Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympic Fever!

Like millions of others across the world, I've been mostly glued to my television these past few nights. The Olympic games are well underway in London, and they haven't disappointed.

The men's and women's road races were both lots of fun to watch. In the men's race, Great Britain screwed the pooch. They put all of their eggs in one very obvious basket and were not able to control the race enough to execute. (Maybe they should've let someone like Froome sneak into the break?) But Vinokourov winning the gold to cap off an exciting and tumultuous career was certainly exhilarating. The women's race was a much tighter battle - the sprint at the end (which Marianne Vos held on to win) was tight and hotly contested. So cool.

My favorite Olympic sport is fairly obvious. As a long-time swimmer, I definitely enjoy the sport's week in the limelight. To come home after a long day of work, turn on the TV and see swimming dominating the prime-time slot is such a bizarre and pleasant experience.

Watching these athletes race has definitely been inspiring, more so for this year than in 2008. Triathlon got me back into the pool in 2010 (or was it the other way around?), which means I'm a little bit closer to the sport than I was when Phelps was dominating Beijing.

I love watching these people swim. They are so powerful. Their strokes are so perfect! Watch the underwater shots from the women's 200-free final tonight and you'll see what I mean. The way their hands enter the water and catch! (it's like I can hear the water snapping to attention with every stroke) is just mesmerizing. Such command. So much talent.

Watching the swimmers' underwater kicks and turns has been great, too. Phelps' underwater kicks off of the turn during the 4x100 relay... that was just jaw-dropping. It's just amazing how much water these folks can move.

Anyway, I'll stop gushing. I've been inspired. I can't wait to get back to San Francisco and start hitting the pool again. Thanks to these Olympics, I'm excited to maybe do a bit more swimming this off-season than I'd originally planned! For now, though, I've got a few more days of prime-time to enjoy. w00t!

Saturday, July 28, 2012


This blog - nay, this entire triathlon obsession - began two and a half years ago. And back then, I wasn't getting into this mess on my own. In fact, long-term readers might remember the email exchange that sparked it all. Even sharper-eyed readers might have spotted the one post on this blog that wasn't written by yours truly. The recipient of that first email and the author of that one-off post was none other than my college roommate, best friend and Best Man, Alexander Curtis.

Who the hell is this guy?!

Though we originally set out to tackle the triathlon challenge (and Ironman Western Australia) together, loads of setbacks and responsibilities cropped up and got in the way of things. Despite being conceived as a two-man show, I've been manning the ironw00t ship on my own for over two years.

That's all about to change: Alex is set to tackle his first race, the Goleta Beach Triathlon, this Sunday, July 29! This Olympic-distance race takes place just north of sunny Santa Barbara and includes a 1500-meter swim, a 40-kilometer time trial and a 10-kilometer run. I can't think of a better introduction to the multisport world. I only wish I was out there to take the start with him.

Join me in wishing Alex luck tomorrow, and welcoming him back to the ironw00t team!
Kill it out there, dude! Relax, race within yourself and let the miles melt away away. Don't over-think things. Take mental notes, learn as much as you can, and above all, have a blast! I can't wait to hear all about it!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

IRONMAN Switzerland 2012 (Race Report)

Kristine and I arrived in Zurich three weeks ago, after a roller-coaster season plagued by injuries. We were there ahead of my season target: Ironman Zurich Switzerland. And we brought friends, too! Morten and Bo came across the pond with us to cheer and provide extra support.

For an shorter, more visual and easier-to-digest race recap, just take a few minutes to flip through my online Ironman Switzerland photo album.

The week before the race was a jet-lagged, couch-surfing scramble. We had too many balls in the air: we needed rest, but we also wanted to get out and explore the city of Zurich! The week before a vacation is always a busy one, so we also needed to get work done. And to top that all off, Kristine and Bo came down with nasty colds - one that came so close to knocking me off my feet as well.

I checked in for the race on Friday after a swim in Lake Zurich and then began closely monitoring the weather forecast for race day. The outlook wasn't great for either weekend day - meteorologists were anticipating heavy rain on Saturday and more scattered showers on Sunday. Much to our surprise, we woke up Saturday to gorgeous, clear skies and bright, shining sun. The weathermen are so wrong, we thought, Sunday'll probably be just as nice as today! 

Though the ground was wet, the traces of blue that we could spot through the smattering of clouds on race morning seemed to confirm our theory. The outlook was good. Time to rock-and-roll.

