Friday, October 9, 2015

Kona - Take #2

It's Friday around noon here in Kona.  I can see Ali'i and the expo from my balcony where I'm sitting.  There has been a steady stream of people out anxiety exercising all day - generally riding and running as if their race tomorrow depends on it.  They haven't mastered the mental aspect of racing yet.  I certainly haven't either but I have a pretty good grasp on the days leading up to a race and understand that "training" now is much more likely to hurt me than help.  I got a 90min ride out the Queen K on Wednesday and ran an easy 5 miles up Ali'i yesterday morning to keep my legs loose but today was nothing more than a casual swim.  I'm as ready as I can be at this point - I don't have any choice because the time to prepare is gone.  Come race day all you can do is accept what you bring even if it's not as much as you had hoped.

The machine ready for a relaxing 112 mile ride to Hawi and back

I really have no solid feel for how the day is going to go for me tomorrow.  My only reference is 2012 when I experienced Kona for the first time coming off my qualification race 60 days prior and having very little motivation to do another IM that season.  I cruised the swim, rode pretty conservatively, and forced myself through the marathon with plenty of walking.  I just had no desire to run, it was brutally hot and humid, and I didn't have anything to motivate me to hurt.  This year isn't really much different. I don't feel like I have anything to prove to myself but I'd like to knock a chunk of time off my previous 11:30:34.  I assume I'll swim roughly the same 1:10-1:12 but can probably improve my bike 10-15min depending on how the conditions play out.  The run is where I have the most opportunity in theory.  I "ran" a 4:28 in 2012 but all my other IM marathons have been sub 3:30.  I don't know if 3:30 is realistic tomorrow or not - it will mostly come down to how much I care when I get to that point in the day.  Overall I'd consider finishing in 10:30 a successful day but there is a lot I can't control and we'll just see how the day treats me.

I'm getting ready to do one last check of my gear bags before I head down to rack my bike.  After that there isn't much left to do but relax and wait.  A nice sampler at Kona Brewery might be in my very near future for lunch :)
Pre-Kona lunch of champions

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Second Coming of Kona

The 2015 Ironman World Championships in Kona are just over two weeks away and I'll be there for my second lap of the course.  I have some modest goals but this is still very much a victory lap...the reward for all the hard work and dedication I put in last year to qualify.  I'll never be competitive at Kona in the same way I am at most other races.  At most local and regional races I'm typically in the mix for the top 10 or better. At larger races like IM and IM70.3 I'm at least competitive for my AG podium.  But in Kona I'm middle of the pack on a good day.  In 2012 I was 11:34:xx with extremely little motivation to push it.  I walked a lot on the marathon because I honestly didn't really care much about my time, it was hot, I was tired, and I was just happy to be there.  This year I'd be satisfied if I cut that down to 10:30:xx. I think that is realistic if I can stay focused but we'll see how the day plays out.  Like I said, it's still very much a victory lap I don't know if I'll be able to bury myself for no real reason.  I don't feel like I have anything to prove.

I didn't really get into my training groove as early as I would have if this were truly an "A" race where I wanted to give it 100% for preparation.  That's not to say I have been doing plenty of high quality training but I put off building my long rides and runs for a few weeks so they wouldn't impact my chances for qualifying for the 2016 World Championships in Cozumel at USAT Nationals.  Since then I've been pretty consistent and made several trips out to get big rides in on Skyline Drive.A few weeks ago I put in a big training day where I swam an hour early then drove out to Skyline to ride 110 miles out/back from Big Meadows to Front Royal and finish with a 6-mile run off the bike.  Little did I know that particular section of Skyline is the toughest out/back. It took me 6:30 for 108 miles with over 11k of climbing (just short of 400 TSS). In comparison, I did a 96 mile out/back to Big Meadows from the Rockfish Gap end twice in previous weeks in 5:20 and 5:03.

That day shelled me pretty good but I think it was definitely a turning point for my training.  I got a pretty good fitness bump and most of my workouts have been strong since - especially my running. I also switched to a broken 2X per day long run and I really like it.  I can put in more volume at a faster pace with less recovery.  I'm definitely going to make that approach the norm for my training in the future.

