Sunday, December 29, 2013

Two Thousand and Thirteen

2013 was a long year.  But it was also a very short year.  I might venture to say that it is surprising that so much can be crammed into three hundred and sixty five days.  The year went by really fast, but it took just as long as any other year I've had the great joy of experiencing.

My first Mardi Gras
It feels like just yesterday it was January and plans were in the works to make 2013 the most fantastic-est year in the history of my years.  Fast forward a couple of months, a few workouts and some racing and we've arrived at the end of yet another year of life.

Since my life is all about triathlon and triathlon to me is all about racing, let's skip the sappy, emotional parts and get straight to the meat.  So if you're a vegetarian...PEACE.

My year began at the Cary Du Classic, where I opted for the long-course helping. A 5 mile run, a 30 mile bike and another 5 mile run on a rolling venue were enough to sate my early-year appetite.  I luckily managed to snag the win but more importantly raced on my P3 for the last time.

Up next for me was the White Lake Half, wherein I achieved my first 2nd place finish of the year to speedy first-year pro Patrick Wheeler (look at me, referring to a rookie pro like I'm a VETERAN, ha!).  My memories of this race circle mainly around how ridiculously miserable the swim was (sub 55 degree, choppy water) that day and how fast I ran (sub 1:18, setting a new half-marathon PB).

Only two weeks later, I headed down to the home state of Louisiana to participate at the New Orleans 70.3.  I have completed this race 4 times out of 5 editions and while this race was nothing special for me from a performance standpoint, it was a welcome trip home to see my family.

My next venture into the racing world was up in Salisbury at the Buck Hurley Triathlon.  This race, sponsored by local businesses and the YMCA in town, was absolutely spectacular. The friendliness of everyone, the pre/during/post event availability and contact was fantastic (and the prizes weren't too shabby either). In spite of being sick all week and dreary, cold weather (in early May), I managed to snag the win along with Jenny (our first, but not only, double win of the year) by almost 3 minutes.

Once I got healthy and paraded around with my prize-purse purchased pimp cup (just kidding) for a while I raced again in Kings Mountain, NC. I haven't raced Over the Mountain in several years but ended up with the victory. Tyler Jordan, who crossed the line first, was relegated to a lower placing due to a drafting penalty on the bike.  It was a decent performance from me. In hindsight I would have not started the run so hard, but hindsight has (usually) perfect vision.

We carry ourselves to another bustling metropolis of NC: Hickory.  This short but sweet race was good in most respects other than the bike; I ended up in second place There is nothing remarkable about the Lake Hickory triathlon other than the fact that it's a solid, no-frills race with beautiful scenery.

Considering I was doing whatever I could to NOT race Tri Latta in 2013, the choice of the South Carolina State TT Championship as that weekend's racing should come as no surprise. Jenny and I managed to come away with a double win again (and Ross a category victory), me by a mere 1s over TT badass Eric Christopherson and Jenny by a whopping 3 minutes. I am proud of my sub 55 minute 25mi time, but am hungry for more faster-ness.

My next adventure found me up in Williamsburg, VA for the inaugural Rev3 Williamsburg Half. It has been a great many years since I was in the ol' stompin' grounds (William and Mary '07) so I was excited to return.  The course was on roads I traveled frequently on two wheels and the run went right through the middle of new campus...pretty suhweet! This swim was abysmal, as the tidal currents wreaked havoc on the non-elite swimmers among us.  My bike was good and my run was average.  A great weekend though.

Staying closer to home I next found myself at Cane Creek Park in Waxhaw NC, trying my best to win the Tomahawk Triathlon.  This was a first-year event put on by veterans (but new to NC) Start2Finish racing and they also offered a prize purse so there were extra incentives.  My main competition was Tyler again, but the more "normal" length swim of this race (vs Lake Hickory) proved to be good for me and I snagged the win.  This was another double win for ICE Racing, as Jenny won by a fairly commanding 15 minutes.

For the next journey, I went a short ways up the road to Mooresville, NC to compete in the Stumpy Creek International, a race I have done each of the years it has existed.  Matt Wisthoff and Derek Kidwell were both going to make an appearance, so I knew my A game needed to be brought-en.  I raced to win and managed to come away with the win. I was happy to finally beat Matt at a short-course race. He's been the cream of the crop in NC for quite some time so I was happy to give him something to think about. I figured he'd get his comeuppance soon enough...  Stumpy was...yet another double win for ICE, with Jenny winning by a...decent margin (15 minutes again?).

My first "title defense" of the year came at Lake Norman Sprint up in...Lake Norman, NC. I wanted to win and figured I "should" barring any catastrophe. Luckily, my dreams were not thwarted with ill-happenings and I crossed the line in first. The main thing I remember about this race is the awesome quad-copter drone that was flying around at the swim start but I've yet to see any video footage or anything as a result of this curious appearance (maybe it was a UFO?).

The next race was a chance to have a go with Matt again at White Lake International (Fall edition).  This course is flat and fast (and a long bike, as all NC "int'l" triathlons are wont to include) and hot so it was gonnd be a slug-fest.  I ran out of room on the run despite running sub 35 minutes for the first time, losing to Matt by 22 seconds. The 16 seconds I gave up to Matt in transition is something I'd like to have another try at, but that will have to wait a while!

Yet another local race and my last NCTS race of the year was the inaugural Carolina Half in Davidson, NC.  This was going to be a tough course, with a rolling and twisty-turny bike with a very hilly run to follow.  I had a decent swim, a decent bike, and a good run to take the win by ~7 minutes (and set a course record? hell yea! haha).   ICE came away with two wins (yea, Jenny again) and a third (Kenneth in his first race of the year), not too shabby for a small team!

My last "planned" race of the year involved another trip down to Venice, FL for the Rev3 Florida Half. Embarking on the trip with Jenny and Ross in our rented [amazing] mini-van was a dream come true.  I had a solid race and set a new PB of 4:08 and change. It was a controlled race as I knew a bigger event was on the horizon.  Both Jenny and Ross set new PBs as well (Jenny earning money at her first pro race), making it a successful race experience and trip.

My truly LAST race of the year was Ironman Cozumel.  I really just wanted to finish this race. It has been 3 years since I attempted the full distance and 4 years since I finished such an endeavor. I only added this race in late September after getting curious about trying again while spectating Ironman Louisville. It would allow me to finish the year as planned (at Rev3 FL), while continuing training and carrying more fitness into 2014.  Unfortunately, my race didn't go as "planned," but I still had a fantastic experience and enjoyed the race in spite of myself.

My yearly totals were a bit down from 2012 in some respects, but it's obvious where the concentration was versus the year prior (plus, in early 2012 I wasn't working so had all the training time I needed AND spent time in Tucson putting in some SERIOUS hours).

Swimming - 745,300 yards (510,800 in 2012)
Biking - 6,905 miles (8,320 in 2012)
Running - 1,685 miles (1,822 in 2012)

The story isn't told completely by numbers however.  I increased my FTP and my MMP over various time periods, lowered my running paces across all levels setting several new PBs along the way, and dramatically increased my swimming capacity and pace capabilities.

