Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Five days.

I just got back from M2 and a brief run - my final workout of any significant intensity before Vineman on Saturday. I can't believe I'm less than five days from my second Ironman-distance race.

I feel good. These next four days are going to be critical - I need to get as much rest as possible to prime myself for success this weekend.

Lots to do, lots to do. Thanks for following along!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Calibrating for Vineman

Here I sit, two weeks from race day, excited and ready. I feel freakishly good right now and taper isn't even in full swing yet. But as we move closer and closer to the event, I have to remember to keep my goals in mind and make sure I've got the right perspective.

Vineman is not as fast a course as Western Australia.
I've been reviewing past results and I've noticed two things: either the field at Vineman is not nearly as competitive as IMWA, or the course is considerably slower. I think it's a little bit of both. Why do I say this?
  1. My IMWA time of 10:07 would have put me second in my age group at last year's Vineman race and fifth overall (versus something like 25th/160th)!
  2. The winner of IMWA finished the race in under 8:20. It doesn't look like anyone has ever finished the Full Vineman course in under nine hours.
Knowing this, I can't really expect to post a better time at Vineman than I did in Australia - it just doesn't seem like a realistic goal. I have to adjust and re-calibrate my goals, targets and predictions to account for the course's increased difficulty. If the average competitive time at Vineman is a full hour slower than the average competitive time at IMWA, I will be thrilled just to break the eleven hour mark on race day.

I just want to do what I set out to do in the beginning.
Months ago, I wrote about my goals for this year. I wanted to do a few things differently and see how they'd play out. In that respect, I may have already won. In December, I felt like a guy playing at triathlon. Today, I feel like a triathlete. I feel stronger than I did in Australia, and I'm training a bit less. Intervals throughout the year have helped - I feel great on the bike. I'm also learning to run smarter, faster and longer, while staying (relatively) injury-free. I've even lost weight!

In January or February, I said that all I want to do is finish strong. That holds true. I want to finish this race with a solid run, and I want to come out of Vineman without feeling like the victim of a bullfight gone wrong. I'm going to take all of the learnings, the fitness, the strategies and the experience from this race and build on this for next year's big one.

I want to put on a good show.
Perspective aside, I want to put on a good show for everyone who's coming out to support me in two weeks. Just because the course is a little slower doesn't mean it won't be a close race! I've trained long and hard for this one, and my friends and family (and especially Kristine) have suffered through another five months of my complaints and early bedtimes. I owe it to them to make the race worth their while!

Edit 7:12 PM - Oh yeah, and HAVE FUN.
I forget about fun sometimes, but I'd like to have some at Vineman. And I think I'm primed to do just that. So... no pressure, no a whole lot of expectation. I'm just going to go out and have myself a good time!

Speaking of having fun and putting on a good show: let's say I do run well and I do come to the finish feeling strong. Touchdown dance down the final 100 meters? Maybe I should I cartwheel over the line? Hmm! I suppose there are a few fun possibilities - time for a brainstorm!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Routine and Ritual

Every night before I go to bed, I pack a bag for my workouts the next day. I throw a pair of bib shorts over the saddle of my bike, hang a jersey on the chair and tuck a pair of socks into my cycling shoes.

If I'm spinning indoors at M2, I like to make sure I have my spare pedals set aside, a water bottle in the refrigerator and a some chamois creme within reach.

On swim days, I pack a small blue bag. A swimsuit, a pair of goggles, a set of hand paddles and a waterproof watch go inside.

Run days are easy. I take that same blue bag and throw in a pair of shoes, a pair of shorts and a shirt. Socks in the shoes, of course. No more running in the same kind of crappy cotton socks I wear to work!

I count my vitamins and supplements out into a small container, and fill a small plastic bag with just the right mix of Recoverite and protein powder.

I do all of these things every night. Welcome to life as a a triathlete.

Swimmers aren't a superstitious lot. They don't believe in jinxes. They don't wear the same shirt every day because the first time they wore it, they had a good day. (They probably wear the same shirt every day because they're just lazy.) But there are a few traditions I picked up during my days as a swimmer.