At this point I'm moving into the taper but it's a very natural progression.  The typical triathlete taper for a big race tends to come with increased anxiety over the reduced training load - "I need to do more". Nobody ever feels ready and everyone thinks they need just a couple more weeks of serious training before the big day.  I'm not feeling any of that - I suppose due to the fact that I'm not all wrapped up about race day.  I feel plenty prepared to cover the course with minimal suffering and feel like I'm coming into it with probably about the same fitness as in 2012 without being completely burnt out (see how this went last time - The Big Dance).  It almost feels like I have a bit of Senioritis.  I know everything is basically locked in so I'm just coasting along.  For instance - it's going to be miserable for training here for the next 3 days over the weekend.  Instead of fretting or doing something stupid like trying to venture out into the rain and wind to get a long ride or run in I'm going to sleep in, relax, probably hop on the trainer for an hour or two on Saturday, but otherwise just accept it is what it is.  That's not to say I haven't been logging some high quality sessions recently (Strava) but I'm letting it flow much more freely and taking it as it comes.

So back to Kona - I fully intend to enjoy myself all week.  I'll get in a couple swims and a ride just to stay loose but I'm not going to sit in my room the rest of the day with my legs up.  Just like last 2012, I'm going to spend plenty of time walking around town checking out the expo and all the festivities, hitting the Underpants Run, visiting Kona Brewing, and having a vacation.  I suppose I'll put in a long workout on Saturday as long as I'm there.

Underpants Run founders Paul Huddle and Roch Frey with the Wattie Ink girls

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

2016 - Year of the Olympic(s)

2015 USAT National Championships in Milwaukee, WI
I've never been particularly interested in racing the USAT National Championships even though I generally qualify every year.  The shorter sprint and Olympic distances aren't my preference and something about a multiple day trip to race for ~2hrs just doesn't excite me.  About a month before Nationals this year I found out that World Championships in 2016 is going to be in Cozumel and though - that would be a good excuse to take a trip to Mexico!  So I made a snap decision to register for the Olympic distance race in Milwaukee and dropped some Skymiles on a flight.  I knew there was a group from VA Beach heading out and figured I'd be able to at least sleep on a couch somewhere but I had time to figure that out.

My primary focus this season is on Kona in October but I'm not really all-in on the training as I'm still approaching Kona as a reward for putting in the hard work to qualify. I have a realistic goal to cut a chunk of time off my first Kona in 2012 but I don't have any grand expectations and I have been a little casual with my training the first half of the season.  Still, I figured I had a decent chance of grabbing a spot on Team USA for Cozumel in 2016 but I had to earn it. I didn't really do anything specific to prepare for Milwaukee except hold off on building my long run and rides that I would typically be doing to prep for IM.  My strategy was basically just to manage fatigue a bit heading into the shorter race and give it my best shot.  I figured I needed to be in the 2:05-2:08 range to qualify for Team USA, which is right in my typical range.  Turns out I went 2:07:47 but picked up a 2min position penalty for not riding close enough to the right side of the road (officials were being very aggressive IMO) that dropped me one place out of the automatic qualifiers.  I wasn't particularly concerned though because it was unlikely that everyone ahead of me would take their slots so I still expected to make it, and did.

Mission accomplished - Cozumel 2016
So it's off to Cozumel in Sept 2016.  It should be a cool experience but again, the Olympic distance isn't my preference.  I'm also not completely satisfied with my race in Milwaukee but I couldn't really have expected much more considering I only decided 4 weeks out to register and hadn't been training for the shorter distance.  For that matter I've never trained specifically for any shorter races - sprint, Olympic, 5k, 10k - except for my first few triathlons where I was simply training to complete the distance.  I just ticked over 40 years old last September and I figure my opportunities to go fast are closing out so I decided to make 2016 the "Year of the Olympic(s)" - Olympic distance triathlon for me and THE Olympics for the rest of the world.  I'm setting some pretty ambitious goals - 5k and 10k PRs, and top 5 in my age group at USAT Nationals in Omaha. If I build my training with those specific goals in mind I think I have a reasonable chance of being faster than my younger self over the shorter distances.  Time will tell but I'm looking forward to a different challenge.  Guess I finally have some motivation to step up my swimming.
I'm taking a serious run at USAT Nationals in 2016

