Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Challenge New Albany Half

Alright, let's get this out of the way first. As of the beginning of last week I had absolutely zero desire to race a half distance triathlon. I was disappointed in myself after Stumpy Creek and the thought of trying to go fast for 4+ hours held little appeal.

That being said, I had the great good fortune to already have booked time with two great travelling buddies: Jenny Leiser and Sylvain Lefebvre (Seal-van for reference, don't try the last name unless you're French).  So even while I was contemplating heading to the bustling metropolis of Columbus, OH but not racing I knew that those two funny buddies could make widdwe james feew wike wacing...

So with the rental van under my protective wing we loaded up the bad boy and headed out on Friday (a bit later than planned but that was entirely my fault, sorta) for the 7 hour drive north. The drive was mostly uneventful, except for the HUGE traffic issue at the border of Virginia and West Virginia.  We waited in stopped traffic for a while and using the Waze App discovered that there was something going on in the tunnel up ahead and that traffic was basically stopped for 4-5 miles before the tunnel on the northbound side of I-77.  Traffic advanced slowly every once in a while and we discovered it was because the cops were routing traffic down an off-ramp but then everyone just got back on the interstate.

It was only the second time off the interstate that every seemed to be trying to find an alternate route (while still getting back on 77).  The issue was that the tunnel is basically the ONLY way to get north/south via an interstate. We listened to the radio (an AM station, no less; how resourceful!) and discovered that the northbound side (where the accident had occurred) was potentially going to be closed for a few days. At this point we decided to go east and then northwest, wayyyy out of our way but it would get us across the border and back on 77 north of the tunnel.  So we drove over an hour just to get about 7 miles directly north on I-77.

Ugh. Could've been worse though.  We didn't make it to Columbus until 1:30am (should've been there by 8:30pm) so no early wake up call was set.

Saturday we took care of the usual pre-race stuff (ride, run and swim - the water was cold - rack your bike, pick up your packet, attend the meeting, eat dinner).

Being #1 was kinda cool
Race morning dawned bright and early (3:30am wake up call) due to the necessity of being done with T2 setup at 5:00am to catch the shuttle to Swim/T1. We set everything up quickly despite some quick re-routing on the way into New Albany High School due to some construction and got in the shuttle buses.

Once we were out at the swim start we didn't actually have all that much time to get set up so some of it felt pretty rushed.  I had realized the night before that I had completely forgotten my normal race kit and the only piece of triathlon apparel I had brought with me were my ICE Racing tri shorts. No swim skin, no one piece, no nothin'. "Luckily" it was wetsuit legal for the AGers so Sylvain was kind enough to let me borrow his Kiwami tri suit for the swim.

The swim would be a beach start with one right turn, two left turns, a long stretch, two more left turns and then one last right turn (picture: rectangle).  The pros lined up and the race was ready.

Swim - 26:33 (15th)

The swim start was a relative surprise to the pro male field it seemed.  There was a lot of talking and then someone on a loudspeaker started a countdown from "10" and the game was afoot. I heard a lot of "Oh s*it!" when the countdown started (quite possibly including my own exclamation of said words) but the goggles were down and wits were ready at the sound of the horn.

The course, at the start anyway, was a bit ridiculous. They had told a young lifeguard (girl) to basically stand about 20 meters off the beach and be the first "buoy" for all fields.  Little did she know what 20+ pro men going around her as a buoy would be like (guess they didn't sell her on the idea by showing her any video of what dudes going around a buoy looks like...)

I lined up on the left so I wouldn't have to take an inside line on the first "buoy" and got on some feet immediately.

The pro men's field was basically composed of two groups of athletes: "Tier 1" and "Tier 2." If any pro male that raced there reads this an is offended you know it's true. The Starykowicz/Limkemann/Griffin trio is as good a half-distance group as any at a regular 70.3 (for the most part) and then there is the rest.  I am not even in the "rest" as it were. So there's that.

Consequently, I was able to sit on feet the entire swim as there were no "tweeners" to pull the swim pack apart.  Despite this semi-logical rationalization of the swim itself I was extremely pleased to emerge roughly in the middle of a pro men's swim pack. It may have been a one-off and it may never happen again but it felt pretty good to not come out of the water by myself, ESPECIALLY in a non-wetsuit swim.

