Monday, August 20, 2012

Race Report: Luray Sprint Tri -- 8/19/12

With three weeks left to go before Ironman Wisconsin, it's tempting to call this race a "tune-up." But it wasn't. Everything about a sprint race is different than an Ironman. My strategy for the IM is to carefully stay within myself throughout the vast majority of the race, avoiding a catastrophic breakdown on the run that'll leave me shuffling along through most of the marathon. In a sprint you just go hard and hang it out on the edge, trusting your training and pushing through the hard parts. All the careful pacing and attention to nutrition that are such a part of IM training sessions doesn't matter much when you're only going to be on the course for about 90 minutes.

I drove up the morning of the race and liked what I saw. I've heard many people recommend the Luray races and I understood why. The venue is scenic and spacious, with a neat little picture postcard of a lake nestled below the transition area on a bluff above. There were numerous club tents and food vendors, and campsites for racers who come the night before or had done the international-distance race the day before. The vibe was family friendly, and many triathletes, particularly novices, had big cheering sections with them to celebrate their accomplishment.

I set up my transition area quickly and headed back down to my car for my wetsuit -- surprisingly the lake had cooled enough to be wetsuit legal. I'll take the suit option any time it's available. Some argue that it's not worth it for a sprint, claiming the time advantage on the swim is offset by the time it takes to get the suit off. Just my two cents, but if they have trouble getting their wet suit off quickly they haven't practiced enough. After a quick warmup swim in the lake it was time to go.

My wave was second to go -- a nice change from next to last, where the 50+ crowd usually is in most of my races. I seeded myself well up in the front. I'd put in a lot of long-course swimming this summer and was feeling confident I could hang with the front edge of the wave. By the time we hit the first turn of the triangular course we already up on the back edge of the first wave. Full-contact swimming ensued as I rounded the buoy -- I was hit in the head so many times I probably would have been pulled from an NFL game.

I found a bit of room after the scrum and navigated the next two legs with no difficulty, pushing the pace and trying to key off the swim fundamentals I've worked on through the summer -- head down, rotate around my body's axis, engaging the big muscles in the back. The overcast conditions made sighting easy, and soon I was up on the beach, running towards the stairs leading to transition. I didn't see many white caps from my wave, but plenty of red waves from the wave before. So far so good!

Swim (750 meters) -- 14;12. 4/24 AG, 43/298 OA male -- Turned out I was only 30 seconds behind the fastest swim in my AG -- that's a very good result for me.

Despite the long run up the stairs to transition I was determined not to lose any time here. The wet suit came off quickly (thanks Body Glide!) and I grabbed the bike and took off.

T1 -- 1:44.  1/24 AG, 22/298 OA male. So much for wetsuits slowing you down in transition...

I hopped on the bike at the mount line and slipped my feet into my shoes as I pedaled out of the park. The elevation profile for the bike looked challenging, and the course lived up to the billing. Right out of the gate we hit a lengthy hill, then a succession of false flats followed. On another day I might have admired the scenic aspects of the course, but today it was mostly lost on me as I kept my head down and kept grinding. My bike's power meter served as an effective conscience, reminding me to go harder every time I was tempted to soft pedal a downhill or ease up on a climb.

I rode solo for quite awhile, but was caught by a pack around mile 10 and we constantly swapped positions as the road suited our strengths. While I kept going hard, I didn't try to match my fellow athletes at the base of the climbs. They inevitably got out of the saddle and pushed hard, while I downshifted and kept my RPMs high. In most cases the strategy paid off -- I'd catch them near the middle or top and have enough in the tank to upshift and crest the hill on an acceleration.

As the ride ended I slipped my feet out of my shoes, executed a nifty flying dismount and ran into transition ready to tackle the run.

Bike (17 miles) -- 54:00. 2/24 AG, 53/298 OA male. Pleased with the effort on the bike. A tough but fun course.

