Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Frailw00t

Sometimes this blog feels more like a continuously morphing list of injuries and afflictions than an actual training log. Such is life, I suppose. At times, you feel invincible. This season, though, I've dealt with issue after nagging issue. If it's not one thing, it's another.

I've been dealing with some significant IT/hamstring tendinosis in my left leg since IMSG. I've been trying my best to manage it well - I haven't run on solid ground in a few weeks, and I've been icing down and rolling out just about every night. These symptoms were quite acute last weekend, but seem to be slowly (oh so slowly) fading.

If that wasn't enough, I've been out of the pool for over a week now with a severe upper back (trapezius? rhomboid?) strain. I've pulled muscles in my back before and this is definitely the worst I've ever felt. I can barely tie my shoes. Getting out of bed hurts, and sneezing equates to a world of pain. Fortunately, it doesn't affect me during treadmill runs or intervals on the stationary bike. It's not bad on the open road either: long descents tweak it a bit, as do steep climbs that force me out-of-the-saddle.

We're six weeks from Ironman Switzerland. I'm going to train hard through this weekend and the Sequoia 200K bike ride before hopping on a plane and flying east to visit friends and family in New York and Pennsylvania. I had hope this weekend would involve a lot of long-distance running, but now I'm thinking my body might benefit more from a few days of solid rest.

On the bright side, it seems like the Achilles injury that plagued me for the first five months of the season (and two months of the off-season) might finally be under control! (Knock on wood!)

This season hasn't been long, but the never-ending injury parade has made it seem that way. I'm looking forward to Ironman Zurich, and I'm looking forward to an off-season that will give me the time to focus on some new things - flexibility, injury prevention, core strength (especially lateral leg strength), fun base miles on the bike and faster, more comfortable running.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Icarus

"I think we do Ironman for the same reasons Icarus flew too close to the sun. We want to see if we can. We want to know what we are capable of. We want to ignore all the warnings and find out for ourselves." - Jordan Rapp, 2012.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Note to self.

I ran outside for about thirty-five minutes yesterday. It was my first half-decent run since Ironman St. George. My legs felt pretty good through the workout, but they tightened up fiercely afterward and that tightness (specifically across my left thigh from my pelvis to the outside of my knee) has persisted into today. I started to worry about how this might affect my training schedule going forward. Then I took a step back and said to myself, "Dude, don't forget - you just did a freakin' Ironman less than two weeks ago."

I don't know how long it will take for my legs to bounce back from the beating I subjected them to last weekend, but I have to remember not to rush this recovery. I'd really like to get back into regular, long pace runs, but I can't let myself push too hard and wind up going into Zurich sore, or worse, injured.

My stroke finally started to come back this past Sunday. Swimming feels pretty good again, if not even better than it did before. My legs are probably 80-90% there on the bike; my watts during my indoor interval sessions have been encouraging. Running, I'm maybe 60% of the way there. Hopefully a few more light days and some assisted runs on the Alter-G get me back up to full speed in the next week or so.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two months to go!

I don't know if driving for twelve hours in a car that doesn't have cruise control is at the first in the list of things not to do immediately following an Ironman race, but it should be near the top. My stiff and sore legs only became more stiff and sore as Sunday and Monday wore on. I gave myself a few days rest (eating everything in sight, of course!) but now we're a week out. Time to get back to it.

Lots of riders commuting on BTWD!

Last Thursday was Bike To Work Day, which, coincidentally, is always one of the best-weather days of the year here in San Francisco and the surrounding towns. Since my normal commute is less than four miles door-to-door, I started a small BTWD tradition a few years ago: climbing Mt. Tam before work. But this year, with these legs, I wasn't confident in my ability to scale those last 200 meters.

Instead, I opted to ride down to Mountain View with the SF2G crew. I'm glad I did - the ride was an absolute blast. My legs responded surprisingly well to being back on a bike, and I found myself huffing and puffing with a fast group screaming along the Bayway route. We actually made it to Google in one of my fastest-ever commutes: 2 hours and 8 minutes for 41.5 miles.

M2 at the start.

