Friday, June 29, 2012

Flying Solo

In high school and college when I lifted weights I almost always went to the gym with others; it was easy to see how much harder we pushed when we were being motivated by each other. At the onset of my triathlon (duathlon in the beginning) training I’d go at it mostly alone.  There was the occasional run or bike with a friend but that was about it.  My only other training/running pal early on was my dog Shea. Turns out that Shea is more suited to sprint events and when the runs became too long she expressed her displeasure. Now I'm hard-pressed to get her to join in on any run; she can tell when I am getting dressed to run (which is pretty remarkable) and begins her Ghandhi-like protest. This practice began in the winter so I suppose it's my duty to give her another shot now that it's warmed up.  But, I digress...

I think the main reason behind my solo training was feeling like I’d be holding everyone back.  I would become easily winded, unable to talk, and my legs simply couldn't keep up.  My Ironman boss frequently invited me on long rides but I knew I’d be slowing them down and continually declined.  I promised myself that once I was stronger I’d join in. 

After my first events (Trilogy & Tri Miami) I felt like I was finally in good enough shape to try to train with others.  While my first group (four Tri Locos) ride was a bit of a fiasco and included two flat tires (note: it's probably a good idea to check for the cause of a flat before putting in the new tube) I was pretty much able to keep up (at a pace well above my normal rides).  In the past I had enjoyed the solitude that training provided me, but I began to experience the camaraderie and motivation of group training. 

As my training ramped up during the late summer and fall I began to train with the Tri Locos in groups typically ranging from 2 – 8 people.  A typical week consisted of about four workouts with a group and the rest on my own.  I quickly began to realize the benefits of group training and it became an important part of my preparation for Miami 70.3.

When I moved to NY in December I did so with the regret of leaving the Tri Locos behind.  The Locos are a rare breed of a training group full of good people who frequently put the needs of each other before their own.  No man/woman gets left behind be it running, biking, or swimming and the Locos are a huge reason I've been able to make this journey.  The frequent Loco emails detailing their training plans keeps me feeling connected and reminds me that I am not as alone as I sometimes feel.

Since I've been up north I've joined in on a couple of group rides (while the people seemed nice there is no question the roadies were less than excited about the triathlete intrusion) but other than that I've been on my own again.  As my workouts get longer I will likely try to hook up with a local triathlon group for some bike rides and open water swims.  My main reasons for wanting to train with others at this point are safety and motivation.  Riding with stronger cyclists will help me work harder and improve my biking.  In the water I am hopeful that there will be some similarly paced (read: slow) swimmers for me to stick with so I am not out swimming alone.  I swam myself once in Miami's Key Biscayne; while out in the water I realized just how bad an idea it was to swim alone and vowed to never do it again. 

On the other side of the coin from group training, I actually take pride and draw strength from my solo training.  Though I'll be surrounded by almost 3,000 others in Arizona, I will be swim, bike, and running my own race.  There is no drafting (except for the possibility of swim drafting) in triathlon and during the course of my approximately 6-hour ride I will fall back on the saddle hours I spent training.  Surely seeing the other eleven Locos on the course (all decked out in our bright new uniforms which are on order) will give me a boost, but it's on me to push through those 140.6 miles and cross the finish line.

Now that the storm I've been waiting out has passed, it's off for my run.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Racing for a Cause

No, cancer is not funny, but Family Guy is.  

Sadly, I suspect that anyone reading this has in some way been affected by cancer; I personally (and my family) have been most affected by prostate cancer.  Fortunately for my family my father has received the best possible treatment and medical care and has been cancer-free for more than 5 years.

There are myriad reasons I am a triathlete - don't worry I won't bore you by listing them out - but one of the best things about racing is that every so often I can impose on my family and friends to help raise money and awareness for an important cause. 

As I have done before, I will once again be raising money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.  For my first triathlon I raised over $2,600 for the PCF.  My goal for the upcoming Ironman Arizona (in addition to finishing it!) is to raise $5,000.

Please visit my Firstgiving page to learn more about my fundraising efforts and to make a donation.

Thanks in advance for your support and please share this with anyone else that might be interested in donating!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gotta Race Soon

The Jones Beach Bikeway
Fresh off Sunday's spectating, with an un-scratchable itch to race, today was the perfect day for a bike time trial. After scouring the map for the perfect red-light-free location and coming up short I promptly remembered the Jones Beach Bikeway.  The paved two-lane trail runs for approximately 5-miles between Cedar Creek Park and Jones Beach.  While the trail is a bit short it did provide a great unimpeded location for today's workout.  It was a nice change of pace to ride in a car-free, light-free zone and the view of the water reminded me of my Key Biscayne rides in Miami.