T2  -- :59. 3/24 AG, 44/298 OA male. Shoes on, no socks, grab hat and race belt and go.

I caught a couple of quicky calf cramps as I started the run, but wasn't too concerned -- just the natural result of a hard bike. The run started with a flat section, so I kept my stride short and turnover quick until my legs shook out. As I settled into the run I took stock. I hadn't seen anybody in my AG on the bike, only one 55-59 competitor I recognized as a top age-grouper at most races. If I could put in a good run I felt confident I might be able to snag a podium slot.

And the run went well. The course was a straight out and back, so I could see I was fairly close to the front edge of the race. I passed a dozen or so runners on the way out, and scanned the pack for threats on the return leg. With the exception of strong-looking woman from the FEXY team, I didn't see anybody who looked like they had the legs to catch me if I could keep going hard. Runners were sparse, so I picked a couple of runners 50-75 yards ahead and tried to close the gap.

I picked off one of them, a 31-year old guy, while cresting a hill, and put my efforts into staying ahead of him. Sure enough, the FEXY team woman caught me with a couple of hundred yards to go, but I was able to keep the gap close and finished strong (turns out she was third woman overall, so I don't feel too bad about that...)

Run (3.1 miles) -- 23:31. 3/24 AG, 61/298 OA male. I lost some steam at the end of the run after starting off with two crisp 7:15 miles, but very pleased with the overall effort.

Final result -- 1:34:25. 2/24 AG, 36/298 OA male. It pays to be consistent across all three disciplines. My overall placement was 7 places higher than my best result in the swim, bike, or run. A good day, and I qualified for USAT AG Nationals for 2013 -- the fourth year in a row I've qualified.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Stay Inside the Box

This isn't anything original from me, but a reprint of a post my coach emailed to her clients. Lots of what seems like very good advice.



Step 1: Forget Your Fitness

Understand that all you've done in training for 3, 6, 9 or more months is build a fitness vehicle. Race day is about how you drive that vehicle the race distance and across the finish line. All the fitness in the world can't help you if you don't know how to drive it properly!
This becomes more true as race distance increases. Simply put, you can't fake the funk in the long course game, as evidenced by the hundreds of very, very fit athletes under-performing because they don't know how to drive their fitness vehicle properly.

Step 2: Separate Yourself from the Outcome

Once the race starts...forget the outcome. Forget goal times, placings, everything. In our experience, chasing the outcome will often force you to make decisions in the short term that will eventually prove to be counter to your long term, outcome goals.

Step 3: Identify Critical Junctions of the Race

Where are opportunities on the course to gain time? To lose time? Where is my competition most likely to make mistakes that I will avoid and achieve a better outcome?
A few examples:
  • Long course racing: While the notes above apply to the long course swim, energy conservation becomes more important. On the bike, the longer the ride the more it becomes about not making mistakes -- too hard up hills and into headwinds, coasting too much, letting off the gas in tailwinds, etc -- rather than actively trying to make something happen, to gain time. This is true because, as race distance increases, the chance of failure on the run increases dramatically. You only need to stand at mile 20 of the Ironman run to see the consequences of short term, outcome focused thinking, as poorly executing athletes are forced to slow down dramatically, giving up any time, and much, much more, they may have gained earlier in the day. Therefore the critical junction of the long course run is the last quarter to third of the distance, as this is when early pacing and other mistakes will begin to express themselves.

Step 4: Focus on Executing the Processes That Sets Up Success at These Critical Junctions

Your job then is to manage the process, now, in real time,  that sets you up for success at these critical junctions above. We call this "Racing in the Box:" put your head in a Box and make the best decisions you can within that Box.
The Box:
  • Is only as big as what you can control, right now.
  • Forget goals, expectations, the Outcome. Put your head in the Box, execute as best you can in the Box, and let the Outcome come to you, as a result of excellent process management and good decisions.
  • Good decisions made within the Box are those that set you up for success at the critical junctions above. For example, ask yourself "Self, is this decision I'm about to make consistent with my critical goal to set up the last quarter to one third of the run, or am I chasing that non-existent KOM at the top of this hill?" If the answer is "inconsistent," make the right decision, sit down, shut up, execute and let the Outcome come to you. Don't chase it!