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Then and Now

This summer marks my 11th year of doing triathlons.  I come from a bit of a running background in high school where I was on both the track and cross country teams.  I ran the 400 and 800 because the 1600 and 3200 was just too damn long.  I only ran XC because some of my friend from track ran and it also helped me stay fit for track but that "long" 5k was never my favorite.  I checked out of running, and athletics in general, after high school except for playing some recreational ultimate frisbee, soccer, and beach volleyball in grad school.  I was still pretty fast zipping around the field but I certainly wasn't particularly fit.
Check out the beach body on grad school Joel
After grad school I moved to VA Beach for a job and joined a gym for something to do after work. I didn't know anyone and didn't have much else to do with my free time so I started lifting 5 days a week.
Behold 198lb gym rat Joel
Eventually I met some people and found the Hash House Harriers and got back to recreational running.  It was non-competitive, fun, and a nice change from the same old gym scene every day.  I did some 5k and 10k races and enjoyed running but got a little bored with just running so I decided to give triathlon a shot, which is what brings me to the original point of this blog post.  My first ever triathlon was Breezy Point sprint in 2004.  I had a road bike, bought a pair of tri shorts the day before at packet pick up, and sported a cotton tank top. I remember side stroking most of the swim because freestyle was so exhausting but don't really remember anything else about the race. I finished 250/527 overall and 26/48 in my age group with a time of 1:28:27.

2004 Breezy Point sprint - first triathlon
I think I've only done Breezy Point once again over the past 10 years because I don't like sprints and don't particularly like this course. Last year it was actually canceled due to security concerns (it's held entirely on Naval Station Norfolk) and was in danger of being gone for good until the Tidewater Striders who technically own the race approached Final Kick Sports to see about bringing it back this year.  Jim Golden did a great job as the new race director and Breezy Point is back.  I decided to race it this year to help support the cause and also represent Final Kick Tri club. So how does the "now" compare to the "then"?  Well, I hadn't been training all that consistently this spring and only decided to race 2 days out so this isn't a race I was particularly prepared for but I finished 4th overall in 1:05:56.  I can't get the photo browser for the race to work so you'll just have to imagine this one :)

So that's a quick history of my tri career from my first race in 2004 through early 2015. I skipped a lot how did I go from thinking my girlfriend was crazy for running 13.1 miles to racing the Ironman World Championships?  I'll save that for another post.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Second Coming of Kona

It's been just about a year since I last posted and I figured it was time for an update.  Last season was all about racing IM Chattanooga at the end of September.  Training went well and I was pretty much prepared although the 4-6 weeks leading up to the race were definitely more hectic than I would have liked.  We ended up deciding to buy a new house, which meant also needing to sell our current house.  It all worked out amazingly well but again, the timing wasn't ideal.  We closed on both a week before Chattanooga and I had to move everything we own, clean and prep our old place for the new owners, and keep track of my racing gear during the move.  Two days after moving (i.e. piling everything into the new garage) we got in the car and drove to Chattanooga.  I also turned 40 on Sept 15.  Race week was actually the most relaxing part of September by far.  I still haven't written up a race report but the ultra-short version is this: fast swim, good ride (116 miles BTW), and half of a good run.  Despite some struggles I held things together enough to finish 38th overall and 4th in my new 40-44 age group - good enough for a slot at Kona 2015. I'll get a more detailed race report together soon.

After Chattanooga I basically shut things down completely to focus on the new house - painting, unpacking, renovations, etc basically consumed my time and I don't think I did anything resembling working out for a couple of months.  My first time back to the pool was March but I got back to running and riding some after the holidays.  So it's definitely a slow start to the season with my fitness lagging but Kona's my only priority race of the year so there is plenty of time.  I did Kinetic 1/2 as usual but had to miss Mountains of Misery for the first time in at least 5 years.  My mid-season "B" race is Challenge Williamsburg but it's not really much of a priority.  The week before that I'm hitting up an Olympic distance event - Jamestown Tri just for fun.  The week after Challenge I'm heading back to Ragnar Trails WV for the third year in a row to race on an ultra team.  After a bit of recovery it will be time to actually start training.  I'll have a good fitness base to start layering my IM build on.

