Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Burnt Rubber

Don't be blinded by my pasty-whiteness,
but do take note of the red specks
which are actually pieces of the track
that I kicked up!
Through a mild (and refreshing) morning rain, yesterday I completed a grueling track workout.  It had been awhile since I had been on a track in (lately I've had more hill work than straight speed intervals) and I forgot how fun it is to circle the oval (over and over and over).

The workout consisted of a warmup followed by an interval of 1200m, 1000m, 800m, 600m, 400m, & 200m, each followed by a 200m recovery.  Coach worked up a detailed time target chart for each interval which had us aiming to increase the pace for each subsequent distance.  By now I've completed a variety of speed and hill workouts and this was by far one of the toughest yet. 

At about 35 minutes long the workout was one of my shortest runs in a long time, but maintaining the prescribed speeds over those distances was super challenging.  I definitely began to tire throughout the workout but I was still able to increase my speed and finish strong. 

I think that what I enjoy most about the track is that it makes me think of how hard it was for me to even run a mile growing up (think presidential fitness test).  I was always reasonable fast, but in very short bursts.  Through my triathlon training I've been able to build my endurance but also cultivate my ability to run fast. I can't wait to see what's planned for next week!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

When the Lights Go Out

As the days continue to get shorter -and the workouts longer - it's going to become harder and harder to fit my training into the daylight hours. Swimming (with the exception of open water swims) and running are less of a problem, but the bike rides will be a challenge. A two-workout day with a 2-hour ride (not to mention my day job) leaves precious little daylight for cycling. If only I could become a professional amateur triathlete.

Good planning is the key to any major training; I'll need to stay on top of sunrise/sunset times and structure my workout accordingly.  This past Wednesday's ride was a refresher course in what not to do. A swim and ride on the same day means I train both in the morning and the evening. On these days I try to get out of work a few minutes early and get training (not only do I want to catch some daylight but I try not to push dinner too late). I made it out of work early enough Wednesday but due to some golf-tournament-induced traffic that my buddy hit and some unnecessary tinkering with the bikes, we started riding way too late. Never fear though, I was assured that the sun was to set at 8:30pm. 

For future reference, here's what that does not mean: it will be completely light out until precisely 8:30pm, at which point it will become dark.

The tree-laden back roads of Long Island's North Shore didn't get the memo about staying lit until  8:30 and it began to get dark rather quickly. We pressed on with our hill intervals, hoping to squeeze in all six. By the 5th climb, things were starting to get dicey, so we called a meeting. The decision was to start heading back and work the last interval into our return trip.

It was too late though; we'd let the sun completely disappear and now we were stuck riding in the dark.  Normally I am an ├╝ber-prepared triathlete, but not thinking we'd be out in the dark I had only a small front light and a Road ID led in the rear.  Knowing that at home I had a variety of gear to both increase my visibility and light the roadway only served to make the situation more frustrating.  My fellow rider was about as ill-prepared as I; hopefully our little blinking lights were enough for the cars to see us.  On top of the fear of not being seen, we also had to worry about our ability to see.  Between my slightly tinted lenses and the lack of a proper lamp, seeing the road was a nightmare. Removing my glasses improved things marginally but I was basically holding on for dear life and hoping not to hit any big bumps or grooves in the pavement.

The ride home was nerve-wracking and I'm quite sure it shaved some time off my life.  Fortunately we made it home safely and we'll take the experience as a reminder to be more prepared in the future.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wide Awake (and the World is Still)

I couldn't help but start thinking about the changes in my life this morning as I settled into the driver's seat to head out for an OWS. While the car antennae rose and the radio found its signal, the station went from a commercial directly into the song Wide Awake by Katie Perry (note to self: no more Z100).  Listening to the words of the song (for the first time) I realized that Ms. Perry is likely referring to a broken relationship (oh what a poor millionaire rockstar) but I began to relate the song to my own life.  I was indeed wide awake at a time (much too early) when I once would have been fast asleep. I won't go any further dissecting the lyrics of a pop song; I will say though that it was a friendly reminder to look at how far I've come and the changes that I've made in my life.  To steal one more line from Katy:

I wish I knew then what I know now.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fun in the Sun (Race Report: Key Biscayne Trilogy)

A pre-race meal like no other; Serendipity baby.
Yesterday was a great day; it was a beautiful morning and a perfect day for racing (if not downright hot).  Being that I'm on vacation, I let myself break from my typical pre-race routine and just went with the flow.  Like I said in my pre-race post, Saturday night was anything but the norm.  It was the first time I have not taken a race seriously and though I of course gave it 100% once I was out there, it was nice to be so relaxed for a change.  That doesn't mean I didn't analyze my performance and wonder what could have been.  Given the circumstances I still had a decent race and finished 7th out of 30 in my age group.  Had I not been cramping awfully during the run, I think I could have come out as high as 5th.  After reviewing my splits and comparing them against the group it is once again clear that I just need to get stronger in the water to compete.  My run and bike times, as well as my transitions, have improved drastically and are letting me stay in the race, but my swims are putting me at such a deficit right off the bat. 

