Sunday, August 26, 2012

Clear Lake Sprint Triathlon 2012

It's been a few year's since I've been willing to do this particular race. The International Distance race from 2009 was my third and worst triathlon, and I am a bit surprised it didn't chase me out of the sport. However, this year I am back to give one last good triathlon race effort for 2012, and to support my friend Karen and several OutRival Racing teammates, in their race efforts.

I was up early to drive my friend Corey down to the race with me. My pre-race nutrition plan was a simple one: eat one Peanut Butter Chocolate Builder Bar each hour until an hour before the race, with a shot of liquid nutrition in 8 ounces of water about 20-30 minutes before the race as well. After I set up my transition area, I meet up with my friends and chat a bit before settling into some pre-race rest and warmups. I was also able to see the longer course triathletes begin their swim as I was in my preparation zone.

Swim: After seeing a lot of swimmers in my wave I decide to line up to the outside and plan to slide over as the wave thins out. I swim in a strong and purposeful manner, though not at my hardest. I am able to angle back into the main swim lane without too much trouble and take the turn and line up to the laddered exit and cross the mat in 10:49.1. (13th in my AG)

T1: I had a pretty good T1, I had a long run in and back out trying to weave around walkers and people standing around. Due to the tightness of the lane between the racks, I end up rolling my bike over towels, shoes and stuff left in the way. 1:31.2 (2nd in my AG)

Bike: I started a bit slower than I could go until I adjusted and got into a rhythm and then I pushed as hard as I could and stay around my lactate threshold heart rate or just above that. I passed a ton of people and felt very strong on the bike. I got passed by two elite wave cyclists and two age groupers, though the age groupers only passed me as I took a drink going in a turn, one of them I passed right away and the other just stayed right in front of me since we were near the end of the bike and there was a lot of other bike traffic we were both passing around. 38:21.7 (2nd in AG)

Photo from the TriHou Facebook page where I was about to dismount the bike

T2: Not much to say, I was in and out pretty quickly. I had a very minor issue with one shoe and paused very briefly to grab my water bottle, chug a drink and toss it back toward my stuff. I saw one guy in my AG just in front of me and passed him heading out. 1:08.8 (4th fastest in my AG, though one of those had a favorable spot not near the rest of the AG athletes). It's strange to think of it now and not notice it then, but there didn't seem to be any bikes around my rack other than the one guy I chased out of transition.

Run: I ran and I ran. When we went on wet grass and a grass hill, I just kept running, passing several on the grass and the hill. My HR was in the 170s and I kept going close to as hard as I knew I could keep going at this point. I was wondering why I did not see anyone marked in my AG as I ran (though some numbers were smudged). After the turnaround I saw another ORR athlete behind me and he caught me a bit later. I couldn't remember if he was in my race or AG or anything for certain, but I tried to keep him as close as possible for motivation and pushed harder in the return part of the run. I was feeling about out of steam late in the run and just pushed my run effort out until I saw the finish and found some energy. As I was about 50 yards from the finish line and I heard a runner behind me and found the energy to go a bit harder to the end. 16:12.9 (3rd in AG--the second and third place finishers were slightly faster on the run).

Total - 1:08:03.9 Now I know I have been improving and took on this race to provide my best competitive effort, which I did, though I still surprised myself with this time as I didn't see myself finishing faster than the 1:10:-1:12:00 range for this race at best, and more likely closer to 1:12:00 to 1:15:00.

I hung around to talk to friends and cheer in teammates for a while and had some fun. As I go around to see my finishing time and place, I run into Corey who high-fives me and tells me to check the results and smiles. I see Mike and Kelly of ORR near there as well, who ask me if I'd seen them and they smile and tell me to go look. In truth, I had thought I could compete for a podium spot with a good race, and I did my best to leave all my effort on the course this day in that effort. I figured these friends were confirming my effort to secure a podium finish in this race was a success, but to see my name on top of the AG was a bit of a shock, but a happy shock nonetheless. Yes, I won my age group! "WOW!!!!" doesn't describe how I felt.

Award acceptance photo taken by Corey. I also got a tub of Strawberry HEED endurance drink.

I know I won my AG in Montgomery a month ago but that was a much smaller race. Here I was not only first in a competitive AG of a competitive race, but was the 26th male and 27th overall of nearly 500 athletes and I did not see myself as being THAT athlete. 

My friends say that this doesn't surprise them, though it surprises me. I may not feel like I am letting any false limits define what I am capable of achieving, but I guess I better start thinking that like my friends now and accept that things have changed for me in all ways except perhaps how I saw myself.