They all have to do with hair.

At some point during the season - usually at the hardest point - you stop cutting your hair. The chlorine's probably burned it to a crisp already anyway, so why waste time, effort, or cash on it? And you know it's all coming off at some point anyway, so why bother?

During the final few weeks of the season, you stop shaving, too. For a lot of guys, this is pretty awesome. They get to grow cool beards. It's not so awesome for me - I only grow a very slimy-looking mustache and goatee - but I do it anyway, because, well, that's what you're supposed to do.

All of this not-cutting builds and builds over the hardest weeks and months of training until you look like the world's most fit hobo... and then, the night before the race you've spent your entire season training for, you shave. Head, yes. Face, yes, thank God. Legs*? Yes. And you know what? It feels f---ing awesome

If you've done it right, you come out of that hotel bathroom looking like a completely different person. And that completely different person looks ready to crush.

Seventeen days.

* - Plenty of cyclists shave their legs on a regular basis. I don't. The swimmer in me won't let me -- you never shave your legs until the night before your big meet. Never, never, never!

Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 Livestrong Challenge (Davis)

This turned into a long post, so if you're lazy or just not really all that interested, here's the executive summary:
  1. The members of the Team Fatty Livestrong fundraising team are just about the best, most friendliest people you could ever ask to ride with.
  2. Davis is very flat and very hot.
  3. I almost caught Lance, so I'm pretty sure he's not doping. (I also solo'd off the front of the ride for almost 80 miles.)
  4. As promised, I rode 20 extra miles because I shattered my $1,000 fundraising goal!
  5. You should this ride with me (us) next year. It's flat, it's fast, it's fun, and it's for a great cause.

I've tackled the Livestrong Challenge every year since moving to California, and it has never failed to be a highlight on my ride calendar. Not because the course is ever anything surprising or out-of-the-ordinary, and not even because it raises money for a great cause, but because the Livestrong Challenge gives me the chance to ride with some of the nicest and most delightful folks ever to push pedals: the members of Team Fatty. This year's ride was no exception.
Team Fatty, if you didn't know, is a collection of fans of Elden Nelson and his blog, Fat Cyclist. It started as (and remains) a font of good-natured cycling satire, but a few years ago, things started to take on a more serious note. Elden's wife, Susan, struggled with and eventually lost the battle against breast cancer. In between posts that poked fun at Assos ads and Rock Racing team kits were heartfelt and truly touching updates on Susan's fight. Three years ago, Elden decided to start a Livestrong fundraising team in Susan's honor and that team has lived on ever since - raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Livestrong Foundation and the fight against cancer. 
This year, the race was moved from San Jose to Davis, which meant better roads, higher temperatures and fewer hills. And with only three weeks 'til Vineman, that sounded like perfect conditions for an awesome race rehearsal. I brought my time-trial bike along, and over the course of 125 miles, the two of us made some sweet, sweet music together.

On the starting line with Team Fatty
Having won every possible fundraising category, the hundred-or-so members of Team Fatty were awarded the privilege to gather on the starting line and be the first onto the course. First, besides Lance Armstrong and a few of his buddies, I mean. After a few words from the man himself and a stirring rendition of the national anthem (thankfully not from the man himself), Lance and company hopped on their bikes and set out. A few minutes later, the ride began with Team Fatty leading the way.

Lance gives a few opening remarks
The first five miles of the ride were relaxed. All I could see were the orange, black and pink jerseys of my team. We chatted idly and gave our legs the chance to warm up. It wasn't until the fifth mile that riders started to break through our ranks. One went by, then two, at a fast clip. Someone said, "Matt, chase 'em!" and Matt feigned catching their wheel. 

But the damage had already been done: the sanctity of our peaceful team roll-out had been disrupted. It was time for the rocket to launch. I leaned into the aero position and spun up from 20 to 28 miles per hour, zipping by the non-Fatty antagonists like they were standing still. Thirty seconds later, I had built up a substantial gap. Two minutes later, I turned my head to look back and didn't see a soul. That quick, it was just me, my bike and the open road.

