Friday, August 27, 2010

Kelowna ITU / Canadian Nationals Race Report & Thoughts on Future Racing

I travelled to Kelowna, British Columbia last weekend for an ITU Pan American Cup race, which also happened to be the Canadian National Championships. This type of race always draws great competition, and some big names like Simon Whitfield, Olympic gold and silver medalist, and Kyle Jones. I finished 39th out of 66 competitors, which was a very disappointing finish for me. Race day was cold and rainy, but the swim remained a non-wetsuit swim. Most of the other competitors brought their wetsuits to the start to warm up in. I, however, didn’t. I decided I should still get in a quick warmup, then stood shivering for about 15 minutes before the gun went off. The swim in beautiful Lake Okanogan was a 2 lap swim, 750m each lap. I started hard, as is necessary in ITU racing, but slowly saw the group string out. I had one of my poorest swims in recent history, unfortunately, which put me back in the pack. On the 6 loop bike course, I was able to group up with about 5 guys, and we slowly caught people to form a chase pack of about 15. The loop had a killer steep hill up the hillside, which sent everyone’s heart rates through the roof. The view up there was awesome, overlooking the city and Lake Okanogan. This type of draft-legal racing is so different from non-drafting, with the surging and pack riding as opposed to the steady burn in non-drafting, which suits me better as a better time trialist. On the last bike lap it started pouring on us again, which made it fun, but a bit more dangerous. Going around the penultimate turn of the course, I rode over a steel manhole, which sent my rear wheel sliding. I thought for sure I was going down and my day was done, but somehow I steered out of it, stayed upright, and fought my way back up to the pack. I picked off a few more athletes on the run, and ran steady the whole way through.

Heading into the race I was confident, yet had some unfortunate events leading up to the race. About 10 days prior, I noticed a sore lump on the back of my right knee. I didn’t think much of it, but by about 6 days later, I knew I needed to see a doctor, as it had grown, swelled, and was making it hard to bend my leg without a ton of pain.I'd woke up for about 5 days unable to walk until it loosened up a bit, so I knew it was getting into my muscular system. I could see the redness spidering it’s way and spreading.. I was forced to take some time off that week from workouts, and especially swimming with the open wound once I had it opened. Any time I’d sit or lie down, it would stiffen up and be painful to walk. Before the trip, I knew I needed to get the growth cut open, and hope it would heal enough by race day. My coach Sean, at a team crit loop bike ride, told me I need to open it up ASAP. He told me to soak it, but some baking soda on it to draw it to the surface, and find the biggest needle I could and go at it. Rather having someone else do it, I looked around the house for a razor blade, called my sister, and asked her if she had any iodine, and planned on heading to her house. Although health insurance wouldn’t cover these needs, since I have the cheapest, most catastrophic plan around with terrible benefits, she convinced me to go to her clinic and let a doc do it, since she was off work that day and couldn’t do it herself at the clinic, and he’d cut me a deal. He fit me in between his patients, took care of it fast. With scissors, scalpels, and lots of squeezing, he sent me sweating and gritting my team while he went at it. It didn’t feel good, but helped me a lot. I had a cyst on my leg, which was confirmed to be a staff infection after testing. I had to keep a gauze packed in the hole for a day, which made if fun walking around the airport and sitting next to people on the plane, wondering why there was a white gauze coming out of my leg. The antibiotics are working well, and all the muscle aches and spreading has stopped. Mmmm appetizing. Hopefully I can blame my poor swim on my lack of swimming that week prior.

I had a fun trip with my girlfriend Amy, and teammate Dan and his wife. We drove to Penticton beach where Ironman Canada is, went to a winery, and relaxed. Those were the highlights. I tried my best to stay positive after the race, but was overwhelmed with frustration from the poor race performance and thus justifying the trip, unexpected rental car fees and feeling very deceived, airline bike fees, etc. I had a lot of time to think about the trip, and ITU racing in general. Right now, ITU racing may not make sense for me. My heart is in it, and everyone wants to race Olympic-style racing. The Olympics are everyone’s dream, but right now I simply cannot swim at the level needed to finish at the top in draft-legal racing, despite my improved swim. Swimming 25,000m a week is a lot, but not enough for me. If I commit to ITU racing, I will be swimming 40-50,000m a week this winter. I also cannot fully take advantage of my bike fitness without a time trial format, as ITU races are draft-legal. It’s also very expensive to race ITU races, since most are in Canada and Central and South America. It’s hard to win prize money as well, since they pay top 10 usually and without coming out with the lead swim pack, it’s almost impossible. Next season, I’ll likely focus on domestic Olympic non-draft racing, and possible a few Ironman 70.3 races. Racing the biggest races in the world like Chicago, still allow me to race the best in the world and continue chasing my goal of being competitive with those at the top, yet make it more doable as pros can usually get free home-stays at these races, where no rental car or hotel is needed. That being said… I am currently seeking sponsors for 2011. I have a ‘sponsorship guide’ I’ve created with all the info; contact if you, your company, or anyone you know may be interested. Spread the word! With two days back at home, I’m now off to Chicago for the biggest race in the world. Pro’s go off at noon. I hear it’s a cool environment, with 11,000 people cheering along the streets. Should be fun. Thanks for all your support!


