going off in the race's first wave as there were no pros doing this race and all men under 35 started at 7am. At the gun we were off, and again I was using my solid bash technique and dolphin diving to get out in front. I took a wide left line to the first turn buoy as the intermediate ones did not seem to be aligned with that one, and found myself swimming all alone as I often do. There were some guys swimming out in front from what I could see, but my effort was good and I felt like I was swimming fairly fast so I just did my own thing. The rest of the swim leg my course was pretty good and I kept it steady into the finish, turning the kick on for maybe the last 200-300 meters. Getting out of the water I wasn't sure of my time, which later turned out to be a "too good to be true" 23:30 (short course), but as I was running up the beach, I heard the announcer mention both Matt and Chad's names so I new this was going to shape up to be the duel we all anticipated. We all passed closely by one another in T1 and Chad was out first, then Matt, and then myself. There was supposedly only 1 or 2 guys up the road, and then a pack of all of the aforementioned Pittsburghers plus about 7 more starting the bike all within sight of each other. There was a short out and back in the park before leaving and beginning the first of two clockwise loops around the northern half of Lake Anna. I saw Matt just behind me on the short out and back, and Chad was a little up the road, and immediately my goal was to keep him in sight because I knew that he would set a solid yet even pace, and waste no time getting down to it. I started off again with a slightly elevated HR with the swim/transition effects lingering and also the adrenaline of the start of the bike battles, but found a good rhythm with a small pack of guys that would continue to jockey for position cleanly over the next 50 miles. I passed Chad somewhere around the ten mile mark, but I would certainly see him again on the bike leg as I did another strong fellow, Iain, who was riding a Kestrel and kitted out in their gear as well. It was hard to keep a constant speed as the wind was a steady 20mph at least, gusting higher at times, and as we did the clockwise loop, it was always having different effects on us. I did keep a fairly constant effort though, with an even higher cadence than in N.O., and came much closer to nailing my hydration and nutrition perfectly. I rolled into T2 after about 2:23:15, good for a 23.5mph avg for some rolling and windy conditions.
After a ridiculously disoriented and slow transition, I was out for the run. Having not had really any spare time in transition in the morning, I didn't have a chance to rehearse my entrances and exits, and couldn't find my spot right away. Never happened to me before, and I even found myself wondering and laughing out loud at my own confusion. Chad was back out ahead and yet again my plan was to mark him and keep him in sight. The run course consisted of three loops through the park after a short out and back just out of transition, and was characterized by an uphill at the start of each lap, rolling to flat through the middle, and then a downhill section through the woods as you finished up and made your way back towards the lake. A spectator told us about a half mile in that we were running 3-4 after passing another competitor on the way up the hill, so that was definitely some ample fuel for the motivational fire. Chad and I hit the 1st mile marker at about 6:40, we ran pretty close for the next mile, and then I pulled a little ahead to move into 3rd place on the road. I was running between 6 and 6:30 pace depending on the grade, and really tried to stay present in the moment as I attempted to cruise away from my pursuers and try to catch sight of the 2nd place guy up the road. Early on my second lap, I caught sight of him up the road and went about trying to close the gap over the next 1.5 miles. Finally I caught 2nd place, Iain, at about the midway point of the lap and used a slight uphill grade to put some space between us. I got about a 10 second gap pretty quick and then just kept the pressure on. Heading into the 2nd half of this 2nd loop, I was now seeing Rob, Matt, Jocelyn, Lauren, and Mimi out on the course and this was a nice feature to be able to step outside of your own suffering for a minute, and to offer some encouragement to your friends to get through theirs.
Once starting the third lap, I was kinda racing in no man's land. From checking behind I felt like I had a pretty good grip on 2nd place, but 1st place dude was nowhere to be seen. Heading through an intersection at the mid-point of the lap, I spotted some Setup race officials on mountain bikes with radios and I asked if they had a split to the leader, and the disappointing news to come back was about 3 minutes. At that point I pretty much resigned myself to 2nd place with only 2.5 miles to go, but I took at look at my watch with 2 miles to go and when I saw 4 hours, I thought to myself that at least I could possibly PR if I could keep my pace going. So over the next 2 miles I went about eking out as much speed as I could and getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. I came across the line after a 1:22:40 run in 4:11:53 for what I thought was a clear 2nd place.
Almost immediately after crossing the line, the race director approached me and asked how I started the bike course, if I just rode right up State Park road to exit onto Lawyers Rd and I told him, "No, I first turned onto the out and back that is on the run course, turned the cones and then rode back to State Park and then out to Lawyers." I asked if some people missed that and he responded with something to the effect of "Yeah, we'll take care of it." I didn't really know what to make of that and just started talking to the winner and other competitors to come in after me, cheered Jocelyn and all of my other friends into the line, and started rehydrating and resting up, enjoying the windy but beautiful day.