Since Cozumel (December 1st), I have run ~13 miles and have swum ~1200 yards (no biking) so I am feeling a little slower than I was 4 weeks ago. But that is ok. Few people take as much time off as they really should so I am reveling in my readiness to crush more dreams by being more rested so I can better prepare.  And all that good stuff.

All in all, it was a pretty great year. I have few complaints and hope to take advantage of every year I get to race, train, blog and other sweet stuff with good friends! Here's to 2013; you were a good one.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ironman Cozumel Race Report

So this blog is simply about the race itself.  That's it.  I wanted to get it down while I still remembered it clearly.  I am assuming most who read this know about the course changes (to the swim) and probably already know my result.  Hopefully they also know Ashley's result (9:24:XX) so I don't have to talk about how awesome he is, or how awesome Lori and Jenny were for cheering us both on and being great IM Sherpas.  I will reserve most of that for another blogpost about the pre-race trip and the post-race trip.  But for now: here is my race.

Swim 1.9mi - 38:00 (23rd)

The swim start was a wee bit confusing given the changes.  They let all the pros into the water (which was not too choppy this morning, thankfully) and assembled a paddleboard army to keep the testosterone fueled triathlete egos curtailed at the correct spot.  The line, however, kept creeping up and I was a bit torn between following the requests of the intrepid paddleboarders and not getting left for dead at the sound of the horn.  Eventually I chose option B, and scooted my back over to the right side behind some dudes that all look the same in cap and goggles.  The gun sounded and my first IM attempt in 4 years was underway.

It became immediately apparent that we were moving at a high rate of speed.  How does one gauge this, you might ask? Well, considering the visibility in Cozumel's water is 200' and the ocean floor was a mere 15-20' away I could see how many grains of sand were getting shifted by the ebbing currents.  I could clearly make out fish.  I actually looked down and saw a barracuda coming after the tail end of the pro pack and he could not catch us, so we were obviously moving rapidly through the water.

The start was very fast, as usual, and the pack thinned out relatively rapidly.  I found myself planted behind two feet that were kind of like mine: a nice lazy, predictable kick.  This person also decided to swim out in the channel at or beyond the buoy line.  Since I was on his feet I had no real choice other than to follow.  I then noticed he had a Team Tbb kit on (well, the newer version since TBB is no longer a thing) and figured he might have prior knowledge of the course.  We strayed out to the right and I could tell someone was on my feet as well and way off to the left (inside of us) there was another group.

The course was fairly straightforward, just a straight shot down current until you get to Chankanaab Park/Dock exit.  It seemed to go in and out a bit (the buoy line I mean) and that required a bit of attention.  About 2/3 of the way through the swim my group and the group over to the left "merged" and I ended up behind this guy that was kicking frantically and it annoyed me very much because everytime I tapped his foot he would kick ferociously.  Let's be realistic dude, you're gonna have people tap your feet.  I'm not sorry. I am sorry you feel the need to try and kick me in the face.  Maybe he was extra ticklish? Probably.

As we neared the swim finish (dock) the women's leader came blasting by, so I actually ended up exiting just behind Amanda Stevens so I had already been chicked once.  Alas! It's ok, Amanda Stevens is fun to look at.  Although, to be honest I never saw her again until the run. Womp womp.

I exited the swim feeling happy that I had managed to come out with people and hopeful that it would continue that way the rest of the day (being with people, nobody likes lonely time)!

T1 - 3:37

I had some trouble getting my swim-skin down to my waist, so that took almost the whole way to the changing tent.  Once there, putting on my Pearl Izumi Octane sleeves was somewhat difficult as well, although the volunteers were very helpful.  Once installed into my space suit, I ran with some expeditiousness to my bike, where I mounted mostly by myself and 1000 people watching (no pressure).

Bike 112mi - 5:07:54

As many who read this know, 112mi of biking is fairly boring.  There is no way around that fact.  Well, unless you go to the mountains.  Throughout the entire race, I was passed by 3 people and I passed 2 people (not including the lapped participants).  That's it. It was a very, very lonely and boring ride for me.  But I was ok with that as I figured it would work out that way based on the fairly conservative wattage target Brian had given me.  At first, I was afraid, I was petrified...but then I realized if I ran well it didn't matter what watts I rode or what my time was.

The west side of the island had a nice tailwind so with excitement levels high plus the wind the first 20-30 minutes was a bit too much power.  It was fun though, and I enjoy moving quickly on two wheels.  Plus, Brian had said:

Hour 1: 190 to 195 watts
Hours 2-4.5ish: 180-185 watts
Rest: 190-195

I figured that on a flat course with "regular" wind that would be a 4:55 or so.  Not blazing fast, but that's ok.  Most people bike too hard anyway. In my head I thought the course had three "turns," one at the bottom of the island to carry onto the east side and one at the top of the east side to cut across, plus the one from cutting across back down the west side.  I was wrong, as the road from the west side to the east side is the same road! Surprise! It just kind of bends left around the bottom of the island.  So at some point on lap 1 I started noticing a strong headwind and I was perturbed as I was expecting a turn.  Once we broke out into the open part of the island though it was quickly obvious that we were on the other side.  Strong surf, wind blowing everything, no people or businesses or...anything at all.  THIS was the east side.  This section was tougher for sure.  But, like everything, it too shall pass and I eventually made it to the island cut across.  This was fairly fast as we had a direct-ish cross-wind.  I carried into town where, literally, EVERYBODY was out cheering.

Cozumel population is not that big, and I feel confident in saying that everybody and their mother and their mother's family's mothers were out there cheering for each person like they were winning.  In fact, some people literally did cheer me on like I was winning.  So I got scared for a bit thinking I had cut the course and was the first one through. Then I quickly realized that there were no other options so I enjoyed being cheered for like I was the baddest dude alive.  Some twisty-turnies through downtown and then back on the south-bound road on the west side.  Seeing Jenny and Lori cheering by our place of residence was quite fun and I whistle-tipped at them as I went on down the road.

Southbound I continued, whistling merry tunes to myself to stay interested in what was happening.  At some point past Chankanaab park, Rachel Joyce and Tine Deckers came riding past me.  Dammit, chicked again.  Rachel Joyce, however, is pretty I didn't feel all that bad.  As they carried off into the distance, I noticed some dark clouds hanging over the southern tip of the island.  Those quickly arrived and we, quite literally, got poured on for about 5 minutes.

So that was kind of odd.  On the east side of the island I started to pass some of the first lap people and for some strange reason realized that I had forgotten to put socks in my T2 bag.  I am not sure how I remembered this so well, but I clearly could not recall putting socks into the bag the day before.  So that's basically all I could think about through the rest of the bike race.  Running a marathon sockless is not an option.

I came into town again and when I got to where Jenny was I stopped and told her to go look in my bag and just bring me a pair of socks somewhere on the run course (preferably near the beginning).  I realized this could cost me penalty wise but I didn't care as having the socks was of great importance to me.