Then I took it easy on Friday and did a light spin on Saturday, knowing that the big test would come on Monday when I joined the M2Revolution ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz (following the course of the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California). The ride was totally awesome -- pacelines abound on Highway 1, steep climbs (okay, well, the steep climbs weren't so awesome) and good company. We covered the first 60 miles with an average above 19 mph, which is pretty incredible considering the headwind we were riding into!

I was worried we'd be riding under the chill of a marine layer most of the day, but the sun managed to burn off the clouds by early afternoon and we were able to enjoy beer and burgers at Seabright Brewery in Santa Cruz before piling onto two huge buses and shuttling back home. The ride was hard, fun, and definitely memorable!

The plan now: get un-sore and start running again. (I attempted a short, two-mile run after yesterday's ride, but wow, that hurt!) My body is slowly healing from the exertion of St. George - my legs are coming back stronger and stronger every day. There are only a limited number of weekends left before Kristine and I set out for Zurich, so it's going to be important to make every single one count. IMSG was a fun diversion, but now it's time to recover and get back on track to crush that course in Zurich.

Booyah!

Monday, May 7, 2012

IMSG: More thoughts.


I'm really, really happy I did that race this weekend. Here are a few more random thoughts that bubbled up during my seven-hour drive back to San Francisco from Los Angeles.

Firstly, a BUNCH of friends did a bunch of different races this weekend. Congratulations to all of you! A lot of the M2 guys appear to be crushing just about every race they enter -- so bad ass. (Maybe some of that will rub off on me when I taper down for Switzerland!)

Now I cam come out of this race with some important fitness-related knowledge. My fitness is much more sound than I had thought, which is awesome. But now I know what the two major areas are that I need to work on over the next eight weeks to really improve in Zurich.
  1. I definitely need to have my bike fit re-examined. Something's not working right now. I'm not comfortable, and I'm not seeing the power numbers I expect.
  2. I want to work on more low-cadence/high-power strength intervals over the next few weeks. Most of what I've been doing to-date has been 90+ RPM. Let's build a bit of muscle/strength by going lower/slower.
  3. In each of the three Ironman-distance races I've completed, my legs stiffen up by the midpoint. I'll never get to where I want to be if I have to walk half of every marathon I attempt. I'm going to try to address this with brick workouts (which I've done none of so far this year) and more hill-related training (which I've done very little of so far this year).
I wonder what recovery will be like? I think I'll give myself a week of easy spinning and then build back into intensity toward the end of next week. Hopefully the success during this week's race means my Achilles problems are long gone -- but I'm going to continue to operate as if they're hiding behind the next corner. Don't get over-zealous, Andrew!

For the past two years, I've been targeting one large Ironman race per season. I've been striving to attack each target race with the best condition possible. This past weekend gave me the opportunity to race in conditions that weren't ideal - and I'm not talking about the weather. I had almost literally run my legs straight into the ground over the three weeks leading up to Ironman St. George, so there was very little taper involved. And driving for twelve of the twenty-four hours prior to the race? That's definitely against coach's orders!

I think I really needed to do this race for another reason, too. I needed to make the Ironman into something smaller. I've always made it out to be a Big Deal, but basically "winging it" and finishing as strongly as I means I don't have to be so afraid of the mileage. An Ironman? It's just a long day, essentially!

The Veyo Wall would've been one hell of a climb on any other day. That's the kind of painful steepness that becomes legendary on a triathlon course. It's a shame it was overshadowed by the headwind on the stretch never-ending stretch into Gunlock!

I wasn't sure how I'd handle the heat at IMSG, but I managed. I used Salt Stick tablets for the first time ever and I think they helped immensely. I definitely downed a lot more water at this race than during races past -- a good thing for sure!

The sheer difficulty of the St. George course (wind and heat included) was a definite challenge. This should give me a great deal of confidence when I tackle the relatively flat Zurich course. BRING IT, ZURICH!

