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!