Monday, June 28, 2010

Twenty-four.

Yesterday marked twenty-four weeks to race day and the beginning of a five-month training push. It starts with twelve weeks of base mileage, then moves into eight weeks of build (intensity) before a few final weeks of peak and race prep. It's going to be awesome.

I'm two days in. Sunday was a 3.5 hour ride and a 1 hour swim and they were comfortable. The goal of the next few weeks is definitely to increase mileage and keep intensity relatively low. It shouldn't be too hard, but riding with other people is hard - I am always tempted to push on the climbs even when I shouldn't be.

In other super cool news, I settled the Cervelo P3 as my TT bike of choice; I'm going to go pick mine up some time later this week. The wheels aren't great, but the shop gave me a great deal that leaves some cash left over for an upgrade. Hell yes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hotel booked!

I placed a very important phone call yesterday, reserving a totally kick-ass beach-front chalet for the week surrounding the Ironman in Busselton. Distance from doorstep to race start? 300 meters. Distance from doorstep to food and eateries? 500 meters. Distance from doorstep to beach? 100 meters.

Awesome.

The place is pretty big. If anyone wants to come along and crash there with us, please do!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Nice n' easy

The fitness high I described last week has worn off. I'm back to feeling sluggish and somewhat tired, so I took it easy this weekend with a run, a 70-mile ride, a 2,500-yard swim and a 30-mile ride (+30 miles of test rides, see below). Okay, so that might not sound easy... but I really didn't push much (if any) of those. My average heart rate over both rides was probably close to (if not under) 130. That's pretty chill for me.

I don't feel too bad about that - this week is scheduled to be a light week anyway. The calm before the storm, if you will. Next week, all hell will break loose when the 24-week Ironman program begins and I'll be glad I let myself enjoy this one final week of rest.

Furthermore, I'm now a full week into my diet revision and things aren't bad. I definitely don't feel super strong, but that's common during the first two weeks of a transition like this. From what I'm reading, I won't really start noticing any improvements until the third or fourth weeks... I've just got to stick to this long enough to start enjoying them!

On the fun side, I spent a long while getting acquainted with a well-equipped Cervelo P3 on Sunday morning. The bike was done up with SRAM Red components, a 404 front wheel and a 1080 rear. My first test ride on a time-trial bike was uncomfortable. This go 'round, I had more time to really settle in and get my bearings. That aero position is definitely sweet and the P3 is surely a triathlon machine... but would I be better off spending more money (and waiting longer) for a next-generation frame like the Trek Speed Concept?

UPDATE - I just got off the phone with the local Trek specialist. There is currently a 54-day lead time for a Speed Concept. Add two weeks for shipment and build-up and that's 68-days... and that's longer than I'm willing to wait. It's back to the drawing board, sort of: P3 or P4?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chocolate

If you know me well, you may find this hard to believe: I haven't eaten any junkfood in 72 hours. No chocolate, no cookies, no ice cream, no fruit snacks. Nada.

I hit up the supermarket on Monday night and picked up a variety of fruits and vegetables, a whole lot of craisins, raisins and cans of mixed nuts. I actually don't feel too bad. Granted, I don't feel fantastic, either -- Friel says that's normal; it'll take a week or two for your body to adjust to your diet's revised composition.

Did you know: I like eggs? Weird. I also like cashews. You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dietary Overhaul

I am about 36 hours into a complete overhaul of my general nutrition habits. The goal: eliminate starches and dairy from my diet and replace them with proteins, good fats and high glycemic-index fruits and vegetables.

This is a massive change for me, a die-hard consumer of pastas and cereals, yogurt and french fries and chocolate. The above will need to be replaced by string beans and salads, seeds, nuts, fish and lean meat.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Days Go By

I felt surprisingly good in the days after this past week's Sequoia 200K. I seem to recall being unable to safely descend stairs out of soreness last year. This time around, it wasn't so. I'm going to attribute that to better base fitness, better on-bike nutrition, and SportLegs. They might actually work.

I seemed to cruise through most of the past week - my swim practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were all fantastic. Friday was rough, as Friday's typically are: my shoulders were dead. I feel strong in the water lately, and smooth on the bike. I even snuck in a run or two last week, just to remind my body that running still exists.