T1 - 1:04

My T1 was not my greatest as I got to my bike about 2nd out of our group of 5-7 but was last or second to last out.  Ooops.

This map does not show the terrible pavement, surprise!

Bike - 2:18:58 (12th)

The first ladies had just gotta on their bikes as I also got on mine and I was both happy and sad to not see Jenny among them (happy because she always catches me; sad because that means she didn't swim as well as she could have). I motored past and got in the group of dudes, excited to see how a group of seven or so pro dudes navigates the bike course under the stagger rule.

Well, the answer is: curiously.

The stagger rule is very strange. I understand completely its intent but it is very difficult to follow at times which makes it difficult to know what one should do given that a stagger or draft penalty is purely a judgement call of the official.  So, being at the back, I watched guys weaving all over the place to try and stagger appropriately.

I initially was way over the watts I felt I could manage for 2+ hours but they pretty quickly dropped down, although EVERY SINGLE ONE of the pro guys in that group rode the hills twice as hard as they rode the flats.  So I'd have to pump out 300+ to get up the hill but then be sitting on the flat sections at less than 220 watts. It was extremely frustrating and it's a really bad way to race long-course bike splits.  But that's seemingly the way EVERYBODY does it, not just these pros.

Be that as it may, that's how it was rolling along when Adam Otstot came up to me (as I was hanging out at the back of the group).  He said "What's up" and proceeded to move through the entire group on an uphill.  Adam, being a D1 collegiate XC runner at a very competitive XC school (my alma mater) has a bike/run that is very competitive.  So to see him moving through the field this "early" in the race was pretty cool (knowing he had the bike/run to potentially catch the top 5).

That being said, his little maneuver had the effect of "blowing apart" the group as guys went with his pace and guys did not (I did not).  This meant that the middle third of the bike course was pretty boring.  I passed a guy who got a stand-down penalty then later on he came past with Steve Rosinski following soon thereafter. I caught back up to Ryan Bates and rode with him for a while before I decided to get back up to the watts I wanted to be at (they had been falling slowly).  The last stretch of road was finally a smooth one and it was quite flat and fast so it was actually pretty fun with storm clouds rolling by (very windy) under dark skies. Felt pretty epic. I caught up to another USPro Tri guy coming into T2 (which was one of the most ridiculous transition entrances I have ever seen) and managed somehow to pop off a shoe upon dismount, which elicited this reaction:

As I needed to turn around and pick it up. Oh well, rules are RULES! I love rules.

T2 - 0:54

My T2 was speedier than my T1, but not by much. Let's just call this whole "racing" thing a general "work in progress" and move onwards towards the run.

"Bike for show, transition slow, run for dough" - me.

Run - 1:21:32 (9th)

Thomas Wood was not far ahead of me and I set about getting into a controlled rhythm but unfortunately almost immediately dropped my gel flask. As much as I love not eating gels, I figured I should probably pick it up. I ALMOST grabbed it as it was bouncing around which would've been pretty sweet but I had to pick it up after it hit the curb.

I managed my effort level well and got to the only out-back of the two looped course and turned around to see Derek much sooner than I anticipated (i.e. "hoped") and Brad Williams soon thereafter. Hoping I would put some time back into them on the run I continued on my merry way. The first lap passed relatively uneventfully except for by the end of it I had moved maybe 7-10 seconds ahead of Tom Wood. I felt pretty good still and by the second time through the turnaround I had made a fair amount of ground up on both Brad and Derek.  Hoping for the best I carried on around the golf course with nary a worry in mind.

Unfortunately for me, my lack of run volume (at least, that's what I'm going with) started catching up with me after 8 miles.  From that point on, it was kind of a struggle to keep rolling at what felt like a decent pace. Mike Caizzo eventually passed me and while I had been catching Barrett Brandon pretty regularly he now was so far ahead that he might as well have been on the moon and equally reachable.  Tom Wood finished stronger than I did and passed me as well in the last mile.  So, in spite of giving away several minutes over the last 8k of the run I still managed to hold on to a solid overall run time and come in just under 4:10 on what I felt was a fairly challenging overall course.