Lap 3 was, to be honest, fairly agonizing.  At this point my lower back had been getting more and more annoyed at the continued cycling I was doing so I was having/needing/wanting to stand up out of the saddle and pedal more and more often.  It is ironic to me that in every fit I do I tell people who are new to the tri bike to PRACTICE THE POSITION.  I NEVER ride my tri bike.  I just don't like it that much.  My fit is great, but I have not practiced it - continuously - for more than 2:20 or so this year.  That is my own fault.  I should've realized it would be an issue, but I either didn't notice or didn't care enough to change my training for this "bonus" race.  Oh well, right? Live and learn.

So lap 3 was still a fairly even split but I slowed a bit and my power was a bit more all over the place given how often I was getting out of the saddle to stretch my back. The last road across the island provided a bit of relief as I was finally not fighting the headwind anymore but I was worried about how much my back hurt.  To be honest, I figured I'd start running and it'd go away like most stuff does when you switch from one sport to the other.  I came into T2 and handed my bike off and my legs actually felt pretty good when I got off the bike...a product of the power plan, no doubt. Could I have ridden harder? Of course. But running better is more better than biking better and running worse.

Very even bike splits (not sure what was up with the last 13k, everyone's was "off")

T2 - 2:48

I knew something was wrong at the very beginning of T2.  My bike to run bag was on the lower rack (the bag racks had a top row and a bottom row) and when I went over to grab it I almost fell over as the muscles in my lower back yelled at me for being a stupid b*tch.  I went into the tent kind of running straight up (since I couldn't really bend my lower back and support any weight) and dumped the bags out in the chair. I changed (completely) and noticed that I had indeed forgotten my socks so put my shoes on (although, I had to sit down to do this because I couldn't bend over to put them on, ha!). A kid came over with a jar of vaseline and I said "why not" and grabbed a big handful and spread it everywhere I figured it would be needed....and headed out onto the run course.

Run 26.2 - ain't nobody got time fer dat (DNF)

There were SOOO MANY people right out of transition.  It was pretty cool.  I hoped that I would run and that my back would loosen up and that eventually I'd be fine.  My legs felt fantastic and as a result I was struggling to run over 6:30 pace the first half-mile.

Unfortunately, however, my back just got worse.  I was having to run like I had a broomstick jammed somewhere it shouldn't be up my spine, as any pressure on my lower back muscles caused me to jerk around and whine like a little baby.  I didn't really "give up," however, until mile 4 or so.  Each mile got slower as the pain increased but it wasn't until mile 4 that I said to myself "I don't want to do this." I don't wanna just hurt with real pain the whole run.  My legs hurting, my feet hurting, my face hurting, my ego hurting...that's all ok.  But back hurting is not ok.  Scott has been dealing with back problems for years now.  Bill Robertson had to pull out of his IM because of a back problem.  Nick Baldwin had back problems in his lead-up to IM AZ.  I WANTED to finish an IM, but not at the expense of my health.

So at the turnaround I decided to stop running.  I walked for a bit.  I ran a bit.  I was just going to make my way back into town and turn in my chip.  I saw Ashley coming the other way and a whole slew of people were passing me but I just didn't care. I don't mind sucking (well, I do) but I do mind hurting.  I eventually got to Lori and Jenny, put on the socks she gave me, and sat down.  I watched and cheered with them as we made our way back into town.  Cheering for Ashley, Duran and Laura and stopping then going and getting back into downtown was fun.  I had a bacon cheeseburger, still with my chip on my ankle.  So technically I could have got back on the run course and kept running if my back had improved, but it had not.

My race was over officially when I handed in my chip just after Ashley finished and we found in in the "recovery" chute.

Live to fight another day.  I will be back and I will be very good at this distance.  I have no doubt about that.  Just not in 2013 :)

Friday, December 6, 2013

A brief sojourn

A brief sojourn into my mind on Sunday:

Sometimes I am a little annoyed that I find it so easy to DNF a race.  Well, maybe easy isn't really the "right" word, but I have had more DNFs than other people I know.  I suppose that once you quit once, it's always easier to quit again...but I'm not really sure I believe that I am a "quitter."  I think most people I know have slightly different motivations than I do when it comes to racing.

Over the past several years, each race has just been that: a race.  If there was no money involved it did not have a "higher purpose," as many races do.  Ironman has a "higher purpose" for most people. It involves a huge sense of accomplishment just to finish the damn thing.  It is a long freakin' day.  Then you get into the conditions the race presents; their difficulty and the even more rewarding feeling of accomplishment.  Add in trying to qualify for Kona or set a PR and an IM adds up to being a fairly "higher purpose" race for most.

Cozumel was not that for me.  It was to be the "cherry on top" of a fantastic season.  Swim hard, bike smart, and run strong.  2/3 of those were accomplished for me.  But when my wildcard was dealt I decided to fold.  Walking the whole race (as I wish I had done at Louisville in 2010) would not present me with a sense of accomplishment.  Sure, I did the race to finish but not JUST to finish.  I am a good enough athlete at this point to feel as though an IM is just a long race.  There is nothing special about it, to me.  Partly because I'm not good enough at it to make money in the pro field, and partly because there is nothing for me to qualify for.  I am not going to Kona as a pro.  At least not in the near future.  Not only can I not afford to travel and KQ, I can't afford to travel to Kona itself and race.

So with certain things being "off the table," there was nothing to keep me going.  No incentive. No rabbit. No carrot.  When I first realized that something was very wrong (bending over to grab my T2 bag), I realized that I had not planned for something.  That was almost more annoying than the paint itself.  KNOWING that I could have prevented my issue.  But oh well, time will pass.  Injuries will heal.  Time off will be taken.

I will write a more thorough race report in the upcoming days, but at the end of the season it's important to assess WHY you do things.  So many people say they'd NEVER quit, and that's good...but I'm just not that person.  I didn't WANT the finisher's medal and shirt badly enough to spend another 4+ hours walk/running.  There's no POINT in that, to me.  When I do finish an IM, and I will, I want it to be for the right reasons at the right time in the right place.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Racing? Or pacing?

This post has, in some ways, been a long time in coming.  For too long I have sat idly on the sidelines, not commenting when I felt as thought it was necessary.  For too long I have held my tongue at the inane comments many throw out there that are oftentimes uninformed, mis-informed, or pure speculation.


What exactly is power?  Well, some view it as "the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events."  That is only related to what I am talking about in the sense that when one uses power[watts] correctly, one will definitely influence the behavior of others AND the course of events.  So, with proper power comes...POWER.

I have now been training with power in various forms for about 3 years.  Before you say it: no, that is not really a particularly long time.  To go from having no idea what anything like "TSS, IF, VI, NP/AP, PMC, MMP, ATL/CTL, TSB, etc" meant 3+ years ago to trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about is a little bit of a stretch.  But, I do think I know (generally) what I am talking about.

