Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ironman Louisville, or the "what if?" blog

So, where to start? That is, without a doubt, the hardest part of writing ANYthing.  For me anyway; I'm not sure if this idea holds true for other writers.  But figuring out that place to start and trying to say a lot without saying a lot, implying meaning and tone, and letting the reader figure out where this is going ... well that's tough.

You can gather a little bit in that initial paragraph.  James is having those "feelings" things right now.  He probably has been for a while after last Sunday.  It's really difficult to figure out WHY I feel the need to write a "race report" even though I did not manage to finish the race.  What is there to report on? No finish line was crossed. Placings in each segment don't matter.  How the swim went or the early stages of the bike, do they matter?  If no finish line is crossed...what's the point?

Well, a valid line of reasoning for someone after a defeat at the hands of IM perhaps, but not for James Haycraft. Yes, I wrote about myself in a blog about myself in the 3rd person. You shall like it.

I'll start like any regular old triathloning blog: a recap of how training went leading up to the race.

Training went really, really well.  I have never, EVER felt as focused on the process and the specificity that is IM training as I did this summer and early fall under David Tilbury Davis' coaching. It's difficult to describe those differences to be honest, but suffice it to say that when you are not maxing out your availability you can focus more on each individual movement and requirement as it relates to your specific goal. My goal this year was obviously singularly focused: crush Louisville.  So many a weekend was spent riding 4-5 hours with as much time as possible IN the aero bars and at or above race pace.  Riding in Davidson was a great analogue for riding in Louisville: constant rollers and long, uninterrupted stretches of mostly smooth rural pavement.  I had great and willing people to ride with who graciously let me sit on the front most of the time (thanks Jenny, Andrew, and occasionally Causebrook!).  I felt very, very prepared for the bike portion...unlike in past attempts where I rode my road bike 95% of the time in training (my OWN choice).

I wasn't running a ton of miles, relatively speaking, but I was running them really, really well.  Triple run days, some double run days, and one traditional "long run" left me feeling really prepared to run 26.2 at a fairly expeditious pace.  I remember feeling extremely "fit" in Cozumel back in 2013, but not really well prepared for the specifics of the race distance in particular.  Maybe it was mostly mental, but even with the benefits of hindsight it's tough to say for sure.

I had some ambitious, but realistic goals.  All goals are conditional however, as fitness really only gets you TO the start line.  Once the race begins you have to control the process of the race and not let it control you.  I can imagine Yogi Berra making some IM triathlon quote (you didn't know he was a triathlete...?) that is something like: "IM is 50% fitness, 50% mental, and 50% nutrition."

I feel fine describing my goals because, well, I was so far from hitting them (overall) that I could say almost anything and you'd have to at least pretend to believe me!

Swim - I was confident I'd swim under an hour, but beyond that I really had no idea.  The state of the current, where I started, wetsuit or not, etc.  That all played into it.  But if the current was strong I figured maybe 50-53, if it was not there maybe 55-58, and if the river started flowing in reverse then I'd just be praying to make it to the finishing ladder...

Bike - Goal was to average around 200-210 watts AP overall, with a stronger first section (220+).  I had played with Best Bike Split a little bit and I was expecting a ride of in between 4:55-5:05, give or take.  I figured this would set me up to be within range of the top 3-5 off the bike.

Run - Always the big question mark, eh?  Well, I felt PREPARED to run 6:35-6:45 for a while off the bike.  Not the whole thing, mind you...but a decent chunk of it.  I hoped a 3:00 +/- 5 minutes was in the cards.

So all in all, that would've added up to a pretty quick overall time, a huge PR, a likely Kona spot, and potentially an overall win or top 3.

So yes, ambitious.  But I'm not one to blow smoke up anyone's a** and I honestly felt that those goals were within my realm of possibilities if I was able to control the PROCESS of the race.

Anyway, the plan was set.  The training was done.  The drive was completed.  Race day prep was over.  Time to put the pedal to the metal.

Zach and I walked to swim start and got in line and as the morning progressed we gradually made ourselves race morning ready.  Put on the wetsuit, stuffed the backpack, got the goggles ready.  The line moved steadily until the race officially started and it was ON.

Swim - 56:32 (9th M 30-34)

I managed to squeeze out a quick pee as I was running down the dock to jump into the gloriously beautiful Ohio River.  Unfortunately it never departed my wetsuit so there was a bladder's worth of pee just sitting somewhere in my triathlon apparel.  I hoped that somewhere within the 2.4 miles of swimming it would make its way out of my leg hole.  Dare to dream..

I jumped into the water off the dock, making sure my goggles stayed on, and began swimming up the channel.  There is really only one word for what this portion of the swim was like: chaos.

People were, literally, EVERYwhere.  I was going all over the place to navigate through swimmers as I was swimming a decent clip faster than most that were in the water ahead of me.  I had started my swim at about 7:40, so roughly 10 minutes of swimmers were ahead of me.  Sighting was somewhat difficult as we were headed into the sun but the sun had yet to rise above the treeline so it wasn't as bad as it would have been had I started 20-30 minutes later.