As the afternoon went on and the results were posted, people started telling me that I was listed in 1st place and not 2nd. I wasn't sure what to make of this and began to think that it might have something to do with what the race director had said, but I was going to wait and see until the awards ceremony. To my surprise though, when the overall awards were announced, I was the men's winner!
It turns out that the guy that I thought had won, Mike (wearing red in the above picture, Iain in blue), had been directed right out of the park by some volunteers at the start of the bike and he thus missed the out and back segment. The race apparently penalized him for the mile he missed by adding the time (2:36) based on his average speed for the other 55 miles and that was enough to put me into first. That and my final two miles when I thought I was pushing only for a PR, but by doing so took 1:16 out of Mike's lead which was enough to put me over the top after the results adjustment. Either way, Mike was very cool about it all and showed a great deal of sportsmanship on the podium, when I probably would have been fuming about the mixup with the volunteers. This was just further example of the quality of character of most every triathlete, and is a big part of what makes this sport so great. It was a surprising but great end to a hard fought race and taught me a little bit more about my fitness and my competitors. Jocelyn ended up taking second overall for the women, taking an astounding 10 minutes out of the leading girl on the run, and just running out of real estate to take 2nd by 1:18. I know if Jocey had seen that girl at all on that third lap, it would have been over and the podium would have been rearranged for a double Ballou Skies win. Soon enough. Chad took 4th overall and 1st men's 30-34 AG, Matt took 12th overall, Mimi and Lauren 4th and 5th respectively and AG wins to go along, and Jen and Ryan also had strong races and placed very well in the W30-34 and clydesdale categories, respectively. It was a very strong showing for Pittsburgh area triathletes that day in VA and I know this bodes well for the rest of the season to come. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Clinic presentation, Pittsburgh Marathon relay, and PCNC Night Talk appearance

Since I raced in New Orleans about three weeks ago, it has been all about recovery and getting back into the groove, while still trying to prepare for my next race, which is happening manana. Along the way, I have had some unique and novel experiences for me as I continue on my journey as a triathlete. On Sunday Apr 25th, I spoke at the Pittsburgh Triathlon Club's clinic at the Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe on the southside, and presented a talk geared towards beginner triathletes. The talk went very well and it wasn't nearly as nerve wracking as I was expecting, and I got a lot of good feedback and questions from the audience. Also presenting were Chad and Brodie, and it was very interesting to listen to them speak about their topics as well. Here I am, talking about forgoing socks for a sprint distance tri, or flying dismounts, or some other beginner friendly technique...

Then last weekend, I raced on a relay with some fellow runners from the Hounds at the Pittsburgh Marathon. Initial reports were that we had won the relay category in 2:33:40, although strangely some other team has magically appeared ahead of us just this week in an improbably fast time of 2:17:10. We'll be sure to look into that, but overall I was surprised at the legs that I had in my leg, a 5.9 miler, which I covered at about 32 minutes flat officially, which worked out to 5:25 pace. Had I been running either an open 5k or 10k, I would have had huge PRs! Here I am, suffering on the road with my HR through the roof somewhere in Homewood or East Liberty.
Here is our anchor leg, Mark, one week removed from running the Boston marathon, finishing strong for what should be the relay division win.

Last night I had my television debut, appearing on WPXI's Night Talk on the PCNC channel with Ryan and Kim, to talk about Ballou Skies, the peanut butter sales, and all things related to the the charity and the tri-team. Here are the three of us with the host Mike Romigh towards the start of the segment.
Ryan spoke very knowledgeably and with a great sense of pride about the charity, what they are doing at Ohio State with the research, and generally about all of the big picture stuff.
I spoke about what it means to me to race under the Ballou Skies banner, and what it takes to keep going in a tough race. Thoughts always come back to the sacrifices made, the charity and Ryan, and how fortunate am I to be out there, using my body and triathlon as a platform to raise awareness for Ballou Skies and DMD.
Kim spoke about our marketing efforts, about the website, blogs, Facebook cause, etc., and also echoed what it takes to get to and race in some of these events.

It was an amazing experience and hopefully some of you out there in the Pittsburgh television market got a chance to see some if it during that dismal third period of the Pen's game.

Today is a busy day and then we are off to beautiful Lake Anna Virginia for the Kinetic Half, starting tomorrow morning at 7AM. Race report and updates to follow shortly!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Orleans 70.3 Race Report

