Sunday, April 24, 2016

Texas State Senior Games

As a 50 year old, I have entered into a new decade of life, a decade whose first year overlaps the last year of the decade marking my successful attempt to claim the lost fitness of my youth. In celebration of my continuing adventures I decided to participate in the Texas State Senior Games, and to do so in a series of cycling events--5K and 10K Time Trials, as well as 20K and 40K Road Races. These would be the first cycling only events that I have done.

The schedule called for the 10K Time Trial and 20K Road Race to be Saturday and the 5K Time Trial and 40K Road Race to be on Sunday. Unfortunately, weather became a factor and forced the cancellation of the 40K on Sunday and they moved the 5K Time Trial to Saturday afternoon.

First up was the 10K Time Trial, which is a solo event where a rider goes all out for best effort against the clock. As we had light rain and wet roads, I was a bit cautious  but still put out my best effort over what was a pretty short distance for me. I finished in 17:48 for the 10K course, good enough for 4th place, which also qualified me for the 2017 National Senior Games. This was certainly a very good first effort for me in a cycling event, especially given that I felt that I learned a lot from that experience.

Next up was the 20K Road Race, which was also my very first drafting legal cycling event of any kind. I started out with the lead pack, although after the first mile was feeling like they were working a bit harder than I wanted to work and I saw some riders with stability issues on the wet roads. I decided to let the lead pack go, but needed up staying ahead of the second pack of riders (if there was one). I think this was the best decision of me under these circumstances but still was glad that I learned from this experience. I finished 5th in my age group in a time of 38:16.

Last up was the rescheduled 5K Time Trial, and I was hoping to take advantage of not having gone completely all out on the road race helping me be a bit less tired. I don't really know if that helped or not as the 5K Time Trial was pretty much an all out gut wrenching effort for an event. I just tried to leave everything I could out on the course and then keep myself composed enough to finish while trying to sprint to the finish. At least that was the plan, and that is pretty much what I did. I completed the course in 8:39, good enough for 2nd place (and the silver medal position) along with another Nagionals qualifying spot. I can definitely tell you that it felt great to know that I did my best and to also collect an award for this effort at a state level competition.

Overall, I have to feel that this was a very successful weekend where I learned some things about myself, some things about cycling and most of all that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. After all, it is going outside one's comfort zone that pushes them to make good things happen.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Beginnings and Endings.....

It's been a bit over nine years since I began the journey that brought me through this blog and to the point I am now. My weight loss journey sorta/kinda began in December 2005 when I turned 40. I was grossly overweight and told myself that it was time to take control of my health and get back into shape. That "idea" rolled around in my head for most of the next year without finding the motivation to start anything, much like the years before them.

I think it was the following October that I found John Bingham's book "Marathoning for Mortals"  and in it found the pathway I would use to try to keep that promise made to myself months ago. I also ultimately hoped to rekindle a long ago held goal to run the Marine Corps Marathon--an old desire from my days as a Marine.  I ultimately decided to run a half marathon the following May, and used a 5K and 10K in the months before it as intermediate goals. I had to start with walking more than running. Slowly, over time, I was able to run more than walk, and I met my goal of completing that half marathon on April 1, 2007.

Over that summer I kept up with my running because it helped me feel healthier and stronger and I found other races to do to help keep me motivated. By the end of that year I had done a variety of races at the 5K (2), 10K, 10 mile, and half marathon (2) distance. In December, I allowed myself to be talked into a 50K trail run, for which I was terribly unprepared but I did complete, though primarily because I the strength of will to keep going (or I was too stubborn to give up). In 2008 the stage was set for something that would become a habit for the future, I always seemed to find the next big thing. In addition to the 5K and half marathon distance, I also completed races at the 25K, 30K and marathon distance. Keeping a forward looking focus allowed me to continue in running.

2009 added more races at a variety of distances, and also my first triathlons. I completed a two sprint triathlons, an Olympic distance triathlon that was every bit the disaster that 50K was in 2007 and a half iron distance. Despite the difficulty in moving through a new sport for which I was physically ill-equipped, I fell in love with triathlon. My back of the pack saga continued with numerous races, and a good amount of weight loss came along in this journey, carried into 2010 when my biggest letdown of the year to come became the greatest thing that could have happened to me.

