Friday, January 31, 2014

I'm Still Alive!!

Well, I have taken my sweet time to get back to blogging. This is partly due to my lack of interesting things to talk about and also due to my desire for a true off season. Following the Columbus Marathon, my need for a break, both mentally and physically, was very apparent. I was having posterior tibial tendon issues that just weren't getting better so any thoughts of throwing in a late season race were quickly dismissed. The plan was to take a full two week break of zero training. This is something I had never done before. I have taken breaks of light activity of my choosing, but never a mandated, extended, no exercise break.  By this point, I didn't fight it much.  For the first couple days I was antsy, but I quickly fell into my role of couch potato, beer drinker, and fried food connoisseur.  All was great except that my foot wasn't feeling any better.  I began to worry about a navicular stress fracture or worse, but just stayed the course of rest, ice, elevation and compression.

In early November I went back to training under the guidance of AJ Baucco.  It was basically all bike and swim with the occasional aqua jog.  Have I ever mentioned how horrible aqua jogging is??  Anyways, I graduated from "running" in the pool to the elliptical trainer - baby steps!  Basically we were open to any activity that could mimic running without pushing my pain past a "3" on the "1-10 scale".  I believe it was about four weeks before I saw a simple 10 min transition run pop up on the training calendar.  I'm not gonna lie, I was nervous.  I could definitely still feel discomfort in my posterior tibial tendon on a daily basis and I was sure that about two steps into my run I was going to know it was too soon.  Pulling out all the stops, I wrapped my arch in tender tape, put on an ankle support brace and tied my ginormous Hoka One One's tight.  To my huge surprise, no pain!  That's not to say that I didn't feel it, but it really didn't register on the pain scale.  Phew... huge relief!
Looking like I know what I'm doing at the National Training
Center in Clermont

Ok, so now everyone knows about my hidden foot injury secret.  Not that it was a huge secret, I just didn't broadcast it all over social media.  Ignorance is bliss.  Something that I haven't kept a secret, because it freaking rocks, is that I was selected as a 2014 member of the all-new Team Perfect Fuel Chocolate Elite triathlon team!!  I am super stoked about this and feel really honored to share a spot on the roster with five highly talented athletes.  Please check out the website as it develops and also give us a like on Facebook for all the current happenings of Team PFC!

Incredible pool at the National Training Center
So, fast forward about six weeks to mid January and you'll see me driving from Ohio to Clermont, Florida with what looks like the Beverly Hillbillies vehicle... if they were triathletes.  I had been invited to attend a camp with my coach, AJ, and some other athletes in Clermont.  After a week, we would make our way down to Key West to race the Bone Island Tri half iron.  Sounded like a splendid idea to me!  If you recall, I had done the Bone Island full in 2013 as my "I'm back" statement following my hip surgery - read about that journey here.

This trip would be full of exciting firsts: My first tri camp, my first time to physically meet someone coaching me, my first time having a swim video analysis done, and my first time to actually have someone by my side watching me in all three disciplines and able to offer on-the-spot feedback.  Something I didn't expect was the blast I would have with all the guys (and girls) I trained and raced with.  We had an incredible time and somehow managed to get a lot of work done for a big bump in January fitness.

J.P.'s truck reaching near bike capacity
Alright, so let's get into this race!  On Thursday morning we loaded up a Ford F-150 belonging to our own personal bike mechanic (we're kind of a big deal) and all-around hella tri Sherpa, J.P.  It was quite the sight with six bikes loaded up along with all the junk we would need for a weekend of racing and the celebrating that would certainly follow in Key West.  After nearly a full day of driving, we all arrived, got checked into the hotel, and headed to Duval for some dinner.

The view from bike check in - nice!
Friday was filled with the usual pre-race day shenanigans: short run, quick ocean swim, packet pickup, bike check-in, and lots of eating!  If there is one thing that Key West has, it is a lot of great bars and restaurants!

Race day came early, as it always does.  J.P. shuttled all of us who were racing over to transition so that we could set up bikes and T2 items before taking us the one mile over to the swim start at Smathers Beach.  We all sat in the truck for awhile listening to some depressing music which AJ swore was pump up music and then we donned our wetsuits and made our way across the road to the beach.

Swim: 38:15

I know... but let me explain.  Since I came here last year, I thought I knew exactly what to expect on the swim and that was that we would have a slight push from the usual northwest wind.  In other words, I expected to have a good swim.  I actually felt like I was having a good swim until I stood up on the pier and looked at my watch which revealed 36:xx... what the hell?!  Seeing that, I looked at the distance and saw the problem: 1.45 miles.  Oops!  Fortunately this wasn't a product of poor sighting, but rather just a long and quite odd course (we actually went past the pier and then back underneath it) that everyone else had also swam.  This meant that while it looks horrible on paper, I was still where I needed to be in the race.  Actually, when you add in the extra quarter mile, I did have a pretty darn good swim - for me, that is.  I did a reasonable job of drafting and keeping a solid pace without setting off too hard.

T1: 0:37

Yeah buddy - 37 seconds!  This was one of those transitions where when I mounted my bike I actually thought "that was too easy - what did I forget?"  Luckily, the answer to that was "nothing".  I just had a good, smooth transition.