On Saturday, Mike P. and I set out early for a trip to Pt. Reyes. It was gloriously warm. We pushed a little harder in parts than I really wanted to go, but it was a good time; we were out and back by noon. I managed to climb both Camino Alto (Mill Valley side) and White's Hill out-of-the-saddle, and even set a PR on Camino Alto (Larkspur side) coming back.

I stopped by a bike shop that afternoon to test-ride a Cervelo P3. It was... interesting. The aero position feels incredibly fast, but it's something I'm going to have to get used to; I'm not entirely comfortable perched out front like that.

My neighbors had a party on Saturday night. I celebrated by drinking a few more beers than I probably should've. (Actually, heck, the 24-week program doesn't start for another week yet, so I'll drink all the beer I want.) I thought I'd pay for that (and my lack of sleep) on Sunday morning's early trip out and up Camino Alto, the first part of a bike/run brick. Much to my surprise, I posted my second-fastest time EVER up that benchmark climb. Cool!

Like I said, I'm really starting to feel strong on the bike... my mission now will be holding myself back. I can't afford to go all-out on every climb every weekend. It needs to be nothing but base miles 'til September. Zone 2 for life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sequoia 200K Ride Report

"Why am I doing this again?"

That was the question I was asking myself at around 5:40 AM on Sunday morning, just after Officer Mike and I had hit the road to Palo Alto and the start of this year's Sequoia Double-Metric Century. I hadn't been out for a decent ride since my triathlon two weeks prior - in fact, if you discount couch-surfing and beer-drinking, I hadn't been out for much of anything since that event.

Sequoia was one of my main targets in 2009 and I prepared accordingly; this year, I hadn't committed to signing up until late in the afternoon on the Friday before. With 124 miles and 11,500 feet of climbing on the docket, I wasn't sure I had the fitness to enjoy the ride. My plan? Sit back, stay hydrated, conserve and rely on my remaining tri-fitness and course knowledge.

Thirteen of us rolled from Palo Alto at about 6:40 AM and softpedaled for the first ten miles before "swooping" down into the forest, hanging a left and breaking our legs on the day's first climb: Redwood Gulch. The pitches were just as nasty as I remembered, and when the road gets that steep, there's only one thing you can do: grind it out. 2,500 vertical feet later, I met up with Jared at the first rest stop and we waited a few minutes for the rest of the gang (left: Jared, Vitaly, Silas, Mike, Joe) before an epic descent of nearly 20 miles.

(Much to my disappointment, I was actually slower (and sketchier) on the descent(s) than I was last year. I'm getting worse! This is a problem, and one I need to fix soon.)

We regrouped again before the Highway 9 climb, on which Jared spun effortlessly up the road ahead of us. I settled into a comfortable rhythm of my own, and eventually we hit rest stop #3 before the Alpine descent and lunch.

The road to the PCH was fun once we managed to organize ourselves into a functional pace line. Vitaly, Jared, Mike, Michael and I were trading off well and cruising along well and that continued when we turned south on the highway and into a tailwind. We turned at Pescadero and tackled three monster "rollers" on the way north to Tunitas. Joe was coming on strong at this point, and Jared was laying it down as consistently as he had been all day long.

We shook our legs out at a rest stop before the climb and then hit it pretty hard. We started conversationally, chatting about the Giro and such. When we hit the steep section, that conversation halted. I have to credit Joe for the quote-of-the-day, but sadly, I can't repeat it here!

Tunitas was muggy and painful until the false-flat, and like last year, that's where I turned it on - flipping over to the big ring and cranking it out to the top. Jared came up not long after I did. Cola at the top was key. Combine caffeine, tailwind, smooth roads and slight downhill grades make for one hell of a great-feeling final 16 miles; we were hitting 30 miles per hour on the flats into the finish.

After some analysis, my times on RWG, Highway 9 and Tunitas turned out to be almost identical to my times the year before. My total rolling time was only two minutes slower. That, my friends, is weird. It's also good: I honestly did not feel like I had pushed as hard this year, and I definitely haven't been climbing as much as I had been the year before. I must be in deceptively good shape..? And if I add some more hills to my routine, I know I'll only get stronger. (Below: Mike, Alex, Travis, Tina, myself, and Danno at the finish.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Six Month Warning

Six months from now, I will be an Ironman. Big ride tomorrow, then a light week... and then it will be nose to the grindstone for 24 straight.

Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

WTHalf: The Run

As I've said before, the run was an enormous question-mark for me. I'd been afraid to run - afraid to even flex my calf - since the previous Tuesday, when I strained/aggravated something in my calf/achilles. If there had ever been a course designed to cause an injury like that to flare back up, it was this one.