The open flat road, I should say. Long, flat, well-paved roads aren't something you see often in or around San Francisco, so I decided to do my best impression of Fabian Cancellara by settling in and cranking. The miles flew by.

I made a right turn at one point and noticed something on the road a distance ahead of me. Cyclists? Yes! The Lance group! I turned it on for sure then, thinking I might be able to catch. I could see them, a ways in front of me. A mile went by and they seemed a little larger on the horizon. Another, and I was even closer. I was burning my legs out to catch them. Then, just as I started to pull within 200 yards of them, disaster struck: they made it through the light at a major intersection; I got stuck at the red! So close!

When the light finally turned green, they were long gone. Well, it was worth a try.

The next segment of a ride was actually a climb up to and past Lake Berryessa. The elevation gain wasn't trivial, but the pitches weren't steep. I climbed most of the way out on my aero bars. I was the first to reach the third rest stop by almost four minutes.

Ran into this cute girl at mile 80!
Next came the long, gradual descent followed by some back-country roads. It was nice to cross paths with members of Team Fatty as I was descending. After that, things got less interesting. Temperatures started to rise. I slapped on a ton of sunscreen at the fourth rest stop. I spent a lot of time trying to stay as aero as possible.

At mile 80, I pulled into a rest stop and ran into Kristine and Angie who were powering through their own 70-mile loop. Yay!

At mile 100, five miles from the finish, I turned around. You see, I'd promised to tack an extra 20 miles onto the ride if I hit my fundraising goal, and I guess I set that goal too low! So yeah, at mile 100 I turned around and rode backwards on the course for 10 miles, waving to teammates and roadies as they went by to the finish. At mile 110, I turned back around (the right way) and made my way across the final fifteen to finish with a total of 125.5 miles. (It would've been darn cool to be one of the first 105-milers to finish, but I think it's even cooler to finish with +20% more miles than anyone else in the race!)

Ride stats - 125.5 miles in 6h10 (20.3 mph avg.)
After the ride, Kristine and I kicked back our Team Fatty friends, had huge hamburgers and delicious pie. They're a great bunch, and it's so fun that these people, none of whom really know each other or ever ride with each other can come together for one single ride and get along so darn well. It's a testiment to just how friendly and good-natured these folks really are!

What does this mean for Vineman?

Well, if I learned one thing during this ride, it's that riding 112 miles in heat like that is going to be unpleasant. I took a few breaks during this long, hot day and even so, I felt pretty spent by the end of it. I'm going to have to be  really on top of my hydration and fuel the whole time.

Also, Vineman is going to have fewer flat sections than Livestrong. I'm predicting a 20.1 to 20.5 mph average over the full course, which will bring me in at just around 5h30. Less than three weeks 'til race day. Bring on taper!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vineman Reconnaissance

Kristine and I celebrated the 4th of July by driving north to Healdsburg so I could do some important pre-race recon of the Vineman bike course. I'd been reading warnings and grumblings about some bad sections of pavement on-course, and with the day off, I figured now was as good a time as any to have a look for myself.

Even wore the tri-suit and TT helmet!
The Vineman course, if you're not familiar (which I assume you aren't!) starts in Guerneville and follows River Road to Westside Road for about eight miles before joining up with two 54-mile loops through Healdsburg, Geyserville and Windsor. I started in Healdsburg at roughly the halfway point of one of the loops, did an out-and-back to Guerneville and then came back to where I began. The entire ride was 78.8 miles, but only about 65 of those miles were actually part of the official course.

One thing I noticed: this time trial bike makes flat roads feel like downhills. It's a blast. Another thing I noticed: it was freakin' hot up there. The heat is definitely going to play a factor on race-day and I'm going to have to be sure to stay hydrated. I didn't think the heat was oppressive on the bike, but I was definitely parched and ran out of water at one point. The run will be a different story.

