Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vineman 2011 - It all comes together

First, a little history:
  • I ventured into triathlon in 2008. I had heard a few people talking about it and thought I would give it a go. My first event was Wildflower in 2008, Olympic distance (0.9mi swim, 25mi bike, 10k run). I didn't know anything about tri bikes, or really much of anything at all. I picked up an ill-fitting used wetsuit from craigslist, didn't really have a nutrition plan, did barely any swim/run training, didn't learn how to spot...pretty much just winged it. I ended up with a 3:03, which I was perfectly happy with since I didn't have any standard to compare it to.

  • In 2009 I stepped it up a notch and signed up for the Vineman Half (1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, 13.1mi run). Trained better, threw some clip-on bars on the road bike, even did some running! Unfortunately my motorcycle accident made me unable to run, so instead I did the Aquabike half. It went pretty well, but on to the next step! 
  • 2010 was all about cycling, as I still couldn't run. I did the Death Ride, the Gran Fondo, and the Davis Double Century. Fun times! I saw saw a few race reports from friends who had completed Ironmans of their own, Then, sort of on a whim I decided that my challenge for 2011 would be to try and do one of my own. Bring on the Vineman!


The pets are curious about my race fuel.
Race day started with a wakeup at 3:30am. Jon and Jo Ann were gracious enough to let us stay at their place in Forestville, just a short few miles from the start in Guerneville. Just so happened that they were racing at Mt Diablo on the same day, so they stayed at our place. Anyway, I packed up my race bag, filled up my fuel bottle, pumped up my tires, then laid back down for another hour or so, trying to calm the nerves. Oh and used the bathroom about 5 times. Nervous stomach.

Streets are lined with cars so we snuck into a nearby parking lot.
By the time we arrived at Johnson's beach is was almost 6:00 (for a 6:30 start time), and boy were there a lot of people there. Around 1000 people, much more than they've had race before. I had to wait in line just to get into the transition area, I had to search around for quite a while for enough rack space to hang my bike, had to organize all my stuff, had to go get my body marking, had to get my suit on, all the while the announcer was repeatedly telling the first wave participants (that's me) to make their way into the water. By the time Austin and I made it into the water, it was about 6:27. Not enough time for a warm-up, but at least we didn't miss our start! There was a lot of excitement out there and a lot of people cheering us on. However, my nerves finally took a backseat as I realized that all that was left to do was race!

A smile coming out of the water? That's a first for me!

I found myself right in the middle of the pack at the beginning of the swim, as I wasn't in the water early enough to get myself out of the way of everyone else. It was mighty crowded, but I tried to ignore it all and pretend I was swimming alone. Luckily I didn't have any breathing problems or anything. I did get kicked a few times which sent me gasping for air, but nothing too bad. Overall the swim went by pretty quickly. There were a couple of very shallow sections where people really had no choice but to stand up. Felt kind of like we were cheating a bit, but whatever...better than clawing at the riverbed. Overall the swim went by a lot faster than I thought it would. Definitely faster than Wildflower felt! Still, I was surprised to get out of the water and realize that I was only at ~1:22. I know, that's still pretty slow, but my guess was 1:30 so I was off to a good start.


Helmet strapped in the wrong place and could barely clip in. What a noob.
The ride started sloppy, as a fumbled to get clipped in on that little hill going up to the road. For a split second I thought I was going to fall over...that would have been quite embarrassing. I managed to pull it together and off I went. 

It took about an hour for my heart rate to drop down to where I wanted it to be. I felt like I was doing an endurance pace effort, but my HR was telling a different story. I couldn't bring myself to slow down any more, though, so I just chalked it up to adrenaline and kept going. Eventually I managed to get myself into a groove, and it was the same story as my other tris this year: almost all of the fast athletes already started the bike leg before I did, so I was left with tons of slower people to pass. I love it. On your left! Oh! And someone had chalked GO DAN! in a few place along the course, so I pretended that it was for me!

