Thursday, October 6, 2011

Two Years Later

Birthday ride (Tam) in August 2009
In a way, my triathlon story truly began two years ago this month. I had spent the summer riding my heart out, but a crash in August sidelined me for several weeks. As soon as I could ride again, I tried to jump back in at the same intensity and that proved to be an enormous mistake. By the end of October, I was exhausted, over-trained and burnt out. I didn't think I'd ever want to ride a bike again. So what did I do?

Ahh, chlorine!
I joined  swim team!

As dull as swimming laps in a pool can be, it felt good to be back in the water. But it wasn't long before my swimming friends found out I liked to cycle, and my cycling friends found out I liked to swim. Before I knew it and despite my aversion to running, I found myself being prodded toward triathlon. At some point, my interest was piqued.

I was content to swim for a few months, but then, almost on impulse, I signed up for Ironman Western Australia in March of 2010 and set about learning to be a triathlete. That May, participated in my first real triathlon: the Auburn "World's Toughest" Half. After that, I was hooked.

Approaching the finish-line in Auburn
For the remainder of the year, I had a singular purpose, and that was to compete in and finish that Ironman in December. I only squeezed one race in between Auburn and the big event, and that was Santa Cruz' Big Kahuna.

Approaching the finish line in Santa Cruz
As for the Ironman, it couldn't have come soon enough. It's not easy to sustain such an intense training regimen for nine months straight and by the time taper rolled around, I was barely fending off another catastrophic burn-out. As we all know, the race went well. Kristine and I spent three incredible weeks touring Australia together and then I spent another two weeks in Ohio with my family.

At the finish line in Busselton
Not long after returning to San Francisco in January, I forced myself to get off the couch and re-find my focus by registering for the Full Vineman race in Santa Rosa in July. When I signed up, I could barely imagine finishing another Ironman, but I knew I'd regret it if I did not. Cue another training montage covering six months of intervals, long runs, ibuprofen, ice-packs and foam rollers.

At the finish line in Santa Rosa
Vineman came and went, and we celebrated, and then came the Big Kahuna again. I won't go into those recent races again here - for more! Now it's October and I'm able to look back and marvel at what I've managed to accomplish in those two short years.

Now it's October, and for what feels like the first time in forever, I don't have a race breathing down my neck. The weather is (mostly) sunny. The skies are (mostly) blue. The beers are (mostly) cold. Sounds like off-season to me!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Big Kahuna '11

I went for my first bike ride less than a week after Vineman, and my first run even sooner. My legs felt empty for a few days, but by the following Wednesday, they were starting to come around. By the second weekend, I felt phenomenal, both on the bike and on foot. Compared to Western Australia, my recovery from Vineman was over in a flash.

For that reason, it wasn't difficult to convince myself to sign up for one last season-ending race. I did all that work to get to that level of fitness; I might as well use it, right?

Unfortunately, that invincible feeling dissipated shortly after registering for the race. A week from race day, I was regretting my decision. Despite poor sensations on the bike, I had been running well so the plan was just to show up on race day and see what happened.

Kristine managed to score a well-situated hotel just across the street from the start of the race, so the morning was very relaxed. I woke up early and walked my bike down to the transition area before returning to close my eyes for a few extra minutes. Before long, though, it was time to suit up. Oddly enough, I was a bit nervous about the swim; I hadn't really spent much time in the water since Vineman, and I hadn't tested the ocean/bay cold since prior to Western Australia.

The organizers of the Big Kahuna prefer to split the race up into waves by age group. Each is separated by three minutes. I was assigned to the second wave. My fellow 25-29'ers and I watched the younger age group sprint from the beach to the water before taking our spots on the starting line. I wasn't sure what my strategy was going to be, but I knew I wanted to be close to the front. The gun sounded and we were off. Like last year, I quickly found myself in front of the main field by a body length. A large pack appeared to form to my left, but I quickly distanced them. Before long, I was on my own.

The morning was gray and the fog on the water made it very difficult to spot the marking buoys (there were only two!) beyond the pier. I took a tight angle along the dock, only to catch a flash of orange out of the corner of my eye. I had cut in too hard! Argh, I thought to myself, now I'm going to wind up swimming for two extra minutes! Frustrated, I cut back over toward the buoy I'd undercut, circled it and kept on going. To my surprise, I still seem to have hit the buoy well before the rest of my age group.

The remainder of the swim was alright. Visibility was certainly an issue - the second buoy felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, and without guide buoys or lifeguards helping to direct, I'm sure my line was less than efficient. And just like last year, sighting the finish on the shore proved to be nigh impossible. I basically just pointed myself at land and hoped I'd come out of the water in the right place.

Anyway, enough about the swim. After emerging from the water, I ran the 500 meters from the beach to the transition area, where I began what would wind up being the most God-awful transition of my entire life. Everything went wrong. The wire laces on my bike shoes came out of the grooves, my brake was rubbing, my feet were covered in sand and gravel... It was a disaster. I was glad to finally clip in and start riding.

The ride was also very reminescent of last year; I had a tailwind on the way out and a massive headwind on the way back. After last year's scare with the tour bus, I was extra cautious on the cross-windy descents. I definitely felt within my limits the whole ride, though I would've liked to have punched out a quicker average speed on the return leg. But - and I really shouldn't take this for granted - the bike segment was uneventful. I like uneventful bike segments.

