Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Savage Triathlon Camp Announcement!

I am happy to announce that I will be joining close friends, training partners, and fellow Pittsburgh-area based coaches, Chad Holderbaum, Kim Schwabenbauer, and Matt Mauclair for the inaugural Savage Triathlon Camp in Deep Creek Maryland over Memorial Day weekend of 2012! As far as I know, this camp will be the first of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region and more specifically in the beautiful mountains and pristine training grounds of Western Maryland, and the camp will be hosted by some of the the region's most elite long distance triathletes and coaches. We have been heading to the Deep Creek region for personal training camps for years and have found it to be an ideal training venue during the summer months - we have covered many miles of Garrett County Maryland by stroke, pedal, and stride, and know that this will present a great challenge and incredible training/learning experience for all lucky athletes in attendance!

The camp will be run by USAT and ITCA certified triathlon coaches with decades of cumulative coaching and racing experience, and is sure to be a key component to a successful 2012 build toward your racing goals, while also an invaluable learning experience for new and established triathletes alike. Please take a look at the camp's homepage for a tentative itinerary and pricing structure. Camp cost includes swim video analysis, pool access to the Community Aquatic and Recreation Center, bike fit assessment, and running gait video analysis. In addition to the individual attention received, you will attend coaching lectures on nutrition and training as well as participate in group swim, bike, and run sessions with fellow campers of comparable skill/fitness levels. The cost for the camp does not include food, lodging, or transportation. Savage Tri Camp is a USA Triathlon sanctioned camp, therefore athletes must either have a USAT annual membership or purchase a one day USAT license membership for $10.00.

I hope all of you will consider joining us for this ultimate, Savage training experience next June in Deep Creek, but act soon as camp attendance will be capped at 30 athletes! Please comment or contact me for additional details. Happy training and preparation for 2012!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reflections on Kona

After about 3 weeks to reflect on the race in Kona, some main points and thoughts have come into focus. 

I started the swim in a pretty aggressive position, but if I am going to start there, I need to be more aggressive with my preparation as well and start the race more like its an olympic or sprint. I started 10-20 yards left of the pier and while I think I belong in that general spot, starting 2 or 3 rows deep as I did will not cut it. Immediately I was hemmed in and getting the crap beat out of me, and I didn't have anywhere to go. In the future, I need to be in the front row, being reigned in by the paddleboard volunteers, and start HARD and use some of my old swimming sprint speed to get out in front. I can stay out there with my improved open water navigating abilities and by focusing on an ever improving, rapid and powerful armstroke. More pullups, paddle work, and back to my sprinting roots. Short of graduating into the pro ranks and having that luxurious 6:30am start with only 80 athletes, I need to attack the swim more than I have if I am to use my swim as a weapon and swim a split that I am more than capable of.

My bike was much improved over the last two years, but this is the area where I still need the most improvement. Obviously this will require more miles and more focused strength and threshold work, but also I need to be better strategically as well, as I also mentioned for the swim. To the former point, I need to bring my FTP numbers up and corresponding muscular endurance to really advance my strength to weight ratio and to be able to apply this over the course of 112 miles. This year, I rode at about 3.2-3.4 watts per kilo (AP vs NP) output for the IMWC bike leg; I read somewhere that Michael Weiss rode at about a 317 watt average (4 watts per kilo) in Kona this year, so while this is almost the pinnacle of biking ability in IM, this is a target to continue working towards. For a more intermediate target, I heard on a podcast that Justin Daerr did about 4500 kilojoules of work on the IM Louisville bike course (at about my size) compared to my 3900 kj in Kona (and 5029 kj for Weiss), so there is definitely some additional power and intensity on the bike that I will continue building.

To the latter point, from my race report I referenced letting some competitors ride by in the early stages of the bike and sitting up to avoid getting mixed up in sticky (potential drafting) situations. In the future, I need to be willing to burn a couple extra matches to stay near the front of these "packs", keying off of other strong riders, and still getting a legal "draft" at 10 meters back that I know some of my other competitors were capitalizing on much more. Towards the end of the bike, it became clear that I was not necessarily in the relative position that I should have been based off of how many guys I was catching and passing. This also could only be helped by coming out of the water a good 5 minutes earlier based on my swim goals. Finally, I need to do a better job of optimizing my bike position and improvements in gear selection and placement to take advantage of free speed that is available for gain.

For my run, I think I could probably be helped most just in terms of better training and increased run mileage to build efficiency and durability. Strategically speaking, I don't think there is too much room for improvement for me at this time because basically by the time you are on the run, the chips have fallen after 5-6 hours of racing the swim & bike, and the run is all about running to your potential with the position you have put yourself in. Obviously, the faster you get and the higher your relative position coming off the bike, the more important strategy becomes. We're talking top-5-10 AG here, or if you're Crowie, Andi, Macca, etc. I feel like I could train my stomach a little better on race-simulation bricks throughout the year to better handle the nutrition required to fuel a whole day in the heat, and absorb all of this without intestinal dispute for the latter stages of the marathon. Also, I think continued improvements in running economy and durability through increased overall mileage and longer/tougher brick sessions will allow me to keep the average pace high and steady throughout the whole IM marathon. "They" say that a good decouple between open running races and triathlon run legs is about 8% - based on my runs from shorter distances and standalone running races, I have the current potential to run the IM marathon leg about 12-15 minutes faster. Of course there are many factors that can contribute to the ability to realize this appropriate decouple, but pure running toughness can't hurt. Obviously, the stronger and more efficient I become on the bike, the easier it will be to realize this potential on the run. In Ironman (and life, and triathlon, etc, etc), everything is interconnected and improvements in one discipline can and should certainly lead to improvements in the others. My run has been my strength in the last couple years, but it can and must become stronger.