Step 5: Never Give Up!

So you're in your Box, have pushed the Outcome out of the Box, and are making the best decisions you can within the Box that set you up for success at the Critical Junctions of the race. But the numbers aren't what you expected -- splits, watts, pace, whatever.
You expected temperatures, winds, hills, conditions X but you're getting a very different set of Y's which, as you make decisions within your Box, begin to make it appear that your Outcome isn't going to happen. DO NOT GIVE UP! Why?
  • If conditions are hard for you, they are likely hard for everyone else. As a smart, well-disciplined, well-executing triathlete, you want winds, hills, heat, cold, rain and much more because they force you and your competition to make decisions. You make good ones, they make bad ones, they and your desired Outcome come back to you!
  • To do otherwise is to disrespect your training self. That is, Training Self put up hundreds of hours and swam, biked, and ran thousands of miles to put Racing Self on the starting line. Racing Self owes Training Self his/her best effort. Period, full stop.
  • Finally, you never know what is going on in the race up the road. Hard for you is hard for everyone else, don't give up! The guys that hammered by you on the bike course? They could still come back to you as those mistakes express themselves, don't give up!! The guy that passed you at mile 12 of the run? He could be in a portajohn, walking, or under a bush at mile 24...don't give up!!!

In Summary

Let the Outcomes come to you, as the natural result of good, consistent decision-making.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Mental Mix Tapes

I don't run with an iPod -- probably never will.. Earbuds are a hassle, and I don't like being cut off from the environment around me when I'm running. And while I know many people enjoy the distraction of music playing, I think it's just that -- a distraction. I run better when I'm concentrating on what I'm doing and getting in tune with my body's rhythms.

That doesn't mean music doesn't factor into my runs. Quite the opposite in fact. Almost every time I run some tune will creep into my consciousness. I don't know where they come from -- I don't consciously wish for them -- but once a tune gets started it usually carries through the entire run, playing on an endless loop in my head.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the songs that have been in my mental mix tape recently.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" -- The Band.

This one's been pretty common lately. I think it's the tempo, since it matches the cadence I'm trying to achieve with my feet. As a history major, certain lyrics bug me -- "Virgil, quick come see -- there goes Robert E. Lee." Was Robert  E. Lee ever in Tennessee after the Civil War? I'm not sure...

"Crown Imperial, A Coronation March" -- William Walton

British march? Check. Pipe organ? Check. This one tends to show up when I'm starting to tire and my mind needs a mental boost. Once it gets rolling I'm more than ready to keep running. I'm ready to conquer a small country.

"Wish You Were Here" -- Pink Floyd

This tends to show up when I running well, gliding along in a sort of runner's high. Kind of ironic, considering I was usually pretty high when I listened to this in college. "Can you tell a green field, from a cold steel rail?" -- always liked that lyric, even though I'm not sure what it means.

"Highway Star" -- Deep Purple

If I'm running tempo or doing speedwork, the driving beat of this rocker is almost certain to show up.

"Bell Boy" -- The Who

Love the driving beat of this Who classic from the Quadrophenia album. Seems to come up most often after a rough day at work. Give it a listen and you'll understand why.

"The Stars and Stripes Forever" -- John Phillip Sousa

I had the trio from this march on a continuous loop for almost the entire duration of a 90-minute run recently. If I'd seen a piccolo player during that time, I'm not sure what I might have done to them...


I've probably missed something, but that's the nature of the beast. The tunes are transitory, often fragmented, and the play list is constantly shifting from day to day and week to week. But it's never boring, and I don't have to worry about carrying something with me while I run. It's all in my head.