Lately I had been wondering where the other Long Island triathletes ride (I mostly see roadies out and about) but I will wonder no more. There were at least a dozen other triathletes out doing their morning workouts on the path.  Seeing fellow riders neatly tucked (and some not so neatly) in the aero position helped me push even harder during the trial. The mild wind this morning led to a noticeable split but overall I was happy with my times.  I'm looking forward to watching the progression of each swim, bike, and run time trial throughout Ironman training.

Back to my urge to race: I need to look closely at the upcoming race schedule and find an event soon.  I am officiating the New York City Nautica Triathlon on July 8 and that's only going to make it worse.  While this year's focus is Ironman Arizona I can't wait to see what I can do in a shorter race.  I am a much stronger triathlete than I was last season and it will be fun to see how that translates to a short-course race. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Role Reversal

Today was opposite day: wife's day to race, my turn to cheer.  After all the support she's given me through my triathlon endeavors I was all too glad to be on the sidelines cheering on Mrs. Z in her very first race.  Every newbie triathlete has their own hurdles to conquer and I am so proud of the commitment and dedication Rachel had over the 6 weeks.  Once she made up her mind that she would Tri, there was no quit.  Today her hard work paid off. 

Our 4-person spectating crew covered a ton of ground as we cheered Rachel (and the other racers) on any chance we had. Through the whole race she looked strong and confident.  I couldn't help but think back to my first race and I know I didn't look nearly as good as she did today.  

I knew her swim would go well, but I was still shocked when she emerged from the water so quickly.  I jogged alongside as she headed for T1 (once again remembering her doing the same for me as I huffed and puffed about 4 months ago) and inch by inch worked her wetsuit off.  Into transition she went where she learned just how hard it can be to get clothed while wet.  All dressed and an uneventful mount and she was on her way on the bike.  Right about when I expected she returned from the ride and had a smooth dismount (with enough time for a nice camera pose).  The bike is certainly Rachel's biggest challenge; with the ride behind her all that separated her from the finish was the run.  Again I paced alongside for a minute or two both showing my support and I suppose scratching my race itch.  Eventually I said goodbye and headed to the finish line to watch her finish.  Again, looking solid she made her way down the final shoot.  After running for only a few months and swimming and biking for a month she'd conquered a challenge many people will never attempt. 

The best part of Rachel's triathlon had to be that every time I saw her she had a huge smile on her face. I'd like to think it was because she was seeing me but I know that's not it! Rachel brings a positive energy and infectious enthusiasm to everything she does. Today's race was no different. Through the course of an hour and a half triathlon everyone will feel some kind of discomfort, some give in, some struggle through, and some just smile

 Still smiling...
And...still smiling!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

HTFU (I'm not telling you, look it up)

Long Island is somewhere under that rainy mess.
Today was one of those days when all signs pointed towards skipping a workout.  With one car in the shop, my wife dropped me off at work today with my bike.  The plan was to start my ride from work at the end of the day, put it my saddle time, and then head home.  Mother nature had other plans though: the rain began early and continued on all day (it's still raining as I write).

I'll admit it was tempting to just bag it, take my bike across the road, and meet my wife at the gym for a dry ride home.  I didn't have my spin shoes so spin class was out of the question, but I surely could have hit the weights instead of the wet road.  I'd make up my mind though.

I chose to ride. My coworkers must have thought it a bit absurd to head for a ride given the conditions: it was super wet, sort of chilly, and just plan raw, but out I went.  The way I see it I don't get to choose the weather on race day so why should I be picky about what weather I should train in.  I didn't do my whole workout outside; after arriving home I swapped out my rear wheel and continued the session on my indoor trainer.  I was soaking wet from head to cleat, but I chose not to dry off and get comfortable.  Instead I just pushed through the uncomfortable slop and completed my workout.

Despite the crappy conditions I can actually say I enjoyed my ride home.  Maybe it was pride fueling each pedal stroke (knowing that a year ago there was little chance I would have made the same choice), or maybe it was the incredulous looks from the rush hour drivers I was passing.  Whatever it was, it was fun, and I'd do it again.  I think I'll look back on this workout and be glad I stayed the course and gutted it out.  That which doesn't kill you...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Taco. Burrito. What's Coming Out of Your Speedo!

Now it's my turn to cheer!

Many people do Coach-to-5k programs and they should all be proud of their accomplishments. It was only several years ago when I used the original C-2-5K podcast (apps had hardly been born yet) to get my butt running. Then there's my wife!