Overall, I was very pleased with my race this year and while it was a tough start to the season, I felt like I redeemed myself from some bad races and finished on a strong note with IM Lake Placid and Kona. As satisfying as my race in Hawaii was, I have some areas that I can definitely improve on and some aspects that I am not happy about and that I will rectify for 2012. The brutal Pittsburgh winter is about to begin, but I am more motivated than ever and am ready for some hard work to build into a successful 2012 season. I hope that everyone else has had a successful year in 2011, and that either way, whether you did or you didn't, that you have evaluated your year and are motivated to improve and work hard toward your goals in the new year. Cheers.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kona 2011 race report

Last Saturday, October 8th 2011, I competed in and finished my third Ironman World Championships in as many years. This race has become the goal and focus of each year of my triathlon life, and I was feeling really good heading into this one and really gunning to keep shaving off time in my IM finish times. My first year out in 2009 I finished in a 10:28:19 and then followed that up with 55 minute improvement in 2010. Could I shave another 55 minutes off my time this year? HAHAHA, I would guess most likely not, but I knew that my improvement had continued from last year and despite some disappointing races earlier this year, I had learned some valuable lessons and had worked harder than ever. I was ready.

Race morning started at about 4am at the condo and Jocelyn and I were up and starting to bring in the nutrition (read: CARBS!). Over the course of the next couple hours, I drank 3 bottles of Ensure, ate a large banana, guzzled some organic apple sauce straight out of the jar (sorry honey!), and had one package of uncaffeinated GU Chomps and one uncaffeinated GU. This was all supplemented by some Gatorade, but who knows how much and I was feeling pretty fueled up and hydrated. Jocelyn and I had planned on catching the shuttle down Ali'i Drive but after being passed up once, we decided to thumb it and were thankfully picked up by a family in a Jeep from the same condo complex who were in from Arizona and Alaska to cheer on their family member Greg. After getting down to the King Kam and the pier, getting body marked and wandering around for a while in the wrong direction and wrong order of activities, I finally got my special needs dropped off and then we got into transition to set everything up.

Jocelyn and I left transition and I headed over towards Ali'i' and the seawall to try to meet up with my family, Ty and Ryan, and Chad, Beth, Chris, Eric, and Joe if possible. After successfully seeing almost everyone over at the seawall and the flurry of good luck wishes, it was time to head back over to transition again. It was getting close now!
A little bit before the pros went off at 6:30, Chad, Beth, and I walked over and back into transition to get ready to head into the water once the gates were opened up for the age groupers. I had not seen Jocelyn since we parted ways for a bathroom stop and then the meetup over by the seawall, and I was looking at every pink cap that was wearing a pz3tx swim skin to try to track her down before the swim start to wish her luck and score the pre-race kiss, but alas, I did not locate her. Thankfully she tracked down Joe and Kim before the start and went into the water with them. I got out towards the front with maybe 15 minutes to go to the start but a little bit left of where I was last year, within 10 or so yards of the edge of the pier. I was hoping to avoid being pummelled like I was for a little bit last year and especially like I was at Lake Placid this year.
After a little bit of treading, visualization, and a lot of fighting for position, the canon blasted at 7am and we were off!
The first 1000 meters were insane, and much more of a cluster-F than I remember from years past. I was literally out of the water at times, buoyed up by human bodies to my left, right, and underneath me, when you would have the inevitable people shift directions or drift into you, and you would get "pinched". Twice I got my favorite move, where a guy will put his hand on your shoulder and push off and in the process, push you back. Real cool man, for almost everyone out here it's going to be a race of 9+ hours, but I know you're in a terrible hurry. I just tried to stay as calm as possible and not let my heart rate (HR) skyrocket, burning up valuable fuel and setting off a negative cascade of stress hormones into my blood stream. For the most part I think I was successful and things spread out a little bit into the second kilometer of the swim and to the first turn at the boat. It got a little hectic again at the far turns, but nothing like the start. I tried my best to swim a straight line and keep on someone's feet and was largely successful with this for the last 3/4 of the swim. I was also trying to keep my turnover up and really focus on fast, powerful strokes, and not gliding too much, but I felt a little ineffective in the water and my bottom half was also completely disjointed from my top half with my hips and kick feeling very uncoordinated. As I approached the pier again, I expected a time north of an hour, but was pleasantly surprised to see the clock approaching 59 minutes as I ran up the steps and onto the pier. Based on how I felt in the water, and the more sizable ocean swell than what we had last year, I feel like I can almost 100% attribute my swim split to good drafting. This is probably a little dramatic, but I did not feel nearly half as good as I had in the water in the two weeks leading up to the race. In the end, my swim was a :59:12, 45 seconds faster than last year and a 1:31/100m (1:24 yards) average pace.
T1= 2:54, not too bad, although probably should have been 30-60 seconds faster. My helmet sucks and I should probably attach more of my nutrition to my bike, and stuff less into my singlet pockets!
Off and onto the bike, and heading up the first little part of Palani towards the "Hot Corner", looking strangely rigid and out of sorts. Who knows.