Almost everyone I know rides too hard in long races.  I can think of very few exceptions to this rule.  Actually, I can really only think of two exceptions, and one of them just so happens to have the same coach as I do.  If you are reading this and you train with power and you're not Scott Woodbury, nor are you coached by Brian Stover, then yes...I am talking about you.

That's a pretty wide net to cast, but I think it is cast accurately.  Many of the athletes I know are capable of far, FAR better run performances than they display in races.  But it is very, very hard to resist the urge of a fast bike split.  Very hard indeed.

But with proper pacing, comes proper racing.  I see a lot of 4:50 IM bike splits followed up by 8 minute pace runs.  Being able to ride 23 mph for 112 miles and truly having the ACTUAL FITNESS to ride that fast means you really should honestly be running faster than 8 minute pace.  7.5 mph is not really that fast if you are comparing it, relatively speaking, to 23 mph.

Ultimately, you should want to be the best TRIATHLETE.  It's certainly cool to have people look at your splits on paper and say things like "Wow look at that bike split!" And conveniently not notice the struggle of a run that followed.  When people look at my results I want them to see a well-rounded TRIATHLETE.  That is, one who displays proper pacing throughout the duration of the race.

I remember I was helping someone race Cozumel last year and this person had a certain watt range that wasn't all that high.  But it was consistent with what they were probably capable of (if anything, it was probably a bit high).  When the number was said, the reactions elicited such things like "Wow you could definitely ride harder than that!" Stuff like that.  Sure you CAN ride harder, but why would you want to? Riding 15 watts lower in an IM may cost you ~5 minutes on the bike (if that), but it could gain you 60 minutes on the run.  The swing from a good run to a bad run is a huge time difference.  Most people have bad runs.  But they somehow think they have good bikes.  There is a disconnect there that needs examining.

I admit, I am skeptical of my ability to hold these thoughts in the forefront of my head at Cozumel in 6 days.  I WANT that fast ride.  I need it, almost.  But you know what really matters more? How fast you run.  Triathlon is still all about running.  It's about being fit enough to swim fast without killing yourself.  It's about pacing yourself appropriately on the bike.  And then it's about running your guts out.

Will I ride "fast" in Cozumel? By some standards, sure.  But my hope is that if a casual bystander looks at my splits on Sunday they will see someone that they will perceive to be a "runner."  When really, if they read between the lines, they would see a good TRIATHLETE.

Because it's still three sports people.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A pre "season in review" Season in Review

I am going to write a short blurb on my season because, for all intents and purposes, it's basically over.  You may find yourself asking: "Gee James, I thought you still had an Ironman to start?"  Well you, you would be right.  But, the IM was a late, somewhat spontaneous addition to the schedule so my 2013 [as I saw it in the spring] is over.

Now, that's not to say that I'm mentally done.  Au contraire, mon frere.  (so worldly).  I am very, very excited to "race" Cozumel in less than 2 weeks.  It's just that, from a planning perspective, the year is done.  I don't know what I really expected out of this year.  I suppose I could peruse old blog posts (who doesn't love doing that, by the way) to figure out what I hoped for when the year started, but ain't nobody got time for that.

I don't really see the "season" in the same way I used to (just reference Jenny's humorous blog post on my page 2 weeks ago to see the veracity of that statement).  There aren't any/many "A" races around which a season is built.  I just kind of train all year.  I never have a good answer for: "What are you training for right now?" The answer is always the same: "I am training to train." Now, that being said, there are certainly races about whose results I care more.

I wanted to do several things in 2013:

1) Win the NCTS (check)
2) Improve across all disciplines (check)
3) Have fun (check)

So I didn't wanna suck at local races.  I wanted to get faster at the longer/bigger races.  While doing those two things I wanted to be more awesome at laughing at myself and with others than I have ever been before.  On all three counts I can say that was a solid win.

I think the most TELLING statistical improvement, however, came in the form of my long distance races.  Before this year, I have never gone sub 4:20 in a 70.3/half-iron before.  I've had the fitness, but the course or my own mistakes presented obstacles that prevented me from passing that "barrier."  In 2011 two halves I did had canceled swims and two halves were "bad' races.  In 2012 the two halves I did resulted in a 4:23 (tough course) and a DNF.  I have mixed and matched various splits that were good and bad but have never had an entire 70.3 where all splits were PRETTY good.  I am still in search of that "perfect" race where I don't feel the need to come up with any sort of explanation, just a simple "That was perfect execution."

This year, I have gone under 4:20 at every half I have done.  Three of those courses were "flat" and two were "hilly." Each race had notable things about it:

White Lake - 1:18:00 half-marathon, CRAZY swim, 2nd to an out of town rookie pro
NOLA - 26.5' swim, helmet problems, survived the run (still a 1:26 or so)
Rev3 Williamsburg - CRAZY swim, 2:14:00 bike on rolling course, survived hilly run (1:26.5)
Carolina Half - ok swim, ok bike, great run (controlled 1:23 on a very difficult course)
Rev3 FL - non wetsuit swim PR (ok swim), fast bike on low watts, controlled 1:21 w/ injury break

The common theme here is really the running.  Yes, I've gotten better at swimming and at biking, but the real improvement this year has manifested itself in my ability to still run fast even when I'm not running fast.  A 1:20 is the new "normal" to a certain extent, in the sense that it's the goal for every race.  I could have run that at Florida if I had wanted to.  That's not just me blowing smoke up my own ass (which is fun, by the way; has a nice tingle), it's a realistic assessment of my own abilities.

As I used to say in golf (for those that don't know, I was an OBSESSED teenage golfer and was on the path of collegiate golf before discovering cycling): as you get better, your "misses" get closer.  The same holds true in triathlon.  Even though I wouldn't say I had that one, "perfect" race, I still raced REALLY well, mostly.  Even the "meh" races were still pretty good.

In a more general standpoint, everything local I either won or came in 2nd.  With the exception of Lake Hickory, the only people who beat me are licensed pros.  So throughout the year, regionally, I did pretty well.

As a pro, I'd say I did ok. I beat some people this year.  I finished every race. It is clear, however, that pro racing at the half distance is still ALL about the swim.  It's obviously about the bike and run too, but you stand no chance at doing well (i.e. top 5) if you don't "make the pack" in the swim.  It's just the way the dynamics work.  Rev3 races also seem to be much more competitive at the pro level than most 70.3 races.  There are just SO MANY WTC 70.3 races that the pro field, as a consequence, gets diluted.  So, to a degree, it seems "easier" to place well at those races.  Rev3, on the other hand, has a more limited prize purse race list, so what races there are that DO have pro fields are very packed pro fields.  At the AG level, however, they sometimes seem less competitive.  Obviously, there are exceptions to the "rules" but I don't think I'm far off.  At the pro level, the half is becoming - essentially - an olympic distance race.  Basically going as hard as you can until you blow.  Make the swim pack, hang with the bike pack, and run the first 10k to see who's left and just hang on as long as you can.  There is no negative splitting of the run among the pros.  At least, that I've seen.  So my pacing strategy basically means I catch a couple on the bike and then, if I have a good run, catch some more. It's a lonely way to race.