Awesome shot by the Wife!
The race featured a wave start and for the first time I got right in the mix with the rest of the pack.  I figured it'd be good experience for Arizona to get in there and fight it out.  Things can get ugly in the water and I just don't see why people need to grab other people's ankles.  My hand sometimes brushes someones leg but I never grab it; when mine is grabbed I can't help but kick just a bit harder.  

Right before the start I realized that my entry path into the water caused me to skip walking across the mat.  I hurriedly waded towards the start, across the timing mat and then back to my wave in the water. I had just enough time to make it to the middle of the group for the starting siren. I'd forgotten how nice it is to swim in Key Biscayne; the water is so clean and there's nothing like seeing the sea floor while swimming.  The swaying sea grass and little fish both had a calming effect on my swim.

Just like in Riverhead I started out too quickly ruining my chances at a negative split, but I felt like I was keeping a good pace. With as good as I felt I was surprised to see the time on my watch as I began T1.  I need to work harder at easing into the swim and being able to finish stronger.

Swim Time:  10:01     Swim Place: 23/30 (Age Group)

I hadn’t looked at the course prior to the race but I’d heard about the long run from the swim exit to transition.  As advertised it was a long trek in the sand and then onto the pavement but I handled it with ease.  I quickly found my bike, put my helmet on and headed for the exit.  I had my shoes on the bike which made for an easy mount. For some reason though I almost always have some kind of adventure in the mounting area.  Often it involves someone else not paying attention but this time it was me who didn’t look ahead as I began to jump on.  I realized my error and narrowly avoided rear-ending another rider before taking off. 

T1 Time: 2:59     T1 Place: 6/30 (Age Group)

The bike terrain on Key Biscayne is pancake flat with the exception of the bridge.  On my borrowed bike I definitely didn’t ride as hard as I am able; nonetheless I kept areasonable pace and, for the 2nd straight race, was passed by very few.  I was eager to climb the Powell Bridge and see how it compares to the hills on which I’ve been riding.  During the early part of the climb I was passed by several riders who were churning away out of their saddles.  Having mastered the bridge during my time in Miami (along with some great advice from the White Lantern awhile back) I waited patiently for my time to attack.  About halfway up the bridge I stood up and made my charge.  As I increased my pace on the climb I passed those early attackers and never looked back (nor did I see them again).  The same dance occurred on the return climb and I have Coach to thank for my increased power on the bike.  

The rest of the ride was uneventful until, with about .5 miles remaining in the ride,  I heard my name and then saw a quick flash of Tri Loco colors whiz past.  With just a little warning the White Lantern had closed the gap and passed me on the bike. I pushed hard to stay in his wake knowing that I could catch him (eventhough he started the race after me) on the run.  

Overall I was happy with my ride.  I had made a few adjustments to the bike I borrowed, but considering I didn’t have my own bike (which has been carefully tailored to my measurements) I can’t complain.  

Bike Time: 30:24     Bike Place: 8/30 (Age Group)

Now that I’ve had more practice with the rolling dismount it’s become one of my favorite parts of the race. I love riding in fast enough to slightly alarm both the crowd and the race staff member stationed at the dismount line before swinging my leg over the saddle and hopping off into a run.  Sunday’s dismount was a thing of beauty after which I jogged to my rack, got my socks and shoes on, and ran off.  My transition time was acceptable but I think I can still shave off a bit from T2.

T2 Time: 01:17     T2Place: 14/30 (Age Group)

I've finally mastered the "pinch & drink"
It wasn’t long into the run before I began to feel the cramps.  First on my left side and later on the right, it felt like I was being stabbed.  I tried to get as much water as I could but it was too late.  Not enough sodium and perhaps lack of hydration on the bike had taken its toll.  Luckily I was only stuck with the discomfort for 3.1 miles.  I did the best I could but I was frustrated when I saw some 30-34 year old calves pass me.  Again though I trusted my pacing strategy and knew I’d run them down.  As my run pace has increased fewer of my age group are able to pass me (those faster are usually well in front anyway).  I made sure to keep the couple of guys who ran by in my sights.  