Starting the bike, I was certain to get into my shoes quickly and also make sure that I didn't loose any valuable nutrition when heading north onto the rough part of Kuakini like I did in '09. I tried to take it easy through town and not get too excited; you would pay for it later in the day if your HR remained jacked for too long at the start of the bike. Chad caught me on the out and back section of Kuakini and while I thought for a moment about going with him and working together, he was clearly on a mission and knew I had to ride my own race. I planned on seeing him again. Up and out of town and onto the Queen K, I tried to settled into a somewhat hard, but relaxed rhythm. My plan was to ride the first 40k or so pretty steady to try to get some separation on some of my competitors and also get out of town quickly, before the trade winds picked up along the coast. Then the plan was to take it "easy" for the middle 90k up to and back down from Hawi, and then really build into it and ride hard the last 40-50k back into town to finish strong. The last two years I have faded badly on this last stretch when facing the headwinds, and I was determined to ride this section better as my training has been more intense and strength oriented this year, but I also wanted to make the right decisions on the race course (i.e. pacing and fueling) to make this easier to accomplish. The first 45k I rode at an average power (AP) of 222 watts, normalized power (NP) of 236 watts, with an average HR of 153 bpm, cadence of 95 rpm, and an average speed of 23.7 mph. I was moving along pretty good, but it felt very controlled and sustainable. Between the airport and the Mauna Lani Resort area, there were TONS of guys coming through, riding what I would expect to be WAY too hard, and a couple times it almost looked like packs were starting to form or the rotating pass lines were getting too complex and risky, so I took the opportunity every so often to sit up, ride clean, get in some more calories, and not burn myself digging too deep to pass a line of 10 guys. For the first two hours or so I was getting in about 3 bottle of Infinit per hour plus GUs, salt tablets, and water, so I definitely felt like I was banking some good calories and hydrating myself well. I didn't dramatically slow once I made the turn in Kawaihae, but just kept things comfortable and kept rolling along. The winds got pretty bad in the final 5-10 miles prior to the turnaround in Hawi, but I don't know, they just didn't feel as bad to me this year, maybe due to increased strength/fitness, but possibly also due to experience and better race management decisions. 2nd quarter, 218 AP/231 NP/148 HR/89 RPM/21.7 MPH. I went through the turnaround in Hawi and had to stop at special needs as they did not have my bag ready for me with the hand off, but I took the opportunity to inhale a Powerbar and take a couple deep breaths to marshal my strength for the ride back into town.

Heading back down the hill from Hawi is always a ripping good time, and I was definitely enjoying myself and didn't feel like a bonk or heat stroke was imminent, like it had been in years past. I keep trying to really force the fluids as best that I could, but it was in this section that my stomach started feeling a little unsettled so I backed off a little with the Infinit, as I had been doing a very god job up until this point. For a couple miles, I just did water, caffeinated GUs, and salt, and this seemed to heal my stomach somewhat and pep me up even more. 3rd quarter (net downhill), 204 AP/220 NP/149 HR/88 RPM/22.3 MPH. Making the turn from Kawaihae back onto the Queen K, now it was time to work! This is where I had faded terribly in past years and where the notorious winds would always beat me into submission! Not this year my friends! While it was still tough and my avg speed was still the lowest that it had been for any other section, it was not nearly as bad as years past (sub 20 mph), but even better than this, when usually this was the section where I was getting passed by an endless stream of my competitors, this year I was doing the passing! And maybe even better than that, although surely a function of my relative race position, was that my attitude was also much more positive. I wasn't muttering expletives and incoherency's under my breath, and I was feeling strong! Final quarter, 214 AP/221 NP/151 HR/89 RPM/21.0 MPH. Over the course of the 5+ hours I took in about 2300 calories and probably drank about 180 ounces of fluids.

Final bike time = 5:04:25, a 8:36 min improvement from last year in very comparable conditions, and an IM bike PR. Total bike stats = 214 AP (3.19 watts per kilo)/227 NP (3.39 watts per kilo/150 HR/90 RPM/22.1 MPH. I felt very good on the bike today - I felt in control and was able to push to the level I felt appropriate for my fitness - really this was the first time this happened for me racing all year. Let's get ready to run.