Cruisin' by. This is easy!
Mechanicals! Ack! Had no issues on the last few rides, but managed to have a bunch of issues this time. Go figure. I dropped my chain on the first little climb at the beginning of Westside Rd. Dangit, now I'm going to have greasy hands for the rest of the race! Then later, on Chalk Hill I hit a pothole and launched my gel bottle!! No!!! I need that! I stopped, turned around, rolled down the hill and picked it up. Can't afford to leave that bottle behind now...maybe if it was the second lap, but not with ~70 more miles to go. Then, dropped the chain two more times going up the hill. First time I was able to roll out of it but the second time I had to stop. For the rest of the ride I made sure to be very careful shifting into the small ring.

Still moving but ready to get off this bike!
Second time around was a bit slower. Legs still felt great, but the wind picked up around Geyserville and I was starting to feel a bit achy. I managed to keep the pace up as much as possible. Passed quite a few people struggling up Chalk Hill this time around, so I tried to give some encouraging words when I could. I finished strong, though, and much faster than I had planned, even with all of the mechanicals. 5:38, so just under 20mph. For sure my fastest 112 miles! I managed to finish almost all of my E.F.S. gel, plus 3 Clif Shots for the boost of caffeine, so around 2000 calories total and my stomach felt fine. I took water at every aid station as well, so I was well hydrated.

End of Lap 1, still smiling!
Only a marathon to go! Felt OK at the beginning and was pulling off my planned 9 min pace for the first few miles. However, I think I may have been over-hydrated, because after a while I could feel the liquid sloshing around in my stomach. In fact, I could hear it. glurp glurp glurp, on every stride. It got to be a bit painful. My legs felt OK, but the stomach was really slowing me down. Oh, and the hills! I had no idea from looking at the elevation map that it would be so hilly! However, after my stomach started to hurt, I actually started to look forward to the hills as an excuse to walk and let my stomach settle.

End of Lap 2 - Delirium sets in
The rest of the race was just a matter of gritting my teeth and putting one foot in front of the other. My pace got just a tad slower every mile, but I kept going. The best and worst part was the turnaround at the finish. I was great because that's where all of the spectators were, so there was a lot of encouragement to actually run. But then you get close enough to see the finish line, only to have to turn around, knowing you have a whole loop or 2 left to run. Ouch. They give you a bracelet at the turn around so that you can keep track of your laps (as if you could forget how many times you've had to turn around), so I made a game of counting other people's bracelets as the run progressed. "Oh, this guy is flying right by me...damn he already has 2 bracelets!" "Oh, this dude isn't doing too well, oh and this is his first loop! Yikes!"

Had lots of support out there! Right out the gate I saw Dave Gindy telling me I looked strong. Then I hear Dan Taylor, who immediately tells me to "pick it up"! My wonderful gf was there at the turn taking pictures and giving me high fives, and offering me chocolate. Lily was at the mile 3 aid station to hand me coke and spray me with a hose. Carmen and her boys were there at the lonely far end of the course to say hi. Then of course I passed by Austin and Zach several times as they were running the opposite way; bother looked like they were doing better than I was! Support definitely helps. Thanks everyone!!

Started looking at the watch more as the last few miles slowly ticked away. I had a goal of 12 hours for this race, and I could see it fast approaching. At the beginning of the run I had thought it would be easy to make it, since I had given myself a good 20 min buffer on the bike, but slowly I started to realize that I might not make it. Finally with 2 laps to go I worked out the math and figured that if I kept up the pace a bit I would make it. someone passed me with less than a mile and said "we're going to be sub 12!" but I still wasn't sure. It was 6:25 as we made it back to the main road. Really had to fight the worn out legs but pushed it enough to make it just in time!!

It's OVER!!!

Totally worth it. What's next?!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wildflower Long Course - the good and the bad

Big milestone reached this week, and along with it a big reality check. Though I didn't even really come close to my optimistic time goal, I did complete goal #1 which was to finish. I also had a great weekend and learned a ton.

Day before:
Arrived at the lake nice and early on Friday around 1pm. Most of the prime camping spots were already taken - I guess some people make a whole week of this event! Luckily, Amy hooked us up with a family (Steve, Belinda, and they're daughter Madison) who had rented an RV and come early to get one of those prime spots.

