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.