T2= 3:01, again, a little slow but I've had worse. For some reason I was having a little trouble with my lace locks, maybe it was my brain's last ditch attempt to keep me in the chair a little longer and out of the heat!
Starting out on the run, my plan was similar to last year - start the run at a pace that almost seems  ridiculously easy, keep the HR below 150, and let the body settle down a little bit and adapt to the heat and humidity along Ali'i' Drive. Your cardiovascular system is so warmed up right now and this is also where your running economy can really carry you for a little while if you have built it well, so you can get by for a little bit by running "easy" - if you took off running by HR or at some speeds you hit back home in cooler, less humid climates, you could easily cook yourself in Kona. This worked out well, as my stomach was a little upset anyway from pounding the calories and sugar on the bike, so I was just taking in some Perform and water at the early aid stations, but not every one as I apparently was having some issues with gastric emptying. What served to keep my energy levels up on the bike, was now kind of creating problems for me in the early stages of the run. Quite the double edged sword. One thing however that I was surely getting at every aid station was cold water, ice, and wet sponges. Core temperature regulation is essential at this stage of the race, and even if these practices only have minimal effect, at least you can fool your brain into thinking that you are cool for a quarter mile at a time! I ran the opening 5 miles in only about 7:25 pace, but kept my avg HR at 149. My stomach was starting to settle down a little bit by this point and I started in with the gels, perform and coke. I was starting to feel more comfortable now and I ran the next 5 miles or 6:50 pace with an avg HR of 152 as I came back through town, saw Ty out on Ali'i Drive cheering on the Ballou Skies squad, and got ready to tackle the kicker that is Palani Drive and head out onto the never ending stretch of highway on the Queen K.

Heading up onto the Queen K, this became the roughest patch of the run for me, as the 35 minutes of minimal to non-existent fueling started to catch up with me. This is also where the previous gut discomfort evolved into intestinal discomfort. As I was running along, the building pressure was becoming too much to ignore. After stopping briefly at one porta-pottie and discovering accidentally that it was in use (whoops, but door was not locked and red!), I made the decision to head into the bushes (tall grass) on the side of the road before things got ugly. As fearful as I was that this would continue for the rest of the run if I continued to take in the gels, perform, and coke, I knew I needed these calories to make it through the final half marathon. The quick pit-stop wasn't too time consuming and was probably my fastest "transition" of the day. This bought me some temporary relief as I pushed along and headed down into the Energy Lab for the turnaround. I was only feeling so-so at this point and the fatigue (or hypoglycemia) was really starting to build, but historically whenever I make the turn in the Energy Lab, a switch flips in my head and I always get an immediate boost in energy as I know that I am heading into the home stretch. The last 7 miles out to the far turn was my slowest stretch of the marathon, with the two slowdowns/stops I ran 8:01 pace with a HR of 150. Coming back out, I was slightly energized and the stretch on the Queen K usually goes a little faster, maybe because you know the landmarks better by now and also partly because you are that much more delusional as you dig deeper into the pain cave? I required one more stop in the bushes around the 21 mile mark, but once again I was pretty quick and I was really starting to pick up the pace now as I knew I was pushing towards an IM PR and my third finish in Kona. I ran the final 9 mile stretch back into town and the finish in my fastest segment of all even with the stop, at 6:48 pace with an avg HR of 149. The final mile to half mile I ramped it up as much as I could and got the speed up to about HIM pace, but my worked heart/brain/CNS could only manage 161 bpm at this point! The marathon would end up taking me 3:10:07 for an IM marathon PR, at 7:15 pace and an avg HR of 150bpm. All in all I would say an ok run - I never really felt like I had that extra gear or the turnover like I did at IMHI'10 or IMLP'11, but I guess you really can't argue with a PR.
Running down Hualalai again to Ali'i' Drive, I began to reflect again on another long year of hard work and hard racing, and how fortunate I was to be healthy enough to compete at this level and also to be part of such a wonderful triathlon team and community of triathletes in Pittsburgh. I thought of how great and meaningful it was that Ty and Ryan were in Kona to watch the 6 members of our Ballou Skies Tri Team crush it, and to see what it is that drives us so much as we strive to better ourselves and the charity through our efforts. Coming across the line in 9:19:39 was a dream come true and a new Ironman PR - what better place to get it than in Kona!
Many thanks to go out to my wonderful wife of two years, Jocelyn, who keeps me working hard throughout the whole year and shows me such unwavering love, my parents for once again joining us in Kona with their wonderful presence and support, Ty and Ryan and the Ballou Skies Charity and Tri Team, and all others who support what I (we) do on the path to excellence. I will be sure to Ko Aloha La Ea (Keep your Love, 2011 race motto) for next season and keep this year's race in my heart always. Thanks for reading and everyone have a great offseason!

Friday, September 30, 2011

You gotta want it

In triathlon, you gotta want it. You have got to want to succeed, and that means putting in the work.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going. They know they have to Do the work. And that Miles Make Champions. Sometimes you just have to shut up, and then HTFU. When in doubt, Stop Whining and Knuckle Up. I could throw endless cliches at you (and I have!), but at the end of the day, or rather the beginning, that means getting out the door, dragging your ass out of bed when you'd rather just sleep for like 24 more hours. Over my 12 years in the sport I have come to learn (the hard/slow way!) what is required for success and what it takes to keep moving forward, and hopefully, to have success of some measure more often than not. And since I started coaching in the last year, this intangible quality of inner motivation, that fire, wanting it, can easily be seen in some and is noticeably absent in others.

