Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A "Bad" Race: Behind The Scenes

It could have been much worse, but much about the Olympic distance USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Milwaukee, Wisconsin didn't go as I envisioned or wanted.  It is interesting to look back at the series of events that lead up to this race and analyze what went wrong... or it may be easier to look at what went right!?

17 Days Before AG Nats:
I had been suffering from intermittent, severe jaw pain for over a week which was wreaking havoc on my entire life.  After failing to resolve the issue on my own, I made my way to see a dentist who specializes in TMJ disorders.  He quickly discovered that I wasn't experiencing joint pain, but rather pain from an infection in my jaw.  I was placed on two different antibiotics and scheduled for the following day to have three teeth extracted which had become infected.

13 Days Before AG Nats:
Four days after my oral surgery I raced the 5150 Giant Eagle Triathlon here in Columbus, Ohio.  While I wanted to perform well in my hometown race, we didn't put a ton of stress on having my best day here.  Basically I trained straight through this race and I took no days off before or after.  I came out that day and surprised myself by going 2:00:33 by the official race timing, 2:00:07 on my watch... not sure how that happens, but whatever.  Either way, I was not only content with the time on the clock, but I was very happy with how my legs performed off the bike by running a solid 10K that rivaled my 2012 performance at this same event, which happened to be the last event I would do without a metal implant in my left hip.  Spirits were high and I felt ready to take on the best in the US two weeks later!

12 Days Before AG Nats:
I was still in pain from my dental procedure and I was quickly running out of the prescription pain meds to control it.  I went back to the doctor's office and was told that all three extraction sites were "dry", meaning that the blood clot either hadn't formed or had become dislodged leaving exposed jaw bone and nerve endings.  No wonder it freaking hurt!  My mouth was packed with medicated dressings that definitely made me feel better despite their God awful taste.

10 Days Before AG Nats:
Looking at my online training journal (, this is where the wheels began falling off.  I had been going for nearly a month of 20+ hour training weeks and hadn't taken a single day off.  It hadn't been easy, but I was making progress and enjoying the heavy load.  On this day I noted that I felt heavily fatigued and had planned on stressing some extra recovery efforts.

8 Days Before AG Nats:
Up until this point I hadn't missed any workouts, even through the jaw pain and everything that accompanied it. I had a two hour aerobic bike ride and an interval swim scheduled for this day.  I got one hour into my ride before I had to pull the ejection handle.  For those that don't know me personally, this is the bottom of the barrel for me.  I HATE to not finish sessions and/or not perform the workouts on my schedule, but I knew that I needed to rest because I had absolutely nothing in the tank.  I went home, wrote an email to Coach Rich explaining how I felt and I had made the executive decision to take the rest of the day off to eat and rest.  He quickly responded that this was the right thing to do.  I put my feet up, got my compression and Compex on, and even convinced Kim to go to the Italian buffet for dinner.  I had no excuses to not feel better the next day, right?!

6 Days Before AG Nats:
I had registered for an event earlier in the week, when I still felt strong, that I thought would be a good dress rehearsal for Vegas.  It was advertised as a 1/3 Iron distance; 1.1 mile swim, 34 mile bike, 8 mile run.  As you can see, it isn't exactly a third Iron, but it was a good distance to test nutrition and pacing for the 70.3 World Championships.  Saturday night I had everything set to go for a zero dark early departure from home; bike prepped, bags packed, breakfast laid out, Keurig ready to rock.  I woke up at 2AM and I knew that something wasn't right.  My stomach was upset, I was achy and felt feverish.  Not good.  It quickly escalated and by the time my alarm went off at 4AM I was full blown ill.  I made the obvious, but still difficult, decision that I wasn't doing ANYTHING that day, let alone race*.  That was one of the most miserable 24 hour periods of my life.  Thankfully, I woke up the next morning feeling much better, but not 100%.

*I contacted Zoom Multisport following my missed event and explained how I had been ill and wanted to know if there was any possibility of transferring my registration fee to a future event.  I didn't expect to get anywhere with this, but it was worth asking.  To my surprise and delight, Mick (owner of Zoom) responded that it would be no problem to use my registration to an event next year.  This is incredible, and unfortunately rare, customer service in the racing world.  They get a big "atta boy" from the Ryno!

