Thursday, June 20, 2013

Race Report: Ironman Arizona

"How was it?"

It's a simple question that I've heard many times since I returned from Arizona; yet even after being asked dozens of times, my brain begins to churn rapidly each time.  My answer varies depending on the audience.  Do they really want to know?  Do they want to hear details of what it's like to travel 140.6 miles only on the power of one's own arms and legs?  Or, are they asking to be polite, hoping for a short and sweet, "it was fun."  After gauging my audience, I reply; usually I offer up an "it was unforgettable" or "it was an awesome day."  Those inquisitors who really want to know more don't settle for my wimpy answer.  Instead, they follow up with more meaningful and thoughtful questions about how I felt throughout the day, whether or not I ever considered quitting, or what it felt like to cross the finish line.  The answers by the way are: It depends on what time of day you're wondering about.  Absolutely. And, unparalleled triumph.

My typical recounting of the "Ironman Experience" is an exercise in restraint.  Let's face it: I trained for a year, then spent an entire day pouring every drop of my being into completing a relatively absurd task.  Am I any different now that "I am an Ironman" than I was beforehand (being able to remind my wife and close friends that I can do X, Y, or Z because I'm a frickin Ironman doesn't count)?  On the surface, the answer is "of course not."  I'm just like you, or anyone else, and am really no different than I was prior to November 18, 2012.  But deep down, becoming an Ironman (not just the feat, but the journey) has changed me.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Race Report: Belmont Stakes Blue Ribbon Run for Prostate Cancer

To cap off a day packed full of both racing and training two Sundays ago (6/2/13) I participated in the Greater Long Island Run Club's (GLIRC) Belmont Stakes Blue Ribbon Run for Prostate Cancer 5K.  

Why Run
The only good reason to run a 5K the same day as my first Tri of the year was to honor my Dad who eight years ago was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Dad is the inspiration for much of what I do out on the race course and in training.  When I'm getting tired and feeling like my tank is running empty, I think of him - he constantly pushes himself and has never let the lingering effects of his treatments become an excuse for why he can't do something - then, I dig deep and swim, bike, or run harder.  Knowing that my legs would already be tired from the day I suspected I'd need that motivation at some point during the race. 

Getting There
On the way to the race we hit a slight snag as we began to merge onto the parking lot that was the Southern State Parkway. Luckily for Jonah and me (who have equally horrific senses of direction) Dad knew an alternate route that would get us there on time. His detour was well-timed and executed and helped us get to the race when we'd planned. 

About that time thing: somehow we were both under the impression that the race started at 8:00pm. As we casually got out of the car at about 7:00pm we figured we had plenty of time to go to the bathroom and then warm up.  Not so much.  We hardly realized what was happening but eventually caught on to the fact that people had migrated over to the starting line, and for good reason. The pre-race speeches and songs were already underway and the race was starting at 7:15pm.  There'd be no time for a warmup, in fact we were lucky to have a minute to relieve ourselves in the bushes. 

And They're Off
We hurried back over to the start line and within about a minute the starting gun went off.  I hadn't developed much of a strategy or plan for the race; I figured that I'd see what my legs had leftover from the day and push as hard as possible. Caught up in my fast-running neighbors I started out way too hard but quickly realized it and reeled myself in.  I found a comfortable pace and some folks running similar speeds and stayed steady. As is typical for me in both training and racing I would plan to continually build my speed during the race to achieve a solid negative split. 

 I hadn't looked at the course prior to the race so every turn was a surprise. It wasn't the most scenic run I've ever had but it wasn't the worst.  For about 2.75 miles we circumnavigated the Belmont race track, meandering through its parking lots and following the dips and dives of its several over/under-passes. 

The Home Stretch
The final stretch of the race is where things got really cool.  Having already finished a triathlon on a NASCAR track I was excited about running the last .2 miles of the race on Belmont's dirt horse track. As we made the final turn we passed under the grandstands and out onto the historical track; a track where many a Triple Crown hopeful has either fallen short or triumphed. 

Driving my tired body forward as the dirt slightly gave way to each push off was grueling. I had to dig down to find the extra energy and fed off the noise of the crowd in the grandstand and the knowledge that my father was standing by watching my finish. I poured every once of what was left in the tank into those final strides and finished with my new 5K PR of 21:34; good for 4th (out of 25) in my Age Group and 48/475 overall. 
The final stretch.  Photo credit: GLIRC
While this was my best 5K to date (and I am by no means disappointed) I know I can do even better.  I've set my sights on a sub-20 minute 5K (and hopefully a podium finish) sometime this year and I'm confident I will get it. 

The Post-Race Party
Easily the best array I've ever seen, GLIRC and their race sponsors put together an incredible spread.  There was a variety of post-race food the likes of which I'd never seen including: pizza (from at least three pizzarias), Clif Bars, Zone bars, cupcakes, sandwiches, fruit, cannolis, Haitian pastries, and more.  We ate more than our fair share of goodies and spent some time chatting with both new and old faces. 