As for my Kona goals - pretty minimal.  2012 was about experiencing everything Kona race week has to offer and basically being a tourist on the course.  This time I plan to be a bit more focused on the race but I don't have any illusions of actually being competitive in my AG.  I'd like to knock an hour off my finish time, sub-10:30 would be a nice bonus, and sub-10hrs would be fantastic.  So we'll see how things are shaping up throughout the summer - stay tuned for some updates.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Race, Recover, Repeat

It's June and summer has unofficially arrived - the days are long and beach weather is here.  In my last post I mentioned some of the early season races I had planned.  It's been a relatively unusual early season for me with bone Island back in Jan when I'm typically taking some down time and unstructured training.  Instead, I trained through the holidays and cruised into February needing to take things easy and go with the flow a bit more than usual.  I definitely stayed active but never really got settles into a consistent training progression.  My primary goal for this season is IM Chattanooga on Sept 28, so I knew the timeline didn't require too much through early spring. So even though I stuck with my racing plans I haven't been as prepared as previous years for these early events.  I just finished a month of what can best be described as race, recover, repeat...although the recoveries have been less than complete due to the 7-day turn-around cycle.  I didn't plan it out specifically but this was essentially a one-month kick-start to my 2014 training - a little fitness by brute force.

Here's the rundown:

May 10 - Kinetic Half - A perennial event for me with a challenging run course.  The swim always feels like crap this early in the season but my run is typically pretty decent despite the two significant hills on each of the 3 loops.  This year I had a solid bike but dialed back the run knowing that I wanted to get some quality training on over the next few weeks before Raleigh 70.3.  Still, I probably couldn't have run more than 3-4min faster if I was giving it 100% - definite sign that my run training is lagging.

May 17 - Cary Long Course Duathlon -  Another race I've done every year for 4-5 years.  The run course was different this year because this was the USAT National Championships and they moved the transition area to accommodate a larger field.  I'm usually top 5-10 in this race but this year actual duathletes showed up - guys who had been training for this specific race for months. I struggled some on the second run and I got my ass handed to me but didn't think much of it. Still qualified to race for Team USA at the World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland this September - as if I can afford a trip to Switzerland for a 3-hour race.

May 24 - Mountains of Misery -This isn't technically a race but if you are at all competitive then a 100+ mile ride with 10,000ft of climbing is a challenge you might be interested in accepting.  I learned last year that the lead group doesn't stop at aid stations...EVER.  They literally rode over the the first climb at 60 miles and kept on trucking.  I had no choice but to stop to fill my bottles and grab some calories.  This year I was prepared with 4 bottles and plenty of nutrition.  I didn't stop but just barely missed hanging with the lead group to the finish.  This was still my best ride on this course in about 5 years and I was in the top 20 overall - not bad for having one 60-mile long ride in dead flat VA Beach for for training.

Here is my TrainingPeaks file and Strava log for the data geeks.

June - Raleigh 70.3 - This was initially planned to be an "A" race but really turned into a "B" race because I simply hadn't been training specifically for it as a priority.  Still, it was a good test of my current fitness to see where I'm starting from.  I had my typical swim, a good bike although on the slow side based on my split, and respectable run.  I'm basically a perpetual 32min swimmer no matter how early or late in the season.  I suppose I could put some focus on my swim training but it would take an inordinate investment of time to trim a couple minutes off my race...and I don't like swimming.  There was a light but steady head wind for most of the ride so I'm assuming that's why my split was slower than I expected.  My goal for the run was to go out easy and not blow up despite knowing that I didn't have good long run training.  I struggled a bit around miles 7-10 but managed to hang on well enough to finish 4th in my AG and earn a slot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant, Quebec on Sept 7.  I passed on the slot because IM Chattanooga is 3 weeks later and that's my priority this season.

Splits from IM 70.3 Raleigh - HERE

June 8 - Jamestown Gran Fondo - Another NOT race but why not go as fast as you can?  This is a pretty flat course and we had a small lead group of 5-8 most of the morning.  Around mile 20 I looped back to help a friend who got a flat and had to push it pretty hard for the next 20min to get back on the group.  I don't know if that ultimately hurt me but I cramped up badly with about 6 miles to go and had to sit up and cruise it in easy.  I logged a decent 4:31 for 100+ miles on a road bike.

