Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hardware in the house.

Normally in a day which started with my second fastest 5k ever (in 31:42 for a 10:13/mile pace), I would be remembering the race and let that positively influence my attitude for the rest of my day. Today, though, Amanda trumped that on all levels and that had a bigger positive influence on the rest of my day.

First a little back story. A few weeks ago Amanda decided to see if she could qualify for the high school cross country team in the fall. Her middle school doesn't have a team so the only option is the high school team. Since she is only just finishing 7th grade, she had to do all sorts of qualifying athletic tests to even be considered. These tests included sit ups, broad jump, shuttle run, 50 yard dash, and 1.5 mile run.

She passed them all but she needed to find a 5K before she went off to sleep away camp to see what her current abilities actually are (she doesn't do any specific run training but the rest of her activities get her running at times). Her 5k PR was 27:23 but it was set in December of 2006. Each of the races that she did since then had "unique" circumstances including one time that the leaders (and Amanda) got lost and another when a snow storm dumped a few inches of the white stuff on the route making running a challenge. The Sean Ryan Memorial 5K in Long Beach, NY on Saturday 6/27 fit the bill to see what was what with her running. I, naturally, ran too but I knew that I couldn't match her pace.

She crushed this race. Finished in 25:37 for an 8:15/mile pace. Won her age group. Got called up onto the podium and was given her first running trophy ever . Got a medal too. Wore the medal all day. Wore the race tee shirt all day. Carried the trophy around. I was happy because she was happy. All day.

I would think this performance would be enough to let her try out for the team but you never know. I can only imagine what she could do if she actually trained and learned how to race.

She might steal my rock star moniker if she continues to improve. But then again, she would deserve it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How to improve my swimming confidence

"A goal without a plan is a wish"

I believe the biggest potential for improving my triathlon race performance has to do with my swimming ability and even more so, my self perceived swimming ability. At Eagleman, I worried myself into a frenzy the night before since there was a possibility of a non wetsuit swim and feel that I paid the price (a little) on the bike and (a lot) on the run.

I have two goals regarding swimming. The first goal is simply not to suck. The second goal is to not spend too much energy during the swim leg of a race while not sucking. This will hopefully save some energy to help my corresponding goals for the bike and run legs of a triathlon (again, based on nonsucking).

For those who haven't been following this blog (yes, as hard as it may be to realize, there are more than a few. In fact, many. Ummm, almost all is probably most accurate.), I've previously defined not sucking for my swimming (see as being able to swim at a pace faster than 2:00/100m for a distance, say half iron (1.2 miles aka 2112 yards aka 1931 meters in 38:37). My Eagleman wetsuit swim time of 43:01 translates into 2:13/100m. Close, but still sucking. I don't need to be greedy. 5 minutes will do nicely. Full disclosure, this was wetsuit aided.

Rockstar research has found that the best path to improve swimming is, well, by swimming and swimming often. Frequency is much more important than intensity. Almost any recovery day can include a recovery swim.

Going to the pool was a chore. It was about a 20 minute drive each way and they close too early for me or open too late (Jose's LITC "midnight" swim excluded) so Dawn and I decided a while ago to get a pool. Our property is so wooded that the bugs make it often unbearable outside in the summer and the New York winters prevented swimming at other times since it is, you got it, winter. So, it took a while but we got the town to approve the plans and we're almost finished building this:

An endless pool. I've gone in it already even though construction hasn't completed. In addition to being very convenient, it seems to magnify my swimming flaws. The most notable is that my hips and legs seem even lower than their normal "bad" place. The mirror also makes me look fat - the painfully obvious truth hurts some times.

So, what's the plan? Swim open water once a weekend now that the outdoor water temp is in the 60s, swim with a Master's class (TTT or LITC) once a week to refine form and mix in some intensity and swim 3 times weekly in "endless". If I can't do open water (schedule or weather), add an endless session. If I can do the endless in the morning (I need to be in the shower by 6:15am to make my train), I gain schedule flexibility after work. The endless sessions can be quickies, 30 minutes or so.

No more excuses. It might take a while but I now have a plan to not suck at swimming. That'll improve my confidence. I hope to never be up all night again worrying about a non wetsuit swim. I'm still not going to ask Jiminy Cricket to stop wishing on a star though. We know what kind of star it is: A Rock Star.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Time to get back to training.

Last night we held a celebration dinner for our Eagleman Training group at Piccola Bussola( ) in Mineola, NY . Tony and his team, as usual, did a great job with the food. We probably all ate too much although it could be debated that is impossible to eat too much of Piccola Bussola's Tiramisu or Tortufo.