Took it pretty easy on Friday. Went down and picked up my packet. Had a nice ~25 min bike ride and ~10 min run, just to warm up my legs a bit and make sure everything looked good on the bike. Hung out and relaxed at the race numbers set up, race day bag ready, race wheels on. Steve and Belinda made an amazing dinner and invited us to join them. Thought positive thoughts and felt pretty good overall. Still had a terrible time sleeping, which seems to be the norm for me before a big event. No matter how much I try and calm myself, I can't stop my subconscious brain from worrying away.

Race morning:
Up at 5:30 to have breakfast plenty early. Oatmeal with almond butter, honey, and a banana. Coffee for the first time in a week was amazing (I had been going without for a week in the hopes that it would enhance the effect the caffeine would have on my performance). Hung out at the campsite chatting with the group for a while, never felt rushed. Still feeling confident about the day. Tires pumped, race bag checked again. Can't find my Clif shots, but I figured it wasn't a big deal, I'd find some other source of caffeine on the course. Plenty of time to get ready, use the restroom, etc., and by the time we headed down to the start there was about 30 mins till my start time.

Get there, rack my bike, start getting everything ready. Wait...something is missing. Timing chip! I frantically search my bag twice more , and have a minor panic attack when I can't find it. Consider going back up to camp to get it, but realize that I wouldn't have enough time to make it back down (by this point it's 15 mins till my start, they're just now sending off the first wave). Oh well. I try and calm myself down as I put my wetsuit's not a big deal, it's not like I'm there to win anything. I made one last minute decision; I decided to wear my wetsuit booties (which I've never worn) as my feet tend to be cold and the transition area is pretty big and can be painful on the feet! I take a little bit of gatorade and water, and make my way to the ramp.

The Swim:
I arrive at the start at just the right moment. The group in front of us had just started, and my wave had just started out into the water to try and get acclimated. I jumped in and got wet. Water felt pretty nice. Then I realized that I hadn't really studied the swim course. I had to double check which way we were supposed to turn after the first buoy. And off we went!

My overall strategy had been to just go easy on the swim, and expect a slow time. I've probably mentioned before that I am shockingly under-trained for the swim. I've skipped so many swim workouts, and been pretty shameless about it. I've used just about any excuse in the book to avoid swimming - I don't want to get up that early, it's too cold out (even for an indoor pool apparently), I hate my pool, etc. I don't really have any good excuse. I just need to go swim more.

So I took it easy as planned (thinking back, I think I was going too easy). Tried to practice my spotting, which I still did poorly. I had clear lenses without a wide field of vision (goggle recommendations anyone?), and that in addition to the early morning glare made spotting very difficult. I think I did better than I've done in the past, but I definitely need more practice. Anyway, I was able to get into a good rhythm a few times, but it would get interrupted when I would spot and realize I had to adjust. Also, I don't know if it just happened on its own or caused by another swimmer, but one of my booties came halfway off, which probably contributed to some drag. And lastly, even though I had not been kicking too much at all, I ended up getting leg cramps during the second idea where that came from. After that, I did almost no kicking. All in all, I had expected a slow 45 mins, but I ended with a dismal ~53 mins or so. No excuses, time to work on swimming.

The Bike
It's a little hard on the ego when you get into T1 to find that almost all of the bikes in your row are gone, but there are some advantages as well. First, there's no T1 traffic! I didn't have to push my way past anyone to get to my bike, so I got in and out pretty quick. Second (and more important), I have a lot of carrots in front of me to catch. As a result, I went a it harder than I should have for the first 10 miles or so on the bike. There are some short, steep-ish hills in the beginning before leaving the park, and most people are spinning up them, but I was attacking. It feels so good to fly by other rides at a 5+ mph difference. Right away my confidence is back up. I also made sure not to burn any matches; I backed off whenever I saw my HR getting close to my threshold.

Eventually I settled into my low tempo zone, which I think was right for this distance. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out to be the calm day that was forecast the day before. There were major head winds through the turn at mile 19, and the head/cross winds continued through most of the ride (at least until the hills started). I stayed tucked in the TT extentions for longer than I had expected to, but I did feel pretty comfortable in that position, and I continued passing riders throughout the entire ride. During Nasty Grade, I still felt good but started thinking about the run ahead and pulled it back a little bit. This is when I would have taken my first shot of caffeine, had I remembered to bring it.