OA - 4:09:04 (14th)

Lonely finish line once everybody is gone :(

I was pleased with this race, partially because I had such low expectations of myself after Stumpy last week but also because it was just a good race. I beat some people that have beaten me before and I swam with a group. Regardless of who composed that group it was still a group and there was still swimming involved, neither of which I am as familiar with as I should be. A sub 4:10 on a non-wetsuit course with a rolling/slow bike is pretty good and I am happy. Even though "good" for me means 14th and a failure to come within 8% of the winner's time (thanks Eric L) - which is what it would take to requalify for my pro card - it is another step in the right direction, which is being consistent.

It is somewhat ironic that I did not re-qualify for my pro card at this race (and haven't yet, actually) BUT I likely would've won the elite amateur race (who also got to wear wetsuits) and would've qualified for my pro card that way.  Oh well.

The best part of the trip, however, was yet to come. Jenny got the idea to drive to Cedar Point Amusement park on Monday, spend the day there and drive back Monday night/Tuesday morning, which may or may not be the greatest idea she's ever had.

With that plan in mind, we woke up on Monday and headed north to Sandusky, OH to experience some sweet roller coasters.  Arriving at about 12 we proceeded to make the "most" of the next 7 hours.  I am unsure of how many rides we did, but the only "big" one we missed out on was the Top Fuel Drag one (0-120mph in 4 seconds) due to the line simply being ridiculous. The weather cooperated quite wonderfully and despite eating a gross funnel cake (shame on you Cedar Point) nobody threw up (although I may have peed my pants a little bit with excitement a couple of times).

This one may have actually been my favorite

The "Gatekeeper" climbs into the clouds

I think this is the oldest roller coaster in the US, it was ROUGH (in a good way)

There was a LOT of this for Gatekeeper and Millenium Force; next time buy Fast Lane!

Millenium Force climbs into the sun

The drive back was long and boring but uneventful and all in all it was a great weekend.  Sometimes it's really nice to just get away.  We triathletes seem to require a race sandwiched in the middle, however...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Stumpy Creek International 2014

Stumpy is a great race. Very little more needs to be said about the event itself; if you live in NC and haven't raced it AND you read this blog I would be very surprised. Why would I be surprised? Because it's a good race and if you know me chances are you've raced it too. At various points in time the best triathletes in NC have been there.

2010 (first year) - Scott Woodbury himself takes the W, beating out Tom Clifford, Frank Fawcett and myself at 2nd, 3rd and 4th place overall.

2011 - Matt Wisthoff proces again that he is the best short course triathlete in NC or any of the surrounding states, beating Tom and myself in 2nd and 3rd.  Somehow I have a run time of 35:52 that year. Knowing that the run course hasn't changed I am not sure where that came from (Tom's run time was 33:32 for reference...)

2012 - Doug Van Wie comes crashing into our little NC party and takes the W ahead of me. My memory of this race is riding as hard as I could on the bike and finally making contact with DVW coming into T2 and then - as a result - having no legs left to run.

2013 - Finally my year as I beat Matt for the first time ever and Derek comes in a close 3rd place.

This year felt, in many respects, like a revisit of 2013.

There would be no Wisty making a late, long-haired appearance. I knew Derek, a late sign-up, was going to be the main competition at this race.  Despite knowing Scott was back in good shape I was caught a little unawares at how close he was at the end of the swim, bike and run...

The only interesting story from this past week other than the race was my brief journey into hell (sliiiiight exaggeration) during a mountain bike ride on Monday.  I had just gotten my brand new bicycle (Specialized Epic Expert with 1 ride to that point) and figured on getting in a bonus ride on Monday afternoon after getting my day's workouts done prior to going into work. I headed to the Backyard Trails and was cruising along when I came upon a section I'd never attempted.  For some reason I felt like it would be a good time to try this and so I did and fell over immediately on the beginning (awkward, downhill, super slow narrow left hand turn).  I stood up, turned off my camera and started making my way back on my bike and on the trail. I then felt a slight, painful sting on my ankle.  I looked down and noticed a bunch of bees/yellow jackets sitting on my ankles, quads and wrist. At that point, the pain became an immense rush of "HOLY SH*% WHAT IS HAPPENING" and I began screaming like a little girl and sprinting with my bike down the trail.  I sprinted, all-out, for probably 20 or 30 seconds (in my bike shoes pushing my bike, mind you).  The pain was incredible.  I then started trying to swipe away the little devils still attached to me. Once I had gotten them all off and gotten on my bike and ridden even further from the scene I took the time to do an assessment. As best I could tell, I had two stings on my right wrist, one on my left wrist, one on my right hip, one on my right hammy, five or six on my right ankle and two or three on my left ankle. I got back to my car, took some benadryl and basically (after eating dinner) went home and went to bed, hoping that the sting pain would abate and there would be no swelling (or that I'd wake up in the middle of the night in anaphylatic shock).  I woke up Tuesday AM and felt TERRIBLE (but alive). I took more Benadryl (luckily, it would appear as though I have no allergic reaction to bees...).  It took a couple of days for the effects to wear off but by race day I felt back to normal (despite having black dots around my ankles...ew).

