Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ironman Racine 70.3- The Race That Almost Was.

This post was a bit harder to write.  It is sometimes hard to convey how you feel after a race like this.  I thought about how I wanted to write this a few different times and each seemed like it was a bit worse than the previous idea. 

As I am a little over halfway through my second season doing triathlons and first season with a coach, I had pretty high expectations going in to this race.

I had very specific times that I wanted to hit, and when I look back and see how I missed them, I just feel disappointed and confused.  No matter what anyone said to me the day after, I simply could not feel good about this race.  I wanted and expected more, and everything less than that was a failure. 

I realize that I may be over-thinking this race a bit and should be happy with what I was able to do.  I know that this is an immaturity thing that I have to get over.  It is odd that as a coach, I constantly am looking up and reading about ways to motivate people.  To help them to see the good in what they have done.  To realize that “Success is not Final, and Failure is not Fatal.”  To realize that you can learn from every experience(good or bad) and grow from it.  To look forward and not to live in the past.

I tell my players these things and I truly believe them.  But for some odd reason, until you take the emotion that occurs immediately after a race out of it, it is hard to see. 

I have heard from countless people to “celebrate every little success” and to be happy that I am still improving.

It was weird to be this upset when I PRed my half ironman time by over 3 minutes. 

However, when I set out for this season, I had some lofty goals.  I have achieved all but one of the goals that I set out for myself before this season started, but I still don’t feel good about it.  And to be honest, I don’t know why. 

Being an analytic is not necessarily a bad thing until you allow the over-thinking to affect what you are currently able to do and what you will do in the future.  I need to learn from my mistakes but not to live in them. 

One of the best things that a friend told me, after I was talking to him about the disappointment that I was feeling, was “Nick, you need to race the next race and not the last one.”  This is the perfect way to look at this and it will definitely be a mantra of mine in training, racing, and life in general going forward. 
It also made me think of a line from one of my favorite movies(I am not ashamed).  

“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or... learn from it.” 

Time to learn from it and move forward.

Going into this race, I was incredibly confident in my training.  I had put in more miles at higher paces and intensities than I thought would be possible this year.  Everything was in place to make this race a breakthrough for me. 

Day Before

On Saturday, I was able to wake up early and get a run and ride in at Fermi-lab before heading up to Racine for check in.  Normally, I like to do this pre-race brick at the course site, but I had done this race before and knew what to expect from the bike and run parts of the course.  Also, the crazy, bumpy roads of the Racine bike course are nicely simulated on the back roads of Fermi where you hit a crack about every 25 yards.

I grabbed breakfast and ate on the way up.  When I got to check in a little before noon, the lines were still pretty short and I was able to get through quickly.  My buddy Ryan who arrived a few hours after was not so lucky as the lines were about an hour long at that point. 

After check-in, I rode my bike to the transition and brought my wetsuit along to check out the water which was supposed to be a bit chilly.  After the first 5 minutes in the water, I felt comfortable and was actually pretty excited for the swim.  The water was glass flat which was much different than last year.  I got in a few hundred yards and then went to meet up with Ryan who had arrived for check in.

After that, we went to the grocery store, picked up some lunch meat, bread, and a few other things(because we are poor and eating out is expensive).  We went back to my friend Paul’s house who lives in Racine and relaxed for the night.

Race Day

I woke up in the morning and ate my usual breakfast of 2 PowerBars.  We drove to transition to set up our gear.  Transition closed at 6:30 but my wave didn’t start until 8:20ish.  Paul stuck around and we actually went back to his house for a bit to relax for a bit.  We got to the water and were able to warm up for a bit until the horn went off for our wave.  I ate a half sleeve of Shot Blocks.  I felt good and anxious for the day to start.  The past weeks I had done multiple training sessions that had lasted over 4 hours.  I knew I was ready for this.


I really wish I had more to say about this swim.  The horn went off and immediately I was caught alone.  The fast swimmers went off and I found myself in a gap between them and everyone else.  Normally, every Half-Ironman swim, at some point I find myself thinking that I hate the water, swimming is dumb, and that I will never do this again.  This was not the case at all in this race.  I felt strong and thought I was sighting and moving well.  Just as in Lifetime Fitness Trinona, I was wrong.  I was never uncomfortable and maybe that was the problem.  Open water swimming and swimming in general is going to be my main area of focus going into next season.  Until I can change this, I will just have to do the best I can and minimize damage that is done. 

We made the final turn to go to shore after a mile of nothing but straight, and I ran into the sand.  I tried to get my heart-rate down as I got to the wetsuit strippers.  I made it through transition moderately fast and ran out to the Bike start ready to start my race.


The bike course at Racine starts off with an immediate incline out of transition.  Ironically, this is pretty much the most climbing that you will do on this course unless you add up all the bumps that occur as you get out of town.  The nice part about the race at this time of the day is despite the narrow bike lane that you have going in and out of town, no one is on the other side yet.  Thus, passing is not an issue. 

After taking like what felt like a minute to finally get my shoe locked in, I was off.  My legs immediately felt good and I got on the left side of the lane where I would stay for a majority of the race. 