I don't have totals yet for the year, because there's still some work left to do.  But my guess is that they are going to be similar to last year from an hourly standpoint.  I've swum much more, biked a bit less, and run about the same or a little more.  All in all, it's been a good year.

Now for Cozumel.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Revolution 3 Florida Half

SBR'd roughly 11 hours this week including the race. That's only important in the context that I ran 33ish miles total, as it means I still got in decent training other than the race in preparation for Cozumel.

The real excitement, however, (other than this sweet, sweet blog post) was in the form of a half distance race in sunny Venice, FL on Sunday.  This is a race I competed but didn't complete last year and I was hoping to redeem myself this time around.  With the spate of cold weather we've been having in Charlotte the three of us were really excited about the prospect of a sunny, warm weekend on the Gulf.

Ross, Jenny and myself all packed up our rented minivan and headed south on Friday morning.  The prospect of a long drive does not intimidate me, I actually love driving to races and/or vacation destinations (although those two have basically been one and the same thing for the past several years).  Road trippin' is a great American past-time that has been mostly abandoned by the modern traveler.  Jet-setting around the country is a far cry from what Murrkans were imagining back in the early days of the Interstate system. It could also be that I can't afford to fly all over the place...but that's neither here nor there.

Automatic doors, stow n' go seating; you name it this bad boy HAD it
The drive was relatively long (a hair over 10 hours) but mostly uneventful. We chatted about various triathlon things and about various other things.  Lots of great stories and memories were shared and quite possibly were created.  Jenny fell asleep, but that's pretty normal.  You can always tell if she's asleep in the car if she appears to be looking up at the ceiling and her mouth is very slightly open.  This method of sleeping would come back to haunt her (and us) on the return trip...

We made it to Florida in time to pick up our packets and race numbers before heading to get something to eat at Bonefish Grill.  We were planning on going to see Thor: the Dark World that evening but unfortunately the service at Bonefish left something to be desired so we missed out on that opportunity.  We did not falter, however, and took it in stride as we always do and we slept on it, pondering the Saturday possibilities in our dreams.

We woke up on Saturday and headed over to the race site to get our official stuff finished.  We ran a wee bit, biked a wee bit, and swam a wee bit.  We also took a wee few pictures of the absolutely gorgeous coastline.

Anybody who says the Gulf isn't pretty obviously doesn't really know the Gulf
The picture above actually shows most of the swim course as it starts on the other side (south side) of the pier and basically goes out, around and back to the finish from where the picture was taken.

We all attended our mandatory meetings, where the head ref really harped on the CPSC helmet sticker rule after last week's debacle in Panama City. The only amusing part of the meeting was when the head ref asked if anyone had read or heard about the incident and every person in the room turned to look at Andrew Starykowicz. My guess is that yes, he'd done some reading about the incident...

Making sure my helmet still fits and lamenting not being #1 this weekend
Once we were all done with that, we grabbed our behinds and got ourselves to the movie theater.  It was nice to get inside and sit down during a warmer part of the day and enjoy a good flick.  We then headed out to grab dinner with Jenny's mom before heading back to the hotel to get everything sorted for the morning.

Race morning came bright and early and we all loaded up the van (again) and headed over to the race site.  We were a bit later than planned but were only phased by this when we saw the line to get parking was very, very long and moving quite slowly (but steadily).  By the time we finally got parked it was 6:20 or so (pros started at 7:00 and 7:02) and we knew we were going to have to hustle.  We got all the gear out of the van and Jenny and I started pumping up our tires (Ross had already dropped off his bike the night before).  I was placing the pump head on my front valve when I heard the dreaded "pssssssssssss" sound and all the air vacated my tube.  Fantastic.  I quickly grabbed the stuff to install a new tube (luckily, Jenny had plumber's tape so I could re-install the valve extender on the new tube) and began that process.  Ross was helping Jenny pump up her rear tire and as he placed the pump head on hers the entire valve core pulled out and all the air came with it.  FANTASTIC.  We told Ross to go ahead and get over to transition as it was 6:30ish at this point.  Jenny started doing her tube change as I was finishing mine.  We were basically ready to head to transition at about 6:37 I believe (transition closes at 6:45) and we made it over but were, literally, the ONLY pros still getting stuff ready.  I made sure everything was laid out correctly (but hurriedly) and put on my swim skin (wetsuit legal for AG'ers, non wetsuit legal for pros) and headed over to make sure Jenny was ready.  We started walking to swim start at roughly 6:50.  Not ideal.  Nonetheless, we made it to our respective starts ok and I got in a brief, 20 stroke warm up in the water.

Contemplating strategy, photo credits to David Laskey
Swim - 29:36 (21st out of 25)

The swim course was a slightly odd design.  We basically went from the beach straight out to a buoy and turned left 45 degrees to head out to a further buoy, turned right and headed down a long stretch before making a sharp right turn and heading "inwards" then making a final left turn to head back towards the beach.

I figured lining up on the right would be smart [for me] as I didn't really want to get involved in the escapades of the left hand turn buoy.  The pack broke apart relatively quickly and it seemed like I was leading the trailing group (if you could call a group 3-4 people).  Once we got to the long straight stretch I was pretty much by myself. I meandered along thinking happy thoughts and roughly 2/3 of the way to the third buoy I was passed on the left by someone in a pink cap.  I did not expect to be caught by the ladies (2 minutes back) as soon as this (if at all) so I quickly assumed I was having a crap swim.  I could tell it wasn't Jenny so I wasn't quite as annoyed as I could have been (although I was hoping she'd have the fastest female swim time) and continued on my semi-merry ways.

Shortly thereafter, however, I was breathing to my left (as I am wont to do) and I noticed a very tell-tale image over my left shoulder.  There is no other way to describe it so a picture will have to suffice:

I knew immediately who that arm belonged to and I was both excited for her but dismayed for myself.  I may or may not have made an audible noise that turned into bubble as my face re-entered the water.  She took a breath to the left then came up beside me and took a breath to the right.  I can only imagine her feelings of satisfaction upon realizing who the lone male swimmer was she was coming up on rather expeditiously.

I'm used to getting left behind by girls though; some might call it a habit.  Once she passed then a trio of Kessler, Goss and Wassner passed me on the right.  I half-heartedly attempted to stay on the third's feet but did not and once the last turn buoy came and went I was back to being by my lonesome.  I exited the water knowing I had probably had a good, but not great swim.  Only upon looking at the results later did I know my time, which is actually a personal best in a non-wetsuit swim that seemed "slow" when looking at the times post-race.

I ran up the beach and across the timing mat, trying to look cool for all the paparazzi.

Exiting the swim all alone, photo credits David Laskey
T1 - 2:06

I had a fairly quick transition but could have been quicker; it was a fairly long run to my bike from the swim exit.