Speaking of nutrition, I executed my plan well and it worked perfectly well. 800 cals of EFS gel in a water bottle, spread throughout the ride. Ended up taking an additional water bottle at a feed zone, and took about half a bottle of gatorade at another (it was a bit warmer than expected). Stomach felt great throughout (and I really love the taste of the vanilla EFS gel).

Came into T2 after a 2:57 bike. Slower than expected, but I think I can attribute that to the wind, and I will consider it a very successful ride.

The Run:
T2 was pretty quick, but run started off pretty slowly as expected. I'm feeling OK, but not great. Really wishing I had my Clif shots. Took a pee break after about a mile. Next, it was time to face my second weakness: hill running. I've done almost no hill training, so I knew this was going to be tough. I was being passed here and there, but I think I tried to get into a pace that I thought was manageable. I took it really easy on the run descents, because I wasn't sure how my knees would hold up and wanted to play it safe. Walked up the really steep sections of hill, and took very short walk breaks at the aid stations as I took mostly water.

The nutrition fell apart on the run. I started to get desperate for caffeine so I took a PowerGel at one of the aid stations...YUCK! I spat it out. After that, my stomach didn't want anything. I took some of my EFS gel, but not much. I did take plenty of water, and some gatorade as needed. I will need to practice eating more during long runs.

At mile 8 there was aid station with coke, and I was very excited. This was not an official aid station item (maybe Team in Training?). I told the hand-off person that she was my favorite person in the world right now. At that part of the race, coke is magical. I immediately felt great and picked up the pace for a bit. I kept hoping that there would be another one, but it wasn't to be.

Mile 11 is the turnaround point where you have to climb a mile-long hill than you just descended. I was pretty cranky at this point, wondering how it's possible for anyone to actually finish an Ironman. The fact that I was still passing other that were also fading still gave me hope, though. The aid station volunteers and spectators definitely helped at this point too. I shuffled up to the final peak and took it easy down Lynch hill to the finish.

I don't know what my run time was, but I'm guessing it was somewhere around 2:10...which is a little better than a 10 min pace. I think I would have fared much better without the hills. Every time the trail flattened out, I got into a really good rhythm and my pace would go up. Unfortunately those flat portions were few and far between. Gonna have to work in a few hill runs into my training!

Overall (unofficially), I finished at 6:09:56, which would have put me in I think 72 of 172 in my AG. Solid middle of the pack.

Sunburned and a bit sore, and feel like I'm just barely on the edge of not getting sick. Other than that, I am feeling great! Amy is going to develop a Vineman plan of attack for me, and I am very much looking forward to getting back to work! Let's do this!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Counting down to Wildflower

"What are these electrolytes? Do you even know?"
"They're...what they use to make Brawndo"
"But why do the use them to make Brawndo?"
"...Because Brawndo's got electrolytes."

Starting to get pretty excited/anxious about Wildflower, which is less than 2 days away. This is supposed to be just a milestone race for me...a training race in preparing for Vineman full in July. But I am finding myself caught up in all of the excitement of triathlon, yet again.

Non-triathletes might look at the event and wonder "What the big deal? You just go out there and swim, bike, and run!" But little to they know....

There is so much planning involved, and so much to remember to do/bring/eat! So many things to worry about! So many things to constantly keep in your mind, any one of which, if forgotten or screwed up in any way, may be your downfall!

For example, my race day nutrition plan:

  1. Wake up 3 hours before race for a large breakfast consisting of
    • oatmeal
    • PB sandwich
    • banana
    • coffee
  2. Sip water/sports drink periodically up to the start
  3. Take in 800 calories on the bike, specially prepared ahead of time in a water bottle to take small amounts every 15-20 mins, plus a gel towards the end for a caffeine kick
  4. Take 1 bottle water to start, replace at the aid stations at miles 19 and 35
  5. Take a 400 cal gel flask for the run, plus another gel or 2 for caffeine
  6. Take water/gatorade on the run, alternating at aid stations
  7. Switch to Coke when I start feeling dead.
So complicated! I won't even go into the huge checklist I made this morning of things I need to remember to pack.