Hats off to GLIRC. This is the second event of theirs I've participated in and both were fun and well-run. I'll be joining GLIRC pretty soon as I have already begun frequenting their weekly track workout. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Abandon Ship

It was one of those situations where you hope you can motivate one another.  One where you tell the other guy to buck up and quit being a baby. Instead we took one look, then another, and then nodded in agreement that there would be no Open Water Swim today.

It was a complete violation of Rule #5 (geared towards cycling but applicable nonetheless) but I'm not (totally) ashamed. Sure, it was the easy way out and definitely not the Iron-way but I'm going to pull the safety card on this one.  The morning wasn't a total loss as the OWS was replaced by a pool swim; there will be many more chances to swim outside.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Race Report: Great South Bay Triathlon (Islip, NY)

My first triathlon of the year came and went yesterday and I'm feeling completely energized for my next few months of training for Timberman.  Great South Bay was the first event where all three NY Tri Locos raced together and it was the perfect start to the season.  The temperature up north has finally risen to what it should be this time of year and the triathlon gods gave us a great day for racing (so what if the water was a bit choppy).  Now onto the details:

One of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the marina was the choppiness and current of the water.  As we milled about before the race making our final preparations we noticed a small huddle of race personnel down near the water's edge. Our speculation of probable course adjustments proved correct and during the race briefing we were informed that the swim had been cut in half; music to my ears (and shoulder)!

I usually swim on Long Island's North Shore and I'd recently heard that the south side is generally warmer.  When I entered the water I immediately felt the difference; the temperature was at least a few degrees warmer than what I'd swam in the day before. 

As usual, the swim for me was about getting through it so I can bike and run.  I'd done very little swimming in preparation for the race so I stayed back for a moment after the start to let the masses go.  Once the water was clear I began my slow and steady stroke.  I guess it's just part of that fact that I am still not 100% one with the water but I can't seem to get myself to actually race the swim.  I'm going to try to work on more max-effort swimming so I can get myself used to swimming at, and sustaining, higher paces. 

Nonetheless, the swim was rather uneventful with the exception of one odd thing: I saw the faces of lots of people.  I can't figure out why so many people were doing the backstroke AND why they were doing it at virtually the same speed I freestyle.  This was a triathlon first for me but I just stayed my course and did my thing.

Swim Time: 8:51 (Age Place: 18/21)

T1: Swim-to-Bike
The run into transition was fairly short and afforded me just enough time to get my upper body freed from my wetsuit.  I was glad to have opted for booties because they insulated me well from what was apparently a rocky shore line.  Once at my bike I had a pretty quick transition, until I (tried to) put on my bike gloves.

I have to decide what to do about the gloves situation.  I hate riding without gloves; not because my paws are too sensitive to hold on without them, but for the protection they offer in the event of a crash.  I raced without gloves at Riverhead Rocks and though I got lucky that I didn't injure my hands during my crash, that didn't turn out so well.  My new rule might be to skip the gloves on sprint races but wear them for all other distances.

T1 Time: 1:49 (Age Place: 7/21)

As I like to do (if I have the chance) I previewed the bike course with my training buddies before the race, and I'm glad I did.  While the course was flat with just a few turns there were more than a couple areas of pretty rough road.  The .25 mile start and finish of the course was particularly gnarly and needed to be ridden with extreme caution.

All the pre-race information given warned participants to ride with caution and keep their heads up.  Did they forget this was a race?  I vowed to be cautious but still aimed for a fast bike time.

Once off of the rough patches at the start of the ride, and with my feet finally inside my shoes, I settled into a nice pace.  Within the first few minutes of the ride I was passed by a girl who I'll call "Twenty-five" because of the age on her calf.  Twenty-five had a nice pace going and I decided to follow the rabbit.  We rode almost the entire bike course within a couple of lengths of one another (without drafting of course).  We surged at about the same times, came out of the corners equally hard and just seemed to sync up.  

It was fun having a pseudo-partner out on the course and we chatted afterwards about what a great ride it had been.  My goal for the bike was to have an average above 20mph and with her motivation I met that mark.  It seems I made a good choice about who to follow because she ended up placing in her age group.

Knowing how fast/hard to ride is to me the most difficult part of triathlon.  Unfortunately I lost the aid of my heart rate monitor (which malfunctioned during the race) but I figured that the race would be a learning experience one way or another.  Without my heart rate I focused solely on my cadence.  I tried to never drop below 90bpm to avoid putting to much strain on my legs.  I ended up averaging 97bpm which may have been a bit too high but my legs felt ready to run.