All in all it's been a busy month with a series of big weekend events separated by a week of marginal recovery training.  I still managed an AG podium at Raleigh 70.3 and a couple of World Championship qualifications so I guess I can't complain. Overall I think it will do me some good and it's early enough that it won't impact the start of my IM training.  One last kick in the nuts before I settle in for a few months though - Ragnar Trail Appalachians this coming Fri/Sat at Big Bear Lake Campground in WV.  I'm racing with an ultra team so I'll get about 35 miles of running over ~18 hours.  My team was second overall last year and this is probably the best trail running I've done in my life.  I highly recommend checking it out.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Year of the Masters Mowhawk

Welcome to 2014! It's only the first week of February but I already have most of my 2014 season mapped out and locked in - IM 70.3 Raleigh and Ironman Chattanooga set the structure and everything else serves a purpose in between now and then.  Many of the events I'm doing are fairly typical for me - Cary Long Course Du, Mountains of Misery, Kinetic 1/2.  I've got a couple of other cycling events mixed in - Blood Sweat and Gears and Jamestown Gran Fondo, and I'll for sure be making a couple of weekend trips out to ride my favorite Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

So with that taken care of I logged a very early season race to kick off 2014. I typically take some time off through the holidays and definitely forget where the pool is for a few months but this year a group of us from VA Beach decided to invade Key West for the Bone Island Triathlon, so that kept me mostly motivated to maintain at least some consistent level of training. I've only been swimming 1-2X per week for ~2k each and been loosely following a high intensity off-season plan (primarily tempo and threshold work) with some modifications to get a long run and ride in when the weather cooperates.

By all accounts the swim was a good 200m long at least but we all swam the same distance so it's not a big deal.  The bike was flat and relatively fast, if not very interesting.  I rode fairly strong and felt good coming into T2.   I've basically held my FTP exactly where it was when I peaked for B2B back in Oct and rode the same power for this race so I'll come into the spring without any drop in my bike fitness. Even though I've had some decent run training I just wasn't feeling it and lost all motivation after the first loop. I wasn't expecting to crush the run but I had hoped for something in the 1:30-1:32 range off of a solid bike. The temps got into the upper 70s but it felt hot.  A respectable race overall but nothing to blow my socks off.

S: 36:xx
B: 2:18:38, IF - .87, DATA
R: 1:34ish - Garmin missed the first 2-3min, DATA

This race also apparently marked my arrival in the "old" category - surprise to me. Based on USAT rules your age group is determined by how old you will be on Dec 31 of that year.  So even though I'm still 39, I'll be 40 in September so this year I race in the M40-44.  I was 5th overall at Bone Island and expected to get the M40-44 first place award...until I heard my name called for the Male Masters Champion.  Can you believe that shit?  I didn't realize it but Masters division is 40+ so I snuck in and cherry picked an award from the old guys. Personally, I would have rather they had top 5 overall podium instead of top 3 but this was a relatively small race so I understand.  Doesn't change how I races and it was kind of cool to enter a new phase of my tri career still feeling like I'm in the hunt for overall podiums.

I won't go into detail on a race report and review but in general I have to say that I'm disappointed with the quality and management of this event.  It's definitely not what I have come to expect fro SetUp Events.  If you are interested I posted some comments on a thread over on Slowtwitch. We had fun regardless and it was great to have a group of friends all racing together and supporting each other.  All in all it was a nice break from the frigid weather we've been having in VA recently and has kept me honest with some training through the holidays.  That should pay dividends coming into the spring and hopefully help me show up in Chattanooga a step above where I would otherwise be - On-On to Kona?

Old guys wave start - I'm 4th from the far right going counter-clockwise - in the black wetsuit and white cap :)

Party Koozie was on hand along with the Final Kick Sports crew to lend support to the racers.
A final note on the race - my wife kicked ass riding the bike leg as part of Team 757 Chicks.  This was her longest bike ride ever and she cruised right through although she did learn a valuable cycling lesson - Chamois Butt'r is your friend on long rides :)
Team 757 Chicks celebrates their accomplishment!
Of course the race was mostly a cover for all of us to travel down to Key West and celebrate Paul McGraw's birthday in style with the first (annual?) Paul McGraw Birthday Pub Crawl.  I won't even try to recount how many drinking establishments we frequented that day but I'll leave you with a bit of photographic documentation.
The man himself with his birthday shirt.
Those might just be 32oz mojito glasses.
The "all day" crew still going strong.
I introduce you to the Masters Mowhawk.
Instagram from Sunset Pier

More photos from the weekend in my Facebook album.