Sunday, July 29, 2012

No Pain, No Gain? (Riverhead Rocks Race Report)

Ever wonder where that phrase came from?

From Wikipedia:  A form of this expression is found in the beginning of the second century. It is an expression originating from the Faroe Islands. Rabbi Ben Hei says, "According to the pain is the gain." This was written in The Ethics of the Fathers 5:21 (known in Hebrew as Pirkei Avot) Pirkei Avot. Rabbi Ben Hei Hei was giving a spiritual lesson; no pain in doing what God commands, no spiritual gain.

One of the earliest attestations of the phrase comes from the poet Robert Herrick in his Hesperides. In the 1650 edition, a two-line poem was added:
If little labour, little are our gains:
Man's fate is according to his pains.
Hesperides 752
Unlike its main usage today, it seems that when the good Rabbi coined the phrase he wasn't directly referring to physical pain.  Whatever the case, today I felt pain (more than I would have liked and I'm sure there's much more to come tomorrow) and from the glass half-full department, I know my experience made me stronger.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Race Ready

Not much time to write a real post (I'm rapidly approaching pre-race bedtime) but just a quick check-in before my race tomorrow. I'm currently in Riverhead, NY enjoying the hospitality at my cousin's house, not to mention the proximity to the race site (I'm about 5 minutes from transition). Tomorrow morning I'll be racing the inaugural Riverhead Rocks Olympic distance (1500m swim/24-mile bike/6.2-mile run) triathlon. It's been over 7 months since my last race and I am ready to go.

Last season was all about just finishing races (as Ironman Arizona will be) but tomorrow is different. There's no longer any doubt that I will complete the race (barring the unforeseen), the question now is how fast I can do it.

This morning (after spending way too much time dealing with bike issues as I transitioned to my race wheels) I spent about an hour practicing my transitions and I'm glad Coach put that workout on the schedule. On the first of my 3 swim/bike/run sets my transitions were rusty and sloppy, but they got better and better throughout the workout. By the end of the session I felt like I made major strides, each time picking a few specific items to focus on. I'm less concerned about my transitions on the longer races but there's no reason to lose precious time on the short-course events.

Once I arrived in Riverhead I was escorted on a drive of the bike course (in reverse) and I'm glad I had a chance to see it. There are mostly rolling hills with the exception of one pretty serious downhill followed by what will be the hardest climb of the day. Luckily the hill is very similar to the one I ride weekly near my house and I feel confident that I will be able to attack the challenge.

My overall mindset today and tonight has been calm and focused (much different than my other tris). I have hours upon hours in my training bank and tomorrow I will cash my chips in. I plan to race harder than I have before; I know so much more about what I am capable of and the types of speeds and effort that I can sustain.

Now it's time for some final rest and relaxation; tomorrow will be an early morning and I'll need my sleep.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Over the Hill (and Again, and Again...)

It was eight times to be precise: 1 minute of all-out effort up the hill, followed by 2 minutes of recovery on the downhill.  Yes, it was as hard as it sounds, but hills and speedwork are among my favorite kinds of workouts.  In addition to being fun and challenging, they are basically money in the bank and I can feel the benefits on race day.  Not only am I physically stronger when I hit the hills but mentally I’ve been there before.  As many others fade on the inclines I have the confidence to charge ahead maintaining my pace and sometimes even increasing my speed.  

What I’ve noticed about hills in a general nature is described much more eloquently by the Brits in this article on RunnersWorld.UK (sent to me by my hill running partner).  Though the article is about 10 years old, I’m not sure much has changed about the way our bodies respond to running hills (I bet we even have some fancier studies to prove the points made).

Monday, July 23, 2012

And on the Fourth Week We Rested

Rest week is officially over (a point emphasized by today being a two-workout-day) and so is the Base Phase of our training. Today marks the start of the Build/Strength Phase of Ironman training. After reading The Triathlete's Training Bible I have a rough idea of what that means but I'm eager to see how it translates into Coach's prescribed workouts.  All I can assume is that if I thought I was training a lot before, I ain't seen nothin' yet.