Oh, and just to fill in the details left open in my report above, it turned out the guy I passed in transition finished in 4th place and that the reason I didn't remember seeing anyone else in my age group (ages are written on the triathlete's calf) is that I was actually ahead of them all.As it turned out, I needed every bit of speed I had for this win, seeing as how the second place finisher was 11.1 seconds behind me and the third place finisher was 10.0 seconds behind him.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Joylessness, Joyfulness and Turtles

I've had my share of joyless times of late. Injuries, illness, feelings of being overworked while problem after problem mounts at my job, and so on......

The truth is I have a lot of good things going on for me....a great wife and young adult daughters that are turning out to be good women, a good job that has provided me with a respected position and has me doing exciting things within my chosen occupation and last, but far from least, the drive and ability to have changed my life and chose to participate in activities in which most people would dream participating--if they even dared to dream boldly.

In the last week, my troubles felt like they continued on.

However, I began to realize the joyless moments did not minimize the joyful moments. We all have periods of of darkness in our lives, but what matters is how we deal with them. This past week I was swimming at the pool when I was asked to split a lane by a friend and coach with my training group. However, in this case the coach was no ordinary coach, but was professional triathlete Sarah Gray. As I swam back and forth having a better than average swim for myself, I got to see Sarah blow by me time and again, leaving me feeling like I was a turtle (in fact I logged this turtle reference in my personal log). However, in this case I took joy from having a good swim and did not feel down at all just because I was not as fast as another athlete, in this case a professional athlete who can swim circles around most people.

As the week went on I saw other bright spots spots being revealed in the midst of darker spots. These spots stood out to me in stark contrast to the darkness that surrounded them. The more I noticed this, the more I realized the good things around me. In fact it is the days with little joy in them that have reminded me how blessed I am normally and how much joyfulness usually is present in my life. In a strange way it has been the joyless moments that have allowed me to have a greater appreciation for the better moments of my life, which in turn allows my to better appreciate those moments which contain less joy.

Due to circumstances in my weekend I was unable to conduct my normal bike training workout and I replaced this with an extra run. I ran almost 8 miles on Saturday and then I also ran 8 miles on Sunday for my normal bike workout. Saturday's workout was late in the afternoon as storms had come by and narrowly missed the area, which helped cool things a bit. As I was a several miles into the run I came across a pond with several turtles along the edge. As I stopped for a closer look, several of the turtles came out to look at me.

As the turtles came closer I took a step forward. This caused all but the closest one to return to the relative safety of the water. However, the closest turtle kept coming until we were within a foot of each other, and then we stared at each other for a moment. It seemed that my turtle comparison earlier in the week was not accident and I felt that I was just fine with the turtle comparison. As a great friend told me when I recounted this story, turtles are strong and long-lived. While they are also cautious, they are not as slow as many believe them to be--particularly in their natural surroundings. After a moment I left the turtle and continued with my run. This was just a long slow run but it was faster than expected while I maintained an appropriate training heart rate for a long, slow run.

In the course of training, most of my advances have come from the judicious application of long, slow training to improve my body systems. In this case, the turtle may be the perfect symbolism for me and my advances.

As I came into my run this morning, I expected a slower run due to it being a back to back daily run. I was wrong in this case as it proved to be a very good run while staying low in my heart rate zones. Not only that, today but I was also feeling great! A little more than halfway through this run I realized that, for the first time since returning to an active lifestyle, I had felt the feelings of complete joy and serenity while running in a way that felt it was a natural run that I could maintain all day. I've know for some time that I could run all day--in fact I did it in February--but this was the first time that I had reclaimed those feelings from my runs while I was in my 20's.

That felt truly joyful!

Bridgeland 2012 Race Report

It's been a long couple weeks since the Bridgeland Sprint Triathlon and I just kept putting off my blog post about it. I finally made myself sit down and put this report out before I forgot more details and made this even more difficult.

After my last blog post my ankle seemed to heal fairly quickly and I was excited to be doing Bridgeland as a fun C-level race. However, the Wednesday before the race saw me dealing with pain on the sole of my left foot -- the previous ankle issue was my right foot.As it turned out, I had had a plantar wart festering in the ball of this foot for several months and it picked now to blow up in size and cause pain to plan weight upon my foot. A Friday trip to the doctor provided freezing treatment, and with it I had hope that I might be able to do the triathlon. Due to my foot issues I was unsure if I would be doing this race as recently as the morning before the race. However, my foot seem lasted to hold up decently well on a short Saturday morning run and I decided I was going to give Bridgeland a go. If anything, I was over-rested for this race given the recent foot injuries limiting my training a bit over the last two weeks.