During the dinner we discussed training and racing plans (Cary shooting for 2010IMLP, Fran trying to get everyone else on the east coast for 2011, and Christine planning her wedding around event dates) and decided to keep our small training group together for Timberman and perhaps even beyond. It is frightening that we were discussing our 2011 race calendar now!

I got on the scale this morning and found I've gained a few pounds since EagleDay. Not a surprise. This is probably due to a much reduced recovery/training workload coupled with a much increased food consumption for the past week or so. This increased consumption, by the way, was not mosty "healthy" choices (see previously mentioned tiramisu and tortufo).

Tonight is my first "real" bike workout post half-ironman. It is a workout that I normally hate (as riding hard and all-out hurts) but I'm sort of looking forward to it in a weird sort of way.

Recovery over. Back to work. Lose those pounds. Timberman is 8/23.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A father's day gift

The past few months I've been training and racing a lot. Most weekends have been spent either away physically (Florida for St. Anthony's triathlon or various trips to Cambridge, MD to preview and ultimately race Eagleman) or mentally (focusing on training sessions or local races). I've been squeezing in family stuff as best I can but it has been a challenge.

I was supposed to race the NYRR 5m Father's Day race with Amanda this morning. Earlier this week she decided to skip this race as she is considering trying out for our high school cross country team in the fall. Since she won't be in High School yet, she has to do all sorts of physical tests to even be considered. The 5m race would have been her longest run ever and since she, as usual, hasn't done any run specific training she was concerned that this could take a lot out of her physically. So she bailed.

The weather on Long Island has been crap recently and the forecast called for worse today. I woke up to the sound of rain pelting off the house and decided not to race since it would be only me and it wouldn't be fun.

I went back to bed and woke up to a family cuddle. Happy Father's day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ironman Eagleman 70.3 - Recollections and race report

On June 14, 2009, I raced Ironman Eagleman 70.3 as my first Half Ironman race. While I'm typically very numbers centric and oriented, I wanted this race report to be more of a "touchy feelie" type of recap as I feel (see?) that is the best path to improvement for me.

My wife Dawn and I traveled down to Cambridge, MD on the Friday before the race as I wanted to get settled early and recover from the 5+ hour car ride. We stopped a few times along the way, hooking up with some friends for lunch at a Cracker Barrel along the way. When we got to Cambridge, we went to the race check in, got my number (lucky #772), swag bag, and checked out the small expo realizing it is bad news when even though you already seem to have everything some extra stuff caused some money to jump out of my wallet. Did some local shopping at Walmart for staples (fresh bagels for breakfast, chocolate milk for recovery, Gatorade, some bottled water for the hotel room, PAM for the wetsuit, etc). Ate a quick dinner at the Greek/Italian Palace and when to bed early.

Saturday's plan was to do a short swim, bike and run. I was scheduled to meet those same Cracker Barrel and other Eaglefriends for an open water swim starting at 7am but they rescheduled to 9am as other folks were coming in late or staying up late. This year Eagleman had a new swim course since the boat ramp typically used for the swim exit was under construction so the buoys were on the right rather than the left (good news for right side breathers like me). We started swimming from the finish out to the last buoy and stood up (the water was about 4 1/2 ft deep here) and found the water as a salt water light (they estimated about 20% salt water as the upstream Choptank River was fresh and the downstream Chesapeake Bay was salt). Swam then to the second to last buoy and found the water a little deeper. Turned around to get landmarks for siting and easily swam in. Regrouped for a short ride and a short run and then headed back to the hotel. All was good but it seemed like it was getting hot, humid and windy.

I decided to go to the pre-race meeting figuring if I got anything out of it it could be beneficial. They stated that a focus area of enforcement was wearing numbers facing back on the bike. The race director then stated that the water temperature was measured at 78 and there was a possibility of a non-wetsuit swim.

For me, this is about the worse thing that he could have said. I'm not a confident swimmer and the last triathlon that I did that was non-wetsuit was a train wreck of epic proportions (but that is a story for another day). My freaking out started. I wrapped up my bike as the forecast called for a chance of rain overnight and checked it in. The freaking out continued. Ate some Denny's pancakes and went back to the hotel. The freaking out level increased.

That "chance" of rain proved to be an understatement. Violent storms hit the area at about 1am and between constant worries about the no wetsuit possibility (should I even start?, am I doomed?, I promised to really learn how to swim, etc) and walls shaking from the thunder, I got no sleep at all.