At one point during the roughest half of the swim, after I thought I'd reached the spread out section of the race, someone decided to randomly swim over me. I don't know where he came from or why he decided that, of all places in that whole, huge reservoir, I was swimming exactly where he wanted to be swimming. There wasn't another soul for twenty-five yards in any direction. I sat up and looked at him and shouted, "SERIOUSLY dude?!" He said something back, but I think he thought I was talking about the swells.

By the way, the two-beat kick I've been trying to perfect in the pool is awesome in execution during a race. Wetsuits are so freakin' buoyant!

The songs that were running through my head on repeat during the bike course were:
  • Penitentiary by Citizen Cope
  • Free Fallin' by Tom Petty
  • We Both Go Down Together by the Decemberists
  • A rather profane Tenacious D song that I shall not name.

Despite the ridiculously high level of difficulty, the course was actually quite beautiful. The reservoir, encircled by distant red-rock mountains, was quite beautiful at sunrise. And some of the vistas on the bike ride were absolutely incredible - you could see for fifty miles, maybe a hundred!

I've now done four races in my De Soto one-piece tri suit. It's super comfortable, but I think it's starting to wear thin. I might shop around a bit and explore two-piece kit options.

I guess I should start thinking about next year's race(s)? Couer d'Alene, perhaps? Cozumel? Canada? Hmm!


IRONMAN St. George 2012 (Race Report)


Short version: 
I did Ironman St. George on Saturday. It was hard. Only 5 athletes in 7 finished. 28% drop-out rate!! The swim was insane. 6' swells. Ridiculous current. The bike was so rough. 30 mph gusts. Heat without shade. The run? Yep, it was hard. Hill repeats. Heat repeats. I tried to take it easy. I walked a bit. I had fun!

If you're reading this, then you probably already know this race report's back-story. A week ago, I signed up for Ironman St. George. Two days ago, I raced it. That's not a lot of time to prepare for any triathlon, let alone the most challenging race on the U.S. circuit! But the opportunity to do a race like this one doesn't come around every day, and when I found out that registration was still open, I just couldn't pass on the chance!

Doing this race on such short notice gave me the chance to test my fitness two months ahead of Ironman Zurich Switzerland. Freed from pressure and expectation, it also gave me the ability to relax and [try to] enjoy the event itself. It was nice not to feel the need to push myself to the absolute limit every minute of the day!

Anyway, I'd like to try not to write another horrendously long race report, so I'll just try to quickly fill in some details below. [Edit - I failed. This sucker is loooong.]

Before the race

Before the race, athletes had to meet in the center of town and take a bus from St. George to the swim start/T1. This seemed like an inconvenience, but I found that I quite enjoyed the ride. It was nice to chat with a few other athletes in a quiet place where people aren't really distracted by transition set-up or pre-race ritual. The woman I wound up sitting next to on the bus turned out to be from Busselton, the site of my first-ever Ironman. Small world!


The swim

The swim was ridiculous, and I mean that in the worst way possible. As soon as we entered the water, the wind across Sand Hollow Reservoir began to pick up. The crowd of 1,400 competitors swelled against the imaginary "start line" created by two buoys. Many athletes pushed well beyond the line prior to the start. Rather than muscle up to the crowded front (and be beyond the start line), I opted to stay back. I wound up swimming over quite a few people, but by the first of three left-hand turns, I had moved through most of the crowd and found myself toward the front of the pack with room to breathe.

Unfortunately, that left-hand turn marked the beginning of some of the most heinous swimming conditions I've ever had to battle through.

The aforementioned wind was gusting 25-30 miles per hour over the reservoir, triggering whitecaps, spray and six-foot swells. The second left-hand turn pointed us straight against the current. It was like swimming in a washing machine on a sailboat in the ocean during a storm. Going was slow. The field was scattered. Even sighting future buoys was a challenge. I managed to make a few adjustments to my stroke and kick pattern, but solid rhythm into those waves was tough to find. This was the hardest swim I've ever done -- an uphill battle all the way!

No one came close to their target time on the swim. In fact, almost three-hundred people failed to make the original swim cut-off. Race officials were pulling swimmers from the water early -- it was simply too dangerous for some of the weaker swimmers. Insanity.