Anyway, back to the race.

Swim - 21:36 (2nd)

I figured the swim would go as it "normally" does when Derek and I race: Derek takes it out hard, I catch up and sit on his feet the rest of the swim.  Well, that was sooooort of what happened. Derek took it out slower than Scott and I did (I was in the middle with Derek on my left and Scott on my right), which was confusing at first. He was testing out wearing his short sleeved tri suit under his swim skin (so sleeves "out," which is perfectly legal according to USAT rules - not WTC mind you) so I was kinda thinking maybe this was slowing him down.

After about 2 or 300 meters he disabused me of that notion and accelerated HARD so I moved to the left and jumped on his feet.  We remained in this position to the first turn buoy, at which point I looked back and saw we had a very slight gap on someone who I assumed was Scott and a pretty big gap to the next person after that.  Another 100m on Derek's feet then another left turn.  At this point it was a long straight stretch back to the transition area. Derek would surge every 2-3 minutes which always sort of caught me by surprised so I had to play catch-up to get back on his feet.  At the second to last buoy we turned and I saw Scott was still back there, only 20-30 meters back so at this point I thought maybe I'd try and throw in an attack on Derek.  We got to the last little section and I came around Derek and put in a hard effort just to make him stress a little bit. He breathes to the right mostly so I passed him on the left and felt him slap my feet a couple of times as he moved over. I then slowed down and cruised in for a bit.  But then, for a reason unbeknownst to me or anyone else, I surged again and came into the finish with Derek right behind.

Photo courtesy Craig Carver via JRC Facebook

T1 - 0:42

I sprinted through T1 but had a bit of an issue getting my helmet on so lost a couple of seconds there.

Bike - 1:07:04 (2nd)

Ahhh, the bike. I have traditionally had very good bike splits at this race...

I made my way out of the venue and up the hill onto Perth Rd and Derek was right there with me. He let me lead for about 15-20 minutes until we turned off State Park Rd and started a climb. He came around me up the hill and once he was ahead to try and match his pace was requiring about 450 watts up the hill.  Once we crested it was still heavy on the gas pedal at 300+ and I just didn't have the gas.

Over the next 20-30 minutes I watched Derek get slowly further and further away until he was basically out of sight. I had a lot of trouble motivation myself to push so was basically rolling along at below half-ironman effort.

Once I got back to Perth Rd and endured the hellacious pavement chatter I looked back and could see a lone speck off in the distance that I assumed was Scott.  I came down the hill into transition at a high rate of speed, mostly chagrined by my (lack of) performance on the bicycle.

She allllmost beat me into T2. Thanks Luke Aitken for pic

T2 - 0:50

Unfortunately, given the rain I had no idea where the dismount line was (although you'd think having done this race EVERY SINGLE YEAR IT HAS HAPPENED I would have a pretty good idea of where the line was whether I could see it or not.


So I hopped off my bike wayyyy too late and going wayyyy too fast and was basically careening towards the transition "zone." I had two options:

1) Go under the arch and carry on until who knows where while I slowed down so I could turn to my area (my area was the first rack on the right immediately after going through the arch).

2) Run into the inflatable and stop quickly.

I chose option 2. I ran into the inflatable, which was filled with - you guessed it - air and as a consequence my slowing was done safely and quickly. I looked back at Jenny who was volunteering at the dismount line and just raised my arms, completely non-plussed by the ridiculous bike split capped off with running into the inflatable. I walked over to my bike rack...