I'm excited and nervous for the next step in my progression as a triathlete. I'll be going where I've never gone before (rides longer than 60 miles and runs longer than 14 miles) just as I will in Arizona.  Ironman training is more than just a physical endeavor, it is a test of determination and resolve, and I will prevail.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Best. Time Trial. Ever!

When I began my triathlon training my only goal was to do my best, beat my best, and then do it again.  As I have upped the ante on my training and have begun to see the vast improvements I've made I can't help but compare my race day performances to the other athletes in my age group.  While that may be the case with my shorter races, when it comes to Ironman the mission is simple: complete the race and do the best I can.

Yes, my run time trail route is boring, but there's nothing to slow me down!
My previous run time trials (May & June) left me a bit disappointed and I knew I could do better.  To be fair the first TT was hardly a week removed from a huge effort on the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, but last month I'm not sure why I didn't have a stronger showing.  This morning I made up for those weak TTs with one of the best runs I've ever had.  For the first time ever I sustained an average pace below 7 minutes (6:53 to be exact), running my final mile at a pace of 6:37.  Until today these were paces I'd only touched during speed workouts but this morning I just felt invincible.  The minor tightness in my calf eased up after my warmup and it was smooth sailing through the whole 5K.  Had this been a race it would have been my PR for a PR at 20:39. 

On another note: I just received my first email from the race director of Ironman Arizona.  I'm not gonna lie, seeing the subject line "Welcome to the 2012 IRONMAN Arizona!" gave me goosebumps.  In his letter he mentions the race seeming both "far too close and ...not soon enough,"  and I couldn't agree more.  I know I have a loooonnnngg way to go in my training but I am still so pumped for the race.  During my hours upon hours of training each week I can't help but take a trip to Arizona in my head.  I imagine what it will be like to be out there racing with almost 3,000 others and how it will feel to cross the finish line. 

For my final inspiration of the day, here's something that Tri Loco Gerardo posted on our Facebook page:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gear Review: Orca 226 Trisuit

Long before I became an accomplished triathlete I did my best to look like one.  For my first race, not only did Mom & Dad surprise me by showing up in Miami but they also bought me a tri suit.  I may not have been able to swim, but hell at least I'd look good.  My main reason for racing in a tri suit was to avoid having to put on a half-zip bike jersey (which was the only type I owned) after coming out of the water; anyone who's tried will tell you how hard it is to get the jersey down your wet and salty back.  I had so many other things I was worried about for my first race (like not drowning) that at least I didn't have to worry about making a wardrobe change.

Focus on the trisuit, not the sheer awesomeness of this photo (taken by my Dad)
While shopping for my suit I probably tried on at least 5-6 styles by a variety of manufacturers.    Triathlon clothing basically comes down to one thing: proper fit.  What works for one body type won't necessarily be a good match for another.  In fact, after trying on different brands (of suits, shorts and tops) it seems that certain brands seem to be geared towards certain body shapes.   In the end I was deciding between a Pearl Izumi and the Orca I finally settled on.  The Orca seemed to fit me a little better in the thighs but I also really preferred its bike.  While many tri shorts and suits have a fleece-like chamois the Orca 226 has more of a thin foam version.  The pad is segmented in just the right spots to be comfortable on the bike and feels like it's not even there during the run.  The suit as a whole also dries incredibly fast.  I've been really happy with my choice and would recommend the suit to anyone (who finds it to be a good fit).  If I had to say one thing I don't like about the 226 it's that it lacks pockets.  For the short races this wasn't an issue but for long course events it would definitely have been a nice feature.  Note: while writing this post I checked Orca's site and it appears that the new version of the 226 does indeed have pockets.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Rising Sun

After another three week block of hard training my rest week is finally here. This past week was our hardest yet and I'll admit that I was looking forward to some R & R.  The calf snag aside (which is much better now) training has been going great. I feel stronger than I ever have and have hardly been experiencing the soreness I used to associate with heavy training.

While Friday's schedule simply says "rest day" the early part of this week featured our typical time trials.  I was mildly disappointed that yesterday's swim times were nearly identical to last month's trial; however, despite not being faster I definitely felt better in the water.  Perhaps I should take this as an indication that I could have pushed harder than I did, but I'm just glad to feel some kind of improvement.