Though she is naturally athletic she's never been a runner; in fact, like me she pretty much loathed running. I was excited when she began her C-2-5K program but even more so when she told me of her plans to take on her first triathlon. About a month ago I helped create a training plan that will guide her to the finish line.

Prior to the semi-formal plan she had already made significant progress in her running, but she had hardly swam or biked. Luckily Rachel is a fish: a natural free and easy swimmer that completes her workouts with relative ease. We've swam together several times lately and each time I come away humbled. I've worked tremendously hard to become as not slow (notice I didn't say fast) as I am; Rachel swims at roughly the same pace as me after not swimming for years. Biking has probably been the most challenging aspect for her and the hills around our neighborhood are not friendly for someone just getting into riding (nor are the local drivers who seem to have little cyclist awareness). Her first few rides were rough but she stuck to it and made it over the hump. At first 20 minutes seemed tough but Sunday she completed a 1 hour ride.

For someone who hasn't trained regularly she's stayed on track impressively. She's completed every workout and is clearly building her strength and endurance. I'm proud of the progress she's made and can't wait to stand on the sidelines (as she's done for me so many times) and yell louder than I've ever yelled.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And So It Begins...

Last Sunday marked the official start of my 6-month training plan for Ironman Arizona. I've stayed thoroughly active throughout the "off-season" but by comparison Ironman training will bury my winter workouts.

This first week of workouts quickly reminded me of the importance of having a coach at this stage of the game.  For one thing the complexity of the overall plan (including its various phases) and the different types of individual workouts is difficult to coordinate. Doing the workouts will be hard enough; I'm just glad I don't have to plan them out. My job now is simple: read Coach's instructions and follow them to a tee. 

In addition to having Coach's tailor-fitted training plan I also have an added level of accountability for my workouts. I'm pretty self-motivated and committed (I have had to be after moving away from my training partners) but now I have the addition motivation of knowing that Coach is always watching (albeit from 1400 miles away). This week I received an email nudge on Wednesday wondering if I'd been on top of the week's workouts. "Yes Coach."  I had completed them all but just hadn't loaded them to Training Peaks.

All in all it was a pretty easy week consisting of about 8 hours of training. I was initially surprised by the low volumes (especially today's 45 min bike ride) but I keep reminding myself that Ironman is a completely different animal. I couldn't help but start glancing ahead at the upcoming weeks workouts which have been loaded and that was all it took for me to realize that I should enjoy these short workouts while I can.

Despite the fact that I train mostly solo I take comfort in knowing that there are about a dozen other Tri Locos following Coach Tim's training plan. I may be physically alone but in my mind I feel the camaraderie and motivation of the rest of the Ironman-hopeful Locos.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Recapping the Brooklyn Half-Marathon

It was a long winter (cold by my standards but apparently not by many others) and my training resolve was thoroughly tested. I trained through a variety of weather I had forgotten existed during my time in Miami and eagerly awaited warmer weather and the chance to "race" again.  A couple of weeks ago was my first event in months; I forgot how much I missed the "night before jitters" and the super-early race-day wake-up routine.  

As I answered the many questions of my first time half-marathoner friend I must have repeated a dozen times what my mentors told me, "don't do anything different before the race."  Why then did I think sleeping at my parents house rather than the comfy confines of my apt and my Tempurpedic was a good idea?  Don't get me wrong, the logistics made perfect sense (they live closer to the race site) and it was great to see my parents the night before, but let's just say my night's sleep was less than ideal.  I tossed and turned all night and had one of the worst night's sleep I can recall.  As I rose from bed in the morning I put it behind me, abandoned my morning schedule, and hopped into an unplanned shower.  The warm water reawakened my senses and the sleepless night was history.

After some breakfast and gearing up it was time to head on over. My friend (who also slept at my folks' house), her brother and his girlfriend (who met us to drive together in the AM), my wife (who had no reason to be up so early other than further cementing her position as #1 cheerleader), and I hit the road and began making our way to Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  Luckily for me, this morning I was surrounded by people who actually knew where they were going.  As if I knew the "normal" way to get there, they instructed me we'd be taking a different route.  Sure.  Just tell me when to turn, and then tell me again, and again.  I've been known to forget to pay attention to where I need to go and just drive straight on until someone else looks up: "weren't we supposed to exit back there?"  Whoops.

As we neared the race sight traffic started to snarl up; it was time to pull over and hop out.  My wife would drive down to the race finish and wait for us to meet her on foot. We made our final preparations at the car and in an oddly eager way we sought out some port-a-johns.  Another joy of race day!