Professional transition area
Bike - 2:13:59 (up to 20th)

I had similar watt goals to those of Williamsburg and Carolina Half.  This course was extremely flat but relatively windy and lots of turnarounds.

So the course was fast, but not fast like last year (in my opinion, and minus the insane wind conditions of last year).  I headed out on the bike and my first goal was simply to catch Jenny.  That took a decent amount of time.  I was holding watts that were on the very low end of my range for the race.  I was moving along relatively quickly though so took solace in being the most aero guy out on the course.  When I caught up to Jenny I passed along side of her and let her know of my frustration with being out-pro'd so heavily. She laughed at me.

I continued on and for the next 30+ minutes tracked down the leading group of ladies.  I passed them and carried onwards.  It just needs to be said that some of these ladies (one in particular) seemed to have no clue of how to ride a bike in a straight line.  It was absurd. One of the best triathletes in the world and can't ride the bike in a straight line.  I may not be as good as you at triathlon-ing lady, but best believe that I can ride my bike straighter and more predictably.  Most of the women were also all over their bike.  I pride myself on being very efficient and wasting little to no energy with side to side movements.  I don't put out a whole lot of power so it's not as difficult but if you look at someone like Luke Mckenzie (who IS putting out massive amounts of power) he is rock steady throughout his pedal stroke.  Learn from the best, don't be like the rest.

Honestly, I hate writing about the bike portion of the race.  Nothing exciting happens.  Maybe if I rode in the pack like the lead group of, oh I dunno, 15 would've been more exciting.  But it wasn't.  I saw Matt Wisthoff at each turnaround and could tell I was making up a little bit of time on him so that was, literally, the most exciting thing I dealt with on the bike ride.  I stayed aero as much as I could, I kept taking in calories, and I tried to not agonize over the fact that my legs felt flat, weak, and completely unable to put out strong watts.  In my head I knew I had felt the exact same at Carolina Half but had managed a good run afterwards so I took solace in my attempt to rationalize feeling like crap.

We all do what we must. I passed a couple of guys and got passed by a guy so I moved up one overall spot from my swim position and entered T2 hoping I had some running legs.

Returning to transition
T2 - 1:15

I assembled my run self and remarked to some watching spectators that I was pretty much putting on a clinic for them (after fumbling with one of my shoes); they laughed and wished me well on my run.

Run - 1:21:50 (up to 17th)

Luckily I didn't forget anything like at Carolina Half so made my way out onto the run course feeling confident about that.  I slowed myself down gradually over the first mile but still clicked off a fast split of just under 6.  In my head I was hoping to average sub 6's for the run but knew that I wasn't going to kill myself to do it, knowing what was to come the next week in training.  I was basically going into the run knowing I wasn't going to make myself suffer unduly.

The first three miles basically ended up being a 6 minute average and out to mile 4 (which was the end of one "out" section of the loop we did twice) was slightly uphill and into a headwind and at that point I decided to back it down a notch.  I wanted to run comfortably and maintain pace in the rising temperatures.  So to the end of the first loop I scaled back the effort level and comfortably managed 6:10s.  I continued taking in gel and water at each aid station, knowing I couldn't let myself get dehydrated and delay recovery.

Through mile 9 my mile splits were:

5:57, 6:02, 6:06, 6:08, 6:10, 6:08, 6:11, 6:10, 6:10.

Pretty much a model of consistency and I felt like I was pretty comfortable at that effort level.  I figured it would slow a bit as the fatigue level and the heat level increased but wasn't too worried about it.  I had managed to pass a couple of guys on the run and was nearing the last turnaround point and saw Matt up ahead of me.  I managed to catch him just after the turnaround point (just after mile 10) and had put some distance between us when all of a sudden just after mile 11 I rolled my right ankle badly on the edge of the sidewalk.  Somehow, I had cut the tangent and stopped paying attention to my footfalls at the same time.  I have a bad history of rolling my ankles the past several years and this one came at a very inopportune time.

My right ankle rolled, I jumped up and exclaimed in disgust at myself and pain (it hurt pretty bad) and gingerly tried continuing my stride.  I limped/ran to the next aid station (which was soon as it was just after the mile 11 marker I believe) and walked through it, grabbing some water.  The volunteers, assuming I was suffering from cramps, offered me a banana.  Unfortunately that was going to do nothing to solve my ankle problems so I declined.

Matt had re-passed me along with some other people I had recently passed and had put some ground into me.  I started running again but was unable to have a strong push-off with my right foot the rest of the run.  Luckily, I still managed a decent pace with the last mile being the only exception.  I was drained from the race and the mental anxiety of injuring myself in such a stupid, frustrating (and painful) way basically impeded my finishing stamina.  I came around to the finish chute and saw the timer reading a hair under 4:09 and gave a nice little jog to finish in a hair under 4:09, which was a new personal best.

OA - 4:08:45 - 17th pro (18th OA) (not chicked!)

Overall, I would have to say that I was pleased with this race.  It is always tough when you are comparing yourselves against people who are, quite literally, among the best in the world.  I have gotten to be very good. I have worked very hard for three years while sacrificing much of a life outside of triathlon.  That is my choice and I welcomed the opportunity.  I would challenge almost anybody I know to a race and feel confident about my chances. But when you go and race against the best in the world you are bound to not win.  By no means did I expect to win, but to go 4:08 on a fairly tough, windy, non-wetsuit legal course (yes, it was flat...but flat is not always easy) and come in 17th pro is pretty staggering.  I remember just a couple of years ago where a 4:03 netted 6th place OA at Eagleman 70.3 against some of the better triathletes of the time.

This does not depress me, it merely reinforces the fact that people are REALLY FAST. It's like of racing a bunch of me's that are way better than me.  There are no weaknesses, unless it is in the swim.

But all in all, it was a fantastic weekend.  It was great to spend time with Ross and Jenny.  It was really amusing to travel ALL the way to Florida and come within a minute of Wisthoff.  Ross traveled all the way to Florida to finish within a couple of minutes of Sylvain.  Jenny went all that way to finally have someone to race against (#fastestgirlintheseveralstatessurroundingncproblems).

It was great lounging around post-race, taking pictures of great sunsets, and getting to eat a gigantic pizza for dinner.

Less than three weeks remain until IM Cozumel. Mentally, I am ready. Physically, I will be ready.

Dramatic shot of capturing the shot

Unfortunately I contained nothing in this pic to show scale. It was huge. It got #smashed

Thursday, November 7, 2013

James Haycraft, self-titled

As I enter the ingress of yet another race weekend, I feel the need to post up one more blog of verbose ramblings. I have two more races left to my “season.” As a pro, I no longer have “seasons” like most mere age groupers so maybe I should restate my position: I have two more competitive events until my winter break. It is a burden being so pro, alas. 

Looking back at my old blog posts, I am amazed at what I thought I knew about training. In 2009, a big training block looked like this:

S: 13,050
B: 208.6
R: 37

19.7 hours

Now compare that to just last week, for example:

S - 14,100 yards
B - 242.0 miles
R - 56.8 miles

Time - 23.65 hours

Not only am I getting in more training, I am also doing it more faster. Who thinks more is better than less? Me, that's who. It's not complicated. 