Today's time trial consisted of a 15 minute warmup followed by 30 minutes of all out riding.  Unfortunately I had to add some additional distance (due to my increased pace), which included a small hill, to my route.  Because of the change it's hard for me to make a true comparison to last month's time trial.  With the hill my pace was almost identical to the last time I did this workout.  I'll have to see what happens next time when I will have a true apples to apples comparison.

The best thing about my bike time trials is riding on the Jones Beach Bikeway from Cedar Creek Park.  Riding along the water is invigorating and watching the sun rise over the still water is a great way to start the day.  Following the ride I headed to my parents' house to drop off my bike (which Dad graciously brought to the shop for me) and get ready for work.  I wish I hadn't forgotten my key and been locked out for about 20 minutes, but instead of being frustrated I made the most of my extra time.  I had my best stretching session in quite some time and even had a few minutes to check the news. 

With two down, I have only one more time trial left: an all out 5K run on Thursday.  Then I have a rest day on Friday and some relatively easy brick workouts on Saturday and Sunday.  I can't help but feel that eerie "calm before the storm" feeling knowing that more tough workouts are right around the corner. 


Monday, July 16, 2012

Rolling Out Some Reviews

A non-triathlete might ask what one really needs to be a multi-sport athlete.  Only a swimsuit (and goggles), a bike (and helmet), and running shoes (socks are optional), right?  A triathlete (recreational, elite age-grouper, or professional) will answer the same question very differently.

The other day after accompanying my buddy for the purchase of his bike I sent him a list of some basic cycling items he should consider purchasing.  Compiling the list reminded me that I've built up a solid mental database about tri-gear (both what I've bought and what I've read or heard about from others).  I've written about many different things on this blog, all of them related in one way or another to my triathlon experiences.  I think I've done well covering some things but have been deficient about some others.  I hoped I'd spend more time reviewing some of the triathlon gear that I've found helpful (and maybe not so helpful) throughout my training/racing but I haven't made it happen.

When we moved to NY we almost gave away our futon.  Instead it has become my "tri-bench."  On a daily basis it is loaded, and then unloaded, with the gear I'll need for that day's workout(s).  Yes, those bins are in order of swim, bike, run, and yeah, my dog is curious what I'm up to!
It's no secret that triathletes love their gadgets.  Getting new gear is just plain fun and as an athlete increases his/her race distances there are lots of tools and equipment that help us each get to the finish line.  To name a few: gps watches (aka "which Garmin do you have?"), a heartrate monitor, bike shoes, tri-suits, tri-shorts, tri-tops, wetsuits, run belts, water bottles, the right socks, body lubricant (not nearly as exciting as it sounds), swimming tools, bicycling gloves, hats, nutrition products, recovery tools, etc...The list goes on, and on, and on...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rough Waters

Salt is good. I like salt. Salt makes food taste good. Too much salt though, and you've got a problem. Here's the thing though: salt is great to eat (on food of course) but not so pleasant to drink - just ask anyone who mistakenly sweetened his/her coffee with salt.  Have I beaten this horse enough yet: drinking salt is bad.  Unfortunately yesterday's swim involved drinking more salt water than I would have liked.

Sure, the water looks calm now!

After a small shopping venture at the local run shop (who had a huge blowout sale) and then accompanying my buddy for the purchase of his first road bike, we headed to the beach for a swim/bike brick workout. If only we had checked the water report before our swim we would have known that the tide was coming in, which made for swirling, choppy water. Going forward on I'll try to remember to check the report for tide info and wave size.  While the swells weren't huge it was without a doubt the roughest water I've ever swam in.  At times it felt like I was inside a washing machine and I was forced to breathe on only one side depending on which direction I was facing. I take pride in the fact that a year and half ago I wouldn't have considered entering water like that but today I plowed on swimming for about 35 minutes.