The 13.1 mile course was actually a series of three 4.4-mile loops. The first mile or so of each lap was a flat trail-run on a narrow path through the forest. Large rocks and roots on the trail made footing uneven in places, but the shade was more than welcome. The next mile and a half was downhill on mostly asphalt, followed by two miles uphill (one of them steeper, one of them not so much) back to the finish.

The first thing I noticed about my fellow triathletes: no one was sprinting. In my previous triathlon experience, I could only remember being blown aside by runners going a million miles-per-hour. I realized, though, that those shorter triathlons are more conducive to faster paces. For those of us there, that day, we were trying to do something a lot longer than a 5K after our ride: we were in it for a 20K haul.

This meant I was able to settle into a comfortable pace and not have to worry so much about my "competition" streaking by. I even found a few others running at or near my pace and struck up conversations with them. Ross had just completed the Silverman a few weeks before and was jovially introducing himself to most folks as they crossed paths. Jeff was a physical therapist from Reno and was participating in the duathlon. We talked off and on about training strategy and diet, and it certainly helped pass the time.

Charging to the finish
The temperatures definitely peaked during the run, so I forced myself to grab water at every available stop - and downed at least one gel per lap. The rest of it was about putting one foot in front of the other. When I finished the first lap without my calf withering and falling off, my confidence grew. The second lap melted away, and at the start of the third, it dawned on me: I was going to make it.

The finish line!
That last lap wasn't easy, as I definitely began to feel the weight of the work I'd been doing since early morning. My legs felt like lead on that final ascent, but once I could see the finish line, all of that pain washed away. I crossed the line just after Jeff, downed a blessedly cool bottle of Cytomax and sat down to take it all in. I had completed my first Half Ironman!

The post-race meal was delicious: pasta, smoothies, bars, cookies, even ice cream. The only one thing was missing: beer. I took my time, enjoying the food and the warm summer sun as other participants crossed the line. I stuck around for results and a few of the awards, then packed my gear and bike into my Civic and was San Francisco-bound by 2 PM.

In the end, I was 33rd overall (of 300 or so participants) and 7th in my age group. First in the swim, in the 50's in the bike and run. I can do better, but I was and continue to be totally pleased with my performance in this event. I trained right, paced well and finished strong. What more could a guy ask for? I have a few lessons-learned, but I'll save those for another post. The Auburn Triathlon was a truly great experience. I'll definitely be back next year.

Mission accomplished.

WTHalf: The Ride

The first seven miles of the race's bike leg basically retraced the route we'd taken earlier that morning from T2 to the starting line - only this time, instead of soft-pedalling downhill, we were hard-pedalling up, and up, and up. The way back was long, twisty, and steep.

My first thought on the bike was, "Holy crap, my lats are screaming." I suppose adrenaline (and wetsuit-doping) had masked the hurt I'd put on my shoulders and upper back. It felt like I'd just done a 4,000-yard fly set.

When people started passing me, I had my second thought: "Ride your own race." I had spent most of the week agonizing about my ability to even compete and even at that point, I wasn't sure I'd be able to finish. Pedalling out-of-the-saddle really stresses your calves/achilles, and I wanted to shy away from any activity that'd cause any hint of a rupture. When those bad-ass dudes on their slick triathlon bikes whooshed by me, it was all I could do not to rev up and latch on - but I knew I needed to go at my own pace if I wanted a shot at the finish line.

Then came my third thought: "Eat something." I made sure this thought repeated frequently throughout the race's 56-mile ride, and tried my best to take long swigs from my water bottle on a regular basis. I had a few gels on me, and a Power bar, so I unwrapped it and began chomping.

Once the initial 7-mile climb was out of the way, the next 25 miles were rollers. Not little, fun rollers: big, steep, nasty rollers. It was like forced intervals - three minutes on, one minute off for an hour and thirty minutes. At the end of the outbound stretch came a short climb, a long, twisty descent into another park. A lot of people passed me on that descent. It was more than a little embarrassing.

Fortunately, what goes down, must come up, which is to say, the long, windy descent ended in a long, twisty ascent and most of those time-trialists who'd hammered by me downhill were left in my wake when the grade flipped.

The remaining 20 miles were back over the same rollers I'd come out on, only this time, the elevation trended downward. After that long climb, I felt good. Ten miles out, I still felt good. Five miles out, I felt freakin' fantastic.