The swim start was a sight to behold as hundreds of yellow-capped, wetsuit-clad athletes clambered over each other and into Lake Zurich. I was fortunate enough to be at the front when the starting gun went off and managed to connect with a fast-moving pack of talented swimmers. A few of us kept the pace high by taking turns at the front; before long, we had whittled the group down to a very select bunch.

I was well-positioned at the end of both laps to lead the dwindling pack past the roaring crowds and cheering supporters. It was exhilarating. And toward the end of the second lap, I poured a few extra ounces of effort into my stroke, separating myself from the one or two pack-mates that remained to come out of the water first nearly 1,800 yellow-capped age-groupers.

My first transition was rocky, but I was on my bike and pedaling before I knew it.

Unfortunately, I felt flat on the bike from the very start. At first, I thought it was just temporary exhaustion from my effort during the swim. It took me too long to realize that I was actually being affected by two things: not enough rest during the week leading up to the race, and not enough food before and during.

Only one of those two problems can really be addressed mid-race, so I ate what food I had brought with me and began collecting gel packets from the aid stations along the course. Unfortunately, only one aid station was handing out solid, energy-rich food - and passing that aid station once on each lap turned out to be far too infrequent for me.

The low-light of the bike was a storm that struck just before a major descent at the end of the first lap. Those of us out there were pelted by cold rain and tiny hailstones. I was soaked to the bone and shivering within minutes - just in time for the newly-slicked roads to turn down-hill. My heart was in my throat as I struggled to keep my speed at a manageable level. By the time I reached the bottom, the cold, wet descent had allowed a deep chill to settle in. It took me miles and miles to warm back up.

The bike course did include some very memorable highlights:
  • The middle section of each lap brought us through a series of small Swiss hill towns. The road through each town was lined with cheering locals and in each one, a small horn band had assembled, dressed in old-fashioned Swiss garb and tooting out traditional-sounding tunes.
  • The ringing of cowbells is a common thing at races like this. On one lonely, green, rolling hill in the Swiss countryside, I heard that familiar ringing... but saw no spectators along the road. I looked around and spotted the source: a large cow (carrying a massive cowbell) was leaning against a tree and trying to scratch it's neck. I was being cheered on by a real, live cowbell ring!
  • Finally, the capstone of each lap of the bike is Heartbreak Hill. It's a short, steep climb that's so thickly lined with cheering supporters that it feels more like a Tour de France stage than a triathlon. Riding through those throngs of people was encouraging and inspiring and just plain awesome!

I found some solid food at an aid station toward the end of the ride, so I actually felt okay at the start of the run. I was tired, sure, but I wasn't bonking... yet. The good sensations continued for the first lap and into the second before I began to ride the bonk-coaster in earnest.

I was flat from the beginning of the bike course, sure, but I really blame the downward spiral on that hailstorm and the cold descent. My body was already depleted, and trying to warm back up after a chill like that only burned more matches.

At this point, I began to ping-pong between feeling dizzy or lightheaded and dealing with an upset stomach. I had to keep eating to stave off a full-on bonk, but every time I ate, it upset my stomach further. It was a vicious cycle that forced me to alternate between running, walking, and pit-stopping at various restrooms along the course.

These bouts of discomfort between segments of running were definite low-points on a miserable run course that also featured scattered showers and shoe-soaking thunderstorms.

On the flip side, my leg injury was not a significant source of discomfort during this run! I could feel it during and definitely after, but managed to push through that nagging pain.

Highlights on the run course were provided by my incredible support crew. Bo, Morten and Kristine braved the winds and rain to cheer for me throughout the day. Because the run course was flat and compact, they were easily able to cheer me on as I passed them going on way and then move one block over to cheer me on again going the other. I don't think I would've been able to make it through had those three not been out there willing me on.

The entire day seemed to come to a climax at the turn-around point of the final lap. A portable restroom stop at the furthest point seemed to finally settle my stomach. As I started running again, thunder pealed and rain began to fall. I knew two things: I didn't want to be caught out in another bone-chilling storm, and I didn't want my friends to be caught out in one either. So at that point, I set my jaw and started running.

I had 5K to go. Rain started to fall faster and faster. By the time I was turning in toward the final kilometer, it was coming down hard. I skipped every aid station at the end of that last lap. I just wanted to be done.