For the brief moments when I was able to think about anything other than not drinking bay water, I reminded myself that my Ironman Arizona swim will be in a nice calm lake.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Minor Hiccup

Throughout my training over the past year and a half I have been fortunate to stay pretty healthy.  That’s not to say I am immune to the typical soreness or fatigue from training, but when I think about it I’ve really only had a couple of minor injuries.  While it seems like only a minor bump in the road, this has been my hardest week of serious training yet as I fought my way through a balky calf.  The damage was done last weekend and could have happened during any of the following:
  • Saturday’s 5+ mile jaunt through NYC (complete with dodging and weaving pedestrian traffic, hopping up and down curbs, and a few too many quick direction changes)
  • Sunday morning’s super early bike ride to the site of the NYC Triathlon (ridden on my old bike with toe clips and an improper seat height)
  • Test running a couple of pairs of kicks on the running store’s treadmill (without so much as even a minor stretch) at pretty high speed

Monday, July 9, 2012

Not Just the Drafting Police

 Amy Bevilacqua takes the tape
I'm still trying to catch back up on sleep after my long Sunday (which started at 3:15am) but I wanted to quickly recap my morning at the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon.  

As I've written before, my desire to officiate has more to do with trying to help others than it does penalizing violators.  That's not to say I don't believe in enforcing the rules, I most certainly do.  The USAT rules are intended to promote fairness (and safety) in their events and are an important part of triathlons.  When I am officiating and witness rule violations it is my duty to enforce them; I've yet to report a violation and I can honestly say I am not looking forward to it.  

So far my experience officiating has been rewarding in that I've had the opportunity to support other athletes.  Sunday's race was no different.  In addition to answering a few questions throughout the morning in transition, I was lucky enough to be in transition as several female athletes prepared to exit after the swim and begin their bike rides.  Unfortunately for these ladies they had left their tires fully inflated through the night and were the recipient of race day flat tires (which they didn't discover until the race had begun).  While one athlete was calm and confident about changing her tire, the same can not be said for the others.  As a race official I was unable to physically provide assistance with the repair; however, I was able to help walk them through the process.  After quickly calming the women down, "don't worry this is all part of T1, it won't affect your bike time," I methodically talked them through each step of changing the flat tire.  My help was genuinely appreciated and I felt good about being there for these racers.

Aside from the flats, my day was relatively uneventful.  Due to the size of the race the majority of officiating energy is spent on the pro athletes and the elite age groupers.  Watching over all 3,000 participants would be extremely difficult, if not impossible (and even unsafe).  My role was to watch the para-triathletes on the swim exit and then to ride my bike out onto the run course shortly after the first group of pros began the run.  My presence on the run course helped provide visibility for the USAT but I was also there so that I could enforce any penalties on the pros which were unable to be administered during the bike (pro athletes must be "stood down" for 60 seconds when a violation is committed, unlike age groupers who simply receive a time penalty after the race).  Luckily I didn't have to enforce any penalties and instead was treated to a 6-mile bike ride around the hilly north loop of Central Park.  I began riding after the seventh or eighth pro and one-by-one made my way to the leader of the race.  Then I went ahead to the finish line to convene with the other officials.  There we recapped the race as the leaders approached. 

Being stationed at the finish line as the winner entered the chute was a first for me and was pretty cool to see.  It certainly provided a different prospective on racing.  After the race I hung around NYC for a bit and then headed home to Long Island.  My trip back was less than ideal (taking well over two hours) and by the time I made it home I was thoroughly exhausted, but I still had a brick workout to do.  I took a short break for some R & R with the Wife, had a cup of java and then proceeded to have a downright awesome workout.  I thought for sure I was out of energy but I must have summoned some from the race earlier that morning.  I had a strong, quick bike ride and followed it up with a fast paced run.  I definitely have some built up race energy going on so I'm glad to be only a few weeks out from my first triathlon of the year.

Oh, and one more thing: Happy 35th Birthday to my Sis!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Putting on the Zebra Stripes

Putting my desire to race on the shelf for three more weeks, tomorrow I will be a USAT official (my first of two races as a Category 4 official) at the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon.  Despite the title of the post I will not be wearing the traditional black and white referee uniform (which is reserved for the head referee) instead I'll be sporting a bright red USAT polo and navy hat.  After an afternoon of meetings and athlete briefings I am ready for a good night's rest before an early (even by my standards) awakening.  