I took my time during both transitions. What's two extra minutes on a day that's going to be more than twelve hours long?


The bike

The bike was also atrocious. I came prepared for climbing. That would have been totally fine. But the wind that plagued the swim course stuck around to make the bike course a living hell. I can handle a little headwind, but this wasn't just headwind: it was headwind with whipping, gusty crosswinds that seemed to come from all directions at once.

The northbound miles, especially on the first lap, were absolutely demoralizing. Some riders appeared to be cruising along in the aero position, but I don't understand how -- it was all I could do just to keep my wheel perpendicular to the road. Every gust felt like it was trying to lift the bike out from under me. Terrifying. I crawled along at a frustratingly slow pace. Riders passed me in a steady stream. I was already having second thoughts about my ability to finish. "You didn't respect the race," I thought, "And now it's making you pay."

After what seemed like eons, we reached the northernmost point of the ride - the Veyo Wall. Ordinarily, this climb would be what competitors would share stories about after the race. The burning pain induced by a steep, unpleasant climb. But after that northbound stretch into that headwind, climbing a 7% grade for a while with a tailwind felt like a walk in the park. Veyo Wall was a break from the misery of the northbound Gunlock section.

When we turned south, things become infinitely more enjoyable. The wind started to normalize - the gusts turned into something a bit more consistant and predictable. We sped back to St. George, propelled by the wind. I barely had to pedal for miles, and when I did try to pedal, I found that I was traveling at speeds that were beyond what my gears could assist with. More like that, please!

Unfortunately, the course is two loops, so after fifteen pleasant, tailwind-aided miles, we had to turn back north again. I knew what to expect and was prepared for another hellish slog, but at the start of it, I got a pleasant surprise -- Kristine had found a way to get onto the bike course and was cheering me on as I passed the halfway point! (I love you, sweetheart!!)

After that, the second lap wasn't so bad. Because the whipping wind had turned into something more uniform, I was able to get a bit more comfortable in the aero position. I just kept pedaling. And pedaling. And before I knew it, I was back at the fun, tailwind-y section back into town and rolling into T2.


The run

The run was a question mark for me coming in. My longest run this year was last week's 12-miler, so I had no major aspirations for this part of the race. The course is basically hill repeats - up and down one hill three times (~5 miles) and then up a longer (~2 mile) hill and back down. Do that three times.

This was super nice because it meant Kristine could very easily move from place to place on the course and cheer me on. And boy did I need her encouragement. That course was sweltering and hilly, and my legs were tired. A few miles into the first lap, Alex arrived up. He and Kristine became my IMSTG support crew!

I settled into a decent rhythm but decided to throttle myself back early on. I absolutely imploded at Vineman, and I didn't want to have to experience that again. I was running at about 8-minute-per-mile pace, but forced myself to walk each mile down to a 9-minute pace. This equated to running about 90% of every mile and walking 10%.

This turned out to be a great strategy, actually. My legs did start to break down around the 15th mile, so I began to make adjustments. I went from targeting 9-minute miles to 10-minute miles, and then installed a "walk the uphills, run the downhills" policy which had me averaging roughly 12-minute miles over the final six or seven. Not bad.

The finish, etc.

The last two miles of the race were downhill - a blessing! So when I started running at the top of Diagonal Lane, I didn't stop until I crossed the line on Main Street. Kristine and Alex were right there cheering me on. I couldn't have asked for anything more.


I was 28th in my age group and 195th overall. There are things I'd like to improve on prior to Zurich, but I am completely unable to be disappointed in my performance on Saturday. A twelve hour finish on one of Ironman's hardest days - having only decided to actually race five days prior - is something I can definitely be proud of! Bring on the next challenge!