More training contributes to me being more pro but that is not where it ends: 

1) I sleep more.

2) I eat more.

Specifically, I eat more white stuff. I like white bread. I like chicken. I like cheese. I do not like veggies, just white potatoes, sometimes.

3) I am more aero.

I wasn't always so aero. I did a lot of SlowTwitch stalking to uncover the secrets of aero-ness. In fact I have dwindled down my drag co-efficient to a mere 0.01.

4) I win more races.

But you already knew this . . . 

5) I have more hair (just on my head b/c hair in other places is less pro and gross).

Why the beard? The ladies dig it. The Euro-mullet? The dudes dig it. 

6) I have more veins.

7) I wear less so the ladies want more.

8) I take more pictures of myself. 

Ok, ok I do not take as many selfies as I should but I am make sure Jenny is milling around to take pictures of me #GTWD.

9) I post more videos of myself.

Please feel free to see for yourself by subscribing to my You Tube Channel

10) I own more bikes

This year I purchased a mountain bike because it is more pro to mountain bike during the winter break than to stay inside riding the trainer. Lame. 

I could go on . . . but I am getting so jacked making this list. I. Am. So. Awesome. I even have a shirt that says so. 

brought to you by Jenny Leiser

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


S - 14,100 yards
B - 242.0 miles
R - 56.8 miles

Time - 23.65 hours

Racing is a funny thing.  For many it represents the validation of training, the "raison d'etre" for their weekly sufferings.  Personally, I wouldn't train if I did not race; I do not see the point.  Sure, I like being fit but there are other (less time consuming) ways to accomplish that goal.

Racing SHOULD be simple.  It is merely a swim, bike and run tied together in one single event.  That's it.  There's nothing "special" about racing.  No mystical things that help you all of a sudden go faster, harder, longer than you ever have before (although a good taper can definitely help!).  So why then does racing make you so nervous?

For Ironman, there are certain things that make a race MORE than just another race.  It is a simple fact of life.  The expense, the travel, the volume of participants, the location; it all adds up to make the race itself FEEL more important than it actually is (unless of course you've read this blog post and realize that Ironman IS ALL THERE IS).  I get that, I really do.  But REALLY, it's simply a long day of working not-that-hard.  Why then, is it SO NERVE-RACKING!

Before start at B2B Full '09 you bet your ASS I was nervous!
The shorter the race distance gets the less pressure I put on myself.  For a local sprint, it's actually an "easier" day than a normal training day on the weekends! Show up, set up your transition in about 5 minutes, and go to the swim start.  Pretty easy.  The nervousness sets in when I realize how hard I'm going to have to be working for the next hour or so.  International/Olympic distance races are just about the same, but doubled in length so I don't have to go quiiiiiiite as hard but generally the race is "worth" more (in one sense or another) so that is a factor in nervousness.

First ever triathlon (NOLA 70.3 '09) with 50 miles to go.  I was nervous but I had enough fluids for sure!
For a half, the nerves come because it is simply a longer race that is going to hurt more.  Four hours is a long time.  You have to fuel correctly, pace correctly, and hold on the longest.  While still going pretty fast and hard.  The half is a great test of mental and physical strength, where the shorter distances are more just go balls-to-the-wall and see who crosses first.  Not too much emotional strain in that...

Ironman is a whole different beast.  The full distance is just a long freakin' day. You're not going that hard, it's not a physical struggle, you're just trying to slow down less than the other guys and gals.  Because everybody slows down.  Eventually.  There is great expense involved, usually.  There are huge time commitments in both training and doing the actual race.  As a consequence, generally there is some freak-out before you toe the line.

IMKY '10 I am nervous and people are about to start peeing all over the place
I still get nervous before every race.  I'm pretty good about not showing it and appearing nonchalant or blase (at least, I think I am?) about the racing experience but the reality is there are small voices in my head and butterflies in my stomach before every single race.  I have gotten faster over the years but some things will never change.  I don't think I WANT then to change.  I like being a little bit nervous! I think it helps keep you grounded in what you are doing.  If you are not nervous then you are no longer truly invested in what you are doing.

Getting to wear your full finisher's medal around the next day is worth the nervousness, no doubt!
My thoughts anyway.

Next Sunday I'll be racing for the second to last time this year down in Venice at Rev3 Florida.  It's a race I DNF'd last year and it was a sad note on which to end a pretty good season.  This year I have zero expectations for this race other than to go moderately quick and recover quickly as two very important weeks of training for Cozumel ensue immediately once the legs come around post-race.

Lemme just scoot around your bike Richie Cunningham

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Yet another week has come and gone

S - 17,200 yards
B - 204.9 miles
R - 60.5 miles

Time - 23.05 hours

Well, another week has come and gone. I've put in a very solid string of weeks over the past couple of months.  None have been "perfect," per se, but each has been about 90% perfect.  I cannot complain about ~90% perfection.

9.9 to 9.15 - 21 hours
9.16 to 9.22 - 22.83 hours
9.23 to 9.29 - 13.31 hours (Carolina Half on Sunday)
9.30 to 10.6 - 13.99 hours (recovering)
10.7 to 10.13 - 21.16 hours
10.14 to 10.20 - 23.28 hours
10.21 to 10.27 - 23.05 hours

What I'm happiest about has been the running miles over that time period.  In those 7 weeks I have run just under 350 miles.  The long run each week has been 15.3, 13.1, 8.3, 17.6, 17.7, and 20.3 most recently.  I can say, quite honestly, that I have never been running this much this "late" in the season.  I am very much looking forward to how that impacts 2014 as well as the last two races of this year.  Swimming has been mostly lackluster for quite a while now, although over the past week or two I have started to feel like a minnow in the water again.  It's a fairly subtle change, but the mental aspect is quite obvious as I go from waking up for masters but then falling back asleep to waking up for masters and walking out the door into my car.  A strong mental game is important if you want to improve at swimming, no doubt.

This past week I also got my first real new computer in quite a while, which has honestly been the most exciting thing this month.  I have been playing around with various programs a lot, trying to figure out my capabilities as a video editor and have had some...mixed...results.  I definitely enjoy creating little videos but I am not sure whether others enjoy my videos as much as I do! I suppose that's fairly standard though; imagine being Michael Bay.