4 Days Before AG Nats:
After taking two complete days off and missing a race (my first ever due to acute illness), I was feeling like I was ready to get back in the saddle, literally. I hooked up with a couple other guys and headed out for a 2 hour ride.  My numbers were decent, but I just didn't feel great.  That night I made my way to the pool and had a lack luster swim, but I was happy to be moving again.

2 Days Before AG Nats:
Kim and I traveled to Milwaukee.  I felt good in everything I did except when I would swim, bike, and run.  My legs were sore muscularly, for an unknown reason, and I just didn't have my usual snap and power.

1 Day Before AG Nats:
I went through my pre race run and ride with decent paces, but I was having to work hard for numbers that should come easily.  I remember climbing a slight hill on my bike and I felt like I was really laying down the power to go with traffic.  I looked down to discover that my 10 second power average was 290 watts.  In perspective, my race plan called for my entire bike ride the following day to be at nearly a 300 watt average.  When it was time to rack my bike in transition for the night, I wheeled Stella out of the hotel room and noted an odd noise from the rear wheel.  Before we got to the elevator I found that my tire was completely flat.  Upon closer examination the tube wasn't only flat, but I had developed a hole in the tire which you could clearly see the green latex tube through.  I quickly called around to find a Michelin Pro Race 4 and we jetted off to a local bike shop for a replacement.  Crisis avoided, but just another stressor that I could have done without.  I should note that in three races, this was my third wheel incident of some sort.  I take meticulous care of my gear to avoid such incidents, but apparently the tire Gods have other ideas.

Race Morning:
With my wave going off at 9:30, I wanted to sleep as late as possible on race morning to make my nutrition as simple as it could be.  Transition closed at 7:30 so I had to be up earlier than my usual three hours prior to race start.  I set the alarm for 6:00 and we quickly loaded up the car and headed for downtown.  This would be the third trip we had made from the hotel to the race site and it had been quite convenient and quick the first two times.  This time however, there was a man in an orange vest putting up a barrier at the exit from the highway to the waterfront.  This forced me to go over the bridge to the other side of the river.  I exited the highway and was planning on jumping back on heading in the opposite direction.  This is when I saw a police officer in the middle of setting up cones at the entrance to the on-ramp.  I rolled down my window and said "I'm trying to get to the race!"  He responded "You had better go down there because once I close this off there is no getting to the race!"  He motioned in a general direction of the race site as he said this, but gave no specifics and didn't consider just letting me get on the road that he had begun closing down no more than 30 seconds before.  I began navigating side streets that ran the direction I needed to go and after about 15 minutes of  nervously furious driving, I found my way to the waterfront.  This entire incident had only cost me about 20 minutes, but that was 20 minutes I had planned to use to set up my transition.  Once again, another stress filled event.  I did get everything set just as they were chasing racers out of transition with a bull horn.

The Race:

After killing time hanging out with fellow Team RWB members and allowing a set of demo NormaTec boots to work their magic on my legs, it was time to get ready to race.  I was very hopeful that this would be day that my body would finally snap out of its funk!

Swim: 24:59
We waited in the water for our wave start and I was in good spirits.  The water was nice and cool so I was wearing my full DeSoto T1 wetsuit and figured I could knock out a good split with it's added buoyancy.  The gun went off and the mayhem ensued.  I was in the middle of the pack as we approached the first buoy and it got thick with kicking legs and flailing arms.  It's nothing I haven't dealt with before, but that doesn't mean I enjoy it.  We passed under a small bridge which kept us bunched up.  This swim really never got easy.  I was pushing hard, thinking of my form constantly because I knew I wasn't having one of those effortless days and I was constantly dealing with contact from fellow competitors.  As I climbed the ramp out of the water, I was breathless - noticeably so.  I looked at my watch and I knew that it would be a tough day.  I had swum the slowest swim that I could and still be in the territory to pull off a decent race.  I couldn't have anything else be less than top notch material.  Examining results, I gave up 3 minutes to a fellow competitor that I came out of the water with at Giant Eagle two weeks earlier.

T1: 2:18
Nothing really to note.  I took off my wetsuit top en route to my bike and kicked off my bottoms at the rack.  Threw on my helmet and headed for "Bike Out".  I had a decent "rolling" mount.  I wouldn't call it flying, but much faster than coming to a stop and climbing on.