Run - 37:22 (2nd)

Not much to say about the run as there was nobody I was chasing and nobody chasing me (that I could see). I thought I heard Scott coming into T2 as I was heading out onto the run course but I never saw him out there.  I managed to even split pretty well if I am not mistaken and given how difficult this run course is I'd wager a 37:20 10k split on "cruise control" is pretty sweet.

Dat stride! Thanks Luke, again.
OA - 2:07:32 (2nd)

I was definitely not happy with my race.  Not from a physical standpoint but my mental attitude was just terrible.  Last year I WANTED to win and my performance reflected that. This year I just didn't want to lose.  That is a huge difference in how one approaches competition. You can guess which is better...

Here is a fun little video I put together from some clips and images taken by volunteers (Jenny), spectators and adoring fans all over the world.

Stumpy Creek International 2014 from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Anyway, it was only a matter of time before Derek moved me to the second step of the podium.  He is a great athlete who takes care of all the little details.  I only wish I had been less of a wuss! Next time...

Which happens to be 3 days from now at Challenge New Albany!  It's shaping up to be a super fun weekend of travel and "vacation" that happens to have a half-ironman packed in the middle.  The mini van rental is about to be loaded up and a sweet drive into the "heart of America" will be undertaken with great pleasure.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A week of being all about America

S - 12,700 yards
B - 271.1 miles
R - 43.6 miles

Time - 23.42 hours

Stringing together back to back weeks of good training feels almost as amazing as cutting your fingernails after a long lay-off.  You may scoff at that analogy but please, let me explain.

Training is kind of like fighting a gorilla.  You don't stop when you get tired; you stop when the gorilla gets tired.  It's a never-ending process of trying to get better and improving very gradually over the course of long periods of time. It requires patience.  It gets a little crazy every once in a while.  There is risk involved.  There is pain; there is suffering. There is joy; there is satisfaction.

So basically, training is like fighting a gorilla for all the reasons mentioned above.

Why then, did I equate stringing together two good weeks of training with cutting your fingernails? It's a question I asked myself repeatedly while writing the previous paragraphs actually.  I was kind of wondering where I was gonna take that (somewhat odd) analogy.  But I've got the solution. I'm going to take it to level 10.

Your fingernails always grow. That is just what they do. The longer they get, the more they get in the way.  They do, admittedly, get far better at picking one's nose but that's about the only utility to be found in longer fingernails.  So, fitness is kind of like fingernail growth.  It never stops.  The only thing fitness does is get you more fitness.  It doesn't make you any cooler (as much as I am loathe to admit that).  It certainly doesn't make you nicer.  In fact, the lower your TSB the grumpier you are going to be.

(as an aside, if your significant other or spouse is in a heavy training phase they likely have a low TSB, which is exactly the reason why they are a PITA to deal with)

But what makes training great (or fingernail growth) is the ability to see results.  There are few things more satisfying than doing a nice, precise slice of the 'nails. Just like week after week of good training and growth, it is satisfying to see the result of that growth and then slice it off with a good race.  Because that's the goal in the end, isn't it?

Nobody wants to JUST be good at exercising.  Well I suppose cross-fitters do, but they are weird (if you can call that "exercising" hehe).  Everyone trains with a goal in mind. Well, mostly. The goal doesn't have to be a "race" per se, it can just be any sort of "competition." With yourself, your work buddies, your spouse, your kids, your man upstairs, your yard...etc.

On that note, it's been a good two weeks of training.  This week was marked by several special occasions:

1) Contained in the week was July 4th, which is the day AMERICA was birthed from the womb of Britain's lame tight-wad mother.

2) I raced my bike in Pisgah, NC

3) I rode my bike with good friends for 6.5 hours in the mountains of NC on Sunday.

Now, with regard to #2:

I DO like racing bikes. I like beating roadies at their own game.