The SoFla heat was more intense than I remember it being and it was during the run that I was glad I’d chosen the sprint distance.  Even though I was running out of gas, when I reached the 2nd mile marker I kicked it up; fatigue and discomfort be damned, I was going to get my negative split.   I started closing the gap on anyone nearby and poured it on during the final .25 mile to pass them all.  It wasn’t my typical sprinting finish but I gave it what I had that day.

Run Time: 23:40     Run Place: 6/30 (Age Group)

Total Time: 01:08:20:80     Total Place: 7/30 (Age Group)

I'm not sure how serious I should take my second cramping episode in as many races.  The issues could have been attributed to pre-race nutrition or hydration but it also could have been me forgetting how hot and humid it is in SoFla.  I'll need to talk to Coach and get a better handle on my sodium intake to see if I can get this under control before it becomes an issue.  I ran through it today, but it held me back and was just plain uncomfortable.  The run has quickly become my strongest sport but I won't be able to excel if I'm limited by nutrition issues.

Despite the cramping I still consider the race a success.  Each time I step out on a race course my #1 goal is to finish and take something positive away from the experience and each time I learn something.

On another note, seeing the other Tri Locos was awesome.  Though I hadn't trained closely with all of them when I lived in Miami I still feel like we all share a unique bond.  Those of us en route to Arizona are going through the same experience, even if I am 1,100 miles away.  Seeing the colorful Loco unis on the race course was uplifting and I can't wait to I get my new digs.  Congrats to all the Locos who raced today; special shout-outs to Mario & JoJo (third place in their categories) and the White Lantern (4th in his).   We're going to have a strong showing in AZ.

This recap would be incomplete if I didn't mention my awesome cheering squad:
Best cheer squad, ever!

  • My supportive wife could easily send me on my own to races now but she's there yelling for me every time; her shouts never fail to motivate me. 
  • My sis-in-law and her Mike have also been at many of my SoFla races, including a surprise appearance at Miami 70.3.  There are much better things they could have been doing at 6:15am (like sleeping) but instead they were en route to Key Biscayne to show their support.  You guys rock!
Finally, hats off to Multirace.  For awhile they were the only race production company I knew, but now that I've raced in NY I have more to compare them to.  I'm sure I'll see a whole new level of organization in AZ but Multirace does a solid job with their events.  In particular their timing system is one of the best I've seen.  As soon as you complete the race you are given a receipt with your splits.  You can then head to a trailer which has at least 10 monitors constantly updating the results.  Within a few hours of the event you receive an email with your times and a link to the race results.  By comparison the NY races I've experienced leave you hanging and waiting for your times, left to hope you've done a good enough job with your Garmin.  Overall, Multirace has it together and puts on safe, organized races. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bienvenidos a Miami

After a couple of hours of delays our second attempt at a weekend in Miami was successful. Almost five hours on a plane was less than fun but with the help of my eye mask (no shame in my game) I easily dozed off around my normal bedtime only to wake up as we touched down in Fort Lauderdale.

This morning (after a later than usual wakeup) I headed down to Key Biscayne and scooped up a bike loan from a fellow Loco. I thought I had pretty much made it over the hump in terms of missing Miami (though I'm sure when the winter rolls back around that will change) but driving on the Key was a reminder of what I'm missing living in NY.  Save for a few other cities in the US, Miami is one of the premier meccas for triathlon. Just as I remembered the Rickenbacker Causeway was flooded with people: road cyclists, tri-bikers, roadies, mountain bikers, walkers, runners, racewalkers, etc. Though I've found some folks to train with in NY, and I'm grateful to have a great training partner, my current situation doesn't hold a candle to the SoFla scene.

I'm stoked to be part of the action again - if only for a day - when I race the Key Biscayne Trilogy tomorrow morning.  My pre-race routine won't be what I'm used to (different bed, probably a late bedtime, borrowed bike, different breakfast, etc.) but tomorrow is going to be a blast.  I'm looking forward to seeing familiar faces and especially hooking up with the Tri Locos. 

The one downside of my trip being postponed to this week is that I am missing the West Point Tri. I had been signed on to officiate but more importantly I was stoked to be a cheerleader at my buddy's first race. Training with him and helping guide him as he becomes a triathlete has been awesome and I wish I could be there to watch him cross the finish line.  Despite never having been a runner or biker (swimming is his strongest sport) he has made rapid progress and is going to crush the race.  