Wanting it is heading out for a 6 hour ride when the weather forecast calls for a 92' day with high humidity and a code orange air alert. Wanting it is heading out for the umpteenth century ride this month, this year, these past couple years with a case of never ending saddle sores. Wanting it is keeping your ironman training up between your 5th sinus infection of the year, that you just learned has been primarily caused by a deviated septum. Wanting it is heading out on the bike for an 'easy' 72 mile spin when you have a quadricep tendon rupture because that is the only activity that feels good, and because you have the biggest race of your life scheduled in 6 weeks. Wanting it is counting down the days to getting back to your end of season build after a sudden diagnosis of, and then excision, of skin cancer. To many, these examples may just seem to be proof of obsessive or unhealthy training practices. To others though, and to those of us that have lived through these cases of adversity, we know this is what it will take to reach our goals. The seeming "madness" of it all, and those daily decisions to keep pushing on is balanced with a keen knowledge of our bodies and what they can handle.

Some live their whole lives and never know what is possible and how much they can push themselves. Others come to discover this maybe after a major life shift or scare and the realization can come like a lightning bolt. My dad recently ran in his very first 5K at the age of 63. If you asked him 5 minutes before the start of the race if he was adequately prepared, I think it is safe to say that the answer would have been a resounding no. If he was certain that he would finish, still, quite possibly no. He didn't know that he wanted it, but somewhere over the course of the 3.1 miles he started to push himself more than he ever has before, and learned that he too wanted it.

Ryan Ballou was born with DMD and has not had the opportunity to push himself in the athletic sense that I am writing about here, but has pushed himself more emotionally and in a physical sense than most of us will ever know in our lifetimes. Because Ryan wants it. Every day he faces struggles and extreme adversity, just taking on some of the daily tasks that most take for granted. But Ryan has an infectious optimism and drive of which I could only hope to possess a fraction of. Ryan wants it, he wants to live his life to the fullest and to help others with DMD to have the same hope and the same incredible quality of life.

Wanting it is a state of mind more than anything else, and while some people have that capacity to drive forward and persevere, others sadly have not or cannot tap into this ability. One week from Saturday, myself and five of my Ballou Skies teammates will be competing with 1700+ of the world's best triathletes in Kona, pushing ourselves to levels we never before thought possible. You have to want it. You have to try before you can hope to succeed. We do, and we will. Join us.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dunkirk Tri race report

Yesterday Jocelyn and I raced in part of the inaugural TriDunkirk race weekend, opting to break up the ironman training and suffer through the olympic distance option. Jocelyn had decided about a week prior to do the race, but I wasn't sure that I was ready for such a hard effort yet as I have been trying to strike the proper balance between recovery from Placid and the "build" for Kona. There was no rest week or taper going into this and my legs felt flat, but I said what the hell on Thursday and committed to it mentally. So off I went to register, but alas, the online registration had closed so my only option (but cool that it even is one so close to the race!) was to register the night before at packet pickup. So our original plan of staying the night in Erie was scrapped and off we went to Dunkirk, NY for registration and a night of camping at Lake Erie State Park!
After a quick snooze in the tent, we were up and off to a 24 hr Tim Horton's for a quick breakfast and then to transition to setup. After the Columbia Tri this year, I learned my lesson that I need to warmup for not only sprint distance tris, but also for olympics. I guess I have gotten to used to the long stuff. We probably did not leave enough time for this after setting up and before transition closed so my shoes were out, but not to worry as there was a nice grassy softball field nearby and I went and did a nice barefoot jog with some striders in the dewey morning grass. Jocelyn and I got suited up in our BlueSeventy Helix suits as the water in Lake Erie was a surprising 72', and I started with some warmup calisthenics on the beach. There were a number of different formats being held all on the same day, with two sprint waves going off at 7, but I was in the fourth overall wave to go off at 7:34, 4 minutes behind the F1 format race (1.5k/40/10/repeat > .75/40/10) which seemed to be the bigger draw for the day.

At 7:34 I was off from an in-water (knee deep) in a relatively small wave compared to which I am accustomed. I set off right for the first turn buoy and set a hard tempo out to the turn, prob 200-250m. The warmup run and vigorous arm exercises seemed to help and before I knew it I was into the lead and feeling good. I made the first turn and still did not have any contact with a single person, something very foreign to me at least as of late! I kept the kick up and tried to keep my arms churning as I all too often fall into my lackadaisical, pool-swimmer's efficient glide, and kept reminding myself that this was meant to be a fast, painful race! I could not see the second buoy once I made the turn as I was now swimming towards the rising sun and sighting through my older, foggy goggles, but I lucked out and picked the correct angle and the next buoy soon came into view. I made note of a reference point on the shore behind the buoy as this was to be a two lap swim and I wanted to make sure that I stayed on course for the second lap. Out and onto the beach for a brief run, and back in for another go round. I continued to feel smooth and strong during the second lap, sighting very well, and exited the water in a fast (for me) 18:33, probably too fast honestly and I would estimate about a minute or so short.

I was up the beach and into transition pretty quick, but still had a little difficulty getting my wetsuit off over my calves. The bodyglide I tried helped a little I think, but I may still need to trim/shorten the leg openings. I once again had a hard time getting my Giro Advantage 2 aero helmet on again (maybe I have Dumbo ears??) and am thinking I should try a different brand. Has anybody else had problems with this and found a good aero helmet that is big-ear friendly? Otherwise T1 went pretty well (small zones help!) and I was out in 1:12.