I split off from the group to go through my typical warmup and then found corral #4 (out of about 16) to take my spot for the start.  There were tons of people: over 16,000 to be semi-precise and the corral was packed a bit tight for my comfort.  With my headphones on I ignored the thousands surrounding me and found my happy place.  Some good tunes helped me get my breathing in check and I focused on bringing my heart-rate back down before the starting gun.  Announcements, more announcements, then some more, and finally the national anthem.  The race began soon after and the swarm begin shifting towards the start line.

It took about 4 minutes for my corral to make it to the start.  This was my first race with a running start (the corral narrowed as it approached the start and allowed people to begin running about 50-75 feet in front of the start line); I'm convinced every large race should have this.  I set about trying to find my pace; usually this means easing off the gas as the excitement takes over.  I looked down and I had taken off at about 7min/mile; WAY TOO FAST.  I slowed down to a more comfortable pace and readied myself for the rest of the morning. 

The early part of the course was great.  We ran in and around Prospect Park, and because of a small loop back I could see runners who had begun earlier (and were faster) and then those who had started after me.  It was the first time I've ever had a chance to watch the lead pack which was an awesome sight.  After I made my turn I kept my eyes peeled for my friend.  It wouldn't be easy with that many runners, but by watching the race numbers (which corresponded to the corrals) I would eventually spot her and scream out her name.  When I asked her about it, she didn't know it was me, but definitely heard someone yell "JODI!"   Success!

As I continued to run I stayed in my zone and stuck pretty close to my race pacing plan.  I was running fast and couldn't help but wonder if I'd be able to hold my pace for 13.1 miles.  But...I trained hard, felt strong, and was committed to crushing my previous 1/2-mary time.  At about mile 7 I began to feel some hotspots on my feet and knew blisters were on the way.  Despite a variety of prevention tactics including body glide and Blistop (a spray-on foot protector) this issue is becoming all too common for me.  There was no turning back now, I'd be running the rest of race on these blisters and there wasn't a chance I'd let them hurt my chances at running what was shaping up to be an awesome time for me.

By now I was on the straight stretch of the course running down Ocean Parkway towards Coney Island.  It was a long way on this road; over 5 miles straight as an arrow, with the ferris wheel
beckoning me the whole way.  I couldn't believe it but as I approached the final miles my pace began to quicken.  My last mile was my fastest and I ran the final .2 (I clocked the race at 13.2, as did many others) faster than I'd run all day.  I finished the race with a time of 1:41:17.

Prior to the race I was shooting for a 1:45 or better.  About halfway through I knew I had a chance at blowing that out of the water.  My wife, eagerly (I suspected) awaiting my arrival at the finish line knew my goal and kept a steady eye on the clock.  What she didn't know was that I was four minutes off the actual race clock.  Amazingly I finished at 1:45 on the race clock, good for a chip time of 1:41:17.  I knew she'd assumed I'd just reached my goal and couldn't wait to tell her my real time.

This was my first experience with Age Graded results.  It took me a while to understand how my "AG Gender Place" could be below my actual "Gender Place" but after a few Google searches I think I get it now.

After an all-too brief respite, I began to swim upstream to find my cheerleader and offer up a patented post-race sweaty kiss and hug.  Did I mention it was crowded? 

After celebrating my newest accomplishment with my wife it was off to the medical tent for some preventive ice.  Then back to the finish line; it was my time to become a cheerleader.  We watched intently alternating between the runners coming down the shoot and the clock time.  Knowing that my friend had started in corral 16 made it hard to estimate how long it actually took for her to make it to the starting line.  Each time I spectate I appreciate more and more what my wife goes through each time I race.  Even though I really enjoy cheering on the runners completing their race looking out for someone is exhausting.  Our focus payed off when we spotted Jodi coming down the shoot; she looked strong and I couldn't wait to hear about her day.  Not only did she put in a great time, but she did it easily.

After wading through the sea of finishers and their supporters, my wife and I finally met up with the rest of our bunch.  It was great to hear their reactions to their first half-marathon.  Everyone had a great day and relished in the experience of their first race.

In case I’d forgotten what I’d done the previous weekend, the lingering aches, soreness, and hobbled walk remind me of my race.  In the past I’ve only experienced mild soreness after a race (I wasn’t even in terrible shape after the Miami 70.3), but I really felt this one. I didn't go for a run until the Thursday after the race and my legs were as sore as they have ever been in my life. I felt as if I had done the mother of all leg workouts in the gym and it took days for it to subside.  Only recently did I learn from Coach that the rule of recovery is about 1 day for each mile of the race.

To finally cap off this all-too-long post, I'd say that if you are considering your first half-marathon or more specifically the Brooklyn Half-Marathon: DO IT.