My role tomorrow will be to help officiate the Para-triathlete (PT) division and to enforce any penalties on the Elite division which were not able to be enforced during the bike.  Scanning the room at the PT briefing left me awestruck.  I was surrounded by athletes with a variety of impairments who clearly live life with a glass half full.  Instead of letting their disabilities hold them back, they rise up and take on challenges that many able-bodied folks don't even consider attempting.  Along with their handlers (who are able to assist in specific activities during the race but can't help move them along) they will swim 1500 meters, bike 40 km, and run 10km.  I made a mental note to learn more about the handlers and find out what it takes to work with a PT athlete. The next meeting was for the Elite athletes where the USAT head referee spent some time detailing the rules which are particular to their division.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Road Not to be Taken

In my ever-evolving quest to fit in all my workouts around my day job and the rest of my life I attempt a variety of creative scheduling maneuvers.  Today I easily fit my ride into my morning routine and in an effort not to interfere with date-night I decided to do my run directly from work.  My premise was to avoid the rush hour traffic and drive home once the roads began to clear.  Did it work?  We'll say, "sort of."

I did successfully avoid sitting in traffic in my car, but I ended up running through more of it than I generally prefer.  The last time I ran this particular route it was most certainly not rush hour and the same four-lane road was much kinder.  I am usually a pretty fearless runner and cyclist but one too many cars almost brushed my elbow today.  My visibility wasn't the issue; between my bright yellow running hat and my blinding shirtless torso I think I could be seen from an aircraft.  The driver's on this stretch were just clearly not used to seeing people out running, and rightfully so.  I am all about pedestrian (runners and cyclists included) awareness, but I can honestly say that I didn't belong where I was running (particularly at that time of day).  

In the future I will be much more aware about my route choices and make sure to put myself in safer situations than today's frogger-like scamper.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Paying it Forward

About 15 months removed from my first terrifying open water swim, today I accompanied a buddy of mine on his first much-less-terrifying swim.  I'll always remember how hard that first swim was for me as I struggled to make it from buoy to buoy, breathing heavily each time I stopped to rest.  I had hardly learned to swim in a pool and being out in the open was pretty nerve-wracking.  Luckily for me I had a great support system that day, each one of my fellow swimmers reassuring me that everyone's first swim is an adventure. 

Today I was the sage - well not really.  The main difference between me and my friend is that although he just begin true swim/triathlon training, he has always been able to swim.  Taking his stroke from the pool to the open water was just a formality, one which he did with ease.  We met at Lloyd Hardor intending to hook up with a local triathlon group that supposedly swims there on Monday nights.  After waiting well beyond when others should have arrived and making one too many "Bueller, Bueller" jokes we headed out on our own.  

The sun was shining bright and hot as it began to set, and the water was flat, calm, and while cold at first it was actually the perfect temperature.  We swam for about 40 mins total (with much more time spent on the way back, fighting what turned out to be a significant current).  Our pacing was almost identical (I've worked hard to make it to this pace) which was only mildly humbling because I know he has always been a swimmer.  He's currently signed up for a sprint and the almost 1 mile we swam today clearly showed how easy the 800 meters will be for him.

Without the typical "training wheels" of other swimmers who are actually capable of sighting I focused a lot today on my sighting technique.  It was a struggle at first but I am proud to say I made major strides and feel more comfortable sighting than I ever have.  

The best part of my swim though had to be when I just stopped thinking.  It's a rare aquatic occurrence for me to be comfortable enough to stop focusing on my breathing and stroke technique and just swim.  But today was different.  In one of my first OWSs this year there was actually a point during the swim when I thought,"wow, I feel like I can do this forever."  My buddy was quick to remind me what a good thing that is considering that in Arizona I will swim almost 3 times what I swam today. 

I have many more outside swims to come this summer and I'm glad to have someone that I will hopefully swim with many more times and a great nearby beach to head to.