I started out on the bike course and started killing the pedals, trying to redeem myself from my last olympic distance bike effort, and keep the pressure on, and HR and watts way up. As I headed out I was fairly pleased with how I was feeling so far, with HR where I wanted it and watts pretty respectable. The course was and out and back with small loop in the middle for the turnaround, and while I was expecting an eagleman-like bike course, it had surprisingly more undulations than I anticipated being right next to the lake! Still, I would have to consider it a flat to rolling bike course, and has the potential to be quite fast. There was a little bit of a cross-wind, but nothing too bad for being a lakefront strip. Some of those little risers stung the legs though, that's for sure! In the second half of the bike, my HR and power dropped a little, but not too bad considering the way back was the "downhill" trend and my lack of training tailored to holding this kind of effort for extended periods of time. Bike split of 1:02:25, avg speed of 24.0 mph. While it was a considerably different course than my last olympic bike effort, I am much more satisfied with this ride.
T2 = 0:58 seconds. I was off onto the run along the beautiful lakefront. I was getting a little recon from an F1 competitor that I had caught towards the end of the bike, who exited transition with me and was filling me in on the guy in second who was trying to chase me down. This helped as I initially had no idea that this guy in the olympic race was slowly reeling me in on the merit of faster transitions and a slightly faster bike, and was only confused because there was the sprint/olympic/F1/duathlon all going on at the same time. I set off, picking up the cadence, weaving in and out along the beach, marina, pier, and numerous parks that the run course navigated. The run was a 2 lap affair, like the swim had been. I started getting chances now to see my competition at the few out and backs, and to begin taking time splits. I was putting a little time on my primary chaser, but the race was long from over. My form started falling off a little in the second 5k and I sensed the overall fatigue from the week and the intense racing of the day - Pretty uncharacteristic cardiac drift for me, but then again this is an olympic and not an ironman (!), and I managed to keep it together and crossed the finish line in first overall for the olympic race, getting a great BallouSkies shout out from Mary Eggers, the Score-This! (event promoter/director) announcer! Run time was 39:01 for a 6.45 mi run per my garmin, for a 6:05 pace avg. Take a little (swim), give a little (run), it all works out in the end! Total finish time of 2:02:09. I was hoping to go under 2 hours for this event, but given where my total training picture/focus is at, I'll take it and I feel pretty much normal again today. Jocelyn took home the win in the women's race in 2:17:56 and was 6th overall - tremendous day for Team Cornman and Team BallouSkies!

After the race and a random, broken recovery run that caused us to miss the awards ceremony (d'oh!), Jocelyn and I went about getting to know some of our fellow racers, the Score-This team, and finally met Mary, who writes for Xtri in addition to her own amazing blog. Mary has also profiled some of our BallouSkies teammates and I am told is planning a piece on the whole charity coming up very soon! All in all, Jocelyn and I had a great time in Dunkirk and this was a great first year event. This event is bound to flourish with this venue and with such friendly local residents and racers from that region. Jocelyn and I met so many great people and had such enjoyable conversations, I didn't think we were ever going to get back home! Long story short - great fitness stimulus, great race, great people - great day!

Monday, August 8, 2011

IMLP 2011 Race Report

About two weeks ago, on 7/24/2011, I competed in my third consecutive Ironman Lake Placid in beautiful upstate NY. In 2009 I had a great race and went sub-10 for the first time, and then last year was a weird one, using the race as a workout and pulling out intentionally after the two-mile mark of the run, for my first, and only, yet bittersweet DNF. I had a good race this year with a very positive outcome, ending up on the podium and qualifying for Kona again, so another 140.6 miles covered and valuable lessons and experience earned.

The leadup to the race was pretty typical and very similar to the past two years, departing Wednesday evening from Pittsburgh, driving part of the way that night, staying over in central NY state, and then finishing the drive Thursday and getting into Lake Placid that afternoon. Jocelyn and I rode up again with my parents and stayed at Golden Arrow again as we did in 2009. Some of last years friends and Pittsburgh racers were not present in town this year, however as usual there was a strong Steeltown contingent including IMLP stalwarts Mark, Billy (Boomer), and Bill, and some new competitors in Kim, Steve, Eric, and Chris. Throw in some good friends up to volunteer, train, spectate, and support, and it had all the makings of another great time in Lake Placid. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday included the standard short workouts, packet pickup, bike/gear check, and great meals, and before we knew it race day was upon us once again. A photo from Saturday night's pre-race gathering and better than your average "pasta-dinner."

Race morning started at 4:45 and Jocelyn and I started choking/slugging down our breakfast and getting suited up for the big day. We walked down to the oval and got body-marked, tires pumped and the remaining prep done, special needs bags dropped off, and then back to the hotel by 6am to hit the bathroom one last time before heading down to the race start.
Jocelyn and I took the walk down with fellow BallouSkies teammates Kim and Steve, and got down to the Mirror Lake beach and continued our race visualization amid the building excitement. At about 6:40 we headed down onto the beach proper and got ready to enter the water at about the time that that pros were sent off at 6:50. Kim, myself, Steve, and Jocelyn all zipped up in the BlueSeventy skins and ready to go!
The big talk/buzz/controversy of the morning and even the day proceeding, was the possibility and then the eventual proclamation that the water temp was 77', over the 76.1 deg cutoff where wetsuits would be permitted to be used in Mirror Lake and still be eligible for awards and Kona slots. This had a lot of people upset and nervous about the swim, but for myself, having a swimming background, I was not bothered by this and figured it would be more comfortable (cooler) and benefit me more this way. Just for a little historical perspective, this was the first time in IMLP's 13 years that wetsuits could not be used without consequence.

