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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Number 7

I had an absolutely fantastic trip to Des Moines, Iowa over Labor Day weekend.  My oldest son qualified for his third Ironkids National Championship race and of course, we were going to reward his hard efforts in qualifying during the season.  There also happened to be an adult race the next day.  I hadn't realized the 5150 championship race was one of the highlight races but because I did not participate in a qualifying race, I could only enter the citizens race.  I did excitedly because I had made the decision to race amateur elite for the first time in my triathlon career, which proved to be quite a challenge!

Back to the Ironkids National Championship.  My youth and junior teams, Kids that TRI and Teens that TRI, had 28 team members qualify and make the trip to Iowa to reward themselves with the season ending National Championships.  It was a great venue, although a bit unfriendly for spectators, for the team to participate.  Every single one of our team members did fantastic and all had fun and were honored with participating.  We had some solid finishes also of which provided us the 2nd overall team award (for the second year in a row).  My oldest son had, literally, the race of his life in terms of execution.  Everything from his swim, bike, run and transitions was spot on with no faltering.  Mounts and dismounts were great, finish line kick was awesome and his attitude and professionalism made me proud!  For his efforts, he was awarded 7th overall in his age-group and 10th overall among all 9-11 year olds (over 300). We enjoyed some great time after his race hanging out with the team and our friends we made the drive with from Colorado.  Shortly after spending the day on my feet, I had to switch my focus to my race.  Oh yea, I had a race didn't I?

I was extremely excited for my race after I switched hats from coach to athlete because my son was going to be there watching.  I love leading by example but the real truth is: my son inspires me.  He may not know the full reason why just yet but he soon will.  Everything that he does in his life inspires me to be my best and I want to show him how much I appreciate who he is.  One of the ways I do this is by racing.  It may not make sense but then again, it just may!  Whenever I race, I always write 6 letters on my thumb knuckles.  Three on the left which are CNK (the first initials of my kids) and three on the right which are KTT (Kids that TRI).  When I race, I race for my kids and my team.  I race because I am inspired by who they are and what they do.  I race because I want to inspire them by who I am and what I do.  Quite simply, I think of it as a roundabout (less complex in nature though than driving through one!).  A full circle of showing respect and admiration for one another.

I also race because I have a teensy weeny competitive streak in me.  Yes, I let the cat out of the bag!  Of course, I always want to do well but first and foremost is proper skill implementation of all three sports plus transition.  I pride myself on the little things and focus on them and my process goals.  If I do well with these, I will be rewarded with a good outcome goal.

Racing amateur elite was exciting.  I was in the first wave, was not too crowded on the swim and did not have to worry about the heat of the day.  The water temperature was flirting with the 78 degree mark in the previous days but it was deemed wetsuit legal on race morning.  I had planned for the opposite but to my delight, I was able to use my TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit in the swim!  Much to my dismay, my race started without a swim warm-up because we were not allowed to get in the water.  Stretchcords, while a staple in my warm-up sequence, was not enough for my body to become activated.  My muscles did not receive the "attention" they needed and thus my muscles were a bit tight throughout the swim.  No problem I thought, just swim as fast as you can and don't worry about it...that just wastes energy.  The swim was definitely the most gloomy part of my day and while I did not come out of my wave last, I wasn't in the position I had expected.  Again, I didn't let that get to me and entered the transition area ready to bike.

A few days before the race while coaching my Teens that TRI open water swim practice, I had cut the bottom of my foot pretty bad upon entering the water and it was right under my arch.  It was pretty painful and while it hurt to walk, I didn't let it bother me.  "The race is going to hurt anyway because of my intensity, what's a little cut on the bottom of my foot going to do?".  Again, my mantra of not sweating the small stuff...This cut prevented me from running barefoot without a lot of pain so I opted to put my cycling shoes on in transition and run with them to the mount line.  Luckily, it was a grassy transition area so no risk of slipping.  Onto my flying mount and I was off on the bike!