Thankfully, I finally reached the finisher's chute. It was lined with soggy supporters, cheering spectators and more. I dimly remember running through a tunnel made out of some cheerleaders' pompoms. To be honest, that last 100 meters is a blur except for the familiar faces of my friends as they cheered me across the line. I finished Ironman Switzerland in 10 hours and 52 minutes.

In the world of long-distance triathlon, certain physiological stars need to align to propel you to a personal-best performance. My stars did not align that day, and the rough patches far outnumbered the smooth ones. I am pleased with my finish, but I also know that I can learn a lot from those rough patches. I know that I can do so much better.

Mulling over my experiences this season and during Ironman Switzerland has yielded many learnings and take-aways. There are a lot of changes I can, should, and will make to my race preparation, pre-race rituals and mid-race nutrition. There are improvements that I can make to my training, too. It's time to shake things up. I think next year's routine will look radically different.

I'll get into the changes I want to make in another post. I've completed four Ironman-distance triathlons in eighteen months. It's time for a break! I have more than a year before Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2013. That means I have plenty of time ahead of me to relax, get healthy... and most importantly of all, marry the girl of my dreams!

I love Kristine. She has been the common thread that runs through all of my events and races, my faithful supporter from Western Australia to Vineman to St. George, Zurich and beyond. And much to my excitement, that beyond begins with our wedding in less than a month's time!

So thanks for reading, friends and followers. It's been a rocky season with highs and lows, but now that season is over. I look forward to seeing you all on the road again soon!

Addendum: This is actually my fourth attempt at writing a race report for Ironman Switzerland. Some were too wordy, some were disjointed. I wrote one the other day that I was juuuust about to post... but decided not to because it just sounds too darn complain-y. But I want to keep track of what I wrote there, so I'm going to link to it from here.

If you want to read more about my experience during this race, and really get into the nitty-gritty details, check it out. But be warned: I do a whole lot of whining! 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Photos are online!

I'm still in the process of putting my actual race report together (It's taking forever because I have to squeeze it in between swims in Lake Como and enormous pasta dinners), but I do have some good news for those of you who followed along. I finally managed to sort, compile and whittle-down the photos of the event and post them online:

Link: https://plus.google.com/photos/117317745741594246772/albums/5767714075431563553

FinisherPix, the official photographers of the event, also managed to take a few good ones. I'm honestly surprised that it looks like I'm running in most of the photos... because I was definitely dying out there. Take a look at them by searching for bib #1581 via the link below:

Link: http://www.finisherpix.com/recent_events.html?&pcevent=0202

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quick Update!

"Andrew Valko, du bist ein Ironman!"
Whoops, I forgot to update this blog after Ironman Switzerland! I suppose it goes without saying, but the race itself was exhausting for all involved. The weather definitely did not cooperate for us on race day: competitors and spectators were plagued by cold, scattered showers, thunder, lightening, wind and hail. It was, all-in-all, a crazy day.

My own race started out very well: I was the first age-grouper out of the water! Unfortunately, things went steadily downhill from there. I knew something was a bit off as soon as I got out onto the bike course. I lost the nutrition game during this race and could feel it almost all day. The run was especially difficult - my legs felt okay, but I kept falling into periods where my head was spinning and my hands were tingling. Bonking at the beginning of a marathon? Not that much fun!

In the end, however, I finished the race, and I managed to do so in under 11 hours. All things considered, I think that's a solid performance. (I was half-expecting to have to walk the entire marathon!) I learned a lot from this race, and I'm thinking some major changes are needed for next year's season. But that's another blog post, isn't it?

Kristine and I are enjoying some much needed time off now. I'll be sure to throw together a race report some day soon.

Thanks for following along!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

And we're off!

Here we are, just a few hours until the start of Ironman Switzerland. This season has been a roller-coaster, and despite the fact that I made this race into my season's primary target over a year ago, I feel more nervous and less prepared than I've ever felt for an Ironman race. Perhaps these jitters will fade away after the gun sounds, or perhaps not. Either way, it'll all be over by Sunday evening!

If you're interested in following my race, see my previous post. As I mentioned, you can track me via bib #1581 on the Ironman website, or simply follow Kristine on Twitter.

Speaking of Kristine, it wouldn't be the eve of an Ironman race if I didn't give credit where credit is due. Kristine has been by my side through thick and thin this season, through all of the triumphs and adventures and injuries, and hasn't complained once. I couldn't do any of this without you, sweetheart!