Got out of bed at 4am (note I didn't say woke up), took a shower, ate breakfast and got to the race site at a little after transition opened at 5am. The transition area was in a place called Great Marsh Park and the rain from the night before made me realize why the park was named as it was. The rain turned the park's grass into a mud pit mixed with a little bit of swamp (Shrek would have been comfortable). There were inches of water on the bike and standing water all around. I started setting up and heard the magic words over the PA, "the official water temperature is 76.4 degrees so wetsuits will be allowed." My freaking out stopped and my blood pressure probably went down 50 points after hearing that announcement. 76.4 is one of my new favorite numbers.

It still looked like it could rain some more with full cloud cover so I put my run stuff in plastic to prevent it from getting soaked. My plan for the swim was to just take it smooth, remembering to reach, have full strokes, to glide, and find feet where I could. Eagleman has a reputation as a choppy swim but the water seemed fine to me. My wave (M45-49, #5) got into the water and it seemed that no one wanted to get in front while waiting for the start. When we started swimming I kept drifting a little left but overall I was having a decent swim until about half way through, my face started burning. JELLY FISH. I tried to swim through them and it got better for a few minutes and then it started again. I was able to keep my pace steady until the swim end. I felt really fresh at the end of the swim and mentally convinced myself that if I ever had to double the length of the swim (in a few years perhaps), that shouldn't be an issue. Other issues, unfortunately, would come sooner rather than later.

I did my swim/bike transition and heard they were playing Jackson Brown's "Running on Empty" over the PA. I told the race announcer as I ran by that this was a bad song to play today and he laughed. I got on the bike but found I couldn't clip in since there was too much mud in my cleats. I was able to stay on the bike and be a contortionist to get the mud out, clipped in and focused on not going too hard to save myself for the wind (another Eagleman "reputation") and the following run. That plan didn't work as fatigue set in suddenly and way too early. All energy seemed to leave my body. I tried eating and drinking to cure the fatigue to no success. I thought maybe I was pushing too hard but that wasn't the case either as I was under my power and HR targets. My pace was about where I wanted so I rationalized it was either the lack of sleep or that the swim took too much out of me. In any event, I realized that this wasn't going to be my best day physically so I accepted that remembering the quote "all you can do is all you can do." Then the course turned into the wind for the next 25 miles or so. Fatigue and wind don't mix well but I was able to keep the pedals turning.

Fortunately, I finished the bike right at about the time that I estimated. I took my run stuff out of the plastic and started to run. My plan was to take a break at each water stop to rehydrate and just concentrate on going mile to mile. I found my pace much slower than expected and the fatigue still there so I didn't push very hard as my primary goal was to just finish. The run course is an out and back. The wind was in my face on the way out and I looked forward to having the tailwind help me on the return.

I don't know why tail winds never seem to make up for head winds but that proved the case yet again. At about the 7 mile mark, a 5 ft long snake came out of the woods onto the road. People started screaming but I kept thinking of how to race a bear (you only need to be faster than one other person) and chuckled. My run plan worked until about the 9 mile mark and then I started walking more. At about 11 miles I realized that there was still a chance to hit my time goal so I started running more in earnest again.

I finshed and made my time goal by seconds.

What I learned:

  • I can finish a half ironman.

  • I added two favorite numbers to my list: 76.4 and 70.3.

  • There is more work to do.

  • Since I didn't really push myself due to the fatigue, I recovered quickly

  • I've been happy all week afterwards.
  • In addition to 6/14 being Flag day and the day the Rangers won the Stanley cup in 1994, it will always be Eagleday for me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eagleman by the numbers

weight 251.8 lbs

Individual starters 1544

Individual finishers 1412

Finish place 1373

Finish time 6:59:57, Rockstar finish time prediction (from October 2008) under 7:00:00, BikeMike finish time prediction 6:37:00 (including 10 min transitions)

Water Temperature 76.4

Swim place 1271

Swim time 43:01 Rockstar swim time prediction (45:00), BikeMike swim prediction (50:00)

Jelly fish stings 2

T1 place 1009

T1 Time 3:49

Bike place 1109,

Bike time 3:05:46 Rockstar bike time prediction 3:15:00, Bike Mike bike time prediction 3:00:00

Bike average speed 18.2 mph

Bike power 192w average, norm power 197w, VI 1.02

Bike heart rate average 147 bpm

Bike cadence average 78 rpm

T2 place 1360

T2 time 6:27

Run place 1400

Run time 3:00:56, Rockstar run time prediction 3:00:00, BikeMike run time prediction 2:37:00

Run pace/mile 13:49

Run heart rate average 147 bpm

Toe nails lost 1

Weeks until Timberman from race day 10

Monday, June 8, 2009

Carpe Diem

"Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
- Mark Twain

I don't know what will happen come Eagleman race day. That experience and my performance will either exceed, meet, or completely miss my expectations. The more I think about it I believe it to be most likely a blend of all three but I also realize that I wouldn't be in the position for some sort of loosely defined success if it wasn't for a bunch of people who helped me along the way.