In my head we were turning around the island that kind of separates the "river" from the "channel" but as it turned out we were going much further up the river than I had originally expected.  This part was quite difficult to sight as - if I remember correctly - there was some fog or haze sitting on the river.  It took me a while to find the official turn buoy but once I did I was happy to be done with about the first third of the swim.

The rest of the swim was much, much easier as now people were able to spread out and there was much less traffic in general.  To be honest, I didn't "notice" a whole lot of current as I went downriver.  The buoys seemed to be coming at me in a normal way but I was still kind of hoping for a fast time with the invisible current so I could brag about a huge swim PR.

Regardless of my desires, I was forced to continue the glorious act of swimming in the most polluted body of water in the United States (for 7 years running, what a superlative!!)

The further along I got on the swim course the less I had people around me.  Pretty late, one guy came flying past but other than that I was pretty much swimming completely solo.  I got to the swim exit to thunderous applause, but I can only assume it was general applause and not specifically meant for me.

Note that I changed the distance manually to say 2.4 miles. I wore the 220 on my wrist and it reported over 3 miles.  Unlike some other race reports, I will not blame swimming "additional mileage" on my poor sighting and open water skills. My watch was underwater for more than half of the swim, which would serve to explain the distance discrepancy...

T1 - 5:25

I didn't have a fast T1, but it wasn't too bad. I put on socks, shoes, flask, gels, helmet, sunglasses...and made my way out of the tent, which wasn't too crowded at that point.

Bike - 4:30ish....

I headed out on the bike and planned to hold my watts a wee bit higher for the first hour or so.  This would help get some separation from any crowds and set my legs up for the day.  Get them used to the pain, so to speak.  I managed to do this well and passed a good number of people all the way down River Rd.  It was quite chilly even with my apparel choice.  I had actually decided to wear my normal two piece tri kit UNDER a Pearl Izumi Tri Octane sleeved suit.  So basically in the swim I had the PI put on halfway and in transition pulled it over and installed my arms into the sleeves for the bike.  The thought was that I could simply take that off to have something a little more comfortable to run in without having to execute a full change.

But my little fingers were very cold, nonetheless.

I got to the out and back section and looked forward to seeing how far ahead the "leader" was.  I had made my way to the final climb before the pace car came the other way with several guys in tow.  I counted them as they passed and noted that I was in "6th" place (note I use quotation marks simply because of the fact that at Louisville you never know who is actually in the lead, it's why I feel like the lead bikers on the run were a bit silly) before arriving at the turnaround a minute or two later.

I came in a little more "hot" than I'd have liked but slowed smoothly and made the 180 degree turn looking just as pro as I normally do when wearing a big pointy red helmet, multicolored tightly fitting apparel, and blue shoes.  So yea, pretty amazing.

From that point I didn't pass too many more guys until I got through LaGrange and I snapped up two at once that were riding together.  I got a little lazy at this point as the course meandered through the farms and remembered the disaster that was Louisville 2010 when I went past the "spot."

By the time we got back on the main road I had to pee really, really bad. It was actually affecting more power output and my position. In my imagination, my bladder was so big that if I rolled my hips forward properly it looked like you were squeezing a balloon really, really hard.  I tried many times to meditate, focus, and let fly on whatever downhills were available but was completely unsuccessful.  I was embarrassed at my lack of pro status when it came to peeing on myself. The more pro you are, the better at peeing on yourself you are.  That's science.

As a consequence, when I arrived at the special needs station I pulled over to use a porto.  I peed, but ended up peeing a lot on myself anyway, ironically (if you've ever tried pulling a zipped up Pearl Izumi Octane suit down enough to pee, you know what I mean).  I got back on the road and was MUCH more comfortable in the aero position after that blessed relief.

I focused on getting back up the road a bit after giving some time up and was back through the farm sections in no time.  At this point, however, something started becoming a bit uncomfortable.  By the time I got back out onto the main road it was simply becoming unbearable.  It's a difficult location to describe, but it's essentially right at the point of impact from my car incident last year.  In that crash, I fractured a sacral segment on the "left" side of my tailbone (my left).  The connective tissue around there is collectively referred to as your "SI joint" and that's what had become...debilitating.  For lack of a better word. It was incredible.  I've not really experienced weakness like that before.  I could not move. I couldn't go down into my aerobars because I was afraid that I would simply fall onto the bike when transitioning between those two positions. I couldn't really pedal, because the torque application required "flexing" that area, so to speak.  I couldn't really stand up to pedal...

It was bad all around. I'm not sure why the sudden onset seemed to occur, but for the last 10-15 minutes I was riding my bike I wasn't even averaging 60 watts.  I coasted everything I could.  By the time I hit the turn off for lap 2 or, for me, going straight to the finish line in 20 miles...the whole field had passed me.  I got off the bike and asked race support if I could get a ride back.  I couldn't imagine "riding" another 20 miles.  I didn't think I could physically do it.