2010 opened up early with a January half and full marathon, a February half marathon and an early April 10K, but the race that changed everything was the late April half Ironman race in Galveston. In the previous October, I struggled to complete the race in 7:58:38, and was happy with that. However, this race was going to be different as I had planned for it over the winter and was training for it. However, it was not to be as I again struggled to a 7:52 finish, with which I was generally disappointed.  After that race I was left with the feeling that I could do much better than I had done, but I wasn't able to put things together to see that improvement. Ultimately, that led to a meeting with Michelle LeBlanc, a coach and former professional athlete. I went into that meeting thinking she would never be able to relate to me and I left that meeting thinking I had found the help I was seeking. For the rest of the year my training evolved and my results improved at races, by the fall my half Ironman time was down to 7:07:43.

2011 opened with continued improvements to the 5K and Olympic distance triathlon as it led to a May Ironman race, again the newer and bigger thing. It was a tough day for me at Ironman Texas (IMTX) but  finished in 16:35:49. The many races that came through the rest of the year showed accelerated improvement with finishes now coming commonly in the middle of the pack and another fall half Ironman of 6:21:22.

2012 was the year everything changed. Twice. My weight was down more than 100 lbs from its high years before and I felt great in almost any activity. By March 3rd of that year I had completed a half marathon, full marathon, a 50 mile race and then another marathon.This led back to that same half Ironman race where I had felt that I had failed two years prior. This time I was trained, rested and ready and I finished in 5:52:05--over a two hour drop from that failed race and almost a half hour drop from the last fall.The next month brought an IMTX time of 13:41:06, nearly three hours faster than the previous year! On July 1st, I had a sprint triathlon that showed me the unexpected results of my fitness, and while I wasn't completely feeling rested from IMTX, I still finished fourth in my age group and felt a great joy if finishing near the top of the age group. That feeling was enhanced over the next three races where I finished first in my age group in two sprint triathlons and a 5K. However, 2012 had another change for me as I was seriously injured in late October when I was hit by a car while riding my bike training for another fall half Ironman, and the rest of the year is spent working on recovery.

2013 opens with me not being cleared to even try training until sometime in February, but while being under the care of a physician and a coach I am able to return to training and complete a spring half Ironman and then Ironman Texas. Those were slower than they had been previously but I had managed to come back to complete them. Later that summer I was able to compete in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship due to my qualifying in 2012 and enjoyed a great opportunity to see the best in the sport up close.

In 2014 I start off with great hope following 2013 but find things not quite coming together in the spring. Ultimately I find that I am having some imbalances with my thyroid and endocrine system, and I sit out the spring and summer while I get straightened out. I also get a lottery slot for the Marine Corps Marathon and train for that for October as a fun race, and complete it, and this becomes my base training for going forward. I finish 2014 feeling a whole lot better than when I began.

Training starts to pick up again in 2015 and I have goals for two Ironman races and a few other events. Spring is all about base building and training. My weight is still back up from last year's health issues but I am able to train consistently. My races aren't as fast as they were a few years ago before I had been through injury and other health issues but I do complete everything in front of me. When Ironman Texas rolls around, I make some early mistakes and have a bad day. It becomes my second slowest Ironman race but it still goes down as a completion but not one I am thrilled over. After some thought on the matter I push ahead to continue my racing schedule with a variety of distances, which includes Ironman Florida in November. Training starts slow for IMFL but comes together. As race day gets close I feel like I am back to where I was several years ago, but am not quite ready to trust that it is true. Race day becomes the day of truth for me and I finish with a new PR time of 13:21:31 over my pre-injury 2012 IMTX time! This was the highest point for me in over three years for this sport.

As 2015 closes and 2016 opens, I do cover more races and even earn my tenth podium finish in February 2016. I have to remember that in my early years, finishing with an award seemed so far from reality. The path I have been on has been so memorable that I sometimes forget the details that happened along the way, but I do remember that I do these things more for health and fitness than I do for pride or awards.