At 7am, about 2800 starters were underway, of which we learned later included about 1,100 first time Ironpeople, and about 1,800 of the 2,800 starters (65%) that chose to use wetsuits. These sub-distictions of athletes would prove to be pivotal for many on the day in how the race got underway in the swim, the resulting distribution and groupings of athletes, and how AG awards and Kona slots would be distributed.
The start was as insane as usual, however after about 50 yards of fighting and scrapping with people, I angled over sharply to the left and got on the inside track of the buoys and the famous Lake Placid "(underwater)line". Billy and I must have been on the same page and had the same strategy as I did as I saw him and swam on his left hip for about 600 meters towards the first turn buoy. Most of the first lap was pretty uneventful with the exception of battling a Boston Tri Club guy for position for a considerable ways, but I was very comfortable in the water, cruising to about a 29 min first lap split. Up and out over the beach, and back into the water for lap 2. This second 2k or so in the water unfolded very similarly to the first, battling a couple more guys for prime position, trying to find the occasional feet or hip to draft off of, and even ending up right beside Billy again for a couple hundred meters on the homestretch back into the beach. I came out of the water in :59:32, just about even splitting the two swim legs when you take the beach run up and dolphin diving around the dock into account, which broke down to 1:34 pace per 100 meters and putting me in 13th position in my AG. After the long run up to and through transition, I was ready to go and heading out onto the bike after a 4:07 T1. I didn't lose any placement in T1 according to Slowtwitch's enhanced results (pretty cool, check it out), which was a victory in and of itself as I am known for taking my sweet-ass time in transition!

Starting out on the bike, my goal was to keep the intensity down on the bike until I started the climbing out of Jay towards Wilmington on the first lap, and be sure to get in plenty of calories via my standard fueling plan with Infinit and Gu gels, and also drink a little more than is typical for me. I felt like I did a pretty good job doing this, and felt pretty strong and relaxed the first lap. I remember passing most, if not all of the 8 guys in my AG that I started the run before, on the first lap of the bike, and knew that I was moving up into prime striking territory for the Kona slot I was gunning for. The only hope was that I would be able to hold this position/pace during the second lap of the bike! Coming back into town, finishing the first loop:For the first lap, my watts and average HR were right about where I wanted them, and the perceived exertion seemed just right, so I had reason to believe that I would be able to even split my bike leg just as I had in the swim. My aerobic endurance and fitness are at all time highs, so despite some disappointing bike legs this year, I knew that with my strong AE foundation and added focus on strength and intensity this year, I should be in good shape for a Placid bike PR, if not an even split. Alas, it apparently wasn't meant to be on this day, because after I made the descent down into Keene for the second time and I started the long straightaway next to the Ausable River between Keene and Jay, I knew something was off as my HR and watts were both dropping and my mood was starting to go south. I didn't understand how this could be happening as I thought that I had paced appropriately in the first lap and my nutrition was right on, but after seeing these tell-tale signs I knew I had to start taking in more calories and fluids.
The day was also starting to heat up as well and it was getting a little windier to boot, so my increasing difficulty would only be exacerbated by the developing conditions. For everyone that was claiming that we had ideal weather for this years race, I would have gladly traded these in for last year's overcast and cooler conditions! Regardless of my building discomfort, I tried to turn my outlook around and try to get in as much calories as I could stomach and do all that I could for the remainder of the bike leg. I was pushing hard but knew my even split was gone as I was watching my watts and speed steadily drop, and I was just in damage control now and didn't want to relinquish any more positions to guys in my AG. Struggling coming up the rolling hills between Jay and Wilmington, starting to cook!:
Luckily, of the handful of guys that came by me in the last 20-30 miles, they were all in different age groups. I used them as best that I could to pace off of and keep me honest, trying not to let anyone get too far up the road or more than 50-100m in front of me. This worked pretty well, and before I knew it I was back into town to start the run. Another disappointing bike leg for me this year, but I was in good position coming off the bike so it was time to knuckle up and run hard! Bike split of 5:24:04 with an average speed of 20.74 mph and 5th in my AG coming off the bike.