Random notes:

  • Pictures will be along in a few days. I'll write another post with 'em.
  • Kristine, Alex and I came back out to watch the finishers during the final hour (11pm-12am) for the first time. It was awesome. Watching some of those people sprint across the line after sixteen hours of pain and anguish is incredibly inspiring.
  • I probably would have been a lot better off on the ride if I'd used my regular training front wheel (vs. my deep 808 wheel). Some guys had disc wheels..?!
  • Why am I so freakin' weak on the bike? I should be able to push more watts than what I push. It's freakin' lame. And frustrating.
  • I ate a lot more for breakfast (PRO bar, two stroopwaffels) and during the ride (two Bonk Breakers, two gels) than usual. I only had two gels on the run (vs. my usual 7-10), but drank a LOT more water.
  • My legs are sore, but my Achilles is not screaming at me.
  • I need to have my bike fit assessed again. I was just not comfortable in the aero position during this ride, and I could tell from the very beginning of it. I wonder if my saddle shifted recently?
  • Roughly 1400 people started the race and only about 1000 finished. That's a 28% drop-out rate. The general consensus from the organizers and experienced triathletes was that this might have been the most challenging Ironman ever.
  • Several multiple-time Kona qualifiers agreed: the crosswinds on the bike were worse than anything they'd ever experienced in Hawaii.
  • The fastest pro bike time was 25 minutes slower than the course record. That's a lot.
  • It was 80+ degrees, sunny and exposed just about all day.
  • St. George is a cute little town. The people there were very friendly and enthusiastic.
  • Alex and Kristine are awesome. :-)
  • More random thoughts here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Utah, baby.

Last week, the news broke that 2012 would be the final year for Ironman St. George, the most difficult Ironman race in North America, because they were having trouble filling it to capacity. I had always thought of IMSTG as one of the races I might like to so some day, so naturally, I was disappointed. I tweeted this:


It was intended as a joke... until Kristine pinged me and said, "So are we really going to Utah this weekend?" Then I started to really think about the possibility. On Sunday, two friends from SFTri convinced me to seriously consider the opportunity.

On Monday, I registered.

On Thursday, Kristine and I packed up my old, usually-parked-in-Mountain View, barely-driven Honda Civic, poured a couple hundred bucks into it so it wouldn't explode on us, and hit the road.

Today we're in St. George, Utah. Tomorrow, I race!


This is a crazy thing. And probably a very stupid thing. But after several months of monotonously training for Switzerland, I felt the need to do something a bit stupid and spontaneous. I'm not going into this with any pre-conceptions. This course is far more challenging than either Vineman or Western Australia. It will be hot, hilly, and windswept. And the run... the run will be miserable.

But you know what? I'm not here to break ten hours, or eleven hours, or even twelve hours. I'm here to take this one "easy," gain some fitness and experience, and check another Ironman race off my list. If I need to walk the entire marathon, I'll walk it. If my ankle falls apart on me, I'll stop. I'd like to finish, yes. But I'm not going to try to kill myself tomorrow.

However hard or not hard I profess to try, tomorrow is going to be a long, challenging day. So thanks to all of you who have already wished me luck. You're all awesome!
And super-ultra-mega thanks to Kristine for being so supportive of me, and for sacrificing your extended weekend to sit with me in a car all the way to Utah and back, and for carrying my broken, battered body back to the hotel tomorrow night (and then putting up with my aches and pains for the foreseeable future). I've said it before and I'll say it again: I couldn't do any of this without you.
For those who'd like to follow along, Kristine'll probably be tweeting from her Twitter account, @cheekiness. I'm racing under bib #1841, which I bet you can track via ironmanlive.com. The race begins at 7am MT. Holy shhhh--!!!

See you on the other side,
Andrew

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Can't Stop

As Anthony Keidis once said:
"Can't stop, addicted to the shindig / Cop top, he says I'm gonna win big
Choose not a life of imitation / Distant cousin to the reservation"
This weekend was another good one. I set out for a long run (twelve miles!) on Friday and followed that with a 200-kilometer bike ride on Saturday. Sore legs kept Sunday's activity to a minimum, but I did manage five easy miles running in the afternoon.


From the outside looking in, Sunday would seem dull compared to Friday and Saturday. But I'll forever remember Sunday for an entirely different reason. That Sunday, I made a spontaneous decision to challenge myself in a very unexpected way. Most of this week has been spent figuring out the logistics.

No, I'm not doing Wildflower.

More details to follow. Stay tuned.