Another I uploaded to ICE Racing's facebook page:

And another I uploaded to Vimeo

We were also fortunate enough to have another edition of the Tour de El Amigo, which currently stands as the most coveted race spot in all of racing.  Lance has been on a wait list for 3 years and Bradley has entered the lottery both of the past two years.  We still have yet to get an application from Froome or Cavendish but I am sure no breaths will be held.  This year the weather was gorgeous, the group was small (and ELITE, obviously), and the hormones were raging (maybe those were just mine).  My own personal day started well, had a tough middle, but came through in the end for a strong back third.  I ended up victorious in the Sprint and KOM competitions and walked away with some cold hard cash for my efforts (good thing I won as I didn't bring any cash to give to Behme, oops!).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Three weeks of #GTWD

9/30 - 10/6
S - 3,500 yards
B - 185.8 miles
R - 26.6 miles
Time - 13.99 hours

10/7 - 10/13
S - 9,700 yards
B - 243.4 miles
R - 55.1 miles
Time - 21.16 hours

10/14 - 10/20
S - 14,000 yards
B - 218.1 miles
R - 63.0 miles
Time - 23.28 hours

Whew, it's been a while since I've given all the fans out there a sweet, sweet update on the training I've been doing.  Three whole weeks since my last, as a matter of fact.  So let's get started.

The first week above was the post-Carolina Half recovery and get back into training week.  I was fairly sore and tired most of the weekdays and in hindsight I think I let myself get a little dehydrated on the latter parts of the bike and run and when that combined with the hillyacious run it made me quite a bit more sore than I have been in the past half-recovery-weeks.  Alas, these things happen.  Luckily I recovered well and got back into some sweet, sweet training.

To the left is a runway and to the right is the interstate; but you'd never know it by this pic!

The highlight would be last weekend where Tim, Jenny and myself all took a trip down to Charleston, SC to see how amazing flat-land training can be.  175 miles on the bike in 2 days @ 22mph and you get a pretty good idea of how nice it is to have a hill every once in a while.  We also had the great opportunity to test out our wetsuits and our sweet dolphin diving skills in the ocean on Sunday before leaving.  Tim and myself had a grand ol' time looking stupid while Jenny graciously caught it all on camera.  Winners.

My swim fitness and motivation has been relatively lacking of late and all three of these weeks showcase that nicely.  When I am at masters I am sometimes only half-way there and that is apparent in both my times and my mind.  Other than that, however, I've managed to put in some great running and some almost-great biking.  The weeks add up and consistency is king so the number one goal over the next month (and more) is to continue to get in the workouts.  Even if they don't go so well, just get. them. done.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Kona Effect

People are, in general, pretty funny. Funny may not really be the right word I suppose; maybe what I'm looking for is amusing.  I guess now that I think about it, most people aren't really "funny" per se, although many of them think they are.  Regardless, the point of my thinking-out-loud-when-I'm-typing-a-blog-thought-process is simply to state that the human psyche is amusing.

Motivation is a curious thing; it gets us up in the morning, it gets you through the day, it encourages you, it emboldens you, it heartens you, it ____ (insert any number of good verbs here) you.  Motivation is an ever present force in our daily lives.  Sometimes it may not be overt or it may not be intentional but it is always there.  For example, I am currently sitting on the couch in the morning after drinking a couple of cups of coffee.  I am about to get motivated to get up and head down the hallway to the bathroom.  Motivation, in a nutshell.

But I am not really worried about people in general, I am worried about triathletes.  Triathletes are a very unique group of people that in many ways are characterized more by their quirks than anything else.  As with all endurance athletes (or athletes in general), triathletes need motivation to get the work done.  The long (or short) hours spent training are usually motivated by the prospect of a competition.  I myself would not be as interested in training if I did not race.  The desire for improvement, the constant quest to better oneself or beat your competition keeps us all going through the fall, winter, spring, and summer months (wait, isn't that ALL the months?).

I am not sure I know the statistics on the following statement, but it certainly seems to me that many triathletes feel like the "ultimate" race is an Ironman.  One hundred and forty point six miles of swimming, biking and running.  I get the feeling that many triathletes feel like that distance is sort of the end-goal.  You start with sprints and then do a couple of olympic distance races before attempting a half-ironman.  At that point one decides (frequently) that it is then time to attempt an Ironman.  This write-up isn't about whether that's a good idea or not so I'll leave it at that.  I myself attempted and finished my first iron-distance event (Beach 2 Battleship '09) in my first year of doing triathlons and my first true triathlon was a half-ironman (NOLA 70.3 2009) so I definitely was a little eager beaver about doing an Ironman.

In part I feel as though that model is so frequently seen simply because triathletes roam around in groups.  You tend to do what your training buddies do.  That is the way of the world; it's not necessarily "peer pressure" there is just the desire to do what your friends are doing.  I only signed up for B2B '09 because I had been training a lot with friends that were doing IMKY '09 and so I consequently had some long rides and runs under my belt and a new friend suggested I do B2B since I was "already training for it" and thus, history was made.

B2B, however, is not the perfect example for the message of my blog-post.  WTC events ALWAYS carry more weight.  They are more important, they are bigger, they are "better," they are more expensive, they are a lot of things.  They are also qualifiers for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

That last sentence is the most important thing I've said so far.  Every athletes that competes in "Ironman" events has, in the back of his or her mind, the thought of Kona.  You can deny it all you want but it is true.  I know this.  How can it not be? It is one of the most coveted race spots in triathlon.  Every person in a training group that has competed in Hawaii or qualified for Hawaii will always have that trump card.  Even if they are out of shape and slow "Well he/she did qualify for and race Kona twice so once they get back...look out!" or something similar to that.

Kona IS the apex of the pyramid for many people.  Qualifying for it IS the ultimate goal.  It is the reason why many people sign up for Ironman, period.  The goal to KQ is overwhelming in its simplicity but far more complicated than it should be.  Or rather, maybe saying it is complicating is appropriate to my point.

For several years I have seen athletes judge their success in an IM as to whether or not they managed to qualify for Kona.  I myself have been guilty of this; when I raced Louisville in '10 I had basically taken it for granted that I would qualify for Kona.  Unfortunately, my own ridiculousness got in the way of the goal which, in hindsight, would've been very difficult for me to achieve.

It is completely impossible to predict the possibility of a KQ.  There are so many variables present in an iron-distance race that trying to figure out whether or not you will get a spot is a dangerous proposition.  There are some aspects you cannot control, like who will show up, the number of competitors in your age group, the number of finishers in the older age groups, the weather...etc.  I could go on...and on.  What you CAN control is your own mental attitude and your own race.  That's it.  Nothing complicated, but the thought of a KQ can make many people's race process complicatING.

In my opinion, each race should be viewed in isolation. Each race is its own race.  Nothing more, nothing less.  That is not meant to detract from that particular race itself, it is just emphasizing that the way to think about each competition is purely for the sake of that competition itself.  Ironman is tough enough as it is, there is no need to already be worrying about the next race (or Kona) while you're currently engaged in a long day of suffering.  What Kona has done for many people, however, is to make them upset with results that they have no right to be upset about, simply because they did not punch their ticket to the Big Island.

If you have an Ironman coming up try to think about it as a single race.  Race it for the sake of racing that one race, not because you view it as a "stepping stone" to get to Kona.  If you've already raced an IM this year, realize that your results at that race are not indicative of your self-worth, they are not indicative of you as a person, they are simply the results from a race.  If you didn't qualify for Kona but wanted to...oh well.  There will be more races.  Just because you didn't doesn't mean you aren't good enough to do so (usually).