You can likely imagine the disappointment that comes with a decision like that.  I'm not really sure I can elaborate further with words, but suffice it to say that when you build your whole year around something and prepare exceptionally well, to have the rug pulled out from under you is very, very upsetting.  Yes, I have DNF'ed other races before.  Am I a quitter? Maybe in some senses I am but I did not feel that way about my day in Louisville.

I have definitely been upset about the race.  As I described above, I had high expectations.  I was ready to f***ing own this race.  It was mine.

But, things happen. Maybe there's a reason behind it? Maybe it's a sign that I am destined for XTERRA greatness? Well, that's what I'm certainly telling myself anyway.  I've definitely appreciated everyone's concern and messages of support, it means a lot to me.  The community is the entire reason I got into triathlon anyway, so while I didn't have a great race I had an amazing time watching others have a great race.

Then a week later I got to see more great racing at B2B, which only served to heighten both my sense of sadness over my own race but also that shared feeling of success you get when a close friend does really well.

I just wish that had been a personal feeling at the finish line on October 17th...

Until next time, IM. (which might be never, you thankless b*tch!)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Why Ironman?

A long time ago (seriously, it seems like forever) I sent out a pretty large group email, the body of which is contained below (paraphrased):

...One of the things I'd really like to do is examine a bit about WHY people/athletes sign up for and - to a degree - why they almost feel compelled to sign up for it. In the sense that it is something you HAVE to do if you do triathlons.  I've encountered this mentality quite a bit at the store and talking to lots and lots and lots of varying levels of triathletes so I know it's there, but I am curious if any of you have any sort of things you'd wanna say regarding that.

Take, for example, the first IM you signed up for (or if you haven't done one yet maybe why you have or are contemplating signing up for your first one). Why did you do it? What motivated you to go down that path? What made you sign up for your most recent IM if it is not your first...? Etc

There are a large number of people I am asking this of and the full spectrum is represented, from first time never done it before to top 5 pros on this email list. So don't feel like your answer isn't "right" or "good enough" or anything. I am just interested in perspective; your answer IS the right answer because it is YOUR answer.  And all that jazz.

It was pretty vague, let's be honest. But how do you even begin to try and examine what the answer "means" without, at least, starting the conversation...? That's what ran through my head, anyway, when I posed this query to a large group of email contacts, friends, and acquaintances. 

The answers I got varied, but they didn't vary AS MUCH as I would've expected. While we all have our own personal context for why we sign up for an Ironman, the reasons all seem to be relatively similar. (more on this later)

If you wanted ME to answer the question I posed to those willing participants...well, I can't say I blame you for asking...

I began triathlon-ing in the summer of 2008. I had been running after college and once that got old and I realized I wasn't that great at it I decided to start biking again to try and relive my glory days of B and C level collegiate cycling.  I quickly realized I STILL wasn't actually ever going to be a "GREAT" cyclist and decided to complete the trifecta and pick up swimming (laps, not anti-drowning) to make sure that if I was going to do 3 sports I might as well just be average at 3 instead of average at 1.

Dude, a frame bottle? Loose clothing? WTH!!?? So not aero.

 I signed up for a triathlon that would fall in late 2008 called Patriots Internationl but unfortunately Tropical Storm Hanna dumped a bunch of weather on coastal Virginia that weekend and the swim in the James River was canceled. Consequently, my first multi-sport event was a duathlon. 

There are few things more lame than duathlons.  Well, when you're expecting a triathlon anyway, duathlons are MUCH harder than triathlons. But that's a whole other subject area that we just aren't going to try to examine today (or any day really).

It was terrible. Miserable. Horrifying. I had such high hopes of mediocrity and when the actual experience was even worse I thought I'd seen it all.  (I'm being dramatic, the race was fine). Be that as it may, I had already signed up for New Orleans 70.3 the week prior to Patriots so my first triathlon was going to be a 70.3!  

Compression socks? What is going on!?

It went well enough, I had a great time (and crossed the line saying "I have NO IDEA how my friends do two of those in a ROW!?" to my parents) and met new people and generally got into a really fun group as the spring and summer progressed. 

I spent most of my weekend training with guys that were doing Ironman Louisville 2009 (Fletch, Behme, Woody, and Brad).  I was doing 100mi bike rides and 2+ hour long runs with them and I then met Ashley who talked about how he was doing B2B Full that year and I said: "Why not?"

Obviously much has changed about myself, my abilities, and my thoughts regarding triathlons in general since that point in time...but a few key phrases stick out to me:

"At a certain point you have to stop over analyzing and worrying and just get over yourself."

"It'll be fun and challenging. I'll see how far I can push myself..."

Glad it's over

Sometimes I wish I still saw things that way. In a way, that's what Louisville this year is for me: it is simply a challenge.  I have time "ideas" obviously, but just finishing is a challenge enough. I remember quite well walking most of the first loop in 2010, feeling sorry for myself; thinking I was such a terrible athlete because it had gone so poorly.  Yet right next to me were people whose races were going great and they were simply pushing on and happy to be out there.  

It's easy to forget why we do stuff, sometimes, especially in the face of self-imparted and peer applied pressures.  

And, out.