Two weeks ago on April 18th, I raced in my kickoff tri of the year, the Ochsner Ironman New Orleans 70.3. Training had been going very well before the event and I was very eager to test out my early season fitness. Race morning started early at about 4:15am and I started getting ready and ingesting some calories for the long day to come. After a short walk down towards the river and the host hotel Hilton, I hopped on the first shuttle bus of the morning up to transition at the UNO Research and Technology Park on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. After quickly getting body marked, grabbing my chip, and setting up transition with the remains of my morning gear, it was down to the lakeshore to await my start. They made everyone vacate transition at a ridiculously early time of 6:45 when the pros didn't even start until 7am, and I wasn't until the 16th wave that left at 8. I had plenty of time to sit on the beach and continue to visualize my race, continue hydrating, and to watch the winds increase as well as the chop on the lake. I watched both pro waves start and finish before I even got my chance to go, but the race appeared to be setting up to be very competitive among the pros with some big names coming into transition clustered together. At 8 I finally got to start, and got off in front, making good use of my old beach patrol surf bash skills and dolphin diving to make my way out through the long stretch of shallow water. Shortly after starting swimming though, I encountered the first of many waves and swells to hit me that morning. The swim was surprisingly rough, and I definitely found myself struggling to find a rhythm in the first half. My course wasn't bad in the first half, but sighting was certainly more difficult than usual and my breathing pattern was often interrupted by the incoming swells from the north/northeast. I made the turn and immediately started having some new problems because now I was sighting into the sun. I just put my head down and worked in towards the beach while trying to not to get any more flustered than necessary. I hit the beach in a disappointing 31:01 but charged up and over the hill into transition.
After a fairly quick transition in 2:10, I was out on the bike leg. This was my first race on the new ride, the Felt B2 Pro, and I let it rip immediately. She wouldn't disappoint. The first couple miles of the bike were routed through a residential neighborhood with some rough roads, and hundreds of of other athletes from the earlier heats. These early miles fighting through some slower riders who were taking up most of the road, and my frustration from the swim set the tone for the rest the bike. I was hammering along at the top of my heart rate zone, legs whirling at a high cadence, and blowing by people as I was on a mission. The majority of the first half of the bike was into the 10-15 mph headwind, but I was still averaging 23 mph. I hit the first turnaround of the three out and back legs on the bike, and suddenly I had the tailwind and I was effortlessly pushing 26 mph+. Things were going very smoothly and I had calmed down from the tough swim, when I passed a fellow 30-34 division competitor who apparently decided to jump on my wheel for a free ride. Every time I went to pass someone in front of me and I glanced over my shoulder to check the traffic behind before pulling left, I caught a glimpse of this blatant cheater out of the corner of my eye. No joke he sat within one bike length of my rear wheel for the next 8-10 miles. Despite my yelling at him to get off my wheel, trying to get the attention of draft marshals going the opposite direction, and varying my pace, he wouldn't go anywhere. Finally after making another turn to head back out with the wind at my back, I got out of the saddle and put in a large surge and finally ditched him. The rest of the bike was pretty uneventful and I rolled back into T2 feeling strong and with a bike split of 2:17:29 for an average speed of 24.4 mph.
I transitioned in 1:50 and was off and running. I felt incredibly good for the first couple miles and was clipping along at sub 6 minute pace for the first three miles. After that my pace would stabilize around 6:30 miles as I would begin the battle with my gut, cramps, and the heat in the midday sun. As I entered the City Park around the 4th or 5th mile, I felt my first signs of cramps in my quads and some rumbling in my gut. I tried to keep everything loose with my stride and I stopped drinking gatorade, and went solely to water and cola. I started feeling a little better by the 7th mile or so and started picking up my pace again, and started trying to hit around 6:15 pace per the forerunner. I soon spotted a fellow 30-34 competitor and passed him shortly before leaving the park. I had no idea where I stood at this point in my AG, but knew that I was probably in the top five at least within my wave, although there were two waves of guys for my age group. As I left the park and started towards the French Quarter, I was starting to struggle again with my digestion, but as I was progressing further and further along on Esplanade Ave, I caught a glimpse of a guy that I had seen early on in the bike leg who could possibly be in my AG as well. I ratcheted up the pace and started reeling him in, little by little, and as I was about to make the turn onto Decatur Ave, I had the mystery man in my sights and just a block ahead. I surged and came up on his right and tried to blow by him, hopefully demoralizing him in the process and rendering him unable to go with me. I thought I was going to yak, and I wasn't sure if I could keep it up and hold him off, but it seemed to work and I held on to cross the finish line strong with a 1:23:55 run, and for a 4:16:23 overall. Here I am coming across the line, proudly displaying the Ballou Skies "Helping Hearts" hand sign.
I got my finishers medal, some drink and grub, and kicked my feet up for some rest in the shade. It wasn't until about an hour later when I saw the provisional results and learned that I had won my age group! The two guys I had passed over the last 5 miles ended up taking 2nd and 3rd so I ran my way to the win. This was my first AG win at a major national level race, and I also took 22nd overall and 7th amateur.

Here I am on the podium out of order, with the 2nd place finisher, Dirk, to my left, and the 3rd place finisher, Lucas, on the far left end. Thanks to Lucas and his stepmother for sharing this photo from the awards ceremony as I was unprepared at the finish line.
Overall, I was very pleased with my race and couldn't think of a better way to kick off my 2010 season. Hopefully faster splits and even more complete races are to come this year. Next up is the Kinetic Half on May 8th where I will continue building the foundation for the larger races to come later in the summer. Thanks for reading, and my next race report will be here hopefully in less than a week!