By the by, I'm not the only one racing on Sunday! One of California's most popular (and competitive) triathlons - the VINEMAN 70.3 - kicks off bright and early. Good luck to all of my friends who are racing on those roads - especially Mike Vulanich, who's ready and revved-up to win his age group on Sunday. Good luck, everyone! Good luck, Mike!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Follow Along!

Would you like to follow my race on Sunday? Really? Awesome! Just make sure you get some sleep somewhere in the middle. It's going to be a long day for me here in Zurich, which could mean a long night for those of you back home.

As for online options go, ironmanlive.com is the official site for timing-chip updates and pace information. I'll be racing under bib #1581. For color commentary, follow Kristine on Twitter; she'll be tweeting photos and updates throughout the race!

Ironman Switzerland begins at 7 o'clock in the morning on Sunday, July 15. For friends and family back home, there's a six and nine-hour timezone difference versus the east and west coasts, respectively.

The forecast for Sunday includes a little bit of everything: cooler temperatures, patchy sun, scattered showers and a bit of wind. Rain during the swim or run is no problem, but I'm definitely hoping for dry roads while I'm on the bike.


7am ZRH Sunday / 1am EST Sunday / 10pm PST Saturday
I've been trying to get a feel for my swim fitness this week and can't quite put a finger on it. I definitely think I will be faster than I was at St. George, but that's a given considering the atrocious conditions there. I'd like to be in the low 50's. If I could be out of transition before the 60-minute mark, I'll be completely satisfied.


8am ZRH / 2am EST / 11pm PST
I pre-rode the bike course yesterday, but again, I'm having trouble estimating my fitness in this regard. I felt fantastic back home, but the week has been rough on my legs so far. It's a fast, flat course with a few steep, grinding climbs sprinkled throughout. I'm going to be conservative and target 5.5 hours for this leg (2:45 per lap).


1-2pm ZRH / 7-8am EST / 4-5am PST
The run will be such an enormous question-mark for me this weekend. My IT and hamstring have been a problem for the better part of two months now, and I haven't done a lick of running since mid-June. I'm going to try and hold a steady, even pace for as long as I can... and then walk the rest. This leg could take anywhere from four to six (or more) hours.


5pm ZRH / 11am EST / 8am PST
With this bum leg, I'll be thrilled to finish under twelve hours. If I get out onto the course and the leg's not so much an issue, who knows what could happen? Sub-11 could definitely be possible.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Down with the Sickness

Last week, Bo was sick. So sick, in fact, that he chose to push his flight to Switzerland back a few days. I think he's on the upswing now.

Unfortunately, Kristine started to come down with something on Tuesday morning. It was a sore throat at first, but it slowly devolved into aches, fever and a lot of congestion.

My immune system had been resisting... until some time yesterday afternoon. Now I've got an ominous lump in my throat and tightness in my lower back - signs that my body's losing the battle with the virus that's plaguing my companions. Blarg.

The timing really couldn't be worse. I can only hope that whatever this is runs it's course quickly. I would gladly sacrifice my health these next three days for decent sensations on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Race Week

On the way to St.-Ursanne
Welcome to the Wednesday before race day! These are the final critical hours - the hours where a delicate balance between tune-ups and rest must be struck. Rest has been difficult since arriving in Zurich; jet lag and a desire to see the sights (including the Tour de France) have combined to prevent me from staying off of my legs as much as I  probably should.

This week's forecast has been uncooperative. We've had some rain just about every day so far this trip, and that trend will likely continue through the next week. Zurich's weather forecast seems quite changeable, but at the moment, today and Friday sound like the wettest days. They are now calling for some rain showers on Sunday, too. Let's hope that does not impact the race!

I've been out on the bike twice since arriving in Switzerland, and for roughly 100 kilometers both times. The roads out here are pristine and the scenery is as good as it gets. Yesterday's ride was on the Ironman course's roads. There are stretches of road that will be blazing fast, but by contrast, there are agonizingly steep climbs and inclines. It will be interesting to see what wins out on race-day, and how the legs respond to those steep pitches on the second lap.

I've had two chances to swim as well, once in a river and once in the lake. The water is comfortable without a wetsuit. Chilly, but not painfully cold. I feel alright in the water and I imagine I'll feel even better in my wetsuit on Sunday morning.