The second transition was nearly as bad as the first, though I don't know why. All I really had to do was rack my bike and lace up my shoes, but that seemed to take longer than it should've. But finally I was running, and my run was really the highlight of my race.

I chose to run without my Garmin (mainly because I'd just shattered its' screen a few days prior) so this was my first run in a long, long time where I didn't have any kind of on-demand pace information. Instead, I just told myself to go steady and step lightly. I'd ask the occasional pedestrian for the time and used that to gauge my performance, though I realized after the race that botched math led believe I had been running slower than I actually was.

Much to my surprise, it wasn't until the sixth or seventh mile that my age group's faster runners started to catch me -- a huge improvement over last year! And even then, there weren't many. Mike Vulanich, who went on to place third in our age group (and post the fastest overall run split) blew by me with words of encouragement. I continued plodding along, though, and the miles melted away.

I felt surprisingly good going into miles ten and eleven, so somewhere in between those markers I decided to turn it up a notch. I set my sights on a runner in the distance and set about reeling him in. I upped my cadence and regulated my breathing and managed to make the catch just as we turned off of the Pacific walkway. I ran down the hill, turned left and then right onto the beach and then all that was left was 500 meters of sand and the finish line.

Running on sand is not cool, and running on sand at the end of a half-marathon is even less so. That final stretch definitely hurt more this year than last, but thankfully, it was over before my legs had too much time to complain. I crossed the line in 4:44 and change - improving on last year's effort by seven or eight minutes. And best of all, I felt... pretty damn good afterward! Go figure!

To recap: my lines during the swim were sub-par, my transitions were terrible, my ride was solid and my run was as good as I could've possibly hoped. And the result was way better than expected. Awesome. I'll take it! Other thoughts: wow, 70.3-mile races are so much easier than 140.6-mile races. And they're over before noon! Brilliant!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hello, blog!

I'm going to pretend that one of these guys is me.

I apologize to the four of you who read this blog -- I've had a new post on my to-do list time and time again over the past six weeks, but I've never actually forced myself to sit down and do any writing. I have updates stewing on a few subjects, so I'll try to have at least one ready for your enjoyment by the end of the weekend.

First off, I owe you all a recap of the Big Kahuna triathlon I competed in three weeks back. I wound up registering for that race at the last minute, and despite being rather unfocused in the weeks leading up to the event, I did surprisingly well!

In my second post, I'd like to talk "off-season" strategy a bit. I had originally planned some tough-but-fun weeks on the bike and on the pavement, but injuries have forced me to re-scope. More on this (and the injuries) later.

Finally, I need to put together a program of races for 2012. This year was odd - and somewhat boring - in that I only really raced twice. I'm registered for Ironman Zurich next July, but I'd like to try my hand at some other new races: Wildflower, the American Triple-T, and/or some Olympic-distance events. There's also a chance I pass on the Zurich trip in light of my August wedding, so I've got to keep my eyes and ears open for full-distance race alternatives.

More on all of the above in the next few days!

Vineman Thoughts and Reactions

This is old and probably unfinished, but I just realized I half-wrote it and left it in draft mode. Either way, here you go -- thoughts and reactions from a race I did six weeks ago! I know I intended to write more on this... hrmm. 

There a bunch of thoughts and reactions from Vineman that didn't really fit into the full-on race report. In fact, they don't really fit anywhere... so I'm going to lump them all together and stick 'em here.

The swim wasn't bad considering I spent about 66% less time training that discipline this year compared to last year. Sure, I could have probably gone another 1-2 minutes faster, but I think spending that extra time training the run (or resting) is a better use of my time.

The swim course did suck, though. Scraping the bottom of the river with every stroke is pretty crappy. And having to dodge around the slower swimmers from other waves as you lap them kinda sucks too. I spent most of the first lap at the front of a group - I wish I hadn't, but no one would come around and take a pull.

The entire race, starting with the swim, I was thinking to myself, "There's no rush. Just get to the finish line with enough energy to propose." As I was toweling off in the first transition area, I smiled good-naturedly at one of the guys next to me and said something along the lines of, "Oh man, this is gonna be a long day."

As I said before, the bike was mostly boring except for the turn at mile 58 where Kristine and my family were waiting to cheer me on.

The first lap of the run felt incredible. I felt like I was floating. The second lap was more down-to-earth, but the third lap was when it all came crashing down. I don't think it was the heat. My quads were just so sore, and my stomach was gurgling. 

The aid stations weren't serving cold, flat cola - they were serving warm, fizzy cola. Ugh. And they only seemed to have one flavor of Clif shot: lemon lime. I just literally gagged while typing that. I had 1.5 bars for breakfast that morning and only between 8 and 12 gel shots throughout the ten-hour race. That's not a whole lot of calories!

Proposing to Kristine on the finish line was the best thing I've ever done.

I don't remember mentioning this in my race recap, but I walked away from that course just fine. In fact, despite an upset stomach, I felt like a mostly normal person after finishing that race. Having friends and family there (and heading out to a brewpub with them after) was a blast. There's definitely something to be said for races you do that are close to home.

Thanks to everyone who came out, to my sisters and parents for supporting me through the years and through the race, and to Kristine who supports me every day - even when the alarm's set for 5:15am. You're all the best.