All of that brings me to the last couple months where I have literally felt at a crossroads, partly because I am not sure what I wish to do and partly because of external circumstances. Over this time I thought of leaving the sports I do, or at least from doing events, I have considered whether or not I would leave the racing/training group I have trained with for several years, I have considered whether I would leave active coaching or change the nature of it, and more.........

Ultimately, I did a lot of soul searching, talking with friends, I read through old blog posts, emails and training/racing reports and got a feel for the big picture of things. From my first workout in November 2005 through today I have been on a wondrous adventure, one I have not always appreciated, but one many would envy the opportunity to experience. In that time I have participated in almost 100 races (current count sits at 94) and shared thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of miles with great friends---most of whom I would never have met if not for the act of starting that first workout and then following through with this adventure. I went from fat to athletic and found that my 40s were a wonderful time in my life. Here I sit in the first months of my 50s looking forward to the journey and adventures that still await me. Most of the races and experiences I spoke of earlier in this post are detailed in previous posts. I hope many of the experiences to come will also be detailed here in the future. I know I have lost my regular readers by not posting for the longest time, but I suppose I need to write for myself before anyone else might even care to read it.

So, what adventures lay ahead for me? I was picked for this year's Marine Corps Marathon lottery again and look forward to it! I feel it was the springboard for my 2015 success and will use it that way again for 2017. I think most of 2016 will be dominated by run training and cycling training to improve myself with an effort to best my PR time for Ironman Texas in April 2017. I may even sit out triathlon for the whole year, but I also have my first ever cycling only event next weekend. I look forward to some new experiences this year to shake things up and then go after some solid goals next year, and I hope to share it all here (at least from time to time).

The opening stanza of Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" has inspired me recently and goes as such:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I have decided that, as my years go on, I want to keep having adventures and being able to enjoy experiences. I will not be giving in to age or other limitations I may experience but I will fight to enjoy these experiences for the rest of my days. My experiences of the last decade have served to set me up for the rest of my life where I now know that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to do. I have decided that this is not the end for me, it is merely the end of the beginning, and a whole vast future of opportunity lay ahead for me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Ironman Florida 2015 (aka Time to Put Up or Shut Up)

Well, it's been five months since IMFL, and life has kept me busy; but I really did want to come back and tell my IMFL 2015 story. I will borrow heavily from my report made to my coach and advisor which was written not long after the race. As I left off in a previous report, IMTX 2015 did not as well as hoped and I had higher hopes for IMFL.

The previous weekend, indeed the entire week, had been such a whirlwind that I don't know where to begin. Let's start with early race morning....

I woke about 3:15 am and started pre-race morning preparation, to include breakfast and electrolytes.  Even after breakfast I would continue to take in calories and electrolytes slowly in liquid form until about 15 minutes before the start. I also took some salt stick capsules around that time as well.

The swim didn't look good with 8 foot or more waves at the start and rolling waves in the middle areas that affected me, too. It seemed I was almost always close to people and making adjustments around them. I tried not to use too much energy just to counter other people and tried to concentrate on stroke and my line. My first lap was 41:40 and I was happy with that. I had more trouble with people in the second loop and tried to not let it bother me. After the last turn I picked up my pace a bit and worked on going hard for the last 3/4 of the final straightaway back to the shore. I stumbled a bit getting out of the water and took in some ocean water. As I made my way to the wetsuit strippers I was starting to cough, heave and puke enough that they offered to call medical but I passed on the offer. As an ironic twist of events, an old training partner and I were coming out of the water together on the last loop. :-) Loop 2 time was 47:59 and the total swim time was 1:29:39, which is my fastest IM swim.

Given how I felt, I went a little slow through T-1 and hoped to right myself, as I really did not want my race to end that early. I got my bag, found a seat, got prepared, peed and got my bike and got going. T-1 time was 12:48. Slower than I would have liked but I am glad I took the time to settle myself out.