But the funny thing is, when you get this close and there are so many things to go over in your head, you forget to worry about whether your fitness is there or not. It's obviously too late at this point, but it's probably a good thing that I have these distractions so I'm not constantly worrying about how out of shape I am!

Now that we're on the subject....I think my fitness is OK but now where it could be. I haven't gotten the hours in that I should have, and I always end up riding more than running/swimming. The swim is definitely my limiter; I've only done a handful of swim workouts all year. I'm not planning to get a great swim time (or even a GOOD swim time)...but I should be able to finish at least. And I'm fine with that; more people to pass on the bike!

And I somehow have managed to lose about 6 Double Doubles and meet my weight goal for this point in the season. So that should help me get up Nasty Grade!

Should be an interesting weekend. Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beat the Clock TT #3 (2 for me)

Several things went better this time around. The last time I came out and raced this event was in February, and it was quite cold and wet. This time, dry and warm (for 7am). Much warmer than Fremont last week. I decided to warm up on the trainer instead of on the road. I was freezing during my warm-up in Fremont...which I think maybe defeats the purpose of warming up! I was also parked right next to the start line, so I was able to warm up right until my start time. This time, I rolled up ready to go!

I've done a few tweaks on my bike fit since Feb, and I think I've gotten to a point where I can output more power than before in a more aerodynamic position.I still really had to concentrate, though, to keep my effort high. My muscles were really burning, especially the rear/outer thighs/glutes.

Unfortunately, my power meter decided to stop working 1/3 of the way through my run!! Dang, that defeated half the purpose of doing this race. Had to rely on my own perception of effort. 

Results were significantly better than last time. Last time I ran a 25:49, which is 23.2mph

TT start

Additionally, since I've been having such a crap time on the TT bike lately, I decided to try and find out really how much time difference the TT bike is getting me...if it's worth it to stick with it. I raced another round in the Merckx category (no aero gear, clothes, wheels, helmet). I do have an aero road frame, but that's it.

For the second round, I finished in 27:08 (22.1mph). 1:19 slower than the first run, but still faster than my time in February (on the TT bike).

Finishing strong on the road bike

That 1:19 time difference would translate to ~7:22 over a half IM distance, twice that for a full IM (duh). However, taking into account the fact that the road ride was my second effort of the day, and the fact that I would have been faster with aero wheels/helmet, the actual difference would be significantly less than that.

For now, I think the plan is going to be to ride the road bike at Wildflower. In the meantime, I will focus on becoming more flexible on the hamstrings, lower back, etc, and using the foam rollers. Any tips on favorite stretches? Stretching style? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Calaveras ITT - slow and painful

Hating life on the TT bike

Just wasn't feeling it on this race.

Early 8:16am start meant very chilly morning. Warmed up for a good 20 min or so but never felt good on the bike. Got off to a decent pace and tried to hold it...HR never really got up to wear it should have been. My quads were burning but my HR barely made it up to LT.

My time was a dismal 26:23, which is about 30 seconds slower than I was last year....and last year I was on my road bike with TT clip ons, no aero wheels, no aero gear! I guarantee that I would have been faster if I had been riding my road bike today. And more comfortable.

I think the problem right now is that my flexibility is really poor, particularly my hamstrings and lower back. As a result, when I get down low into the aero position, my legs are fighting each other every revolution, costing me a ton of power (my power output was 25+ watts lower than last year, even though I am stronger this year).

Now I have to make a options:
  1. Focus a lot of time on increasing flexibility, get a professional bike fit on the TT bike, and before July 30 I'll be able to hold an aero position comfortably for 112mi without significant power loss.
  2. Ditch the TT bike and ride the road bike for triathlon. I have 3 tri events, after which I will most likely stop doing triathlon. After then, if there's a TT I can ride it on the road bike with clip ons, or ride the Eddy Merckx category (no aero gear or wheels allowed)!

Monday, April 4, 2011

2 good weekends of racing

Race#1: Oakland Half Marathon

Last Sunday the 27th was originally supposed to be the Berkeley Hills TTT that I had been planning to race with Jon. Unfortunately they cancelled that race with 2 weeks to go, due to the low number of people who has signed up so far.