*This is the only complaint that I have about this set-up.  I understand the logic behind starting some of the older age groups start before the 18-29 year old males, as you have a greater majority of people finishing the race at an earlier time if you start them in earlier waves.   I also know that there are still many people in the older age groups that can still hand me my lunch in a race.  But, when the bike course has a good number of sections that are very narrow(i.e. no passing), it makes it very difficult to ride a good race.  It also make it more difficult to ride the course completely abiding the draft rules, because when you need to pass a person who is already passing someone else who may also be trying to pass someone else, it is just difficult.*

Rant done.  I was able to get to my goal watts right away and they felt like they were coming pretty easy today.  That is when I started to get the feeling that this bike could be a new best for me. 

The bike ride honestly felt like it was Nick v. the University of Illinois triathlon team.  I felt no matter where I went on the course I quickly found another U of I tri-team member and played see-saw with them for a bit before finding another one. 

Right out of transition, I found U of I team member #1.  I actually remember all of the names of the ones that I was with on the course, but I don’t know any of them well enough to list them on here.  However, I have a few things that I will say about all of the members that I encountered on the course.  One, they were all incredibly nice.  I spoke with a few of them briefly during the race and a few after the race, and they were all good guys.  Two, I wish I could swim like them.  Catching up them on the bike means that they at least swam 4 minutes faster than me if not more.  Jealous.  Three, they all had good bike-handling skills and rode very LEGALLY.  On a course like this where drafting could easily be done due to the lack of officials that I saw, they followed the USAT drafting rules perfectly.  If I passed, they would immediately drop back.  If they had to pass someone, after passing, they immediately passed and got back to the ride part of the bike lane.  I have a strong respect for how they acted and handled themselves on the course.

The rest of the bike was pretty bland.  We had a bit of a headwind as we were heading out of town.  We weaved and got on to some highway, and then back on to country roads.  For the first 30 miles or so, I remember thinking about my watts, getting in my nutrition, seeing U of I members #2, #3, #4, and #5, and thinking that the roads were not as bad as I remembered them from last year.

Then, I hit about mile 32 and realized that the roads were just as bad as I remembered them last year.  For the first time in the entire ride, I actually had to get out of me aero-bars and hold on for fear of falling over. 

The second half of the ride was even less eventful than the first.  I backed off on the watts a bit because we had a nice tailwind and my legs actually were feeling good and I felt ready to go tear up the half marathon course.  I met up with U of I team member #6 and rode into transition with him about 4 minutes faster than I have ever done a 70.3 bike before.

I got into transition.  Got my shoes, race belt, and heading out with one of the faster T2’s that I have ever had.


This is where the race became a big disappointment.  I had been training at some great paces in the weeks leading up and my legs felt ready to attack this course.  I got right out of transition and wanted to make sure I held back a bit.  I felt like I was taking it easy and looked down at my watch and saw 6:03.  I slowed down to take it easier, relaxed my shoulders, and ran another half mile before looking down again.  When I looked down at my Garmin, it still said 6:10.  So, I slowed down more.  I finally got through the first mile at 6:17.  I saw my parents, then my friends, then one of my current soccer player and his family, then my coach right at the beginning of the 2nd mile. 

I remember feeling almost giddy.  I was smiling and felt like I was about to kill this race.  I felt great.  My legs were there, I was running at an “easy” RPE, and everything was going exactly as I had hoped it would on this run.

Until it wasn’t.

I don’t know how the timing could have been any better(worse), but I finished mile 2 at 6:17 again, and as soon as my watch beeped, I felt like my right rib was just stabbed. The pain from the side cramp almost knocked me over.  I felt like I wanted to throw up on the spot.  The worst pain I had felt in a long time.

However, things like this happen.  I went through what I should do in this situation.  I remember reading something that my coach had sent along to deal when cramps happen. 

I slowed down a bit, popped 2 salt tabs, and kept moving forward. 

I kept hoping that this pain would go away.  I was still clicking off decent miles, but I was nowhere near my goal pace.  I kept popping salt at aid stations and prayed that it would subside.

It didn’t.

The rest of the run I was just suffering.  It was hard to bear because my legs felt fine.  My body was ready to go.  But I just could not breathe and move forward.  I passed my family, friends, and coach again at mile 7.  

I could not have looked good.

There isn’t a lot to say about this run.  I didn’t have any significant moments.  There weren’t any big passes or moments where I did anything special or worthy of note.  I just survived.

I ran into the shoot and finished with a time that was about 3 minutes quicker than my previous best.  At the time, I was just relieved.  That cramp did not go away until about 2 hours after the race. 

Post Race

After the race, it was nice to see my friends and family waiting for me.  I knew I was not happy, but it is hard to not smile when everyone around you is so upbeat.  I had hoped to be in a situation where I would have a chance for a possible roll down spot for 70.3 Worlds, but with that race, even before seeing the results, I knew there was no shot today.

The good thing that came from all of this is that I am now just as motivated, if not more motivated to push forward even harder than before.  Originally, I thought after this race that I would want to take a really light week and take some time off.  However, that is not the case.  Thank God I have someone writing my workouts for me, otherwise I would probably already be out killing myself again in preparation for the next race, USAT Age Group Nationals.