On Sunday morning, my foot was giving me a bit of discomfort as I was going through the morning pre-race routine, but nothing more than being at a nuisance level. I got to the race site early and was in transition as it opened. I was set up quickly and went to lay by the OutRival Racing tent for 30-40 minutes. After that I got up to make a final check of transition before moving on to the swim start area. In this timeframe I made the first of several trips to the porta potties. Eventually I had everything worked out and met up with friends over near the swim start. My race plan was simple for today, try to get a good swim and then take what I could from the bike and run and enjoy this day.

Since I was in one of the early waves (4th or 5th) I stayed near the start are and quickly lined up my my group. When the time came for my wave I found a spot a bit to the left and in front of some less confident looking swimmers. When the horn went off, I found myself going at a solid rate with only a few pink (my wave) caps ahead of me. Somewhere near 150-200 meters in (maybe a bit more), I was suddenly hit with severe abdominal cramps for a moment which caused me to stop and breastroke for a short bit. I regained my composure and swam about 50-75 more meters and had more cramps that felt more severe than before. At this point I started to feel concerned and looked for a canoe or buoy that I might need to swim towards. Since neither was close I chose to breastroke for a bit as the cramps came and went for a moment or two. Suddenly and somewhat uncontrollably, I passed a lot of gas from my system and began to feel better and I soon resumed my swim, though this time at a more moderate pace for most of the rest of the swim. I exited the swim in 13:21. This was well behind my original expectations, but better than I imagined it would be as I got out of the water after my experience that day. :-/

As I completed this rather eventful swim, I exited and I found I could initially run on the carpeted path to transition, though after a minute my foot hurt enough that I had to walk and then limp my way to my bike. I had stashed some extra bandages for my foot near my bike and reapplied them to the sole of my left foot, and then I put on thicker socks than normal and also put on my bike shoes before leaving the transition area. Given the pain in my foot, I was moving pretty slow all through the transition process. T1 was: 4:02.

After I mounted my bike I started off at at good cadence with a slightly easier gear to keep pressure easier on my foot. Even in my current state I passed many more people than passed me on the bike. Although I specifically was not using a Garmin or bike computer to monitor my pace because I did not want to try to force myself to go faster than my comfort level would indicate, I was watching my heart rate and that heart rate stayed lower than I would normally expect it to be for a race effort. When my foot pain would bother me more than I wanted to bear, I would ease up on the gears a bit and try to make it up in cadence of my pedaling. My foot definitely hurt more as the cycling continued. In my mind I figured I was probably averaging in the 17-18 mph range , and maybe 19 mph if I was lucky. I was very surprised to see that I averaged 20.6 mph, which was very close to last year's bike speed (20.7) but under much less optimal personal conditions this time out. When I neared transition I took my feet out of the bike shoes and pedaled with them on top of the shoes. This was the least painful part of pedaling for me, probably because the distribution of weight from my foot to the top of the shoes kept pressure spread away from the area of the plantar wart. I finished the bike in 37:54 at 20.6 mph.

Once I got back to T2, I had to limp my way back to the bike and I gave a moment of thought to stopping the race, as I figured running would be more painful than cycling. However, I also thought I should start out and go from there. I took some extra care to get my shoes on comfortably and make sure my bandages were properly positioned on my foot. When I stood up it seemed fine and I jogged out of transition feeling good enough to give it a go. I finished T2 in 2:38.

The run was a very interesting one. All I really hoped for was a comfortable run with a minimal amount of foot discomfort. I felt good starting out and tried to keep a quick and easy cadence without forcing a pace. I found that what seemed a quicker and shorter stride felt less painful to me and ran like that. My heart rate was pretty much in the mid to upper 150s for most of the run, though I didn't much look at my watch and tried to just run on feel. This would be about 10-15 beats lower per minute than I would have normally expected for a true race effort. I hit the lap button at each mile (apparently, other than the mile 3 marker that I did not see). Mile 1 was in 8:04 with a 155 avg HR. I noticed about a half mile in that I was feeling more pressure than pain in my foot and tried to block it out from there and enjoy the run. Mile 2 was a bit slower in 8:23 with a 161 avg HR, I was still going on feel and trying to keep things comfortable and was just glad I wasn't falling apart from my foot around this point. The last 1.1 miles were finished in 8:18 with a 169 avg HR. I waited until getting up the grassy hill off the path near the end before trying to pick up my pace to the end. I was still feeling good and just went with it, though I could definitely feel my foot much more when I ran harder. I finished in a surprisingly strong 24:45 run considering my injured status. If I'd been healthy I would have expected better, but considering the status of my foot I expected a high 20 minute range run with some walk breaks thrown it. Last year's run pace was 9:16 per mile and I felt healthy and gave a harder effort, this year was 7:59 avg run pace.Overall time was 1:22:42, over 4 minutes faster than last year, though a different course. Overall I had a better race this year while feeling sick and having a bad foot. I'm thinking a healthy me could have finished at least 10 minutes better than that and maybe more.