(by the way, does any one find it INCREDIBLY satisfying that people say triathletes are just mediocre at three sports but then get their asses kicked by triathletes at THEIR sport? Because I do)

This time, however, the roadies had the answer: teams. It was a 5 lap race with a 1/2 mile twisty, curvy road as the start/finish lead up.  It was a pretty flat course with not too many opportunities to break up the group.  On either lap 3 or 4 two guys got away, one a member of Team Novo Nordisk (who had 7 or 8 guys in the ~35 man Cat 3 field) and one a member of Team V (I don't really remember the name of the team but they had either 3 or 4 guys in the field).  Given the strong presence of their teammates in the group this two man break got a little out of sight over the ensuing lap. I wasn't eager to do any work yet so I just sat in the pack and minded my own business.  Somewhere in lap 4 a guy from Team Cyclus got away off the front and bridged to the two guys (he had either 2 or 3 teammates in the pack).  In spite of having what are, quite literally, the ugliest kits in the history of kit design they actually function fairly well as a team.

On lap 5 it was time to do some work so I made my way to the front to try and get the party started.  But when half of the field won't work on the front because they have teammates in the break it is kind of difficult.  There was another "team" in the pack (Tumult Racing) but they had a bit of trouble getting all their guys to the front so it took a while for any sort of "chase" to be enacted. I was active at first but after a bit I figured it was futile and slid back to try and pick a good spot for what I assumed would be a field sprint.

The break stayed away (although the gap was closed down significantly) and we came up to the left turn leading into the half-mile slight uphill finishing straight. I was holding a good spot about halfway in the pack on the left side (at 200m to go the road opens up to be able to use both lanes so I have always figured staying on the left side was the most reliable option).  It seemed like a lot of the field was pretty tired so I didn't have too much trouble beating out the others in the sprint (for 4th place) but - as always - the sprint itself had a lot of crazy stuff going on as guys would sprint and then die and just sit up like there was nobody going full-bore behind them...

The next day we all made the drive up to Morganton, NC to do our beloved loop in the mountains.  There were a bunch of us and the weather was amazing so it was really a great day.  I was happy with the way I rode and I think everybody was pretty worn out in the end.  Most of us added in the super great Beech Mountain climb, which I hadn't done in about two years.  It is just as hard as I remembered.

Unfortunately the Garmin 510 touch screen proves problematic at times, but luckily I "saved" instead of "discarded" that file...

All in all, it was a fantastic week of training and weather here in Charlotte, NC so there is - literally - nothing about which I can complain.

Next week brings with it a mid-week mountain bike race (hopefully), some more training, and some more acquisition of memories. Get ready. Gonna be epic, as usual.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Post # 429

Blogging. It's a bit self-aggrandizing to be honest. As if, in writing a blog, I am telling the world that my voice somehow matters MORE than others.  The very act of creating, writing and publicizing a blog is a play to one's own vanity.

I read a lot of blogs. I find it onerous making my way through some of them.  Race reports, training updates, drama issues, etc. It becomes a bit much. Some never update theirs, so what's the point? Some people only post when something good happens, or when something bad happens.  They "forget" about a bad race and only talk about the good ones.

I blog every week. I think I've been blogging every week (admittedly missing a week here and there) for several years.  As regular as, know.

So when I read posts like this I cringe. Admittedly, the original poster is what we, on the internets, call a TROLL. He posts stuff simply for the purpose of being antagonistic.

I like that his ear is pierced
Why do I blog? As much as I try not to feed the troll, I cannot help it. I get defensive. I think some people assume I blog because I like hearing myself talk.  Or maybe I blog because I am relatively good at triathlon/exercising and therefore my opinion matters more...

Let's go back in time a bit, shall we?

Here is my first ever blog post from back in August of 2007.  That was the beginning.  You can tell I am pretty young (23).  I am extremely new to running. I am not writing because I think anybody will read it (for the record a total of 5 people viewed that blog when it was originally written).

I wrote it because writing is cathartic. I write because I enjoy it. It helps me think through stuff. It helps.

Sure, it's also a platform for offering my opinion on stuff...but you get the good with the bad ;) (although obviously all of my opinions are the right ones)

I just LIKE writing. So, sorry for inundating you with blog posts this week. If you blog, why? Do you do it because you feel like you "have" to? Because all triathletes seem to have a blog? Do you do it to track a journey? Mark your path? See from whence you've come and where you're going?

If you write, I'll probably read it. I like your story. Generally speaking anyway. Life is just acquisition of memories. Blogging preserves memories.

Blog more. Whine less. Git r dun.