The final mile of the bike course was lined with cheering volunteers and townsfolk, and it was only then that I began to believe I had a chance at finishing this race. My calf wasn't bothering me, per se - it was just tight enough to keep me from going full-gas up hills out of the saddle. I cranked up the final roller and swept down an around into the finish area; dismounting and dashing to find my sneakers and hang my bike.

I laced up, crossed my fingers, and jogged gingerly out of T2, not entirely sure if I'd even make it through the first lap (of three).

WTHalf: The Swim

Alright, alright, I've put this off for long enough. It's about time I document my thoughts and feelings through the Auburn "World's Toughst" Triathlon that I raced the weekend before last. It was a truly fantastic event - gorgeous and well-run, though not without its' quirks.

This being my first-ever two-transition triathlon, my first-ever Half-Ironman-distance triathlon, and my first triathlon in two years or more, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Athletes were encouraged to arrive on the scene (T2/Finish) around 5:00 AM to drop their running shoes and begin the 7-mile ride down to T1/Start. The ride down was dark and cold, but I made it. The first transition zone was filled with shivering triathletes prepping their transition areas, shrugging on their wetsuits and moving through pre-race rituals.

Despite the early hour and the chilly temps, the atmosphere was intoxicating. The start and first transition were situated deep within a state park, down a windy, one-lane road closed to spectator traffic - meaning everyone there was either helping to run the event, or participating in it. We had all braved the cold and the dark to be there, and we were all in it together. There was an unspoken camaraderie between us as we tried in vain to warm up and set our things out just right for T1.

I hung my bike on the rack and set out a pair of (non-bib) shorts, my thermal Mission jacket (pockets packed with food), a pair of gloves and a set of knee-warmers. I had two towels - one to stand on and one to dry with. My sunglasses and helmet hunt on the bike itself. Then I set about donning my wetsuit before heading into the water.

The water, by the way, was about 65°- so compared to the air, the water was actually warm. My previous open-water swims were all 51°-56° bay swims and let me tell you: the difference between 51° and 65° is ENORMOUS. It felt like bathwater. The race director mandated a 10-minute warm-up for all swimmers, so everyone was swimming about or treading water and otherwise feeling thankful that they were no longer exposed to the 40-degree air. We started from in the water, too - everyone massed behind two large, orange pylons, waited for the horn to go off, and then set off!

I made sure to stay near the front before the start, and try to find enough space that I could float pseudo-horizontally so I could get into rhythm as quickly as possible. The plan was to use my kick to get out of the main back and into whatever lead group formed, and it worked. Before we reached the first turn (of seven total turns), I was swimming with two others and we were cruising at a comfortable clip.

The steam rising off the lake proved rather disconcerting - we were swimming almost completely blind. From the water, it was impossible to see one pylon from the next until you were about halfway between the two. Not having a ton of experience swimming in open water, or even sighting, I was more than happy to let the other two lead the way.

Until the second turn.

I don't know exactly what happened, but as soon as we hooked left around the second pylon, I was in front of the other two - in front of the entire pack. One of the race officials was paddling in front of me on a bright red kayak and I think he knew we had no idea where we were swimming. That's when he began to guide us. I settled into a good rhythm, following the red kayak almost suspiciously around the third turn and then in to the close of the first lap. By the beginning of the second, I had distanced myself from the other two leaders by about three body-lengths.

"Long and strong," was my mantra, and it was easy to adhere to owing to the buoyancy of the wetsuit I was wearing. If that's what cheating feels like, I know why more people do it. I felt like a cruise missle knifing through the water, around the fifth and sixth turns and into the seventh. I upped the tempo into the final segment into the finish and busted out of the water to cheers and applause - the first competitor to complete the swim!

I ran to the transition area in relative disbelief ("Seriously? First?!") and ripped off my wetsuit. There were a few photographers around; snapping photos and asking the occasional question as I went about toweling off. Crazy. "Disclaimer," I said, "I'm not actually a good triathlete, you should probably go photograph someone who might actually win!"

Getting my wet arms through the sleeves of my thermal jersey was not easy, but I managed, after a fashion. Socks were difficult, too. With all the time I was wasting, I decided to axe the gloves and knee-warmers: I'd have to just warm up on the road.

With that, I dashed with my bike to the mount-line and set out on phase two: the bike.