After a relatively smooth T2 in 2:10, I was off onto the run and immediately tried to establish a quick, effortless cadence, but not go too nutso running on the net downhill trend out of town and trash my legs early. I have a lot of confidence in my run and feel much better about my ability to pace an Ironman run leg than the bike, and I started clipping off about 6:45-7:00 min miles. After a quick bathroom stop at about mile 1 of the run, I was back at it and looking up the road to start reeling people in. I felt very strong and in control for the first 6 miles or so of the run, and thought if this segment was any indication of how I would feel, I knew I'd be in for one of my fastest runs. Gone were the heat and humidity of places like Kona and Louisville, and although it had been unseasonably warm in LP that whole week and even this day, I thought no problem. I should know better than that though, because while LP does not necessarily have the difficult climatic conditions, it certainly has the difficult terrain and elevation profile. Much has been made about the difficulty of the Lake Placid course and while I am safe at home in the middle of a training block/riding in Deep Creek, I poo-poo IMLP's inclines and reputation; once you have 120-125 miles of racing in your legs, it is a different story! Somewhere between miles 6-9 I started getting a little tired and feeling a little low again, and immediately I thought I need to start working the nutrition again. I started to take in more Gu's, salt, and Coke, and probably not a moment too soon as the hills were quickly approaching as I was nearing the end of the River Rd out and back and also an AG competitor of mine, Lucas, came up on me quickly from behind. He made the pass initially and while I first thought that I couldn't go with him or that maybe I would just try to keep him in sight, after about a half mile where he didn't get more than 20yds on me, I remembered some of the past tempo runs I had done and that 7:10 pace wasn't so bad afterall and closed the gap to him. We started running side by side at about the 9 mile mark, and wouldn't separate again for almost the entire rest of the race. Maybe about a mile later we came up on another quick guy from the 25-29 AG, Greg, and he joined our little party and we began working together. Up and over the two kickers back into town, out and back on Mirror Lake Drive to the halfway point, and it was now a race and we were picking up the pace! So far, the three of us hadn't ever been more than about 5 feet from one another, and weren't willing to concede much more than a step or two.
I came through the halfway point in about 1:34, and I thought, with these guys pushing me on, an IM marathon PR was definitely possible and it wasn't likely anyone else was going to catch us - except maybe Eric, whom I would see at the turnarounds and could tell he was having an excellent run.
Down the hills and back down onto River Rd for the meat of the 2nd lap, it started heating up even more and then it was on to the heat management game, dumping ice cold water over my head, ice down the jersey and shorts, and taking cold sponges whenever they were available. Of course these stops or handoffs were only undertaken after first checking on my running companions, and more importantly Lucas, to make sure that they weren't going to make a Macca-type move through an aid station. The pace was getting a little more difficult and I felt the beginnings of some cramps, but we keep it rolling anyway and continued to pick more people off. I wasn't even aware so much of anyone else's age or AG position that we may have come upon in those last 16-17 miles of the race, but I was just intent on continuing to work with these guys and blow by everyone that we could. It's funny looking back, at times in the early stages of the running "partnership" we were talking ever so slightly and even sharing salt tablets and handing off cups of water and ice to each other. Also that Greg and I, and then Lucas and Greg, spoke more with one another, than Lucas and myself. Hahaha, keep it outside of the AG. But as each successive mile clicked off and we were suffering that much more, by about the 21-22 mile mark, almost all communication had ceased. It it was getting serious now. We took the first hill, just past River Rd and now back onto Rt 73 together, sizing one another up. Then on the second kicker right before the junction with Rt 86, I went to make my move and lose these guys. Not that there was much in my legs at this point and I couldn't dig really deep at all, I felt like I got a little separation on them and held it coming up the hill towards the exit from transition and run start, and that I had them. Up and onto the out and back on Mirror Lake Drive, I was feeling really trashed from the surge up the hill and was getting light headed and woozy, and even felt a little wobbling laterally and thought, "Oh crap, don't fall over now, you have less than two miles to go!" At the turnaround on Mirror Lake Dr I saw Greg closest behind me and then Lucas a little further back. In my late stage of the race mental haze, I don't know why I didn't size Greg up a little more accurately and was only concerned about Lucas, but I guess it is just that AG thing again and figured my position was secure. Because about a half mile later Greg came by me like I was standing still and I didn't have the energy to make a counter move at all. I just tried my best to keep the pressure on and stay upright as I made my way back to transition, onto and around the oval, and over the finish line. Coming down the finishing chute (!), I felt like complete garbage, but that magic that is the finish line can always overcome the worst possible feeling and I was coming across the line knowing that I couldn't have given any more and I had a race to be very proud of. My marathon split ended up as a 3:12:36, or 7:21/mile.

Immediately after crossing the finish line, I thought that I was going to keel over and a couple kind volunteers grabbed me and escorted me into the medical tent. There I got some wonderful attention and good ol' intravenous recovery, not to mention a little time off of my feet to reflect and let the preceding 9 hours and 42 minutes sink in.

I would really like to thank my wonderful wife Jocelyn, my parents for making the trip up to support us and cheer for us once again, the rest of our great and loving family, wonderful network of friends and training partners, teammates on BallouSkies and Ryan for giving me the inspiration to keep going when the going gets tough, all sponsors, supporters, and the growing community of great triathletes in the city of Pittsburgh - all of you for your support and encouragement to keep pushing ahead and striving for excellence. Also, many congrats to Kim and Steve for great races of their own and helping to represent Ballou Skies in Lake Placid! Many congrats as well to all other friends and Pittsburgh finishers out there who had great days and got it done!

In the end, my final time was 9:42:29, good for 2nd place in my AG, 4th overall amateur, and 16th place OA. It was also good enough for a Kona slot so I will be heading to the Big Island in October for my third consecutive year, and even better... I am heading back to race alongside Jocelyn again!!! My girl also got herself a Kona slot and is going back for round two!!! Go Team Cornman and Go BallouSkies!!!

Thanks everyone for reading this never ending RR - although maybe you don't mind too much as I haven't made you suffer through any blog posts of mine in what seems like eons! ;-) Seriously, thank you, and best of luck to you all for the rest of your seasons and in all your endeavors. See you at the races!