So instead, on a whim I signed up for the Oakland half marathon. I almost signed up for the FULL marathon, but luckily I was talked out of it. I got the idea in my head that it would be good to see how a full marathon felt, so I could get a real sense of what I was getting myself into. I changed my mind after I was reminded how long I would be out of commission after running a full marathon.

My previous long run was 11.5mi at a 8:30 (min/mile) pace, and my previous "best" long run was a 10 miler at right around 8:00 pace. So my goal for this race was to maintain my "best" pace for the full 13.1 miles. My goal time was 1:45. 

I finished in 1:38:18 for a 7:31 pace! That extra boost that you get from racing - having people cheering, having carrots to chase, knowing the clock is ticking, etc. - really made a huge difference! I decided at the last second not to keep pace during the run, to just base it on how I felt. Looking back, I think that was absolutely the right decision, because I probably would have held some back if I had been using a watch to pace myself.

Race#2: 3 Bears ITT
This is a really low key time trial hosted by the Grizzly Peak Cyclists. It consists of one lap of the 3 Bears loop out in Orinda. 18.7mi with 2 tough climbs. This is a race to do to gage your training progress. Jon, Jo Ann and I came out last month, and Amy joined us for this month. Unfortunately last month I broke a chain, so I didn't get an accurate time (I estimated around 58 mins). 

This month I pulled out all the stops with a new bike and racing wheels. No power meter this time. My racing strategy was to go just a little harder than I thought I could maintain for the course. On top of that, I tried to make it a point to accelerate as I approached the top of each climb, and I think that made a big difference.

We all made personal bests on the course. I did it in 54:21, which was much faster than my goal of 57 mins. 

Next weekend is the Calaveras 10 mile ITT. I'm curious to see how much of an advantage I can get on the TT bike...I've been feeling lately that maybe it wasn't worth it to get a full on TT bike. I guess we will see!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Beat the Clock TT #1

Game face!

First race of the year is under my belt. And it only gets faster from here.

Woke up at 5:30 to a chilly/rainy morning and headed out to Woodside to compete in this year's first Beat the Clock Time Trial. It's technically just a training race, and the money raised goes to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. It's a 10 mile out and back on Cañada Road, easy rollers.

I showed up about an hour before my start time of 7:58, enough time to walk over from th car, register up, put my number on, get the gear situated, and go for a short spin down the other side of Cañada to Woodside rd and back a couple of times. Felt pretty good, nice and relaxed.

Rolled up to the start and they only had to wait about 30 seconds before they sent me off down the road (there were a lot of no shows due to the rain). I even got someone to hold me up so I could start clipped in (that's a first for me).

Felt comfortable on the bike, which is a big relief! My last training ride was pretty painful, so I've been tweaking my position. I also picked up an Adamo Racing saddle, which I really think help relieve some, ahem, pressure.

Race went pretty OK overall. Didn't feel like I went too hard at any point. This is a training race, after all. That said, I was not terribly fast, and my power output is way down from the peak of last year. I guess that's to be expected, but it's hard to find excuses when you're seeing your power output displayed right in front of you. I also think I need to work on my concentration a bit. 10 miles is not that far, I should be able to concentrate for that long. Time to start up some steady state intervals!

One thing I was really surprised about was my heart rate during the race. Very strange. I've been complaining that so far this year, during my workouts, even during hard efforts, my heart rate has not been responding. I've been having trouble even getting close to my LTHR. My heart rate for this race was much higher, and stayed up there the entire time. Not sure what's going on. Like I said, I felt relaxed...but maybe I was just nervous deep down.

Another thing I noticed it looks like I went harder in the 2nd half (uphill), which means next time I should try going a bit harder for the first half (downhill).

The support staff at the race was really friendly, and I had a good time, despite the weather. I am looking forward to #2!

Duration:   27:59
Distance:   10.196 mi

Ascent:      356 ft
Norm Power: 253

                 Max / Avg
Power:         606 / 238 watts

Heart Rate:   189 / 184 bpm
Cadence:      144 / 98 rpm
Speed:        36 / 21.8 mph