Bike Time:  31:54 (Age Place: 4/21)

T2: Bike-to-Run
After a smooth dismount from the bike I ran with my bike into T2.  I can't say I enjoyed running alongside my bike through sand, but such is life.  I quickly racked my bike, sprayed some Dry Goods on my feet, put on socks and shoes and hit the road.  I'm not sure what ended up taking so long in there but I will definitely practice T2 before my next race.  I was disorganized and chaotic in T2 and I see no reason I can't shave at least 30s off of my time.

T2 Time: 1:36 (Age Place:11/21)

After a hard bike and a frazzled T2 I was winded to begin the run.  I didn't even need my heart rate monitor to know that I was somewhere above 90%.  I focused on my breathing and worked to get myself in check.  I was able to reel myself in and settled into my pace comfortably.  My body felt fluid during the run and I felt good about being able to cap off a solid race.  

Along the way I caught up to a fellow Ironman (a Lake Placid finisher) and we ran together for a solid stretch.  As is fairly typical for me now, I wasn't passed by many during the run but I do recall being buzzed by the top finishers of the 40+ age groups (who started after me).  

I kept a steady pace throughout the run and did my best to turn it up over the final moments.  There was one dude who I had see-sawed with several times and I was intent on getting past him one last time.  One of the stalwarts of my training (as preached by Coach Tim) is to do strides at the end of many of my runs. Running at almost full speed at the end of so many long runs has given me the confidence to lay it all out there when the time is right.  I was able to continue my goal of sprint finishes and as soon as I could see the race clock I raced towards it.  I surged past several other racers down the final stretch as the spectators looking on faded into a blur.

Run Time: 22:39 (Age Place: 6/21)

Total Time: 1:06:48 (Age Place: 6/21)

Overall I am very happy with my performance this past weekend.  I didn't have any finite goals for the race other than to have fun and stay safe but I'm pleased with how my body felt just three months removed from surgery.  The other Locos had awesome showings including both a PR and a podium finish and I'm proud to train with them.

Event Power did a nice job organizing the race.  Perhaps there are a few details they could handle better (like how about a tech t-shirt instead of a heavy cotton one) but overall the race was smooth and well-run.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Put it in the Books

If today wasn't a day to remember I don't know what qualifies!  Where this crazy two races + training ride idea came from I don't know, but it was as fun as expected, and will be a day to remember. 

The day started with the Great South Bay sprint triathlon in Islip, NY.  It was the first time I was able to race with my NY training buddies and the race was a blast.  The NY Tri Locos all put down great performances including a podium (2nd place) finish for the Pink Panther (Dru).  I had a successful first race of the year and put up a Sprint Tri PR with a time of 1:06:48, good for 7/21 in my age group.  Looking at the race results it's clear that I'm really going to have to improve my swim times if I plan on moving any further up the leaderboard.   

The second stage of the day was an hour-long training ride.  The ride wasn't particularly long, fast, nor steep, but the combination of having throwing down in the morning and heading out during the hottest part of the day made for a good workout.  Thanks to Vinny and Jay for the good company and frosty cold ones at the finish!

As if that isn't enough exercise to deserve a good night's sleep, Act Three featured the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC) Belmont Stakes Blue Ribbon Run for Prostate Cancer.  Jonah and I ran in honor of my father - a thriving prostate cancer survivor - who joined us at the track.  On tired legs we each put up 5K PRs and placed respectably in our age group: 4/25 for me and 6/25 for Jonah.

In an effort to keep this short and sweet I'm going to cut this post off and plan to post separate race reports for today's events.  

Now it's time for some well deserved rest; tomorrow will be an off day and I plan to enjoy it (I usually have a hard time accepting off days, but I don't think that will be the case with this one).  Tuesday I will be right back to the grind with a hard track workout and then I'll continue with training as usual.

p.s. Thanks for the tagline Howie Rose

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Familiar Feeling

After a full day which included a dip (I can't even call it a swim) in the open water, a "get the wood out" run (as Coach Tom used to say), and a celebration for my mother's upcoming retirement, I'm all packed for my first race of the season.  What should likely be routine by now still makes me both a bit giddy and nervous.  Perhaps part of the emotional surge is related to the fact that for a couple of days - just a few months ago - I wasn't quite sure what would become of my future in triathlon.  Now, mostly healed up, I am back on the horse and ready to race Great South Bay.

I'm not exactly sure what my expectations are for the race other than that I want to have a good time and stay safe.  Of course that doesn't mean that I won't give it what I've got but I'll try to keep a glimpse on the big picture that is my entire tri-season.  In  any case, tomorrow will be an eventful day and I'm looking forward to racing with my fellow Timberman-and-woman: J$ (aka Red Rocket) and Dru (Pink Panther).

As the buzz of the day continues to wear off, it is officially time to put down the pen and pad and get some rest.  I'm crashing at my buddy's place tonight to make things easier for the morning and I'm looking forward to having some company for my pre-race morning routine.  Until tomorrow...