Time to take what I learned, enjoy a few easier days, and get back to the grind.

Thanks again to all my wonderful family and friends, both the one’s that made it up and the one’s that have supported me through this season so far!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On naivety

This has been something that I have been thinking a lot about recently when trying to put together a race plan for Ironman 70.3 Racine.  I have been trying to workout how I want to approach the race in terms of pacing, power, nutrition, etc.

I have learned a lot in my second season of racing. Between my coach, reading, and talking to many others, I am significantly more prepared to go into this year’s race than last year.  However, this has also helped me to realize how naïve that I still am with all of this. 

I finished my final big block of training this week and was trying to pick a race plan based off of those numbers.  After the workouts, I emailed my coach and said, “I think with taper that (XXX)ish is doable.”

Her response, “Do you think you can run a great half marathon off of that?”

And I thought.  And thought.  And thought some more.   I couldn’t come up with a good answer. 

To me, It seems reasonable, but to be honest, how could I know? I haven’t tried.

We discussed a bit more and worked together through some best and worst case scenario pacing due to weather conditions, etc.

This is where my naivety comes into play.  And to be honest, I don’t mind being naïve with some parts of this sport still.  When I did my first half Ironman, I did it with trainer wheels, some Gatorade, two sleeves of Shot Blocks, and no real plan.  I was just hoping not to drown.

I ran my first marathon with a long run of 15 miles, a nutrition plan of taking water and Gatorade when I was thirsty and hot, and a race pace plan based off of “I think that this seems like a reasonable pace.”

I would go to these races and see things that were just confusing and weird.  I kept looking at all the people around me with Alien helmets, disk wheels, power meters, shaved legs, speed suits, etc. and just thought that the gains received from these they were negligible at best.   When I looked at their times and compared them to my own, I assumed that they were just that much fitter(still was the case for a majority). 

Seeing this gap in time especially on the bike and swim, helped me to make many decisions that at the time ultimately helped me.  I just thought I wasn’t working hard enough or working hard enough in the right way.  Instead of looking for ways to find “free speed” in the forms of bike and swim gear, I just tried to work harder(again, because I was too naïve to believe in the results that could be produced by all of these equipment adjustments). 

This led me to join a master’s swim group, hire a great coach and push each day.

I made more fitness gains in this time that I could not have imagined because I didn't believe there was any other way. 

In some ways, I miss that naivety.  Although the knowledge of all the marginal gains that can be made with equipment, nutrition, etc., has led to time gains in my races that I would have never achieved through simply working harder, I believe that so much can be accomplished by simply being naïve and innocent.

I remembered times when I was younger playing in a weekend soccer tournament.  We played 7 games in 3 days.  Granted they were only 35 minute halves, but that equals over 8 hours of working out in 3 days.  We weren’t concerned about proper nutrition.  We didn’t think about getting enough salt.  We didn’t even think about how tired your legs were from the previous games.  You would eat at Jimmy John’s, because that is what our parents believed to be a good meal between games.  You just went out and played.

It is in these moments of purity that you truly learn to love the sport.  You do it because you just do.  You don’t overthink.  You just get out there and run until you are tired and then you run some more.  You don’t think about bonking and blowing up because it just isn’t an option.

Sometimes, I(and I am sure many other people) get way too caught up in numbers.  I need to hit XXX watts and X:XX pace or this race/training session is a failure.  I miss the moment when those numbers were foreign to me and I just ran without consequence.

Those moments when it was just you and your friends sprinting around the block, biking to the park, or swimming to the other side of the pool.  You just went.  You didn’t think.  You just knew that there was someone next to you that you wanted to beat. 

One goal that I have in relation to this is when I become a parent one day to put a Garmin on my kid when he goes to play a pickup game of any sport or a game of “Ghost in the Graveyard.”  I would love to know the amount of miles and time that were covered simply fueled by Lemonade, S’mores, and Chicken Nuggets. 

I really started to think about all of this this past week on my final build week leading to Racine and I looked at my workout for Thursday.  It was a brick that I had done plenty of times before.  And I normally like this workout a lot.  However, when I saw it, I thought about how my body was feeling and immediately emailed my coach to ask her if I could change it.  My wording was something along the lines of “I won’t be able to hit that pace.”  It really bugged me. 

She talked through it with me and told me to either take a rest day or to do an easier bike.   I chose the latter.  When I got to my bike, I was riding around and actually felt pretty good.  And as one tends to do on bike rides in the middle of nowhere, I began to think.

What would have happened if I missed the pace for the brick?  Would the world have ended?  Would my coach yell at me?  Would I have to quit doing this sport forever?  Would people dislike me?  Would anyone really know?

When I realized the answer to all of these was a resounding NO, I began to reflect on how I miss the moment of pure naivety and bliss in exercise.  Sometimes it just takes getting out of your own way and relaxing your mind to all the excess information to truly remember that this is something that you like to do and choose to do.

I was able to remember why I love to do this and get to do this.

Exactly 2 weeks to Racine where I get to remember why I love racing.