I started the bike with the main goal being to FOLLOW THE PLAN, with a specific heart rate goal +/-2 beats. That proved to be tough for the first 15-20 minutes. As I recall, it was somewhere in that 15-20 minute range before I ever got my heart rate down to even the +2 beats over that target. I kept things on the easier effort side and eventually my heart rate began to come down. For the next 5-10 minutes, my heart rate also seemed to climb easier but then seemed to settle down. Around this time my stomach seemed to be settling out, too. Over the first 5 miles split, of actual data, my avg speed was 17.7 mph (felt slower) and Avg HR was 9 beats high. After that whenever my heart rate went over the range, I made the effort to let it come down through some form of easier effort. That easier effort might have been shifting to an easier gear, pedaling a bit slower or coasting depending on circumstances. As the miles went on I realized I got stronger, and the miles kept coming and going. I had my Garmin on a screen only showing heart rate and total time for the bike, so I didn't know my speed or total mileage, with the exception of seeing the mile markers each 10 miles and mentally doing the math to divide that against the time. The middle third of the course had some interesting hills and I kept noticing I was passing far more people than passed me. When I came to special needs area I felt I was fully on plan and comfortable and I just moved to the left a bit and blew through the area (safely). I got some moderate rain around miles 65-75 but that as all I saw of the rain.  As the ride continued I worked had to stay on my mantra of "Stay Positive", "HR Avg", "Nutrition Plan" and repeat. I saw several fellow OutRival Racing team riders out there and gave them each a supportive word as I passed them. Generally, I slightly negative split the bike course. I think there was a bit of a tailwind between miles 80-95/100 range but there was a good headwind and some crosswinds the last 12 miles. I did captured 5 mile split data for the bike. It seems that miles 85-100 were my fastest 5 mile sets at 20.4, 20.6 and 20.2 mph, each at Avg HR at the bottom of my goal range. In the last 12 miles, I did slow a bit to work on keeping my heart rate down. I averaged around 17.1 mph over that period with and a slightly high heart rate over that period. I thought I was slower than I really was and just had trouble moving my heart rate slower other than when I coasted to lower it. Overall, my bike split was 6:02:55, and I did have to use some self control to not push the later miles just to keep it under 6 hours for the sake of being under 6 hours. This was easily my fastest bike in any IM.
I suppose I can best sum up my riding as saying that I successfully avoided being my own worst enemy by following the plan.

As I came through T-2, I worked to be a bit faster through transition than before. I also noted that I got off the bike feeling ready to run, which was amazing. As everyone else was walking around I was trotting through transition and trying to get out and run! T-2 time was 9:23.

The 2 loop run became a tale of two separate stories. Lap 1 was almost according to plan. I got a banana in transition and I followed nutrition plan pretty much on target through mile 9-10 range. After that I started to have a hard time with gels and stopped those while trying to take extra Gatorade Endurance. In that first lap, I only walked at aid stations or just after as I finished taking in nutrition. In the midst of the 14th mile I hit a dark point where I thought I couldn't run anymore. I resigned myself to needing to walk a mile to reset myself and go from there. After walking 3/10 of a mile I felt I should run and I ran to the next aid station. After that point I would walk the first 2/10 to 3/10 of each mile in addition to aid stations. That slowed my time but also kept me running longer than I thought I could. I felt like I was balancing on the blade of a knife but was able to find a balancing point. Knowing what my time was, I have to admit I knew where I was relative to my PR,  I also knew I could slow even more than I did and still PR but I wanted more than just barely getting a PR at this point.  Starting at mile 18-20 I started taking chicken broth for extra nutrition and at mile 22 I started taking Coke for extra sugar. For much of the back half of the run I felt like my mouth was drying and kept drinking water. Around mile 18 I felt that my fingers were slightly swelling, which usually indicates too much water too me, so I adjusted accordingly. I do feel like this was my best IM run from any of my 5 IM races, in addition to it being my fastest IM run by a few minutes over the 2012 time. The run time was 5:32:46.

Overall, this was a PR for me at 13:27:31, beating out my 13:41:06 from 2012 IMTX, and was also nearly 2 hours 20 minutes of improvement over last May's time of 15:46:27.

This race turned out to be a great success and I am glad I followed through after the way IMTX 2015 turned out. This race has also inspired me to look forward to my next IM goal of breaking 13 hours in 2017--something which I would have considered unbelievable after my first IM but I now think is very much possible.

Thanks for reading!