Bike: 2:21:46

From my previous experience on this course, I knew this bike was likely to be two things: windy and traffic filled.  It did not disappoint.  We had a manageable headwind headed north on US-1.  Certainly not the worst I've dealt with, but it was quite noticeable - especially when a 50 foot RV rolled by at 60 mph within 5 feet of my shoulder.  Once again, this was the same for everyone.  Luckily, I didn't have to second guess my pace or power output because AJ had a very specific plan for how I would race.  The goal was to ride a specific heart rate on the way out and then push it up by two bpm on the way back.  This was also my first time to use my new race fueling plan that was developed using my individual sweat rate and caloric needs.  The fueling plan worked well, except for the operator error.  My first gel was to be about five minutes into the ride.  I pulled it off my aerobar extensions where it was held by electrical tape.  When all goes well, this results in the gel having the top ripped off in the process so  that I just need to squeeze it into my mouth.  Unfortunately, I'm very strong (sarcasm) and basically ripped the packet in half.  This put sugary gelatinous soup all over me and Stella.  I was attempting to scoop it up on my elbow pad and bike frame to deposit into my mouth, but it was pretty useless. I figured that I could push a little extra sports drink and be ok.... so guess what happens at mile seven?  Yep, I hit the rumble strip and ejected a bottle of sports drink.  "Oh hell", I thought.  I proceeded knowing that this wasn't any sort of "A" race and I planned on hitting the bottle exchange at mile 15.

Aside from those two snafu's, the rest of the ride went well.  I rode the entire thing by myself, to my displeasure.  I had one guy pass and repass, but he went to the side of the road at mile 16 with presumably a flat tire.  I saw AJ and his pro buddy, Zach Ruble, at the turnaround.  They were about two miles ahead and looking good.  Aside from them, I really didn't know who was in the full and who was in the half.  I pushed as hard as I dared given my strict heart rate guidelines and made the most of the tailwind on the way back.

T2: 1:07

Not as lightning quick as T1, but not bad.  I took the time to put on my ankle brace so that I could minimize any damage to my recovering foot.

Run: 1:32:55

This is the split I'm most happy with.  Not only did I have a mere six weeks of running prior to this event, but that included basically zero speed or tempo work.  This time actually comes close to my PR for any half marathon off the bike.  Now, that's not to say that it was easy!  My legs felt solid coming out of transition and I carefully watched my heart rate to keep it only about five bpm higher than what I did on the bike.  The plan was to start there and slowly build throughout the 13.1 miles.  I was told that if I couldn't go harder to just maintain, but not let it go down!  Sounds easy, but it gets tough.  Somehow I was able to pull it off and my HR trended slowly upward throughout the entire run even though pace fell off slightly.  Hopefully with some more run fitness I can keep that pace solid.

This run is two loops with a smaller third loop before finishing on the beach near the transition.  The loops are just out and back's along the beach.  While it is very beautiful, there is very little hiding from the sun.  Coming from Ohio in January, heat acclimatization is a huge challenge.  I figured as long as I kept fluid and calories coming in, I would give myself the best chance.  Somehow I missed the first aid station that was right out of T2 - probably putting my race belt on - and then also passed the next aid station because there were no volunteers standing out front and I actually thought it was some sort of concession stand near the beach.  This meant that my first gulp of any fluid was at the first turnaround near mile three.  At that point, I triple fisted it and slammed down as much as I could tolerate.  Following that, I knew where I would get fluids.  I also carried along two gels which were taken at predetermined distances.

My run stayed neutral the entire way - no one passed me and I didn't pass anyone.  I'm perfectly fine with that.  I wanted to see if I could put any time into AJ, but he blew past the first turnaround and decided to call it a day.  While I was sad to see him drop out, it meant that I now had another voice on the sideline to encourage me.  By the time I reached the third, shorter loop, I was extremely ready to finish.  I was unsure where the mini loop turnaround was so I just kept asking each volunteer I passed until one finally pointed it out. It was much further out than I anticipated and in hindsight it's probably a good thing I didn't know it's location ahead of time or I may have given in to the voices in my head begging me to slow down.

Finish: 4:34:38

I'm really stoked with this time.  For a January training race, coming out of tri camp, on little running, I couldn't ask for more.  If you want to get creative and back out the extra quarter mile of swimming, this was close to my half iron PR.  When all the dust settled and the faster, older guys finished, who started five minutes after me, I was in sixth overall.  I missed fifth by 14 seconds to a guy in another wave.  I would like to think that if he was physically 14 seconds ahead of me, I would have gone for it, but I think I basically left it all out there. Along with sixth overall, I was first in the male 30-34 age group, and the fourth overall amateur finisher.

I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store.  I know that my fitness in January has never been this good and I see big things happening this year!  I won't get into the Key West debauchery that followed the race on Saturday night as they could be a post all on their own, but that would also incriminate several upstanding members of our community.  It's safe to say that we had a blast!

As always, thanks for reading!  Please let me know if there is something I can do to help you in your endurance dreams!  Until next time, stay safe and go fast!


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