I often read emails that people write that are expressions of happiness after events and I've even written some that have bordered on sappy as well. Writing this opus beforehand can be viewed as either very arrogant or desperate but the journey has been a life changing reward itself so I thought I give it a shot anyway. Thanks go out to:
  • Bike Mike who's expertise, guidance and encouragement let me use my brain less to let me improve more.

  • The EagleTeam (Cary, Casey, Christine, Fran, and Tim). Each brings something to the table that has pushed me along mostly providing me with a reference of when I am too insane or not insane enough. Of course, that bar is always moving.

  • Most of all, team Rockstar (Dawn, Amanda, and Courtney). This has been most impactful for them with the cost of me not being mentally and physically around when I was focusing on training but I hope this investment has made me and will make me a better husband and father. Without that, nothing else matters.

My last tidbit of advice for all racing and mostly to me. Seize the day. Carpe Diem.

Game on.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fear and Mental Fragility.

"Fear is the strongest driving force in competition. Not fear of one's opponent, but of the skill and high standard he represents; fear, too, of not acquitting oneself well. In the achievement of higher performances, of beating formidable rivals, the athlete defeats fear and conquers himself." - Franz Stampfl

Last weekend I went down to Cambridge, MD to preview the Eagleman course. I didn't do this as any sort of physical "challenge" as I should, by now, be able to swim, bike, and run the distances necessary for the half ironman. In fact, I've done them all as stand alone so why did I travel down there?

I did this to help my sometime feeble mind get ready for the race. I fully expect there will be hard times during the race where I will be thinking of everything but racing as strong as I should be racing. That everything will no doubt include a fear of failure and I'm trying to position myself to combat that fear as I know it will come at some point. I also know I've done the training (at least most of it) and I am readier than I originally expected I would be (except for those extra pounds still stuck on my body). What I don't know is how to best handle the fear associated with not doing well or of the unknown.

I wasn't happy with my performance this past weekend. I had hoped to be able to bike faster and easier than I was able to when I biked the EM course. I had hoped to be able to run faster and easier off the bike and on the next day when I went for my longer run. I failed miserably on the swim dry-run (pun intended) firstly since I had to delay it (due to no fault of my own as the weather gods didn't cooperate yet again with thunder and lightening at the race site) and secondly when I had wetsuit issues with the zipper. When I asked one of the local park denizens for help with the zipper she kept commenting that I needed to suck in my gut (see poundage issue previously mentioned). I then ran out of time as I had to check out of the hotel to head back north. I also wasn't happy with how my body felt with the various aches and pains both during and after each workout.

Did I waste my time then? No, I don't think so. I learned some things that I believe will help fight the fear of failure by gaining some experiences and lessons learned that will help being better prepared come race day:

1) I didn't drink enough on the bike even with my new Profile Design Aqua Rack on the bike. I finished 2 water bottles and 1.5 Gatorade bottles but needed more. The 5 (yes 5) cold medium diet cokes afterwards did taste a little like heaven though...

2) I probably didn't eat enough either. 1 bar and 3 gels while in the bike. A bagel with PB&J for breakfast and the slice of banana bread, although it tasted good, probably wasn't the right choice.
3) Points 1 & 2 manifested themselves on the transition run when my quads cramped up for the first 1/2 mile. I kept going and they did loosen up so that helped.

4) I decided I needed to eat some Endurolytes as part of T2 whether I feel I need them or not to prevent cramping on the run.

5) My shirts were bothering me due to the heat so I will put a backup in the bag to provide options in part of T2.

6) The wind. This could be a chapter unto itself. It will be what it will be. I kept having the mental image of a survivor game seeing when someone will give up. I kept focusing on keeping going even though the survivor theme song kept going through my head again and again. Queue it: Da-Di-Da-Di-Daaaaaaa.

The next two weeks will be my taper. I somewhat jokingly have said that this one of the few things I do well in the triathlon world but I expect the key to be managing my mental state of mind as it swings from being ready to not ready, Rock Star to slug and back again. Hopefully it will end on Rock Star but each workout is an opportunity for it to swing either way.

I want to, as Stampfl says, defeat fear and conquer myself. It is all mental from here (or so I hope).