Racing Weight....shhhhh

I ordered the book Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald recently. Weight is an issue that many athletes refuse to discuss. They’re afraid of leading someone down the dark path of obsession, which is a valid concern, which could ultimately lead to an eating disorder, which we never want to see. However, (hopefully) most of us athletes are smart enough to take a common sense approach to it, understand the importance of maintaining nutrition, the right mental mindset, and know what a healthy weight is.
I asked two-time defending Ironman world champion Craig Alexander what his thoughts on racing weight were. “Do you pay attention to it? How does being thinner help your running? Does it hurt your swimming? If I know it helps my running, can I know if it will hurt my swimming?” This is the struggle with the balance of triathlon. Everyone has different thoughts on it, partially because I believe everyone’s bodies are very different. Some need the extra weight and strength, while to others it feels like they’re racing with ankle weights on. Alexander was answering my questions in front of a large audience, and as I thought he would, he kind of avoided the issue with a few other comments, and then said our bodies tend to adjust to a good weight naturally. He may think that, but I think that’s not the case with everyone. I know it’s not. I think that’s the generic answer that many top athletes have, rightfully so. Heck, if the world champion says skinny is better, I guarantee it would cause many to panic and start checking the scales every morning. The last thing he wants is to cause people to become insecure and obsess to the point where it’s unhealthy. Peter Reid of Canada, also a former Ironman world champion, was more open about his thoughts on weight, however. He quoted that he used to go to bed so hungry it would almost make him sick. He was scared to take an extra bite. He obsessed with his weight, since he knew he needed to stay thin to compete at the top. Reid, however, may have taken it a little too far, but maybe not. After all, he was the best in the world.
My teammates often discuss this issue with me. Most of them don’t agree with me on the “skinny is better” theory. I understand this. For one, they’ve raced very well at their current weight. Some feel the need to gain a few pounds, to stay strong enough for the swim especially. We’ve compared the Body Mass Index (BMI) of other top pros, and often many have a higher BMI than myself. As I said, I believe everyone is unique. There is clearly a point where too thin will hurt you, and make you weak. Personally, I’m still trying to figure out my triathlon race weight. I know what my ideal running weight is: 150 lbs. I’m 6’3”, and I know that is very thin. But, all I have to go by is experience. I tried very hard as a college runner. I worked hard! However, I tried to race 8k cross country at 165 lbs for 2 years. I was a marginal 28 minute 8k runner. Nothing special at all. After working in Missouri for a summer, sweating all day every day in 100+ degree heat, unknowingly I lost about 13 lbs. I returned to Colorado, and felt incredible running. I couldn’t figure out why. I hopped on the scale for the first time in forever, and realized how much my weight had changed. That next season, I committed to staying at 152 lbs or so. I cut out all cheeses and salad dressings from my diet, replaced this with fruit on salads, and drank more water and less juice/Gatorade for about 8 months. I also cut my calorie intake a fair amount, and cut out late-night binge snacking. My problem with Craig Alexander’s theory, is that WE put the food in our mounts. If our bodies adjust naturally to the correct weight, what does that say about how much we eat? If I eat well versus terribly, a lot versus a little, clearly that will affect my weight. By body will adjust based on what I put in it. It’s a simple equation. Calories taken in = calories expended = no weight gain nor loss.
On the same exact training, I ran over 2 minutes faster in the 8k my senior year. The ONLY thing I have to account for it is weight loss. Because of my experience, I can’t help but subscribe to the ‘lighter is better’ theory, for runners. Fitzgerald, in Racing Weight, acknowledges that in running, athletes will benefit more from staying thin than in other sports, but that it also is beneficial in rowing, swimming, and cycling. I don’t necessarily agree with him, especially in swimming.
When I get very thin, I feel weak. Part of what I left out, was that my senior year of college, my 400m and 800m track times suffered from, I believe, from being too thin for middle distance running. It helps in long distance, but losing strength hurts speed. This brings me back to triathlon. Which is better? A lighter, a faster runner? Or a bigger, stronger swimmer? Maybe it’s possible to become faster in the water while thinner as well? And what about cycling? It’s a power-to-weight ratio here too. Being thin helps you climb, but being bigger helps you sprint. What about the time trial? Andy Schlek in the Tour de France took 2nd overall. He looks disgustingly thin. He can climb, but he can’t sprint. Isn’t he too thin? I sure wouldn’t recommend anyone getting to the point he’s at…but maybe I’m wrong.
There are always outliers and those who throw a wrench in any theory. The Chris Solinsky argument is definitely one that throws a wrench in mine. Chris recently set the American 10k record, and became the first sub 27-minute runner in US history. Solinsky is clearly the heaviest man in his races. He races on strength, at I believe 165 lbs, and he’s well shorter than I. How he can run that fast in his body, I don’t know. I guess this shows how unique we all our. There may not be any right answer for everyone, and this discussion should be approached on a case by case basis.

I wish I had all the answers for triathletes, but I don’t. I do have an answer for me if I was only a runner, but I'm not. I may try to drop weight, and I may try to gain it. I don’t know yet. I may factor in more weight training and try to maintain where I’m at now, around 160 lbs. Experimenting can be risky, but seems to be the only way of finding out, for me at least. The one thing I know, is that I am stable enough to discuss this, and even experiment with this to a small degree. Some are not. They will obsess too much, and they will take it too far and compromise health and nutrition, which is the dumbest thing they could do as athletes. Staying healthy is the most important aspect of endurance sports success, but there are still a few places to go without those boundaries. The discussion continues…