Bike: 1:00:28
The first few miles I felt like I was maxed out.  My heart rate was ridiculously high. I run a 10K with a HR of about 172 bpm and my HR in the beginning of this bike was flirting with 180 bpm.  My HR on the bike rarely goes over 165.  This wasn't the time to analyze though, it was time to do work.  Cycling is my discipline and I wanted to own this bike ride.  As I finally began to settle in I found another rider to work with and he and I quickly traded spots a few times.  There was a long gradual climb up over the bridge and then an equally long section of straight up blasting with all the gear my 53-11 would offer.  I was riding a decent average pace, but I was working damn hard for what I was getting.  By the final decent back to transition I managed to drop a couple guys that I had been pacing with for much of the ride, but I was spent.  Once again, this split was the bottom of the acceptable range.  When you begin adding up less than optimal splits, you begin getting a less than optimal race.

T2:  1:16
I had a solid flying dismount back into T2 and a quick donning of sunglasses, race belt, and my Saucony Grid Type A5's.

Run: 41:00
This is where everything from the past couple weeks really showed up.  I headed out on the run course and immediately felt flat footed.  I had no kick in my step and it felt like I was "muscling" each stride rather than gliding.  By the time I hit mile one I had begun slowing off my already less than stellar pace.  I never saw my watch display an average pace faster than 6:20/mile.  There were multiple times where I was ready to throw in the towel and begin walking.  I knew that I would really hate myself if I walked so I would take a few slower strides and then try to go again.  Each time I would quickly realize that I couldn't hold the pace.  In a rare act, I even took two cups of Gatorade on the 10K course hoping that would help - it didn't.  With spectators yelling "One mile to go!", "Half mile to go!", "Quarter mile to go!", I still couldn't will a sprint for the line.  When I finally hit the finish line I was out of my mind with exhaustion.  I put my hands on my knees and had a tough time getting myself through the finish chute.  I grabbed two bottles of water and a big bottle of Gatorade before I eventually made my way to a grassy area to sit down with Kim and Jet.

Final Time: 2:10:02
This was my slowest Olympic time in two years and nearly ten minutes slower than a time I posted just 13 days before.

Post Race:
I knew before I crossed the finish line that I hadn't met my goal to make the 2014 Team USA for the Olympic distance.  I was devastated.  I felt like I had let so many people down; my coach, my girlfriend, my supporters, my teammates, and myself.  I had a few moments of involuntary crying where I just couldn't control my emotions any longer.  About that time, Brad Williams came by and sat down with me.  He too had not raced to his potential due to stomach issues.  In a strange way, this made me feel better.  I know that Brad is a one hell of a triathlete, with professional speed, and he had not had his best race either.


So now that I have gotten it all out there and cried like a baby over everything that went badly, I want to say that IT IS OK!  I am intelligent enough to know that everyday can't be an "easy day".  Many days feel tougher than they should and that is part of the game.  We do everything we can to minimize the chance of having a race day also be a "tough day", but it happens.  I pushed some heavy volume leading into this event.  It was a gamble and it didn't pay off this time.  Outside of training, life has dealt some crappy cards lately.  I have played my hand the best I know how, but not every hand is a winner no matter what we do.

My friend Colleen helped bring me back to reality after the race when she said "One year ago, you were in the hospital! That, my friend, inspires me".  She is exactly right.  If you would have told me one year ago when I was in the hospital recovering from major hip surgery that I would be frustrated by having a "bad day" and going 2:10 at the 2013 USAT Age Group National Championship, I would have been ecstatic!  It is so important to keep perspective and be thankful for the things we CAN do rather than what we can't or don't.  I qualified for and finished this event, period.   On this day I showed that I am in the top 50 male amateur triathletes between the ages of 30 and 34 in the United States.  For these things, I am extremely grateful.

I am now taking a week to recover, rest, and rejuvenate.  I have no workout schedule and no obligation to do anything physical.  I will ride when I want to ride (which has already happened).  I will run when I want to run.  And I will swim when, and if, I want to swim.  That is what this is all about.  We all got involved in this sport because we love it.  Sometimes you have to fall back in love with it.

Blue skies and tailwinds for all!

-Ryno :)

P.S.  Does anyone have an idea of how to get these damn temporary tattoos off?  I don't own any baby oil and I would like to keep the skin that's underneath these numbers!  Thanks!

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