Now it's time to focus on continuing to rest and restock my energy stores ahead of this weekend's big day. I'll try and get out on the bike for an hour or so tomorrow, just to open up my legs a little. And I'll keep trying to fit in short swims today and Friday. But on the whole, the more time I can spend sitting, sleeping or relaxing, the better.

This race is going to be here in the blink of an eye!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Amateur Bike: Andrew Valko's Cervelo P3

ZURICH, Switzerland -- We caught up with fledgeling triathlete Andrew Valko after a not-so-routine training ride on Saturday. "Holy crap," he exclaimed, "The rides around Zurich are amazing!" Before heading in for a shower, however, we were able to take a closer look at the machine he will be riding during Sunday's Ironman event.

This Cervelo P3 has a the standard 2008 red, black and silver color-scheme
Zipp wheels keep things aero: "Should've waited for Firecrest," says Andrew 

A zippered Zipp bento-box keeps vital race nutrition close

The Zipp Vuka-aero cockpit features ski-pole bars angled slightly inward for comfort

The rear brakes are pretty dirty, even when the bike's at it's cleanest

A CyclOps Powertap SL+ helps Andrew keep tabs on his output

This saddle may look ridiculous, but John Cobb knows what he's doing

Head-on view: slim profile ruined by ugly straw and saddlebag
Potential for damp conditions spurned a swap to salmon-colored front brake pads

Rear view: Darn it, that saddlebag is ugly

Andrew is riding a 165mm compact crankset in Ironman Switzerland
We know what you're thinking: "Wimp!"

40 oz. water tank makes it easy to stay hydrated - and refill on the go

Nothing special about this 12-25 cassette

Hate to say it, but this Speedfil straw is about as aero as it's gonna get

Is that his name on the top-tube? No, it's just the manufacturer's logo

Andrew's Garneau Vorttice features a cut-off tail and lots of dimples
SF2G logo on the right side 

Unfortunately, the single duct in the front makes it look pretty ridiculous

Philadelphia Eagles logo on the left side: FLY, EAGLES, FLY!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Status Check

I've managed to keep myself pretty busy since learning that all of my tendons and ligaments are still intact. I'm a bit behind on work, but otherwise, things are coming together. My bags are mostly packed for Zurich and my flight's just 48 hours away.

I followed last weekend's Livestrong Challenge with a week of hard swimming and strong interval efforts on the bike - in fact, this week probably featured two of my best-ever overall interval workouts. Being that I am unable to run, I've had to step up my game in the pool and swim more often than I'd like. The strategy isn't all that different from 2010's lead-up to Ironman Western Australia. Let's hope it works out just as well!

Weekend workouts

Anyway, I forced myself into the saddle for one last long tune-up ride this weekend. I clipped in at 7:29am and set out over the Golden Gate Bridge. Because I was alone and the weather was pretty dreary, a big part of me wanted to cop out and just do an 80-mile Pt. Reyes loop... but after some intense self-negotiation, I committed myself to tackling Marshall Wall and even added the Stinson/Panoramic climb on at the end.

I did not push this ride very hard - instead, I aimed to keep a fairly steady, even tempo throughout the day. I tucked into the aero position and the miles melted away. I pulled back into the city with a 6:03 ride time (6:20 total time) over 103 miles. It definitely wasn't as fast (or as hard) as last year, but it was windy and I did manage to climb over 7,000 vertical feet. The best part about this ride was that it ended! Yep, that's right - I'm done with long rides for a while!

Your last big ride's always an important milestone and I'm happy to report that this one left me feeling pretty positive about next weekend's race.

Sunday morning brought a 6,000-yard swim (completed in 92 minutes) and a spin. I wasn't sure what to expect from my legs after Saturday's effort. When I showed up, the numbers weren't pretty - I turned it into a bit of a recovery ride.

What's next?

I took today easy, swimming for a little while down in Mountain View. Tomorrow, I'll take my road bike for an early-morning spin with the Mission Cycling morning crew. It won't be a long ride, but it'll give me the chance to open things up a little. I'd like to really crush spin and pool sessions on Wednesday. There's nothing better than boarding a plane with sore legs.

I arrive in Zurich on Thursday afternoon. I'll probably take some time to build my bike back up and try for a ride on Saturday morning. I think I'm most concerned about my ability to consistently swim and/or ride in the week leading up to the race. Hopefully I'll be able to figure out those logistics upon arrival.