Anyway, on to some quick impressions on the course itself:
  1. The course is not as flat as I remember. In fact, it's downright roller-ish at times. It's nothing like the IMWA course, which was a pancake through and through.
  2. The shoulder of Dry Creek Road contains a lot of sand/grit/gravel. The road itself is clear.
  3. Stretches of Dry Creek Road and Canyon Road combine to create one long, painful false-flat.
  4. When the course turns onto CA-128, things speed up. I want to hit this section hard. The pavement definitely needs work: the middle of the lane seems okay but the edges are ugly.
  5. Pleasant Road is anything but - the road's bumpy as heck!
  6. The Chalk Hill climb, which is really not more than a large bump by Marin standards, is actually a series of bumps leading up to one big one. They can all be pretty easily stomped out in the big ring, except maybe the last one. (Though it might pay to play it conservative on the climbs.)
  7. Watch the pavement on the Chalk Hill descent.
  8. Riding through town is irritating - lots of stop signs and stoplights. Ideally, we'll be able to roll through these on race-day without touching the brakes.
  9. The "second half" of Eastside road, where it starts going downhill, is a bit rough. I don't remember all those short, steep "hills" either.
  10. Westside Road is a lot longer (and more rolling) than I remember!
  11. I must have passed two dozen vineyards. They sure are pretty.
I think my fitness is better (or more complete, at least) than it was in December, but this course (heat included) is more challenging than the one I tackled in Australia. It should be interesting to see how things play out come race day.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Then and now.

I ran twenty miles this morning. The first five miles (from Alamo Square to the ocean) served as a great warm-up for the final fifteen. I turned north just before the Panhandle and took Arguello up into the Presidio and then followed Lincoln down to (and eventually across) the Golden Gate Bridge before turning back and retracing my steps back home.

Around mile 17, I started musing to myself about the differences between this year's Ironman preparations versus last year's.

In the twelve weeks leading up to taper for Ironman Western Australia, I averaged 90 minutes running per week and six hours swimming. In the twelve weeks leading up to taper for Vineman, I've averaged five hours of running per week and 2 hours of swimming. I'm running more than three times as much. I'm swimming about a third as much. Perfect.

For kicks, let's compare total mileage. 12 weeks before taper, IMWA vs. Vineman? 70 miles vs. 360 miles. Big freakin' difference!

Let's hope it pays off! 

Livestrong, Moments, Wrapppers

Livestrong Challenge

You know what I'm about to do, so I'll keep this short and sweet. All of our lives have been touched in some way by cancer. Help fight it by contributing to my fundraising effort for this year's Livestrong Challenge. This year's event takes place next Sunday. I'm tackling the longest route - a 105-mile bike ride crisscrossing country roads under the blazing-hot sun in Davis, CA.

I'm getting a much later start on fundraising than usual, but even so: if you'll go the extra mile and help me hit my fundraising goal, I'll go the extra mile, too. The extra nineteen miles, to be exact -- I'll turn the 105 mile bike ride into a 200 kilometer epic!

If you're interested, click here to contribute.

You're all awesome, by the way.

BONUS - If I manage to hit 150% of my goal, I'll go even further -- as soon as I finish the extended, 200K ride, I'll throw on some running shoes and run a 10K. Ouch!

Meet the Moment

Back in April, I submitted an entry into Clif Bar's Meet the Moment contest. To my surprise and delight, that entry was selected as the contest's first "Moment of the Week"! The contest period is coming to and end here in the next few weeks, and I'd appreciate it if you'd head on over that way and give my submission a "thumbs up". In the end, votes count - and right now, I'm behind!

If you'd like to vote for my moment, click here.

Vineman Wrappers

With the race only four weeks away, it's time for me to start collecting and counting all of my wrappers. I have a massive box of 'em here at home, three huge bags filled to overflowing at work and lots of friends who've been stashing their own wrappers away for me over the past weeks and months.

If you don't live close by, it would be awesome if you could put your wrappers in the mail some time in the next week or two. Send them to me at Andrew Valko, 1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043. Next time I see you, the first round's on me!

If you do live nearby, shoot me an email, comment on this post, @me on Twitter... Just get in touch with me somehow to remind me that you've been saving wrappers for me! Then we'll figure out how to coordinate an exchange. I don't need to have the wrappers until the final week of July, so keep on saving them!