The bike was a bit strange in that I didn't find my legs until about mile 5.  I am usually able to flip the switch a bit sooner but I theorized it was because I did not engage in my normal warm-up routine with a short swim.  No matter, once I found my legs, it was off to the races and race I did!  A fellow competitor and I were playing cat and mouse for about 10 miles but I finally put him behind me on a few of the hills (my specialty being from Colorado!).  He did catch me again with about 8 miles remaining and he brought a few of his "friends".  We all used each other's energy to bring out the best in us and this accelerated our performance (and muscular effort) to the finish line.  As we were jockeying for position, I couldn't help to notice the ages on their calves...all in the 20-29 age group.  And of course, all they saw on mine was "E".  No age-group so I wondered if they were trying to guess this "old man's" age!.

Coming off the bike into transition, I felt incredible.  A good friend of mine was at the dismount line and while I did not see him (I focus way too much internally), I did hear him cheering and yelling my placing.  He said I was in 11th position in the amateur elite group.  Not bad I thought but definitely not acceptable either (the competitor in me talking).  I headed out at a very good pace.  Interestingly, it was very comfortable.  I could feel the cut on the bottom of my foot with each step but disassociated it from my mental state.  I focused on my breathing which was very controlled.  My cadence was high, my upper body comfortable and I was picking off people from the first race at a rapid pace.  It was right around mile 1 when I started feeling some quad cramps coming, which was odd since I haven't had that happen before in a race.  At this point, feeling strong, I had to make a decision.  Slow down and let hope they go away or keep going and see what happens.  If you know me, you know which option I chose: the latter.  If they are going to hit, let them but I am not slowing down until they force me to.  That was my thought process.  Luckily, they only remained an annoyance and did not "pop".  Being in the performance zone mentally, I was able to block them out for the most part and just focus on my breathing and cadence once again.

Mile 1, mile 2, mile 3....they all seemed somewhat easy.  When I finally hit downtown Des Moines there were more people cheering, a few familiar families from Kids that TRI who stayed to watch me race and at that point, I could see the Capitol, which was the finish line.  I knew there were a few jogs around side streets before I entered the finish chute so I took it in stride and kept pushing, pushing, pushing.  I had not driven the course so while I knew there was a hill toward the finish, I did not know what it looked like.  Upon making the second to last turn, it stared me straight in the face.  "Really?", I thought.  It was a hill but nothing like I am used to.  I noted the athletes in front of me, put my head down and attacked the hill.  Luckily, my friend was once again placed strategically on the course and yelled out a reminder of "fast feet".  Quickly, I shifted into a high cadence, pumped my arms and powered up the hill.  I was a bit anaerobic at the top but then made a sharp left to the finish line.  The problem was that the finish line was on the complete other side of the grandstands.  That didn't matter though.  My son was in the stands watching and while I did not see him, he told me afterwards that I passed about 10 people in the last 300-400 meters before the finish line.  The facial expression on my finish line photo validates the work it took to do that!

I was extremely pleased with my race.  I had a few speedbumps but none that prevented me from not having fun and pushing my body's limits.  After finishing, I shared some race stories with a couple of Kompetitive Edge team members (Andrew, Eric and Trish) and met my friend Bobby, who was supporting me throughout the day.  Then, it was off to find my son and share an embrace of pride with him.  He loved the race and I loved having him there.  I told him that he was my inspiration throughout the entire day, especially during my sprint finish.  He asked me what I was thinking about when I was sprinting to the line, passing fellow athletes.  I thought for a second and responded, "inspiring others to do the same".   When I take off sprinting, I want others to follow.  He smiled, we hugged and then waited for my best friend to finish his race (his first triathlon in 2 years).

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend with great successes throughout.  Are you wondering why I titled this blog, "The Number 7"?  Well, my son eloquently pointed out that both he and I finished 7th in our categories.  Coincidence or not, I believe that there is a underlying message there.

Many people are wondering if I will try to race amateur elite next year.  Well, looking back, I would have won my age-group in Des Moines by over 2 1/2 minutes.  The question I ask myself is if there is a challenge out there that would help to inspire others to do something they have not believed they could do...hmmm.  See we will.  See we will!

Until next time...

Coach Bob