Now it's time for dinner at my favorite Miami sushi joint (a departure from my typical Italian pre-race meal).  Bon apetit and happy racing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sunrise Ninja

Okay, so I'm not hunting rabbit. I am being very, very quiet.

My eyes are open and I glance at the red digits on the clock.  If I'm lucky (so will my wife be) I've woken before my alarm has sounded.  On an off day it will go off once, but sometimes I'll doze off and it will ring again (three minutes later) before I'm up for good.  

Next I glide gently out of bed, the Tempurpedic mattress doing its best to isolate my subtle movements.  I softly unplug my phone taking caution to set the cable down without a sound.  I grab the flashlight off my nightstand and switch it on the low setting, shielding all but a sliver of light with my grip.  Being careful not to step on the dog I exit the bedroom; I'll return only once more for a kiss on my way out (or to fetch a towel if I've forgotten an extra).

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Heat is On (and so is the race)

“So I said to myself, “self.””  “Haste makes waste.”   “Don’t cut your nose to spite your face.” 

Those are just a small sampling of Mom’s many sayings; the combination of school teacher and Jewish mother make for a seemingly endless supply.  One of my favorites though has got to be:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

I’m not a religious guy; there was a point in my life where I felt differently (now is not the time or the place), but let’s just say that life has convinced me otherwise.  I do however like to think that there is ebb and flow to the world.  Every yin has its yang.  Every action, a reaction.  You get the point.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Longest Ride Ever (Barely)

By about 1.5 miles today's ride was my longest and while I'm undoubtedly fatigued it was a great workout.  I got off to a much later start than I'd planned (maybe good practice for riding during the hot part of the day), but lately I've been letting myself get a bit of extra rest when my body wants it on a Sunday morning.  Gearing up for the long ride also took longer than normal; I wanted to be properly prepared and have a good plan for my day's nutrition (not to mention enough sunscreen).  I left the house with plenty of Clif Shots, 32oz of water, and 6 scoops of Carbo Pro with 20oz of water in my other bottle.  I suspected I may have been short on water and as it turned out I was right - more on that later.  

As far as the route itself, today's ride was a straight shot along the service road of the Long Island Expressway.  I don't often ride the service road (as many other Long Island cyclists tend to) because in many areas there are traffic lights approximately every 1.5 miles.  On a good day you can keep catching greens but you are bound to get hung up every now and again.  There isn't typically much traffic on the cross-streets so I can usually get through by slowing down, shifting to an easier gear, and crossing after checking that the coast is clear.  Today though I went further than ever before and as I made it further east the lights were fewer and farther between.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012


"You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means." 

You're gonna do what? Why would you do that? Who's making you? How many days will it take? 112 miles on a motorbike?  You'll take a few weeks to recover, right?  How much are you being paid?  Wait, you're paying them? 

While some of my coworkers already knew that I was a triathlete the rest found out last week when I hung my wetsuit off my bike rack to dry it out.  Being that I work in a grown-up version of a boy's locker room, the comments about my aquaman suit began rolling in early and often:  I'll admit that the suit looked comical hanging there, dancing in the breeze; it reminded me of those inflatable dancing men used to draw attention to a store or car dealer. 

"So and so is peeing on your wetsuit," I was told, "wouldn't be the first time," I retorted. 
"Aren't you supposed to hide your costume and change in a phone booth?" "If your calling me a superhero, thanks."  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gear Review: Specialized Echelon Helmet

I can't think of a better time to review my helmet than right after it saved me from what would in all likelihood have been a concussion (in a best case scenario).  Sure, "the what have you done for me lately" mentality could influence my opinion, but I honestly didn't have anything bad to say beforehand.  I actually liked the helmet so much that after splitting my old one I bought the same one again.

The bottom line is that helmets really only have one true purpose: SAVE LIVES. The rest, like looks, ventilation, weight, aerodynamics, comfort and fit (okay maybe fit is essential) are just bonuses. In most cases a $35 helmet will do just the same for you in an accident as a $250 helmet (presuming they were made at similar times and to the same safety standards).

That said let's face it, most of us do care how we look (whether going out for a night on the town or going out for a bike ride - although after a certain amount of miles any thoughts about one's appearance fall by the wayside).   It used to be the case that in order to have a good looking helmet you had to spend a sizable chunk of change.  Fortunately, helmet design has trickled down from the high-end models and there are many more options available at all price points.  

