Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The last hoorah!

This past weekend saw my last triathlon of the season.  It was bittersweet as I was excited to race but knew my fitness was a bit lower than it had been a few weeks ago.  I monitor this quantitatively through my training stress by utilizing a power meter and GPS device.  My form was on and was rested due to a busy work week that included travel.  Forced rest but not ideal form.

For the first time in years, I was actually looking forward to what came after this race.  I certainly did not let that distract my mental preparation or even my excitement to compete but I do have to admit, the commitment has been set and anticipation high for my next journey.  More on that later.  

Back to race weekend.  The day prior my wonderful wife was participating in the Golden Leaf Half Marathon which is a trail run from Snowmass to Aspen.  She drove up with some friends and I staffed the house with the kiddos.  We had an action packed day on Saturday which included driving over 200 miles shuttling my little superstars to their soccer games and gymnastics meet.  It was a long day but never once did I catch myself becoming disengaged with the task that followed on Sunday.

I’ll admit, race morning came way too soon.  A 4:30am wake-up call was a bit unpleasant and it took longer than expected to get the burning sensation out of my eyes.  I was out the door at 5:00am on my way to Longmont, Colorado for the 5th annual Oktoberfest Sprint Triathlon, which is put on by Without Limits (they do a great job with all of their races!).  I arrived at the transition and felt like a rock star because I was about the 10th athlete there which meant I got to park right next to the transition area and had a clean shot to the porta-potties without a wait!  

Sprint triathlons, for me, are defined by the word “pain”.  It is a very short effort that is basically a test of how hard you can push without freaking yourself out and slowing down.  I slipped on my TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit and headed to the water for my swim warm-up.  Unlike my previous race in Des Moines, we were offered a generous warm-up in the water, even after the first heat went off.  I was in the third wave and knew I had the young guns ahead of me to catch. 

Before my wave began, I had a calm feeling come across my body.  I found myself in a very comfortable and relaxing place without too much nervousness.  It was then that my excitement for my future journey entered my head.  “Not now”, I whispered and focused on the task at hand.  I quickly visualized my swim, transitions, bike and run and proceeded to line up.

This was the same exact course that I had done in my first race of the season, the Without Limits Summer Open.  The difference this time around was that there were no gail force winds to affect my race, specifically my swim.  The lake was much calmer and I immediately felt my swim stroke as I began the race.  Before I knew it, I was vertical again making my way to the transition area.  Upon mounting my bike and heading out on the three loop course, I had set a goal for myself to average at least 24.5 miles per hour and keep my power output approximately 20 watts above my FTP (functional threshold power).  That was a bit difficult because I found myself having to pay much closer attention to the large amount of athletes I encountered during the three loop course.  I was passing people right and left and the roads at times were a little bumpier than expected thus I could not look down too often at my power meter.

I used RPE to gauge my effort and was pleased after coming into T2.  My legs were not fried but I know I had worked.  A quick T2 and I was out for the run.  

The run is where I had my highest expectations.  While I did have a time goal, I did not focus on that the least bit.  I do not race with a watch so it is all perceived effort that guides me.  Specifically, my breathing.  I told myself before the race that my breathing was going to be extremely labored on the run (because well, it was only a 5k!) and I would do my best once again disassociating my mind from my body.

Similar to the race back in May, I once again had no feeling in my feet after getting off the bike.  Step after step on the run, I kept thinking that they would warm-up, that I would be able to feel my push-off but unfortunately, that didn’t happen until the turnaround.  Not to worry, I re-focused on my breathing and let my body flow with high cadence.  I was able to use one of the two gradual uphills to my advantage, picking off athlete after athlete and the second gradual hill forced me to initiate an attack against a fellow competitor in my age-group.

An attack should be meaningful and without hesitation.  My breathing was already labored but I knew I had about 1 mile to the finish and I had to seal the deal without allowing my competitor a chance to stay with me.  I attacked, he responded and I heard him tuck in behind me.  I threw down a bit faster cadence and he was gone.  I commend him for a valiant effort, especially considering we were on an uphill!

The last 3/4 mile were a blur. I tried with all my might to keep my head looking down and forward but at times felt it creeping up and back due to my fatigue.  Push, push, push.  Fast feet.  With about 100 meters to go, I threw it into the next gear, gritted my teeth and gave it my all.  I rounded the corner, saw the finish line and engaged in a full sprint to the line.

While I did not physically collapse (still waiting for that one!), I felt like it but the cordial volunteer took my chip off and I proceeded onto congratulating my fellow competitors at the line before heading off for a short “cool-down” run.  Based on my run effort, I was sure hoping that it correlated into the goal time I had set for myself, especially running “blind” without a watch.

Results were up.  I felt like I had a solid, well-executed race throughout and was extremely pleased with my day.  I ended up averaging 1:28/100 for the swim which was a bit slower than I had hoped but before getting down, I quickly reminded myself that my swim frequency was much lower coming into this race.  Not an excuse, just a plain, hard fact.  I averaged 25.1 miles per hour on the bike which was higher than I set my goal for but my normalized power was a bit less than anticipated.  Hmm, could I have gone harder on the bike?  The numbers seemed to have suggested that which is why I love comparing and utilizing qualitative effort assessment with quantitative analysis.  The run, well it was interesting for sure.  This was definitely the biggest success of the day and one that I embraced because I was able to accurately assess my body cues which correlated to the performance I sought.  I ended up running an 18:51 5k off the bike, averaging 6:05 minute miles.  I have never run a sub 19 minute off the bike in my entire triathlon career so as you can imagine, I was elated.

My competitors were definitely better than me on this day.  Even with my solid effort, I came away with 4th in my age-group and 18th overall.  Certainly not disappointing, especially considering that I missed the podium by 8 seconds but even more importantly, 1st and 4th were separated by a mere 26 seconds.  I congratulate all of my fellow competitors for their great efforts on a fantastic last triathlon of the season.

Oh yes, you may be wondering about my next journey.  Well, let’s just say that it includes putting in a few more miles on the trails in the next few months.  I have less than 4 months to prepare my body to pace one of my athletes for the Brazil 135 (the South American equivalent to Badwater).  Throughout my junior not only will I be testing a more aggressive periodization training strategy but I will also be implementing a completely different nutrition plan, supported with blood work analysis and metabolic efficiency testing along the way.  This will be a good one, definitely worth making note of and seeing what impact it has on Coach Bob.  Much learning will follow!

My blogs will become much more frequent so I can share my progress with fellow athletes.  Be sure to stay tuned!

Coach Bob

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