When it was time (probably overdue) to replace my helmet a few months ago I did some browsing to check my options.  I'm a sucker for matching, so being a Specialized guy (both my tri and road bike are Specialized) I wanted to stick with one of their helmets.  The Echelon is the most economical ($60 msrp) of the four models offered and is a great choice for any rider.  I'm sure the better models are a bit lighter or have better ventilation, but I haven't had any regret with the Echelon.  It breathes well, is affordable, lightweight, adjustable, comfortable and looks good (as far as helmets go).  One of the best features is the adjustable dial in the rear which makes it easy to adjust both before and during riding.  I'm also a fan of the easy-to-use side strap adjusters as well as the reflectivity built into the design.  Overall the helmet's design is well-thought out and it seems to share many features of the upper-tier models offered. 

As far as the helmet's main function, unfortunately I can now attest to its ability to cushion the blow related with a 23mph bike crash.  The Echelon did what is was supposed to do, splitting to absorb the impact, sparing my noggin from trauma.  What more can I ask for?

Overall the Echelon is a good choice for those not looking to spend a ton of money on a helmet.  If money isn't an issue go ahead and look at the S3 or the Prevail, but in my opinion I'd rather spend that money elsewhere (like on other tri-toys). 
Other Helmet Thoughts
At the risk of being labeled a curmudgeon, while I was writing about helmets I couldn't help but be reminded of all the people I see riding without head protection.  I know that people have the power to make their own choices but I struggle to see the positives of this decision.  I just can't think of any good reason that anyone would choose to ride without one. 

What About the Children
When it comes to kids, the look of a helmet is paramount to any other features. If a child doesn't like their helmet one of two things will happen: he simply won't ride their bike as much or won't wear his helmet.  Neither option is good so do you and your child a favor and let him pick the one he wants to wear (assuming you can afford it).  If I recall correctly I once tried to have my parents get me a new (cooler) helmet by accidentally misplacing my current model. Uncool move on my part, but it does emphasize the point.

Ride safely and wear a helmet

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Time to Make the Triathlete: Early Morning Workouts

There is no way around it, no matter what phase of training you are in, triathlon training takes up a lot of time; time you don't think you have!  In fact, most people who don’t get a chance to exercise (or do any other activity they wish they could) will probably attribute it to not having enough time.  Fitting in your workouts, and balancing them with work and your home and social life is an exercise in prioritization, organization, and often sacrifice.  For many triathletes the key is waking up early and doing your workouts while others (especially your family) are still asleep.  

If this seems hard to you, you're not alone.  I have been a night owl for most of my life (thanks for the hand-me-down Dad) and training in the morning always seemed like a non-starter.  In the beginning it was extremely hard to pull myself out of bed, but it got continuously easier and eventually became so routine that I hardly need an alarm clock.

In no particular order here are some of the things that helped me make the transition:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Back on the Horse

Sunday's triathlon was a great checkpoint along my path to IMAZ; I'm glad I raced and had a chance to see the payoff of all my hard training.  I'm far from completely recovered (more from the wreck than the race itself) but that doesn't mean I'm not still following my path. 

Long before what happened on Sunday Coach had planned a rest day for Monday, which I gladly observed.  Tuesday it was back to the grind as I slogged through another tough (but fun) hills workout; it was far from painless but I put in some good work nonetheless.  

Wednesday morning though, was another story: with regret I had to bag my swim workout.  Instead of jumping into the pool I hit the weight room for some shoulder and upper body exercises (luckily over the winter I picked up Strength Training for Triathletes which has some decent triathlon-specific exercises). Rather than any major strength training, I focused on loosening up my shoulder (specifically trying to break up the tight, healing skin) and used mild resistance to simulate swimming motions. 

I’m always disappointed to have to skip a workout but if I have to miss one, better that it is a swim.  It seems counter intuitive that I’d be alright with missing a workout in my weakest sport but for now the swim is still something I feel I just need to get through.  I’m certainly getting faster and stronger in the water but I really just need to survive the swim and I’m starting to feel pretty good about my ability to swim the 2.4 miles (despite not having ever swam more than 1.5 miles).  On the other hand, biking and running are where I feel that I continue to make the largest gains and are what will make or break me in Arizona.  Plus I have neither ridden near 112 miles or run close to 26.2 and my long rides and runs are key to my reaching Ironman distances.

In preparation for last night’s interval bike ride I took a quick trip during lunch to buy a new helmet.  I figured that my previous skull cap (which was only about 2 months old) did a good job saving my brain so I bought the exact same one.